Monday, 28 June 2010

Having a lathe is great... ...

As the title says " Having a lathe is great " it's not a fancy one, but it can handle large bits of wood and long ones as well, and it cost just £100, and I got a cheap set of chisels from Amazon to start off with, I intend to make and buy some other tools, mainly make, here is the lathe I have - Tooled-up.com it's pretty good and okay for a variety of things.
I didn't get a table for it as I bolted it to one of my work benches, as for the chisels, they aren't the best, but they do the job well, I got a set like this - lathe chisels now I should say that if you have more to spend on chisels, then do so, a good set of chisels, whether they are for wood turning or carving will last a lifetime.
As I said I intend to make some extra chisels for bowl making and such like.

The lathe also has some extras you can get for it, chucks and the like, I recently bought a screw chuck for it, so as I can make a greater range of things.

Here are a couple of things I made today, they are small things, and if I'm honest it's been a while since I last used a lathe (I think I was still at school ? many moons ago) and I have never turned a piece of green wood (newly chopped down)

The rolling pin is for use with play dough.

The rolling pin is for my 2 year old daughter to roll her play dough out with, and the pot was more of an experiment to see what a piece of eucalyptus would look like once it had been turned. The eucalyptus by the way came from our garden, we cut it down earlier this year with a view to coppice it, and it has started to grow quite vigorously, so we should get some good stuff of it for making trellis and other things for the garden, like pyramids to grow beans up and such like, it's actually quite flexible wood, and has a really nice smell to it.
The tree by the way is a little bit of an accident, we got it cheap from homebase, and it was meant to be a small variety, only it turned out to be one of these - eucalyptus gunnii as you can see they can get quite tall, and probably not the best idea in a garden such as ours, and the reason we cut it down.

All in all I think wood turning is very rewarding and well worth having a go at, either from buying a lathe and equipment for your shed or maybe a course at a college or perhaps even something like this - wood turning course I did a quick search for wood turning course using google and came up with loads all over the country.
Some of the equipment can be expensive, some chucks (for holding wood in different ways) for example can be £150 or more, but there are ways to make your own chucks that will do just as well and cost a lot less, and will also help you learn about how the lathe behaves with a chunk of wood in it.

I just thought that I would add a little to this post, it can also be good for your kids to have things like this  available to use, I'm not sure whether they let kids use lathes in schools these days ? but as long as your kids are old enough to use a tool like this, then why not show them how to make a candlestick or something ? or you can all go on a wood turning course ? just an idea.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

A cheap usb desktop fan ... ...

How to make a cheap usb desktop fan, I know you can buy them, but where's the fun in that ? and this one costs between £1 and £2, and takes about 10 minutes to make.
(and this time I took pictures :-))

Firstly a short rant, well not a rant, more a grumble. It seems to me that things have taken a turn for the worst in terms of how people view things, by things I mean appliances, furniture and just about everything in between, and when I say " a turn for the worst " I mean that no one seems to build anything themselves any more (well some people do)
Since we moved to our current house we have become more and more independent, how you ask ? well for a start we have more garden, and both my wife and I enjoy growing things (doesn't really matter what, as long as it's edible) so we set about turning some of the garden into production of fruit and veg, this in itself meant designing raised beds and such like, and of course building them, but again in this day and age we could have just gone to a diy shop and bought a raised bed kit, but we chose to recycle some wood and do it our selves, which worked out cheaper in the long run and only took a small amount of time.

So why don't we build or make things (or even fix anything) any more ? if you ask me we don't because it's easier just to buy it, obviously building a washing machine isn't going to be easy, but if your washer breaks what do you do ? When I first met my wife she had a washing machine, shortly after we got together it started to go wrong (nothing to do with me) so I decided to fix it (I can remember the look of panic in her eyes) I won't go into details but it was easily fixed, how many people would have just bought a new one ? the washer has since died, but it lasted nearly 6 more years (and had to be fixed a few times in the end) I agree that some things cant be fixed, and certain things shouldn't be messed with if they go wrong, but if it can be fixed, then why throw it ?

I heard a report a few years ago that a large percentage of children leaving school had no idea how to put up a shelf or change a fuse even, when I was at school (which wasn't that long ago) we got taught all kinds of things, we built coffee tables, with real joints, not just screwed together like the flat pack stuff you can buy, hell they even showed us how to apply veneers to it !
come on putting up a shelf is so easy, and it would only take 20 minutes maybe half an hour to show a room full of kids how to do it, but I guess they are too busy with sat's and such like (which I personally think are a waste of time, but we home educate so I generally feel most school based learning is a waste of time)

Anyway back to the usb fan.

As the weather has been hot for a change I decided I needed a little cooling on the desk, so I set about making a fan to run of the usb ports of my pc, this is how I did it.

Firstly I should point out that I take no responsibility for any breakages, this shouldn't cause any problems, it hasn't for me, so try it at your own risk.

Okay, stuff you will need -

Here's a picture

Stuff you will need.


  1. - a soldering iron is recommended, but you might get away with not using one.
  2. - a cheap battery powered fan, the sort you can get from pound shops that run on a couple of "aa" batteries.
  3. - some solder, again recommended.
  4. - if like me you use the kitchen table for this, then a bit of scarp wood will protect the table top and stop your better half worrying your going to damage it :-)
  5. - an old usb lead, mine was from an old mobile phone, but any type should be fine, if you don;t have one then you can buy cheap leads from the pound shop when you get your fan.
  6. - some pliers for cutting wire.
  7. - a screw driver to dismantle the fan, I used a philip's screw driver.
  8. - a sharp knife to cut the outer casing of the usb lead, or wire striper's if you have them.
  9. - and although it's not in the picture you may also want some insulation tape.
To work, firstly you need to cut the end of the usb lead, make sure you don't cut the end off that goes into the pc, then you need to strip back the casing and anything else to expose the 4 coloured wires.

    Here's another picture

    4 coloured wires.
    And another 

    You only need the red and black wires.


    Once you have got this far it's time to get into the fan, mine had 4 screws on the bottom, but yours maybe different, it may not have screws.

    Here's what mine looked like

    I had to remove these 4 screws to get into it.

    Now as the fan was meant to run on a couple of batteries I thought I would try and preserve this, so that if needed the fan can be run on batteries if no usb ports are available, a word of caution, I wouldn't leave batteries in it when you run it from the usb ports.

    It's a good idea before you start wiring everything up to think about where the cable is going to exit the fan, so seeing as the fan you use will be different then where you put the hole for the cable is up to you, luckily mine already had one, this is most likely because it was meant to have a cable, or whoever made it used some standard components they got from somewhere, making the hole should be easy with a drill bit the same size as the usb cable.
    guess what ? it's picture time again.

    Here it is
    Cable entry hole.

    Once you are into the fan you need to find out how it's wired up, if your fan has a switch (which is a good idea, so if you can get one that has a switch, or you can put one in yourself) when I looked inside mine it had a sliding switch, basically a piece of metal attached to a plastic slide, so pretty simple.

    Yes you guessed it, another picture :-)

    The switch.

    As you can see the way the switch works is just by contacting one of the battery terminals, so this is where I decided to solder my wires, this way the wiring doesn't get in the way of the battery terminals, and the fan will run on batteries and usb.

    So with soldering iron in hand I set about attaching the wires, now I tend to solder everything I do like this,and I would recommend getting an iron if you don't have one, I have 3 2 gas powered (they use butane, the same stuff you put in cigarette lighters) and a standard electric one, either type is fine, and you can bug them from loads of places, here's some on Amazon as you can see they are pretty cheap, and very handy for jobs like this. You can just twist the wires from the usb lead onto the terminals, but there's a good chance that the connection won't be that good and movement my make the wires come loose, so I recommend soldering the wires on. 

    Picture time :-)
    Soldering the terminals.
    As it says on the picture, make sure you get the wiring right, otherwise the fan will run backwards, the motors in these are pretty simple, so it shouldn't hurt if you do get it wrong, but you don't want to run the thing backwards anyway. I then placed a piece of insulation tape over the usb lead to hold it in place, then I put it all back together, and that was it, it took about 10 minutes to do and now I can keep cool while I'm messing around on my pc :-)


    Okay some things to note, the usb voltage is about 5v give or take and the motors in these little fans are about 3 volts give or take, so they will spin pretty quickly and as a result they will be a touch noisy for some people, it doesn't make a difference to me, I have kids and they normally drown out any noise with their own.
    Also if you are worried about hurting your motherboard (this is what the usb ports are connected to) It should be okay, the first one I tried, the prototype if you like died on me (the motor was dodgy) and it hasn't hurt my system.

    Other things to think about, ways to improve the fan ? well you could adapt the usb lead method to make it more portable, this way it will have a lead, but if you wire up a usb port to the fan, so that you can just plug the lead in when you are at your desktop, and when you want the fan else where you just unplug and use batteries, I'm talking about a port kind of like you get in mp3 players and digital cameras, these should be easy to fit into the plastic casing.

    Hopefully you have found this useful ? and the other things I have planned to put on here, I don't drive so I use a bicycle to get about, this is okay, but you can't really carry much, so I built a trailer for mine out of some bits and pieces, I am making some plans to put on the blog for others to look at and maybe get inspired by. I have loads of other ideas and small projects as well, which people may find useful.

    Thanks for reading.







    Saturday, 19 June 2010

    Adventures in ginger beer ... ...

    I decided I was going to make some ginger beer, last time I tried was when I was a kid (a while ago now) and it got messy, although the beer fountains in the kitchen looked quite good :-)
    I didn't want to make a shed load of the stuff, just enough to last a few days when the weather is hot, and because I like ginger beer.

    Where to start ? well I looked around on-line to see what sort of recipe's I could find, and I found loads all a little different in method,ingredients so I kind of took parts from the various ones I found and made my own, and it worked, that's what I like about experiments, sometimes they work well, and sometimes they don't either way it's good fun :-)

    So here it is, it's simple and only takes a couple of days (you can shorten the process if you want, or increase it)

    Step 1 -

    You will need, a medium sized jar (with a lid)
    2litres of spring water (you can get a bottle from Tesco or Sainsburys for about 18p)
    1 lemon, a chunk of fresh ginger (enough for about 3 tablespoons when grated) you can get this when you get the water, it should only be a few pence, you can also use powered ginger, but I prefer fresh.
    Sugar, it's up to you how much you use, the more sugar the sweeter, use less and it's less sweet.
    A small sachet of yeast, the stuff you can get for making bread is fine, we make our own bread so I had some already.
    Some hot water from a kettle.
    And something to strain with, a fine sieve or a tea strainer, you can also use a clean jay cloth or other fine material type thing, net curtain maybe, but don't go cutting bit's from the one's in the front room.
    A tablespoon and a grater, if you don't have a grater you can finely chop the ginger etc.
    And a jug.


    Now at this point I should mention that I'm not making a plant, my madness will become clearer, perhaps :-) if you are interested in a ginger beer plant then have a read of this - ginger beer plant it mentions the plant about halfway down, under the " Brewed " section, but if you ask me it's an overly complicated way of doing things, and I'm a simple kind of chap, anyway onwards to step 2.

    Step 2 - This part you can change about if you see fit, but this is what I did.

    Get your jar and put some sugar in it, how much is up to you, I put about 6 heaped table spoons in, but you may want to use less or more depending on how sweet you want it.
    Then either grate or chop finely the ginger, until you have about 3 heaped tablespoons, this again is something you can change, less ginger not so hot, more ginger more heat, I didn't peel my ginger, but you can if you want, but it doesn't matter.
    Put the ginger in the jar as well.
    Then add some lemon zest (peel) again grated of finely chopped, and then squeeze the juice of the lemon into the jar, don't worry if it looks bad, we aren't going to use the mush, we are making a kind of marinade.
    Once all that's done add some hot water, this will help dissolve the sugar, top it up with little water if you want, the jar doesn't need to be full.
    Then give it a shake (MAKE SURE THE LID IS ON TIGHTLY FIRST) especially if you used hot water from the kettle, shaking the jar will help get all the flavour out of the ginger and also help dissolve the sugar.

    At this point I should explain what's going on, lot's of the recipes and methods I found just chucked all of the ingredients into the same tub,bottle and then when finished the ginger beer was strained to get all the bits out, so I thought I'd do it this way to save on straining it out at the end and letting the fizz out.

    You can leave the jar of mush over night or for a few hours, it's up to you, I wouldn't leave it much more than a day though.

    Step 3 -

    Get your jar of mush, and you straining device, I used a tea strainer, but if you brew your own stuff anyway you might already have some muslin or a straining bag.
    Strain the mush into a jug, you should be left with a cloudy liquid.

    Next get you bottle of water and empty some of it out, fill up the kettle or water filter if you have one, drink it ? seems a shame to waste it. You only need to empty out enough so as the liquid you have will fit into the bottle and leave a gap at the top of about an inch.
    Then add a small amount of the yeast to the liquid and give it a good stir to dissolve it, I only used about a third of a teaspoon of yeast, so you can always make some more ginger beer with what's left.
    Add the yeasty gingery liquid to you bottle of water, screw the lid on tightly and give it a shake to mix everything up.

    Now all you need to do is leave the bottle in a warm place, I left mine on a windowsill in the sun.

    Right now this is important, the yeast will start to react with the sugar and start fermenting, this will produce gas, this is how your ginger beer will get it's fizz, but if you leave it too long then the bottle might go bang, or at least the top will blow off and you will have some cleaning to do :-) so you will need to check the bottle now and then to see how hard it is, if it starts to feel really firm you might want to put the bottle in the fridge, this will slow the reaction down.
    It only took a couple of hours for mine to work, so I put it in the fridge over night, and then let it warm up again.
    The whole process should take about 24 hours or so, the reaction you get will depend on how much yeast you use and how long you keep it warm for.

    All in all it took 48 hours from start to finish, and now I have some ginger beer for hot days, I don't think it will keep for ages, but it should be okay for a week.
    It's not alcoholic ginger beer, but I would guess that letting it ferment for longer would increase the alcohol content, but you would probably need some kind of fermentation bin or a demijohn with and airlock to do this ?

    Have fun, and it may be wise to add a pack of cleaning cloths to you equipment list just incase of accidents :-)

    Sorry there aren't any pictures, I will try and include pictures next time I post something like this.

    Thanks for reading.

    Friday, 4 June 2010

    An introduction ... ...

    Where to start ?

    I'm hoping that people will find this blog a useful place to visit for some inspiration on what to do with all sorts of things, from gardening to making things, keeping the kids amused and educated, and anything and everything in between, I'm also hoping people will read it as well :-)

    My family and I have over the last few years begun to make more of what we have, for example this year the garden we have is growing more fruit and veg than it ever has, we have even extend the crops to the front garden, although not on such a scale, we are lucky enough to have a fair sized garden, although even if the garden were smaller it wouldn't stop us, it would just require a better plan than we use now, the size of garden you have shouldn't stop you either, you'd be surprised at what you can grow in a small space.

    We have also invested money in things so that we can get into making things for ourselves (where possible) and so we can make things to sell, or use around the house and garden, this saves money and by recycling things we help the environment as well.

    I will be including ideas on what to do with things rather than throw them away, and how to help others recycle things they don't want, free stuff is great :-) are you a member of any local recycling groups ? like freecycle for example.

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