US 20030230316 A1
A hair braider kit. An individual grips a handle of a hair braider and moves a center “off” switch to a first conducting position. An electric motor is energized and a stop engages a rotatable body thereby to block rotation of the body and permit a planetary gear system to rotate individual hair twisting elements to form twisted hair strands. When the switch is moved to a second conductive position, the blocking element is removed so the rotatable body wraps the twisted strands over each other into a braid without any significant motion of the twister bodies with respect to the rotatable body. A stand supports the hair braider and facilitates the attachment of hair strands to the hair twisting elements.
1. A hair braider for wrapping twisted hair strands about each other comprising:
A) a hollow handle extending along a main axis,
B) an electric drive mounted in said handle that rotates an output shaft positioned proximate one end of said handle about the main axis in a given direction,
C) a switch mounted to said handle and connected to said electric drive and having first and second conducting positions for energizing said electric drive to rotate in the given direction,
D) a rotatable body having a cavity and being mounted for rotation about the main axis relative to said handle at said one handle end,
E) a plurality of hair twisting elements mounted for rotation about individual twist axes that are parallel to and equidistantly spaced from the main axis and equiangularly spaced about said rotatable body,
F) a planetary gear system mounted in said rotatable body cavity and connected to said output shaft and to said hair twisting elements, and
G) a stop member connected to said switch for blocking rotation of said rotatable body when said switch is in the first conducting position whereby said twisting elements rotate about their respective axes in a direction opposite to the given direction, said rotatable body being enabled to rotate in the given direction about the main axis when said switch is in the second conducting position.
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21. A hair braider for wrapping twisted hair strands about each other comprising:
A) handle means extending along a main axis for defining a first cavity,
B) electrically operated means supported by said handle means in said first cavity for producing output shaft rotation in a given direction about the main axis proximate one end of said handle,
C) mechanically operated switch means attached to said handle means for energizing said electrically operated means at first and second conducting positions thereof,
D) rotatable body means mounted for rotation about the main axis on the one end of said handle means for forming a second cavity,
E) a plurality of hair twisting means mounted on said rotatable body means for rotation about twist axes that are parallel to and equidistantly spaced from the handle axis and equiangularly spaced about said rotatable body means,
F) planetary gear means in said second cavity for conveying said output shaft rotation to said hair twisting means, and
G) stop means connected to said switch means for blocking rotation of said rotatable body means when said switch means is in the first conducting position whereby said twisting means rotate in a direction opposite to the given direction about their respective axes, said rotatable body means being enabled to rotate in the given direction about the main axis when said switch means is in the second conducting position.
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23. A hair braider for wrapping twisted hair strands about other comprising:
A) an electrically operated hair braider with a plurality of hair twisting elements, each having a hair clamp extending from a rotatable body at one end of a handle, and
B) a stand with a receptacle that receives the other end of the handle to position said hair braider in an upright orientation thereby to facilitate the attachment of hair to the hair clamps.
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 1. Field of the Invention
 This invention generally relates to hair styling devices and more specifically to battery-operated hair braiders for twisting individual locks of hair into hair strands and wrapping the hair strands about each other into a braid.
 2. Description of Related Art
 For many individuals braiding hair is a preferred hair styling. In braiding, locks of hair are grouped into strands and the strands are interwoven or wrapped about each other. Generally hair braiding requires the assistance of another person, particularly when braiding hair at the rear of the head.
 A number of devices have evolved as alternatives to manual braiding. These alternatives generally braid hair mechanically. Initial devices were entirely mechanical in nature. For examples, United States Letters Patent No. 4,583,562 (1986) to Larsson discloses a hair braiding apparatus for one handed operation of a trigger. This apparatus has at least two hair clamp members, or twisters, carried by a sub-housing, or rotatable housing, on a handle. When a control switch or lever is in a first position, pumping the trigger rotates the clamp members or twisters about supporting shafts to twist locks of hair into twisted strands. When the switch or lever is in a second position, pumping the trigger causes intermittent unidirectional, angular displacement of the hair clamp members or twisters to twine the strands about each other by rotating the sub housing.
 Although mechanically complicated, devices such as that shown in the Larsson patent, were accepted because they produced, by virtue of these independent actions, a uniform braid. The first independent function twisted individual hair locks into twisted strands about individual twisting axes, but without any wrapping of the twisted or partially twisted strands about each other. The second independent function wrapped the twisted strands about each other without any additionally twisting of the individual strands.
 As will be apparent, these hair braiders were entirely mechanical systems. With such mechanical systems the twisting and wrapping operations do not occur at a constant speed. Both operations require repetitive squeezing motions of the hand on the trigger to produce the requisite motion of the hair twisters or the rotatable body. Moreover, these systems tend to be complicated mechanically and costly to manufacture.
 Efforts also have been undertaken to replace mechanical action hair braiders with devices using electrical drives. European Patent Publication No. 0 538 169 (1993) to Perez et al. discloses a device for plating or braiding hair that uses an electric motor drive. In this device a handle contains a drive motor and speed reducing mechanism that rotates a rotatable body in the form of a cylindrical platform. A fixed sun gear in a cavity formed by the rotatable body engages idler gears that in turn engage planet gears attached to shafts that rotate individual hair clips or twisters. When energized, the motor rotates the rotatable body. As the rotatable body also supports the hair twisters for rotation therein, rotation of the body in one direction about the fixed sun gear causes the hair twisting elements to rotate in an opposite direction about their respective twister axes. This produces simultaneous twisting of individual locks of hair into strands and wrapping of the individual strands into a braid. It appears, however, that the process yields a braid in which the individual strands may be loosely twisted near the scalp and tightly twisted at the ends thereby producing an uneven appearance.
 Japanese Utility Model Registration No. 3,041,230 (1997) to Hashimoto, also discloses a hair twisting and braiding apparatus with an electric motor. This system couples the output of a motor to a series of clutches that control the operation of individual hair twisting elements mounted for rotation in a rotatable body. When an operating switch slides to a twisting position, the electric motor rotates a main rotary shaft through a series of clutches and also rotates a sun gear that in turn rotates planet gears connected to the hair twisting elements to twist the individual strands. When the switch slides to a braiding position, the different clutches are reoriented, so the motor rotates a clutch plate that produces a rotation of a rotary plate without rotating the hair twisters to produce a final braid. While this hair braider provides an even braiding function, it is a complicated mechanism that is costly to manufacture.
 U.S. Pat. No. 6,318,378 (2001) to Kennedy discloses mechanically and electrically operated hair braiders. In this device a main body in the form of a handle carries a rotator body that, in turn, carries hair twisters that receive individual locks of hair. In a mechanical configuration, pulling a cord rotates a drum and winds an elastic band thereby to store energy. Clutches associated with the drive system prevent motion of the rotator body while allowing the individual hair twisters to rotate and twist the individual locks into hair strands. On release of the cord, the elastic band reverses the direction of the drum and the clutches coact to allow the main rotator body to rotate without relative rotation of the hair twisters. In a motor-driven version, a reversible dc motor replaces the drum and elastic band to provide twisting motion in one direction and wrapping motion in the other direction of the motor. The embodiment with the reversible motor has been commercially exploited. However, the requirement for various gears and clutches provide a device that is costly to manufacture.
 What is needed is a low-cost, battery-operated hair braider. Further, what is needed is such a hair braider that provides independent or sequential twisting and wrapping operations that are independent of each other.
 Therefore it is an object of this invention to provide a hair braider that provides mutually independent and sequential twisting and wrapping operations.
 It is another object of this invention to provide a hair braider that provides mutually independent and sequential twisting and wrapping operations that is easy to use.
 Still another object of this invention is to provide a hair braider that provides mutually independent and sequential twisting and wrapping operations that utilize a minimum number of parts.
 Yet another object of this invention is to provide a hair braider that provides mutually independent and sequential twisting and wrapping operations that can be manufactured with reduced costs.
 Still yet another object of this invention is to provide a battery-operated, electrical hair braider that provides mutually independent and sequential twisting and wrapping operations, that is easy to use and can be manufactured at minimum costs.
 Yet still another object of this invention is to provide a hair braider kit with a battery-operated hair braider and a stand that facilitates the attachment of hair strands to hair twisting elements on the hair braider.
 In accordance with this invention a hair braider wraps twisted hair strands about each other and comprises a hollow handle extending along a main axis. An electric drive in the handle rotates an output shaft proximate one end of the handle about the main axis in a given direction. A switch on the handle connects to the electric drive and has first and second conducting positions for energizing the electric drive to rotate in the given direction. A rotatable body defines a cavity and can rotate about the main axis relative to the handle. Hair twisting elements mount for rotation about individual twist axes that are parallel to and equidistantly spaced from the main axis and equiangularly spaced about the rotatable body. A planetary gear system mounts in the rotatable body cavity and connects to the output shaft and to the hair twisting elements. A stop member connects to the switch blocks rotation of the rotatable body when the switch is in the first conducting position whereby the twisting elements rotate about their respective axes in a direction opposite to the given direction to twist locks of hair into twisted strands. When the switch is moved to the second conducting position the rotatable body rotates about the main axis in the given direction to wrap the twisted strands about each other into a braid.
 In accordance with another aspect of this invention, a hair braider kit includes an electrically operated hair braider with a plurality of hair twisting elements. Each hair twisting element has a hair clamp and extends from a rotatable body at one end of the handle. A stand has a receptacle that receives the other end of the handle to position the hair braider in an upright orientation. This facilitates the attachment of hair to the hair clamps by an individual who requires both hands to perform the operation.
 As shown in each of FIGS. 1 through 3, a hair braider 10 includes a handle 11 that extends along a main axis 12. The handle 11 may be tapered or otherwise formed with an end portion that constitutes a comfortable hand grip 13. As specifically shown in FIG. 3, a snap cover 14 in the hand grip 13 provides access to a battery container. A central portion 15 of the handle 11 carries a switch 16 shown in center position. As will become more apparent later, a finger grip in the switch 16 can move vertically upward to a first position or vertically downward to a second position.
 The upper end part 17 of the handle 11 carries a rotatable body 20 for rotation about the handle 11. In turn the rotatable body 20 carries hair twisting elements 21 for rotation relative to the rotatable body. FIGS. 2 and 3 depict these individual hair twisting elements 21A, 21B and 21C that rotate about axes 22A, 22B and 22C, respectively.
 Braiding the hair generally is proceeded by combing to assist in obtaining individual locks of hair. As one option, the hand grip 13 can be formed with an extended longitudinal slot 23 for receiving a comb 24. The bottom of the handle in FIG. 3 is shown broken away to depict a pivot 25 that is affixed to the handle, that spans the slot 23 and that allows the comb 24 to rotate into the slot 23 for storage or out of the receptacle for use.
FIG. 1 also depicts a stand 26 with a receptacle 27 that receives and supports the handle 11 in a substantially upright position to form a hair braider kit. This stand 26 also contains storage receptacles 28 for different accessories, such as decorative clips or other elastic elements.
 However, the stand 26 also can be used to simplify the attachment of hair strands or locks to the hair twisting elements 21. As previously described, the process of attaching individual locks of hair to the hair twisting elements 21 without the stand 26 is a complex two-handed operation. That is, an individual must position the hair braider 10 proximate the ends of the locks to be twisted and actuate clamping devices in each of the hair twisting elements 21, all with one hand. The individual uses the other hand to gather and position the hair at the hair twisting element. With the stand 26, the hair braider 10 is upright. An individual can position the stand 26 and hair braider 10 on a table, counter or other supporting surface and position his or her head near the hair braider 10. Then while holding up the end of a hair strand or lock in one hand, the other hand need only manipulate the hair clamping structure at the end of each hair twisting element, greatly simplifying the attachment of hair to the hair braider 10.
 When the switch 16 moves to an upper position, the individual hair twisting elements 21 rotate about their respective axes 22 and twist the locks into twisted strands. During twisting the rotatable body 20 remains stationary so no wrapping occurs. When the strands are tight, the switch 16 is moved to a lower position. Now the rotatable body 20 rotates about the main axis 12 with respect to the handle 15 without any significant relative motion of the hair twisting elements 21 with respect to the rotatable body 20. This operation then wraps the individual twisted strands over each other to form a braid that then can be completed by the application of decorative clips or elastic elements as known in the art.
 Now referring specifically to FIG. 4, the handle 11 is a hollow handle that extends along the main axis 12. The handle 11 receives a dc motor 30 and speed reducer 31 with an output shaft 32 in a handle cavity 33. The dc motor 30, speed reducer 31, battery holder 34 and batteries 35 constitute an electric drive that mounts in the handle and rotates the output shaft 32 about the main axis 12. As will be apparent from FIG. 4, the output shaft 32 is positioned proximate a top end plate 17 of the handle 11 and extends into the rotator body 20.
 More specifically, the dc motor 30 has an output shaft 36 that drives the speed reducer 31 with the output shaft 32 constituting the output of the speed reducer 31. As will become more apparent later, the switch 16 controls the energization of the dc motor 30 from the batteries 35.
FIGS. 5 and 6 depict the construction of the rotatable body 22 and hair twisters to depict a simplified construction that this invention makes possible. Specifically the rotatable body 20 has a base 40 with cylindrical shoulders 41, 42 and 43 having a first diameter and ports 44, 45 and 46 extending through the bottom of the base 40 and centered on the shoulders 41, 42 and 43. The base 40 also has a central collar 47 with a through hole 48 that extends through the base 40. On the bottom of the base 40, a well 50 surrounds the through hole 48 as shown in FIG. 6.
 Still referring to FIG. 6, a plurality of equiangularly spaced index depressions or holes 51 surround the well 50 to form an index ring. This index ring forms one component of a stop member that controls rotation of the rotatable body 20 relative to the handle 11.
 A top cover 52 attaches to the base 40 and includes three ports 53, 54 and 55 that align with the shoulders 41, 42 and 43. The top cover 52 also includes a central hollow post 56 that aligns with the through hole 48.
 When the base 40 and the cover 52 are attached, they define an internal cavity 57 in FIG. 4 that contains the remaining elements including the hair twisting elements 21. More specifically, the cavity 57 houses a sun gear 58 with an end bearing 59 positioned at the collar 47 for rotation with respect to the base 40.
 Each of the hair twisting elements 21A, 21B and 21C has an identical construction so only the hair twisting element 21A is described in detail. As shown in FIGS. 5 and 6, the hair twisting element 21A has an elongated hollow tubular body 60 that terminates with a square base 61. A planet gear 62 has a corresponding square fitting or receptacle 63. A central pin 64 with an upper hook portion 65 provides a structure for clamping individual locks or strands of hair to the body 60. A push rod 66 with a head 67 forms a unit for pushing or moving the central pin 64 and the hook portion 65 to an extended position for receiving a hair lock. A spring 68 provides bias for returning the central pin 64 and push rod 66 to a locked position against the tubular body 60.
 Referring specifically to FIGS. 4 through 6, in assembly the push rods 66 are inserted through the shoulders 41 and ports 44 and the head 67 interferes with the base 40. The hollow tubular body 60 is inserted through the center of a planet gear 62 with the square base 61 interfitting with the square fitting 63. The pin 64 is loaded through the hollow tubular body 60 and extends through the planet gear 62 to engage the head 67 by any means known in the art. The spring 68 is concentric with the lower end portion of the central pin 64 and resides in the shoulder 41 to bias the push rod 66 in a downward position.
 Referring again to FIG. 4 and to FIG. 7 the output shaft 32 rotates within the rotatable body 20, but is affixed to the sun gear 58. Each of the planet gears 62 associated with the hair twisting elements 21A and 21C shown in FIG. 4, engage the sun gear 58.
 If the rotatable body 20 is maintained in a stationary position, rotation of the sun gear 58 in a clockwise position produces counterclockwise rotation of each planet gear 62. This produces the strand twisting operation. However, if the planet gears 62 are fixed with respect to the rotatable body 20, rotation of the sun gear 58 in a clockwise direction rotates the entire rotatable body 20 in a clockwise direction to wrap the twisted strands about each other.
FIGS. 4 and 8 depict the mechanism that provides the sequential operations and that includes switch 16. The switch includes a slider 70 and a finger grip 71 that extends radially from the slider 70. The slider 70 allows longitudinal displacement of the finger grip 71 through a limited range of motion by lying in a set of ways not shown in FIG. 8, but known to those of ordinary skill in the art. Motion limit may be imposed by interference between the finger grip 71 and the handle 11 or by internal stop mechanisms.
FIG. 8 depicts finger grip 71 in a center position. The finger grip 71 and the slider 70 can move vertically up or down from that center position. In the following discussion the upper position is called the first conducting position and the lower position is the second conducting position. The center position is an “off” position.
 The slider 70 also carries a parallel and vertically extending arm 72 proximate the finger grip portion 71. The arm 72 carries a bridging conductor 73 with an upper contact portion 74 and a lower contact portion 75 in the orientation shown in FIG. 8. These contacts selectively engage a central terminal 76 and one of a first or upper terminal 77 and of a second or lower terminal 78. A printed circuit board 79 or like device supports the terminals 76, 77 and 78.
 In the upper or first conducting position of the finger grip portion 71, the contacts 74 and 75 contact the upper end terminal 77 and the central terminal 76, respectively. In the lower or second conducting position the upper and lower contacts 74 and 75 contact the central terminal 76 and lower end terminal 78, respectively. In the center position, the contacts 74 and 75 only contact insulating material.
 The arm 72 also includes, at a position spaced from the bridging conductor 73 and in this case above the slider 71, a spring 80 and a spring supporting structure 81. The exact structure is not important to an understanding of this invention. The arm 72 also slides between upper and lower guides on either side of and at each edge of the arm 72. An upper guide 82 and lower guide 83 are shown in FIG. 8 by way of example. The upper and lower guides, such as the guides 82 and 83, are positioned to engage the ends of the spring 80 when the finger grip 70 is in a center position shown in FIG. 8. When the finger grip 71 moves upward to the first conductive position, the spring 81 is carried by the arm 72 and compresses against the guide 82. Thus when the finger grip 71 is released, the spring 80 relaxes and moves the arm 72 and the bridging conductor 73 to the central position. Similarly, when the finger grip portion is moved to the second conducting position the spring 80 compresses against the guide 83. When the finger grip 71 is released, the spring 80 returns the bridging conductor 73 and the finger grip 71 to the central position, i.e., a center “off” position.
 Now referring to FIGS. 8 and 9 in this embodiment, the motor 30 and battery 35 connect in series and constitute a series motor circuit. One terminal of the series motor circuit, in this case one of the terminals on the battery 35, connects to the center terminal 76. Each of the end terminals 77 and 78 connect to the other side of the series motor circuit terminal, namely a terminal on the motor 30. Thus contact must be made between the center terminal 76 and one of the end terminals 77 or 78 to be energized to complete the series motor circuit and energize the motor 30. As will now be apparent, when the finger grip 71 moves the switch contacts 74 and 75 to the first conducting position, they provide a conductive path between the end terminal 77 and the center terminal 76, respectively and the series motor circuit is energized. Similarly, when the finger grip 71 moves the switch contacts 74 and 75 to the lower position, the contacts 74 and 75 contact the center terminal 76 and the lower end terminal 78, respectively, thereby to complete to the series motor circuit through this path. As will also be apparent, the dc motor 30 only operates in one direction because of the polarity of the energizing voltage remains the same in either of the conducting positions for the switch 16.
 As previously indicated, the planetary gear system comprising the sun gear 58 and planet gears 62 operates differently if either the base 40 is held stationary with respect to the handle 11 or if the hair twisting elements 21 with their attached planet gears 62 are held stationary relative to the base 40. FIG. 8 depicts the structure for providing these different operations. More specifically, the arm 72 additionally includes a vertical extension that terminates in a pin 84 through an opening in a top end wall 85 of the handle 11. In the center position shown in FIG. 8, the pin 84 is proximately flush with the top end wall 85. However, as the finger grip 71 moves vertically upward to the first conducting position, the arm 72 displaces the pin 84 upward past the end plate 85 and into one of the index holes 51. In this position as previously indicated the switch 16 also energizes the dc motor. Consequently as the motor shaft 32 in FIG. 4 rotates in a given direction, the rotatable body 20 is in a stationary condition. This produces the independent rotation of the individual hair twisting elements 21 to twist a lock of hair into a twisted strand with rotation in a direction opposite to the given direction of the sun gear 58.
 This twisting operation continues until the strands are fully twisted. With proper selection of components, the torque produced by any twisting of the individual hair strands can produce either a marked loading of the dc motor or stalling of the dc motor 30 when appropriate twisting has been achieved.
 When the twisting is complete, the finger grip 71 is moved to the lower position thereby reenergizing the dc motor 30 to turn in the same given direction and initiate a next operation in sequence. Specifically, the tension or torque placed on the individual hair twisting elements 21 by the twisted strands is sufficient to prevent rotation of the twisters relative to the base 40. Consequently in the second conducting position the rotatable body 20 rotates about the handle 11 and main axis 12 in the same direction as the sun gear 58 and wraps the individual twisted strands about each other into a braid.
 These differences in operation are effected by the pin 84 and index holes 51 that constitute complementary structures on the switch 16 and rotatable body 20 that engage to prevent rotation of the rotatable body 20 when the switch 16 moves to the first conducting position. The arm 72 and extension acts as an actuator for the stop member in the form of the pin 84.
 Therefore in accordance with one of the objectives of this invention, a hair braider 10, in one operating mode, twists locks of hair into individual strands independently of any motion of the rotating body 20. When the switch moves to the second conducting position, the rotating body 20 rotates and wraps the twisted hair strands without any significant additional twisting of the hair strands. Further in accordance with the objectives of this invention, a hair braider constructed in accordance with this invention minimizes the required number of parts and reduces manufacturing costs. Further the parts are not subject to excessive wear so the product should be reliable over time.
 The hair braider has been disclosed in one specific embodiment. A number of variations of individual elements are possible within the scope of this invention. For example, a specific structure has been shown for the switch and stop member. Alternate configurations that would perform similar functions are possible. Different switching arrangements could be used to provide the function of the bridging conductor and terminals for energizing the motor in combination with the implementation of the blocking function. The hair braider could be made with or without the comb and receptacle. Different configurations of the electric motor drive including the motor and speed reducer could also be provided.
 This invention has been disclosed in terms of certain embodiments. It will be apparent that many modifications can be made to the disclosed apparatus without departing from the invention. Therefore, it is the intent of the appended claims to cover all such variations and modifications as come within the true spirit and scope of this invention.
 The appended claims particularly point out and distinctly claim the subject matter of this invention. The various objects, advantages and novel features of this invention will be more fully apparent from a reading of the following detailed description in conjunction with the accompanying drawings in which like reference numerals refer to like parts, and in which:
FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a hair braider kit with a hair braider and a stand constructed in accordance with this invention;
FIGS. 2 and 3 are two plan views of the hair braider shown in FIG. 1;
FIG. 4 is a section view taken along lines 4-4 in FIG. 2;
FIGS. 5 and 6 depict two exploded views of the rotatable body and twisters taken from different perspectives;
FIG. 7 is a section view taken along lines 7-7 in FIG. 4;
FIG. 8 is a detailed perspective view of a switch shown in FIGS. 1 through 4; and
FIG. 9 is a schematic diagram of the electrical connections utilized in the hair braider shown in FIGS. 1 through 5.