About Graham

Welcome to my blog. A mixture of thoughts and observations from my life!

Mixing Woodworking & CNC Machining

One of the benefits of having hand tools, woodworking machinery is that when embarking on a small project you pretty much have everything you’re likely to need. In previous blogs I’ve written about making all sorts of things by hand but one of my frustrations is my accuracy of cutting or chiselling wood. I always have good intentions but the finished results never match my expectation.

Hence getting the CNC machine.

Now I have the means to produce accurate pieces with wood and a some modelling software. Knocking up a sign or box using a pre-programmed design is simple and the results always impress. There are limitations of course, as the machine bed has a maximum capacity of two feet square but for most builds that is sufficient.

Whilst we were on a break in Devon last year, I spotted a wine rack in a shop in Kingsbridge and thought it would be a good project to make at home. I knew I had some oak timber that would be perfect but realised that the rack would need lots of joints and they would need to be neatly done or else it would look a mess.

Firstly I worked out how many rails would be required and went about planing them down to the size I thought would be suitable. I then worked out how to make the tenons and mortise using the CNC and also created a jig to ensure I could get repeatable cuts.

The CNC makes light work this type of job and I was please that the rails connected nice and snug and straight. I used a square to ensure the frames glued up true and left it overnight to ensure it dried well.

Assembling the frame to the rails was then fairly easy and soon it was starting to look like a rack. Once again I glued it up and left it overnight. The next day I rubbed down the frame with some sandpaper and added some rubber feet to the legs to finish it off, leaving it a natural finish rather than finish with any wax or varnish.

The wine rack is now situated in one of our downstairs rooms and fully stocked following a delivery of twelve bottles of wine that my team bought for me at Christmas 🙂

Driving a Tesla, first impressions

Further to my blog entry detailing the journey into getting the Tesla Model 3 LR, I thought I’d follow up with how I adapted to driving the new car, from home charging to range anxiety and phantom braking.

Prior to taking delivery of my new car, I had to consider how it was going to get charged; the lease company normally arrange for the charging point to be installed but for some reason it didn’t include Tesla cars. So I had to do some research to see what were the best options. In the UK, new electric vehicle drivers are able to claim a grant to support the costs, but in the end I decided to go for the Tesla charger, which wasn’t on the list. The advantage of the Tesla unit is that I can easily hook it up to the car without messing around with an app to get things started.

The first thing I noticed on day one from delivery was that the car was a head-turner and people want to stop and talk about it and owning an EV. In fact, as the car was being driven from the low-loader, a neighbour stopped and chatted about it and how shiny and new it looked.

For me, the Model 3 is a nice sporty-looking car and it’s performance matches its looks. The first thing I did was to take it out for a quick spin and within a few minutes I was amazed by the ease in which it drove. The simplified dashboard, it only has a single screen where all the controls are sited, along with regenerative braking which gives you single pedal driving means you effectively just have to steer and go. As the car has a low centre of gravity due to the vast number of batteries that power the car, it also handles really well on the road.

And then there’s the acceleration.

Now I’m not a speedy driver but there is some satisfaction in putting your foot down and experiencing the sheer thrust of an electric vehicle; the Model 3 LR has a 0 – 60mph in 4.6 seconds and you certainly know it.

The first real test of whether I would experience range anxiety was at the weekend after it was delivered when Tina and I had booked to join my brother and his wife for a weekend away on the coast in Hampshire. Door to door the distance was just over 150 miles but with the car capable of travelling over 300 miles on a full charge I wasn’t overly concerned and knew we’d get there in one trip. I was also aware that the park where we were staying had a Tesla destination charger so wouldn’t have any worries about topping it up once we arrived.

We set off with the car at 95% and it had calculated that we would arrive with 35%, plenty of wriggle room for our first long journey out. But incredibly as we progressed, the car adjusted its estimated arrival percentage, with the final arrival charge of 41%. Clearly I’d laid off the accelerator, a sure fire way of expending electricity, and taken it steady for my my first full trip out.

The car drove like a dream, with the semi-auto pilot feature taking much of the burden out of the long trip. It did take some getting used to at first though. There are two levels of control. The first stage is just cruise control, quite normal on many cars these days where by you just set the speed you want to drive at and the car sticks to it, the difference being that if the vehicle in front slows down so does the Tesla. The second stage is more complex. This is semi automation whereby the car will steer as well and that does take some getting used to. I found this feature worked better on quieter roads so most of the journey down I stuck to cruise control.

One area I will criticise is the safety features, which for me are still in development. The Model 3 has 9 cameras and a number of sensors mounted around the car, which are used aid the driver and help control the safety features. One of the features is collision avoidance whereby if the car detects another vehicle gets too close it emits an audible warning and applies the brakes in extreme conditions. Unfortunately, I don’t believe the technology is quite there yet and on a couple of occasions we experienced ‘phantom braking’ for the first time. This is a well publicised phenomenon that Tesla’s seem to be known for but unless you’ve experience it first hand you can’t quite believe it. Obviously if the car was going to collide you want it to slam on the brakes but on the two or three times it happened on our first trip it was the result of passing large lorries on the inside lane of dual carriageways or motorways. The car seemed to think the trucks were going to pull across into your lane so suddenly applies the brakes. Fortunately on each time there were no cars behind but it could have been a problem and something I’d need to watch.

So my initial impressions of owning the Tesla were pretty positive and despite the braking issues I had no regrets in moving over to an EV. And the driving costs were pleasing too; we did roughly 350 miles that weekend and the total cost of electricity was £15. That’s not a bad Wh/mile (the mpg equivalent of a ICE car) and I can’t see me ever going back now.

Going out out

Since the original lockdown last March, I’ve only ventured into the office three times. The first time was to familiarise myself with the Covid restrictions and changes that had been implemented and I only stayed there for a couple of hours once I’d done the tour. Whilst it was clear the company had done a lot of work to try to make the site safe such as one-way corridors, the restaurant was closed and some temporary staff didn’t seem rot follow the guidelines such as wearing face masks when walking around the office.

The second time was to visit the new office space that had been created for my division, but again the restaurant was closed and there was lots of building activity going on making it a difficult place to work.

The third time was this week.

I’d been invited to go into the office as a couple of my colleagues and my boss were meeting up so I booked a desk and drove to Birmingham on Tuesday. The new work area had now been completed and desks allocated for our department but as only a few other staff have returned and with social distancing rules still in place the area felt pretty empty and uninviting. On the plus side, the restaurant was also now open, albeit at a reduced capacity so at least there was the better refreshments than the coffee machine.

Anyhow, on arrival I found a desk and fired up my laptop, having first visited the Starbucks counter to get a Latte. Regrettably I couldn’t get the stand-alone screen to connect to my laptop as I knew I would struggle to work on a single screen, especially so used to my home set up of having three screens. So I started messing with the larger monitor connections trying to get it to come to life. Unfortunately, I subsequently managed to knock my large cup of latte over my laptop, mouse and laptop bag, sending me into sheer panic. Fortunately, a quick-thinking colleague obtained some kitchen towel and I was able to mop up the spillage and wipe down the laptop, which luckily hadn’t got covered in the coffee.

Once I’d calmed down I then proceeded to do some work and also have a nice catch up with my colleagues; it’s surprising how just seeing people face to face rather than on the phone or via Teams makes a difference. We all had a good natter and put the world to rights and then I had the job of ringing round my team to inform them their pay-rises & bonuses. Of course, it would have been much easier to do at home as those types of conversations are best done out of ear-shot of others but I found a small office and delivered their good news.

And then it was my time to get the news of mine from my boss and pleasingly it was very good news. Suffice to say the tax man and Tina will benefit 🙂

I remained in the office until late afternoon before heading back home and whilst we agreed it was great to meet up, I think the visits will now be fewer than I did in the past, even after the Covid situation goes away.

When I arrived home, I was greeted by Rio, who for the first time in a long while had been left alone, very excited to see me and wanting some attention for abandoning him. I think if he sees my laptop bag being packed up again he’ll pick it up and hide it so I can’t go back to work.

Making signs

One of the cool things about a CNC machine is the ease at which you can produce really good looking signs out of pretty much any material. One of my ‘commissions’ was to make a sign for a guy in Scotland who contacted me on Instagram. He had seen I’d made a house sign and asked whether I could make one to hang above his hot tub. I wasn’t intending to charge him other than the postage so in order to keep costs down I used some old pallet wood I’d reclaimed. The results came out pretty well and he loved it.

Another request came closer to hand, when Tina mentioned that one of her colleagues at work asked whether I could make two bedroom door signs for her young daughters. My usual process is to firstly go and do a Google images search to get some inspiration on what the signs could look like but in this case I went straight into designing using the Vectrix VCarve software.

But having checked with Tina, we didn’t feel they were ‘girly’ enough, so went back to Google and found a sign I thought could work. A quick design in the CNC software and I then got to work cutting the signs and the accompanying butterflies and flowers.

In the end I added some rope for hangers and gave both a coat of varnish. And the girls absolutely loved them, even to the point that the younger one Evelyn just kept walking around carrying it like a handbag not wanting it to be hung on her door.

Another request came from a difference work colleague of Tina’s, this time asking for a sign to give to her friend who had recently got engaged. Again I knocked up a mock-up, which was accepted and soon the CNC had produced the sign. Again they loved it.

One of the reasons for buying a CNC was the fact that the output is so exact, crisp and clean and so far it’s proving that way.

I’m happy just making these as for me the enjoyment is the creation and reward of seeing something produced that looks good and the recipient is pleased with. Perhaps one day when I’ve retired I can set up my own business selling these for profit but I’m really not sure I’d get the same pleasure in making them as I do at the moment.

A medical enigma

If in 1981 I’d written a blog (if there was such a thing then?) about my dad surviving to see his 80th birthday, readers would have thought I’d gone mad. Not because his mum and dad died young, but that year saw him hospitalised due to a sinus problem and the emergency operation resulted in him sustaining brain damage.

He spent six months in a London hospital, with my mum travelling daily to visit whilst as teenagers, myself, brother and sister tried to carry on as normal not knowing whether we would have a dad for much longer. Eventually he did recover enough to come home, but from that moment onwards life would be very different for his family. He was 40 years old.

Dad had suffered brain damage as a result of the botched operation. It left him with limited mobility due a stroke, loss of sight in one eye and only peripheral vision in the other and short term memory loss. His injuries were such that it was difficult to say how long he would live so whilst we were relieved to get him home, we really didn’t know how long we would have him around.

In the early nineties, dad suffered another setback, when his consultant had to remove another sinus mucocele, the same issue that caused him to go into hospital first time around. This was shortly followed by a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in his lungs and then incredibly he was diagnosed with a pituitary tumour, which was also operated on to remove. In the early 2000’s he suffered another PE, followed in 2010 by another.

During the eighties, mum started proceedings to sue two Health Authorities for negligence in mis-diagnosing his original condition and the Queens Hospital, London for causing the brain damage during the emergency operation. They all eventually settled out of court in 1990, basing the award on his expected life expectancy of 15 more years, which would take him to 65.

Fast forward to 2021, and dad has defied all medical logic and is still going and is about to celebrate his 80th birthday later this month. He has to have a live-in carer as, sadly, mum passed away in 2014, ironically by suffering her first and only pulmonary embolism. When she passed, the expectation was that dad would have to go into a home but incredibly seven years later he still lives at home and coping reasonably well. Even Covid-19 hasn’t got him.

His health has deteriorated in recent years; he’s starting to struggle to speak properly and his mobility has slowed considerably, although he is still capable of going out on him mobility scooter. But considering what his body has been through, for him to reach the ripe old age of eighty is nothing less than a miracle.

Sadly it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to celebrate his birthday with him this month due to the ongoing lockdown restrictions but I’m sure once things relax we’ll try and sort out a get-together, hopefully including his surviving younger brother and older sister.

Workshop lodger

Concerned that my new car would attract undesirables, I decided to install a CCTV system covering the front of the house including the drive. As my brother is in the security industry, he recommended a system made by Hikvision which Amazon were selling at a reasonable price for a four camera system.

Installation was pretty easy as the camera wiring could go straight into the garage, where the main recorder would be installed. Alan suggested three cameras would be sufficient and I soon had them fitted and wired up. Setting up was simple and the software allows for zones to be set up to prevent false alarms. The quality of the video capture is excellent, especially in daytime light, and the night vision is sufficient at close range.

As I only needed three cameras to cover the frontage, I decided to fit the spare camera in the garage. I’ve managed to accumulate quite a few tools and equipment over recent years so having a camera looking over them felt like a good use of the last one.

The system has a 1TB hard drive which continually records the output and there’s also an app that can access the live stream as well as review the recorded footage. And I’m really impressed with the system; it was easy to set up and hooking it up to a spare monitor means I have visibility of the cameras whilst I’m working in the workshop.

Within a few weeks of the CCTV system going live it was already being called into action when our neighbours asked us to check the recordings as they’d had a couple of guys trying front doors in the middle of the night. Whilst the blokes could clearly been seen walking across the gardens opposite, the night time camera resolution wasn’t good enough to make out any personal features.

Still, the fact that the camera was able to pinpoint the time and pick out the two chaps was positive.

Anyhow, back to the camera in the workshop. As mentioned, the system has the ability to set movement detectors, which when triggered, places a marker and also sends an alarm to the app. Within a few days of the camera going live I started to notice it was getting triggered at night, often only once or twice. On reviewing the footage it was clear I didn’t have any burglars but I did seem to have a creature flying across the garage at speed. It would always move left to right towards the garage doors and not hover or circle, suggesting it wasn’t a moth or spider. And I never saw it return suggesting once it was out of the garage, it stayed out until morning when the camera system stopped detecting movement.

On one occasion I did actually see it on the drive camera, once it had made an appearance in the workshop but it moved at such speed it wasn’t easy to determine what type of creature it is.

I’ve even tried leaving the workshop light on during the night but my lodger seems to be artificial light camera shy and never appears. I’m pretty sure it’s a large insect of some sort but I haven’t got a clue what it actually is.

I guess it’s not really doing any harm other than triggering my CCTV so as along as it doesn’t start using the machinery during the night it can continue to use my garage as a resting home.

Going all electric

Since passing my driving test I’ve always driven combustion engine vehicles, whether they be company vans or cars, and as I generally lived a distance from my base office didn’t think twice about filling them up. For me the vehicle was a means to an end – I needed it for work and it was just a necessary expense.

Of course, up until recently there wasn’t really any other choice, with fossil fuel vehicles continuing to outperform in terms of practicality and cost, despite the government trying to de-incentivise their use by penalising both petrol and diesel drivers heavily through fuel and personal taxation. But in recent years, manufacturers have woken up to the fact that oil-based fuels won’t be around forever so have started to move towards producing electricity-powered vehicles, which also come with tax incentives.

Firstly we started to see hybrid versions. The advantage of hybrids was that they didn’t need charging but instead used regenerative breaking to supplement the fossil fuel engine and thus improve performance and extend range. This meant that the existing fuel station infrastructure remained a neccessity as cars still had to fill up, albeit less often.

I did consider switching to a hybrid at one point, mainly to reduce my monthly fuel outgoings but the cars were still quite expensive and I couldn’t justify the extra cost for the moderate return in fuel savings. But certainly the fact that the cars could go almost third further on a tank of fuel was enticing, especially as I hated the chore of having to fill up at petrol stations.

Of course the perfect solution would have been to switch to an all-electric car but the choice was limited, and with my commute of over a hundred miles a day, the cars on the market were either not practical or prohibitively expensive.

But the idea was always in the back of my mind.

And then Covid-19 came along and way we work was completely transformed. Gone was the daily drive to an office but instead the ask was stay at home, working remotely wherever possible. And for me that suited me just down to the ground as the regular commute was now just to move from the bedroom to the study, where I could be just as effective as working from an office.

But at the same time, my existing car, a 2012 Hyundai i35 started to show its age, even though it was spending most days sitting on the driveway wondering why its owner has stopped racking up the miles.

Now I’m not one for regularly switching cars; the i35 was bought 6 months from new and for me it is was just a vehicle for taking me to and from work and shelling out a fortune on a new model every couple of years was not a good investment, especially as I was adding +25,000 miles each year.

But lockdown got me thinking.

With the likelihood that driving to work each day was going to be less of a requirement I started to look at my options. Should I go diesel, hybrid or even electric and should I buy or lease?

Fortunately the choice became clearer when a colleague suggested I investigate the company car leasing salary sacrifice scheme, also mentioning that the deals on electric vehicles were really competitive. And with the benefits in kind tax on electric vehicles at zero percent leasing was viable option.

And they also had Tesla’s on their list.

Now I’d been watching how the Tesla company had been progressing in car manufacturing when I saw one for real at the Birmingham Gadget Show in 2016. At the show they had demo versions of the Model S and I was smitten by how modern they looked, and the silence from the car was mesmerising. And the battery range was improving, 200 miles on one charge. One day I thought.

Fast forward four years and with a promotion secured, my ‘spending’ power had increased significantly. By then Tesla had brought out their Model 3, a lower priced, saloon version with significantly improved range. I completed the online form to get my estimate of monthly costs, not quite believing my dream of getting an EV was becoming a reality. The salary sacrifice scheme really is a great way to be able to get a car that would be way out of my league to purchase at £50,000 as the lease costs are taken before tax, making the bill affordable.

In July I took the plunge and completed the order and was given an estimate of 8 weeks delivery, taking me up to September. That would give me time to sell my existing car, sort out a charging point at home and look at power company charging scheme options. I also hit YouTube for every video I could find on Tesla Model 3’s, eager to learn as much as I could before delivery. I also downloaded the online manual and read it cover to cover multiple times, to the dismay of Tina, who couldn’t understand my obsession with ‘a new car’.

In early August I received a text from Tesla, confirming a delivery date at the start of September and the VIN number of the car. This information enabled me to track the delivery of the car across the Atlantic through The Tesla Motors Club forum on the shipping movements page, helping to build up the excitement.

My new car arrived, as scheduled, on the 2nd September and was immediately named ‘Trevor’ which seems to be a tradition bestowed by Tesla owners on their new vehicle.

In a future post I’ll give a run down of being an EV driver.

Workshop Update

The enforced national lockdown back in March last year began just before we were about to travel to Jersey to see our daughter, so instead I had the added bonus of a week off spent in my workshop.

Having managed to get to grips with my newly purchased CNC machine by making some signs, clocks and a crib board for my dad, I was keen to explore new things to make. I’d also ordered a pallet of hardwood from eBay, which would give me plenty of material to use as well.

Firstly, I wanted to try to produce a brass stamp on the CNC which seemed quite a cool thing to try to make. I had already ordered some brass blocks from eBay and so set about designing the stamps on the Vectrix software. The plan was to make a stamp that could be used for embossing my woodwork pieces; my very own makers mark. What I didn’t realise was that cutting metal, even a soft metal like brass, isn’t as easy as you think. My first attempt caused the router bit to break but once I’d sussed out the correct feed and speeds needed I managed to produce a pretty functional stamp.

I then thought I’d have a go at making some cutting boards, again out of left over oak worktop, but this time I wanted to try engraving onto them using the CNC. I made three different sized boards and a stand and then used the CNC to produce some pretty good looking boards.

Having no use for the boards I stored them away after first sharing photos on Instagram and shortly after an ex-colleague reached out for me to see if I would make her a set. As they were not required at home, I duly posted them to her and are now regularly used in her kitchen. Another project successfully completed.

Over the next few months my CNC output increased as I grew more confident in designing and creating new things. I even managed to get a couple of commissions from a chap in Scotland having seen my photos on social media.

Firstly he asked if I could make him a sign for his newly installed hot tub and then a sign for a work colleague. He loved them, especially as I only charged him for the postage.

Ideas were coming thick and fast by the time we came out of lockdown, not before dabbling in making some keyring, nick-nack trays and boxes, more signs and BBQ trays.

As the workshop warmed up in the summer, my activity slowed as the temperatures got unbearable but I still managed to knock out some football signs for friends and family.

In my next blog post I’ll run through some other projects including making beer bottle openers, signs for the garden, a box for a baby and a clock for my dad for Fathers Day.

I’m Back

Once again there has been an extremely long gap between blog posts, with my last entry posted just before Lockdown 1 last year. The post was the ninth in a series documenting my return to woodworking and subsequent excursion into the world of CNC machining.

Looking back now, I cannot recall why I suddenly stopped the blog articles; maybe it was the sudden shock of coping with lockdown and the realisation that the world had more serious things to think about rather than my drivel about V Carving MDF clocks and Watford FC badges. Or maybe it was just that I couldn’t be arsed.

Of course, just because life became different and restrictive it didn’t mean things stopped and on reflection there’s quite a bit of updating I should really do.

So I made a list.

  • A list of topics I should write about.
  • A list of things that have happened in the past 12 months.
  • A list of things I’ve made.
  • And a list of things that will be happening soon.

And I’ve set myself a challenge to start writing about them.

So watch out for updates on lockdown, holidays, electric cars, CCTV as well as more completed CNC and woodworking projects.

And I promise they’ll be published sooner rather than later!

Making Stuff Part 9

1991CC96-8B96-4C54-B8C8-185597AEBAA0_1_105_cFollowing on from the success of making the two teddy bears out of MDF as gifts for new born babies, I decided to progress the clock making using MDF rather than pine. Whilst the clock I did for my brother came out OK, it took a lot of effort to get a good finish. As mentioned in my previous blog he had shown the fish clock he’d painted to a few of his piscatorial mates and they all loved it so he suggested if I knocked out a few and he’d sell them. I therefore got about designing a few different versions so they had a choice. 71B98BFD-194B-4CA9-A775-FB6ED0B87702_1_105_cAs I was due to meet up with Alan the following weekend I had to crack on with batching them up, 7CA179DF-2D5D-49FE-9CA8-1A011DE980B7_1_105_cpainting and ordering more quartz clock parts as I didn’t have enough to cover the number of units I was making.

I’d purchased some green and grey paint as Alan had suggested these colours would be popular with fishermen and who’s to argue as they did come out rather well when sprayed up. I fitted the clock mechanism and wrapped them ready for transport. EB75365D-2FB7-45D0-B658-E8AAC9F5E152_1_105_cI did have a couple of failures, where the numbers on the face came out uneven (a human problem rather than CNC) so decided to paint them in brighter colours and one of them is now adorned on my neighbour Nick’s garage wall. Alan already had buyers for three of the clocks and he says he’s going to put the rest on eBay. I’m not sure if they’ll sell but hey I never intended to make stuff to sell so it might help me recoup some of my costs back.

Unfortunately due to the Coronavirus outbreak, our plans to meet up at the weekend were dashed so I still have the clocks but hopefully he’ll collect them soon.

7E61C3D3-3FBA-4958-A421-0DC186F6A797_1_105_cHe also mentioned my ability to make clocks to another friend and was asked whether I could make one for his mates wife as a birthday present. He sent me the logo so I got to work on the design. With the holiday we had planned having to be cancelled this week, I had plenty of time to knock out the designs and produce the two new versions of what is becoming my signature product. Again, I was rather pleased with the outcome. The same mate also asked me to make two clocks for his mum and partner’s mum so again, D49DD4EB-B29B-485D-A6B3-8D2437465E26_1_105_cI found a picture of a flower and added some simple text. They’ve now been painted and await the mechanism fitting and should be ready for collection before Mothers Day.

Another line I’ve been trying to produce is signs for homes and decided to try to create one out of plywood. I did try the same out of MDF but it didn’t work very well as part of the letters broke as I sanded the edges down.

F5C6B827-13F2-4790-BCBE-125ACDF57FC0_1_105_cUsing 18mm birch ply produced really crisp edges and was ideal for creating this type of sign. I decided to spray this in contrasting colours and even got a complement from Tina, who has been pretty indifferent to the things I’ve been making (I suppose there’s only so many ornaments a woman can have :))

2D9AEDA0-F257-491F-B415-1013A3D9FEE8_1_105_cIt’s now sitting in the windowsill in one of the bedrooms. This design came out really well and could be a best seller if I ever decided to knock out more of them.

First attempt, some of the detail didn't cut well

First attempt, some of the detail didn’t cut well

With the extra time this week I’ve also been finishing off Nick’s engagement plaque and presented it to him this week, along with the three earlier versions that didn’t come out as well as I had hoped.

V Carving in MDF wasn't great

V Carving in MDF wasn’t great

MDF then painted

MDF then painted

The final version in oak and finished with Danish Oil

The final version in oak and finished with Danish Oil

I’ve still got loads of ideas to create more things and hopefully I’ll get some more done this week so watch this space for another update soon.