About Me

I've been taking things to bits, and making things ever since I can remember, starting with dismantling knackered alarm clocks and watches and helping my dad fix the car. Now I have a well-equipped workshop and have aquired lots of new skills, so I can make better stuff. When they first appeared, I became involved with personal computers, and these and developments in electronics have increased the scope of the things that I can do. Just recently retired, so O yes, now I can make all sorts of stuff.....

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

November update

Blimey.  The last time I posted anything here was way back in June, how time flies when you're having fun :-)

A quick summary of projects during that time follows:  you at the back, please try to stay awake

First up is picture scanning.  I bought a cheap negative/slide scanner from Maplins a couple of years ago with the plan of scanning all our old photographs - the idea was to keep a permanent digital record in case the originals went missing, and also to try to correct some of the colour drift that has affected some of the early stuff.  Good plan, but a couple of evenings of feeding the scanner with negatives soon convinced me that it was a job left for another day.  A few years on and the 'another day' has arrived, so I set to work a couple of months ago.

We have three boxes crammed with assorted photos and negatives spanning the time since 1970, and another with a mixture of older pictures and other peoples photos - I finished scanning the contents of the first three boxes in around 6 weeks, the remaining one may never get done (especially as there are lots of photos where neither of us know who the people in the picture are). Windows reports that there is now around 8000 pictures in my library, with a total mass of around 20Gb, and the whole lot has been backed up on to three DVDs in case the server bursts into flames.

Apart from the tedium, the cheapo scanner worked pretty well and I could probably flog it on Ebay for about what I paid for it.  There's also been lots of 'hey, do you remember this...?' moments, and a lot of fun to be had looking back, especially from when the kids were little.  Not only that, but of course we can now run a continuous slide show on the TV of all these old pictures to bore visitors to death - a bit like getting out the photo albums, but infinitely worse.

I've also been turning some perfectly good wood into sawdust again, with the completion of a small wall-hung jewellery cabinet, and a new jewellery box.

The cabinet is made in cherry with some trimmings made in imbuia, and it turned out rather well - see picture. It has my usual brass hinges with ball bearings to make them work smoothly, and the latching mechnism is hidden inside the central divider and operated by means of a pair of concealed levers underneath the front edge of the base.  It's presently sat in the Dansel Gallery near Weymouth with a hefty price tag and waiting for 'the woman who has everything, and needs somewhere to keep it' to arrive with her credit card.

There's a bit more of a story to the box.  A few months ago, a chap in the village who I know slightly turned up at the door and asked if I wanted some wood - he has seen me floundering about in a cloud of sawdust over the years when he's been out walking his dog.  It turns out he's working on a new school being built in Bridgwater, and spotted some of the chippies about to throw some offcuts into the skip, so he stuffed them into the boot of his car and brought them to me as a little present - very nice of him.  The wood is ash, reasonably easy to work, and with a dramatic stripey grain, so to try it out I built this box.

This one has a couple of other features that are new to my boxes.  The corner joints are made using the jointing jig that I've had for a few years and never had the time or patience to set it up properly, turns out it works pretty well.  I havn't made a box with drawers in before, and this works pretty well too.  Finally, I designed a new style of hinges for this box which make the back edge of the lid partly disappear down the back of the box - no real useful reason for this, it just looks a bit different.

Oh, and the chinese character on the front means 'harmony'.  I've got enough wood left to build another box as well, and it never cost a red cent.  Excellent.

This neatly leads on to a couple of other things that I've been looking at recently.  The first concerns my radial arm saw, a fantastic bit of kit but when ripping timber the blade spins towards the operator and in an upward direction, completely opposite to a table saw where the blade cuts downwards.  With larger chunks of tree this is not a problem, as the weight of the wood holds it down, but these boxes use lots of very thin and/or narrow pieces of wood - its real easy for the blade to catch on a loose edge and pick up the piece and hurl it straight into your face, and even with the lexan face mask it can be a scary experience.  And of course, it completely boogers the piece of wood that I'm trying to cut, which is invariable the last piece of that particular colour or grain...

This has always been an issue with these saws, and I've noticed it much more since having my blades re-sharpened a few months ago - you would think that the sharper teeth would make things better, but I noticed that the sharpener has ground the teeth to a more aggressive angle than before and while they cut a treat, I suspect this is not helping the 'throw the wood at the old man's face' game.  Time to try to resolve this, so:-

I made a featherboard - a chunk of wood with multiple fingers that lightly presses against the piece being cut and holds it down on to the table.  The first attempt worked really well, but had a limited range of adjustment for different thicknesses.  It also had the fingers too far away from the blade, so the last couple of inches of wood was not held down by the fingers, and whoosh; whizz; bang, bits of wood banging off the face mask again.

The new version has a pair of slidey fingery bits that allows the fingers to go right up to the centreline of the blade, as well as a better way of adjusting the whole contraption for wood thickness.  Tested it on a few sample pieces and it seems to work fine, but we'll only know for sure when I feed it with that last-piece-on-earth-like-this irreplaceable timber.  I'll try it out for real and then finish off the metal bits with a coat of paint.

I also thought that it would be a neat idea to have a motorised arrangement that slowly draws the wood through the blade.  Apart from the smoothness of the cut that this would deliver, it also has the advantage of keeping fingers well away from the sharp bits.  Into the junk box, and out with a rear window wiper motor from an Austin Metro (remember those?) and some assorted metal chunks and off to the lathe and milling machine.  On to Ebay for some rubber tyred wheels (£5 for a set of 4, thank you very much), bolt the whole caboodle together and hey - it works!. 

A little too fast though, ok for thin plywood but anything thicker causes the blade to struggle.  No problem, I've built and bought DC motor speed controls before so I can do it again, but lets just check Ebay first....  Ah.  Parts to build a DIY controller is around £15, ready built one is around £25 (but will go backwards as well), but my pals in China will sell me a completely built unit for £4 with free postage.  Ten days later, the unit arrives and works perfectly.

A few modifications later and the unit is finished.  Like the featherboard, it still needs to be tested in anger, but it seems to work fine, although the rubber wheel is a bit slippy especially when covered in sawdust. 

And then the most recent workshop thingy.  I have a little Axminster milling machine, an excellent bit of kit that I really enjoy using.  It has a couple of things that are less than ideal, and one of these is the fine adjustment hand wheel on the spindle feed - the wheel is too close to the machine casing to let my fat fingers get in and reset the dial to zero.  Making a longer spindle for the handwheel would be a bit of a hassle - it has a tiny keyway machined in it for one thing - so I made a new handwheel out of some thick pespex that I happened to have lying around, and machined the old handwheel down so that I could screw the new one on to the face of the old one.  Works a treat.

In the process of doing this I realised why I've had a few problems with using this handwheel for setting the depth of cut.  All of the other handwheels on the machine are graduated with 80 small divisions that give a feed of 2mm per turn of the wheel - slightly unusual as most machines are 1mm per turn, but OK once you get the hang of it.  The spindle handle must have been designed by a chimp on crack, because it has 36 divisions and a feed of 1.8mm per turn.  I've tried to think of a plausible reason for this, and I can't - they must have just had some spare 1.8mm screwthreads kicking about in the junk box and decided to use them up. Ah well.

I also realised that one of the great pleasures for me in doing these things is having the ability and the tools to make the various parts from materials that are mostly junk.  The nut that holds the handwheel on is made from an offcut of aluminium bar, and both that and the handwheel itself were made on the milling machine using the rotary table.  Apart from the improvements in usability of the finished project, there is enormous pleasure to be had from just making a nut.
I will try to update this blog around once a month from now on, its not as if I'm sitting around with nothing to write about :-)  Projects for the near future are possibly a radio controlled beach crawler (inspired by the RNLI launchmobile seen at Burnham a few weeks ago), and a reworking of that old nitro model plane engine that I've had for years and can't decide what to put it in - it might end up with a flywheel and clutch, and an on-board electric starter, and it may finish up in the beach crawler, who knows.  I'm also thinking about ways to flog my jewel boxes - galleries are either only interested in paintings, or want 90% commission, yes, you read it right, 90% - and it seems to me that there must be loads of people like me who can make good original stuff but can't get it to market: time for a 'makers community' effort perhaps.

Toot toot