"This motor's getting old, just like myself," he said as he yanked on a belt to jumpstart the sewing machine. "It needs a little help."
A layer of straw bits and dust coats every surface, nook and cranny of the shop, including a rotary dial telephone on which Shaffer takes orders. In cold weather, he digs coal from a seam on his property to burn in the potbellied stove that warms his workplace.
To make each broom, Shaffer feeds a pine handle into the mouth of the tying machine and threads wire from a spool into a hole in the handle. He steps on a pedal to start the machine, which turns the handle and winds the wire around it. He deftly shapes a handful of broom bristles around the base, turns the handle, tightening the wire to hold the bristles in place. He repeats the process until a round broom base, similar to the classic witches' broom, takes shape. Then he adds bristles to two opposing sides to form a "shoulder."
Shaffer also makes mops, in a less complicated process that requires only the tying machine.
After the broom's base is shaped, he stands it on end, stamps it to shake out any loose bristles and trims the strays. He carries the broom to the sewing machine. A hook beside the machine holds a skein of yellow thread from which he pulls a length and wraps it around the broom several times. As the machine creaks into action, he feeds the broom through an opening where two wicked-looking industrial needles punch through either side to grab the thread and bind it. Each broom is bound with five rows.
"I've only had one accident," he said. "The needle went through one of my fingers and into another." The scars remain, but his hands are nimble and relatively free of arthritis. "If they hurt, I just pull on them to stretch them out and they're fine."
Shaffer has no plans to retire. He never left his broom-making job, except for the occasional vacation at a quiet beach in North Carolina. Large, out-of-state broom manufacturers offered him jobs in the 1960s, but he didn't want to move his wife and their three sons who were active in school and sports.
Today, he spends his days in the workshop along Davis Creek, just a mile from the hollow where he grew up. One of his sons lives next door, and his granddaughter, 12, hangs out with him. When she was younger, she sat on a special chair he built for her with a view of the machines, and watched him work.
"I make brooms because I love it," he said. "If I'm bothered with something, I get at the machine and work and within half an hour, I'm in another world."
Charleston Broom & Mop Co. is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at 188 Alcan Ave., which is off Loudendale Road just outside the entrance to Kanawha State Forest. Call 304-342-7830.
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.