Sunday, 27 May 2012

My leg fell off!

A nice day to mend a horse - better do some weeding too!

Not my leg, you understand, but the leg of my ancient saw horse. One of a pair a friend and fellow wood mechanic left behind some 20 years ago. after lending a hand to refurbish the staircase in our Victorian house that we were converting back to a house after it had been converted into flats in the early 70s.

New piece glued in place
Although I have built several horses over the years this pair have spent their entire life with me, here at Laughton Towers. The tops are sacrificial lumps of MDF screwed to the horses through deeply recessed counter-bored holes. Spending most of their time outdoors, at best protected from the elements by a folded tarpaulin they are prone to rot and insect attack. After being used last week while building the stand for the Chelsea Flower Show. one of the horses developed a wobble. The rot had got at one of the legs, so it was out with the saw, a scrap of wood suitably sized on the bandsaw, and some type III glue. A careful bit of cutting and fitting, a period in the cramps and the leg was as good as new.

There is something very satisfying about fixing something that has been around for a while. These horses get used for all sorts of jobs and it would have been a real shame to just discard them. They should go on for a few more years now.



Saturday, 26 May 2012

Frogs, rollers and don’t you love eBay!

But first, here is a good reason for not being in the workshop much this week! this was 10 o'clock tonight!

More frog...

Having stripped the guts from the frog there were still two wires connected to the Light Dependent Resistor (LDR) fitted in to the mouth of the frog. A quick snip with side cutters and the whole lot is free. The black mount/shield is easily prised from the frog’s mouth. The intention is to build this silly little bit of electronic fun, as it is, into a model at a later date to entertain the kids.

The little circuit board has a few through-wired components and a black-blob that covers the naked IC providing the timing and ‘croak’. This is a common method of mass-producing cheap circuitry for all sorts of gimmicky gifts and novelties such as this and musical greetings cards etc.  I also found the same method being used on the circuit board in a pound-shop USB hub that I was dismantling for the bits. I must admit at the time I was not at all sure what these black blobs were as I am only now reviving my interest in electronics. Having not built anything electronic for over 20 years, until recently, I have a bit of catching up to do. A post on the EEV Blog forum regarding these black blobs soon returned some sound answers and some other interesting facts that have got me thinking. Some of the flickering light novelties utilise the musical greetings card electronics to power LEDs instead of miniature speakers rendering a rhythmic but apparently random flashing. I wonder what croaking frog would look like?

Plate bending rollers

Rolling bars are screwed down when in use
Now look here people, you are supposed to be looking at what I am showing you in the pictures that accompany my ramblings, NOT LOOKING AT WHAT IS LAYING ABOUT ON THE BENCH!! I have received several e-mails asking about the sheet rollers mounted to the bench while I was bending the Meccano to build the crown for the Chelsea Flower Show exhibit. They were purchased from a chap who was selling them on e-bay a couple of years ago. Unfortunately I could not find them when I looked tonight. I think he may just make a batch and list them intermittently. If you do find a listing let me know and I will post a link. Bending the longer, heavier gauge, perforated Meccano strips proved a bit much for my Meccano built bender. You will find some more information on Meccano built bending machines on our Meccano website HERE.


Love it or hate it eBay is a fact of life and if you play nicely it can be a very useful tool. If you need a particular part or a left-handed what’s-it to fit a 1935 widget there is a good chance that someone will have one for sale. If you are selling the afore mentioned what’s-it, there is bound to be some one who wants to buy it. OK, you do get the odd idiot but they are fewer than the stories will have you think.

This week has been a case in point. I was looking for a middle of the range (sorry about the pun) auto/manual ranging digital multimeter with a micro-amp range. Spending three figures on meters is restricted to work. I can’t justify spending Fluke-like prices on something that is a hobby tool and is never going to pay its way. So. There I was skipping through the listings on eBay and there on a buy-it-now listing was a Extech 430 for £14.95. Halfway through a double take and I hit the ‘BUY’ button – Result!

The meter had only been listed a few minutes earlier and for once I was in the right place at the right time. A couple of days later and the postie was knocking on the door. Grubby and looking used it was looking a bit sorry for itself but it was working and had a battery with a full charge. While Sue set to work with the good old kitchen cleaner and MR Muscle bathroom cleaner (wonderful stuff) I got to work with the screwdriver and took it to bits (as you do!) to get at the clear plastic LCD display cover. This was badly scratched and just generally grubby. Liberal application of Auto-Sol chrome cleaner cleaned off all the dirt, polished out the light scratches and cleaned up the deeper scratches making them far less obvious.

Stripping the meter gave all the connections between the plug together boards a workout and subsequently improved the sound of the continuity tone. Great value for money, a decent meter for less than the price of a round of drinks!



Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Frogs and powersupplys and Circuit Cellar

The £1 frog croaks as you get near to it - got to be something interesting in there!

Now all that Chelsea stuff is over I have just got back into the workshop. You can't beat the smell of flux and glue. On firing up the workshop's IT system, it collected all the e-mails it has missed for the last few days and among them was a note from Circuit Cellar magazine to let me know they have mentioned my workshop blog on their website. See, somebody must read it! You can see what they had to say HERE

Frog guts!
Meanwhile, on a trip to the local High Street on Saturday Sue managed to pick up one of the frogs mentioned by Dave at the bottom of HSBH 3, which you can read HERE. I have not had a chance to have a look at this thing so I was about to use some 'percussive maintenance' to open it when I discovered the works can be pulled out without damaging the frog. I am not sure what we have here but I will get onto it tomorrow. The small circuit board is just loosely stuck in place and there is what looks like a light censer in its mouth. Looks like this could have lots of uses and for just a pound it even comes complete with batteries!

Putting the frog to one side for now, I decided to take a closer look at an unused AXT computer switched power supply I have had laying around for a few years. These things make a good bench top power supply, if you can only get then to power up. After a bit of head scratching it occurred to me that there might be a bit of a clue in the name. When you connect your computer to the mains supply the power supply does not start until the start button on the front of the computer is pressed. After a bit of a Google search I found a pin-out diagram for all the plugs attached to the huge harness HERE. I should say at this point, unless you know exactly what your are doing, DON'T DO THIS AT HOME.

Don't play with this unless you really know what you are doing. Even when it is off there
is likely to be some stored power in those large capacitors

Pin 14 (of the 20 pin motherboard connector) usually has a green wire attached to it and the pin is marked: PS_ON which means Power Supply ON. If you connect this wire to a ground pin, of which there are several on the plug (Pins: 3,5,7,13,15,16 & 17 are all ground pins) the Power supply will run continuously. If you connect the green cable to ground via a switch, you will be able to turn the supply on and off. I intend to use this as the basis for a bench power supply. I will let you know how I get on in due course.


Results day at Chelsea...

The finished arrangement won a silver medal
Meccano wins Silver at Chelsea!
Tuesday morning and it is results day. This is what it is all about. Did Sue and Pat get a medal? YES! all the hard work paid off and the flower arranging duo scooped a silver. OK it's not a gold but it is only Sue's second time and she won a silver medal last year so we are all delighted here.  Now all we have to do is go and recover it tomorrow evening in time for the people doing the second round of arrangements to get their gear in and build up overnight tomorrow for a new display for Thursday through to Saturday. I can now start thinking about other things and get back to the real stuff in the workshop.


Monday, 21 May 2012

Chelsea flower show pictures from last night...

The previous post was sent from my not so SmartPhone while sitting in the cab of the trusty Transit at 1.30am. Sue and her partner in crime (Pat) were busy in the Floral Design marquee stuffing flowers and foliage into big blocks of oasis atop lengths of soil stack!

The painted crown frame is ready for decorating

Before we go any further a bit of a recap is in order. Back tracking a bout 12 hours to Sunday lunchtime and all hell is breaking out at Laughton Towers. With only hours to go things are getting a bit fought - Bad tempered me? Never! Adding to the blog was the last thing on my mind I was off up the workshop finishing the rest of my chores! By this the crown has made its way to the kitchen table and Sue is hard at work sticking soya bean seeds around the crown, to simulate the gold beads, and building the top piece of the crown from an old plastic Christmas decoration, more cereal packet card and soya beans - this is getting more like Blue Peter every day! After a spray with gold paint it is ready for decoration and ready for filling with flowers. As well as building the framework for the crown, the support for the flower arrangements had to be designed and built. That is where I was all afternoon. By about 9pm we were loading the Van and about to set off for Chelsea.

I recognise that van...
As I am only the unpaid servant, I am not allowed to help with the build as once I have done all the fetching and carying the rest of my night is spent ( with an itermission driving back to Laughton Towers to collect the stuff that got left behind - Dont ask!) sitting in the Transit counting the stitches in the headlining. I did sneek out and take a few night shots for a bit of fun. No tripod makes the composition interesting to say the least. So as I mentioned last night, here are a few photographs taken during the build up and on the show ground at night...

This picture of Diarmuid Gavin's controversial garden at night look as
if it is on fire. In fact it is lit and those 'flames' are trees. Because the shot was
taken in darkness the camera has overexposed the lit sections of the trees

This has to be my favourite picture of the night, a slug's-eye view of the main trader's avenue
Sue and Pat hard at work in the early hours of Monday morning...
Now you know what the pipes were for I was cutting a few days ago
Health and safety gone made everybody in the marquee must wear High-Vis gear!
That was it all finished and time to go home. grab a couple of hours sleep and back again for, this time on foot for a look around on Press day. I will post a couple of pictures tomorrow and then it will be back to 'normal service' the workshop. 


Build up night at Chelsea Flower Show

Just a short post from the Chelsea flower show ground. Tapping this out on my phone while sitting in the van while Sue and her mate build the arrangement. I'm not allowed to help with the build as only two can do it. Should be out of here by sun up. I will post some pictures tomorrow - later today! - when we get home.


Friday, 18 May 2012

Cardboard, string, PVA, UHU... and QR code

This crown is starting to take over. What started off as a simple little job has become the most demanding part of this whole venture. So it is yet another post following the progress of this crown. Today I have been covering up the Meccano using strips of cardboard fixed to the frame. Again a bit of a learning curve here. First attempts using the glue gun cleared the workshop of its crew of resident spiders and insects as the air turned blue as the hot glue made its way through the holes in the Meccano depositing itself on my now rather sensitive digits. At times like this, the best thing to do is to light up a cigarette and go for a wander around the grounds of Laughton Towers. This would be a good plan if, A; it wasn't chucking it down with rain and B; I don't smoke!

Adding the 'rope' trim. Note the Meccano cardboard scraps!
The glue gun was cosigned to its place on the racking, with a rather firm hand, and it was out with my tube of UHU (bought from the local pound shop) that is inscribed in four different languages" The All Purpose Adhesive". I usually avoid this stuff as it strings like mad, turning the project into something resembling a spiders web. It does have one big advantage - it ain't hot! I was pleasantly surprised how easy it is to use. Yes it does string a bit bit it dries quickly and makes a very good bond between the cardboard and metal. Pulling the card over the edge of the bench breaks the grain and makes the card much more malleable preventing any spring back around the curved surfaces. To keep it in the family, some of the card used is also Meccano, cut from discarded modern packaging.

For the gold 'rope that trims the edges of the crown, a length of string was soaked in PVA and left to dry before being stuck in place using, my now found fried, UHU. This looks the part and the pre-gluing makes it very easy to work with.

Cardboard crown!
 Next job is to cut the crosses and fleur-de-lis that adorn the rim of the crown. Again these are cut from card. One of each is cut first and this is used as a pattern for the others. After all four have been cut they will be laminated onto more card, to increase the strength, a then when the glue has cured the will need to be re-profiled.

QR codes are everywhere...

QR Code

My old SmartPhone can read QR Code
Between batches of cutting and waiting for glue to dry I decided to sort out something that has been bothering me for a while now. Have you ever wondered what those funny square blocks of dots that seem to be everywhere are? Well, they are QR (Quick Recognition) code. To save repeating everything here, just Google 'QR Code' and you will find all sorts of information and free QR generators to make your own code. These codes can be read by any SmartPhone - even my old Nokia - once you have downloaded a free app.

So now you can get to our website either by clicking on the link here: or by pointing your SmartPhone at the lump of QR code above. When you get to our website you should be able to do the same thing by pointing your SmartPhone at the code on the Home page and jump back to the workshop blog.

Isn't technology wonderful... Back to the cardboard!


Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Chelsea crown...

As I said yesterday a few modifications are needed to make this crown work. first the three bolt heads on the curved sections need to be removed as they will be in the way when the frame is over-laminated with card. The bolts, along with their nuts, are holding a 3-hole strip across the bent strips holding everything together. my first thought was to remove the bolts and strips, and re-fit them with a liberal coating of super glue. I though I would be able to remove the bolts after a time and the glue would hold the strips in place. Well that was a disaster. Wire through the holes and twisted to hold the strips together did sort of work but was still not perfect. Sue had given me some stiff mesh material to act as a backing for repairing the spine of an old Stamp catalogue. Strips of this stuff stuck in place with a glue gun did the job.


While the super glue was drying during my first attempt at holding the bent strips together I needed to add an extension to the frame so the main structure was not sitting on the fury bit (technical term) around the bottom. When it was finished  a rummage around the potting shed turned up a saucer of the correct diameter to hold the floral foam. The funny spiky looking things are called 'Frogs' and are used to secure the afore mentioned foam.

Cutting the pipe (outside the workshop)

Between messing around with the crown, I am also building the main support for the arrangement. The area we have to fill is 6ft wide, 6ft 6in high and 4ft deep. To achieve this some sort of sturdy structure is required. This year we have opted for using plastic domestic soil stack. This is made from ABS and is available in black and light grey. The pipe will be cut into various lengths and will be set into a sub-base made from MDF, standing 4 inches high above the provided base and inset by a foot from the left, right and front. This involves cutting the 100mm diameter plastic soil stack to length. Cutting pipe nice and square can be a problem, especially the larger diameter material. The following is a method I have used successfully several times before. The first job is marking up. 
As the pipe is 10ft long and it is a nice day, it is out with the tarpaulin and onto the lawn. Marking up the pipe is best done using a wide piece of paper wrapped around the pipe as a guide. I always have a roll of lining paper 'in stock' in the workshop, it has many uses and this is one of them. Position the edge of the paper where the cut is to be made and using a permanent marker follow the edge of the paper around the pipe with the pen. don't worry about how neat the line is so long as the marker is touching the end of the paper
Slide the paper back to reveal a nice smooth line to follow and make the cut using a hard point saw. If you are not confident of cutting straight through and being able to follow the line, just work your way round the pipe cutting shallow cuts following the line. The result will be a nice square cut. The rough end can be cleaned up with abrasive paper. 

Now I have a short sample of pipe I can now set up the router to cut the holes in the MDF - Tomorrow methinks!


Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Meccano at Chelsea

It is that time of year again. The house is filling with flowers, the van gets it's temporary bucket racks fitted and yours truly is roped into building all sorts of weird things from drainage pipes MDF and this year Meccano! Yes, it is build up time for the Chelsea Flower Show again and this year as part of a large flower arrangement Sue needed to make a crown, not just any crown but the Edwards Crown used in the coronation of QE II. So it was out to the workshop where we have a 'small' stock of tatty Meccano awaiting refurbishment. Out with the bending machine, rolling bars, hammers and dollies. And here it is in the making.
The crown takes shape. The Meccano-made bender needed a bit of help
Once the main frame was completed it was given a coat of Würth Zinc Spray (Brilliant stuff!) that dries in minutes. Now we can see the real shape of the crown. After some more discussion this evening it looks like we need to add some more framework and maybe dig out the super glue and rivets! Before you all start, no Meccano will be harmed in this exercise as it will be reclaimed, stripped and straightened after the show is over. I will post some more on the crown tomorrow.
The crown is given a coat of Zinc Spray
Tomorrow I will be routing some holes in MDF, cutting 100mm pipe and building the base for the arrangement. So come back tomorrow and see how I get on.


Friday, 11 May 2012

Artex - Yes you can still get it!

Workshop time was foreshortened, here at Laughton Towers this week, by a trip to Ironbridge last weekend to attend Meccanuity 12 one of the bigger Meccano shows. If you want to see want we got up to and a huge selection of photos of the show go and check it out on our Meccano website HERE. We decided to stay an extra night after the show meaning we did not get back to base until late on Tuesday. So it was a three day week and it is Friday already!  

The messy bit
 So it is back to the workshop and time to play with that big bag of Artex that followed me home last week. In the 'old days' Artex was a pain to use having to mix it with hot water and then let it cool down before it could be used. The modern stuff can be used with any temperature of water between 10ºC and 40ºC No matter how hard I try, I can always be relied upon to get the stuff everywhere. One of the big advantages of Artex is that while it is still soft it washes off much easier than plaster of Paris or good old parrot stuffing (Polyfiller - get it?) Mix the Artex by adding the powder to clean water until it is the constancy of double cream.
That's enough Artex for one day, now it just has to sit there to go solid
Leave it to stand - it will be fine for a good hour or two - while some more of the kitchen wipes are cut up into squares. these are then dipped into the liquid Artex  and applied to the previously constructed layer which, is now bone dry and tight as a drum. layer it on until the landscape has bee covered. while it is still wet apply more Artex using a brush until the whole are has been covered. The damp will re-activate the PVA, making a very secure bond once it has all dried thoroughly. This first stage of application may take up to 48 hours to dry out thoroughly. More on this next week.


Friday, 4 May 2012

Dishcloth and scissors

Not much to report from yesterday. After voting (London mayoral elections) a trip to my local decorating trade supplies, see below, and spending too long watching the EEVblog on YouTube - Dave Jones is a real nut but really informative and entertaining...

Pound shop cloth wipes make the first layer
Back to the sound proofing experiment and it is time to cover the cardboard lattice with the first layer. The choice here is endless. The standard covering for chicken wire was plaster impregnated bandage sold for years under the brand name of Mod-Roc it has now become a generic name for all similar products aimed at modellers. Unless you buy the stuff wholesale, it can be an expensive option. Even at whole sale prices it starts to get expensive on a large layout. Newspaper or paper towel is another alternative. this can be pasted down over the lattice and works well. In fact anything that will cover the lattice is fair game and has probably been used at one time or another. Here I have opted for a different approach. The landscape will be built up from layers of material all bonded together to make a hard, durable shell that will stand some punishment but is easy to work and can be modified to accept landscaping features such as planting and structures.

Steady progress and the landscape takes shape
My regular visits to the High Street (See my High Street Bargain Hunter page) unearth all manner of offbeat materials and here I am using some Handy Wipes - they look like thin 'J' cloths - found in our local 99p Store. 30 in a packet and I used fewer than eight to cover this section. The wipes are cut up into small squares. I can get 16 out of one cloth. These are then stuck over the lattice, overlapping them as you go, at various angles to produce a smooth substrate for the next layer.

First layer is complete!

Free PVA - Found in a skip
 The are nearly as many different types of PVA on the market as there are fishes in the sea! most if not all will do the job for us. The most economic way to buy it for landscaping and general use is in a tub/tin/plastic bottle as a building product. It is sold as a sealer or as an adhesive. It can also be found in large er quantities in craft shops. have a good look around and compare prices. it is all slightly different in its make up but the cheapest stuff you can find will do the job. With my cheap-scape's hat on, it is possible to get it for free!Yes I do mean free, zilch, for nothing. For reasons I can't understand, a lot of tradesmen will throw out part used containers of PVA at the end of a job. Perhaps they can't be bothered to store it, maybe it was priced into the job and they will buy more for the next job, I don't know but all I know is I have found several amount of the stuff while indulging in that most profitable of pastimes, an Anglicised version of what the Americans call 'Dumpster-diving', skip hunting! You will be amassed what gets put in a skip at the end of a job. Just remember that even rubbish has an owner and always ask before removing anything from someone else's skip.

Now that is done, it will need to be left for a day or so to dry hard and then it is on with the next layer of Handy Wipes this time soaked in something that will stick to the first layer and be readily adsorbed by the wipes. You could use powdered filler or any of the plaster of Paris materials sold in craft stores or by the numerous sellers of scenic products but by far the best material I have found is Artex, textured finish powder. and the best way to buy it is in a big 25kg bag from one of the decorating trade suppliers. If you don't need that much smaller bags are available from the DIY stores but you will pay nearly as much for only 10kg. I'll show you how I get on next week.


Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Postman came today

Hmmm.... What a lot of knobs! If all else fails I suppose
I had better read the instructions!
In my quest to get to grips with all this electronic stuff I have been looking at all sorts of material on the internet, tutorials and data sheets, components and projects. The information is going in like water into a dry sponge. And like water into a dry sponge, it takes a while for the first drop to appear. That happened last week when I suddenly realised that time was as important as value and to measure both I needed something more than my digital multimeter. I decided the workshop was not complete without an oscilloscope. So I set about looking around. Figuring that my best bet was to look for something cheap and cheerful. The O-word was plumbed into the eBay search engine and several pages were there ready to study. Not really knowing what was what I decided to have a punt at a few cheap listing and see what happened. To my surprise I won one and it arrived today in a big box full of bubble wrap!  Now all I have to do is teach myself how to use it - should be fun!

I knew reading the instructions was a waste of time. I got this to work by inviting
somebody who had half a clue round to have a go!

Also today my mate Tim (you know, my pet Nerd) was here eager to have a go at programming the Arduino ( See Wednesday 25th April's posting ) and attempt to teach me some programming, not an easy task! I think he went home exhausted but I did understand some of it and a few years of study should do the trick. We managed to get a little further on and I am slowly getting the hang of this but why you have to say HIGH and LOW and not ON and OFF is still a sticking point. The upshot is I am a little nearer understanding what is what but there is still a way to go.


Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Stick, stick, stick, Ouch!... Stick, stick....

Off we go, glue gun at the ready the hard shell starts to take shape

Today I have spent a few hours working on the section of layout that I am using to test out my silent running theorems. The hard shell of the landscape needs a support. Over the years I have used all sorts of materials. Chicken wire was a hot favourite, in the early days, I could buy small amount of it in the hardware shop when I was a kid. These days I am not sure where I would get it from without doing an internet search. It did the job at the time but there are all sorts of advances in materials and glues since then. In the mid 70's I wrote a small book on landscaping, while doing some freelance work for a publisher I used to work for. My little book explained the various techniques in common use at the time, nothing startling.  A few years later, while working on another model railway magazine, I had the good fortune to meet the late Jack Kine. For those of you who don't know the name, Jack was the driving force behind the BBC's special effects unit for the best part of 40 years (Google his name for more information). In his retirement Jack set up a small cottage industry selling scenic materials aimed at the railway modeller. Jack changed my approach to landscaping completely and I have used and adapted his basic ideas ever since. Jack too wrote a book on landscaping - far more interesting than my meagre offering of a few years earlier. He was always willing to try and share new techniques. I got on with him very well on the few occasions I was privileged to spend a few hours with him and we discussed new ideas and current projects. His method of translating the real thing into model form made a lasting impression on me and my modelling. I still follow his basic methods today. Sadly Jack died in 2005 at the age of 83 but his book lives on, though out of print it does appear for sale from time to time and if you see a copy, grab it. It is only a small paperback but it is full of Jacks superb illustrations and very readable text.

The finished lattice all trimmed and ready for its covering

Sympathy please - Injured in
the name of modelling
The landscape hard shell starts with a lattice of card cut from old cereal packets. This is archetypal Jack Kine. In his day the strips would have been stuck together with Evo-stick or white PVA. either of which will do just as well today. However I am a great fan of the glue gun for its speed and of use and 'drying' time. Love 'em or hate 'em glue guns do make a job like this much quicker. If only I could stop gluing my fingers to the job!

The lattice is open in the areas of open landscape and the tighter weave is employed where exposed rock will be modelled. Even without any other covering this area is very rigid. Next it is out with the scissors, dishcloths and a bag of.... No, you will have to wait and see...