Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Repairing a kitchen cupboard

A few years back we had a new kitchen installed, it's proved reliable with the exception of a high cupboard with a lift up door. The screws holding the door to the hinge started dropping out. Because the doors are made from faced chipboard I knew it wasn't just a case of putting bigger screws in place.

I quizzed my Twitter followers to see their recommendations. Thanks to Alfred Chow, Tony Durham and Andy Weeds for their ideas. Several people suggested drilling out the holes and plugging them. @jbwelduk suggested an epoxy putty and @supafixuk had a powder and fixer product they recommended. When I checked my supplies I realised I already had an epoxy putty product from when I was fixing shelves in the bathroom.

I removed the door and it was clear why the screws had dropped out, the clipboard had blown out.

I picked a drill larger than the damaged area and drilled each screw hole larger.

The waste was removed and the holes cleaned before fitting with the putty.

Once it was dry I sanded it flat and used a bradawl to make some pilot holes.

The hinges were fitted and hopefully this will be a solid long term repair.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Iron Bloke

Earlier this year the Metal Store ran a contest looking for Metal Masterpieces. I had a chance to talk to the winner Nick Wysoczanskyj. His Iron Bloke sculpture made from is made from scrap metal with a glowing LED eye. Nick is a freelance scenic artist and works on Tv and film sets as well as being a trained illustrator.

Workshopshed: Nick, congratulations on winning The Metal Store Metal Masterpiece competition and thank you for being interviewed.

Workshopshed: What inspired you to make Iron Bloke?

Nick Wysoczanskyj: I was initially inspired to build my take on The Iron Man by my partner, Kate. I enjoyed the Ted Hughes story as boy, and we both really love the 1999 animated Iron Giant movie. I had come across some bits of heavy metal rigging shackles, and they suggested to me the form of a retro robot. It came as no surprised, when I mentioned it to Kate, that she would ask me to build her an Iron Man. I named him "Iron Bloke" as kind of a joke, as a nod to the Black Sabbath track - Iron Man. We both remember an interview with Ozzy Osbourne, where he recounted the birth of that track. "I, I, I, don't even think it was called Iron Man to start with," he mumbled, "Tommy came in with idea for a riff, and I thought it sounded like some great, big, iron bloke!"

Workshopshed: What did you use to make him?

Nick: I have a small, very basic workshop at home. Iron Bloke, was built there, in the evenings after work. We have an ancient double garage at the back of the house, that doubles as a shed. I have a bench, with a good vice and a drill press, set up in there. The nature of my work, dictates that I have a good range of basic power and hand tools, for working with a range of materials. In terms of welding equipment I have a 130 amp gasless MIG welder and a small 100 amp stick welder. Most of my metalwork is done with a grinder, a simple rotary tool for more detailed work, and a range of vices, clamps, and files. A good cross slide vice, and some milling bits, give me a really primitive machining capability at a small scale, but most of what I make is simply hand ground, and welded up.

Workshopshed: Where did you learn metalwork?

Nick: I started learning basic fabrication skills, in wood, plastics, and a limited amount of metal fabrication, but not as much as I would have liked, at school. My family also work in various construction trades, so there was always a lot of practical knowhow around growing up, and I often worked with them, on site, for pocket money. It was this background in general building work that got me through university, financially speaking. After leaving school I studied product design for two years, and enjoyed the run of my college's, very well equipped workshops. I changed direction a little after that and studied for a BA in Illustration.

Workshopshed: How did you get from Illustrations to Sets?

Nick: My university had a broad definition of illustration, as well as a well equipped shop set-up; which I took full advantage of, undertaking sculpture based work along side my hand drawn projects. My work these days is a strange mishmash of my general building work background and my art and design training, drawing on the fabrication skills, large scale construction knowhow, and the more creative storytelling skills of my Illustration background. I enjoy that fact that I've managed to find a use for my eclectic skills, which is also an environment where I can continue to challenge them, expand on them, and learn new things along the way.

Workshopshed: Yes, I can see that would prepare you nicely for your work.

Nick: Professionally, as well as working as a scenic painter, I also work as a scenic carver, set dresser (installing the final fixtures and fittings to 'dress' the set), I do some props fabrication and repair work, and I also work in the 'standby' roles for those positions, with the shooting crew, from time to time. I have to work with a very wide range of materials, wood, metal, plastics, foam, plaster, fabrics, and various paints and finishes, and this has lead me to a fairly broad skill set, and an extensive tool kit.

Workshopshed: Do you use a lot of metal in set design?

Nick: Metalwork is often a big feature of props fabrication and on set as railing, grills, grates, gates, hinges, fixtures, fittings - the list goes on and on. However, on Da Vinci's Demons - the show that I currently work on most of the time - we have an excellent, dedicated metalwork team and props fabrication department. I don't get to do much metal fabrication work on that show, mainly in a set finishing role making, small alteration for artistic reasons, or for "fit" around other bits of the set that may be added long after the bulk of the metalwork was designed and fabricated, but they do, very kindly, let me dig through their scraps bins, and are a great source of materials for me.

Workshopshed: What next, has this success driven you to create more?

Nick: It had been a good ten years or so, since I had last done and metal sculpting, and I thoroughly enjoyed making my Iron Bloke. I'll certainly be doing more in the future. The break had simply been a question of access to a workshop space. I was thrilled that I finally had a chance to organise the garage into a functional space. I was lucky to come across the parts that give him his distinctive look - the massive D shackle that makes up both his body and head was a lucky "back of the shed" find for example. As were the spark plug and the cams that make up his shoulders. It was also fortunate that they had been using a lot of twisted square bar stock in work at that time too, as it contributes a lot to his look, as well as providing the structure of his arms and legs. Once I had "seen" the potential for a robot - I simply had to do it. I mean: who wouldn't? With that in mind I've started and "interesting bits" pile in the shed, and I've always got my eyes open for possibilities. I've also got plans to make a small forge to increase my ability to fabricate, or possibly cast, interesting parts. I've source a lot of the bits I need. All I'm short of is time to make space in the shed, and space in my schedule to make time!"

Workshopshed: A big thanks to Nick and his excellent Iron Man, and also to The Metal Store for putting on the Metal Masterpiece competition.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Cor-ten Steel

Most people working with steel go to great lengths to make sure that it does not rust. However "Weathering Steel" or Cor-Ten® Steel as it's most commonly known is actually designed to rust. The sheets rust following installation and generate a protective oxide layer that can protect the underlying metal. However as for most coatings this is not totally imperviable and the manufacturers recommend not installing it in salt water areas or in places that have a lot of fog.

The key feature of the metal is the wonderful autumnal colour that the metal turns when rusted and hence it's used a lot in architectural and sculptural work.

Here's some great examples, to find out more about the artist click on the images.

Ring, 2013 by Lump Sculpture Studio

Celine with Shadow, 2013 by Zadok Ben-David

Untitled-Armillary, 1999 by Patrick Plourde (Photo by Corey Templeton)

Moonscape, 2009 by Pierre Le Roux Design. Photography by Michael Nimos.

Pool Way-Marker, 2012 by Wolfgang Buttress

Waterfall Fountain, 2008 by Family Gahr

Friday, 3 October 2014

Eye spy with my little opercula

Some people like to spot trains or busses, some like to take photos of fancy iron work. Christopher Howse on the other hand looks for opercula, coalhole lids. These are circular cast iron plates which lock into a metal ring in the ground. These typically only can be opened from the inside so that people can't steal the coal.

I spotted these quatrefoil examples on a Victorian street in Richmond, Surrey.

One nice feature of these plates is that the often have the makers details around the circumference, this allows a more detailed peek into history. Most people don't have a use for a coal hole any more so are removing their unused opercula. Christopher is documenting the opercula before people rip them all up and sell them off for scrap.

If you see any of these on your travels drop a picture on twitter with the tag #opercula and the street name, you can see more examples on Christopher Howse's feed.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Topsy Turvy Clock - FAQ

There have been some questions about the Topsy Turvy Clock that I've entered in the SimplyAVR Design Contest

This is the question that I get asked the most and it shows the people who really know me vs those who don't. Where as some people go running, play chess or watch the ballet, this is what I do. Making things challenges and inspires me, so when I saw a clock with Topsy Turvy numbers on a kids tv show, I just knew I had to make it real.

But it makes it hard to read the time
Although the clock points at the right numbers I think our brains are trained to see the visual representation of the hands. This is why we can still read the time when clocks have no numbers or numbers that are too small to see. I have wondered how long it would take to retrain on a new pattern.
For the Topsy Turvy Clock telling the time is only part of the reason it exists, it is also there to marvel at, to be a thing of beauty, to provide enjoyment and for the deep thinkers to question the norms of society. English clock makers Sinclair Harding summed this up nicely when they recently told me "but who buys a clock to tell the time”.

Can I buy it?
Unfortunately not, the clock is a one of a kind and at the moment I'm quite fond of it. It's also a prototype so I want to keep a close watch over it for a few months to make sure it does not rip itself apart.

Can you make one for me?
I've no immediate plans to make another but I'd be happy to offer advice if you want to make one yourself. The code is all available to download and details of the build are on the blog.

How long did it take to build?
The clock's been built over the last 10 months in spare time and in evenings. I even did some designing and fixing code on the commute to work. I'd estimate between 70 and 100 hours of work.

How can you tell the time?
I've found that there are some people who genuinely can't read the time on the clock so I've put together a little tutorial.

Don't forget to vote Topsy Turvy

If you've any other questions, please leave a comment or drop me a note on Twitter @Workshopshed

Monday, 22 September 2014

A working Topsy Turvy Clock

Late last year I was watching a kids TV show and spotted a rather unusual clock, it was a simple mantel clock but the numbers were in topsy turvy locations. I wondered if I could make such a clock and make it tell the right time.

There have been some challenges along the way and the software still needs some some fine tuning but the clock is working and it is possible to use it to tell the time.

I've entered the clock in the Simply AVR Design Contest so if you like the clock please find it in the gallery and press the vote button.

The clock uses a microcontroller along with a Real Time Clock module and some driver arrays to control two stepper motors. These are connected to the hands via some plastic gears and concentric shafts.

The position of the hands is detected using disks with one shaded segment which pass through slotted opto sensors. This allows the software to "home" the motors when the clock starts up. The hands are then moved to the right time.

Despite looking deceptively simple from the front it's been quite a challenging build.

I wanted to ensure the Topsy Turvy Clock looked like an actual old mantel clock. The numbers on the face were laser cut but they were picked in an antique white colour to make it look like those were the origional numbers. I also wanted a contrast between the mechanism and electronics so to make it look old that was all made in brass. The shafts for the mechanism took a couple of attempts and making the hands press fit on the ends of those was challenging. I added a dab of superglue just to keep them secure.

The software is the key to making the whole solution work. I could not have done it without the people who made the various libraries and frameworks but I was also cursing them several times during the build. I'd like to make the clock auto adjust for British Summer time and make the LED on the back flash once a second so there will be some further software updates and I need to monitor how the clock works over a longer period.

Details of the build
Source Code

Thanks to:

Woking Hospice for supplying a suitably broken clock
Laura from Bespoke Laser
CustomStepper class by Igor Campos
TimeZone class by Jack Christensen
Time Library by Michael Margolis
DS1307 library based on work by DFRobot and Michael Margolis

Don't forget to vote for the clock at the Simply AVR Design Contest.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

RTC Revisited

It's been quite some time since I last looked at the RTC module for the Topsy Turvy Clock. I've found a suitable rechargeable battery but until now I've been focusing on the motors and mechanisms.

When I tried to get the code for the RTC working with the time.h library I found that it was behaving quite strangely, the time was jumping all over the place and setting the time and date was not working.

I swapped over to my earlier test code and that was working correctly. The problem came when I was working with the tmElements_t structure. I dived into the library and discovered that this was a series of unsigned 8 bit integers i.e. values 0 to 255. This is obviously fine for the hours, minutes and day of the month but the year is currently 2014 which won't fit into the space. When I investigated further I discovered that the tmElements_t structure is expecting the year to be the number of years since 1970. I also looked at the data sheet for the DS1307 and that was expecting the year to be a value from 0 to 99 representing the number of years since 2000.

Once I adjusted the code to compensate for this (using the macros in time.h) the setting and reading behaved correctly.

This is the disadvantage of using a structure rather than a class in that a class could check the data and avoid an overflow, although this is difficult to check at compile time. The 2 digit year also means that my clock will have a Y2K1 issue when the clock rolls over to 2100.

Workshop Practice Series