On the subtlety of hints…

Posted by jerry on May 3rd, 2004 — Posted in Journal, Woodwork

My partner Sharon (who writes the ‘in-a-minute-ago’ blog) and I have a great symbiotic relationship – if she leaves some of her threads in a mild sprawl across the lounge, then I can leave my music gear (mixing desk, microphones and a spaghetti of leads and plugs) decoratively draped across the dining room … And then after a while, just when the respective sprawls are looking a bit entrenched, it’s time to clear the decks – like a metaphoric clearing of the mind, ready for the next project.

A while back it became apparent that the threads had been fruitful and multiplied – to the point that they were never going to fit back in their respective boxes. So we sat down together to design a storage system that would, at least temporarily, solve the problem. Basically it would be a cabinet with drawers – lots of drawers, but it needed to be able to sit beside her chair, be accessible, and be compact enough to enable a coffee to remain in easy reach.

I had never made a drawer before, and my woodworking skills are … well… not those of a cabinet maker. So I set to work to come up with a simple enough design to provide a workable storage system. It took me about nine months to complete it, as I wrestled with the design brief. Aiming for simplicity, I looked at how chipboard furniture was assembled, but decided that I also wanted real strength (who knows when the threads might become beads – which are much heavier!).

This was a good chance to test the dovetail jig I had not yet used. I found that by cutting the two sides and the top and bottom as pairs, then they would at least start out at the same length. I also wanted the top few drawers to be in pairs, rather than full width, for added visual interest. I dovetailed the top and bottom to the sides, making an open box. But before installing the top, I decided that the divider between the top pairs of drawers should literally hang from the top board. So I ran sliding dovetails the full width of the top and centre divider, figuring I could conceal any minor tearouts (the damage) later with some beading.

Next came the drawers – a real challenge! How do you hang drawers so that the hanging device is not intrusive, and that leaves a bit of room for the intended contents! This took another month or so to figure out. Once I had made the drawers (really just trays with handles) I found that if I started from the top, then screwed in the drawer runners (inset slightly to allow the same quarter inch square dowel to be glued to the front to provide drawer dividers). With the drawers cut to size, I realised that the very top pair wouldn’t fit, so I cut them down on the saw bench, claiming this was a design feature to hold scissors, thimbles etc – you won’t tell will you? 😉

making drawers

Oh the other consideration is that I like to contrast different timbers, so some of the drawer fronts are in a red maple, the white drawers are in pine and Tasmanian oak, and the sides are in pine. And I arranged them to make three bands of contrasting colour. Finally the handles – I thought I’d surprise Sharon by giving the handles a sewing theme, so I contrived, cajoled and persuaded Sharon to make a trip to Spotlight – a little spot of textile heaven – so that I could side-track her among the fabrics while made a subversive dash to the dolls craft section where I found miniature darning mushrooms, miniature thread bobbins and a tiny teapot and coffee mug – all in wood. I had excused myself saying I needed to check out the boy toys in Supercheap Auto Parts next door, and with that I scurried unseen to the checkout with my gains and so to the car where the handles-to-be were safely stashed.


I think Sharon liked the result – because next thing, I kept finding woodwork magazines casually left open to articles on designing whole rooms of storage systems…

Chest of drawers - sewing cabinet
The finished cabinet


Making a tightrope

Posted by jerry on May 2nd, 2004 — Posted in Journal, Woodwork

I’ve mentioned my daughter’s fire twirling before (more on making firestaffs later) but this weekend’s project was to make a portable tightrope so that my daughter’s circus skills could be extended a little. For those, like me, who searched the net in vain for instructions on making a tightrope, here’s the way I made one. First up; the disclaimer – if you follow these instructions I take absolutely NO (zero, zip) responsibility for anyone hurting themselves or their property – I have no control over your standard of workmanship, the quality of materials or the manner of usage – so you do this entirely at your own risk (so don’t sue me okay?).

Now the fun stuff. Take 9.4 metres of 50mm square section galvanised steel tube. Add one 10mm turnbuckle, one 10mm ring bolt with 2 washers and nut, 2m of 5mm wire rope, two 5mm rope thimbles, four 5mm U-bolts, two 2½-inch three-eighth inch bolts with nuts and washers; twelve 2½-inch quarter inch bolts with washers and nuts; and finally, six plastic end-caps for the 50mm square tubing.

Tools: one angle grinder with metal cutting blade (you could use a hacksaw, but it would take a lot longer) one portable drill with three-eighth and quarter inch drill bits; a pair of pliers; spanners for the various bolts and nuts; and a small lump hammer – for added persuasion.

Safety gear: full face mask, hearing protection, leather gloves (or wet cotton ones while cutting) and a leather apron (you don’t want to cook your privates!) and leather safety shoes – this is serious metal fabrication!

Making a tightrope

Time: one weekend.

Instructions: First, cut the steel tube to the following lengths:
one at two metres
four at one metre
two at 70cms (0.7m)
four at 50 cms (0.5m)

Take the two 70cm bits and cut out opposing sides leaving two legs long enough to fit over one of the 1m pieces at the halfway point so that they meet like a T. When it is snugly mated, drill through and fix with a quarter inch bolt. Do the same with the other 70cm piece and attach it to another of the 1m pieces. This gives you two T-shaped parts which will be the uprights and the feet.

Next do similar cutouts at both ends of the 2m part, then attach it to the uprights just above the feet.
Now do similar cutouts at each end (but only one side) of the four 500mm (0.5m) parts -these are the triangulating braces for the uprights. Make the cutouts deeper at the lower end to allow for a shallower angle (about 30 degrees). Drill and bolt these to the side of the uprights and to the feet.

Now for the longer braces that make the truss structure. Make these with cutout as as for the braces supporting the uprights, but these 1 metre pieces will extend form the inner side of the uprights to near the centre of the 2.0 metre base. And drill and bolt these when they are in position. Now add the end caps to the four feet ends and the two uprights – this will make it much safer if you fall against one of the uprights.
The finished structure should look like this:
Making a portable tightrope

Now for the wire rope.
Drill three-eighth inch holes through the two uprights near the top. Attach a ring bolt to one end and the turnbuckle to the other, ensuring that you have washers on the outside where the nuts are to ensure a strong anchor – this is important, beacause you will be applying around three tonnes tension to the wire.
Open up the rope thimbles and insert them so that they straddle the eye of the eye bolt at one end and the eye of the turnbuckle at the other.

making a tightrope

Feed one end of the rope through the eye of the eyebolt so that it sits in the channel of the rope thimble and clamp it with TWO U-clamps of the correct size.

Then do the same at the turnbuckle end, ensuring that the wire rope is pulled fairly tight.

turnbuckle on tightrope
Now tension the wire with the turnbuckle until you get a nice deep bass note – now that is tight, and you should be able to apply weight (gently at first) to ensure that everything is taking the stress okay, then do a test walk along the tightrope!

And here is the finished tightrope. Do use marine quality materials for the rope attachments – they might be a little more expensive, but you want to minimise the risk of things breaking at inopportune moments! Enjoy – and good luck 🙂

Making a portable tightrope


Building a skein winder

Posted by jerry on May 1st, 2004 — Posted in Journal, Technology, Woodwork

One of the things about renaissance technology is that it works – and works well. And what better way to prove it than by using the technology for something useful today! My partner, Sharon has been dyeing threads for some years, but there was always the problem of how to skein the threads off and how to wind them back into skeins when they had been dyed.

The only technology I had seen was at the Canberra School of Art in the Textiles Department – a wonderful German skein winder that ran on smooth bearings – great if you have precision technology for building such things. But there was no way I had that kind of precision in my home workshop so I cast around for a technology from a time when perhaps tolerances were a bit wider than a few tenths of a millimetre.

And among the devices of Leonardo (who designed thread winders and looms) and Taccolla (from whom I picked up the spur and cage gear train) I found the solution! And here it is: My version of a Renaissance skein winder.
And just to prove it works:

Jerry’s skein winder in action

Leonardo and the Engineers of the Renaissance

Posted by jerry on April 30th, 2004 — Posted in History, Technology

Now here is a seriously good site – it’s a pity the slide shows are all in Italian – perhaps I could learn it during the downloads (Italian servers seem very slow) but it’s well worth the wait!

This site is an online museum display of renaissance engineers’ work housed at the Museum of the History of Science (Instituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza) and the site is divided into three main entry points: Filipo Brunelleschi; The Sienese Engineers and Leonardo da Vinci. The 3D modelling is good and there are excellent descriptions of Leonardo’s flying machines (as well as his robots, crossbows, machine elements, etc etc). There are again hints that towards the end of his life, Leonardo focussed on fixed wing gliders and hints that a student of his may have actually flown (and crashed, breaking his leg). As for Leonardo’s helicopter, while there are the usual gripes about the inadequacy of human power, it clearly points to the helicopter being derived from a well known flying toy that appears to have been around for about 100 years before Leonardo’s time. So the principle must have been okay, just a poor power-to-weight ratio.

Also, having designed a steam cannon, and several pumps – it’s a wonder that he didn’t come up with a viable steam engine as a motive power. It seems to be a case of all the elements but lacking the one concept to link them together. Other forms of power were seriously considered, such as clockwork and water power – but it seems that was one that got away lest the industrial revolution happen 250 years earlier than it did!


more music

Posted by jerry on April 25th, 2004 — Posted in Music

Well, after a bit of work we have a couple of tracks together – here’s a live recorded track to listen to 🙂 Let me know what you think – it’s a couple of Irish reels called Paddy Fahy’s No1 and Gravel Walk… more like a run really!

[I have removed the recording so it doesn’t clog up slower servers – hope you enjoyed it while it was there. I’ll be uploading some MP3s of thethe band on our soon-to-be-established web page – JE]