A workshop tour…

There have been many and varied changes to the workshop in recent months, so it is time for a bit of a catchup.

To start with, the workshop is now the Glittery Girly Blue Room of Glittery Girlyness.

I’d love to be able to say that at the touch of a concealed button…

  • The bed flips over to reveal a workbench & milling machine
  • The headboard flolds to reveal the tool board
  • A lathe rises magically out of the dressing table.

But I can’t – it’s all rather domestic now. Well, aside from the large quantity of small engineering tools which are hiding under the bed.

In short, I’m soon to move house. The workshop had to be packed away, simply because it didn’t fit with the demographic who were likely to buy the house – 50+ divorced women looking to downsize into a trendy area.

Shortly after stripping out the workshop, putting the majority of what I own into storage and decorating every surface I accepted an offer on the house. No, it’s not from a middle aged bloke looking to put a milling machine in the back bedroom, but predictably from a middle aged woman looking to downsize into a trendy area.

One (of many) reasons behind moving is that I get to have a larger workshop. I also get to live in a less populated area, so fewer people to annoy. I get more room. A lot more room.

So I’m moving from here….

to here…

Plus I get to pocket enough money in the process to think about being mortgage free in the next couple of years.

Doesn’t it just look lovely.

There is a fair amount of work needing doing – I don’t think I’ve ever bought a house which was “finished”, and this isn’t an exception. I’ll be building an extension out back and moving the bathroom in the next couple of years. I’m only slightly intimidated by having an AGA instead of a “Proper” cooker. I’m looking forward to trying to keep the wood burning stoves lit and have already bought myself an axe.

However, this is a workshop tour.

The barn has a workshop. It is divided into three areas. One (which can be seen in the picture above) is 17 feet by 33 feet (ie massive) and is fairly modern built, stone cladding over blockwork, nice flat concrete floor. roof half boarded for storage.

The next barn is rather old – I don’t know how old, but it appears on the earliest maps of Somerset that I’ve been able to find, so pre 1800, and is stone built with a tiled roof that isn’t exactly straight, but looks good enough. It is 24 feet by 33 feet, so massive-er. Weathertight too. The current owner runs an motor racing preparation/tuning business from it.

There is also a garage, just a wide single garage thing, probably twice the size of my back bedroom workshop, so still useful.

They arrange themselves into a courtyard, which you can see in the picture above. There is also a large space out back for growing things. Since the great BramBooDlia removal (Bramble, Bamboo, Budlia = the three weeds of the apocalypse) I’ve been enjoying having a garden which approximates flat, green and boring. I think I’m ready for an orchard. I’ll have about half an acre in total.

The nearest three phase transformer is on a pole less than 100 metres away. I’m just throwing that out there… I’m not actually planning on buying an industrial power hammer for forging metal the day I move in. I don’t need three phase, I can get by perfectly well without it. We’ll see what the quote is like for connection.

Anyone got a nice fettled Bridgeport going for a reasonable price ?

Cutting Dovetails

I have a dovetail milling cutter.


The shank is marked “20×8 60 degree HSS-E”, this is quite easy to understand. The base of the cutter measusres 20mm diameter, the vertical height of the cutter is 8mm. It cuts 60 degree dovetails and is made of HSS-E.

The box calls it a 20x12x8x63x60D 6FL D Cutter Flatted Shank, this is a lot more information.

  1. 20x – The base diameter
  2. 12x – The diameter of the shank
  3. 8x – The vertical height of the cutting surface
  4. 63x – The overall length of the tool
  5. 60D – 60 Degree Dovetail
  6. 6FL – Six Flutes
  7. D – Unsure, does this mean flatted shank?
  8. Flatted Shank – Means of holding. I’m using collets, so this isn’t perfect but still OK.

I purchased it from Axminster who were doing special offers – I paid £14.75 for it.

I need to cut a bunch of dovetails and I don’t want to spend ages faffing around. So it is worth spending a bit of time planning..

I’m aiming for a 5mm deep dovetail. The base of the dovetail cutter is 20mm, the flutes angle at 60 degrees, so over 5mm depth the radius will reduce by 5/tan60 = 2.89mm, so the width of the cut at the top would be 20-(2*2.89) = 14.22 mm.

Clearly, I’m not going to plunge a dovetail cutter right into the side of the job. It’s a fairly expensive cutter and easily damaged. I want to use it to remove the minimum amount of material.

The dovetails I’m cutting have a top width of 20mm, so it would be a good idea to open out much of this before using the dovetaill cutter.

Ideally, I’d get a 14.22mm end mill, cut a slot with that, move over by 5.78mm and make another pass, leaving a 20.0x5mm notch ready for the dovetail cutter.

However, I don’t have a 14.22mm cutter, and I’d have to change collets even if I did. I need to use a 12mm collet for the dovetail cutter, so that implies using a 12mm end mill.

So my milling procedure becomes….

  1. Set up 12mm end mill on surface of part.
  2. Back off the part and move down by 5mm.
  3. Start the mill and mill a slot through the part.
  4. Move left by 5.75mm
  5. Mill back through the part.
  6. Lift the head, swap the end mill for the dovetail cutter
  7. Drop the head back down to just touch the dovetail cutter to the milled surface.
  8. Mill back through the part.
  9. Move right by 5.75mm
  10. Mill back through the part.
  11. Take the part off and touch the dovetail corners with a file.

So, there we go, a simple way of milling a series of dovetails without too much measuring and faffing about.

I’d be really interested in any comments about how to do it better!



Angle Grinder Stand

So, this angle grinder stand arrived today. IMG_20160127_181629 (2)

I’ve long had a bit of a Tennis Elbow problem in my right elbow. It started after a weekend at the UK Pinball Party, and it seems that it isn’t going away any time soon. Usually it’s all fine, just if I do a bit of strenuous sawing it aches a bit and I have to be a bit careful of it.

So I was after a cheap method of cutting stock without any effort. I don’t have room for the traditional metal cutting bandsaw, and as my workshop is my back bedroom, a screaming bandsaw might not go down too well with next door. They have a small baby, it screams, but I’m informed that it is “not the same thing at all”.

I unpacked it, and managed to find the angle grinder that I’d bought for cutting up an oil drum to make a furnace (still got to do that…)

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I’d seen various unboxing and assembly videos on YouTube, but was surprised to find that the base is cast iron. I’d assumed that it would be nasty plastic. The stand cost me the grand total of £18.25 and my expectations were not high.

Assembly is straightforward, it coped well with the angled handle attachments on the Bosch grinder. I used a square the set the rather primitive vise back jaw square and to set the blade vertical. It’s not blob on, but I’ll be tidying the ends up on the mill so no great worries there.


I’m going to make a few tool holders (using the knurled nuts) so I thought I’d give it a try on the 1 inch square aluminium stock I’ll be using for those. All was not straighforward 😉


It seems that the grinder can’t quite cut all the way through the stock. It left a tiny whisker attached. This is no big deal, but it would be interesting to look at the reasons why.

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It seems that the guard on the grinder hits the stock before it cuts all the way through. This is a grinder issue – essentially the grinder is only capable of cutting through one inch – pretty much exactly. Ho hum. It’s no big issue to either flip the stock over and cut through the last bit, or just bend the cut portion off, but it does illustrate the limitations of using an angle grinder rather than one of those dandy Evolution chop saws.

Taking the guard off. Yes, I did take the guard off the angle grinder. Yes, it is a really silly idea. The nose of the grinder touched the stock and still left a whisker attached.IMG_20160127_185716 (2)

This was the point where I realised that the wear of the cutting discs was significant. I put the disc that I’d used to make two cuts through the inch square aluminium stock on top of a new disc.

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I reckon it took about 2mm off the disk on each cut. The discs are not expensive – about 60p each, but combined with the depth restriction it is a significant effect.

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You can see each of the four cuts is slightly less deep than before. I was able to snap them apart by just bending them, but I did think about holding the last one in a vise (but then tried a bit harder instead).

So, well worth the few quid, takes up much less space than a gert big chopsaw, but does have restrictions. I’m satisfied with it.



Knurling update


A quick update on the knurling.

A little musing and I realised that the wheels on the knurling tool were 3/4″ diameter and had 48 knurl features around their circumference. This means that if they were an inch in diameter, they would leave 64 features. This is a nice round number in imperial-world.

So I needed to ensure my diameters were in 64ths of an inch for the pattern to repeat properly.

I also did a bit of reading up and discovered – much to my amazement – that you can/should feed the knurling tool across your work. Which seemed a bit counter intuitive to me.

So I gave it a go, turned my nice 14mm metric brass rod down to ‘arf hinch, set the centre of the knurling tool on the right height, clamped it reasonably tightly and started at a very slow speed.

Once the knurl had picked up, I was able to tighten the clamp nut a bit more and noted the roughened surface. I kicked in the feed and it very slowly traversed.

After it had done a bit, I gave it a squirt of cutting oil, just to see if there was a difference.

So, looking at the picture above, the knurl is pretty (there are a couple of flaws where I held the nuts in pliers to tap the holes), but I’m quite happy with that.

So, I now have four knurled nuts, two nice, two satisfactory (grumble) and can move on to making a batch of four tool holders.


Some time ago, I bought a cheap “Clamp type” Knurling tool from eBay there are many sellers.

I stuck it in a tool holder and bashed it onto a couple of bits of aluminium rod. One bit knurled really nicely, the other didn’t. I’ve not really played with it since.

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I’ve recently been making tool holders for my quick change tool post. I’ll blog about that when I get round to making half a dozen of them and can document the process. You can see the tool holder above, the ones I’m making are tighter and better…

Anyhow, these tool holders need a knurled brass knob to adjust the height of the tool.IMG_20160125_211230 (2)

So let’s make some.

Somewhat naive, I just turned a rod to the approximate diameter required and clamped the knurling tool onto it. This merely produced a roughened indistinct surface. Clearly a bit more subtlety is required.

So I measured the knurling wheels in the tool – 19mm diameter. then I counted the number of knurling features on the wheel. There were 48 features.

So, each element of the knurling pattern occupies pi*19/48 of the circumference of the knurled part.

Using this, I turned my brass rod down to 13.06mm diameter, this is 33 knurling patterns. The results were OK, but not massively impressive. Alignment of the knurling tool is important, the pressure is important, the exact diameter is also important. I’m guessing a bit more experimentation is called for.

Anyhow, I tidied up the edges, added a bit of shape to make them similar to the original one, drilled and tapped them to M5 and while I’m not overly happy with the result, they are satisfactory for the purpose.

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I think a bit more experimentation is called for to get a really crisp pattern, possibly allowing an offset of half the depth of the knurl when calculating the circumference is called for.

Still, I made a thing 🙂



I’ve recently been attempting to turn some mild steel. I wasn’t getting good results.

I started out trying to use a HSS bit which was included in a set supplied with the lathe. I can’t say it was particularly sharp. I’d used it on a bunch of brass and aluminium and it had performed well.

The results with steel were, frankly, awful. Scored and lumpy (and this was supposed to be a bearing surface).

IMG_20160114_212858 (2)


So I was inspired to try grinding my own.

I followed the Little Machine Shop guide to grinding tools that I’d found through google, http://littlemachineshop.com/instructions/grindingtoolbits.pdf

It is quite a simple guide to follow.

I don’t have a particularly good grinder. It is a cheapie B&Q special, upgraded with a wider pink wheel for sharpening my woodworking lathe tools and a newly fitted tool rest that I picked up cheaply at Cardiff Axminster’s opening day. Other grinders are far superior.

Anyhow, I set the rest to an eyeballed 10 degrees or so, angled the tool blank at an eyeballed 10 degrees-ish and ground the front face compound angle.

Then I put the bit parallel to the front surface of the wheel, overhanging the left hand side and ground the side relief to the 10 degree angle set on the table. This took some time and I dipped in a glass of water to keep it cool enough to hold comfortably.

The top relief was achieved by flipping the bit over to the right hand side of the wheel and angling it to an eyeballed 10 degrees-ish again.  This grind took a while.

Then I touched the point surface on the wheel – you have to elevate it from the table as all the compound angles mean it’s quite high on the wheel.

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So, all very approximate. I wasn’t expecting great things at all. I was expecting something that would cut, but probably no better than the blunt tool I’d used previously.

However, a quick check on some silver steel gave great results. So I pulled out my rough and horrible mild steel and gave that a spin. It cut like a dream producing lovely tightly curled long strings of springy swarf. The surface finish was vastly improved.

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Either I have been really lucky and hit some magic angles, or maybe it’s just that any sharp tool gives a decent result. I’m sure I’ll find out sooner rather than later.

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So that’s a happy bit of grinding 🙂



It’s been a while…

It’s been a while since I posted on this blog. You often get the two or three posts blogs where someone has lost interest, and I always find that rather sad.

So I reckon it is time to make a commitment to post regularly. I’ve been fiddling with a lot of stuff. TheLab has undergone a few revisions and is now more techno sparkly than ever.

I did get round to buying a lathe – erm, three actually, and a milling machine.

I shall be posting reviews of the new machines and following progress (when I make some) on creating my first bit of model engineering – an Elmer’s Wobbler tiny engine.

So, hang on til tomorrow when my first Monday update will be posted!




A while back i bought a lathe. Well, kinda….

I made the mistake of buying a Draper Micro Lathe Mill Drill. (Don’t believe the price, they are less than half that price on eBay). It’s not very good at all.

Like most “transform-a-tool” do everything things, they are rather poor when it comes to doing any one specific job.

It has spent most of it’s time stripped back to the motor running various grinding, lapping and polishing wheels for shining up bits of pewter casting that I’ve been doing. It does that well enough, but I’d strongly recommend that you don’t buy one. It’s rubbish (I can’t even lock the compound slide on mine. It is that badly manufactured). Plus it doesn’t have any kind of automatic feed, so screw cutting isn’t going to happen without costly thread chasing tools.

So… That lesson learned, I’ve been looking at “proper” lathes with a view to buying something more worthwhile.

Comparing my requirements with my desires is interesting.

In terms of projects I want to do right away, there are a number of things on my mind.

Firstly, I need to make some handles for things. I’d like a nicely matched set of exotic hardwood handles – 8 in all. All shaped and sized to my hand. Obviously this is a wood turning job.

Secondly, I’d like to try making some pewter rimmed bowls. I’ve been reading about combining wood and pewter in turned objects for a while and I’m really excited by the potential. So.. another job for a wood turning lathe.

Thirdly, I’ve been intending to make a long stool (bench seat) and I’ve always been really taken by some of the early arts and crafts pieces after seeing them in the Whitworth art gallery in Manchester many years ago. Lovely airy structures made up from impossibly thin seeming turned forms. So… another job for a wood turning lathe.

Now I’ve always fancied making an engine. I had a Sabre .5cc model aircraft diesel engine as a child and the simplicity fascinated me. OK, I now realise that the simplicity is a result of really good design, the incredibly low part count is only possible because of the way that the design integrates – each part performing several functions. Even knowing this (ie it’ll be almost impossibly hard) I still fancy making one. So… a small model engineering lathe.

I also fancy making a Tesla steam powered turbine and connecting it to a dynamo so I can make electricity from fire. There is no reason for this, but it should be fun… Again, that’s a model engineering lathe.

You can turn wood on a metal lathe (you just need to hack together a tool rest and use the correct speed) but getting a metal lathe of sufficient size to turn pieces of furniture isn’t a good idea for an upstairs back bedroom workshop. I’ve been enjoying looking at antique Myford lathes on eBay far too much, but short of a house move that’s not going to happen.

So, on the wood lathe front, I mostly need something fairly small for turning handles, knobs, bowls and maybe the odd wheel or two. And once in a while I’ll need something long enough to turn a table leg.

This seems to be a common thing. There are a number of (seemingly identical) wood turning lathes which have an extension bed. So they start out with about 18 inches between centres and when required you can bolt on an extra part to take them up to about three feet between centres. There are many, one is the Axminster 1218 which with the extended bed will turn 1138mm (almost four feet). So that’s ideal, but rather pricey new. There seem to be many on eBay though – and often with a number of chucks and chisels so that’s the best option wood wise. I’m patient and want to spend significantly less than £200 to turn my first pewter rimmed wood bowl, so that is my best option.

However, all that said, the thing that I’ve really connected with in my tool-lust is mini metal lathes. I saw a lovely Warco Mini Lathe on eBay that really fired my interest. There seem to be many available from different vendors, but I guess they are all made to the same Chinese pattern. These also seem to come up on eBay fairly regularly and there is a fabulous website comparing them, MiniLathes.com.

Some vendors are,

Again, I’m in no rush, so I’ll keep an eye on eBay and see what pops up. The Sieg is likely to be the better name, but it’s so expensive. The Warco is painted green, which shouldn’t matter but somehow really does. It’s interesting to compare the price of accessories between the various vendors. There really shouldn’t be a difference, but when you see the same quick change tool post at such massively variable prices you have to wonder…

So, to summarise. My most pressing requirement is for a wood turning lathe with an extension bed. I’d like an electrically variable speed one (so when I’m turning bowls it’ll handle out of balance loads better) but I’d go for one with just pulleys if it was cheap enough. I’d sooner buy second hand – there isn’t much to go wrong with a wood lathe other than the head bearings or twisting the bed. I’m more likely to get surplus chisels, chucks and centres with a second hand one.

However, the Tool lust wants a nice green metal turning lathe with all the bells and whistles!

A quick look round…

If you are interested in making things you tend to accumulate “stuff”.

Sometimes it is tools, sometimes it is raw material, sometimes it is just broken things that were once so useful you can’t bring yourself to throw them away.

The end result is a “Room of doom”. A place where things go, but never come out. Useful things that will never be found again, never fulfil their potential. A wasted room, a space you can’t use.

I’ve recently cleared mine out and organised it as a pleasant making space. It has been a hard and lengthy task, but thoroughly worthwhile. It seems that I think better and I’m much more productive and creative if I’m in a nice environment.

When I started doing it, I wrote a list of things I wanted from the space. The first thing on the list was “It must not seem like a dreary shed”.

The room is about 11’6″ by 13’4″ (3.5 m x 4 m), so it would be quite a large bedroom in a modern home, but it is the smaller of the two bedrooms in my 1850’s terraced house.

So, on with the tour!

The workbench

The first area is a great big workbench.

The first area is a great big workbench.

The workbench itself is a 3 metre solid wood kitchen worktop from B&Q. It has had a couple of coats of worktop oil to protect it a bit, but the idea is to consider it a consumable. It looks nice, is strong enough not to droop (like the laminated chipboard ones do) and I can replace it every year or two if it starts to look shabby. It is supported on a series of 300mm wide kitchen units. I didn’t put the legs on (as I prefer a lower working height) and I reinforced the units by screwing spare shelving as solid backs. It is sturdy, but I would be cautious of pounding metal on it. I’d probably do that outside anyhow – to save the neighbours distress.

I’ve not chosen a permanent position for the vice yet. Wherever I put it will get in the way, and I’m unsure if it should be at one end or in the middle. I’ll just keep moving it out of the way and once it has stopped getting in the way I’ll bolt it down and make use of it.

It’s wonderful having tools within easy reach.  In the past I would either have to spend hours looking for something or I’d nip across the road and buy a new one from the cheap shop across the road.  Make a tool board and put your tools on it. It is far far better than having lots of toolboxes to rummage through.

Speaking of toolboxes… the kitchen units provide really good storage for my toolboxes full of surplus low quality tools. The space under the worktop is great for storing crates full of rubbish. The intention is that the blue crates on the left will each house a project and the larger transparent crates will house supplies. At the moment they are all full of really useful things that I can’t find a place for and can’t throw away yet.

The pillar drill is a cheap Chinese one, bought in the 1990’s that has great sentimental value. I think I paid £30 for it.

The blue thing on the extreme right is a Dyson cordless vacuum cleaner. Get one. It is great for just shifting all the dust and mess that accumulates. I’ve not managed to break it yet (and I don’t think you can have a higher recommendation than that).

The sofa area

The sofa area

Under the window is a Sofa bed. It folds down flat to make a full sized single bed. On the right is racking for the power tools that I don’t use particularly often. It’s nice to have them out on display and I am more likely to use them as they are not boxed up under a mountain of rubbish.

From the top there is a compound saw, a small table saw, a scroll saw (which I will probably replace with a band-saw at some point). Then in cases at the bottom, my corded power drill, sander, router, and Jigsaw.

The sofa bed is quite comfy to sprawl on while thinking and helps keep visitors out of the way. Think of it as a spectator filing system. I’ll probably use the space under it for storing sheet materials – plywood, plastic, cardboard etc. that get used in the laser.


This area is almost a mini FabLab in itself.

The biggest chunk is the 50w laser with 600mm x 400mm working area. It is a big upgrade from my previous A4 desktop laser and I love it to bits. It did however nearly kill me getting it upstairs on my own. Miraculously it even remained in perfect alignment after being bounced around.

Above that is a shelf with my Prusa Mendel (which I must start using again), Proxxon MF70 mini mill (which I must do a CNC conversion on to use it for isolation milling PCBs), a Micro Lathe (ideal for making RepRap extruders and similar small jobs) and the PC that drives the laser.

The intention is to use the shelf above for spools of plastic for the 3D printer. A converted toaster oven for SMD reflow soldering (and maybe one with a built in coffee maker…)

The silver ammo box contains raw materials for the laser, but I’ll have to come up with a neater solution.

Electronics and computing

Electronics and computing

The final area is for fine detail work – electronics assembly and some computing. It still needs the most work, particularly as it is the place where I seem to spend the most time. One of the key ideas is that I should be able to just pull the table out into the middle of the room if I need extra space to work on things or if I need to get around all sides of something (like when I’m sewing, for instance). That’s why the monitor is wall mounted, but the whole area seems to accumulate “things” so quickly that I think it’ll be futile.

Oh, and the lamp deserves a mention. It’s got a lovely daylight bulb and a huge magnifier which means I don’t feel quite so old when trying to read tiny part numbers from electronic components.

So, there you are. A workshop (that almost meets the MIT definition of a FabLab) in 3.5m x 4m and doesn’t feel like a dreary shed.

Or, looking at it another way, it’s what you should do with that room full of junk that you keep meaning to clear out!