Saturday, 31 July 2010

Write like the bard with this attractive pen......well almost...

This is a fun thing for kids to try, my son loves his quill type pen.

To write or not to write ?

You will need a biro type pen and a largish feather, so if you live near a river or somewhere that birds frequent you should be able to find some swan feathers, or maybe a goose feather or two, you will obviously need to collect four feathers if you intend to make four pens etc.

Supplies needed, a feather and a biro type pen -


It's easy to do, you basically need to remove the writing section of the pen and stick it into the feather.

Like this -

It should come out quite easily.

It should come out of the pen easily, but you may need some pliers, you will need some scissors or a sharp knife to snip the end off the feather.
It's a good idea to try and not snip too much off the end of the feather because you want a snug fit for the pen, if you do take too much off, then use a bit of tape or some glue to secure the pen innards into the feather, and that's it, one almost authentic quill, just like Shakespeare would have used, well almost :-)

Thanks for reading.

A cheap mono pod for your camera...

Like a lot of people we like taking photo's of stuff, the kids,wildlife,odd insects we find in the garden (we do that a lot) photography can be expensive, depending on what sort of equipment you buy.

For christmas a year or two ago I got my wife a digital slr camera, it came with a lens, and since then we have added to it, new lenses etc. We have been lucky and managed to get some good deals on some of the kit we've bought, filters and such like, we even found a brand new tripod in a charity shop for the princely sum of £1:75p, which wasn't bad considering it would have cost £20 new, bargain.

As I said it can be expensive so finding tripods in a charity shop is handy, I made a bag for the macro lens we got, and what's more we got a free camera bag for all the stuff from our local free cycle group. While I was looking through some photography related articles I saw a monopod which is basically a one legged er.. tripod, handy for using with larger lenses, and for when a tripod would take too much time to set up, a nifty idea I thought, and since seeing that I have noticed that people photographing sports events use them a fair bit, so I decided I'd see if I could make one, I mean how hard could it be ? as it turns out, not that hard at all.

Basically it's an extendible pole that you can fix your camera to, by way of a thread that screws into the bottom of the camera, so with that in mind I started plotting as to how I might construct such a thing, as it happens I found the main components in a pound shop.

I bought a decorators pole, the sort of thing you attach a paint roller to, and a mini tripod, then all I needed was a longer screw to attach one section of the mini tripod to the end of the decorators pole.

Kind of like this -
Extendible decorators pole.

Top section of a mini tripod -

Mini tripod head.

I've seen two types of mini tripos, one has a section like the picture above, and the other doesn't (for want of a better way to put it) one that has and end like the one above is best for this, it is held onto the legs by way of a small screw, undo it and keep the legs, you never know what they might be useful for, the screw that holds the two parts together is too short for attaching it to the pole, so save that as well.

Next you need to remove the end from the pole, this might require a couple of taps with something, but should come off quite easily.

The end of the pole - 

Pole with end removed.

Attaching the camera mount to the pole is easy really, it's just a case of finding a screw that will go through the end of the pole and into the end of the mini tripod.
I found that I had to add a small nut and washer to attach the end to the pole, just to act as a couple of spacers, I also used a spring washer to make sure it kept nice and secure.

The parts -
The bits n bobs.

As it turns out the end of the pole fitted into the section of the mini tripod, but you might have to cut some plastic to get yours to fit.
Here's a picture of the end of the decorators pole, it had a hole in the end, so I had to use a slightly larger washer, otherwise it wouldn't have worked.

The end of the pole - 

Why the parts were needed.
Here's the tripod end attached - 

Nearly done.
Finished article -

All done.

The good thing about this mono pod is that it's light,cheap and using the type of mini tripod I used I can change the orientation of the camera for portrait type shots.

Here's a picture with the camera we use attached, I didn't take a picture of it in portrait mode, but you get the idea, and you can always use a bit of spray paint to change the colour.

With camera -
Ta da !
Thanks for reading.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Old cd's / dvd's make great bird scarer's...

Do you have a load of old cd's or dvd's lying around ?

Well here's something to amuse the kid's for a hour or so for the holidays, turning old disc's into bird scarer's.

I always seem to have loads of old disc's lying around, I use linux so I'm always burning cd's to try out alpha's and beta's of operating systems, app's and such like, as well as disc's that get sent through the post, so I decided to do something with them, and seeing as we like to grow our own veg and stuff bird scarer's seemed like a good idea.

It's easy enough to turn a disc into a bird scarer, just put a hole in it, so you can hang it up on something, and then, put it in the garden near to what ever it is you don't want the birds to go near, the more the merrier.

Like this -

In our case the main reason for using them was the peas or rather the birds that kept eating them (specifically doves and pigeons) they work well, this year not one dove/pigeon has tried eating the peas, however the same can't be said for the kids, I'm all for kids eating fresh veg, but leave some on the plants :-) so as it turns out, what we saved from the birds just got eaten by the kids, I am now planning some kind of child scaring device (not really)

Now if you want to get a touch more creative, just open up your craft cupboard/box (if you have one) and let the kids make some slightly more decorative bird scarer's, all you need is glue and some glitter and other bit's and bob's.
I'm not sure how long the ones we made would last as they were, so before I put them to use outside I shall spray them with a spray on varnish/lacquer or give them some kind of coating to protect them a bit.

Here's a few my kids made -

Cool aren't they.

If you don't need bird scarer's then make them into artwork, or make them for someone who does have a need to scare a few birds away, either way it's better than chucking them in the bin.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

How to fix the arms of an office chair ...

Like most people I have an office type chair for when I use my pc, my wife has one too, we got them on offer from Homebase, they are black leather ones, and they recline, and here is where the problems started, well for me anyway. 

Here's what the arms should look like - 

My wife's chair.

The thing I like most about my chair is that it reclines, which is quite relaxing when I'm reading things,books,online articles and when I play some games, now you would think that a chair that "reclines" would be able to cope with some one actually reclining in the thing wouldn't you ? well I did, and soon found out that my chair couldn't really handle that much reclining, this is not because I am large, I'll have you know that I've lost a stone and half since the start of the year, but that's another post.

I used to work in the plastics industry and I know a little about plastics and their properties, as it turns out the handles on these chairs aren't really as strong as you might think, and any small fault with the moulding process may well weaken the arms quite a lot, and because of the way they fix to the chair they are going to be under a load a lot of the time.

The arms fix to the chair with 4 bolts, two in the back rest and two in the seat, so the arms have to take any weight when you lean back on the chair, and reclining adds extra weight to the arms, which I found out one day one one of the arms made a very load cracking sound and snapped, this is also when I found out that four metal washers had been moulded into the arms, one for each bolt, previously I had thought that there was a metal section inside each arm.

I fixed the break using a metal strip and some screws, however this didn't last for long, and shortly after the first break the other arm broke, and in the end the repairs I made did not hold for long.
At this point I could have chosen to buy some new arms, as it turns out you can buy replacement arms from Ebay and some office supply outlets, but my thinking was that if I get a new set of arms the same thing will happen eventually, so I opted for a more permanent solution, which was wood of course.

Fixing the arms with a wooden solution is pretty simple to be honest, you will need some tools, screws,wood glue,a drill, a jigsaw for cutting the shape of the arms, a hole cutting saw (which you can fit into a drill) for decorative reasons, although decoration is entirely up to you.

I chose some 18mm plywood for my arms, and I managed to find some that had a nice look to it on one side at least, so I figured I'd use that on the outside so it looked neat.
So how to make new arms ? well firstly I took the arms off my wife's chair to use as a template, I thought it best to use both arms as a template in case there were any differences between the two arms.

Plywood is pretty easy to work with, and it's strong, which suited me, I have a right to recline in my office chair. After laying the sheet down and drawing round the arms from my wife's chair (which I put back) I cut out the shapes, I cut out four arms, two for each side of the chair, the reason being is that two pieces glued and screwed together are stronger than one, and because I was using 18mm plywood two pieces together where near enough the same thickness as the original arm rests.

 Now you have to make sure you get the holes for the bolts in the right place, otherwise you might have problems, it's best to do this when you mark out your templates.

Once you have cut out your new arms and drilled the holes for the fixings (just to note I had to counter sink the fixing holes to get them to fit properly) you can think about decoration, or not you can just leave them blank. I chose to add a little decoration.

Using my hole cutting saw (which is basically a circular saw you fit into a drill) I cut out a series of holes in the side of each new arm to make a little feature. I did consider going down the steam punk route, and for a short while I also considered making the chair look like the captains chair from star trek, but decided against it.

Here is what the chair looks like with the new arms.

My new arms.

I finished the arms by sanding and using a bit of sanding sealer to seal the wood, I think they turned out pretty good, and it saved throwing the chair away, and it meant we didn't have to buy a new one.

A couple of points before I sign off, I did actually consider making wooden replicas of the original arms, so I cut one of the sections out, but then decided against it. It didn't cost as much as new arms would have, and I think they will last a lot longer than the plastic ones.

You could get as imaginative as you like, or not at all, but in my opinion the wooden arms look better, they certainly feel better, warmer and a lot smoother.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Water, water not everywhere ?

Since we've had a larger garden we have tried to do more with it, in terms of growing stuff we can eat, we are a little limited because we have kids so turning the garden into an allotment isn't really an option, I do keep trying to claim a bit of space now and then ;-) and we are hoping to get an allotment at some point.

 Now here's the problem, the more we grow the more water we need (I know that's really obvious) we could just use the hose all the time, but this has it's drawbacks, the cost for one, the more water we use the bigger our water bill (we have a metre) and then there's the chance that there will be a hose pipe ban.

I did actually phone the water board about using the hose for watering the food type plants, and the answer they gave me was that they didn't mind, as long as it wasn't for watering 4 acres of lawn, and just a few plants, even in a water shortage it wasn't a problem, so it may be worth you asking your water supplier, but I wouldn't count on it, I'm not convinced ours was being totally honest on that score.

So what to do about watering ? plants need water, that's kind of essential if you want nice big tomatoes.
My shed sits under the sycamore at the end of our garden, I put it there because in full sun it would be like a microwave, so under the tree seemed a good idea, it also had an advantage because the tree catches a lot of water when it rains, so I fitted gutters to each side of the shed, and bought two 220 litre water butts, one for each side, which I thought would be enough water to last when it doesn't rain, I was wrong as it turns out.
At the end of our second year in this house it became apparent that for the things we wanted to grow, and to give the garden just enough water in dry spells we would need more water, so I got a 120 litre plastic bin cheap and added it to one side of the shed as an over flow from one of the water butts, I put it on the side that seemed to over flow the most, thinking it would fill up the over flow faster (which it does) I basically got a plastic plumbing fitting and attached a piece of plastic pipe I had lying around to the larger water butt, and cut a hole in the lid of the bin and ran the pipe into it.

Like so -

Water butt overflow.

The lot cost about £2 pound, the plumbing fitting can be bought from most diy shops, as can the pipe, and probably the plastic bin, I think I got the bin from homebase for a tenner.

So with the addition of the bin that meant I could store 560 litres of rain water, loads right ? nope, it seems that as we (well me anyway, the wife is pretty good already) have got better at gardening we have grown more, and now I can use the entire water supply in a few weeks in the summer, even in England.

As an example over the last 4 weeks we have had some rain, about 5 days in the whole month, and only one of those days was a good shower, this wouldn't be a problem if it wasn't for the fact the average temperature has been in the mid to high 20's which has dried out the ground a lot, it's very dusty and dry as hell, and some of the things we grow are quite thirsty plants, things like tomatoes,pumpkins,courgettes, and then there's the fruit plants and trees.

We have a few fruit trees, they are quite young, but do bare fruit most of the time, we have pears this year, the biggest problem the lack of water has caused is with the cherry tree, we didn't get one cherry this year, and I got a little worried thinking the tree was dying, but as it turns out it's just lack of water that's caused the fruit not to form properly.

We are now scratching our heads as to what to do, I am thinking about adding an extra water butt to the shed array, and we have even considered adding water butts to the house guttering.
One option is the green house, it's nothing fancy, it's basically a metal frame with a plastic sheet over it the plan I have been pondering is that the sheet doesn't last long and instead of buying a new cover I've decided I will use the frame and cover it with rigid plastic (polycarbonate type stuff) if I do I can then add guttering to it and more water butts, at least that's the plan, we shall see what happens.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

An English boy's home is his castle... ...

Well today was one of those day's, I had intended to go into the garden and carry on stripping the paint of the crib we got for our daughters dolls, however this was not to be, well not straight away.

After about half an hour of being outside we decided to open up the castle (yes I did say castle) it sits at the bottom of our garden, and was built with my own fair hands (well gnarly old hands) 
I built it 3 years ago now for my sons third birthday, and it's probably the best thing I've made, or at the very least it's the thing I'm most proud of.
He had always climbed into those plastic play house type things that some diy/garden centres sell, so I came up with the bright idea of building one.

I got a load of wood from our local builders yard, sheets of plywood and a load of 3x2, which I got cheap as it was old stock, and some big screws, and set about building the thing a couple of days before my sons birthday, which may have been a bit too close to be honest, but then forward planning isn't really my strong point :-)

The castle has sat un-used for the most part since his birthday, and today we decided to see what our youngest (2 years old) would make of it, as it turns out she loves it, so it may well get more use now ? I was surprised at how well it's weathered, to be honest I thought it may have suffered more than it has, I did cover it with a small tarpaulin just to make sure the roof didn't leak, even though I did take steps to water proof it.

It has some damp spots on the outside, which kind of adds to the outside look of it, but we will re-paint it with the grey coloured masonry paint we originally used (we actually had a colour made up for it) hopefully we will get it finished, I know, 3 years and it still isn't finished ! well the only thing left to do is to add some paint effects and maybe some bits of plywood around the door to make a stone kind of look, which are just extra touches really.

And here it is - 

Castle Mo.
It wasn't built from any plans, apart from the ones I had in my head for it, and basically it was built in 6 parts, those being the 4 sides, the roof and the floor.
The most complex part was the roof, which is essentially a wooden pyramid shape, and if I was to build another castle I would find another way of doing it, it was a pain to get it all lined up, but worth it in the end I guess.
The whole exterior of the castle was painted in a grey masonry paint, it's a textured one, which gave the thing an extra stone like feel, doors and windows were all cut out from the various sides and then fitted back in, and then I used an antique oak look wax we got from a pound shop, I also added wrought iron look fittings for the doors, handles and hinges.

Here's another picture, with one of my sprogs enjoying the castle.

Queen of the castle.

I had to include a drawbridge type feature, I had wondered about some kind of pulley so the kids could close the drawbridge, but decided against it in the end, I did have to add some steps to the drawbridge to make it easier for the kids to climb up, although as it turns out I had to make the steps larger as there wasn't quite enough wood for the kids to get their feet on.

Another picture.

King Mo.

If you look closely you can see one of the small windows I added to let some extra light into the castle, there's one on each side. but apart from the door and windows there is no other light source, so I'm thinking of converting a couple of solar powered garden lights to add some extra light inside when the door and windows are closed.

We chose a nice spot for the castle, it sits at the very end of the garden, by the pond, we've created a kind of grotto at the bottom that's surrounded by trees, it's nice and peaceful to sit there of an evening with a glass of something, or a cup of tea.

So if you want a good sturdy (this is very sturdy) and easy to make play house for the kids, why not build them a castle too.
I am working on some plans for the things I've built, and time depending I will eventually get them on here as well, so you can see how to build things like this.

Thanks for reading.


Sunday, 18 July 2010

Charity shop find... ...

I thought I'd do a quick post on charity shops, and the things you can find in them.

My daughter has just turned 2, and we went out the other day to find some things for her birthday, and if I'm honest we got a little stumped as to what to get. She likes dolls and other things, but a lot of the things she would like we already have from when her brother was younger, and it seemed a little daft to buy the same things again, so we got her a doll, and some bits and pieces for the doll, and while we were looking at various shops we came across an old wooden crib in a salvation army shop, it's a small crib, just right for a doll.

Here it is.
The crib.

It's a few years old, but we got it because it's wooden and really sturdy, as you can see it needs a bit of work, so my job is to strip the old paint off it give it a sand and then paint it again, most likely white, or if the wood comes up okay then I might just varnish it.

The point is that it was £3 and it's wooden, and apart from a little bit of tlc it's perfect for a doll, and it will most likely out last anything that's made of plastic.

My daughter has already seen it and loves it (she got a little worried when I put it in the shed) so next time you're out and about why not have a look in a charity shop or two and see if there's something you can use, it might cost you a fair bit less than a new one and not only are you helping a charity out you're recycling as well.
We actually got most of our home brewing supplies from our local charity shop, for a fraction of the price it would have cost if we'd got new, so it's worth having a look.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

A couple of projects for the kids and you to try - Pt 2 - Planting seeds.

Now this next project is to be honest an experiment in what things will actually grow.

Ever since I got into gardening I have tried to grow a variety of things, the usual garden type stuff, flowers etc I also grow veg and fruit as well, and this is where I got this idea from.

I have in the past spent a fair amount of money on quality seeds from garden centres and such like, and I have had mixed results, I don't claim to be a professional gardener (or even a halfway good one) and because of this I started to look for alternative sources for buying less expensive seeds, I now get a lot of my seeds from pound shops and I manage to grow a good amount of things, but I have also grown some slightly less obvious things, and this is something you could try with your kids, you don't even need a garden. just a window sill that gets a bit of sunlight.

So what to grow ? well why not try anything that you can get seeds from ? do you have a tomato or two in your fridge ? why not scrape some seeds out of one and try and grow them ? all you need to do is wash the seeds to get as much of the fleshy stuff of them and then put them in a pot of compost in your greenhouse or on a window sill.

Gardening experts will always say it's best to use bought seeds because they are guaranteed to grow because you will get better crops, but this way you might get something useful out of it (something you can eat) and the kids can learn a bit about plants, and all for the price of a bit of compost and a pot or two.

Here's some examples of stuff I've grown.

Sweetcorn. I have actually given up buying sweetcorn seeds, and now I use this (no really I do)

Honest this is what I use, it grows just as well.

I'm not joking, a bag of popping corn costs under a pound and you get loads, and it works even if it's out of date, and it will grow if looked after properly (like any plant) sweetcorn you can eat with a bit of home made butter ;-)

And just to prove it the next picture is some popping corn growing in a pot, the other plants are in the ground, and I couldn't get a good angle with the camera, but I will post pictures when they produce some corn later on in the year.

Popping corn growing in a pot 

Pop corn growing in a pot.

I also have an avocado plant growing in the kitchen, if you feel like trying to grow one my advice is to get a pot, fill it with compost and put the seed into the compost about halfway, and then give it a good water, and just keep the pot watered, don't soak it. After a while you should notice the seed starting to crack, this should mean it's starting to grow. I've have grown a few of these, they get quite tall, the last one got broken by our dog because we had to stand it on the floor due to it's height :-(

Other things will grow, you can grow pumpkins from the seed you find in a shop bought one, and butter-nut squash.

And then there's slightly more exotic stuff, like physalis, I have managed to grow the seeds from a passion fruit, but the plants died in the winter, I will try these again now I have a cold frame.

Here's a couple of pictures, the first are physalis plants, the second are apricots.

Physalis plants.

Physalis plants.
Apricot plants.

Apricots, may be some time before they grow any fruit.

The apricots were difficult to do because you have to crack them open to get at the seed, nut crackers work well, once opened plant the seed like any other.

Even the head gardener thinks I'm mad :-)

It'll never work, pop corn indeed.

Of course buying packet seeds will no doubt yield better crops if you are looking to grow your own veg, but there's no harm in trying to grow seeds from a shop bought tomato, or planting an apricot, although with apricots and cherries and the like it will be some time before you get any fruit, and there's a chance you won't ever get any fruit, but the planet isn't going to suffer if you plant another tree is it ? and it's a fun thing to try with the kids.

Thanks for reading.

A couple of projects for the kids and you to try - Pt 1 - Butter making.

(Links open in new window)

I was going to post these separately, but I decided to combine them as one post on things you could try with your kids (if you have any, and if you don't, why not try them anyway ?)

The first thing is butter making, my family and I have been watching a series on BBC2 hosted by Ben Fogle and called Escape in time it's basically a program where family's try their hands at living life on a Victorian farm, each family takes part in various jobs that would have been done on a day to day basis on a Victorian farm, it's a good program for kid's my son has found it very interesting because of the differences between how life was then and how it is now, and one of the tasks was butter making.

Now on the program they used 8 pint's of cream (which came from the farms cows) and a big butter churn, but you can do it on a smaller scale, and get some pretty good butter out of it, I've tried it, and I have to say that there is a certain pleasure to be had in making your own butter.

What do you need to make butter ? well basically you need double cream, you can use milk and single cream I guess, but it may take longer to get your butter, so go for double cream is my advice.

So you have you double cream, which can be bought from supermarkets, corner shops and loads of other places, you can use organic cream, and raw cream (I think raw cream and milk, are basically unpasteurised)  what else do you need ? well apart from a strongish arm (I'll explain in a minute) you will need a medium sized jam jar, or some other similar container, see below for full list of equipment and supplies.

  1. Double cream
  2. Medium sized jam jar or other container with a good sealing lid.
  3. A couple of plastic tubs or bowls will do just as well.
  4. Something to strain liquid from solid, a sieve or colander, or some cloth perhaps ?
  5. Salt, this is optional.
 Here's a picture -

Lets make some butter.

I know, there are no tub's / bowl's in the picture :-)

The method is pretty simple, pour some cream into the jar (but leave room in the jar for the cream to move about, if it's too full it won't work) and leave it at room temperature for about an hour, it seems to work better if you do this first.

Now a 1/4 of a pint of double cream will make about 3 ounces of butter (give or take)

After an hour get your jar of cream and start shaking (hence the strongish arms) the shaking method is up to you, but it's best to try and keep it consistent, I've only actually done this twice, but each time it's taken about 10minutes or so of shaking before something happens, and it is quite quick, you will notice a change in the contents of the jar as the fat (which is what butter is) separates from the cream, once it's done don't shake for too much longer as this can make a waxy butter (from what I've read on line)

Next open up the jar and have a look, what you should have is a lump of butter with a slight yellowy tint to it and butter milk, which looks like... well milk.

Empty the contents into you straining device of choice, so that the butter milk can drain way.

If you have watched the program I mentioned and you saw the episode where butter was made you will remember that it was washed and then squeezed to get as much of the butter milk out, I have to say the first time I tried this I didn't wash the butter, and it does make a difference, so rinse your newly made butter under the cold tap, or you can fill a jug and rinse that way, but keep rinsing until the water runs clear.
You don't have to go mad with this next part, but trying to squeeze a bit more butter milk out of the butter makes a difference, our first lot was kind of creamy, the second was much more like butter.
To squeeze more butter milk out I just put the butter in a largish tub and mashed the hell out of it with a fork, while keeping the tub at an angle so the milk could drain of, although to be honest not much came out.

After you're happy you have got enough butter milk out then you can add some salt to taste, or not if you prefer unsalted butter, stick it in a tub or you can shape it into a little pat of butter and put it in the fridge, and that's it.

All in all it took me about half an hour or so to get this

Home made butter in half an hour or so.

I think it's pretty good, and if you like butter you might be surprised at how it tastes compared to shop bought butter, why not have a go and see if you can get the kids to help, maybe make a little lesson out of it and do a little research on why people used to make more of their own food.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Do you have young children ? if so then you may have a load of these ...

I have a couple of young children, and they seem to have a shed load of toys, all of which came in really strange packaging, I know that the packaging is designed so kids can see the toys in shops and drive their parents mad with "I want that one" pleeeaaasssee mum/dad

But what do you do with the packaging once they have ripped it open on their birthday or christmas ? well there's not a great deal you can do with some of the plastic, or the cardboard, so chuck what you can in the recycle bin, but wait have you ended up with a pile of these ?

These are quite useful.

I have some how ended up with a large amount of these, if I remember correctly I think I got as many as 8 of these little plastic coated wires from 1 toy ! surely that's overkill ? and not to mention annoying because they take ages to get off the toy, all the while you have you kids getting more and more anxious that it's never coming out of it's box.

Well I have found that they can be quite handy, I have used them to mend things, the last being the handle on my hedge trimmer (best not to ask how it broke)
 I'm a keen gardener, not that good (I'm learning though) and I have found these things make good plant ties, as well as holding things together in the garden, for example long canes for growing beans up, and they can be removed and reused time and time again, so rather than throw them away, why not see if you can use them, or see if anyone you know likes growing things and see if they want them ?

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Got and old dvd player ? like photography ?

(Just to let you know that links open in a new window)

I only got into digital photography a short while ago, since then I've tried to take as many pictures of anything and everything.
I'm lucky enough to have a wife with a digital slr camera, which she let's me use as much as I want, but the only down side with such a camera is the size of it. It's too large to fit into your pocket, and so are most of the lenses.
Like most people I have a mobile phone that has a camera on it, which is okay for most types of pictures, the camera on mine isn't going to win any awards (my phone) but it's pretty good, apart from close up, it doesn't seem to focus very well at close range, and seeing as I like to take close up shots of things I've found this to be a little bit of a pain, but I have found a solution, well if I'm honest my wife found a solution while she was looking at uses for an old dvd player, so I thought I would post about it.

Firstly before I get down to the taking stuff apart bit have a look at these pictures......

Picture - 1.

Picture 1.

Picture - 2.

Picture 2.

Picture - 3.

Picture 3.

Okay so 2 of these pictures were taken using the how to I'm about to write about and a mobile phone with a 3mega pixel camera, one however was taken using a £250 Sigma macro lens attached to a Sony alpha 200 digital slr camera.
Any ideas as to which one was taken using the macro lens and slr ?

Now I'm aware that some of the newer mobile phones probably take pretty good close up/macro shots, but this would still be fun to try, and you never know the results may surprise you.

Basically what you need is an old dvd player, or some other device that reads cd's or dvd's, you can also use old cameras.

So for this you will need the following - 

  1. Screwdrivers, usually Philip's
  2. A paper clip, if using an old drive from a pc (all will be revealed)
  3. An old dvd player, or disc drive from a pc.

See picture -

If you used an old dvd player, then getting into it is pretty easy, just undo all the screws from the bottom and rear of the the device. If you've used an old disc drive then getting into it can be a little harder.
So to get into the drive the first thing to do is locate the small hole on the front of the drive.

See picture -
Manual eject hole.

Now this is where the paper clip comes in, just bend one section of it out, so you have a straight part, then basically stick it in the hole, and push you should feel a little click/clunk and the front should open slightly.
What you have done is override the locking mechanism, and trust me doing this it makes it so much easier to get into one, and remember most disc drives have them, so if you get a disc stuck in you pc, this is how you get it out (without the power on)
Once you have the tray open you can un-clip the front, in order to get inside then you need to un-clip the front so you can get the next part off.

Front of tray - 
This part comes off easily.

Next you will need to take the front plate off, to do this look for the little lugs on each side of the drive, sometimes there is one underneath as well.

Lugs - 
Lugs, normally on both sides.

Once you have pushed out the lugs the front plate should come of quite easily, the next thing to do is undo any screws there are, these will usually be on the underneath of the drive, but check all over to be sure.

Remove screws -
Front face plate,tray front removed.

Once you've removed all the screws, and pushed out any lugs, you should be able to get the covers off the drive and then it's pretty simple to find what we are looking for.

The part we are interested in is the lens, this should be roughly in the middle of the drive, and it's the part that channels the laser beam onto the discs. Just to note that on the dvd player there maybe 2 lenses, take the bigger first, this might be on the underside of the laser unit.

The lens - 
This is the bit we want.

The lens should pop of with a little flat headed screw driver, be careful not to scratch the top or bottom of the lens.

The lens again - 

The lens again.

And that's about it for the taking apart, just one thing though, there will be other usable parts in you device of choice, so have a look to see what else you could use for your next project, for example these devices all have small electric motors in them, these would be handy for all sorts of things.

Now this next part kind of depends on what sort of mobile phone you use and where it's camera is located. On my phone the camera is located on the back in one of the corners, this made it easy to to find a way to actually fix the lenses to the phone.

I'll leave the fixing lenses onto phones part down to you, post a comment if you came up with an alternative why to mine, or a better one, which shouldn't be hard :-)

So as it turns out the lenses I've used all have one thing in common, that being the actual lens part, the bit that light can pass through are all the same size, roughly, so I got a section of cereal box (it's preference here, coco pops or weetabix, it's up to you) and a hole punch, the sort of thing most offices have (you can get them from poundland)

I then cut a small rectangular piece of cereal box and punched a hole in one end, which is just big enough to allow a good field of view, and still have something to stick the lens to.
When I first tried this I used a variety of glues, pva, pritt stick type stuff, all of which didn't work so well, in the end I used good old fashioned super glue, but be careful it's quite sticky :-)

( by the way a good tip if you get super glue on your finger is to get them under a running tap quickly, this stops the glue setting properly, you may end up with a layer of glue on your fingers, but it peels off quite easy, and your fingers won't get stuck together like mine)

Glue the lens to the cereal box, make sure you get the lens central to the hole you've punched into it, and with any luck you should end up with something like the picture below.

My phone lenses.

The middle lens I found in an old 35mm camera which I found on the floor one day, you may also find a similar thing in the disposable cameras, so if you have one, get the film developed and ask the developer if you can have what's left of the camera.

So just for reference below is a picture of the lens I used on the slr to take one of the 3 shots at the start of this post.

Sigma macro lens.

Did you guess which one of the three was taken using the lens above ? well I shall reveal that it was number 3, so I'll let you be the judge of whether you think the pictures taken using the old dvd/disc drive lenses are any good, I think they came out pretty good, and below are a couple more using these home made lenses for mobile phones.

Orchid - 


And a pound coin - 

A pound coin

Thanks for reading.