My method of making squidgers usually starts off with sanding using a fairly coarse sandpaper (the black wet/dry type seems good—I use it dry, though I plan to experiment with it wet to reduce the dust which sets off my hayfever). Wearing a mask over mouth and nostrils, and wearing eye goggles would be recommended. The plastic dust gets everywhere, and some types of plastic, such as PVC, have been shown to cause cancer.
I always find it best if the piece of plastic I’m using is circular and exactly the diameter desired, i.e., pretty much a disc, because the circularity is often difficult to sculpt from a jagged blank. I don’t know whether using a lathe could help control the circularity.
Sandpaper is either labeled numerically or by names. The 120 is about the coarsest I use. I use it to get the blank squidger down fairly close to final shape. I use a rolled piece of tape—I hold it with my three fingers pressing down on the center of the blank. The tape does not last very long. For my first method, a whole sheet of coarse or medium sandpaper is on my fairly fluffy rug, and simply swirling each side of the blank around and around on the sandpaper for 15 minutes to 30 minutes will give it a fairly nice curvature due to the compressibility of the rug. This method is for fairly to very thin squidgers. Sometimes in swirling one part of the edge gets thinner than the rest, so I compensate. When the edge gets to be uniformly less than a millimeter, I then start working with finer grades of sandpaper to get the edge just right and to remove scratches from both faces. I work down grades to 220, 400, and 600 (I haven’t been able to find 800 in a store). I don’t always continue swirling the squidger around in the finer grades, but usually revert to my other method of shaping squidgers, as described next.
The other method I have used, which is in fact harder, takes longer, and is somewhat less uniform in results (depending on my patience), is to hold a small folded strip of sandpaper in my right hand and hold the blank still in my left, and sand around each face and edge (on and on). Or, hold the strip unfolded in my left hand and move the blank back and forth on it using my right hand.
As to the shape and form of the squidger to be made, I offer little in the way of suggestion. Different winkers have different preferences. I generally don’t make squidgers as a service for winkers; I make squidgers when I feel like it and often don’t want to part with some that I make. More recently the squidgers I’ve made have been very thin, some in fact thinner than I’d ever used before. The value of a squidger in making various shots depends a lot on its edge and the material. Before a few years ago everyone used regular-sized (1 3/8 inch) squidgers for Bristols. Nowadays one inch squidgers are primarily used. I believe that squidgers play a more important part in shot-making than I used to think. Then again, I shudder when I see the older superstars squop and pot with set-supplied, half-round edged squidgers. You probably don’t need a thousand squidgers. But we got Moishe (famed for “status quo”ing a proposed rules revision in which a winker’s next shot would be missed for sending any wink off the table) to start using a sharp (colloquially “thin”) squidger; it’s worth experimenting with different implements. More capabilities may come within your grasp with new tools.
After smoothing the nascent squidger with my finest grade of sandpaper, I use buffing compounds to polish it shiny. The first is Emery compound, then Jeweler’s Rouge for the fine polish. These can be found at Sears. They are fairly cheap, and the best buy is a pack of 4 buffing compounds; you also get White Rouge and Tripoli. They are sticks in a box about 5 inches square by 1 inch. To use buffing compounds with a lathe, there are buffing wheels of cloth which should be near the buffing compounds in the store. As I don’t use a lathe, I use old socks for buffing. The squidger must be reasonably smooth and free from deep sandpaper scratches, and pay particular attention to buff the area near the edge. Using buffing wheels on a lathe will undoubtedly allow you to get a better polish.
In making squidgers on a lathe, people have generally mounted a blank with some sort of suction cup, and for 15 minutes to a half hour held sandpaper against it while it was rotating. Arye Gittelman says that using too fast a speed can increase the likelihood of a squidger chipping either while it’s being made or after. Andy Madison (ex-Ithaca High School) used to glue each squidger to something he could attach more easily to the lathe, and later break the attachment off. I’d like to hear of some squidger making methods that other people have tried using a lathe or any with an automated apparatus?
As for plastic, you could start with ordinary set-supplied squidgers. I really don’t like using really warped blanks. (If I do, I flatten both sides out first on sandpaper against a hard surface.) I try to use the blanks that are essentially discs. I recently bought 100 poker chips from David P. Ehrlich, tobacconist, which are very nice blanks, just slightly larger than set-supplied squidgers. They seem very good for squopping and potting. All I have made so far from the poker chips are fairly thin ones. I have also used buttons that don’t have metal eyelets, and are not recessed in the back; there are very few such buttons in stores. The Windsor Button Shop on Chancy Street in Boston has some. Buttons are generally smaller than desirable to be made into general purpose squidgers. Larry Kahn’s famous personally-crafted set of PVC squidgers (including Big Mama, a squopping squidger, and a one inch) were made on a lathe. The PVC came in a long rod. Different types of plastic have all sorts of different properties: flexibility, stickiness (certain types of Plexiglas are too sticky to use), strength, so I can’t suggest any particular source of materials; it’s all a matter of trying all sorts of different things and methods, which is what I’ve been doing for over a year. I’ve used phonographic record PVC, plastic I find on the street, BankAmericards, buttons, poker chips, product packaging. When you look at some buttons and poker chips and see how well made they really are, and often very close to a squidger form, and for 20 cents to $1 or $2 each, you’d think that the companies who made them could make excellent squidgers.
I would very much like to hear from others about their squidger-making experiences; also about wink manipulation. Larry Kahn developed a method of flattening winks by boiling them in a small strainer for 10 seconds (no more!) and holding them flat as they cool. Boiling winks or squidgers for longer periods tends to make them grainy, increasing their friction properties, which in some instances might be useful for squidgers. Ross Callon and others have wondered about how to fix scratched, thick, or defective winks. Ross tried sanding a wink with 600 grade sandpaper and buffed it to some success. NATwA’s mass purchase a few years ago of unselected winks from Walmsleys in London brought us some of the worst winks ever seen, and a particular defect appears on many of them—scratchy sections of tiny chips caused perhaps by being cut off of rods when too cool. Almost all the small greens have the defect. We undoubtedly will have to live with these for a while, so perhaps set owners can modify their own sets to the better. If we could only get the West German mushroom winks makers to make us winks! Their winks are uniform, seldom have defects and are by far the best winks available anywhere.
10 May 1994 update: Since this article was written in 1980, NATwA and ETwA found a new source of winks that are much more uniform than the winks that came from Walmsleys in the early 1980s. These winks come from Italy, and do not require flattening. They do tend to scratch more readily than the winks of the 1960s and 1970s, but they are the standard now.
As for squidger-making and materials: the supply of set-supplied squidgers, the round-edged discs made of the same material as the winks, has totally dried up. Most winkers nowadays buy or make their own squidgers from a variety of materials. Common materials nowadays are Delrin, PVC, and fiber-based phenolic (FBP). Plexiglas, vulcanized (plasticized) rubber, and other clear and colored plastics are also used. Typically you can find remnant rods of materials at a plastics store.