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.....

Sunday, 11 December 2016

December update

No idea where the year has gone, but it seems to have rushed off into the distance at great speed, so time to catch up on a few things that have been happenning since we got back from Oz in April.
 First thing to report, and the most important, is the arrival of young Jacob, our latest grandson who arrived at around the same time as the EU referendum (no idea if there is any connection, but there is some family precedent - I was born in 1945 and the war stopped abruptly not long after, just sayin'). He's a really good baby, almost as good looking as his grandad and we love him to bits.

 Despite all this domestic jollity, I have spent a good deal of time in the workshop. The thing that has taken the most time has been the Beast - the two cylinder 2 stroke superchaged engine that I seem to have been building for the last 99 years.

My last bit of testing managed to shear the fabricated crankshaft in half, so I set about making another one from a solid steel bar around 35mm diameter. It certainly gives a very straight and strong crank, but a real pig to machine - each journal has to be spun between centres, and because the journals are very narrow (6mm) the only tool that works is a narrow parting tool. This can only tolerate a very light feed, and gets blunt very quickly, so the whole process is sloooowww.  As the eccentric bar hits the cutter, there's a fairly loud 'thump' as well, which gets transmitted throughout the frame of the house, making this a very unpopular process with 'er indoors.

Despite the struggling with the crank, I've managed to finish the engine off, hooray!

Complete engine - front
Note the pile of clean-up rags in the pictures. I was never sure that the oil pump was going to work properly, so a) I made it a bit on the big size, and b) left the side covers off to make sure the whirly bits were going round properly. I needn't have worried about the pump, though: it works so well that everything within a 5 metre radius ended up with an oily coat after about five minutes of spinning the engine.

Does it run? I hear you cry. Well, no, not quite.  Lots of spinning with electric drills, much adjustment of timing and fuel supply, and the net result was that yes, it fires consistently with some very satisfying flames out of the exhaust.  However, it won't run on its own, and I'm not sure why. I suspect that its not getting enough fuel, as the carburettor is quite a small diameter and although this gives plenty of airspeed through it I suspect it can't deliver enough wind for the engine to fill the cylinders properly.  The other possibility is that the supercharger can't pump enough mixture to fill the cylinders, but making a new one is no small task so I plan to try other stuff first. I have made a new carburettor with a bore around double the original, but havn't yet tested it.
Complete engine - side

Why not test it?  Well, at the last attempt to start it one of the rocker arms that link the pistons to the crankshaft managed to peel itself open like a banana - I under-estimated the load on these arms (obviously) and should have made them a bit beefier.  I need to make a new one, which will need some more material, some welding, and a lot of machining. On my list for after Xmas, so watch this space..

In between covering the workshop with oil and filling it with clouds of smoke, I have made another watch. This one builds on the things that I learned from the first two, and has ended up pretty good though I say so meself.

It uses a basic quartz movement by that nice Mr Seiko, and the dial is marked using a static cutter in the mill spindle, dragged across the dial face to make shallow grooves.  After polishing, the dial is sprayed with several thin coats of car paint and contrasting colour acrylic paint dragged into the grooves with a bit of an old cornflake packet.  Then the whole dial is sprayed with clear laquer. The orange ring above the dial is sprayed with candy orange over a silver base, gives a very nice effect but spraying it with the airbrush is a major pain - it needs literally dozens of thin coats, and after each one the airbrush needs to be completely stripped and  cleaned with thinners. The thinners also seem to be eating the rubber seals in the 'brush as well.

The back of the watch is screwed on, a very fiddly job to cut the threads, but it does give a good finish to the watch. I also used a steel bracelet instead of a leather strap, not only makes it look better, its also a lot easier to put on and take off. I'm so pleased with this watch that I find that I wear it most of the time.

The dial is the hardest part of these watches, everything else is just engineering - although a bit challenging because everything is so small and my fingers are not. I would like to put some proper printing on the dial as well, but I can't see a way to achieve this  - I'm pleased to report that The Pilot can't do it either, in spite of making watches for a lot longer than me.

I have just started experimenting with waterslide transfers. I can buy A4 sheets of the blank paper, print it on the laser printer and just soak it and slide it on to a pre-painted dial.  Its early days yet, but its showing some promise.  The only issue is that the transfer material is lightly cloudy in colour, so it does affect the colour of the paint that its applied to. A couple of new watches are in the design works at present, so we'll see how they turn out.

I like to alternate between bashing metal and hacking up wood, so for a break from engineering I made a pen box for Sean. It uses a design that I have been thinking about for some time, with a contrasting gloss and satin black paint finish and a highlight strip set into the surface.

Making the box is easy, although modifying my home-brew hinges for a smaller box proved to be a bit fiddly.  Painting it to get the right finish took literally weeks, with every coat the target of stray bits of fluff or marauding insects. The highlight strips are painted in the same candy orange which I used for the dial ring on the watch, see the notes above on what a pain that is with the airbrush - I can buy the same paint in an aerosol can, and although the cans contain much more paint than I will ever need, and are much more expensive, I think its well worth it.

Its not very clear in the pictures, but the box is finished in a satin black all over, with the strip to the right of the orange accent finished in high gloss black.

Anyway, the box was finished and the last coats of paint dried while the flies were still circling for their final bombing run, and it looks great.  Carefully packed and shipped off to Oz, where it apparently arrived intact.  Hooray!
And last but not least, some electronics.  I have been interested in the whole 'internet of things' for some time, although it seems to be a solution desperately looking for a market - there's a very limited number of people who want their fridge connected to the 'web, after all.

In spite of all the hype, though, the real interesting thing to me is the availability of very small, very cheap, microprocessors with built-in wi-fi communications, which are easy to program. I've got a few of these and have been playing with them, thought the only 'product' that I've finished so far is a simple clock, behind which lies a story.... 

For many years, we had a clock in the bedroom which had a little projector to shine the time on to the ceiling, it worked just fine but eventually died of old age.  The only replacement that I could source on Ebay seemed ok, but it turned out that it had a couple of design flaws.  First, it has an alarm.  Not in itself a problem, but the second flaw is that  - despite having batteries to provide backup - the clock won't survive a power cut without re-setting to 00:00.  The alarm is automatically set when the clock powers up to go off at midnight - you can see where this is going. Power cut at, say, 2am, clock resets to midnight, alarm auto-activates and warbles like a demented warbling thing. Stumble across bedroom in the dark, hit the 'kill' button, fall back into bed.  Except that the 'kill' button is actually 'snooze'.  Attempts to stop the insane warbling by unplugging the mains lead finally exposes the reason for the batteries - they keep the warbler warbling even without any power, and the only way to stop the bloody thing is to tear the back off and rip the batteries out.
Note to self: make a box for this

So the replacement is a simple clock with no alarm, but which remembers the time even after prolonged periods with no power.  Total cost around a tenner, it uses one of these little internet of things things, so it can also update its time from the 'web if I want to write the code for it, or it can beam the time around the house to other similar devices so that they all share a common time.  I have no idea why that seems a good idea, but give me time and I'll think of something.

Next time:  a couple of new watches, and hopefully a running engine to report on, plus who knows what new stuff. Stay tuned.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Ah yes, about those frequent updates....

Oops.  I was supposed to be posting more often this year, and here we are in May with nothing done.  I do have some excuses, though, having spent around 6 weeks on the other side of the globe visiting the gang in Oz, and stopping off at Singapore on the way there and back.

It was great to see the gang again, we went to some amazing places, saw some great stuff, ate and drank all sorts - but most of all, we had some great laughs.  First, a few pictures of Singapore:-
Central area at night

A small part of Chinatown

A posh restaurant
The real Jackie Chan in the hotel bar
We loved every bit of Singapore, what a shame that its 14 hours away or we'd be back there next week. Its probably the only place I've been in the world where I felt completely safe, day and night.

View from our hotel room window
The electronics bargains that everyone talks about were pretty much non-existent, and although we had been told how expensive it was, I would say it was about on a part with the UK, so not that bad. Although a Tiger beer was around $12/£6 a bottle which seemed a bit steep considering they brew it just around the corner.

Favourites for me? Undoubtedly the Metro, the cleanest and slickest mass transit system in the world. Trains are all bang on time, and stop exactly at the marks on the platform; the track is hidden by walls and sliding doors which keeps noise out and stops that whoosh! of smelly air as the train arrives; most of the trains are driverless, I could bang on and on. The last time I went on the London underground I swear we rode on the same train that I remember going on back in 1966, and as far as I can tell, we were breathing the same air still.
Wings bar, and Brother's Cider, makes even forks funny

Other goodies:  the hotel (Grand Park City Hall), a four star great hotel for only about £65 a night; the food - every flavour under the sun, and all of it good (though I'm not sure I want to know what some of it was); and best of all, the people - all smiling and polite, a little bow when greeting you, all seemed genuinely pleased that you were there. Even the Thai waitress, who spoke almost no english, when we asked what something on the menu was, she trotted off to the kitchen and took a photo of it and brought it back to show us - we still didn't know what it was, so we ordered it anyway, only to find that it was chock-full of rocket fuel: when she saw that we hadn't eaten it, she offered to make another one without the chillis.
Did I mention that I liked Singapore?

Then on to Oz, with an overnight 8 hour red-eye flight to Sydney, followed by around a three hour road trip to Canberra - with the combination of the travel sick pills and the lack of sleep it was a couple of days before we were functioning properly.

We had been told that Canberra was a boring little town in the middle of nowhere, but how wrong that was.  It sits wrapped around a big lake, and its big, spacious and clean, wide roads, loads of parks and gardens, big shopping centres, you name it. Oh, and Ikea as well.

What did we see? Kangeroos and koalas, of course, plus one solitary snake crossing the road in front of the truck, loads of birds - all more or less different flavours of parrot - and a bunch of lizards, big and small. We met a couple of policemen, who's job it is to fly drones in support of real coppers in dangerous situations - however, they're not allowed to fly at night, or more than 500 feet high, and they can't fly within a few miles of the airport, which effectively means around half of the city is out of bounds. What a great job.

We met a very helpful wine salesman who described one of his products as being 'as dry as an arab's sandal', which I assumed was not a recommendation, and another bloke who talked about someone 'jumping around like a frog in a sock'. Its almost poetic, ain't it?

Sean drove us up a monster mountain in the new Zombie Killer 2, fantastic views from the top - just mountains and forests all the way to the horizon, fantastic. 
Canberra was pretty damn hot, in the 30's most of the time, with the occasional spectacular thunderstorm to clear the air a bit.

To give the gang a break, we zipped up the road to Sydney for a few days. Stopped along the way in a wild west town called Gouldburn where its still 1956, and also on the outskirts of Sydney at a rather nice Japanese garden. Sydney was not as spectacular as I thought it would be - very much like a hot London in many ways, crowded and loads of traffic, not enough parking - but we tramped around Circular Quay, the opera house; the bridge, and along various waterfront places.  Went to Bondi (not too impressed), though Coogee Beach was better and less crowded, and took a drive north of the city up the coast where there are some truly stunning beaches with not a soul to be seen on them. Magic

Sunset over Bonner
Then back down the coast to Jervis Bay to meet up with the gang again for a weekend in a very nice shack which was right on the lagoon.  Lots of lazing about; sat on the beach with the whitest sand in the world (some of which we brought back with us in a bag), one of my famous black barbeque servings, and back to Canberra.
Huge wompster bloke in a health cafe. Surreal

Eventually, of course, we had to leave, so off we drive to Sydney airport, pouring rain most of the way, then off on the midday flight back to Singapore. One more full day there, and back on the plane again at the crack of dawn for the 14 hour flight home.

And what has been happening since we got back, I hear you cry? Well a few new things, mostly centred on the making of watches.

I've rather fancied making a watch ever since I discovered that a chap round the corner (known to everyone in the village as 'The Pilot') makes them. A bit of rummaging on the web to find out where I could get the various bits and we were off, and I have to say it was a bit easier than I had expected.

The first prototype ended up a bit small, with a slightly lopsided case.  The movement is a simple Seiko quartz job, the face is painted metallic silver/anthracite, and I made the back to be fixed with tiny screws - this worked well but ended up making the whole watch much thicker than I would like.

Encouraged by this, I set to work on a Mk 2 version.  This one also has a painted dial, but I foolishly chose a Seiko mechanism that has full chronograph capability, including 1/10 second stopwatching. It looks pretty good, but making the small dials and fitting the tiny hands took me around two days, so I don't think we'll be doing another one of those. The whole watch is a bit thinner, in spite of the extra depth required for all the whirly bits, because I threaded the back and screwed it on.  I also cheated a bit and used an off-the-shelf crown because making one of these would probably have sent me bonkers (they have two separate water seals inside a hole that is only 2mm diameter, and a thread that is 0.9mm in diameter).

Can't wait to make another one, but there's a lot of house related stuff to be done first, so watch this space.

Talking to The Pilot also prompted me to have a go at making a small engraving machine for the markings on watch dials - he had made himself a small pantograph to do this, so I thought I could do the same.  Made entirely from bits from my junk box (the main bar is part of an old TV aerial, and the bearings came out of a long line of old photocopiers) it works pretty well.  The dimensions are absolutely critical to ensure that the scaled down image is exactly correct.  I tried to use my little Dremel drill for the cutter, but it was too big and wobbled under its own weight, so I replaced it with the handpiece from my old glass engraver which is rock solid.  I need to experiment with different types of cutter, the best design seems to be with a 30 degree point ground into a pyramid shape, but more testing is needed.  Still not sure if its going to be precise enough for a watch dial, but we'll see.

Before we set off for OZ, I made a determined effort to finish the engine, and actually got it to the point where I could test run it.  It doesn't have any drive belts for the supercharger, so I had to spin that with one electric drill while spinning the crankshaft with the other - it looks mental, but it did actually start and run for a few seconds, wouldn't run very well as I suspect the 'charger was not able to keep up with the demand for air and fuel, but it does run. Check out the sparks and smoke coming out of the exhaust on the vid clip.  Unfortunately, it ain't running no more because my fabricated crankshaft has sheared off at the front, so I have to strip the whole thing down and make a new crank. Not a small task, so it will take some time.

A few other things in progress to report.  One is the installation of a Chromecast Audio widget on the music player in the kitchen, which when driven by Plex on a tablet or phone will play music streamed from my server. It just works, excellent.

I've also started playing with some tiny electronics 'internet of things' modules, more on that later but so far I have a module that can turn on a light by pressing a button on my phone.  I know, that's about as much use as a cheese handbag, but its a start.

More next time!