NILES is the most recognized brand name and preferred by more professional artists around the world!!
This is about our founder, Ruth Niles who, in 2005 inadvertently revolutionized the bottle stopper industry for artists and makers around the world when she designed the first stainless steel bottle stopper for artists to use. This is her story in her own words.
Photo from 2018
Welcome to my website. I started turning wood in January 1990. Since I had to support myself and a couple of kids, the first 5 years I did mostly architectural turning; porch and stair spindles, etc. for contractors and turning chair spindles, table legs, etc. for antique dealers. Before learning how to turn wood, I was a seamstress and along with sewing custom clothing and wedding gowns I did artistic fabric wall hangings. When the fabric shop where I gave lessons closed, I opened a small fabric shop in the front room of my house, gradually adding more fabric and trim. When there were no customers, I would be in the next room taking off doors, knocking out walls and putting in shelving. I made an apartment upstairs in the house and now had 5 rooms of fabric and needlecraft supplies downstairs. After 5 years I sold the shop and moved. I've always loved antiques and started going to estate auctions where I met Annette Parmelee and soon we were stocking up to start an antique shop in her barn. We built a small shelter for her miniature goat and pot-belly pig, insulated the barn and opened "Annette's Antiques". We were passing up great antique furniture because a spindle or finial was missing and I decided to find out how to make these replacement parts. I went to the library, read about turning table legs, it said I needed a lathe and turning tools so I went to Sears and said "I need a lathe and turning tools". I took 2 turning books out of the library, 2 weeks at a time, and learned how to turn.
A few years later I attended the AAW Symposium in Providence, RI and was introduced to a whole new world of woodturning.
I can relate to my customers that sell their artwork. I understand creating, producing, marketing and sitting for 2 to 4 days in a booth at a craft fair trying to make a living; which only half worked so, in addition, I waitressed and bartended part-time 4 days a week.
When I started doing artistic turning, in Feb. 2005, Tina LeCoff at "The Center for Art in Wood" commissioned me to make two dozen bottle stoppers and 2 dozen coffee scoops for a gift shop they were starting in the museum. I had never turned a bottle stopper but said "sure"....how hard can it be! At that time the only metal stoppers available for woodturners and other artists or craftsmen to use for their artwork were the long chrome-plated style shown below. I made two and definitely did not care for the style nor the quality. After extensive searching on the internet and finding there were no stainless steel stoppers that you could attach your own work to, I just decided to design one for my needs. I put the chrome stopper on my son's metal lathe, cut it down to a shape I liked. The first picture below shows the shaping where I removed most of the height and I shortened and softly rounded the nose.
This design allowed my artwork to sit close to the top of the bottle and it looked more 'comfortable'. I took this prototype to a local machine shop and asked about having about 100 made. I never about selling these stoppers as a business. I've always been a maker or crafter and would do craft shows and flea markets to supplement my income. When other woodturnings and wood carvers saw the stoppers, they would ask "Where did you find stainless steel bottle stoppers?" and I'd say "They're my own design." They wanted to buy them and so began Niles Bottle Stoppers. I presented them at a woodturning symposium in Gainsville, GA. in April, 2005 and started selling to the public on my website that July. About 3 years later I saw a stopper set in Walmart that had a flat bottom and could stand up. I gave the machine shop a picture of it and the standing stopper was produced.
Glass blowers and fused glass workers found my website and asked about stoppers compatible with glass. Being a woodturner, I knew nothing about glass so they told me what they needed and I had it made. Next stone workers, bead workers, porcelain, door knobs, granite and lava rocks. Each dictated what they wanted or needed so the stoppers for that particular craft were designed by the artists themselves. I never realized the extent of makers who could not find stainless steel stopper bases. I had no idea that I had created my own niche market of one! I am a doodler and love to draw and I started getting ideas for new stopper shapes and have several sheets of possible designs.
I had to learn a lot about things I never wanted to know! At that first woodturning symposium customers asked "what grade of stainless do you use?" I didn't even know there were grades so I asked the machine shop and they told me "FDA 304 18-8 food grade". I am a very curious person and wanted to learn all about stainless steel. I made phone calls to metal suppliers, I called the FDA where an agent explained the required percentages of chromium, nickel and sulfur to be approved for food contact. Doing a search, I found a prominent metallurgist who had published articles on various metals. I wanted to offer a life-time guarantee on my stoppers but first needed to know if I could do that with the grade of stainless my stoppers were being made. He became interested in testing various grades of stainless steel when it was used as a utilitarian product and I sent him 2 stoppers to test. He emailed his findings, these 2 being the most interesting: 303 grade turned yellow from the sweeter wines (usually the white), 304 grade stainless did not and a magnet will stick to 303 but not 304 (he felt a tinge of pull but it did not stick).
Over the years, I've talked to owners of 4 or 5 machine shops and found their reaction to me, a female senior citizen (aka little old lady!) quite amusing. One wanted CAD drawings: what is a CAD drawing? Now I know all about them. A very helpful shop owner said they only worked for the auto industry but recommended 2 other shops to approach. He taught me machining terms to use instead of layman's terms, which he said would help so the shops would not take advantage of me. Unfortunately, neither of those shops worked out and that's when a friend, Bill Rubenstein who designed wood lathes, introduced me to his main machinist. After receiving 2 shipments from that shop, I knew I found the best machine shop and gave all my business. That is Precision Crafted Products in MO and that was the best business decision I ever made. I like doing business with small, family operated businesses, they are usually more ethical and really take pride in their work. The business had grown to where I needed a back-up shop and found Machining America. As I was telling the owner what I needed, I really thought I was being taken seriously as a woman who knows what she's talking about. The owner kept eye contact and nodded and when I was done, he said "Can I ask you a question? Are you Sam Niles' grandmother? I see you at all the soccer games." He wasn't impress with my knowledge, he was trying to place where he knew me from! When I told him, we both had a good laugh. He did great machining and we worked together for a couple years but he simply had too many very large contract jobs and was in the middle of expanding his shop to a new, larger building.
When I designed my first bottle stopper, I didn't give a lot of thought to how efficiently it fit wine bottles. As my business grew, I started sending out feedback letters to all new customers asking if they had any suggestions. Several replied they didn't like the fit of the stoppers in screw top bottles and one customer reported the stoppers didn't fit any bottles imported from Italy. One customer emailed, "Your stoppers don't fit any of the bottles of wine we like and I'll never buy your stoppers again." I kept his email. In looking to improve my stopper design, I made several trips to the liquor store where the clerk would watch me walk around feeling the necks of various brands and sizes of bottles. One day I took a stopper to show him what I was doing. The inside of bottle necks don't taper, however every stopper has to have a taper or it won't work. It has to go in the bottle and get tighter as you push it down. Too much taper will cause only 1 o-ring to make contact to seal no matter how many o-rings are on the stopper. A lot of people want to lay the bottle on its side and that cannot safely be done with only 1 o-ring sealing. We lessened the degree of taper and created 3, 4 and 5 o-ring styles and now have 4 different diameter stoppers to cover just about every bottle of anything. "No Bottle Left Behind"! Our Home page photo shows the wide range of sizes, tapers and o-rings. We now offer the widest selection of bottle stoppers anywhere. When a design just doesn't work in fit or appearance, it is taken out of production. We don't make that decision, our customers do with their feedback. One design broke the record, it went from "Introducing" to "Close Out Sale" in 3 months!
In order to get a superior fit, I went to all the taverns and restaurants in town; Carlisle, PA is a college town so there are a lot of taverns! At each, I asked if they would save empty whiskey and wine bottles for one weekend. I only wanted one of each brand or bottle size but that would have been too much to ask. Monday I collected all the bottles, saved one of each brand and style and put the rest out for recycling ...... my neighbors thought I had one heck of a party! Then I cut the necks off of the bottles and sent them to the machine shop where they perfected the taper, adding o-ring sizes and came up with a stopper that fit just about every bottle. That is the SS-9000 and SS-3000 style stopper.
The photo below shows the superior seal of these cork-shape style stopper and how 2 of the o-rings seal inside the bottle. **Remember the customer that said he would never buy my stoppers again? I sent one of the SS-9000 to him out of the first shipment I received. I emailed him saying I saved his email from a year ago and wanted his feedback on the fit of this new design because I knew he would be very honest. He said it fit their bottles perfect. (whew) This was the beginning of another patent and 5 other efficient stopper designs. *note: Precision Crafted Products is the only manufacturer I've used that other large suppliers and few professional woodturners asked if they could contact to make special products for them. That assured me I found the best machine shop to manufacture my products.
Niles Bottle Stoppers was the first company to offer Bourbon and whiskey stoppers after getting many requests from artists. I am amazed at the number of people who use stoppers in their whiskey bottles. Also there are a larger range of sizes in liquor bottles than wine. Wine bottles are basically 2 sizes and each is a small difference. The first Bourbon stopper we made was ok; those of you that know me, "ok" is not good enough, it has to be "perfect" or darn close. The second one pleased me but I needed my customer's opinion since you are the ones buying them and selling or gifting them. That is the SS-4000 style. There were still bottles "left behind" so we again got as many brands to check sizes and several customers sent diameter measurements and we designed the SS-610, SS-620 and SS-630 Bourbon and whiskey stoppers. These have 3 o-rings with a minimal taper and are different diameters. We now have sizes from 15/16" to 1 1/16" diameter for the various diameter bottles. We can now safely say No Bottle Left Behind!
Below are some of the custom stoppers and bottle cap openers we have made for customers. The first one was designed for PAU Vodka in Hawaii. Randy Schaffer at Makai Glass designed an exclusive glass 'breaking wave' top for PAU's top-shelve brand. The PAU company signed the design over to me, it is patented.
The second photo, a customer who creates high-end men's jewelry needed an exclusive stopper for a solid gold lion decanter top he designed to fit a very high-end decanter. Together we designed the 'decanter' stopper (which we also patented) and the photo of the exclusive solid gold lion stopper in the decanter. Check the website
The next one is a solid brass bottle stopper was designed for a 50th year anniversary of a cosmetic company who used them as promotional gifts at the big trade shows.
The last 2 photos show an exclusive stopper and opener design variation we made for Laserkeep They do custom engraving from photographs. They have custom display boxes made so the stopper or opener can be kept on display even on an office desk.
Then along comes Mark Connors, a good customer, he sent a prototype of the most unique bottle cap opener anywhere. He turned 3 prototypes out of wood, I sent one to the machine shop and said "Start production", they asked "Don't you want to see a sample?" "Nope, the design is amazing and nothing comes out of your shop that isn't perfect". Mark and I got a patent together and those openers have been a huge success. People can't figure how it works and when you tell or show them, they all say "Oh my goodness, I have to have one!"
Vintage knife handle threaded on bottle opener. Beautiful!
Paul (my machinist) designed the tab can pull himself and, at first it was taken to be for not breaking fingernails or ruining a manicure and painting; which it is for that, too. However people with arthritis love it the best because soup and pet food cans are thicker and the tabs can be hard for them to pull up. Then we discovered it is fantastic for releasing the vacuum on pickle jars. A duel-duty product!
Another customer that belongs to an Espresso Club suggested coffee tampers. Not knowing anything about espresso, I did a lot of research and we started making coffee tampers. A few customers mentioned meat tenderizers and neither Paul nor I thought they would be a good selling product. Boy were we wrong! We have a meat tenderizer and a meat/garlic pounder/press. Customers love creating their own tenderizer mallets or making them separate as a pair. At one of the woodturning shows a woman looked the tenderizer over carefully and told her husband to "buy 5", when he asked why, she said "there are 5 of us making hundreds of peanut butter cookies for the church bazaar and this will save us a lot of time". Thus the meat tenderizer added peanut butter cookie press to its usage!
All my products are Made in America! I firmly believe we should keep OUR economy in OUR country. Precision Crafted Products in MO has made all my products for many years and their honesty and attention to detail, fine precision machining and extra care in packing is impressive. My stoppers are made from FDA 304 grade stainless, they have been tested by the FDA and I get mill certs with every order of stainless steel because if I say they are "304 18-8", they darn well better be!
Today I still do woodturning and The Village Artisans Gallery, in Boiling Springs, PA sells my woodturning work. I am not just a supplier, I use my products. I support and promote my customers' work with the largest customer Gallery anywhere. People go there to get inspiration and brag about what they create, it is not where I advertise any of my products. A number of customer/artists that have work in the Gallery have been contacted for purchases. A woman who works for a large bank found the Gallery, emailed me for 3 different artist's contact info to see about having customer appreciation gifts made. The metal artist got the commission and said if a picture of his work hadn't been on my Gallery page, he never would have gotten the job. Another story: A customer sent an email with a picture of his finished stoppers asking if the picture was good enough, could I post it on the Gallery page. I answered that the picture was great and yes, I would post it. I normally wait until I have 3 or 4 to post at once. About an hour later I got a call, "Hello, this is Christos in Brussels, Belgium. Was there something wrong with the picture, I don't see it on your website? I told my grandchildren that I was going to be on the internet." I said "Give me 3 minutes and you can tell your grandchildren you are on the internet." I dropped what I was doing and got that picture posted; that was 10 years ago and his picture will always be in my Gallery!
2021 Update: I turned 80 in January and started thinking about either getting a partner or selling the business. I have been running it totally alone for 16 years but knew I wasn't going to be able to keep up with the work. Many times customers were surprised that I answered all phone calls and emails personally; there was no one else here. In May an agreement was reached and Carl Jacobson and his wife, Robin purchased Niles Bottle Stoppers. I wanted someone who would run the business the same way with the personal touch and great customer service. They have an agreement with Precision Crafted Products, assuring the material and machining will be of the same superior quality customers have come to expect. Carl is well known in the woodturning world, he has been turning for over 25 years and has a youtube channel with many thousand followers so he knows what he is talking about.
I am still very involved with the company as an "employee" in charge of customer service and taking phone orders. As I've said many times, I love my customers and have developed a friendship with an awful lot of you. YOU built Niles Bottle Stoppers to be the most recommended company, I just did what you wanted! Thank YOU for helping me be successful.
*note: as of June 2022 Ruth has totally retired, Carl and Robin Jacobson are running the company. The name, product quality and customer service will be exactly as Ruth worked so many years to create the most popular brand name nationally and internationally.