Sunday, 1 May 2016

Allotment updates 2016 edition...

And so a new year (yes I know it's been a new year for a few months) and as ever there's loads to do on the plot, so here's where we're at with the allotment so far this year.

I started a little later this year, and this is what greeted us, which to be honest isn't bad at all -

The plot as of February -

As usual weeding is the order of the day.

After deciding to start at the top and work down I set about weeding around the raspberry plants and weeding out the strawberry and asparagus beds, this didn't take too long.

Bit of weeding done - 

Starting to look better already.

The other thing I did on this visit was to tidy up the path and put the mulch down, we do this every year, and we use the cuttings from the privet hedges we have around the house, normally I shred them and leave them in black bags over winter, then come spring we clear any weeds from the path and cover it in mulch, I also keep the saw dust from my wood working exploits to use on the path as well.

Path tidied and mulched - 

Path done.

Having put the main part of the path in a while ago I decided it was time to sort out the rest of it, so I marked out a small path that goes round our raised beds at the top of the plot, and then decided that rather than have string or some kind of edging like with the rest of the path I'd make some kind of framework, that way we can grow stuff, like peas, beans etc up it.

Frame work started - 

Bit wobbly, but it's a start.

And apart from more digging and putting in some garlic and shallots that was it for February.

So on to March.

March was much the same as February, more digging and weeding, and a bit more planting, I also finished off the frame work around the top section of path.

Path frame work done - 

Blue string to hold it together, it's what I had at the time.

Framework from another angle - 

Might be a bit 'rustic' but it works.

Time for some planting, first thing in was broad beans (Wilkinsons The Sutton variety) usually people plant broad beans and over winter them, but to be honest from my experience at least it seems to make no difference in how quick you get beans if you plant at the end of the year or whether you plant at the start of the year (around March) yes the plants will be a bit further along if over wintered, but they soon catch up when planted at the start of the year.

Beans in - 

Here's to a good harvest of beans.

I also planted a load of peas along the line of the new framework, this will stay where it is and we'll also grow other things up it as the year goes by, after the peas it'll be french beans (saved from last year) fingers crossed they won't get eaten like last year.

Peas in (I used Kelvedon wonder, they do well here) - 

You can't tell but there are peas there.

Next spuds, planting two different varieties this year, the first being reds (Rooster) and some whites (Maris piper) both are good spuds, and this year I'm planting them lengthways along the fence between our plot and the next plot, usually I plant them across the plot, but I've noticed that there's a slight slope towards the fence and when watering the water tends to run that way, so I figured I'd try planting the spuds along that side and in theory they'll get more water, the spuds at the end of the rows when we've grown across the plot always seem bigger and the plants do better.

Spud planting - 

We shall see if they do better grown this way.

I also put in a load of other stuff, carrots (autumn king) spinach (saved seed) pak choi (saved seed) chard (bright lights, beta vulgaris) beetroot (boltardy) turnips (snowball) and radish (sparkler 3 mix) and some mooli (mino early) most of the other things we'll grow this year (squashes etc) have been started off in the greenhouse at home and will soon be ready for planting out.

I also relocated our rhubarb plants from the bottom of the plot to the top of the plot, so now all the fruit type plants are near the shed, the rhubarb will get more shade there and from looking at other plots it seems to do better at the top end of a plot.

And that was March done - 

About half of the plot is doing something, or should be.

I only made one trip to the plot in April, on a decidedly wet day I figured it would be a good time to plant some onions (Stuttgarter) now onions are something I never seem to do well with, but I'm not giving up, it's odd as I can grow leeks, garlic, shallots pretty well, but onions not so much.

Onions in - 

The green things in the top right are leeks, those I can grow.

And that was it, as yet I haven't been back to the plot (but it's only just turned May) I will finish digging over and tidying up and fixing things in the next week or so, and then it'll be ready for the stuff in the greenhouse.

The story so far - 

It was a soggy day.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Industrial style lamps...

In this (long) post I will be turning two lamps into two lamps, which may sound counter productive, but bare with me, you can skip to the end of this post for the finished lamps and a short video of them working.

We have had two bedside lamps for many many years and to be honest they have become a bit tatty and they aren't in the best shape any more, so I decided to recycle them into something a little more to our liking, all I bought for this project was the two vintage look bulbs and the large chunk of Oak (which I got cheap) everything else I already had.

One of the old lamps (I'd already cannibalised the other one) -

Seen better days.

I could have just bought some cable and a switch, but these lamps are touch lamps, the ones that have four settings (dim, bright, argh! my eyes and who turned out the lights?) and as we wanted to keep this feature I took the guts out of the lamps and basically made some new bases out of wood.

Wood for bases - 

Home made Lady Rainicorn for scale.

The wood is four foot of air dried English Oak (around 5 inches by 4 inches) that I got for £10 from gumtree, I cut two sections (both around 8 inches long) out of the wood, which has a few flaws in the way of checks and shakes, but it is a lovely bit of wood.

Bases ready for processing - 

Centres & mark for where bulb holder will go.

Firstly I routed out the top of each block with a round over bit, I had thought I'd just leave them as blocks, but I prefer the rounded look.

Have bit, will route - 

I used the largest one I had.

Top routed - 

Better than plain.

Next I had to hollow out the wood so that I could fit the electrics into the bases, this was easier said than done, it seems my ageing router doesn't like Oak very much, well it is nearly twenty years old now, but it got there in the end.

Marked for routing - 

Time to hollow it out, might have to fill those cracks.

Routing begins, I used a router guide first, then did the rest by eye - 

I hollowed out about an inch and half in depth.

Once I'd hollowed out the block (to about an inch and half in depth) I then went round the edge again using a router guide to create a recess so that I could cover the electrics with a thin piece of plywood.

Recess done - 

Not the neatest job, but it will all be covered with green felt.

Next the hole for the bulb holder, I'm using different bulb holders for the new lamps, so a standard bayonet fitting rather than the small Edison screw that the old lamps had, because the ones I had lying about where cone shaped I had to first cut a hole then make it slightly cone shaped so that the bulb holder sat nicely inside, I used a 35mm forstner bit in my post drill to cut the hole.

Hole cut, on to making it a better fit for the bulb holder - 

It took a while to get all the way through.

To make the hole a better fit for the bulb holder I used a sanding drum in my post drill and basically sanded out the first half an inch of the hole so that the widest part of the bulb holder fit snuggly inside, I haven't used any glue to fix it.

Sanding for a better fit - 

Not very accurate, but it works.

Hole sanded out - 

Difficult to so, but it is slightly bigger now.

Checking bulb holder for fit, fit is good, onwards - 

Bonus, that worked well.

Mains cable exit drilled - 

I'll be using cable clamps as well.

Now for the metal plate that will act as a switch for the lamps, the old ones were all metal and as such you could touch them any where and they'd turn on and off, with these lamps I've made a copper disc that acts as the switch.

So on the opposite end of the lamp base I cut out a hole using a 44 mm forstner bit, the idea being that the copper disc will sit inside this hole snuggly and will be connected to the control module.

Hole for switch done, slight mistake needs sorting - 

That'll take some sanding.

As I went to cut the hole the wood moved and I snagged the edge, so I cut the hole a little deeper and sanded the top until the mark was gone, which took a while even with a belt sander, once that was done I cut a thin bit of plywood to fit into the base to cover the electrics.

Plywood cut - 

Should hold things in place.

Both bases done, now for some power - 

You can see what they'll look like.

For the switches I cut two discs of copper and polished them up - 

Need a bit of tidying up.

Tidied and polished (using a buffing wheel) - 


Right time to cram the gubbins into the base, this was easy as I'd basically just taken the guts out of the old lamps and stuck them in the new bases, you can buy these touch lamp modules online for a few pounds, they are easy to wire and most will come with instructions.

Electrics in place - 

Plenty of room.

As this type of touch lamp module works using capacitance I had to make sure that the yellow wire from the module was poking through the hole I'd made in the base, the idea is that the wire sits under the copper disc and when you tough the disc the light turns on, dims and such like, because the disc is a tight fit it clamps the wire very well and makes a good contact, I could have soldered the wire to the underside of the disc, but it's not needed.

Last few things to finish up, I cut pieces of green felt for the bases, this covers the plywood and my shoddy routeing and also stops the lamps scratching the bedside tables, and I took the cable clamps of the old lamps and used them on the new ones so there's no danger of the wiring being pulled out.

Felt ready for gluing onto the base - 

Green goes well with the Oak.

Re-used cable clamps, which I glued into the wood for extra hold - 

Better safe than sorry.
And that's it, not much to them really as I've re-used the old lamps electrics, and with the bits left over from the old lamps and what I have in my supplies I can make two new lamps and two candle sticks, so really I'm making four new lamps and two candle sticks from two old lamps, it's better than sending them to landfill.

Finished lamps (with vintage look bulbs) - 

I think they turned out well.

Here's a video of them working - 

And when it's dark they look like two exclamation marks - 

It wasn't planned honest.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Home made light fitting brackets...

Our wombling continues, and this time it's fixed a problem we've had for a while, well it's not really a problem so much as it's more about the look of three light fittings we have in the house, see we've been here for a while (more than five years) and for the years we've been here three of the lights we've had in the house have been left, and by left I mean bare bulbs hanging from a bog standard white light fitting.

I really don't know why to be honest, it's not like we haven't decorated, we've painted, laid new floors and loads of other stuff (including change light fittings) so I don't know why these three have been left alone.

Not that it matters as we now have these hanging in place of the boring white fittings and bulbs hanging forlornly from the ceilings.

New lights (to us anyway) -

In good condition and free.

Yes we got three of these fisherman style light fittings from free cycling, and although the fittings themselves were fine (they just needed a clean and a polish) I discovered a small problem, that being we had three lights and only one fixing plate.

Fixing plate, of which we had one and needed three -

What to do, buy some? no that'd be too easy.

Before I continue I'd like to say that these are cheap to buy, you can get them online, and from diy shops (B&Q etc) for a couple of pounds, but did I buy some? no I figured I could make them, and I'm still trying to decide whether I should have just bought some, but I though well I have bits of scrap metal seems silly not to try, so I did.

I took an old piece of square steel tube - 

It came from an old metal desk.

Using the one bracket I had as a template I marked up the bit of tube, where to drill holes etc, then I set about making the hook part, which was easy enough to do.

Metal marked -

Bit of drilling and cutting to do next.

I marked out where I needed to drill the fixing holes, and also where I was going to cut the steel so I could bend a section out to make a hook for the light fitting to hang from.

Holes drilled, cutting next -

Two fixing holes and a third to mark where to cut to.

The idea here was to cut down the two lines either side of the centre line until I reached the hole and then all I'd need to do would be bend the steel out and into a hook shape (which I did with some needle nose pliers) and although they don't look as neat as the original one (and the ones you can buy) they work, and you can't see them anyway as they are hidden inside the fitting.

Metal cut - 

Not very neat, I did smooth the edges.

I used a cut off wheel in my multitool to make the cuts in the tube - 

Great for small jobs like this.

A pendant light suspension plate is born -

Not pretty, but they worked so I'm happy.

I made the next one with a slightly larger hook -

Ready for fitting.

Well the wiring block fits on the hook -

Seems an odd way of doing things to me.

These plates basically fix to the ceiling, and then a wiring block hangs from them, to be honest I'm not a fan of the system, but it works so I guess I'm happy.

Now before I actually put the lights up I figured I'd made the brackets a bit too quickly (and easily) and should probably test them first, so I fixed the plates I'd made to a bit of wood and hung the entire light fitting from it and tightened it all up and left it to see if the hooks would hold, and they did.

The lights (all three of them) have been happily hanging from the ceiling for a while now, they've been knocked and they are still nice and tight and where they should be, I filed the edges of the metal where I'd cut it as I didn't want any sharp edges rubbing against wires and I didn't want any cuts either, the edges of cut metal will slice like a razor unless you file it.

In all it took me about half an hour to make the two brackets I needed, which is how long it would have taken me to cycle to the nearest diy shop and back, yes I've saved about £4/£5  by making them myself, but it would have been easier to buy the plates.

I guess it's one bit of scrap metal that won't be heading for land fill, and three lights that were perfectly okay and destined for the bin given a new lease on life.

Still hanging - 

I can report all three are where they should be.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Dresser refresher...

Ours is a house that likes to rescue things, plants mainly, the ones that no one wants and that look half dead, but we also like to rescue furniture, especially old furniture.

We have a fair bit of old furniture rescued from people who were throwing it away or selling it cheaply just to get rid of it quickly and our latest item is an old dressing table, we'd been looking for one for our daughter for some time and finally found one that was low enough for her to use, but it did need a bit of tlc.

Here's the finished dressing table -

The wall colour was our daughters choice.
It cost us nothing, although we did need a lift with it (thanks for that) but it was in a bit of a state, the old varnish was knackered, so I set about giving it a new finish.

Before I attacked it with a sander -

The drawers were bad as well.

Knackered varnish -

This bit came off on our daughters hand when she lent on it.

More dodgy varnish -

Not much you can do once it gets like this, peeling off and such like.

Selection of sanders, the small orange one is great for tight spaces and corners -

They have served me well, not their first furniture job, and not their last either.

The minion wanted to help, after all as she said it's her dressing table -

You might have guessed, but she quite likes pink.

Carcass sanded, didn't take long, and no I didn't make my daughter do it all -

Next to put some colour back into it.

It didn't take long to sand all of it, about 2 hours of sanding in all, the old varnish didn't need much persuading, it came off easily, I started with 80 grit sheets and went down to 240 grit for the final sand, and then it was on to waxing.

I've done this to a few bits of furniture we have and although it takes time it does work well, the process involves using a coloured wax, one that more or less matches the wood (in this case Oak) and then waxing with at least 2 coats of clear wax, then over time with polishing it develops a patina that makes it look more natural, it's a slow process, but after a while it looks more like a piece of furniture that's as old as it is, with this dressing table that's about 65 / 75 years give or take.

We know it's about that old because of this - 

We have a couple of furniture items with these marks.

It's a cc41 mark, which basically stands for "Controlled Commodity" the 41 is because it was introduced in or around 1941 and ran until around 1951 and like a lot of things materials for making furniture were also rationed in WW2 you could only get new furniture if you had either been bombed out or been recently married, and as with a lot of furniture from that period it is very much a utility piece, which is why it's not very decorative as far as dressing tables go, although there was quite a good black market trade in more decorative furniture, but for us it was the mirror that made it, it's lovely old thick bevelled glass and is 75cm across (about 2 and half feet) it's a big bit of glass.

More on "Controlled Commodity"41 at wikipedia - (opens in new window)

Right enough about that, time for some wax - 

Great stuff and a nice colour.

I used Black Bison wax, it's great stuff and smells nice (my wife says it smells like a Bison, not sure how she knows that) I gave the whole thing a generous coat of wax and left it over night before adding the top coats of clear wax.

For any gaps that I couldn't get a rag into I used a small paint brush to apply the wax, you can see in the picture below the light colour where the 2 bits of wood meet.

A small brush works well for gaps.

Wax brushed in, looks better now -

You can clean the brush with hot water and washing up liquid.

For the top coat of wax I've used clear Briwax, again I've used this stuff for a while and I find it to be good, gives a nice shine and it's easy to use, just apply it liberally and leave it for a few hours before buffing, which does take a bit of effort, but the shine is worth it, and it's hard wearing, our stair treads are stained wood and Briwax does a great job of keeping them looking good.

Top coat applied - 

You can see the difference in colour.

While the wax dried I set about a couple of small repairs, one of the drawers had some dodgy hardboard on it which didn't fit very well and there were gaps, so I took that off and replaced it with some thin plywood, which I got from a scrap wood bin, the other repair was fixing the stop blocks, these are just small bits of wood that stop the drawers going in too far, just a couple of pins soon sorted them out.

New drawer base -

The colour doesn't match, but it's inside the drawer so not in view.

Stop blocks fixed down - 

Few pins and job done.

And that was it, apart from buffing the wax to a soft shine and lugging it up the stairs that was it, in all it took about 4 hours actual work to get it looking better, and over time it will take on a nice look more in keeping with it's age, now all we need to do is get some fairy lights for round the mirror to add a bit of sparkle.

One last thing, if you have an old bit of furniture that's more or less okay finish wise but maybe has a few scratches don't bin it, get some Teak oil, it's cheap and works well for adding a shine and feeding wood.

Here's a few scratches on the tallboy that also lives in our daughters room, this was also made in or around WW2, but the front has a few marks.

Scratches - 

Only small, but noticeable.
After a wipe over with Teak oil -

The scratches are still there, just less noticeable.

So go forth and rescue stuff.

Thanks for reading.