Monday, 19 December 2016

Wooden star christmas decorations.

For a while my wife has wanted some wooden star Christmas decorations and to be honest I haven't managed to get around to making any until now, I always seem to be doing other things or time just seems to run out.

But I've finally managed it -

Very festive.

The lights on the right hand side one are brighter because I made that one last so the batteries are a bit fresher.

I did only mean to make one large star, but I ended up making two large stars, a small star and two small stars for the tree.

Rather than cut out a star shape from a sheet of wood I have made these stars in sections glued together, the three in the picture above also have lights in.

I spent a grand total of four pounds on lights for these, I bought the small sets of led lights you can get from pound shops rather than wire up a load of led's from scratch.

It would have only been three pounds but I forgot how to do maths and for some reason didn't realise that if you have five points and you want to put five lights in each point you're going to need twenty five lights, and not twenty, so I had to buy an extra set of lights.

First I made some templates of various sized star sections, and one complete star, which I didn't actually use, the idea being that I would draw round the templates onto some wood and then cut out the sections and stick them together.

Templates, just printed out and stuck onto card - 

You can find star templates online.

I decided to make a test star first, the main reason was because I wanted the grain of the wood to run in line with each point, rather than in the same direction over the entire star, this is why I made them in sections rather than cut them out of a sheet of ply or some other type of material.

Test star sections cut - 

They need to be sanded.

I cut each section out roughly using my bandsaw, but any type of saw will do and then I sanded each section to the pencil lines using my bench sander, you could just as easily use a block of wood and some sand paper to finish each section, it'll just take a bit longer.

Sanding each section to the pencil marks makes for a tighter fit with no gaps where the sections meet in the centre.

Once that was done I glued the sections together to see what the finished stars might look like.

Test star finished - 

Not bad.

Once I was happy with the test star and that I'd got the grain of the wood to run in the right directions it was time to make things a bit bigger, to make the larger stars I used some wood from an old pallet and in the end the large stars measure about 14 inches across, so they are quite big, I also used the off cuts to make the stars for the tree in the same way, just smaller.

Marking out the sections (using one of the templates I made) - 

Nice and easy.

Once you have five sections cut out and sanded all you need to do then is glue them together, I've used wood glue, but you could use epoxy or most other types of glue, the only difference really is the time you need to allow for the glue to set.

Test star, one large star and one tree star glued, ready for sanding - 

Nearly done.

To fit the lights all I've done is to mark out five points on each section of the star and drill a hole the same size as the led lights, in this case that was about 5mm and meant the led's were a snug fit in each hole.

Marking out where the lights will go - 

You can just make out the pencil marks.

A quick test - 

It works well I think.

As you can see I went for quite a uniform arrangement of lights, there's no reason you can't be more random, had I gone for a random arrangement I could have got away with just using twenty led's on each star.

Once I'd drilled all the holes I needed I sanded the pencil marks off each star and then gave each one a coat of clear wax to bring out the grain of the wood and then on was on to tidying the wires up a bit.

Now for some tidying up - 

Hot glue to the rescue.

Using a glue gun I stuck the wires to the wood to stop them moving about, I also stuck the battery packs to the wood as well, but in such a way that I can still get the covers off to change the batteries.

You can see in the picture above where I had to join the extra led lights, this was an easy job, all I did was cut of five lights and then join them to the other ones to make a string of twenty five.

Gluing done - 

Keeps the wires out of the way.

And that's about it really, there are numerous ways this could be done, I may end up making them into light boxes so that the wiring is hidden a little better, but as they are they look nice when lit up and we like them, and it goes with our tradition of making some kind of decoration for Christmas every year, I even used the test star and put some of the spare lights in that in a random pattern.

Waste not, want not - 

I'm actually quite pleased with them.

The small ones I made for the tree don't have lights, but there's no reason they couldn't have lights fitted, although you'd want to use smaller led's.

These I made in the same way as the light up stars, they're just smaller and I've used some natural fibre string to hang them on the tree with.

Tree star, I made two of these - 

These go well with our other homemade decorations.

And there you have it, a cheap and simple Christmas decoration, that could also be used in a kids room on a dressing table or chest of drawers as a year round decoration.

Merry Christmas - 

Merry Christmas and thanks for reading.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Hanging bowls for plants...

It is safe to say that we like plants, in fact of the nine windowsills we have in the house only one of them doesn't haven't any type of plant on it, and that's because it's full of books instead.

My wife has been collecting cacti and succulents for a year or two, and we've always had house plants of various sorts, but the cacti have kind of taken over, so much so that I've been making hanging bowls for them to live in.

Like this -

This was the first one I made.
This one was kind of an experiment mainly to see how I might go about constructing such a thing, it works well and can hold about three small pots (three 7cm pots) it also has a plastic drip tray in it to catch any extra water and protect the wood.

I have since been making smaller ones for single plants, the big one was made using small lengths of cls timber glued together and turned into a bowl, the cost of the wood was about £3.90, the smaller ones are made from Leylandi logs.

This is how the large one started out - 

Lots of glue needed.

Basically once the glue had set I roughly turned the larger and small blocks and then stuck those together, and then turned the final shape.

During turning - 

I applied some stain while it was still on the lathe.

As I've used a similar method to make the large bowl and the smaller ones from here on the pictures are of the smaller ones (because I forgot to take pictures of the larger one being made) the smaller ones were easier to make as I didn't have to glue blocks of wood together.

So once I'd hollowed the log I tested to make sure a small drip tray would fit into it, you could use a polyurethane type varnish or water proofer on the inside to protect the wood, but I just went with a drip tray, it's simple and it works

Checking the drip tray fits - 

It fits.

Next thing is to make the holes for the string (you could use chain of some kind) so you can hang the bowl, to do this I used three small clamps placed around the bowl roughly the same distance apart, I placed the clamps on a pencil line I'd made that was about half an inch down from the edge of the bowl.

Like so - 

Roughly the same space between each clamp.

Drilling points marked - 

Next up some drilling.

I've used small eyelets in each hole for decoration, and to make sure I drilled the right sized hole to make the eyelets fit tightly into the wood I used a small forstner bit.

Eyelets and forstner bit - 

It's just about the right size for the eyelets.

Holes drilled - 

Now to finish the bowl.

Once I'd drilled the holes I gave the bowl a sand to get rid of the pencil marks and then flipped it round so that I could shape the bottom, I fitted the eyelets once I've sanded and waxed the bowl.

Bowl done - 

I'm calling it 'Rustic finishing'

I haven't finished the bowl as finely as I would normally as I wanted a slightly rougher look, I used a clear wax on the smaller bowls, but there's no reason you couldn't stain them, use a wood dye, or even if you're feeling adventurous add a different type of wood for the shaped part for a two tone effect.

To get the bowl to hang I've used braided jute string, again keeping with the slightly rustic look, but you can get some nice decorative chain from a lot of diy shops and I'm thinking that I may use chain of some kind on the next one I make.

Once I'd braided the string I tied each piece to a small brass curtain ring - 

Perfect for a hook or a nail.

I tied small knots in the other ends of the string and then threaded each one through the eyelets I'd fitted to the bowl, and used a small piece of garden wire to make sure the string doesn't pull out.

Like this - 

A simple solution.

And there you have it, one hanging bowl ready for a plant - 

The first of many I feel.

Plants that have a tendency to hang are better suited to these types of bowl, but there's no reason why you can't put any other type of plant in one, I have made three of the smaller bowls so far and my wife really likes them so much so that I plan to make a few more, and maybe a couple of the larger ones.

They do look good with plants in - 

I'll have to make one for the monkey tail in the plastic pot.

If you don't have access to a lathe why not convert a wooden bowl of some kind, whilst I was researching hanging bowls I found a few tutorials where people had converted wooden bowls into hanging bowls for plants, all you need is a drill and some string.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Allotment update - supplemental...

Okay so if you read my post on pumpkins you may have seen me mention about waiting to hear about another (full sized) plot, well shortly after that we were given the larger plot we applied for, we will for next year anyway keep our smaller plot on as well as the new bigger plot, but at the end of next year we'll give up the smaller plot and just work the larger one.

So today I decided to make a start on getting it ready, there's lots to do, fences need fixing (most of which I've now done) I need to make a new gate and I have also at some point got to move all the stuff from the small plot to the large plot, like the shed and such like (that'll be fun) but for today it was just clearing and seeing what's what.

The plot -

Lots of weeds.
You may well be wondering why I took the picture through this mesh, well you see the plot was locked with a big chain and padlock, so the first job was to actually get into it.

You shall not pass - 

Okay, I see the problem.

I had to cut through part of the gate to get it open, it doesn't matter as I'll be making another gate.

I'm in - 

Doesn't look any better from here.

This plot does come with some bonuses, the first being two large grape vines, one is huge and runs along the entire front of the plot, so I decided to tackle that first.

It's all in here somewhere - 

Nettles everywhere.

And after an hour or so of getting stung all over the place things were looking better - 

Much improved.

You can see the vine running along the top if the fence, I pruned this back and pulled up the nettles and other assorted weeds, it seems there's a compost bin here as well, although this will be taken out.

I plan to put the shed and a new compost bin along this fence, the area in the corner is quite shady so not so great for growing things, this will be where the shed goes, I did also have to repair some holes in this fence, and I've got to sort out a new gate posts as the ones already in are a bit wobbly.

The other grape vine pruned - 

Bit hard to see.

After thinking about it for a while I think I shall move this grape vine to a better location, it's kind of in an awkward place here, so it'll be moved closer to the other vine, near to where the shed will go.

Along with a fork and a shovel I also found some metal cages, a few people on the site use these for covering plants to stop the birds eating them, so I'll be able to use them as pigeon proofing.

Metal cages - 

These will come in handy.

I found some wood from an old apple tree, this has now been added to my wood turning supplies, they aren't thick pieces, but they'll do for making shawl pins and similar things.

In the past this particular plot had been vandalised, and the apple tree was cut down by the vandals so I'm putting the wood to good use, although I'm not sure why they chose to cut down that apple and leave the other two but there you go.

Turning supplies - 
I'm sure I can make use of this.

As well as the grape vines and the two apple trees there are also some currant bushes, in a bit of a poor state but at least one will survive once it's tidied up and there are at least two gooseberry bushes, again these need some tlc, but should be okay and there's some rhubarb plants (at least one, maybe more) and from what I can tell there are a few saplings around the plot, these may turn out to be fruit trees, they look like apples but I'll have to see.

And even though the one apple tree was cut down it's not dead, it's showing signs of new growth so I maybe able to get it to grow, but it'll be some time before it bears fruit, if at all.

Life finds a way - 

Can't keep a good tree down.

Well that was enough for one day, I spent longer there than I meant to, but I got a lot done, there's still lots to do in order to get the plot in a usable state before spring, more fixing of things and working out where things will go and then there's the digging, the whole plot needs digging over, I think there might even be  a few rows of spuds still in the ground although they may not be usable, but you never know.

Here's what the plot looked like when I left - 

I shall be having a large bonfire soon.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for updates, I suspect this will keep me busy throughout the winter months.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Antique style clothes airer / horse...

It's the time of year when putting the washing out on the washing line isn't really practical, it'll probably end up wetter than when you started, so how about making a clothes horse / airer, which if I'm honest is something I've been meaning to do for ages.

Yes we could have bought one, but we don't really like the wire ones and the wooden ones you can buy more often than not can be made quite cheaply and then there's the look of the thing, the modern ones don't really fit with most of the stuff we have in our house, so we made an old looking one.

Here it is -

Really simple and cheap to make.
It's made from 19mm x 38mm batten which you can buy in packs of eight from some diy shops the pack we bought cost £12.10, which makes each 2.4 metre length around £1.51 each and we used six lengths, so the wood for this cost about £9, I did also buy some upholstery tacks for £1 (because I forgot I already had some) so the whole thing cost £10 which isn't bad.

Making it is easy, basically you need four long pieces for the legs and then (in our case) six pieces to make the bars, and what you're aiming for is something that looks a bit like a ladder.

Here's a small diagram with some measurements - 

Click for a larger image.

I made the uprights 52 inches (132cm) and the bars 24 inches (60cm) which makes the whole thing  just over four feet high and four feet wide, this was because when we have the heating on the horse will pretty much cover one of our larger radiators.

The spacing for the bars was worked out roughly, I measured from the top down 4 inches  (10cm) for the top bar and from the bottom up 12 inches (30cm) for the bottom bar, and then just divided the distance between the top and bottom bars for the middle bar.

The reason for leaving a little bit above the top bar is to stop washing sliding off the top bar when the horse is moved.

I used a mitre saw to cut the wood, and my daughter helped, this is a really simple build, no fancy joints or anything like that, the wood was just screwed and glued together.

Work commences - 

Time for some measuring.

After a bit of cutting we have what we need, on to fixing - 

Now for some screws and glue.

After marking out where the bars were going to go the next step was to find the centres where we needed to drill for the screws, I used a home made centre marker (you can find loads of different ones online) it's basically a bit of wood with two pegs either end and a pencil in the middle.

Once marked out I used a screw digger to make the holes, screw diggers are basically a drill bit with a built in counter sink, it saves time not having to switch between drill bit and counter sink, I tend to use one that gives me an 8mm counter sink so that I can cover the screws with wooden plugs.

Screws in - 

The holes will be filled.

First section built - 

Rinse and repeat.

Both sections done - 

Now on to the decoration.

First thing to do now it's all fixed together is to fill the screw holes, I haven't made the plugs fit flush, instead I've left them a little proud as this gives the whole thing a more arts and crafts type look. The plugs are just 1cm lengths of 8mm dowel (hence the use of the 8mm screw digger) and after rounding off one end I glued them into the screw holes.

Plugs cut - 

Pine plugs, fiddly but worth the effort.

Plugs glued in place - 

Just a small detail, but it works with the overall look of the thing.

Once the screw holes were covered I sanded (with the help of my daughter) the two frames and rounded off the ends, after that it was on to making it look a little less brand new.

I use a homemade stain to make the wood look a bit more aged, it's basically white vinegar with some wire wool in it, which after being left a while gives the wood a slightly orange appearance and when a dark wax (Black Bison Dark Oak) is applied it gives the finished look more depth, at least I find it does.

One section stained, onto the next - 

White vinegar makes a cheap wood stain.

Once the stain has dried I then applied a coat of dark oak coloured wax, and after that I polished the two sections with a natural beeswax polish, and then it was on to the hinges which are made of leather believe it or not, although metal hinges would do just as well.

I did do some research into vintage and antique clothes horses and found that most of them had some kind of material to act as a hinge, from canvas to leather, and seeing as we have some leather scraps I went for leather, which is just tacked onto each section with upholstery tacks.

Like so, it works and helps to make it look older - 

It's fixed in a kin of 'S' shape.

It looks a bit too new in this picture, but as the leather ages it'll look better, it's a simple way of allowing you to open and close the clothes horse and it stops it falling over, I did also add a small brass catch I had lying about to keep the frame closed when not it use, but a loop of string over the top would do just as well.

Small catch - 

Stops it from flapping about when you move it.

We have been using it quite a lot recently and it's doing what it should, so far we've kept it in our utility room, which as well as a small radiator also houses the boiler which creates a fair bit of heat and clothes seem to be drying quite quickly where it is, and it's right by the back door should the sun make an appearance.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

The humble pumpkin...

Whilst I sit twiddling my thumbs waiting to hear about a larger allotment plot I thought I'd write a post about pumpkins, perhaps not the most exciting of vegetables but hey ho.

This year was a good year for pumpkins, we grew the largest two we've ever managed on our allotment and oddly we weren't even trying, happy accidents you might say.

Here are the largest two of this years pumpkins -

We were pleased with them.
I had thought we weren't going to get any large pumpkins this year, we lost a load of plants to marauding slugs and had to sow more, and as a result by the time some of our other pumpkin plants were growing fruit we had some plants that were showing no signs of doing anything productive at all.

And then around the middle of August I noticed these two small pumpkins, on separate plants - 

Small, about grapefruit/melon size here.

At this point I thought, well it's late in the season so they probably won't come to much, but I'll leave them anyway, by the end of August start of September they had grown a fair bit, the one by the fence had grown quite a lot, it went from being grapefruit sized to watermelon sized in a couple of weeks and the other one was about the same size.

Fence pumpkin - 

Larger than it looks.

The other one - 

Again larger than it looks.

A month later when I picked them they had gotten considerably larger, I haven't done anything special with them, just plenty of water and sunshine (you can also use tomato food on them) and that's it, and in the space of about six weeks they went from grapefruit/melon sized to weighing 25.5kg between the two of them, the largest is 13.5kg and the smaller one 12kg, they can grow very quickly if they get plenty of sun and water.

Harvest time, I had to use my bike trailer - 

A good haul.

Currently we have a kitchen full of pumpkins (and other squash) they will all get used, we've started processing some of them already, the one we carved for Halloween has been made into puree and frozen for soups and pies (and anything else we can think of) a couple have been turned into relish made by my wife some of the puree was used in the flat breads my wife makes as well, and we roasted the seeds with some olive oil and spices, they make a great snack.

Pumpkins are very useful, did you know that around 18,000 tonnes of pumpkin gets thrown away each year in the UK after Halloween ? and why ? they can be eaten so why throw it away ?

The internet is awash with recipes and ideas for what to do with pumpkins and squashes.

Here's a list of things we do with pumpkins, 

Puree for soup
Cut up in stews, and curries
Pumpkin pie
Roasted with the spuds for Sunday dinner
Pumpkin flat breads
Pumpkin relish
Pumpkin wine, which is very nice even if I do say so myself
Grated into a shepherds pie or a chilli, makes the mince go further
Pumpkin muffins (kids love them, probably because they are sweet)
Seeds roasted for a nice healthy snack

And pumpkins have numerous health benefits and they are very high in vitamins and minerals, like vitamin C, vitamin A and calcium and iron and they are a fun to grow, kids get a kick out of watching them get bigger.

So rather than chucking your pumpkins in the bin after Halloween why not try to use them, after all you are throwing food away, and if you don't want to use them see if anyone in your area is running a pumpkin/squash rescue event where you can donate your pumpkins and know they'll be used to help someone who is perhaps a little less fortunate than you, it has to be better than chucking them away.

In the mean time we'll be finding uses for this lot - 

This isn't all of them.

Thanks for reading.