THE BEAD MILL ("IHEHIHAHEH", "BROWNIE WOOD SOOTHING TOOL")

DESCRIPTION - CONSTRUCTION - USAGE - HISTORY/ORIGIN - MYTH/LORE

The Ihehihaheh, or “Wood Soothing Device” or "Bead Mill" in Tharian, is a tool used exclusively by the Llaoihrr Brownies of the Vale to sand beads and provide them with a smooth texture. Consisting of a barrel and axel powered by turning a handle or a wheel, beads that are placed into the machine are rapidly rubbed against grains or sand to chip off abrasive surfaces. The Bead Mill surpasses handmade beads in its ability to rapidly create uniform beads, a quality much appreciated by the Vale dwellers who sell them to tailors in bulk.

Description. Created by the Hamm’rer Clan, the Bead Mill consists of three major components: the barrel, the axel and the source of propulsion. In true Brownie fashion, all three pieces of this device are made of wood and hardened to resist wear and tear. The height and length of the device varies upon the size of the beads being crafted. Those designated to create beads for Brownie use are significantly smaller, being only a nailsbreadth or two in both height and length, and are powered by cranking a handle. Ihehihaheh meant for the creation of beads for sale to Big People, on the other hand, are much larger, being about a palmspan in height and two in length, and its axel is propelled by a rat or mouse trained to run on a wheel.

The barrel is the largest individual component of the Wood Soothing Device, accounting for approximately three quarters of its mass and size. All along the inside surface of this part are glued small grains of sand which scrape along the outside surface of a bead when the barrel is rotated. Each barrel contains sand grains of uniform size; barrels containing finer sand are used to polish beads nearing completion while those with coarser sand are used in the first stages of production. A small hole in the bottom of each barrel allows it to slip over a small spike used to hold a work in progress bead in place as the drum rotates around and grinds against it.

The Bead Mill’s axel is a small sliver taken from the cross section of a thick branch or the trunk of a sapling. Treated so that is becomes unnaturally hard, this piece has a series of grooves along its upper face responsible for locking the barrel in place. The outer rim of the axel is notched, each crevice being the perfect size to receive one of the wedges on the dial of the handle. In addition, much like the barrel, the axel has a small hole through its center through which a narrow spike passes up and into the barrel.

To twist the axel, and thus the barrel, around the stationary spike holding the bead, the Brownies either use a handle or an animal-propelled wheel. Regardless of the method used, both cranks are attached to a small wheel identical in construct to the axel. As the handle or wheel is turned, this small dial spins, its small spokes fitting neatly into the crevices of the axel and causing it, and the barrel, to rotate as well.
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Construction. Save for the gathering of branches, which is done by the Greengrower Clan on their foraging trips, the construction of the ihehihaheh is entirely conducted by the Hamm’rers. Much like the beads themselves, each part of the Wood Soothing device is constructed individually and then assembled when it is needed.

The ihehihaheh’s barrel is almost always fashioned from a nailsbredth or two long segment sawed off of a rather thick branch. The inside is then hollowed out using chisels to create a cavity for a bead-in-progress to rest. When this is completed, both the inside and outside surfaces are smoothed using sand to minimize the risk of splinters. At this point, a thick, glue-like paste produced by the Bubblers from tree sap is spread along the inside of the barrel. This adhesive is noted for its strength and as such must be applied carefully with a long brush for, if it get on one’s skin or hair or a Brownie falls into the barrel, it requires an extremely painful and elaborate process to remove. Sand grains of a designated grade are then poured along all of the barrel’s surfaces and allowed to seep into the glue as it dries. After a few days, the barrel is upended, any loose grains are shook free and a small hole is drilled into its bottom to allow the spike to pass through.

The axel is carved from a much smaller sliver of the same branch and must be handled with great delicacy to ensure it does not crack. While the wood is still soft, the grooves for fitting the barrel and notches along the outer rim are carved. Once all this crafting is complete, the axel is allowed to dry and harden until it because exceptionally sturdy. At this phase, many of these thin disks are known to crack and need to be disposed. Those that do survive, however, are deemed ready for immediate use.

The construction of the Wood Soothing device’s crank and wheel is quite self explanatory. As aforementioned, the handle consists of a smaller version of the axel with a skinny bent twig lanced through its center to allow a Brownie to turn it. The wheel, on the other hand, more resembles a large hollowed out disk. Fashioned in a manner very similar to the barrel, bits of sand and bark are glued to its inside surface to provide traction for the running rat.
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Usage. The Bead Mill is used by the Brownies of the Vale to rapidly create flawlessly and identically smooth beads for sale on the open market. When a bead is placed upon the spoke that runs through the center of the device, and it is ‘turned on’ by cranking the handle or turning the wheel, the machine’s barrel begins to rotate rapidly. As it turns, the grains of sand glued to its internal surface rub imperfections off a bead’s outer surface. By the time the product has passed through tubes containing the finest grades of sand, it has been made to look glossy and feel even to the touch.

The greatest benefit awarded to the Brownies by the Wood Soothing device is the rapid rate at which is able to sand beads to perfection. While it might take a Craftsbrownie working with sandpaper over a day to get a bead to reach perfection, this machine is able to accomplish this task in mere minutes.
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History/Origin. Though the history of the Bead Mill is intimately entwined with that of the bead, this entry will only be concerned with the events immediately leading up to the device’s creation. For a more complete history on all things concerning beads, please look at the Beadmaking Industry entry.

Llaoihrr Production of Beads Begins (1460 a.S.). Seeing the success of their cousins the Milken Brownies, the Llaoihrr decide to attempt to break into the market for beads. At this point in time, the methods for creating these accessories were nearly identical for the Craftsbrownies of Milkengrad and the Hamm’rers of the Vale. The final products, on the other hand, usually ended up looking quite different. While the Milken Brownies considered bead-making to be an art form, taking time to uniquely carve each piece into a masterwork, the Llaoihrr meant to sell them in large quantities at a cheap price, causing their beads to lack intricacies and to be nearly all identical.

‘Task’n’Pass Work Line’ System Implemented (1490 a.S.). Ever industrious and inventive creatures, the Vale Brownies thirty years in ‘the business’ provided the Hamm’rers with a flood of new ideas to increase productivity and gain an edge over their Milken cousins. Though most of these ideas proved to have no noticeable effect, in 1490 one young Brownie put forth a suggestion that would revolutionize manufacturing.

Rather than having a single Hamm’rer be responsible for the creation on a bead from start to finish, this young philosopher thought it would be much more efficient to break the whole process down into much smaller and more manageable steps that could be performed at different stations. To illustrate how this process works, an example focusing around the hole-poking process of the bead was provided. If one group of Brownies could specialize in this particular task, it was believed that over time they would be able to complete the task much faster than any other individual and save valuable time. When one multiplied this effect through the dozen or so steps in bead-making and again by the number of beads produced, it was found that the Hamm’rers would have accumulated enough additional time to increase their output by half a bead per original finished product.

First ihehihaheh Designed and Adopted by the Hamm’rer Clan (1550 a.S.). Even after adopting the Task’n’Pass system, the Brownies continued to accept inventions and other improvements to speed along each step of bead manufacturing. New paints were developed for the Bubblers, new saws and chisels for the carvers, and for the sanders, the Ihehihaheh was developed.

The blueprints for this design were first presented to the Hamm’rers in early 1550 and were readily accepted and implemented. These initial machines were exclusively of the handled variety and consisted of a barrel into which a few handfuls of sand and bead were placed and then spun.

Minimizing the Mess (1565 a.S.). Though it proved to be quite successful in efficiently smoothing the outside surface of a bead, the original ihehihaheh proved to have an unpredicted and annoying side effect. As the sand it used was free, as the device began to spin, the particles had a tendency to come flying out of the top of the Wood Soothing Device and spray all about the room.

To attempt to prevent this mess, initially a lid was developed to fit over the top of the machine’s barrel. When a Brownie sat on top of this cover, the extra weight kept the lid pressed down and allowed the Hamm’rers to use the ihehihaheh for a longer period of time before it began to spew sand. This patch job solution proved to be ineffective, however. Once the device gathered enough momentum, it was found that it would send the now extremely dizzy Brownie mounted on its top flying along with the sand.

On a side note, this is thought to be the starting point for the children’s “Spin-Around”, a slightly dangerous toy which causes a pleasant (or sometimes unpleasant) dizzy sensation. Some older younglings are known to experiment with these whilst wearing their Lleeterrs too, which is a constant source of annoyance for the already busy Life Magic Healers.

The Brownies’ second solution, which was developed around 1570 a.S. proved to be much more effective. Rather than allowing the sand used to smooth beads to be free flowing within the device, it was decided to paste it to the inside surface of the barrel. This adaptation, which is still used today, removed the mess associated with the device entirely without reducing the Bead Mill’s productivity.

Relieving the Weary Arm (1600 a.S.). Until about 1600, every ihehihaheh was driven by means of a small crank. Though it made the device quite easy to use, it limited the machine’s hours of operation to the length of time it took for a Brownie’s arm to give out. To extend this time, the Vale dwellers turned to new sources of power.

For their solution, the Hamm’rers drew inspiration from a rumored human invention, the water wheel. As they did not have free flowing water in their Council Tree, the Brownies adapted the water-wheel to be powered by something they did have abundant access to: mechanical power. Instead of placing spokes along the outside of the wheel, a small track was placed along the interior. When an individual ran along this track, the wheel would spin and turn the axel of the Bead Mill.

Originally, the wheels were driven by a running Brownie, who, when he tired would be allowed to rest while one of compatriots powered the ihehihaheh. Despite the valiant efforts of these Craftsbrownies, it was quickly discovered, however, that they were inadequately equipped for the task. For one, the relatively large mass of the barrel required a large amount of force to begin turning, wiping out the endurance of even the most fit of the tiny creatures. Secondly, a Llaoihrr running on the wheel had no reliable way to stop it when they tired and as a result were often swept off their feet and tumbled about. So frequently did this occur that it was not uncommon for quite a number of Hamm’rers to be unable to work because of their broken bones, cuts, bumps and bruises.

Eventually it was determined that the domesticated rat made the best substitute. Long and quite strong, these rodents had the power and the mass to both drive and control the ihehihaheh. In addition, they’re relatively low intelligence made it quite easy to keep them motivated; a single piece of cheese held in front of their face by a stick or placed just outside the wheel could keep the beasts running for hours.

Since the early 1600s, the ihehihaheh has remained pretty much the same in shape and construction. Though some minor changes have been made to its design, none of them are influential or noteworthy enough to make it into the recorded history of the device.
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Myth/Lore. While there are few stories concerning the Wood Soothing machine in Brownie mythology, the device does occasionally make an appearance in Browniin sayings. For example, it is not uncommon to hear an exhausted young Llaoihrr mother tell a child who is exceptionally dirty that she will turn him in a Bead Mill in order to get him clean.

The smoother barrels of the ihehihaheh are rumored to be excellent at relieving persistent itches and removing dead skin. As a result, many a desperate and foolhardy Brownie, particularly those suffering from a bad case of Sunblood, have though it clever to try sticking an appendage in the whirling machine to relieve their pains. Unfortunately for these individuals, this method has proved quite ineffective as the quickly spinning sand seems to tear at the flesh rather than gently rub it.
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 Date of last edit 23rd Rising Sun 1671 a.S.

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