Monday, 30 March 2009

Fame - In Wales

Thanks to Uncle Wilco from Shed Blog, the lucky people of Wales have been hearing about Workshopshed.

South Wales Echo

Writing for his lifestyle column "Ready Steady Sheddy" in the the South Wales Echo, he comments on the issues of size and organisation for the shed workshop

For those of you not lucky enought to live in South Wales, you can read the shed article online.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Bletchey Park to recieve IMechE award

Tommorow the Institution of Mechanical Engineers will present Bletchley Park with a special Engineering Heritage Award for their Bombe machine. The award is given in recognition of objects/artefacts/locations of significant mechanical engineering importance. This will be the 48th such award given by the IMechE.

The Bombe was an electromechanical device built at Bletchley park that used parallel processing break the Enigma codes by searching through the settings for a given piece of code and plain text. At about 7 feet wide, 6 feet 6 inches the completed device weighs over 1 tonne.

Bombe Rebuild Project
Campaign to save Bletchley Park

Thanks to Uncle Wilko from the Shed blog for the link.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Making a low cost solar panel

Here's something I found via Slashdot.

Chris van der Zwaal from OliNo Renewable Energy has been making low cost solar panels from smaller cells he picked up cheap on ebay.

I've been thinking of using solar power myself to run a ventilation fan for the workshop, the idea being that the hotter it gets the more power is availble for the fan. Hopefully some fresh air running through the place will keep the humidity levels under better control too.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Replacing the cladding on workshopshed

Thanks to a few days off and some nice weather I've managed to replace the side of the workshop. The old side was made from corrugated plastic sheet, which had perished badly in the sunlight. It was very brittle and had already developed some cracks.

Whilst I was stripping off the plastic my neighbour commented that one of the previous owners was a painter and had used the shed as their studio which could account for why there's the novel clear plastic roof. He was not sure of the exact age but the shed had been there when he moved in which was many years ago.

I'd decided to replace the plastic with tongue and groove to match the wood lower down the wall. I bought 10 of 9mmx94mmx2.4m, and have a spare plank. The cost including delivery was less than £20, another £10 for a 9L can of preservative. I plan to give the rest of the shed and the fence a coat too. Before installation, I gave the backs of the planks a couple of coats and the tongues and groves a coat two.

I already had some suitable 30mm pins to attach the wood. Rather than using the "secret nailing" process as shown below, I moved the nailing point a little further away from the tongue. This still has the advantage that the nails pull the planks together but reduces the risk of splitting the wood. Alternatively you can predrill the wood but that's rather a lot of effort.

Here's a work in progress shot with one coat of preservative. Hopefully will have the finished result in another day or so.

Replacing the cladding on shed

Updated 21st March - Finished results

Friday, 13 March 2009


In the same way that some estate agents might refer to a small flat as being compact and bijou. Engineers selling old equipment on auction sites might use alternative phraseology to encourage sales of their old junk.

Unique design = None Standard / incompatible with anything else.
Needs attention = It's broken
Easy to operate = I lost the manual
Missing Manuals = I broke it and hid the manuals
Ginger chrome = Rusty
Aged Patina = Rusty
Exhibition quality = Have painted over the rust.

thanks to the chaps at the Model Engineering Clearing House for some of these definitions.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

DDIY - Don't Do it Yourself?

Lisa Anne Auerbach from the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest raises the idea of "Don't Do it Yourself" which has not surprisingly got their backs up at Make Magazine.

She raises the concern that by attempting to "Do it Yourself" we are wasting resources, creating disasters, stockpiling tools in our sheds and putting true artisans out of business.

She did of course miss of one important not to DIY which is to keep safe. DIY is one of the major causes of accidents in the UK.

I agree with some of the points that are being made. It is easy to be come obsessed with the acquisition of more and more pieces of equipment and tools. You need to think about how jobs can be done with existing tools and look for general purpose tools rather than specialist ones. Some jobs are too big or complex to be done by the average DIYer, don't forget about certificates and safety. Bartering can be good, in fact a lot of the workshopshed project have been done on that basis. And finally, yes, I agree that it takes time to learn skills and sometimes it does cost money to buy the right materials or tools.

However, there are many jobs around the house and garden that I believe can be done your self. There are many reasons to do DIY; for small jobs it's often cheaper, the jobs can be done when you want them not when others have the time to fit you in, you have control over the results and process. Finally and most importantly, it's enjoyable.

Looking at a few recent real examples:

1) Re-decoration following the installation of new boiler
2) Installing some new ceiling lights in the lounge.
3) Building a bench for the workshop.

Starting with the boiler and redecoration. The actual job of installing and setting up the boiler needed to be done by a professional. He has the right tools for the job, has the training to do it safely and can get all of the paperwork so that I would need if I ever sold the house. The redecoration consisted of three parts. Filling up the hole around the flue, repairs to the boxing on the inside and a repaint of the boxing. If I'd got a builder, carpenter and decorator in to do these jobs it would have cost an absolute fortune. I might have found a handy man to do the job but that would have implied it did not need a specialist and hence that I should have been able to do it myself anyway. A carpenter would have wanted to replace the existing boxing so I may have ended with a higher quality job but again with an additional cost. The carpenter would have also had a router and hence would have been able to complete the job faster than me as I cut the shape using a handsaw and a round surform, which are tools that I use very regularly. I've ended up with some spare mortar and a spare piece of aerated block but I'd be surprised if they don't end up in a project before too long.

My new ceiling lights were bought at the local DIY superstore to replace some mismatched ones which were also a bit too low. They weren't Lisa Anne's chandeliers and I did not need more than a basic knowledge of electrics to fit them. I did however need to add some spacers onto the ceiling batons to put them in. The job needed a small screwdriver and a handsaw to cut the spacers, I used a drill and a bradawl to put in the screws, again, hardly specialist tools. It took me a few attempts to get the spacers quite right but the results are reliable and sturdy.

Finally the bench for the workshop. I could have bought something or comissioned a carpenter to make something but at what cost! Yes, it would have been better made, my use of dowels has been critised on one forum as being not proper woodworking. However unless I went down the costly bespoke route, I could have ended up with something that did not quite fit the shed. It's a simple design and has proved to be strong, it's also shown to be flexible in it that I'll be adding a new cupboard over the next few weeks.

So I'd suggest that Lisa Anne Auerbach's DDIY concerns are not really the case. Less resources were used by the DIY projects than if professionals had been brought in, no disasters are expected, the tools in the shed are nearly always in use and the artisans are still brought in when there is something that requires specialist skills or qualifications hence they should get paid more per hour worked.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Throw away society?

I've previously mentioned about the idea of make do and mend and how it's been replaced by a disposable culture. Home users of products are even called "Consumers". Thanks to the IET, I now know that Wall Street bankers are at least partly to blame.

Back in the 1920s, Paul Mazur from Lehman Brothers suggested that, "People must be trained to desire and want new things even before the old are entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality. Man's desire must overshadow his needs", "If what had filled the consume market yesterday could only be made obsolete today, that a whole market would be again available tomorrow." This idea was implemented by General Motors in 1924 as "dynamic obsolescence", their cars were designed to be replaced in just a few years by newer and more fashionable models.

So what can be done about this? Businesses have been looking at things such as Total Cost of Ownership. To reduce this total cost, products need to be reliable, easy to install, maintain and replace. Is it acceptable that things have no user serviceable parts inside? If servicing was cheap and convenient, would many of us not buy a new washer drier but be happy to have a service contract instead to keep the product running for 10-20 years?

Products need to be compatible with previous designs. The recent example of this is the proposal for the universal mobile phone charger using MiniUSB. Moving the cost of disposal from the consumer to manufacture is also a way to encourage product designers to make things that last. The WEEE regulations are one thing that can help with this but fundamentally we need to move away from being consumers to be home users.

BBC World Service Series on Consumerism
Enough, Anti-Consumerism Campaign
Consumerism vs Frugality
Making things and the Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy
Reducing total cost of ownership

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Imperial to Metric conversion

Following on from my suggestings of yesterday with regards to design for manufacture, an interesting idea suggested on the Model Engineering Clearing house forum

using 25.6 as a conversion factor makes 1/32" = 0.8mm rather than .079375mm which you get if you use 25.4, 3/16th" = 4.8mm rather than 4.7625mm etc., etc., etc. Much, much easier, and you get a bigger loco!

Monday, 2 March 2009

Estimating jobs

A few weeks ago I made some comments on Mike's Models blog about machining job estimation. The key things I was taught to look at are "design for manufacture", setting up time and numbers of operations. These three are all linked.

Designing for manufacture is not always something you can do anything about as a model engineer as the design has already been done. However, if you are designing your own components, castings or tools then you can think about how the part will be machined and how you can make it easier. Common things are the "keep it simple" approach, including additional mounting points to allow easier setup or work holding and chosing part sizes close to stock material sizes to reduce machining time.

The number of operations is something I would use to estimate the duration of a job. Basically the idea is to break a complex job into it's individual steps and then get a rough estimate for each of those steps. For example, facing off a rod would be one operation, turning a diameter one operation, boring a hole would be two operations on my lathe; drilling an initial hole and then boring it to size.
My estimate for Mike's job was:

"There’s approx 10 operations to make that handle, between 30mins and an hour a job? So between 5 and 10 hours"

Mike's actual time (he didn't time things accurately) was between 8 and 12 hours so I was not too far out.

This weekend I was given a job to drill some holes in two steel bars. I decided to do a time and motion study to see how long it took. Here's my results, 2 hours to drill 20 holes.

Cleaning material, Marking out and centre punch35 mins
Setup vice on drilling table15 mins
Centre drill20 mins
Drill sharpening5 mins
Drilling 20mm deep hole x 1025 mins
Drilling 10mm deep hole x 1015 mins
Clean up10 mins
Total125 mins

Design for manufacture.

Setup Time

Workshop Practice Series