Making Stuff Part 1

IMG_0502One of the first projects I undertook in my new workshop was to make use of the pine table that my son had donated to me (this new table had been damaged in transit so the company sent him a replacement and told him to keep the faulty one).

I immediately got to work ripping the wood down using my new table saw, creating a few planks for the task I had planned for it…to build a run for Matt and Chloe’s new tortoise Zoom. 4C31038E-C195-4E76-AD3E-BD4B1A6A6D69I bought some wire mesh and a found some roofing felt and soon knocked up a run fit for their special one. I even managed to add his name to the side using my router.

Pleasingly Matt & Chloe loved the run and throughout the summer Zoom spent many a happy day sunbathing in his new surroundings.

IMG_1204For my next project I got inspiration from a YouTube video, making a pine version of the Adirondack chair. This was more practice piece rather than a useful addition to the garden furniture, and although it is still on the lawn, it’s looking a bit weathered and will need a cleanup if it’s going to be used again this coming summer. I did add the extension later on in the year which makes it a bit more comfortable to sit in, but the seat is very low and Tina does struggle to get out of it. The mark 2 version will be made out of wood that is better suited for outdoors use and easier to get on and off it.

IMG_0436My first commission was something Tina asked me to build for her…a cotton bobbin holder for her sewing room. Again I investigated online to find a suitable version and eventually found some that I could enhance to meet the exacting requirements of the wife 🙂 For this project I also managed to make it out of recycled wood; this time I broke down a wooden bathroom shelf unit we no longer required. The holder came out pretty well and helped me get to grips with accurate drilling.

Having seen how simple it is to re-purpose and recycle wood, I realised that with the right tools and a bit of thought you can recreate lots of things easily.

Next I wanted to have a go at creating something from hardwood so ordered some planks of oak online and also managed to pick up a job lot of timber from eBay for a very good price. The latter was such a bargain, it’s actually kept me going in my return to woodworking. I’ve made quite a few tea-light holders, cutting boards and coasters from reclaimed beech, sapele, oak and maple.

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My next post will cover some of the finer pieces I’ve built in oak I purchased; this is part of woodworking I’ve really enjoyed, especially as the furniture was designed from scratch.

Not a mole hole to be seen

lawnDuring our recent excursion to London we decided to take a look around the Queen’s pad, which had been open whilst Her Royalness was away at her Scottish place during the Summer holiday.

The State Rooms were very palatial (which I guess they should be as they’re in a palace) and the picture galleries were amazing, even for a complete art ignoramus that I am.

But for me the wow factor was the garden, a vast expanse of green lawn surrounded by trees protecting Liz and from the hustle and bustle of the capital city. It was pretty flat, almost of bowling green standard and very well manicured.

I suspect the Queen doesn’t have trouble either with the corgis digging it up, unlike Rio, who I’m certain would be sent to the tower if he was let loose in the royal backyard.

Yellow

gardenIt’s been a couple of months since my last post, with complete apathy taking hold and preventing me from sitting down and writing anything of note. Whilst there have been things happening; a garden remake and running a work-based trial taking me away from my normal day-to-day stuff in the office to name but a few, I really couldn’t be bothered to document these in my usual blogging fashion.

The garden remake came about following a decision to try to sort out an area adjacent the patio which had been left as the only part of the outdoors  that Rio has access to grass; except that he’d dug it all up and we had been left with a mud bath, which he regularly brought indoors. Eventually the area had to be ‘electric fenced’ off, something we’d had to do before when we realised Rio was a digger. Anyway, last month we got around to getting someone to sort out the patch and replace a wonky fence too and now it looks much better.

At work I’ve been busy helping to rollout a trial way of working, with lots of conference calls and a bit of travelling, keeping me away from my normal duties. It also gave me time to develop a method of capturing real-time overtime claimed by engineers which looks like it might get adopted nationally if all goes well.

IMG_2581But the main topic I have been meaning to write about but scared to do so in case of jinxing the team was to capture my thoughts and hopes with my beloved Watford Football Club. At the start of this season I wrote about the anticipation of the new season and in February about my thoughts around the surprise performance of the team up to that point. Since then there has been highs and lows, culminating in a visit to Wembley on Monday when Watford played in the Championship Playoff Final against Crystal Palace. Getting there was quite a ride though; with the team so nearly achieving automatic promotion on the last day of the season, losing to Leicester in the first leg of the playoff semi-final and then securing a dramatic win at Vicarage Road to send them through to the £120 million final this week.

IMG_2583Obtaining tickets to the game was going to be difficult, but with both Matt and I having seen the team a couple of times this season we had sufficient buying evidence to secure four tickets. With the game a sell out it was promising to be a fantastic end to the season, with the favourites, Watford, looking to round off an amazing, albeit, surprising season with promotion to the top flight.

Alas it wasn’t to be, with the best team on the day, Crystal Palace, gaining the victory that ensured a healthy bank balance for the club for the next five years or so. I enjoyed the day out though; my first visit to the national stadium and despite the result am looking forward to next season, where hopefully the team will learn from the experience and be mentally stronger to go for outright promotion.

It seemed a good idea at the time…

One of the pitfalls of agreeing to have a stay-cation is the need to fill your days with enough activities to cover the period away from work. When we decided to forego a holiday away, we both instead made a list of things to do and places to visit. The list included a trip to London, some shopping and a few outdoors rambles with the dog, whilst on the practical side it had clearing out the garage, some gardening, repairing some walls and re-pointing the patio.

In order of importance, the patio was top of the list as many of the slabs had worked loose, with the dog having great fun in bringing indoors lumps of concrete from the joints where he’d managed to ease them out. The steps up to the garden had also worked loose, making it a bit hazardous when treading from patio to lawn. The wall slabs were also in a precarious state, with a stepping-stone lottery as to which ones would give way when you put your full weight on them, a bit like Harrison Ford’s predicament in Raiders of the Lost Ark when trying to get to the prize in the temple by crossing the ‘Walk of God’.

The patio was laid around ten years ago and was probably my first major outdoors project after moving to the new build property. When I laid it I will admit it was a bit uneven (my talents unfortunately didn’t extend to laying level slabs) and over the years the paving has got worse. And then there was the issue of the trip hazard which, although at the time I didn’t think was going to be a problem, for many visitors has proved to be their downfall, literally.

And so to the task in hand, namely to re-point the patio. The intention was simple. Buy some sand and cement and re-fix the loose slabs and secure them in back place. Easy.

I found a bolster chisel and club hammer and was soon loosening the old cement, creating gaps ready for the new filler. Then I realised that it would be easier to lift the slabs that were loose and so started lifting a couple. Then I lifted some more. I seems I had laid these first ones straight onto the sand ten years ago, probably the reason why they had moved over the years.

Within a few minutes I had lifted a few and then I had the idea…

“I know” I said to myself, “I’ll lift the whole patio and re-lay it, it won’t take too long.”

And so I got to work lifting more of the slabs. Within half an hour a third of the patio was up (with the help of Tina and the dog).

It was at that point it suddenly dawned on me that I’d taken on something…

a) I didn’t think I could do again,

and…

b) I didn’t really want to do.

A quick chat with Tina and we decided to get professional help in the form of Nick, our next door neighbour, who has installed loads of patios in the past. A bit of negotiation with him, including a Sunday roast and the promise of cash persuaded him to take on the job, with Nick declaring he had a few spare days this week to sort it.

Nick then helped me lift the remaining slabs and I piled the bedding sand up into a heap ready for the work later in the week. Of course, with the patio in such a state we were unsure what to do about Rio, as he does like his digging and a big pile of sand would be too much temptation. And sure enough, with the first chance he got he was in there, flattening the nice pile I’d made ready for Nick in the week. The rest of the day was spent clearing up sand that had been brought into the house.

Nick got started on the patio on Tuesday and soon it started to look like a patio again, although admittedly it took longer than he thought, finishing up on Saturday morning. Rio had been banned from going out there all week to allow the slabs to set, so he was especially pleased to be able to go back out later in the afternoon, getting up to mischief as usual.

Now that the patio is done, I can now start erecting the picket fence, which will replace the electric fence, installed to keep Rio off the garden. This job is not such a major one and should be fairly straight forward, assuming I can get the fence posts installed straight.

Gardening Woes

Neither Tina nor I are gardeners.

When we moved into our present house we had a blank canvas as all that was here was a fence bound square of earth. As we had a dog, Kane, our first priority was to lay some lawn so at least he didn’t tread mud into our lovely new carpets. We used a local garden centre to put down the grass and Tina’s sister advised us as to what plants to grow that would hide the stark wooden fences surrounding our new home. This worked well and over the years the garden matured and was quite easy to maintain, with the fortnightly cut of the lawn sufficient to keep it tidy. The shrubs kept the dog off the mud so he didn’t often come indoors with muddy paws.

In the early 2000’s I laid a patio down after we had the conservatory built and the garden was looking good, with a nice area to sit out when the weather was fine and patio lights to make it look cozy in the evenings.

As Kane grew older and he went on less walks the lawn took a bit of a pounding but the occasional weed and feed and regular cut kept it looking half-decent. And when Kane finally passed away four years ago, surprisingly we didn’t do much to the garden, giving the plants the occasional hard prune and keeping the weeds at bay. But at least it looked reasonably tidy.

Fast forward to 2012.

And now we have a six month old puppy…

Who chews branches…

and who digs holes…

and takes washing off the line…

and barks at next doors dogs.

How different two dogs of the same breed could be!

Unlike Kane, Rio has no respect for our garden, or anything that can be found there. He has dug holes in the lawn, ripped up shrubs that have been there for years, removed wood from fences that have been in place since it was put up, ripped holes in clothes that were quite happily drying in the winter sun.

So we had to do something about it.

Tina’s sister suggested a solution after she had issues with a dog she owned that kept escaping and getting into her neighbours garden. At first we discounted the idea but after a particularly stressful weekend where he ruined loads of clothing and would not leave the dogs next door alone, I read up about them and then I knew it was the only viable way.

And so yesterday afternoon Tina and her sister installed an electric fence around part of the garden, restricting Rio from the washing line and the fence between next door, thus preventing him from winding up their three dogs.

Apparently once a dog has touched one a couple of times they will not go near the fence and you can switch it off, just leaving the wire protecting the areas you don’t want them near.

Let’s hope so as we just want it as a deterrent and not a permanent feature.

I just hope he doesn’t start digging a tunnel to get to the other side!

It sure snows fast in Thrapston…

I have always been fascinated by video and in particular stop motion photography and watching how things change by small amounts over time. Whilst watching the snow come down last weekend, I remembered a video I saw last year that was shot in someone’s back garden in America that showed a table with no snow on it at first and then the snow falling over time.

I love the way the clock has to be cleared of snow to allow the viewer to see the time going past.

And so earlier in the week I happened to be listening to MacBreak Weekly on twit.tv when they mentioned a new app for iPads and iPhones that allow you to do time lapse photography on the cheap. So I thought I’d give it ago. And I am quite pleased with the results.

I can therefore exclusively reveal my first time lapse video from a couple of hours of recording last night when we had the snow downfall (the video only lasts 12 seconds so don’t blink!). Not quite the same as the American version but a bit more time would have had better results. You may also spot a fleeting appearance by Rio too.

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For those that want to know the details it was created with iStopMotion and photos were taken at 1 minute intervals. The only error I made was that I should have recorded it in Landscape rather than Portrait as unless you watch it full screen it is difficult to see the changes. Next time I will remember.

PS – Matt woke up this morning with a text from his mate saying he’s better leave for a work a bit earlier this morning…

That is some clever snow drift...

Warbrook House and Grange

For the past six working days I have been staying down in Hampshire at a process workshop with a number of other people from across the Virgin Media business. The set of meetings were aptly entitled ‘lock ins’ which meant that those that attended all remained together and were able to be fully focussed on discussing all the issues, both formally during working hours and in the evenings, when there was a more relaxed atmosphere.

And despite the fact that I’ve had been away from home for a few days I really enjoyed the experience. I think this was partly due to the location of the meetings, which had been set at a de-vere hotel venue and conference centre, Warbrook House and Grange, which is located just north of Hook in Hampshire, near Eversley.

The house was built in the early 1700’s by John James, a master carpenter who later became an architect and who during his career had been involved in the building of the Royal Hospital at Greenwich and more impressively St Paul’s Cathedral.

Now I’m no expert on country houses or gardens (yep, the above bit was Google’d) and I don’t watch Downton Abbey but I can say that it’s great to see that a large country home can be kept in use for people to enjoy. This particular house has been tastefully converted, keeping many of the internal features and the grounds are beautiful, with lawns and a canal all well tended.

What does make you think though is how wealthy the people who have lived there have had to have been to run a place like that? In researching the owners it seems that after John James sold it to pay off debts, it has been owned by a Private Secretary to the leader of the House of Commons, an artist and then an MP’s daughter, another MP , IBM and finally a hotel chain. I guess there must have been some huge MP’s expenses claims to cover the costs of running the place!

When I got home from my few days away I then reflected on what it must be like to have a place like that, with it’s well manicured lawns and trees. And then I glanced out at our garden with shrubs ripped up and holes dug in the grass by the dog and thought that I’m a long, long way from ever having a garden like that!

Wiggly Wigglers

Probably one of my oddest impulse buys happened on Sunday following a visit from my sister-in-law who visited whilst I was cutting the lawn.

“My worms would love all that grass” she said ” and they also love my kitchen scraps!” she added.

I quizzed her and she explained that she had a wormery at home which she uses to make compost. She said the worms were easy to keep and meant she didn’t need to throw much food away as her wiggly friends had most of the scraps.

Soon I was Googling ‘wormeries’ and ‘wiggly wigglers’ and found a number of companies offering different versions of worm houses, some for single people and others for a bigger family (it seems you need to get the right size house that fits your needs, all very scientific). I then did a bit of research and discovered that keeping worms was quite straight forward and as long as you keep feeding them scraps of food, they will keep eating it. And making lots of compost.

Now, neither Tina or I are keen gardeners but the thought of turning our waste, which currently goes into a bucket each week for collection by the bin men, into a useful bi-product was appealing. We might even start to do some proper gardening!

And so after more research I decided to go for it and ordered a Wormcity wormery sold through Amazon, which comes delivered with a 500g pack of ‘ready to eat’ worms, so to speak.

Apparently I won’t get any compost for a few months as it takes them a while to settle into their new surroundings, but once they get going there’s no stopping them. And also they multiply like crazy to a point where there could be in excess of 2000-3000 worms in one wormery. That’s a lot of chompers!

The only thing I did find out though is that they don’t particularly like grass; it takes too long to break down and produces ammonia which can harm them so I will have to continue to dispose of the cuttings in my green bin.

I got an e-mail yesterday confirming that ‘my order’ had been dispatched so I should be the proud owner of my new family very shortly. Will keep you posted of how they/I get on!