Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Last allotment update of the year...

So that's it for another year, well a few months anyway, the weather is getting colder, certainly windier where we are, not much is growing now.

It's been a mixed year for us veg wise, we haven't had as much from the plot this year, but some of that was due to rodents and other things like the weather, we lost all our sweet corn, it got eaten, it was there one day and pretty much gone the next, the little buggers had the strawberries as well.

Exhibit 'A' your honour -

At least some one enjoyed it...

On the plus side our Asparagus seems to be doing well, it's been cut back now, but it has grown a fair bit and we'll maybe get some to eat next year, it's taken a while raising the plants from seed, but so far it's going well.

Asparagus - 

The picture was taken at the end of summer.
Spuds did well this year, we've had around 40 kg of spuds, double the amount we had last year, we also did well for beetroot which my wife was happy about (I can't stand the stuff) we got a fair amount of squash type veg, not as big as last year, but enough to keep us going for a while.

Some beetroot, spuds and beans - 

A small selection of what we ended up with.

We put two broad bean crops in, the idea being one we'd eat and the second we'd half eat and then save the rest for the seeds, the rodents got them too, they have been an ever present menace this year affecting some on the site worse than others.

Some of the squashes we got, some of which have been eaten or turned into things ready to be eaten, this year we grew some round courgettes, we only planted a few and they don't seem to put out as much as a normal courgette plant but they were very tasty.

Courgettes and other squashes - 

Round courgette to the left of the picture, lighter green than normal courgettes.

The round courgettes are good for stuffing, just open them up, like you would a pumpkin and scoop out the insides then fill with whatever takes your fancy and roast for a bit, very tasty, stuff you've grown yourself always seems to taste better.

Dinner - 

A great use for a round courgette.

My wife did the cooking, she used sausage meat, onions and garlic and some other things and the topped it with cheese and roasted it, tasted great and they are a nice size for one person as well.

And of course we still have a pile of squashes for eating through winter, some have been turned into relish and some have been turned into purée (pumpkin) for pies and soups.

Future meals - 

You don't have to keep your squashes in a cat bed.

And that as they say is that, another year done, I have some concerns about the soil on the plot, so over winter and into spring I'll be trying to improve it a bit, maybe invest in some manure and such like and no doubt there will be loads of small jobs to get done before growing starts next year, we still have some things in the ground, like leeks and swedes, but for the most part the plot is being left alone for a few months, I'll cut back any weeds and let them rot down, this may also help the soil a bit.

So for now we'll say bye to the plot and see you in the spring - 

Soon be time to start again.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

All hail the sin bin...

Most diy type stores have an area or a crate where they put damaged things, or random bits of wood, I (for reasons I'm not entirely sure off) refer to them as the sin bins, probably has something to do with what goes into them looking like mistakes made when cutting things for customers and such like.

I always look in them, sometime the bits of wood are free, some times they might cost 50 pence or maybe as much as a pound, they are handy if you're looking for a small bit of wood for a project, although sometimes you do find things like garden chairs in them, so it's well worth a look.

Most recently I came across a piece of Oak, which I rescued, most of the time these shops will just skip anything that's been lying around for too long at least this way there's one less bit of wood going to landfill or on a bonfire.

Here's the bit of Oak -

Any ideas what to do with it ?
Not much to say about it really, it's a random bit of Oak, about two feet long, I thought at first it was a bit of flooring, but it has no grooves or tongues and typically doesn't have any of the signs of it being a bit of flooring, so I have no idea what it was, or where it came from as the shop in question doesn't appear to sell anything like this.

What to do with it ? well there are numerous things you could do with it, make some book ends, coasters, a nice shelf for some plants maybe ? I however went for the easiest thing, cut it in half and make a couple of chopping boards.

All I did was measured it and marked the centre, then rather than cut straight through I made a kind of curved design and used my scroll saw to cut it out, bit more interesting than a plain old rectangle.

Centre and curves marked - 

Now for cutting.

Once I'd cut the boards I gave them both a good sanding and made a hole in each one so they can be hung up easily.

Cut and sanded - 

The shape reminds me of a bird.
Now for some oil, as these are meant for chopping and will come into contact with food I've used pure Tung oil, it brings out the colour and grain of the wood, it's highly water resistant (more so than other oils) which is great for use in the kitchen, it's much less likely to go mouldy like Linseed oil can, and it's safe for food use.

Although you do have to be careful as not all Tung oils are the same, some have had things added to them, like solvents so read the labels carefully, it's also used to make Danish oil, one other thing to remember with Tung oil is that it takes a while to dry, even after a couple of days I was still getting traces of oil on my hands after touching the boards.

Tung oil - 

You can buy it online or in your local diy type shops.

One board coated in oil, looks much nicer than the bare wood one - 

Almost done.

And after about a week of waiting for the oil to fully dry I had two nice very usable chopping boards, Oak is very hard wearing and using the Tung oil means these boards will last a long time, not bad for a bit of wood that may have ended up on a bonfire or on a land fill site going to waste, all it took was some cutting and sanding to give it a new use, so 'All hail the sin bin'

The finished boards - 

Added a bit of leather cord for hanging.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Smelly wooden pumpkins...

It's that time of year when I'm left with less to do gardening wise at least, the allotment has wound down, the garden as well, I do have a load of jobs to do over the winter in the garden in the shape of some trellis for training fruit trees and other plants, I also plan to build a seated arbour for the bottom of the garden, but as for growing things, not much is going on so I'm now working through some of the other things I've been wanting to do, one of which is make some wooden pumpkins for Halloween.

To be honest I'm not sure they are very pumpkin like, but they look okay and they have the added bonus of being smelly, I shall explain.

The pumpkins -

Pumpkin ish ?

I made them from an old fence post, I haven't finished them as well as I usually do, as I was trying to retain a kind of rough / rustic sort of look, they were easy enough to make.

I took an old fence post and cut some blocks from it - 

Blocks cut and centres marked.

I drilled a hole in the centre for mounting onto my lathe using a woodworm screw - 

Ready for the lathe.

Block mounted and ready for turning - 

These are rough and ready pumpkins.

As you can see I haven't taken too much care, and to be honest the wood wasn't great but didn't cause any major problems.

After a minute or two of turning - 

Sort of pumpkin shaped ?

After a bit more turning and a bit of a sand - 

Ready for a bit of detail.

At this point it kind of looks like an onion, to make the lines that pumpkins have I used a couple of needle files to make some grooves into the wood, I did try using my multi-tool with a small sanding drum on it, but I thought the grooves where too wide, you can tell which one it is in the picture at the top of this post, after I'd made the grooves I used a bit of sand paper to smooth things out a bit.

Needle files - 

Easy to use and cheap to buy.

Grooves started - 

Slightly less like an onion ?

Grooves done - 

Almost done.

Once I'd done the main part of the pumpkin I gave it a quick coat of Teak oil and then it was onto the stalk, to make this I raided my supply of random sticks and twigs, I chose some twisted willow as this looked more stalk like.

Stick chosen - 

Just needs a bit of trimming.

I cut the stick where it branched off into two parts, then trimmed it a bit, the next thing to do was sand one end of the stick so that it made a kind of stopper shape, this I figured was an easy way to hide the hole that was left from mounting the wood on the lathe.

Trimmed - 

One stalk.

Sanded and now ready to be a stopper - 

Just needs stuffing into the pumpkin.

Pumpkin done - 

One pumpkin ish pumpkin.

The reason I chose to make a stopper is because this wood is quite soft (it's Pine) it soaks things up quite well, especially oil, so I figured that they'd make interesting air fresheners, the idea is that the hole that I used to mount the wood on the lathe becomes a reservoir for the oil and it slowly soaks into the wood and the stopper stops it spilling, it also soaks some of the oil up, kind of like a wick and there you have it, smelly pumpkins, I used Lavender oil, but any essential oil would work, and after a while you can change the oil for  a different flavour.

In the end I made three pumpkins and filled them all with way too much oil and stunk the living room out, but everyone in the house likes Lavender so all was good and it was a better use for an old bit of fence post than the fire.

Smelly wooden pumpkins, what more could you want ?

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Bowls from pallets (and a bit of scrap wood)

Now that the weather has turned a bit colder (and wetter) I've been experimenting with various wood turning projects I have wanted to try for a while.

Having seen similar things online I decided I'd have a go at making some bowls from some scrap bits of wood, in this case the scrap wood is bits of pallet, and some old lengths of pine (the sort of thing used for stud work) I mainly used the pine as a filler for the pallet wood (which is a type of gum) because I didn't have that much of it.

Here are the bowls I've made so far -

They turned out good.
These are quite large bowls (about 30cm across) and about as big as I can turn with my current lathe, they take a bit of prep work to make in the form of gluing the wood together, but they do have a nice look to them once turned and given a good coat of oil (Danish oil in this case)

To make them all I've done is take a load of wooden planks and glue them together, by arranging the wood in different ways you can create some interesting patterns in the finished piece, although these bowls are pretty simple compared to other segmented items I've seen.

Cut your planks to roughly the same size, and try to get an equal sized square, so if your planks are 20cm long then arrange enough planks to give you a finished block of 20cm by 20cm, it's best if you can use the same width of plank, but if some are a bit bigger than others its not a problem.

My planks arranged in a way I was happy with - 

I marked each bit so I could remember which way up they needed to be.

You can see the wood isn't all the same thickness, but by lying them all on a flat surface I was able to create a nice flat face, which helped when it can to mounting the face plate for turning, I've also tried to get the grain of each bit of wood arranged in a more or less symmetrical way, it's easier to see in the turned bowl.

Now onto gluing, I glued each piece together and made sure that each bit of wood was nicely coated with glue, I used a paint brush to apply the glue, I'm using a good quality wood glue for this to make sure it's all stuck together, really don't want it falling apart when I turn it, big chunks of wood at high speed, not great.

Once I'd glued all the pieces and stacked them it was time to add some clamps, the more the merrier to be honest, I clamped the wood together as tightly as possible, I put a clamp on each corner and used a ratchet strap for the middle as I only have four of these clamps.

Wood clamped - 

Just go to wait for the glue to go off.

Although this glue takes about 24 / 48 hours to set fully I waited a week before removing the clamps to make sure that all the glue had set.

Once the glue was set taking the now solid block of wood I marked it out to find the centre and using a make shift compass I marked a circle onto the block making it as large as possible, this way I figured I'd have guide so I could see how much wood to take off before it was round, the idea being that I could take off the bare minimum and keep the bowl quite large.

Centre marked out - 

Quick and easy compass, just a flat bit of wood with a few holes.

Face plate mounted, one more thing to do before turning - 

More or less centred.

To save a bit of time I cut some corners - 

Not the best picture, but you get the idea.

On to turning, didn't take long to get it to this state - 

Bit of a sand and this side is done.

Slight oversight on my part, bit of wood missing, but left it as it is, we'll go for the rustic look -

It adds to the character.

Now for the inside, I'd turned a recess so that I could mount the bowl on my expanding chuck -

Looks like a bowl, so that's good.

And here's the bowl after some sanding and a bit of an oiling - 

Bit more oil and it's done.

Hopefully you can see what I mean about arranging the wood so that the different grains make different patterns, the other thing I like about these bowls is that I can make them using one tool, I've made three so far and for each bowl I've only used one of my Oland tools to make them all.

Okay so they aren't fancy bowls, but they are very sturdy and not bad to look at, they make great fruit bowls and I'm quite happy with them, considering it was a bit of an experiment I think it worked out okay, which is not always the case for some of the ideas I have.

The three bowls - 

Better than chucking the wood on the bonfire.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Trivets / pot stands...

In our continuing quest to recycle and re-purpose things we get from free cycling and other places I have used some tiles we recently came across to make a couple of trivets or pot stands for putting hot saucepans on, although they could be used for other things, like maybe putting house plants on.

The tiles are solid marble and as well as being quite heavy they are quite large (20 cm square) so they are pretty good for this kind of thing.

Here's one of the tiles -

Not bad we got 10 in all.
People have made tiles into pot stands and such like for ages, so this isn't a new thing, but it's a good use of any left over tiles you might have.

All you need to do is make a simple wooden frame, although with these tiles I could have just stuck some rubber pads on the bottom and they would have done just as well, but having a frame makes them look a little nicer.

The frame is made from tile batten (I could probably write a book with 101 uses for tile batten) it's a simple mitred frame, all I've done is put rebate in the wood so the tile sits inside the frame, but still stands proud of the wood so that when a pan is put on it only the tile comes into contact with the bottom of the pan.

Tile batten ready for routing - 

Probably not the best way to hold wood for this type of job.

Using my router I made a rebate in the entire length of wood, then I cut four pieces with a 45 degree angle at each end. 

One piece cut, just need another three - 

You can see the rebate where the tile will sit.

All four bits cut - 

I used a mitre saw for the angles.

To fix it all together I used wood glue and a frame clamp, I've also glued the tile into the frame so it won't slip out.

Glued and clamped - 

Just waiting for the glue to set.

It was at this point I though that putting some small foam / rubber pads on the bottom would be a good idea, it helps to stop the trivet moving about, and it also raises it up a bit so that if it's moved about it won't scratch the work top, the problem was I didn't actually have any foam / rubber pads, so I made some from a piece of neoprene.

This is pretty easy, all you need is a bit of foam, and a way to cut small circles out of it, you could use scissors but with thick foam this might be difficult and there's an easier way, all you need is a small bit of tube, steel is better, make sure it's diameter is about the right size for what you need, the bit I used is about 10mm and this works on various materials.

What you need to do is sharpen the end of the tube, this is easy if you have a belt sander or a bench top sander like me, you can also do it with files, but it'll take a bit longer, you need to make a cutting edge at the very end of the tube by grinding / sanding the end of the tube at an angle.

Here's my foam cutter - 

It's actually quite sharp.

You can see the angle on the end of the tube, you can also run a small file or a bit of sand paper around the inside of the tube to improve the cutting edge, then all you need to do is place your newly made cutter onto the foam and twist as you push down, if you get it nice and sharp you don't need to put much pressure on it, although thicker materials will need more force.

Putting it to practice - 

It works surprisingly well.

I made a few cuts whilst getting the cutting edge nice and sharp, the end result is easy to make foam pads with a nice clean edge.

Like so - 

I've already used it again to make some new pads for a laptop.

If you use some double sided tape on the foam you can make your own sticky pads for what ever you might need them for, as the caption says I recently made some new foam pads / feet for a laptop out of some slightly thicker stuff.

Back to the trivets, once the glue had dried I gave the wood a bit of a sand and then stained and waxed it, I've gone for a dark stain, but you could use any colour you like, or just leave the wood in it's natural colour, I used a hard wearing clear wax to seal the wood, but a clear varnish would do just as well, it means the trivet can be wiped clean easily, once that was done I stuck the foam pads onto the wood and that's about it.

It's not a new idea, but it's a good use of some old tiles, and they make useful things and pretty good presents for people, and they cost next to nothing to make, the wood worked out at about £1.50 and I made two trivets and had some wood left over, you can use any sized tile you like, small ones make good coasters.

Small blue tile, just about the right size for a cup - 

Made in the same way.

Two finished trivets - 

I know it looks like a crack, but it's just the way the marble is, honest.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Homemade sanding mandrels...

If you're into making stuff from wood (or other materials) you'll know that some times the price of equipment can be quite high, so why buy it if you can make it for free ? (well almost free)

I'm often in need of small sanding tools, specifically something to attach small sanding pads to, and although you can get them quite cheaply when you have to start buying three or four the the price can add up, so I made my own.

Here they are -

Nothing special, by they work well.

There are benefits to making your own tools, the first is obviously the price, you can more often than not make things quite cheaply, or as in the case of these mandrels free from stuff you have lying about, the other benefit is that you can custom make things to suit your needs.

These where easy to make and are basically a bit of plywood with some rubber stuck to it, with some threaded bar to form a shaft for use in drills, or in my case they get used with a flexible drive shaft for sanding stuff I've made on the lathe.

Ingredients - 

Bit of threaded bar - 


Some 'T' nuts and normal nuts (and a few washers) -


Some plywood to cut discs from - 

Already cut.

Some rubber or dense foam - 

Two sorts here, neoprene and the stuff they repair shoe soles with.

And some Velcro (if you use tape use the hook part) - 

Doesn't have to be sticky.

To cut the plywood discs I used a hole saw, this was handy as the hole through the middle is just the right size for the threaded bar, it's also a good fit for the 'T' nuts, I salvaged the 'T' nuts from an old chair, but you can buy them quite cheaply.

Once the 'T' nuts are fitted into the wood discs (which only takes a couple of taps with a hammer) you can cut the threaded bar to what ever length you want, I cut mine to about 45mm, then you can screw it into the 'T' nuts, I also used a bit of thread lock on the end of the threaded bar, but you don't have to.

Bar and 'T' nuts - 

Now for a bit of thread lock.

Thread lock applied - 

It's not essential.

The thread lock is like a glue which helps stop things coming undone, the next step is to add a few nuts on the other side of the wood disc, so what you're trying to do is clamp the wood between the 'T' nut on one side and the normal nust on the other.

Make sure to get the threaded bar as flush with the 'T' nut as you can, you can also use nyloc nuts on the other side of the mandrel, they are the nuts that have a little bit of plastic (Nylon) at one end.

Nuts added almost done - 

A washer will help stop the nuts digging into the wood.

Now for a bit of tidying up - 

Just a quick sand to tidy the wood up a bit.

I put the mandrel into my post drill, just to get the rough edges of the ply, the main shaping and finishing was done on my lathe, but there's no reason you couldn't shape the mandrels in a post drill, or a hand held drill in a vice.

I also sanded the side with the 'T' nuts, just to make sure there were no sharp bits, and to make things nice and flush.

Sanded nice and flush - 

Ready for foam type stuff.

Onto the foam / rubber, I've made a few of these now with different materials, some with a fairly soft neoprene which gives me a bit more flexibility when it comes to sanding curved stuff, the more ridged rubber is great for flat stuff.

All I've done is cut a rough square of the foam (slightly bigger than the wood) and using impact adhesive stuck it to the wood part of the mandrel, then all you have to do is wait for it to set.

Waiting for glue to set - 

Leave it for as long as possible to make sure the bond is good.

When the glue was set I trimmed up the foam and then put the mandrel on may lathe so I could shape the wood and the foam with some sand paper, then all that needed to be done was to add the Velcro for the sanding disc to stick to, again I cut a little more than I needed and then trimmed it up once the glue had set, even though the Velcro I used had adhesive on it I still used a bit of glue to make sure they don't fall apart.

Waiting for glue to set again - 

It's easy enough to remove the extra bits of glue.

Finished, I've made some in slightly different shapes, and I plan to make more to suit my needs, they work well and they hold the small sanding discs quite firmly, which is good, and as I have more than one I can keep different grades of sand paper on each one, which makes changing grades quicker as I can just swap out the whole thing.

All done - 

Ready for action.

Thanks for reading.