Saturday, 14 April 2018

The mighty sort out gets under way...

Stuff with the intention of sorting it out later...  Well, guess what? Later is here!
For the past few years the workshop has been badly neglected. A lot of 'stuff' has been dumped all over the place in various boxes with the intention of sorting it out later...  Well, guess what? Later is here!

The roof will get re-roofed as soon as we get some better weather and, if the weathermen can be believed, that will be this coming week. There are rolls of felt stacked and ready, felt nails awaiting a good bashing and all I need now is the odd sheet of structural ply to patch in any rotten bits where the water has been getting in. I will tell that story as it happens, but for now I have a bit of a mission on inside. Due to lack of use a lot of my tools have suffered from the lack of use. Nothing a spot of elbow grease and some polishing will not cure.


...and after a few minutes work with with a wire brush and wire-wool
A lack of use has allowed some of my steel tools to grow a light coat of rust, nothing serious but something that needs attention before it becomes so. Wooden shafts and handles have become dull and grubby. Even the resin handles of my joinery chisels have become dull and have a coat of grubby damp dust that feels horrible.

That's better, nice clean tools feel so much better in the hand
I started with some hammers. A couple of upholstery hammers had grown orange jackets. The handles were feeling very rough and somehow sticky where the previous finish had reacted badly to the cold and damp conditions. This process of decay is usually staved off with constant use. A long break away from the tools has allowed things to slip and I hate it when a tool feels unpleasant to hold, and look at for that matter. A few hours spent cleaning and polishing here and there will sort this out as I clear the floor and find a home for all this 'stuff'. Hmmm... Wanna buy some stuff? I think the listings of eBay might be swollen somewhat over the next few weeks.

The next job will be to evict the selection of squatters that have made it there job to make their home in every nook and cranny as well as covering the place with their waste - yes spiders do poo! At ground level the little fury fellows have been making nests out of anything they could find to chew on and make holes in the bags of stuff they can't actually eat. I picked up a bag of M6 bolts that poured out of several chew-holes all over the floor. That was an amusing moment, full of words I can't repeat here. The little fellows even found their way up the back of a chest and into the top drawer that was full of model railway scenery supplies in nice tidy packets awaiting use, by me not the department of mousing intent on providing accommodation for local transient rodent population. I am not sure what has happened but I have not seen any mice for months. I think the local cat and fox population may have wiped out our local chapter of little chewers. No evidence of their presence either. We never had a problem when we we were honoured serve our own cats, but since our last cat, Smokie, died back in 2012, we have been pestered by the little fellows on odd occasions.

The turning shed has not suffered the same amount of neglect. I have been in and out of there more regularly over the past few years and I re-roofed it last year as it was starting to let the water in. There is also not so much stuff in there to get damaged by the damp. The lathes are covered up and the tools are put away in boxes. There was the odd bit of rust here and there but nothing that would not have happened whatever the usage had been. The biggest problem here has been the damp making anything made of cardboard soft. The boxes for some of the jigs and accessories had become misshapen. A couple of days in the airing cupboard with make-shift formers inside soon got them back to shape and feeling solid again.

At the moment all this is ongoing. I am tidying and cleaning as I go, getting covered in dust, wire-wool shards, oil and other cleaning fluids and heaven knows what else, but it will be worth it in the end. Next job will be the bandsaw. Although this has seen regular use over the past few years it is time to give it a good clean, service and a blade change before it is press-ganged back into service.


Tuesday, 10 April 2018

It has been a while...

...Four and a half years! This blog was my first adventure into blogging and since then I have opened and closed a few others, as my involvement in my various interests have waxed and waned. This has meant some content has been taken away from this, my original concept. This, as well as life and other commitments, has also taken me away from spending any amount of time in the workshop or even writing about it. Our Meccano blog (now no longer updated, but still available to view) had taken the most content away from here, and other blogs such as our fishing blog and art blog take care of those areas of our life.

Our life is about to change rapidly. We are planning a move, having lived here since the late 1970's it will be a big change for us. Worst of all, we will have to leave the workshop and little 'turning' shed behind, but that means we will need new ones! To sell our current property, the workshop will be reconfigured as a home office (this was always the plan), and the turning shed will revert to being a garden shed with storage for mowers and other gardening stuff.

In the meantime, life goes on. The move is not going to happen overnight and we need to streamline our life. Sue and I were never lucky enough to have children and this has meant we have been able to peruse our interests without having the 'complication' of supporting a family. Don't misunderstand me, this was never the plan, it is just the way it turned out.

The first major decision was to heavily reduce our commitment to Meccano, both the company and the hobby. We have been collecting and building with Meccano most of our married life and it had got to the stage it was ruling our life. The perspective had become skewed and we were living our life around it. It got to the point, especially when we were working for and representing the company within the Meccano enthusiast fraternity, that it was taking up most of our weekends and limiting our freedom to peruse other interests.

What has a pepper and three mushrooms got to do with anything?
Nothing, it is just a nice picture!
Because of our domestic situation, we had nothing to check our long-standing involvement in all things Meccano. It was not until the new owners of the company started to move away from the product we knew and loved, and we realised there was no young-blood coming into the hobby, that we realised the end was nigh as far as the hobby we knew was concerned. Our enjoyment was beginning to become commitment and we knew this had to change. At the beginning of last year (2017) we finally gave in and announced to the rest of the Meccano world that we were getting out and selling our collection lock stock and barrel.

This is something we have never done before. We have always had a selection of interests that we have pursued with various degrees of enthusiasm from time to time. Never before have we decided to completely give up on something we have been so deeply involved with. The result has been life-changing. No more commitment to attend shows, and meetings, and a complete freedom as to what we do at the weekend. It was not until we did it, we realised just how much of our life it was eating up.

Most of our interests have been with us as long as I can remember. We have never been into 'five-minute wonders', you know the sort of thing I mean, get interested in something, buy all the gear and sell it a few months down the road to fund the next pastime. Meccano was our main interest, one that we both were heavily involved in. With one exception, all our other interests have been things we have built up a love for, and knowledge of, over decades. That exception is fishing, or should I say, more correctly, angling. If someone had told me I would become fascinated by fishing a few years ago, I would have laughed at them.

When I was a child I was a stay at home, model building, collecting sort of kid. I was never really interested in sport of any kind. My dad was a record collector and outings were usually to a record shop, thinly disguised as a trip to 'the West End' (of London) or some out of the way place that just happened to support a record shop or Hi-Fi show. The Rediffusion show, held at Earls Court, was one such outing that graced the early years of the 1960s. 

First pike... and me!
I have lived in this area, only moving a few (single figure) miles from where I was born, in all of those 60+ years. Fishing was one of those things that was not common amongst my mates, so I never got close to it. There was not the opportunity either. They filled in the Surrey Canal when I was a kid but even before that it was a dead lifeless ribbon of urban decay threading its way from the very much run-down Surrey Docks to its destinations at Walworth Road and Peckham Basin. The local rivers are very small, the only park to offer fishing was Crystal Palace Park and that was not on our doorstep. All this meant that until I was well into my fifty-ninth year, I had never held a fishing rod let alone a live fish. 

My brother, Tim, who is ten years (well, 9 years, six months, 27 days, 4 hours and 37 minutes) younger than me, had done a bit of fishing as my parents owned a holiday chalet on the North Kent coast and he had done a bit of sea fishing there. He had also dabbled in fishing with one of our cousins in his youth. He now lives a good fifty miles away and we hardly see much of each other. One day, during one of our occasional long telephone conversations we were discussing the idea of finding an interest we could pursue jointly and get to spend some time together, something we have never rally done that much of, even as kids. The ten years between us meant there was very little common ground when I lived at home.

We settled on the idea of going fishing. I had an idyllic idea that I would be sitting on a sunny bank somewhere chatting and sinking the odd pint while Tim was demonstrating to me how to fish. As it has turned out, now three and a half years later, it is me who is doing all the fishing. For the first time in my adult life I have found something new to do that I had never had any inkling to do before. The story of our interest in fishing is documented on my other blog How to Drown Maggots

The model I built for the Royal Mail stamp
My other interests are still bubbling along. Last year a series of stamps was released to celebrate classic toys. One of the stamps was to depict a Meccano model and I was lucky enough to be commissioned by Royal Mail to build it and discuss the look of the stamp with the designer. How is that for a culmination of my interests to come together, to get the satisfaction of seeing one of my models immortalised on a stamp and to get paid for it! It just does not get any better than that! 

1:48 scale (American O-scale) Narrow gauge Climax loco, On30
Where does that leave us with this blog? Well, the answer to that is right here. As Sue and I peruse our other interests we find ourselves back in the workshop rekindling our love of woodworking and combining that with art and design mixed in with a spot of creative woodturning. There is also room for a spot of narrow gauge railway modelling, some electronics and even a rummage through the stamp collections in the evenings. That is so long as we don't get too bogged down with the big flower shows. We decided to give Chelsea a miss again this year because of our impending move, but there is always next year. 

Sue at the Chelsea Flower show
Enough bashing of keys, time to get the workshop sorted and do something worth writing about. That could very well be the recovering of the roof of said workshop - Yes, due to some of next-doors trees rubbing on the roof and the roofing felt getting towards the end of its life expectancy it looks like that job can wait no longer...


Friday, 2 August 2013

Rescued and restored

Book rescue

A few years ago I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. It doesn't happen very often. I was in an office where the company was moving to smaller premises and thay were having an almighty clear out. Sitting on the table were piles of old books - hundreds of them! When I asked what was hapening to them I was told they were going to a charity shop, if anybody had time, but it was looking like they would just go in the skip! I asked if I could have some and I was told only if you take the lot! As luck would have it I was in my empty van, so to the staff's surprise I said yes and before I knew it they were helping me load them into the back of the van. There were boxes and boxes of 'em!

Old book have a lot to offer
I got home and gingerly broke the news to Sue. Now I know that Sue is very tolerant of my shenanigans, but I thought she might not be that amused at my latest trick. In fact I could not be more wrong. There she was doing more reading than moving! The books cover all sorts of subjects from gardening and DIY through to narrow gauge railways, model engineering and steam engines to cookery! Recently I have just come across a couple of the books and taken a closer look.  The screw threads book has a terrific amount of useful information on both imperial and metric threads and drill sizes while the metal working book is full of useful information on 'how to' stuff like working with sheet material, casting, working with Lathes and milling machines and a whole lot more. Next time you are in a charity shop or at a boot fair, keep an eye out for the old books, you never know what will turn up.

More restored tools

back in service
I can't help it I just hate to see anything thrown away or neglected. While we were at my Mums place last weekend I mentioned we found an old neglected garden hand fork - see below. We also unearthed a box full of old rusty tools. there was some rubbish in the box, but there was also a few gems, all covered in dirt and surface rust. This week I have been sorting them out and among the usual collection of hammers and screwdrivers, there were a few interesting bits and pieces. There was a very nice, hardly used set of small pliers, some flat bladed (they are about 8mm wide at the tip) long nose pliers and a very small pair of wire cutters. A good wash in soapy water, followed by a work-over with wire wool and WD40 cleaned them up a treat. A final polish with 3-in-1 finished the job and look what we have here, three useful tools brought back to life.


Tuesday, 30 July 2013

20 minute makeover!

Last Saturday, I spent the day at my Mum's house laying carpet tiles, but that is another story... While I was discovering why I don't do this sort of stuff for a living any more, Sue was helping her mother-in-law to clear out the shed. Needless to say most of what was found went in the back of my brother's van, destined for the tip. The was a handful of tools, in various states of decay, that we rescued. Amongst them was a small garden fork that had seen better days.

Seen a hard life
The handle was dry and cracked, loose in the socket and rough to the feel. It had been abused resulting in the prongs being bent out of shape and finally discarded and left to go rusty. Not wishing to consign anything to land-fill that may be useful, I decided to give it a quick makeover. The fork was removed from the dry and cracked wooden handle by removing the small pin/nail that secures it. This proved to be extremely well tethered, bit it did give up the fight eventually!

I used a tack remover to get the fixing pin out
Free at last

The fork itself was straightened with a combination of hand bending and vice squeezing until the prongs look to be arranged as they should be. The handle was now in need of some attention. a quick trip to the tuning shed was required. But don't tell Sue, this is her lathe.

Mounted between centres

The original centre holes are easy to pick up and the old dry handle was mounted between centres. A quick spin and the application of a sanding pad soon got the handle back to a smooth finish.

It only takes a few minutes to get it to that nice smooth finish, after which the lathe is turned off and a coat of cellulose sanding sealer was applied and allowed to dry for a minute or so. The handle was then spun and polished off with a paper towel - cheap loo-paper is ideal for this.

Friction Polish was then applied and polished off It is a great way to finish this sort of stuff and is very Quick!

The socket was tightened with the application of some percussive maintenance, the pin driven home and the fork was given a coat of oil after all the loose rust was removed with wire wool and a bit of sanding. Not a total back-to-new restoration but at least it is now a serviceable tool. And I had a bit of fun in the workshop. It feels really nice in the hand now and once it gets a bit of use, the action of use will remove any remaining rust.


Monday, 29 July 2013


 What was left after the demolition men (Man!) moved in...

Useful stuff...
After stripping down the old printer, I managed to recover a few useful items; a selection of silver-steal rods, a tub-full of hardware, some toothed drive bands and three motors. One of the motors is a stepper motor and I am sure that will be pressed into use soon. The was also a selection of electronic bits including a power supply, card reader and the keypad PCB covered with nice miniature tactile switches.

the electronic bits
The rest has been humanly disposed with along with the full ink pads. All in all a good haul from a defunct piece on not-so-modern technology. Now I wonder if I can do anything with those LCS screens. I had better have a word with my tame Geek, Digital Tim, and see if he can think of a use for them.


Sunday, 28 July 2013

Back in the workshop at last...

I hate throwing anything away. Five or six years ago whilst rummaging around in what my brother (Tim) and I call 'The Barn' (our jointly owned storage space) I found an old printer. I asked Tim if he wanted it and he said no, he was about to sling it in the caged trailer and take it to the tip... Five years on I was still using it after repairing it. Well, I was until a few days ago and you know what, there comes a time...  

I made the decision, after all this time, and the fact that even I could't fix it, to push the boat out and buy another one.

After checking the cost of ink - always my first move I took a deep breath and ordered a new one. We have other printers here at Laughton Towers but this printer is for the everyday stuff and printing our club newsletter - The Flyer - and any other booklet/leaflets etc. I do not need an all in one or photo printing as all that is covered with dedicated machines/printers. This is what I settled for in the end.

Epson WF-7015

It cost £150 all in including VAT and delivery. it takes only four ink cartridges and I can buy 200% capacity cartridges for about £1.60 each.

I have had it a few of days now and it is BRILLIANT! it handles any size paper up to A3+ between two trays, it has a built in duplex facility and is very fast. I never though I would say this, but it is the best all round printer we have ever had. It will also connect directly to our hard-wired network so it can be selected from any where without having to ensure a particular computer (or the server for that matter) is on. It will even print from a laptop/tablet/smartphone connecting to one of our access points or straight to the router.

So what has this to do with getting back into the workshop? ...This!

Time to get destructive...
Just as I was about to set about the printer I spotted what I thought was a possible cause of the trouble. A piec of paper was sitting over the ink cleaning sponges - could this be what is causing all my problems? I put the printer back together and waisted another hour trying to get it to work to no avail. There was no doubt about it, this printer was destined for the breakers yard (bench!).

The old machine is about to be stripped down and its parts donated to other causes. Printers are usually a good source of all sorts of useful bits and components including motors, gears, toothed belts, silver-steal rods and a whole lot of other stuff.  But first, you have to get inside. Most machines of this type are designed to make them hard for the user to get inside, let alone service. There are no screws that look remotely like they are holding the cover on but close inspection underneath reveals the release points. A screwdriver soon release the clips and the cover just falls away. Now it is just a case of undoing every screw you can find, pinging off the circlips, releasing the springs and removing as much of the plastic housing and metal framework as possible...

Now the fun starts!
...It did't take long for the bench to be covered with bits of. In the bottom I found the power supply...

Getting there
...encased in it own box. now that could be useful - I'll put that to one side and look at that another day. For now I will continue to strip the rest of it down.

Now that looks useful...
That's it, down to the last bones - or should I say sponges. The base of the printer has a large reservoir filled with two layers of sponge and filter paper. This is where all the ink goes every time the punter is turned on or the cleaning cycle is run. On this machine, the sponges are completely full - just think how much all that ink cost - even at the price of compatible ink it must be a fair few pounds!

So that is where all my ink went!
Tomorrow I will sort out the pile of bits and show you what I managed to recover but first I am going to get rid of the rubbish including those pads full of ink (and getting everywhere!) and have a tidy up. There is something very satisfying about taking stuff apart and discovering how it works - I love it!

Ralph - Now I bet you didn't think anybody could get that excited about a printer - did you! 

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

A pile of bricks...

Our English weather goes from one extreme to another. It is not so long ago we were all complaining how cold it was. for the past couple of weeks it has been progressively getting hotter and hotter culminating, yesterday, in a seven year high of 34ºC (93º F). Now I know that is not hot for some of you reading this but us Brits just love to complain about the weather - hot or cold!

Extremes of weather do not make it very comfortable in the workshop but that is not the only thing keeping me out of the world of tools, strange noises and the occasion burst of, shall we say, ancient language! For the past few months there has been a string of events to distract us. Not only that but one of my long dormant interests has had time to poke through. I studied art at college, back in the 70's and my work has always had an element of design about it whether it was in publishing, commercial art of in later years, woodworking. The true 'art' side of things has always been suppressed by the commercial restraints of running a 'design' business.

I might show you one day
Now with a more relaxed lifestyle I find the ideas are starting to come back. I mentioned a few months ago that I had visited an art shop and since I have been experimenting with a few ideas. I am interested in all sorts of modern art using whatever medium comes to the fore, I also enjoy sketching from life. Not that I am very good at it, but I am having a go. You will know if I get anywhere as I might actually show you some of my efforts - but that is a way off yet.

For now I am interested in urban sculpture. Inspired years ago by Carl Andre's Equivalent VIII (1966). If you are not familiar with the name, you may remember it as ' The pile of Bricks'. The work consisted of 120 fire bricks and was bought by the Tate in 1972 (six years after it's conception)

To quote Wikipedia "When first exhibited at the in 1976, the piece drew much criticism in the press because of the perception that taxpayers' money had been spent on paying an inflated price for a collection of bricks."  

In the quadrangle (The Quad) at school stood a sculpture by Oliffe Richmond entitled The Striding Man. I found this piece very moving as a kid. I had no idea what it was but it was like nothing I had been able to get that close to before. It had been installed there in 1962, only a few years prior to my attendance. 

One of six castings (5/6) - Stolen December 2011
mini model
Another inspiration, for me, was Barbra Hepworth. When I was at school, the local council bought a Hepworth bronze and plonked it in the middle of Dulwich park. Two Forms (Divided Circle) it was casting 5/6. I say was because one night in December 2011, after standing there for more than 40 years, thieves broke into the park, cut the sculpture from its stand  and made off with it heading for the scrap dealer. As far as I am aware, it was never seen again. Shortly before it was stolen, I made a micro-Meccano model of it for a club competition and took some pictures of the original. The only saving grace is that it was the fifth of six castings made by Hepworth. The other five castings are scattered around the world. There is one in the Fellows’ Garden at Clare College, Cambridge. This one is on loan from the Hepworth Estate. There is another one in front of the University of Bolton. Again on loan, this time from the Bolton Museum, Greater Manchester. Israel has one at the Lola Beer Ebner Sculpture Garden in Tel Aviv, and there are two in the United States, one at the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University in Illinois, and another in a private collection.

My own art is not so grand but I like to think it encourages some thought. I might even show you some one day, but for now I am still working on my latest piece...