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...


Sunday, 16 June 2013

Back home again...

Where did that go?

What big teeth you have...
Here we are back home again and the last couple of weeks seems to have flown by. We had a terrific time in Scotland (as always) but this time seemed to be more of a relaxing holiday than a jaunt around the countryside. We spent a good deal of the time just relaxing and reading. the weather was good most of the time and it was a real chance to unwind. My plans, for visiting interesting stuff, all came to nothing. We did take a trip over to Falkirk  to visit the boat lift. That was an good day out. Rather than bore you with a résumé of the Laughton's trip on the wheel, if you want to know more, go to the Falkirk Wheel's website.

I keep referring to "we" so I had better introduce you to Sue's Mother-in-law...

Look, There it is!
I am not sure what the pointing was all about but it makes a good picture. When we were not lounging around in the garden or walking in the grounds we did do the odd road trip, including a visit to Aberdeen. We were told by the locals the we would not understand a word anybody said up there, and it was true. I could not understand a single thing this character said.

Before we knew it, we were heading back south leaving Scotland behind for another year and heading back to The Smoke to resume the daily grind. I never did get to do half of the things I had intended to but it was still a good break and I can't wait to get back.


Sunday, 2 June 2013

It's that time again...

Last year we decided to take a holiday in Scotland and managed to spend a few days in a fantastic place near Dundee. This year we are back and this time we are here for the full two weeks, and the place has a good broadband connection!

The preparation to this year's journey was much the same as last year and you can find that HERE. I will try and post some stuff of interest over the next couple of weeks. If you have any suggestions as to what is worth a visit  in the Dundee area please let me know.


Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Time for a RANT!

This is one of those occasional philatelic themed posts. I started collecting stamps as a schoolboy. I had the usual subscription to an 'approvals' supplier who would send me a selection of stamps plus the odd packet of 'Mixed Whole World' Stamps, to spend my pocket money on. Unlike most of my friends, I continued to have a fascination with stamps through into adult life by which time I had specialised my collecting to pre 1952, genuinely postally used stamps (not cancelled to order) and especially the Victorian, line engraved
Line engraved 1d Black
issues. Having started collecting first day covers as a kid, I had a good run by the time I was leaving home. I was not so interested in this side of the hobby, so my Father continued to collect mint commemorative stamps along with their First Day Covers (FDCs). This continued until his death in June 2011. As this collection was an almost complete run of Queen Elizabeth II covers I decided to keep it up. I took over his Royal Mail subscription and have kept the collection going. Recently this has become a ridiculously expensive venture. 

Royal mail have turned the service into a giant money spinner producing all sorts of variations on the stamps with booklets, mini sheets, Smilers (sponsored sheets) and all sorts of inane rubbish like mugs, framed sets, cast medallions and so on. None of which have anything to do with postage. The FDCs are not even sent through the post any more but ink-jet franked on a production like and then placed inside another cover to be send out. Not surprisingly these covers have very little resale value and I can understand why.

Too many - too much for me!
Yesterday the latest set of stamps and covers arrived. I only subscribe to the mint stamps, mini sheets and booklets plus the FDCs. In the past an issue might have a mini sheet and a few stamps or just a set of four or five stamps. Recently not only have the sets been getting bigger (eleven 1st class plus another 1st and four 2nd class in the mini sheet making 16 stamps different  stamps in this issue!) but the 'value' of each stamp has greatly increased due to last years postal charge increases. This is not stamp collecting, this is just subscribing to a 'collection' it could be wall plaques, die-cast models or any one of the manufactured collectables that are all over the Sunday supplements claiming to be 'limited editions' and the like. But the real rub is the bill. Take a look at this...

...and that is without any fancy stuff. That is it I am not playing this game any more. I will continue to buy the mint stamps as that is a genuine postal product but the rest they can keep - over £40.00 for just one issue is ludicrous. There will be people who will continue to buy them under the misapprehension that there will be some value in them at a later date or, like me, just wanted to keep a collection going. This was the final straw for me and the nail in the coffin came when I discovered that the Football Heroes miniature sheet will also be accompanied by a prestige booklet wrapped in a foil wrapper, reminiscent of the football cards of our youth. How tacky is that? - Will there be a wafer of pink bubble gum enclosed as well? And guess what? There are eleven stamps in the set as well - all first class.

What a real case of exploitation. You will not find me buying a pile of FDCs to support that sort of blatant profiteering - shame on you Royal Mail!


I spoke too soon

It has been a few weeks since my last post on the Workshop blog and all the things I intended to do in that time have all been sitting there awaiting my attention - to be honest, it has just been too cold out there. The weather here in London has been uncharacteristically cold for the past few weeks and I have been concentrating on things I can do indoors. I decided to use some of the time getting to grips with a Meccano drawing programme called VirtualMec. You can see what I have been up to, on the Meccano front, by checking out our Meccano News blog HERE, so I will not repeat it all on this one!

40 years ago... a small way, I studied art and passed all my exams. I then got involved in publishing, design and graphics, and the 'art' got forgotten. Since then I have always had an interest in The Arts and have had plenty of ideas for works but have never followed them through - until now. A few weeks ago we were doing a bit of shopping in our local Aldi store when I spotted a watercolour set. Pad, pencil, paint and brushes all for £3.50. To good to pass, I thought, the purchase was made and my 'bargain' was carried off home. Filled with enthusiasm I unwrapped my purchase and set about giving it a go... You know what they say about if it seems too good to be true... Well, it was a disaster. The paint was horrible, the brush lost most of its hairs within the first few minutes, and the paper was very poor. In fact so poor was the quality I have not even bothered to photograph it! My new-found enthusiasm was quashed and I put it down to experience while depositing the paint and pad in the charity box - the paint will be fine for a nipper to play with.

The real deal
A week or so later and we were off to the Science Museum to check out a rumour that there was some Meccano in a showcase in the entrance. Sure enough there was - but that is another story for the Meccano blog. From the Science Museum we headed into Soho for a bite to eat and found a really nice restaurant in Berwick Street (You knew food would figure somewhere didn't you!).

After working our way through three courses and a bottle of red, we were off to Oxford street to pay homage to one of the famous department stores, where we had a pile of tokens that needed spending - well, you wouldn't find us shopping otherwise! On the way through the back streets of Soho, we stumbled across Cowling & Wilcox's central London branch (they are art suppliers - as if you didn't know!). Well, the place is heaving with lots of goodies, I could have got really carried away in there. I found what I wanted; a nice little pocket box of twelve, half pan, decent quality watercolours and a folding brush... plus a nice new set of full length watercolour brushes and... No I am not confessing to any more. Anyway suffice to say I have been having some fun. I might even show you one day...


Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Good day sunshine!

Let's get going again...

Jack frost covered the car and van in white crystals overnight but it is brightening up outside, here at Laughton Towers. Time to consider getting back out into the workshop and start tinkering with something. I have several projects on the boil at the moment, including several steam engines that need rebuilding, Some railway modelling that needs attention and a whole heap of electronic projects including a couple of flat-screen computer monitors that need a quick rummage around in the back to see if I can get them working again.

At the other end of the spectrum, I have a pile of what might be referred to as Vintage Hi-Fi (inherited from my Father) to play with. This is not that old, but it is good old solid Japanese separates at their best. Including a nice 10½ inch  reel-to-real Teac tape recorder. All outdated, in this digital world, but perfect for playing jazz from the 20s, 30s and 40s and before. Hmmm... Thinking about it, most of it must be 30 years old if not more - Blimey! Where did all that time go?

On a more down-to-earth note, I also have a pile of sweet and biscuit tins, left over from Christmas, that are going to get the chop in order to be used, in conjunction with olive oil, cotton wool and a few other bits, to have a bit of fun. I will show you later...

Now the temperature is on its way north of zero, I'll get out there later, evict the winter residents and have a bit of a tidy up. The workshop gets used as a dumping ground over the winter. so I need to go and stake my claim. I did get a morning of woodworking done last week, building a bespoke stand for our huge  Meccano loom. But that was built outside as the workshop is not functional at the moment. Time to change that, me thinks!



Monday, 4 March 2013

Speed Freak!

Too good to be true?

Every now and then the old adage about it sounding too good to be true is proved wrong. Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you I am the last person to listen to cold-call salesmen (Sorry; Sales-person!) or react to e-mails purporting to be telling me something "I really should know". Well, a year or so back I was caught off guard by a cold call from BT telling me I could upgrade my broadband connection to a high speed optical line. In my best not impressed-tone, I cynically made some remark about paying for something I did not really need. The voice on the other end of the telephone line, that must be commended for persevering, quoted a figure at me that was a pound and a few pennies less than is was currently paying. In a reluctant tone I agreed to take them up on their offer. At this point I was fully expecting a phone call apologising for their mistake or to hear nothing. At that time, the Broadband was downloading at about 7.5 Mbps which seemed more than fast enough to me.

A few days later, a bloke arrived, screwed yet another box onto the wall in Command Central, here at Laughton Towers (AKA the cupboard under the stairs!) A bit of rushing about to and from "The box, Mate" and he had increased the speed of the connection by several times to about 38 Mbps. And so it stayed, the bill went down and this chap was happy as Larry.

Then, at the end of last week, out of the blue, came an e-mail from those nice guys at BT offering to increase the speed of the connection for free! All I had to do was to 'Click here' so I did. It stated that I need do nothing, just wait and in a few days my connection would speed up all on its own - no man at the door, nothing. Well, to my surprise, this morning the speed had almost doubled, see below: 

My Broadband Speed Test
Twice the speed overnight!

The original e-mail stated that the speed will increase over the next week or so to a maximum of 100Mbs but a realistic 90Mbs is more likely. To be honest it really does not need to be any faster for me. I am not into streaming HD video up or down the line, and i-player, and the like, run fine at 40Mbps. Any faster and I will receive stuff before it has been sent. I am not complaining - it is great. I just can't believe it is Free! 


Sunday, 6 January 2013

If you wondered what I have been up to...'s the answer!

Our new internet shop is now open and although we will be selling some Meccano, the emphasis will be on steam. We have several Mec1 engines going through the refurbishment process and these will be available soon. In the mean time you can go and see what it is all about by following the link:

Paint me please!
More interesting items will be added on a regular basis so keep checking back to see what's new!