Sunday, 13 April 2014

Allotment update ...

It's the time of year for an allotment update,well actually having checked it's actually a bit earlier than it was last year,but then in this neck of the woods the weather has be decidedly mild.

First picture -

Not much to do really.

The picture above was taken in February,I had visited the plot just to see how things were getting on because I had planted some onions and shallots in November last year and some spinach,just to see what happens really so I didn't actually do any work.

I did start working on the plot about two weeks later,I got the top section cleared,and I also took one of three net frames I've made down,they're for protecting things like kale and broccoli from pigeons,I also managed to sow a load of carrots and parsnips in between the onions and shallots.

Top section cleared and ready for stuff - 

Didn't take long to do.

Weeding around onions and shallots done,carrots and parsnips sown -

It's so much easier to get on top of the weeds now.

The next visit was about two weeks into March,the winter has been very mild this year,we've not really had much in the way of frosts and generally speaking it's been quite pleasant,so I decided to take advantage of the weather and make an early start on things,so on the next visit,apart from weeding I managed to get the bean frame in place,ready for beans probably near to the end of April start of May time.

I also got seven short rows of spuds in,and on top of that I've planted six rows of peas and seven rows of broad beans,and a few rows of beetroot in the top section of the plot that I cleared in the last visit.

Here's the plot before -

Despite the mild winter there weren't many weeds.

And here it is after -

Doesn't look like much was done.

All in all I did get a fair bit done, the next visit was general tidying,there's a new sheriff in town (so to speak) and he seems to be very much on top of things.

The council have also introduced a new system whereby you are now graded on how your plot is kept,this grade will help towards getting your plot extended (if you've applied to get more space that is) and obviously a good grade is better in terms of keeping your plot.
It's a bit like being back at school in some respects,but there are some plots that really need a bit more attention than they get,and with waiting lists being quite big I can understand the council wanting to give plots to people who will actually use them.

Anyway over the next few weeks I managed to get the plot in a good order,again there was more weeding and I also started to use some of the wood shavings from my wood turning exploits to mulch the path to help keep the weeds down.

Before -

Getting there.

And after -

Almost done.

And that was March,on to April.

This was the plot when I visited on the 11th of April, few weeds to sort out,but not much else to do,the peas and broad beans are starting to grow nicely,and I'd had some kale and some broccoli growing in the greenhouse to plant,and I'd managed to make another two net frames,I was going to leave them in the garden until I needed them,but our cat kept getting caught up in them,so I figured they'd be safer at the allotment.

Here's how the plot was - 

Again more weeding.

Here's two of the frames now in use - 

The white stuff is crushed egg shell.

Fingers crossed the nets will keep the pigeons off the plants,the crushed egg shell works really well for slug control,I've tried various things and so far crushed shell is what works the best,so I guess it's handy we have chickens.

Here's how the plot was when I left it - 

Up and running,much earlier than last year.

I didn't weed round all the onions because the carrots and parsnips have just started to sprout,so in a couple of weeks I'll get that done,and by then I should have some runner beans to go in,I'll start them off in the greenhouse,I'm going to try and get some more peas in as well and I'm also going to start some squashes off,we've got another load of seed spuds for a late crop and the leeks I planted a month ago are almost big enough to go out,so hopefully this year will be as good as last year,but I'm going for better.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Experimenting with mushrooms ...

I haven't done much turning of late,so it was good to get some lathe time in,and I've been making mushrooms,of various sorts.

One of the problems I have when I turn wood is that I get this mindset that what ever an object is,it should do something,and seeing as I mostly make pots and boxes I'm usually happy,a box or a pot is useful, you can put stuff in it,it doesn't just sit on a shelf waiting to be dusted,so to make something that's just an ornament is a little out of my comfort zone I guess.

So I figured I'd have a go at making mushrooms,I've seen them in shops and online,but never attempted making them,using some scrap bits of wood I managed to make a couple,which are now sitting on the mantle piece.

Here they are -

Not bad for a first attempt.

The one on the left is made from either Elm or Alder,I still haven't figured out which yet,and the one on the right is made from Eucalyptus,I picked that because I knew it would split and I felt this kind of looked more mushroomy,as they sometimes split in a similar way,they are a bit rough,should have probably given them more of a polish really.

After sitting and looking at them for a while I decided to try something else,using small bits of wood and some Pear bark I had lying about,I'd been looking for a use for it.

Again I've made mushrooms,but this time I've gone for something slightly more creative,and in some ways I was trying to replicate what I've seen when we've been out walking in the woods in the autumn,that being mushrooms and other fungi growing on trees and dead bits of wood.

This is the end result - 

Pear bark with Eucalyptus mushrooms.

Pear bark and Spruce mushrooms.

I even added some detail to look like gills - 

No one will notice them,but still.

I'm oddly pleased with these,which is a step up for me as I'm not really one for ornaments,my wife and the kids really love them,so I guess that I should try to be more open to other peoples ideas from time to time.

I did however have the last laugh so to speak,because I found a way to make a useful mushroom,and it's not a box or a pot,I've spent time looking at things that people used to use,tools and such like and I found that there are people who still use things like darning eggs,and darning mushrooms,so I made one as well.

Darning mushroom - 

A mushroom that can help fix socks,who'd have thought.

This one is made from a bit of Spruce for the cap,and a piece of hardwood for the handle,and I hollowed out the handle a bit so that you can store needles and maybe a bit of thread inside it.

With the handle removed - 

I added a rubber seal as well,but it doesn't really need it.

As much as I like the little mushrooms on bark,the darning mushroom is (in my view) better,simply because it has a function,other than to sit on a shelf,you can use the darning mushroom to do something,fix socks etc.

Here are the ornaments on the mantle piece,along with other ornaments - 

Not sure the cats approve.

The mantle piece is a little full now.

They do fit in well with the other things that occupy the mantle piece,and they are growing on me,and if people like them I shall probably put a few in the shop and see how they do,and that's what I've been up to with my wood turning,I have various other things I want to make,but for the next few months it'll be full speed ahead for the allotment.

Thanks for reading.

Homemade Thursday

Monday, 7 April 2014

Handheld ballista ... ...

Last year me and the kids built a couple of siege engines out of wood,we made a Trebuchet and an Onager,ever since then I've been wanting to have a go at making a Ballista,I've had to scale things down a bit,I'd really like to have a go at making a large siege engine at some point,but our garden is a bit small for such a device,so I built a hand held Ballista,like a crossbow ... sort of.

Here it is -

I'm quite pleased with it.

It's made from lengths of tile batten and has a working trigger mechanism,which whilst it works quite well it's proved to be the weak point of the weapon.

To be honest I mainly made this to test out the trigger,it works but there's room for improvement as always.

The basic body of it is made from three lengths of tile batten fixed together which I shaped so that I could fit the trigger gubbins in.

The frame work that holds both torsion bars is also made from tile batten,and again I used copper tube to strengthen the wood a little as I did with the Onager.

Here's the section that holds the trigger mechanism - 

It's all held in place with wooden pegs.

I left the middle piece of batten slightly longer so that the latch (the part that holds the string and bolt) doesn't go all the way down,otherwise it would have been tricky to get the latch back up again,I also made a groove down the entire length of the middle piece of batten,this acts as a guide for the bolt to slide down.

The trigger mechanism consists of three parts,the latch that the string hooks onto,the release lever (the bit you squeeze to fire it) and a block with two springs in it.

Here are the parts - 

Simple,but quite effective.

Basically when it's loaded the latch,which has a groove in the bottom is forced onto the end of the release lever, there's a plate on the bottom that stops the lever being forced too far down and firing the Ballista.

The block with the springs is to make it easier to load,basically to load it you pull the string back and push the latch back at the same time,the springs help keep it from firing accidentally,a kind of safety feature if you will.

Here's a picture of it set up and loaded - 

The two pins in the latch help with loading.

As I said it's held together with pegs,the pegs run all the way through the body of the Ballista,and smaller pegs stop them from coming out,this means that the trigger mechanism can be removed in pieces easily should any part fail.

The two torsion arms are what provide the power to actually fire a bolt,they are basically the same as the version I made for our Onager,all be it it slightly smaller and obviously there's two of them,one on either side with a string between the two.

Like so - 

Another simple system.

Front view - 

Like a double sided Onager.

Here are some more pictures of the torsion arms,as I mentioned earlier I've used copper to give a bit more strength to the wood,I've used steel pins to stop the torsion bundles from unwinding and because of the amount of tension in each bundle the pins stopping the bundles from unwinding won't fall out.

Reinforcements - 

The copper stops the wood from getting crushed.

Another picture - 

Each torsion bundle can take more twists.
The arms are made from two bits of batten glued (and screwed) together,then rounded off on my lathe,in all honesty I could have left them square,then I wrapped them in string to stop them getting damaged,and to make the thing a little quieter when it fires.

And another - 

A simple knot holds the string in place in each arm.

It's not perfect,and should I make another there are things I'll change,for a start the amount of power I can get it to generate,I can add more twists to each torsion bundle quite easily,the problem is the trigger mechanism won't hold it,so I need to refine that.

I've already started roughing out a crossbow type weapon,that will use elastic rather than torsion bundles,and I'm working on different triggers,I'm looking to use something similar to the crossbows found on the terracotta warriors,but I need to find a way to fabricate them as I don't have a forge.

The bolts were made from a short length of dowel that I attached a thin piece of plywood to to act as fletchings (flights) they aren't the best thought out bolts but they work well enough,I added a bit of metal bar to each one to give them a bit more weight which helps them go a bit further.

The bolts - 

Crude,but they do the job.

I did have to add a nock to each bolt, so that I could get them to fit on the string.

End of one of the bolts - 

Okay,very crude,but they do work.

And to prove it works here's a short video,it's not great as I was holding the Ballista with one hand and my phone with the other, luckily it only weighs in at 1kg so it's actually quite easy to hold one handed,there is a slow motion part,which is not that good,mainly because I'm still experimenting with the software that helped me make the slow motion video.

Firing - 

You can find details on the Trebuchet we made - here (opens in new window)
And the Onager we made - here (opens in new window)

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

My inner womble strikes again ...

I'm always trying to find new uses for things,like using old windows to make cold frames,or plastic piping to make covers for various plants,I like making things from something else,and not just because it saves money.

This is one of those occasions,our house is on a hill,and at the back of it is a bank that's around 25 feet high from the road below,it runs along the whole street and is covered in a variety of plants and trees,at one end of this bank is a block of flats and it would seem that people often use the patch of waste ground to dump things.

I happened to find myself exploring this waste ground the other day (looking for one of our cats who has gone awol) and I came across what I first thought were planters,turns out they weren't,they're actually some kind of packing crate for either roof tiles or some kind of floor tile or paving stones.

Here they are -

Only 5 in this picture,but I ended up with 6 in all.

Like I said my first thought was that they were planters,it wasn't until I looked at them more closely I found out that they had been dumped and that they were packing crates,so I figured I'd make use of them,and this is kind of how my brain works,I tend to see what a thing could be,not what it was and someone evidently thought these crates were rubbish.

After dragging all 6 of these crates back to my house,which wasn't that easy I figured I'd turn them into what I had originally thought they were,that being planters,they're a good size for planters each one is just over 5 feet long and about a foot wide and about 8inches deep.

To turn them into planters I first got rid of the bits of cardboard and the staples that were dotted around the edges,then I lined each crate with some plastic sheet.

All clean and ready for the liner - 

They got lighter as they dried out,which was good.

Liner fitted,ready for the next stage - 

I used some plastic sheeting I had lying around.

I just stapled the plastic sheeting to the inside of each crate,I could have left them,but the plastic will help retain more moisture,I've found in the past that wooden planters dry out quite quickly in the summer.

Next thing to do was add some canes for supporting whatever plants end up in these,for that I used a 10mm spade bit to make holes down each side of each crate,making sure that the holes on each side were (more or less) opposite each other.

Like so - 

Bit hard to see from this picture,but there are holes there somewhere.

The idea is to push a length of bamboo cane into each hole and then put a piece across as a horizontal support,having the cane fitted into the holes makes things more stable.

The canes are just thin bamboo ones that can be bought for a few pounds from most diy / garden type shops,I used 2.4 metre canes and cut them in half.

Canes ready for cutting - 

Nothing special,just standard bamboo canes.

Here are the canes in place - 

You get the general idea.

Once I'd got the vertical canes in place the next step was to put a longer cane across the top and then tie it all together,to tie the canes I've used a plastic coated wire,it's quite basic,but does the job.

Canes all tied up - 

Simple frame work.

And that's about it really,we now have 6 planters all the same,which will do for growing tomatoes,beans or cucumbers,they can be moved about,although that would take two of us now they have soil in them,we have room to almost double the amount of tomato plants we grew last year,and these look nicer than the black plastic tubs we used,they are solid as well as they all still have the steel banding to reinforce them.

Here's one completed - 

Just needs some plants.

These ones we used round our patio, it gets very warm - 

I think they look nice,kind of rustic.

In all these planters cost about £10 once you consider the canes and the plastic,I would have used sticks to make the frames,but I didn't have any long enough,but even so £10 is quite a saving when you consider that some places are selling planters that aren't as big as this for about £30 a go,so it proves that it's worth looking at things before you bin them,use a little imagination and you may well find a use for something that was destined for the bin,unleash your inner womble.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Dolls house charity shop find ...

I've finally got round to finishing off some things I was working on,one of which was renovating a dolls house I found in a charity shop for the grand price of £2, the original plan was to fix it up and sell it, however it got claimed by my daughter and it's now living in her bedroom,You'd think she'd be happy with the one I made her for Christmas a few years ago,but this one is apparently now a beach house for her dolls.

Here's the dolls house before I started on it -

A bit tired, or well loved if you prefer.

As you can see it's had a bit of use,my first thought was to take the thing apart completely,but as it turned out that wasn't possible because I'd have ended up breaking some of the joins,so I just took it apart as far as it would go.

Some damage,easily fixed with a bit of wood glue -

Despite it being quite badly split this was fixed easily.

The paper used for the roof tile effect was torn in places,and there was a fair amount of pen and pencil drawing all over it,along with some stains,so I figured I'd just strip all of the paper off and see what I was left with.

Taken apart waiting for paper to be removed and then sanded - 

Ready for it's make over.

And here it is fully sanded and awaiting a lick of paint - 

Looks better already.

I had hoped that I could leave it as bare wood once it was sanded,but I was unable to get into all the little gaps,even with a detail sander,so I went for a paint job instead.

After pondering the colour scheme for a while I decided on what could be described as a traditional look,but it reminds me of a cottage,white walls,black roof and green doors,personally I think it's turned out well,but then I would.

Here's the finished house - 

A bit plain maybe?

From the sides - 

Has to be better than it was.

It's painted in white gloss (after 2 coats of undercoat and primer) the roof is black emulsion and the doors are painted with a green water based enamel paint,so it can be cleaned easily,and yes it's perhaps a bit on the plain side,but it looks great with some of the furniture I made for my daughters other dolls house,so now I guess I'll have to make a load more for his one.

All in all despite having spent a few ours doing it up I'm happy and so is my daughter,we had the paint already and for £2 it's not to be sniffed at,it proves that trawling through charity shops often yields interesting results.

Thanks for reading.