Thursday, 23 December 2010

Mini sack for wine bottles ... ...

I have finally completed a present for a family member, you'd think it would have been quick to sort out a bottle of wine, but not in this house.
Apart from spending the best part of 6 months actually brewing the wine (which is blackberry) I have made a metal label to hang round it (yes I wrote a post about it) I also spent some time designing a paper labels for the front and back of the bottle, and lastly I have made a mini sack for it.

I used an off cut of red velvet left over from the christmas stockings my wife has made for our kids (here's the blog post she wrote about them ---> velvet christmas sacks (opens in new window)

Here's the finished article -

A mini santa sack :-)
It was easy to make, even for me with my limited sewing machine skills, I had a rectangle of fabric, which I made into a little bag by sewing up the sides, I also made a tube ? (not up on sewing terminology) for the ribbon to run through.
And that's about it, took me a while to do, but I was taking it easy so as not to mess it up, I did add some little star shaped sequins for a little decoration (sewed them on by hand)

It's a nice thing (I would say that, I made it) but it will serve as a reminder, like the metal label and it can be reused for something else, maybe a small stocking for next year ? or some other use, either way it will be around for a while, long after the wine has been drunk and the bottle recycled.

Yes but it's a lot of effort for a bottle of wine, why not just shove it in a box ? well yes I could have, but making a little extra effort will make it more special, it is after all a bottle of wine to be drunk, but that doesn't mean it doesn't deserve a little effort.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a great christmas, and all the best for 2011.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Spinning star tree decoration ... ... (rough draft)

I just thought I'd write a quick post to carry on from the one I did about the spinning tree decoration.
This is more or less the same thing, only it's a star and instead of slicing it up I've cut out smaller star shapes, which spin within each other.

Here's a picture (it's a prototype)

Cardboard wasn't the best material to spray with paint.
Okay so it's not neat and tidy, but it'll do as a model to see if the idea works well, and also to work out the best way to make it. In this case something harder than cardboard will be better, especially if you intend to spray it silver or gold for example.
The problem was that the cardboard soaked up the paint and became very floppy, it's okay now it's dried but for a moment I thought it might fall apart.

Next time I'll use wood (maybe thin plywood) ;-)

It's easy to make, basically you find a shape, I used a star seeing as it's nearly christmas, but a circle or other shape would work just as well. You can see that it's a star within a star within a star, they all turn independently. 
You cut out the shape from your chosen material, then you draw a smaller shape inside it, and then another until you get to the middle, I left a fairly large shape in the middle, if I'd have used wood I could have gone smaller.

Now you want to remove some of the sections you've drawn so that there's a gap between each shape, like the picture below (which you can copy if you want to use a star, just print it out and use it as a template) I've marked parts in red, these are the parts you want to remove, you should be left with 3 sections.

Star template - 

You may want to make it smaller, or larger. Note the red sections.
You should get the idea from the template, once you've removed the red sections you can then assemble the decoration, I used a needle and thread to join the pieces, with beads separating each part so that they can spin without catching each other.
If you use wood you will need to use a drill bit to make the holes for the thread or wire if you prefer and what you should end up with is something like the first pictures (only some what neater) I will update this post with pictures of a wooden one if I get round to making it before christmas day ;-) if not have fun making your own ones, you can get the kids to decorate them with glitter and what ever else you feel like, have fun.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Spinning christmas tree ornament ... ...

Just a short post on another of our christmas creations, at this rate we will have more or less refitted the tree in handmade decorations.

Here it is.
My wife had mentioned making tree decorations like the one above out of some foam sheet we have, but after looking at the thickness of the foam we decided it wouldn't work very well.
So this afternoon I set about making one out of wood.

They are simple enough to make, you need a few tools though, mainly a saw of some kind (a small hacksaw, or coping saw will do) and a thin drill bit and drill (a 2mm drill bit) all you have to do is mark out your shape on some wood (I used a scrap piece of 10mm tongue and grove) I've chosen a tree shape, but you could do a snowman, or a circular decoration, you could also use a star shape and instead of slicing it like I have you could cut a series of stars out of the main one, so that they all spin inside each other (I'll most likely write a post about it at some point)

Once you have marked your shape out you need to divide it into equal sections, I made my sections about 10mm (1cm) thick, then mark the centre of your shape, this makes it easier to align the holes you will drill through each section.

A closer up picture - 

It's not really wonky, it's the camera angle ;-)
Use the saw to slice up your shape, try and keep the pieces in the order your saw them (although with a simple shape it's easy to figure out where the bits go) then take each piece and drill a hole in the middle (use the centre line you made as a guide) do this for all the parts, if you use wood you may want to give each part a sand after you've cut and drilled them for a smoother look.

Then the fun bit, you can use thin gauge wire,string,wool or cotton thread for this part, you'll need some small beads or something to put between each section as well.
I used a larger bead at the bottom of the tree, but one the same size as the others would do, you could also use a small bell for extra jingle. Thread your chosen material through each part, you can use the first bead/bell to tie the string or wire to, so it doesn't all slide off.
After each section add a bead, then another section, then a bead and so on, until you get to the top, at this point you can either use the last section, or use a large bead, or bell or maybe if you have some star shaped beads you could use them, that's the beauty of crafts, you can do what ever you feel like, it's about imagination. Then just leave a loop to hang it on the tree with.

Here it is again, in case you missed it at the start of the post ;-)

It doesn't take long to do, and you can get the kids involved, although you may want to do the sawing or cutting, then you can decorate them however you want, I've used some silver spray and a little glitter spray, you can use glue and glitter or anything else you have.

You don't need to use wood either, some thick cardboard would work just as well, and if you don't have a saw this may be a better option, it should work in the same way.
And there you have it, a spinning christmas tree decoration.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

The kindness of strangers ... ...

This is another freecycle tale, of sorts (should probably find something else to write about) people who know me well will tell you I'm some what cynical about things (lots of things) one of which is human nature, I've been through a lot in my 35 years, perhaps more than a person ever should and if I'm brutally honest I don't have much faith in people, I'm not talking individual people (although I could probably name a few) just the human race in general, there's a lot wrong with the way we run our world.

But every now and then even a cynic like me gets a surprise, in this instance it's because of freecycling, a few months ago I wrote a post about freecycling, and it's benefits for all who use the network (here's the post - opens in new window) in the post I mentioned a telescope we asked about (and where lucky enough to receive) we didn't know at the time what the telescope was like, it didn't matter as it's used for home educating our son, and ourselves in all things celestial. It seems that the kind lady who let us have the telescope kept my wife's e-mail address, and the other day she e-mailed asking if we would be interested in an orrery, we said yes figuring that having one would help even more with educating our son, he would be able to see how the planets relate to each other and such like, and then came the surprise.

This is why we were surprised, and feel very grateful and lucky -

How awesome is this ! ?
It turns out it was one of those kits you can get with a magazine subscription, the ones that have a different part every week, it didn't come completed, the parts where in their respective packages, this was also good because now not only did we get a fantastic thing, we had to build it, so we got a lesson in mechanics as well as continued lessons in how the earth,moon and sun interact, it is great educational tool.

More pictures - 

It's very detailed.
You can see it shows the orbit of the earth around the  moon and the orbit of both around the sun, it's made of brass, and I had a blast putting the thing together. You can use it to predict eclipses, both lunar and solar, it's marked with the months of the year, and zodiac signs as well.

Zodiac signs.
Even the little chains that drive the respective gears are made from brass -

Brass chains.
Some other parts - 

It has some of the smallest bearings I've seen.
Year counter.

It also has a counter for years (as you can see in the picture above) so you can set it for the current year and set it of working, and you can then see when eclipses will occur and such like, it also came with every issue of the magazine, so we are learning a whole host of other astronomical facts, as well as how to use the tellurion or earth moon sun orbiter, it's an educational tool that we probably wouldn't have had access to, had it not been for the kindness of one person and freecycle, so if you happen to read this, many thanks from the whole family.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Wine bottle labels ... ...

This is an extension of my recent experiments in using the metal from drinks cans to make things, things like the wall hangings below.

Results of a recent experiment with metal from a drinks can -

An interesting use for an old can, if I do say so myself.
The first bottle label (it's not the finished item, more of a prototype)

I made the chain as well.

I started to think about other things you could make using a similar method. So as it's coming up to christmas we decided to give away a bottle of our homemade blackberry wine as a gift, now I do intend to make an amusing paper label for the bottle, but as I was playing around with bits of metal I decided to make a label for the bottle, similar to the old decanter labels that are now collectables (google decanter labels and you'll see what I mean) they are basically a fancy metal label that sits round the neck of the decanter, or in this case bottle, connected to a small chain, with writing on it, usually stating what's in the bottle, they are sometimes made of silver for example, they are nice little things.

This I thought was a good way of making a wine bottle a little more interesting as a gift, so I set about messing around in the back room, which has recently become an extension to my workshop (alright it's a shed) 
Basically I used the same method as I used for the wall hangings, I used wire wool to get the printing off the can and then made a simple design on the pc and printed it out to use as a template, and then I drew round the template using a ball point pen, and this is what I ended up with.

The first draft - 

It's not perfect, but the idea worked.
Over all I was happy enough with the result, the chain I made myself by bending bits of wire round a small drill bit I clamped into a vice, not as hard as you might think, although it does depend on the gauge of wire you use.

At this point I was starting to feel quite pleased with myself, until my lovely wife pointed out that as it's a gift I should use the pewter sheet we have (I had forgotten about it) and as ever she is right, it does look better, I still used the chain I made (I may do a quick how to for that)

Here's the finished pewter bottle label - 

It does look better.
This label was made the same way as the other one, but this one I changed the wording a little ;-) (thanks again to my wife for the choice of words) I have since used a small file to remove any sharp edges and tidy it up a little. The good thing about pewter sheet is that it's quit soft, you can cut it with scissors (same goes for the drinks cans) I think it's a great idea to make a plain bottle look a little nicer, and the label can be kept for other bottles, so hopefully it will serve as a reminder of the gift once it's gone.

Here's another picture - 

Ta da !
As you can see I've given the label a raised effect by placing the template on the metal the wrong way round, so that when you look at the front of it you get a raised look, you can just place the label on the right way round and when you're finished it will have an engraved look about it.

So why not have a go and make your wine bottles or decanters a label, or do as I have and include one with any bottled type gifts, you don't have to stick to wine or spirits either, you could add a similar label to a perfume bottle or even a jar of jam and if you don't feel like making a chain you can get lengths of chain from most diy type places (b&q have some nice ones) or if you want to get really posh you could get a real silver necklace and use that, it's up to you.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 13 December 2010

A star is born ... ...

Instead of buying a load of new christmas decorations this year we have been making our own, we have made them out of paper,pine cones,card and for the stars below wire and string, much more fun than fighting through shops looking for decorations that probably won't last half as long, it's good for the kids to do some christmas crafts as well.

Here's the stars -

They may not be to every one's taste.
The colour of the silver spray didn't really come out in the picture, they are easy enough to make, all you need is some wire (I used gardening wire) and some string, any string will do, or wool. You can also make them from string instead of wire, but it's a little harder to keep it altogether, you can spray them what ever colour you like, we used silver and some glitter spray, you can use gold as well.

Making them doesn't take long, although if you spray them you will need to wait a short while for the paint to dry. If you use wire you will need a jig (no fiddles involved) to make the basic star shape, unless of course you feel like making them free hand.

To make the jig you'll need some nails, a piece of wood, a hammer and a template, which you can either print out from your pc or draw on a bit of paper, then all you do is place the paper onto the wood and hammer nails into it at all the angles of your shape.

The jig with nails already hammered in - 

It should look something like this.
It makes it a lot easier to bend the wire into shape using a jig. Next take a piece of string and wind it round all the nails to make a star, basically you use the string to measure how much wire you will need, you want to leave a little extra wire so you can twist it together.

Using the string to measure - 

Measuring done.
Time to get some wire, you can see that I've used slightly more string than is needed, this will make it easier to fix the wire together. Next get your wire and use the string to measure out a length of it, then cut it (I should have mentioned that you may need wire cutters, or pliers) then all you need to do is wind the wire around the nails in the same way you did the string, thinner wire will bend easier, I got ours from the garden section at b&q.

Once that's done twist the wire together where the two ends join, again pliers will do the job, depending on how thick the wire is, then all that's left is to wind your string of choice around the wire frame, when you are happy with it, either tie the string to the frame and cut off any extra, or you can use a spot of glue to fix it. 

You don't have to spray them, you could use paints from a pot, get the kids to do it or you could just cover them in glue and glitter or anything else that you feel like really, it's up to you.

A close up - 

Still didn't manage to get the glitter to show, it's there I promise.
And that's it, they may not be flashy shiny plastic type shop bought ones, but to be honest I think they look better, and they'll last for a while, and even if you don't want to hang them on your tree if you got the kids to decorate them they will have had a great time, and that's what it's all about, and you don't have to make stars, why not try different shapes ? like snowmen or christmas trees ?

Thanks for reading.

Homemade quilling tool ... ...

What is quilling ? well you can read a little about it here and here (links open in new window)
Basically it's curling paper to make nice things, you should get the idea from the links above, but for a great example of quilling have a look here ( a shameless plug for my lovely wife's blog)

Quilling tool -

Does what it says on the tin.

Now you don't need a tool to do it, you can use a large needle (large enough to get the paper through the eye) my wife used some card, which makes the finished item stronger, but  tool will make it easier.

You can buy a tool, but they can be a few quid, you can also buy starter kits that contain paper and the tool as well, but for the sake of 5 minutes work it was easier and cheaper to make a tool, Warning ! you will need a sacrificial needle ;-)

To make the tool you will need a needle, some pliers (with a wire cutting section) or some wire cutters, and a stick that feels comfortable to hold, you could instead of a stick use a pencil perhaps.

Here's how to make the tool.

Once you have your stick sorted out, you can decorate it, or carve it or just leave it plain like the one above, you need to fix the needle to the stick, the easiest way I've found is to put the stick in a vice, if you don't have a vice you can manage without, then lightly hammer the needle into the end of the stick (pointed end first of course) it's best to do this before you cut the end off the needle.

Don't hit the needle too hard, you don't want to break it, once it's secure you can then cut the end off the needle.

You can use pliers or wire cutters -

Pliers are good, as long as they have the wire cutting part.
Then carefully snip the end of the needle, try to cut it as close to the top as you can, and it's best to keep your hand over it when you cut as the end will fly off, watch your eyes as well ;-)

Snip carefully - 

Watch your eyes ;-)
And that's pretty much it, when you have cut the end off the needle you should have something that looks like the first picture, below is a close up of the end of the needle after I cut it.

Nearly done - 

Not quite level, but it will work just the same.
All that needs to be done is to smooth the prongs, you can use some fine sand paper, a nail file, or emery cloth, but be careful because you can break the prongs if you are too rough with them, and that's it your very own quilling tool made in just a few minutes and for next to nothing, unless you had to buy some needles ;-)

Here's a nice example of a handmade quilling tool ---> handmade quilling tool

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Today day I made a snake ... ...

Just a quick post, and as the title suggests it's about a snake.

My son has a wooden snake that we got him last christmas, and my daughter has decided she likes it very much, which has resulted in some small arguments between the two of them, so in a flash of genius I decided I'd make another snake, and thus solve the problem.

Here's the snake -
It's not to scale ;-)
Okay so it isn't anatomically correct, but it is vaguely snake like, at least the kids thought so.
It's made from a piece of eucalyptus, which was basically the first thing I picked up, some string and a bit of red felt.

It was easy to make, I tried to get a bit clever by cutting the segments with a curve in each to make it articulate a little better, the head and tail I carved a little to a sort of snake like look.
To hold it all together I used some string, which I fixed into a hole I made in the head and tail ends with a drill bit, using a little glue helps make sure the string won't come out easily, each segment had a hole drilled through it so I could thread the string, then I put a knot in after each segment to help it stay together if it gets pulled at each end.

Another couple of pictures - 

Can you tell what sort of snake it is ? ;-)
It ended up with a kind of cheeky looking face.
After sticking all the segments together I drew a couple of eyes on it and made a mouth shape and stuck some red felt into it to create a snake type tongue, the felt may be a little large.
It's not meant to be an accurate model of a snake, it's a toy for my daughter, which she likes a lot, and as it turns out so does my son, so much so that he now wants a snake like this, and I've got to make another one, so I guess I did good, maybe a little too good, I think it's great though that in this day and age, with all the technology that's about my kids get enjoyment out of a few bits of wood and some string, why not have a go at making a wooden snake ? it's easy to do.


Just find a length of wood, maybe from a tree that's been pruned, you could even use a piece of wooden dowel from a diy shop.

Cut it into how ever many segments you want, making sure to leave slightly bigger segments for the head and tail, then drill a hole about an inch deep in the head and tail end, this will be where you glue the ends of the string to make it secure.

Drill holes through each of the remaining segments, you should use a drill bit slightly bigger than the thickness of string you plan to use, you can use a little sand paper to smooth any rough edges.

For the head and tail you can add as much detail as you like, I used a stanley knife to carve the respective ends into a vaguely snake like tail and head.

Then start putting it together, glue one end of the string into the tail part (or head, depending on which end you start with) then tie a knot in the string, try and get it as close to the wood, then thread the next segment and tie another knot, and so on until it's put together, then glue the end of the string that's left into the head or tail, which ever bit is left.

You can then make a small cut for the mouth, or just draw it on, along with the eyes, and once the glue has set you should have a pretty robust toy, if you prefer you can paint it what ever colour you choose, or just leave it with the bare wood.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Artistic recycling ... ...

It seems that these days it's all about recycling stuff to save the world, round our way we have 3 bins now, a blue one for recyclables like paper,tin cans and such like, we have a black bin (most are green) for normal waste and just recently we got a mini bin for cooked food waste, not that we have much, what we don't eat the dog does ;-) we also have the option for a brown bin that costs extra for garden waste, but we compost all ours.
 I will freely admit that it's a hassle sometimes, sorting stuff into various bins, but I guess it has to be done.

Now I have long been a fan of making things out of odd stuff, which makes the whole recycling thing a lot less tedious, especially if you get good results.
Have you heard of a website called " Instructables " ? I'm pretty sure a lot of people will now the site, but just in case here's the link ---> instructables (link opens in new window) it's a fantastic site for inspiration on just about everything you can imagine, sewing,wood working,metal working (the list is probably endless)

Whilst I was having one of my regular trawling of websites sessions I found an excellent craft idea on the site I mentioned above, and it's the best use of a drinks can I've ever seen (from an artistic point of view) here's the instructable page ---> drink can tinwork (opens in new window) take some time to look through the various steps used to create this piece of artwork, it's worth it, but please come back here after ;-)

I have to say that I was impressed a fair bit by this, it beats squashing the cans and taking them to the recycling bin, I haven't actually tried to make the box, but I will.
This set the wheels in motion and gave me the inspiration to have a go at creating my own artwork using a similar method. Now we don't really have drinks cans lying around, we don't drink fizzy drinks or beers, we do however have some cans of coconut water, so I've been bugging my wife to drink them so I can have the cans.

The items I have made are prototypes really, I have been playing around with different ways of putting them together, and different materials.

Here's what I've managed to make so far -

Be nice ;-)

You can see how I've applied the method used to create the tin box for my own ends, basically using some wire wool I've rubbed all the printing of the cans to get back to bare tin, this actually gives quite a nice effect, then I've applied a pattern to one side so that it appears raised on the other, there's nothing stopping me from switching them round so that the patterns look like it's been engraved.

The tin is pretty easy to work with, it's not very thick which helps when getting a design onto it, all I've used is a ball point pen and the end of a metal crochet hook, you don't need to press too hard.

Here's a picture of the first ones I made - 

The best one is the bottom left in my opinion.
The designs aren't as crisp as I wanted, the best I think is the bottom left one (the triskelion / triskele) and the frame on the bottom right isn't to my liking, I was trying different ways of making the frames, I think I'll stick to the way I did the frames on the other 2.
Since I made these 3 pictures I've bought a scroll saw, which means I can make templates of various designs, so I can get the designs crisper and neater, and also put them on the tin faster, still working on a quick, but neat and tidy way of making the frames.

Here's a picture of the templates - 

I printed out some designs and stuck them to the hardboard.

My lovely wife remarked that with a bit of spray paint the templates would look pretty good as well, that's why she's the brains of the out fit.

Here's one made with a template - 

The wood for the frames comes from our garden.
In my opinion this one looks neat compared to the others. As it says in the caption all the wood comes from our garden, the frame for the one above is actually made from buddleja that I had to prune because it got damaged by the wind, the string hanging loop is an off cut of string left over from knitting hanging baskets, the only part of these that doesn't come from our house is the hardboard back I have fixed the tin to, I got 2 off cuts from a bargain bin in one of our local diy stores, so it is kind of recycling as they generally throw the smaller stuff out if no one buys it.

And it's not just designs like the one above either, it's possible to do loads of different designs, especially if you use a template ;-)

Here's one I made for my wife - 

Again I've used buddleja for the frame.
The one above I made by printing out the word on paper and then using some masking tape to secure it I drew round the letters with a ball point pen, can't really get easier than that ?

There's a bit of flexibility on how you can display them, for example with these ones I've used string to make a loop, I have also worked out a way to make them stand up like a picture frame does, you can also hang them together to make bigger hangings, have a look at the picture below.

Hung in a group of 3 - 

Looks pretty good, but then I'm biased ;-)
Just by using a drawing pin you can hook them up in groups like this, and make combinations of them, and if you had 3 that were all words you could make up short sayings, so there's a fair bit you can do with them (have I sold the idea to you yet ?) so why not have a look round your home or garden and see if you can make your own unique piece of recycled artwork.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Knitted hanging basket... ...

This is kind of a follow up post to the one I wrote about my recent adventures in knitting, which I quit enjoyed.

As the title suggests this post is about a knitted hanging basket, not as original as you might think, it turns out I'm not the only one to try this, people have been knitting pot hangers and such like for years.

We are trying to be more self sufficient (you may be wondering what that's got to do with knitting) and as part of that we have started to make our own equipment as well (I recently turned an old fence post into a plant pot making tool ---> plant pot maker (opens in new window) it's not just wooden tools, we grow our own veg and space is a problem to be solved, we are lucky in that our garden is quite large, but most of it is for the kids to play in, they wouldn't be happy if I turned the whole lot into a veggy patch (I've considered it on occasion) but even with the space we have we don't always have room for lots of large plants so hanging baskets is a good answer, and they don't often get walked through by the kids.

In post I wrote about knitting I mentioned experimenting with different materials, one of those was string, which as it turned out wasn't easy to knit with using small needles, so I made some large ones (and guess what ? I wrote a post about them ---> chunky knitting needle post (opens in new window) the large needles where great for the string I intended to use, they did take a little getting used to being the best part of 3 feet long, but once I figured out a good way to hold them I was off.

And this is what I ended up with -

On reflection a square would have been better.
As you can see I haven't counted my stitches very well as I ended up with a rectangle, a square would be neater for the purpose I made it for, but it does work, and it's quite large so will hold a good few plants, in this case tomatoes, least that's what I want to put in it, what actually goes in it may be something entirely different.

The stitches are quite big so obviously it will need some kind of lining, I figured general hanging basket liners would do, or as my wife (link opens in new window) pointed out we could make paper ones, using a bowl as a mould, we've done this before when the kids have done craft type things, even better as we often have newspapers spare.

I also had to figure out a good way to hang the things, I decided a chain was best, so I used a basic crochet chain stitch to make.... well chains out of string.

Crochet string chains -

They are very strong and will work well.
My crochet isn't the best (some of the stitches baffle me) but a simple chain stitch is easy to do (I won't post a link about the chunky crochet hook I made, it's on here somewhere ;-)) attaching the chains was easy enough, I basically tied them to each corner of the basket using a couple of tight knots, they seem secure, although I did test it to see if it would work and hold a little weight.

The finished article - 

Not the best picture, but you can see the idea.
Like I said it works and will hold weight (to test it I filled a mixing bowl with stuff) it will be quite large when full of compost and plants, the next ones I make will be smaller and squarer ;-) I think they look quite good, and more attractive than the metal ones, this one isn't as tidy as it could be, but I'm happy enough with it, and it will also break down eventually, at which point it can be composted as it's made from natural string, you can't do that with the metal ones, hopefully I'll get a few years out of it before that happens, why not have a go yourself ? I found it quite enjoyable.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Homemade plant pot maker ... ...

As an avid gardener I'm always on the look out for ways to make things easier for myself, and even better if it's cheap (or free) and I can recycle some stuff.

Not so long ago I was looking about at various websites when I came across a plant pot maker, now as the name suggests it's a tool for making plant pots, but out of newspaper, the ones I saw were made of wood, and I thought they were great, basically when it comes to seed sowing time you use this little gizmo to make paper pots, then you sow your seeds in the pots and when the plants are ready you just plant the whole thing, save time and money and you don't have to disturb the plants roots by removing them from pots, which isn't always easy to do.

I could have bought one, you can get them from various websites for a reasonable price (just google "plant pot maker") but I figured I could save a few quid if I made one myself, and it's easier as I have a lathe, I could have made one by hand, using a hammer and chisels, but I wanted a more polished tool, and besides I enjoy making things.

So off to the mole cave, which in this weather is more than a little cold (it's not really a cave, it's a shed, I bet you guessed that already) And after rooting around in my pile of wood I found an old section of fence post which I found last year and used part of for making a collett chuck.

I cut 2 sections off the post, 1 for the handle and 1 for the base, as the post was 6 inches square it required a little bit of turning to get it round, but the finished result is easy to use and has a nice feel, but it has been made to fit my hand so I guess it would feel okay to me.

Here it is -

I didn't notice the hole until I'd started turning it.
Not much to look at really, I didn't get too fussy with it, just added a little detail to the handle and gave the base a little bit of a curve, as the caption says I didn't notice the hole until I'd started turning the wood, but in all honesty I quite like the fact that it's not perfect, it does the job I made it for, which is what matters.

Another picture, this time with some pots - 

It works !!!
I made a couple of pots to see if it would actually work, I did spend some time whilst I was turning it to get it quite precise in terms of measurements on the parts that actually push the paper to make the base nice and secure.

You can use newspaper, which means you can have another use for the newspapers before you chuck them in the recycling bin, or you can use other types of paper, in the picture above I used a bit of red paper that we have for the kids to do crafty stuff with, it worked just as well, so if you use red paper you could give plants as presents in attractive biodegradable pots ;-)

All in all I am pleased with it, it will save money (it didn't cost anything to make) and it will save time, which I seem to have less and less of these days, and making the pots takes about a minute or so and is easy to do, as the next lot of pictures will show.

Step one, get some paper (newspaper is good)

Tear the paper into strips, roughly the size you want your pots, remember to leave about an inch over hanging, then start rolling it around the handle.

Step one picture - 

Rolling the paper.
Step two, once you have rolled the paper into a tube you need to fold the over hanging end in on it's self.

Step two pictures - 

Leave some paper over hanging.
Then fold the ends in.

Fold the paper in towards the middle.
Once that's done you then need to get the base and push the handle into it, this will make sure the end is secure and stop the plant and soil falling out of the bottom when you pick it up, push it in as hard as you can, I've found giving it a little twist helps as well.

Sealing the pot base.
And you should end up with a pot, the base should look like the picture below.

The pot base - 

You get the idea right ?
If not here's another picture with a couple of pots I made earlier - 

Pot bases.

Pot maker with finished pot - 

Easy as, and free plant pots, bargain.
It's simple to do, and doesn't take long to make a load of pots, you will need to keep them in some sort of tray, they will obviously get wet when watered and may not be quite so sturdy, they are paper after all, but they should stay together well enough to be transported to the planting site and planted. I figured I would make a lot more garden related items before spring, things like a new dibber.

Just a quick update, and I probably shouldn't point this out if I plan on selling these things, but you don't actually need a tool like this to make paper pots, or course it helps, but if you used a plastic tube, about the size you wanted you could wrap the paper round it in the same way and then just fold the ends in and maybe put something down the tube to help fix the base of the pot.

Of course having you very own pot making tool is preferable ;-)

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

I've got a lovely bunch of... bird feeders ?

It's the time of year when our feathered friends may be having a little trouble finding a good meal, so why not help them out a bit ?

Just lately our youngest has developed a taste for coconuts, or rather coconut milk, it started when I got a couple from the supermarket so I could use the shells, it's amusing to watch her sitting on the sofa with a straw sticking out of a coconut with out a care in the world, it's what's great about having kids.

So onwards, I got the coconuts to use the shells for making bird feeders, not original I know, but as it gets colder we like to help the birds out a little, we don't feed them everyday but we do try and make sure they can at least get a meal every few days.

I built a bird table a few years ago and up until this year it was pretty much all we used, we would just make up some food and lay it out on the table, with a bag of peanuts hanging on one side and a seed feeder on the other, so as to give a mixture of things to eat, and we have had some interesting visitors, we regularly get magpies and jays in the autumn and winter, we get robins,wrens,finches and on occasion we even get a greater spotted woodpecker, we also get great tits,blue tits and a whole load of other birds.

This year though we decided to try and get some more into the garden, so we used the coconut shells as feeders as well and we've hung them in trees to offer a little cover and some near to the front room window as well, mainly because we dabble in photography and we figured we might get some good pictures.

Here's the coconut feeders -

Bird feeders ready to go.
All you need to do is drill a hole for some string to go through so you can hang them on something, it helps if you manage to crack the coconuts more or less in half, then you can pack them with food.

The food is easy enough to make, we have tried different things but settled on doing things the same way now, it works, and it gets a lot of interest from the kids, they love to watch the birds in the morning and evening feeding and flying about the garden, they get to learn about birds and how they behave, so we kind of use it as an educational tool as well, our son is especially interested in them.

We hang the feeders near to trees in order to provide a little cover for the birds, it seems to work, all the feeders get emptied pretty quickly.

Here's one in one of our twisted willow trees - 

The smaller birds like this one a lot.
And I've also made one from scratch similar to the ones you can buy, this was to see if it was easy for my son to have a go at, but to be honest the coconut method is probably the easiest you can get.

Here's the one a made a while ago - 

Complete with bird :-)
This one is hanging about two metres from the front room window, and it does get a lot of attention from a variety of birds, mainly the smaller ones and this young starling, the picture was taken last year.

Right here's what we tend to use for our bird food. We buy the 1kg bags of seeds you can get from places like poundland, the Bill Oddy ones, they have a good mix of things that different birds like, and they are cheap, we've also bought packets of meal worms when they have them.

We basically get out the blender and chuck in some seeds, a little bread, about a slice (we make our own bread, so we usually have a slice spare) then we use either a fat ball or a small bit of lard (27p per block from Tesco) or some other type of fat, the bacon juices from the grill go down well and it helps to stick everything together.
You can add bits of apple, the blackbirds like this a lot, we have even used small bits of cheese, and other fruits, pears etc you can also chuck in a little cooked bacon rind, some of the larger birds like this, like magpies, and peanuts (not salted) Just mix it all in a lump, you can use a large bowel and then pack it into your coconuts the birds will love it, you can of course just buy them, but it's more fun for the kids this way (if you use a blender don't mix it for too long, you don't want to break the seeds down too much)

It's okay just to lay the mixture out on a bird table as well, but we wanted to encourage the birds to come a little closer to the house so the kids could see them better and so we could photograph them.

As we grow a variety of sunflowers we usually take the seeds we need for next year and lay the heads about the garden for the birds, this requires a little more work on their part but they seem to like them, so if you grow a sunflower in a pot lay the head some where for the birds, the sunflower hearts are very good for them at this time of year, it'll help them fatten up a bit.

Sunflower heads - 

Ready for the birdys.

Before I go I thought I would include some photographs taken by us of some of the birds we get in the garden, some were taken last year, they aren't the best but you'll get the idea.

Thanks for reading (pictures below)

Robin on our bird table (taken in the winter) - 

We get robins every year.

A magpie, we have had regular visits from these for the last few years, they are quite nervy birds, they don't stay long on the table, they take what they want and fly up to the large sycamore tree at the bottom of the garden to eat what ever they got, still nice to watch them.

Remember to salute them if you see them, bad luck if you don't ;-)
Next up, a great tit looking through sunflower seeds from our sunflowers, the smaller birds will almost always go for the sunflowers if they are about, then go for the food if there's no sunflowers.

Seems to know what it's looking for.
And then we have the jay's they have only been coming for a bout a year or so, they prefer the peanuts, but will go on the table for other stuff if there's no nuts, we have a pair that visit in the winter months on an almost daily basis, maybe you could make a project out of your bird watching, you could write down what birds ate what food, how they ate it, did they take it to a tree to eat, or just stay on the table ?

The jays - 

They don't seem to have any trouble getting the nuts.
Another jay in a tree - 

Don't know what it's looking at.