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.....

Friday, 10 July 2015

Busy, busy, busy....

Its continued to be pretty hectic round these parts, hence the long delay in posting an update.  Still, here we are, so lets get started. The big news of 2015 is that I'm going to be exhibiting at the Somerset Arts Weeks in October, a joint effort with a painter from the village. We're going to be showing our stuff in the church, better watch out for the odd lightning strike.

This means that I'm going to have to crack on with making some real art, gor blimey, so I decided to make a start early rather than waiting until the last minute and running out of time.  The first item is the Giant Dragon, made of flame coloured copper foil mounted on a soldered copper wire frame - I have been meaning to make him for some time, and had planned to put him in the garden, but I don't think he will cope well with assorted pigeons landing and/or pooping on his head, so he will be mounted on a wooden base for indoor action only.

I made a start a few weeks ago and have made the frame and around a quarter of the body covering before coming down with a dose of flu - at least that's what I thought, then realised after a few weeks that it seemed to be getting worse.  Much research later and I concluded that the fumes from the superglue that I'm using was probably the cause, so I stopped dragon making for a couple of weeks and all is better again, so that's probably it.  Mind you, I also discovered a can of cellulose thinners in the garage was leaking slightly, and I don't suppose the fumes from that did me any good either.  I'll restart in the next week or so, either with the garage door open and/or wearing my trusty breathing mask, and see if that solves the problem. Move over, Darth.

Once the dragon is completed, I plan to make a life-size rooster using the same method, plus a few other copper-related bits as well.  Other non-copper things are also planned - I need to have enough varied stuff available for sale during the show to try to get back my entry fee, so we're experimenting with some new stuff, watch this space for more details (and watch the rubbish bin for some of the results of the experiments...)

One of the arty experiments has been some small boxes with fabric inserts in the lids.  These were originally intended as ring boxes, but several people have suggested that just an empty box would be just as good.  I've made a bunch of them, some for real customers, but mostly for stock for the Arts Week show. 

 I have wanted to make some small boxes for a long time, but the availability of decent hinges has put me off - even if you can find some quality butt hinges, they are a nightmare to fit in such a way that the lid sits properly on the box. I had the same problem with my jewellery boxes when I first started and I ended up with the same solution - make my own hinges.

On these little boxes I have made the hinges from solid square brass bar, drilled to take a soldered-in hinge pin and with threaded holes for the screws to fix it to the box.  The brass bar is drilled on the milling machine, so I can get the holes in the correct alignment, and I've made a simple jig to make sure that the screw holes are in exactly the right place in the box.

I'm amazed how easy this has been.  The screws are fitted from the inside of the box, heads hidden under the lining, and every box so far has gone together pretty much perfectly first time.  A bit of a result, if do say so myself.

I've also made a couple of boxes with brass and copper features on the lids, embedded into the fabric. The brass/copper has the design drawn on using a fine point permanent marker, and then etched using standard ferric chloride circuit board etching chemicals.  It takes a couple of hours to get a decent depth of etching, but it has turned out really well.  Don't have any pictures of the boxes at the moment, but this is a brass tab for a handbag strap that was made using the same method

Grinding a bit of scrap pipe to test
The engine has had to take a back seat for a while, but I have made a significant step forward.  I made the cylinders from some cast iron that I picked up at a scrapyard, but its pretty poor quality with tiny hard nodules throughout, which means that getting a good surface finish from a normal boring tool is impossible.  The only bit that matters is the bore of the cylinders, and I couldn't bore it anywhere near smooth enough.  The only answer was to grind it, but first I had to make a grinder.

The long nose arrangement
 As usual, it is made from reclaimed parts, including an old 540 motor from a broken power drill, and some ball bearings and a hollow shaft from an ancient photocopier.  It is designed to be mounted in the toolpost of the lathe so that the grinding wheel runs opposite to the rotation of the work, thus giving the best finish. Because the cylinders are around 90mm long, the nose of the grinder needed to be at least 100mm, hence the long hollow shaft arrangement.

The spindle is driven via a toothed belt from the motor - gears would introduce vibrations that I wanted to avoid.  However, although belts are cheap and easy to find, the pulleys cost a relative arm and a leg, and they are hard to keep concentricity while machining them to fit.  So I made a pair of pulleys from some aluminium bar that I had in the scrap box.

This is the home made belt drive gubbins
The tooth shape is fairly simple, and I was planning to make a cutter to cut each tooth to the correct form.  However, I found a man on YouTube who had made pulleys by drilling holes in a circle and then machining away the excess metal to leave half a hole - which is pretty much the correct shape for the teeth.  I tried this and it worked a treat, needed a bit of careful fettling to make the belt sit snugly, but the end result drives the spindle just fine.  The belt was salvaged from an old strimmer and split with a knife blade to reduce its width.

Hard to see, but this is before grinding...
... and this is after, a massive improvement

Well, does it work?  Not 'arf, missus.  Need to take very small cuts, and run the grinding wheel back and forth several times at the final dimension to allow for any spring in the long spindle, but it has produced a very smooth ground finish that I should be able to hone even finer with some lapping paste and a a bit of wood.  I'm rather pleased with it, and pretty sure that it will get a lot more use in the future.

After such a success, I turned my attention to the kitchen music player.  Some of you may remember that I set up a Raspberry Pi to run as a music server, dragging music files off the main server and squirting the noise at a small stereo in the kitchen. It used software called MPD on the Pi, and you can control it from any phone or tablet, using a variety of apps.  It has worked well for a couple of years, although refusing to play some of the tracks for no reason I could see.

Recently however its been getting more and more short tempered and reluctant to work, and eventually laid down and died - it would work for a short while if restarted, but it was increasingly iffy.  I went in search of an alternative, and came across something called 'mopidy' which apparently does much the same as MPD but with a better user interface and some other tweaks.  So, opened up the Pi, loaded the software on the SD card, and restarted it. Underwhelmed. Very.

For starters, the PI wouldn't display anything on the screen: turns out that this is pretty common, and you have to tickle about a hundred parameters before stuff eventually appears.  Then it seems that mopidy needs to be configured by editing a config file - nothing odd in that, except that the file in question doesn't appear to be read at all by the software, so you can change all the settings you want and mopidy ignores all of the changes because its looking at a different file, or not looking at all, I can't tell which.  Starting to rant at this point, so time to look elsewhere.

Found another app called Musicbox, based on mopidy but with a user friendly front end and control and configuration done by means of a web page on the Pi.  Looks good, I thought.

Should have known better.  The same issues with getting anything on the screen to start with, then the same configuration issues as with mopidy - ie, software not reading the config file.  The final straw was the web interface - the software doesn't seem to put the web page file in the right place for the remote browser to find it, hence the browser can't connect.

So, I can't configure the software, and I can't access it using the only interface it is supposed to have.  As a result, I can't tell it where to look for my music, and can't make the client on my tablet see the Musicbox.  Some of you will have experienced my well-known linux rants before, and this is a classic example of what makes me foam at the mouth - I've spent the best part of a week trying to make a simple piece of hardware and software work the way the documentation says it should, and failed, and although there's loads of 'this is how you fix it' stuff on  the web, even when you've waded through the ranks of spotty dorks trying to show you how clever they are, the fix it solutions sometimes work, more often don't, and all require a degree in ancient Sumarian to understand.  So the Pi and linux goes back into the cupboard until I convince myself that its worth having another go at it.

As a result, the kitchen music player is likely to end up being a simple dock for an iPod, life is too short to be wrestling with the Pi - although it is a bit ironic that the Pi was intended to help kids learn how to program computers, and I would say it ain't doing a very good job of that.

Other stuff over the past few months have included a new amplifier for my music in the workshop - the old one was a Technics unit, bought in around 1980 and it finally gave up the ghost.  The new one is made from some cheap amplifier modules that I already had in the junk box, plus a transformer from the same source, and it sounds great.  It still needs a case to prevent the unwary from certain death by electricity, but it works fine and cost exactly nothing. Result.

I also had an old pair of Technics speakers in the workshop, and discovered during the surgery on the amplifier that the main driver in one of the speakers had keeled over.  Similar age to the old Technics amp, but luckily I also had a spare set of speakers tucked away and we now have a full sound stage again in the workshop.  Lucky we have very few neighbours :-)

More next time, progress on the art stuff and more engine work I hope.  I've said it before, but I am planning to try to publish these ramblings at more frequent intervals in future, but I wouldn't hold your breath if I were you


  1. Martin, you are completely amazing. I don't know where you get the energy from. Not only that, you are very creative, highly skilled, and artistic with it! However your Management must be very tolerant and forbearing to live with a genius. Do I now qualify for a free ticket to the exhibition?

  2. Many thanks, I really appreciate your comments.

    You are correct, Management is very tolerant - although every now and then when I set out to make something she will say 'can't we just go and buy one? Do you have to make everything?'

    I'm pleased to tell you that the exhibition is entirely free, you just need to get yourself down to darkest Somerset in the UK. Check out 'Somerset Arts Week' on Google, all you need to know is there

    Thanks again