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,

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!