Saturday, August 30, 2008

Store Open

a campaign of Hope for China 

The "Fifty Thousand Shirts" store is now open on the website. If you are still thinking of signing up for a shirt just use the 50K logo on the right.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The final finish

I had a little left-over laminated board from making the top of the blanket box so I decided to make a couple of simple pot stands or even cheese-boards. Being pine they won't last particularly long, but it gave me the chance to try out the final finish I wanted to experience during my sabbatical woodworking adventure.

It took a while and a little research, but I eventually came across an oil finish that is stated to be "food safe" on its packaging. I've read about oil finishes and know that there are several that are typically used for food contact surfaces, but the one I chose was a Chestnut product made for the purpose. I got mine from a local supplier called The Bedford Saw & Tool Co.

The photograph really doesn't do justice to the quality of the finish. It's given the pine board a really nice sheen.

So that's it. I've done wax, varnish and oil. All are easy to apply, and although it can seem tedious to do the finishing part to some, I find it quite relaxing to gently oil a piece of wood.

Is this milk or varnish?

My memories of using varnish involve a sense of wonder at the way it transforms the wood, frustration as the flaw in the surface shows up as a dark scratch and breathlessness as it took hold of my lungs! 

I think the latter was a little over-stretched, but I certainly have memories of old fashioned varnishes making breathing uncomfortable for me. Maybe it was an involuntary reaction, rather like feeling hungry when you mix filler or cement (you mean to say that I'm the only one who gets an urge to make something with custard whilst repairing loose plaster?!).

Anyway, without realising it, I bought some water based varnish the other day to use on the toolbox I made (I mentioned using a water based varnish when I described making the box). When I opened the tin I wondered what I'd bought. It was very milky but was very easy to apply. And of course cleaning up afterwards was a breeze. Just a little warm water worked into the brush and the job was done. 

I gave the box three coats, and it came up very nicely indeed. There's a nice contrast between the hardwood finish of the main ply body and the lighter, softwood finish of the skins. 

All in all a very easy and satisfying finish to apply.

A day out with my daughter

Yesterday Ally and I had a day out travelling to Canterbury for a look around and to have a squint at her accommodation for the first year of university. We had a few jobs to do on the way, involving collecting tickets for her expedition to Paris in a couple of weeks time. 

The wonder of the internet is that she was able to book everything online and then collect the tickets using the machines at the station. The only problem was that the machines at St Pancras didn't seem to recognise her Amex card. Still we managed to get the tickets and she now has 12 bits of varying shape and sized ticket and receipt for two people to travel to Paris and back. I wonder if a day will ever come when we can do without paper.

In Canterbury we walked up to where she will be living for the first year. The house looks like it's being renovated at the moment. A considerable amount of building has been taking place nearby on the site of an old warehouse and the drive of the house looks like its been relaid by the developer.

From there we walked back into the city. Canterbury looks like a city in change. Lots of new development work and renovation going on, although I guess that will all be slowing down at this time of credit crunching recession (are we allowed to use the 'r' word yet?).

From Canterbury it was back to London and St Pancras to wait for Anne so that we could all travel hone together. She was delayed a little, so that meant Ally and I had time to explore the new station. I remember the days when I was a student and would inevitably arrive at St P's station just in time to miss the train home to Nottingham. This meant a two hour wait for the next train and the station was somewhat rundown and with very little to do but find a bench and try to get comfortable for an hour or so.

Now, St Pancras is a bustling international terminal with lots of shops and cafes in which you can lose yourself for an hour quite easily. We usually end up in the coffee shop upstairs. Yesterday Ally took her nice new MacBook with her and discovered St Pancras wi-fi. It's the best sort of wi-fi, it's free!

Things are going to be very different for Ally as a student compared to the 70's when Anne and I were at university, and, I suspect, it will be very different for us as parents of an undergraduate too!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Woody reflections

I've really enjoyed my woodworking exploits over the past couple of months. It's given me something completely different to think about. Add to that the simple fact that at the end of the process you have something in your hands to show for all your efforts, and you can quickly see the difference between doing woodwork and doing ministry. Don't panic though, I'm not about to give up ministry for life as a woodworker, although there are days when it would be very tempting so to do!

The other nice thing about the woodworking was the opportunity to be inventive, building jigs and solving problems. I guess all those years of doing R&D with British Gas meant I just got used to the idea of creative problem solving. There's a creative streak in all of us, it's just that some jobs, some hobbies bring it to the front rather than pushing it to the back. 

I'm not suggesting that I'm the most creative person, I just think that the things I've done and the things I do encourage creativity rather than stifle it. Maybe it's just me, just the way I'm wired. 

Through the woodworking I've discovered a new way to cut a dovetail that's easy and accurate, I've found a new technique for sharpening chisels and planes, I've run grooves and made tenons to fit the grooves using my home-made router table and jig. I've made boxes and drawers and waxed, varnished and oiled my way to a finish. All these things I've done because I've tried something new, something I'd never done before. Not everything was really new, in fact most things were an extension of things I already knew how to do. 

And before anyone suggests that their church doesn't easily embrace creativity, encouraging creativity and embracing the ideas generated by it are two quite different things. 

Anyway the sabbatical woodworker is going to have to hang up his tools for a while in the next few days, but I've got plenty of ideas of things I want to have a go at making, so I'll get out the drawing board and do a few designs and try to make the best use of my free time and good weather days that come my way. I'm already designing in my head a table for use with a circular saw for rip and crosscutting. Then again I'm probably more excited about that than you are!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Benedictions (2)

I found the benediction from Brian MClaren. I first read it in his book More Ready than you Realize.

“May the Spirit of Christ empower you to love and serve your neighbours, welcoming them into your lives and homes and schedules and hearts, so that through belonging they may discover the joys of believing and becoming. You are more ready for this than you realize. Go in God’s grace and peace!”

Monday, August 25, 2008

Benedictions and blessings

I've noticed that we rarely say a benediction in church these days, and I think there are some good (-ish) reasons for that. In the first place, if we're going to be an open, welcoming and unchurched friendly community, we need to make sure we avoid using language that leaves visitors with a sense of our being like a secret society.

I remember the first time I went to church as an adult and as the service began everyone stood to their feet and sang two verses of a hymn from memory. I later discovered that they always sang the same two verses at the beginning of every morning service and two more in the evening. Fortunately I had someone with me who showed me where to find the words in the hymn book.

The same is probably true, at least in Baptist churches, when we get to the end of the service and announce the grace. It must be quite unnerving to suddenly have all these unknown faces staring at you and reciting words with which you are unfamiliar like some sort of incantation.

So it's probably better to end with a simple prayer.

On the other hand a blessing from the worship or service leader can be simple and doesn't have to follow the well-worn track of the same two verses every week. The end of Jude is always popular and then there's the two verses from Ephesians 3 about God being able to accomplish more than we can imagine. 

A few years ago I came across a benediction Brian McLaren uses that focuses on living our lives in a way that includes others in our journey. I'll look it up and blog in in the next few days. Meanwhile here's a blessing from Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians:

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope, comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say.

Happy Monday!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Theology and application

A quote from Todd Hunter's Three is Enough blog:

When it comes to connecting our inner life with an outward focus, I like the way one church leader from The River Church puts it: It’s better to be ankle-deep in application than neck-deep in theology.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Toolkit box

I mentioned previously the toolkit we keep in the house and the need there was for a new box. Using a simple rebate joint I created a box from 12mm ply for the sides and 6mm ply for the skins. Nothing fancy, just a simple box. 

I split the box in two using the circular saw and a guide fence. It worked pretty well, but you have to make sure the box is secure and that you have some wedges handy to keep the sawn parts apart for the final cut or two.

I used my vice and a quick clamp to hold the box steady whilst I cut through. Here are the separated parts.

I then took the existing toolkit and split the carry case in two using a sharp trimming knife. Each half fits neatly into the separated parts of the box. A little epoxy glue may be needed to keep them in place.

I then added hinges, a handle and two catches to finish it off. I used a clear, water-based varnish and it now sits proudly in the kitchen awaiting inspection when Anne gets home!

Putting the sawboard to use

Having made my sawboard I put it to good use today cutting some 12mm ply for a small project I had in mind.

Using it to cut the shelf I needed for my router cabinet was fairly straightforward, but it left me with a sizeable off cut which I intended to use to make a box for a small toolkit we keep in the house. 

I needed four pieces of ply about 70mm wide. Marking them and cutting them individually would have been okay, but I thought I could probably use the sawboard to do this and all I needed was a way to produce a repeatable cut. I attached a stop to the end of my bench and set the sawboard the correct distance away. 

I used some bits of scrap ply to raise the board so that the stock material could slide under the sawboard

Once against the stop, which I guess is acting like a fence, I used a sash cramp across the bench to hold it in position.

This now gave me a secure work-piece to move the saw through and make the cut. 

After the cut, I then simply moved the stock up and repositioned the cramp.

When the stock got to narrow and the sash cramp was catching against the other clamps, I just a piece of cut ply to push the stock against the fence.

I managed to cut eight pieces and the repeatability was very good. Of course I should have used a piece of scrap on the bench top to prevent the inevitable scoring of the surface with the saw, but I knew that would happen and accepted the minor damage as okay on this bench.

Here's what I ended up with producing.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The sawboard

I can't honestly remember when I first came across this simple idea for cutting sheet material and panels to size. It's quite frustrating when you watch TV programmes or videos where the woodworker turns to the mitre saw or the table saw or the whatever and cuts a square panel without any effort.

The idea behind the saw-board is simple. 

Take a straight edged piece of material and glue and pin or screw it to some base material. In my case I took a sheet of 12mm mdf and cut the edge off, turned it around and glued and screwed it to the remaining sheet.

When the glue is dry, trim the board with your circular saw using the edge as a guide. Then trim the other side leaving enough room for clamps.

Now, when you run the saw along the guide it will always cut to the edge of the board. If you line that edge up with your pencil mark, you will always cut to the line. Remember though, it's important to make sure you have the stock the right way around. Used the "wrong way round" you will lose the width of the blade in the bit you want to keep rather than on the waste side of the cut.

I've labelled mine because I have two saws and will, at some point, need to make a second one. It's also a reminder which saw to use with the one I've made!

My next jig idea is to make a guide that will turn the circular saw into a kind of mitre saw for cutting stock square and to length. It will make sense when you see a picture, honestly!

What of woodworking when the sabbatical is over?

As my sabbatical draws to a close I need to decide what to do with the wood that needs storing away and what to do about continuing to do some woodwork within the confines of my normal schedule. It would be sad indeed to have to wait another 7 years before getting the tools out again.

The problem is that woodwork is not the only thing I need to fit into the hours when I'm not working. I love to walk and I like to swim and do a little exercise at the gym. Then there's time with Anne and household jobs that need doing. 

So it will be hard, but with a few goals in mind and a few projects on the drawing board, maybe I'll be able to keep doing a little here and there.

Before I get back into work, I hope to make a linen basket for Ally to take to university and maybe a box for the "household" toolkit. Just before we moved to Cotton End, I came across a neat little collection of useful tools at B&Q for a very good price. The tools have served us well but the carry case is falling apart. 

You'd think with all the tools I've got already, another set would seem ridiculous, but these tools sit in the kitchen by the boiler and mean that you don't have to go out to the shed to get a screwdriver or hammer when you need one for a quick job.

Radio vision

Yesterday I spent the day at UCB, United Christian Broadcasting. Because we live in one of the areas not covered by their broadcasts as yet, I've never listened to much of their output. So it was really interesting to hear about their current schedule, their vision for the future and their journey so far.

I remember a casual conversation I had with Pete Meadows in the early 1980's about Christianity and the media and the vision for Christian radio in the UK. At that time everything appeared stacked against the idea. There were no available frequencies and legislation didn't allow for groups such as the Christian community to broadcast. Deregulation and changing technology has opened up the airwaves, but had the early pioneers of Christian radio in the UK not persevered with the vision would we be in the position we are today? 

UCB hopes to cover the whole of the UK in the very near future and Premier Radio is widely available through the digital network.

And this is what moved my heart yesterday–that there are times, many times, when you simply have to hold on to the vision. It has taken nearly 30 years for the vision for national Christian radio across the UK to be realised. So often we are ready to give up after a few months. 

My question is how do we persevere with the vision irrespective of whether it appears to be coming to fulfilment or not? I guess you need a plan of how to get to the point of fulfilment from where you are at the moment, but you also need a sense of humble submission to God's purposes. Perhaps we also need to remember that we are defined not by the vision but by the relationship we enjoy with God. we are, first and foremost, children of God.

There's more to reflect upon with regard to this, but for now I need to get up and take Anne to the station!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Olympic Christianity

Watching the Olympics is a fascinating thing. We hardly ever get to either celebrate or even see some of the sports in which we are leading the world. So much time and energy focuses on football in the UK that you sometimes get the feeling that the only thing that matters in sport is that the national football team does well. At least in England that's the feeling.

But when it comes to the Olympics the cyclists and the sailors and the rowers lead the way.

What impresses me most is the physical price they are willing to pay in order to win gold. When the double gold medal winning swimmer Becky Adlington was interviewed by the BBC, she was asked something along the lines of ,"When does it begin to hurt?" She said that at about half-way you get stomach cramp from all the turning. "How do you get over that?" the interviewer asked, "You don't, you just have to keep going", she replied.

Just recently they've been re-running a programme on TV with Steve Redgrave taking a group of young men form Liverpool and training them to row. They started with 40 and very quickly they were down to 24. People dropped out because it was too much effort. They simply were not prepared to make the kind of sacrifice you have to make in order to be a competitive athlete.

Following Jesus is not an easy thing. If you want to do so wholeheartedly it will cost you. Billy Graham used to say, "Salvation is free, discipleship will cost you everything you have."

The question we need to ask is, "Are we willing to pay the price to follow him fully?" Many seem to choose limited commitment. They follow when things are going well, but fall back when things do not go so well. I know the feeling.

But rather like the Olympic athletes, I know that in the end the price is worth paying for the prize that awaits.

Of wiring and experience

If you've ever taken the cover off a wiring centre for a central heating and hot water system, you would be forgiven for thinking what a jumbled mass of wires. As I sit drawing out the wiring diagram fro future reference, I know that someone one one day will take the cover off our control panel and see exactly that.

On the other hand it's actually a surprisingly simple thing, it just involves a lot of wires. Twenty four if I'm counting correctly. 

I remember our first flat we had and the heating system there. Someone had done all the work of putting in a heating and hot water system but when it came to the wiring they'd had a mad moment. Their approach was simple: connect all the wires that are same colour together. This meant that things like the room thermostat didn't actually do anything and one or two other things were just plain wrong. 

Which reminds of the time a neighbour came to ask me how to wire up a new light in their lounge. They had bought  new fitting and done the "all the same colour" wiring rather like the heating system. Unfortunately it's a little more of a problem with a light given that every time the turned the power back on the circuit tripped. Again the solution was simple but they took a lot of convincing that you didn't put all the black wires in the same block.

Without the experience of the job at British Gas I'm not sure I'd have known what was what when it came to heating controls, and wiring lights was something my father taught me, but I hope I'd have made the effort of finding out. Anyway we got that one sorted out and I fixed the neighbours lights too. I guess in the end there really is no substitute for learning and experience.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Today was a plumbing day. I don't mind plumbing, but it can be quite stressful. The object today was to add some long needed control to the heating system in the manse. I've talked to various folk about it before, and I hope the deacons don't mind, but the impending increases in gas prices has been a strong encouragement to get this done.

It's been over 20 years since I was actively involved in heating system control. it was part of my job as a research scientist with British Gas to know my way around a wiring diagram and more. So today's task, whilst not straightforward, was familiar ground to a certain degree.

It was actually Anne's idea to get cracking and do the job, so I enlisted her help as we set out to shop for the component parts for the job.

We went to Screwfix for most bits, Plumb Center for one part and Focus Do it All for some 6 amp cable. We needed a 28mm 2-port zone valve for the hot water circuit and Plumb Center was the easiest place to go for this. It's 28mm because the system in gravity fed. This means that there is no pump for the hot water part of the heating system. The radiators are pumped and the boiler is an uncomplicated bit of machinery.

The other parts we needed were a cylinder thermostat and a room thermostat. We chose a simple cylinder stat, but, because of the problems with running wires around the house, we went for a remote control room stat. This uses an RF signal to transmit information between the thermostat and the boiler controls. Very posh.

The first job we tackled was draining the system down ready to do the bit of plumbing to install the zone valve. A zone valve simply controls where the water from the boiler goes. In our case the pump acts as a valve on the heating circuit so all we needed was a valve on the hot water side of things.

Whilst the system was draining down, we set to work installing the new programmer and the cylinder and room stats. I have to confess that the wiring was a little more of a challenge on this system than I imagined, but eventually we got it all working. And in truth, had I paid more attention to the wiring diagrams in the zone valve pack, I'd have got in working much sooner than I did.

So we now have the ability to set different programmes for the week and weekend, or we can switch to different programmes for each day. We have a very flash room stat that we can programme and move around the house to find the best position in which to use it.

The big plus is that the hot water no longer has to be heated to the same temperature as the boiler. I don't know how much that was costing us, but it will be interesting to see how much less gas we use this winter compared to previous years.

All in all a successful day and the stress has turned to delight as we tested the new controls and checked for leaks. Doing this sort of job just takes a little time and knowledge of how heating controls are meant to work. You also need to know how to empty and refill a system too and some basic plumbing skills. Actually the job is more about wiring than it is about plumbing. Permanent lives, switched lives, auxiliary switches etc, are all simple things if you know what you are doing. 

 Total cost was about £200 for all the controls, but that includes £40 for the remote room stat and £70 for the 28mm zone valve. I'm hoping that we'll knock that off the gas bill pretty quickly. I'm guessing, but I think on hot water cycles alone the boiler will now be off for 60-80% of the timed cycle. I think we'll get better heating output too when the hot water circuit shuts down and all the boiler output goes into the radiator circuit.

And to think , some people might have been tempted to suggest that I'd wasted my time at British Gas.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Drill Press fence

Ever since I started my summer woodworking projects I've been thinking about how to provide some stability for my drill press. I don't use it very often, but when I do securing the work and holding it steady during the drilling process has been awkward.

Using some scraps left over from the plywood I've been using, I made two platforms into which I routed a slot. I then took a piece of timber from the scrap box and used the drill press to bore two holes for the bolts.

The bolts ride in the slots and allow the fence to move forwards and backwards. The platforms add some stability for the work-piece.

I'm thinking of adding some form of clamping mechanism to the platforms to hold the work-piece in place. I've seen both the hold down clamps (like the ones I used on my tenon making jig) and a push-type of clamp. I think Trend even do them to fit on an interchangeable base, which would be really good because that would allow me to choose the appropriate clamp for the job.

Results Day

Today the A-Level results were published. Ally managed to achieve the grades she needed for her first choice University, Canterbury. Once again her languages were strong with A's in both French and Spanish. Mind you a B in Art wasn't bad either.

Now all we have to do is prepare to watch her set off to college.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The blanket box is finished!

Here's the completed blanket box.

I made a few changes as I went along compared to my original drawing. The top is made from a piece of furniture board, readily available at many DIY stores. Given that it already had a slight chamfer to the edge, I decided not to add a edge to it, but leave it as it was and simply hand chamfered the cut ends.

The plinth has a hand planed chamfer rather than a routed profile. This is in keeping with the overall simplicity of the shape. Had I added a profile to the rails, I would probably have followed a similar profile of the plinth.

The finish is "rustic pine" wax, again available either online or through a DIY store (Homebase in my case).

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Weather and waiting

It's raining again! 

I don't remember having two consecutive days without rain so far this summer. I'm sure we have had them, but I haven't noticed. It is so frustrating when you need the better weather in order to get outside to complete a project. I might even clear some space in the garage!

You might be wondering why I don't use the garage as a workshop, I have thought about it. But the problem is that there is no power in it, it's a long way from the house and too near someone else's home (the noise of power tools would probably get a little irritating for them). I'd have to take all my tools with me and then bring them back each time too. So it's not really very well positioned to be the kind of place you can just go an do a few things.

So it's a waiting game, hoping the weather will relent and I'll get to finish the blanket box.

Meanwhile, I need to get my head back around the autumn plan for church. I need to plan readings and develop the outline for the Sunday programme. I also ought to give some thought to what needs to change in order to move forward with the vision. 

Monday, August 11, 2008

Blanket Box Project

I made a start on the blanket box today. I spent the morning cutting all the pieces to length and running the grooves for the panels and then cutting the tenons. I then cut panels from plywood and then took a break to go swimming with Ally.

After swimming I cleaned up all the joints and glued the four sides together.

Tomorrow I'll cut the base panel and assemble the box.

I think I'll make the top from a piece of laminated furniture board and then it should be nearly done. I'll post a picture of the finished project in a couple of days.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Orange ads

Is it my imagination or do the new Orange Together we can do more adverts have one interesting omission? 

If you've seen them, you will know that they involve a character who lists a whole host of people who have influenced their life. Typically they include mother, sisters, teachers, friends etc. But here's the omission, neither of the two ads I've seen so far have made mention of a father.

So is it me, or have I noticed something?

Trying a new glue

I've been meaning to have a go at our dining chairs for some time. They've become a little loose in the joints with use and age, and I've fixed them before, but they've worked loose again. 

The problem is that they are not so loose that you can completely dismantle the chair, clean the joints out, and reassemble them. So you always end up with some sort of compromise, which is probably why they work loose again quite quickly.

So, when I saw this stuff called "Chair Doctor" on a website, I thought I should give it a try.

It comes with a syringe and three different sized, non-sharp, needles for injecting the glue into the joints. Now our chairs are just beech chairs that we bought when we bought our large pine table. I'm not worried therefore about the etiquette of repairing old joints, I just want chairs that don't creak and come apart.

Turning the chair upside down, I checked which joints were loose and which were not. I injected some of the glue into the loose joints and then used a mallet to knock the joints back together. I also took the precaution of adding some glue to all the other joints whilst I was at it, and where I could.

At the moment the chairs are being left to dry.

This glue is a low viscosity glue, which simply means it's very runny, so using the syringe is far less messy than trying to use the bottle. Believe me, I tried it!

The glue is supposed to swell the end grain and make a more secure joint. time will tell, but if you've got wobbly chairs, you might want to try Chair Doctor too.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Wood Whisperer

As a follow-up to my post about woodwork and the Internet, it would be impossible to reference all the sites and resources available, but one that's fun and informative is the wood whisperer.

If you want to see woodwork with a sense of humour, this site is worth a visit.

Adding the finish

Ally went for a wax finish for her writing/laptop slope. The colour is "Peruvian Mahogany" if you really want to know.

Although I helped her do some of the trickier bits of the project, she did quite a lot herself. Learning to use a plane, a marking gauge, a saw, two saws in fact, a pin hammer, etc etc, was quite a lot to take in for a first attempt.

Her dovetails were first class and she should be very proud of her efforts.

I seem to remember my first woodwork project at school was a plant marker!

While Ally was applying wax, I added the wheels to my trolley cabinet. It now slides effortlessly in and out of the tight storage space in the shed.

The internet and woodwork

The Internet is a fascinating world. Over the last couple of months, as I've explored woodworking, the Internet has been an invaluable resource. I've found all sorts of tool suppliers, read about a few local companies, watched a few videos and even explored some design software.

Discovering the woodtreks website has been one of the highlights. Some great videos, especially watching someone like Craig Vandell Stevens cut a dovetail in a way I've never seen before. I actually went out and tried his method and found it easier and faster than the traditional way I was taught to cut them in school. Even Ally found it easy to lean this way of making them.

I suspect that even without the Internet I'd still have made something, but it certainly generated a few ideas. even the toolbox was something I saw on the web.

The Internet has certainly come a long way since the early days I remember when you could spend 30 minutes looking for something and finding nothing! 

Thursday, August 07, 2008


I finally got the wheels for my storage trolley today. After much searching, and eventually persuading an assistant to help, we found them in the Home Organisation section of Ikea. They were in a box, hidden from view, and not very obvious at all. But found them we did, and they are ready to be fitted!

In case you too are hunting for braked castors, Ikea are the cheapest I know of, and this is the product you need to look for:

Ally's project

Ally wanted to get on with her writing slope today so we tidied up the dovetail joint that had gone wrong yesterday and got to work adding the top and small lip to the project. Here's Ally's first dovetail joint.

The top is made from a piece of 9mm ply and I helped Ally to shape the back of the slope to match the angle of the sides before we pinned and glued the top to the frame. I then set her to work with sandpaper and elbow grease to clean up the assembled frame. I think she began to realise that woodwork isn't just about the fun of cutting joints but there's the rhythm and patience of sanding to get used to as well.

Meanwhile I did a little work on the toolbox.

I've decided the keep my chisels and marking gauges etc in the box for now. Maybe later I'll choose to use it differently, but I want to get my chisels out of the metal toolbox they've been in for a long time.

Here's the toolbox with the two tills fitted and my Dad's old square in the lid.

Overall I'm quite pleased with the things I've made so far. I've learnt a lot and re-learnt a few things too. I think I'm ready to build the blanket box providing the weather holds. 

As we finished for lunch, the rain came down again and now the sun is out but all the tools are away. We're going to have a rest afternoon, maybe go for a swim.  The grass needs cutting again too, which makes me wonder if I'm the only person for whom tidying up their workshop involves cutting the grass as well as sweeping up the shavings and sawdust!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Ally's woodwork project

Ally has been interested in having a go a a little woodwork project of her own ever since I gave her the chance to try cutting a dovetail on my toolbox.

We came up with a simple design for a writing slope that could also be used to raise a laptop and angle the keyboard at the same time. It will have a removable bean-bag cushion so that you can use it on your lap, or even when lying in bed!

Today she prepared the back and the sides and cut the dovetail joints. One went a bit awry, but we can solve that tomorrow without any trouble.

I'll post some pictures of her efforts.

Meanwhile I took the opportunity to make the tills for my toolbox. Using the same stock that Ally was using for her slope, I made a box using a rebate to join the sides to the front and back. I used my tenon jig to do this. I used 6mm ply for the skins that would eventually become the bottoms of the two drawers when I split the box.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Why woodwork?

On reflection, one of the things I've really enjoyed during my sabbatical is the opportunity woodworking has given me to be creative. I've always been involved in problem solving, right from my first job in R&D with British Gas. Before that I loved maths at school, especially the more complex algebra we used to do.

Solving problems, coming up with creative solutions and making something practical has been rather fulfilling. It would be nice to think that when I return to work in a few weeks times that I will still make the time to do a little woodwork. It would be a shame not use that router table I've built or to not finish the toolbox!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Trolley cabinet

In order to practice the techniques I'll be using for the blanket box, I decided to build a moveable trolley/cabinet to store my router table. It was also a chance to test out the router lift and the dust extractor I'd added.

The cabinet was built from timber readily available from the DIY store. Be careful when buying timber this way. It's often young, quick grown and prone to warp. It usually oozes sap somewhere too. Buy enough to pick your components carefully. I bought a pack of 2.4m long 44x18mm PAR pine and a sheet of 6mm ply 2.4x0.6m. It all came to about £16. The 12mm ply for the top and bottom came for some recycled ply I had at home. 

I began (with help from Ally I have to say) by cutting all the uprights and rails to length. Each side is a simple panel construction with mortise and tenon joints between the rails and the uprights. 

Using my router table I ran a groove down the edges for the ply panel and down the inside edge of the rear upright for the back panel.

I then used my tenon jig to rout the tenons. 

It worked really well and wasn't that difficult to adjust. I just took my time and made plenty of test cuts. Test fitting the first tenon in the groove was an exciting moment, you just can't see how excited I was!

The side panels were assembled first, and, having dried, the rear panel was added and the front rails too. The front rails were dowel jointed to the side uprights. 

I added a couple of runners for the table to slide on before adding the back panel to make fixing them easier.

The final picture shows the router table in the cabinet.

All that's left is to add some wheels (either Screwfix or Ikea for these). I could make a draw for accessories, but at the moment I've stored the dust extractor in the bottom half of the cabinet.

Adding dust extraction to the router table

Before I set to work using my router table for the next project, I decided to add dust extraction to the table. 

I'd already added a dust extraction port using a small length of 1.5 inch waste pipe secured to the fence with epoxy resin.

I bought a cheap (less than £16) cleaner from Tesco to create the dust extractor. It has a 1400 watt motor, which I guessed would do the job. It's a bagged cleaner, and I was a little worried that the bag would fill up quickly and need emptying several times. 

I needn't have worried, the bag coped well with all the work I did today.

I thought I was going to cut the hose to make the connection to the table, but I didn't need to do this. Instead, I used the rubber seal from a waste-pipe fitting to make a seal for the extraction port and pushed the cleaner wand into it. 

To Prevent the trailing hose from putting any undue strain on the epoxy joint, I simply taped it to one of the rear legs of the table.

It worked really well, very little dust left on the table or falling through onto the bench below. not bad for £16 and a little ingenuity!

So, I guess the moral is: dust extraction need not be expensive.

I also managed to get some M6 threaded rod for my router lift. (Got it in Wickes actually). The lift worked really well until I left the depth guide locked in position and broke the lift. I repaired the damage, and it should be fine. One day I might make a better version, but the prototype worked okay.

Into August

The weather is looking good, and I'm hopeful that I'll get the chance to continue to do some woodwork this week. I'm now into my last month of my sabbatical and I do wonder where the time has gone and how come I haven't done all the things I thought I would do. 

I was hoping to do a lot of walking, and the woodwork and some decorating and... the list goes on. But time has gone and many things are going to be left undone. On the other hand, filling my time with lots of activity was not the object of the exercise. In a couple of weeks I will need to begin to focus my mind on returning to church. 

So, the next four weeks need to be used well and used wisely. I have an idea for a cabinet to make for my virtual workshop (the workshop I imagine I might have one day) that will use the techniques I will need for the blanket box. It's a simple storage unit for my new router table and maybe one other piece of equipment. Then it's the blanket box and if I get time the wardrobe.

Walking can wait until I return to full-time duties. I guess you can't have two main hobbies at a time and it was either walk or woodwork for the summer.

So let's hope August is a productive month with something to show for it.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Waiting for wood

Well my wood for the blanket box arrived today, finally. It took them two day to deliver it. Problems with a lorry apparently.

Anyway, it rained a lot today, so I was worried that the wood would be ruined, but it was wrapped up, so I've put it in the garage on some blocks to settle and I'll probably start work on the box on Monday.

Meanwhile, to save me getting really frustrated, I busied myself sharpening a pair of garden shears and a couple of old cold chisels for the fun of it, and building a prototype for a router lift. The shears were inherited from Anne's grandmother many years ago and were covered in crud, preventing them from cutting cleaning and effectively. I cleaned of all the rust and accumulated plant debris, and then I put a fresh edge on the cutting blade.  To my surprise they worked really well when I tested them. It must be all the practice I've had sharpening chisels, my technique has obviously improved.

The prototype was fun to make. 

All the router lifts I've seen have been very expensive, although very elegant. I wanted something that would help, but wouldn't break the bank. I read somewhere that a car jack was quite commonly used for this purpose, but it seems a bit bulky and what if I forget to put it back in the car just when I need it? 

So I thought about making a simple scissor action  jack specifically for the router.

Here's what the prototype looks like:

Not very pretty, and quite a long way from finished, but with the addition of an M6 threaded rod, it might just work. I'll add two small platforms to spread the load, and see if it works. It might not, being made from pine, but it's worth a try. 

All I need now is someone who likes metal-work to make me one from a suitable metal, or teach me how!