Sunday, 7 April 2013

It’s time to build a house–Part 1 Picking a Block?

So where did it start?  I think it started when me and my wife were both waiting for our children to finish with the toilet.  We did know this house was only going to be a short part of our journey through life.  It was great when the kids were babies, now they were growing up it was time for our house to grow.  Unfortunately extending our house was not an option.  The question was to buy or build?
The first place to look was at our budget, how much could we afford?  A meeting with the bank soon established what we could borrow, however we had to decide how much we wanted to borrow and set that budget.  Don’t be fooled into borrowing too much, if you go the maximum will you still be able to live?  I am a cautious guy so looked at what would be comfortable without effecting our family lifestyle (I would hate to lose our weekends away or the kids sport).
Now we had a ball park of what would could spend the question is what can that buy?  My wife wanted to build, me I wanted just to be able to move straight into a bigger house.  So we compromised, we started looking at what was available in the area we wanted to live in our price range.  It was depressing.  There weren’t many houses around in the price bracket we were looking at, and none felt like a home, and none were what I would call newish (under ten years old).  I know when buying an established house many of the dreams and wish list items may have to be compromised on, but nothing came close.  So far it looked as if my wife would win.
Having struck out with an established home its time to think new build.  Now we have two questions (well about a million really).  The first where is there land available.  The second is what type of house is the dream?  Luckily we live in a growing area so there were a few new estates opening to choose from.  The best luck was that a new estate was about to open just next to where we lived.  As it was going to be a first release of land, there would be a ballot system to gain land.  To be in the ballot you had to select just three blocks from about one hundred.  How to choose?
brooks reach diagram
We spent hours looking at the maps, contour plans, checking the price list, sitting out at the rural land that would become the housing development.  We had a few wishes. We wanted bigger than our current block, flat land, and hopefully a view.  If I knew then what I know now I would have added to that large frontage.  It is amazing how much effect how wide your block is affects your choices.  A wider lot means you are less limited on house size, you may be able to add the third garage or pool and gives the builder more room to work.  Sloping blocks limit house design and rapidly increase building site costs.  Farmland and trees can add bush fire restrictions.  Planned sewer pipes, water pipes etc. may limit whether you can build on or two story homes and add extra building costs.  All of this needs to be taken into very serious consideration, a bad choice now could add up to a lot of money in the long run.  As we only had one shot we had to try and pick the best blocks we could and keep the fingers crossed.  We found a block 20m wide and 45m long, which in todays standards is big, not the biggest but big and allowed enough money left over to build the dream.
We were lucky in the lottery and got our number two choice; big. flat and an amazing view.  Now to pick a home.
lot 212 2

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Bosch Oscillating Multi-Tool

Ok, these kind of tools have been around in the woodworking world for sometime.  Only recently have oscillating tools become in vogue in the general handyman world, and I have had my eye on one for a while.  So when my wife said would I like to try one I jumped at the chance.
Ok, so first thing first this is the Bosch GOP300SCE (professional model).  It is the sturdy high end version of the popular multi-tool.  Unlike most saws it cuts with a very small but high speed oscillation (blade going back and forth), so is safer.  According to a competitors advert these things can’t cut you, however I am not game to try that and I am sure I've seen the doc on CSI opening a skull with one.  Perhaps I will try it on the next leg of pork my wife brings home. This rapid oscillation also makes it an effective grinder and sander (hence a multi-tool!).
This test model comes in a great sturdy case.   Usually I hate the plastic case as they take up room and the tool lead can never fit back in it.  Bosch however had provided a great box with plenty of room, fold down handles and it clips to other Bosch product boxes.  When you open the box you also find another box full of goodies (a little Aladdin's cave).  This contains the myriad of different accessories that come with it.  This is good if you want to travel light and not carry the whole box around.
Now down to business.  It looks sturdy, and feels sturdy.  I was always told you can tell the durability of a tool by checking out the power lead – its thick and solid. The unit is a little heavy (1.4kg) but easy and ergonomic to hold.  The great thing is the Tool less accessory change lever.  Just pull this to release the current accessory, place on the required accessory, snap the lever back and keep on working.  The lever is a little stiff to move but not beyond on the realms of normal strength, and it is certainly better than cursing and muttering while you fiddle will Allen keys or lock nuts.
There is a generous amount of power (300Watts) controlled by a variable speed dial at the rear of the unit which allows from 8000 to 20000 Oscillations per minute  With this high rate of oscillation you would expect a lot of vibration, however it remained smooth.
So what can it do?  I used it this afternoon on a few little projects.  Firstly it cuts, I trimmed out a small shelf from a sheet of melamine to put in a cupboard (my wife has been asking me to do this for a while).  It would have been quicker to use a jig saw but it cut a nice straight line, smoothly and fairly quickly.  The small tooth and lack of motion left the cut smooth with no tear out on the melamine sheet.  Then a very quick change (love the tool less change) to the sanding pad (this particular model comes with about 12 sanding sheets from 80grit to 120 grit), and sanded the edges.  I was impressed with the sander and definitely think it be useful in tight spots when sanding furniture and will probably find some good uses in the wood working projects. 
Next was a kitchen knife that had the tip broken.  I put on the grinding attachment and quickly re-shaped the blade and put a rough edge on before honing on a water stone. There are lots of other attachments for plunge cutting, removing grout and nearly any DIY project.  Next week I have to build a deck for my parents so think the other cutting blades will get a work out.  Bosch also sell a wide range of accessories check out their website.
Overall opinion? Its a nifty bit of equipment that covers the need for multiple tools.  There is little vibration and not too noisy.  This model is aimed at the professional tradesperson at $350, however there are more basic model starting around $150 for the weekend handy man.
What is your favourite go to tool in the shed?
I didn’t pay for this product, it was given free to my wife to trial but I stole it.  All opinions are that of me and me alone.

Thursday, 17 January 2013


As I sit at my parents house pining for my workshop I have got to thinking about my woody beginnings.  I’m not really talking my poor attempts at high school woodwork, but my first attempts at a new found hobby.
This was it, not really inspiring.  I just put a peace of scrap pine between centres, spun up the lathe and with no knowledge of what each tool did, speed changes, or what was safe.  This was it, tear outs galore, no objective shape, but about 20cm of pure joy.  I still have it hidden away in a box somewhere.
I soon wanted to investigate more.
This was my first bowl.  It was made of layers or scrap pine stuck together (pine is very under-rated).  It has thick walls where I was too scared to go too thin and lots of chips and tears.  Again it was a work of enjoyment.  Now I would be horrified to produce something, how shall I put it, rustic?  Also turning wood has made me a better photographer, these early shots are not so well composed, or even focused.
goddess 020
And finally my first pen.  This was a slimline made from, I don’t know what……wood.  Its turned too thin, the ends are undersized and it looks a little wrong, but I still use it today.
Of course these are all learning experiences.  With each creation comes knowledge, and enjoyment.  I am happy to look back at where I came from, and compare to the things I turn now, and it always makes me smile.  I wonder what my old woodwork teacher would think of what i am doing now?
What was the first thing you made?

Monday, 14 January 2013

MC900 Wood Lathe

A while ago I talked about my very first wood lathe, well today I shall talk about my current wood lathe.  After a year with my ebay lathe I decided the bug had taken hold and it was time to upgrade.  A little research and I settled on the MC900 form Carbatec.   The reason for my choice, availability (they were in stock and only an 90 minute drive away) and they were within my small budget.
One point first of all, it is heavy and is a two person lift.  This was frustrating when I got home waiting for someone to help me lift it out of the box and bolt to the bench (which I had newly constructed for the purpose). 
OK so onto the actual review.  The MC900 seems to be available with a variety of different badge names, but presumably roll out of the same factory in China.  I will state now you get what you pay for, and at $497 it is at the budget end of the market.  It is not as smooth as a Nova or Wood fast or higher end lathe.  It can be noisy and the drive belt is a little rattly in sound though doesn't slip. 
I like the variable speed handle on the front giving a range of speed selections from 500RPM through to 2000RPM.  However, the minimum of 500RPM can be too fast some projects, especially heavy objects that aren’t balanced.  In fact I did have a big lump of red gum on there that I nearly shock the house down before I could press stop.  This lack of a really slow speed I find a shortfall, however for most of my turning, mainly pens and already round bowl blanks it does the job easily.
The variable speed drive worked nice and smooth on purchase, but now three years down the track it is a little stiff to change down speeds even with a little TLC and preventative maintenance (I expect I will need to replace the drive belt soon).
It is certainly a sturdy cast iron construction, although the legs supplied do look a little flimsy and may require some additional bracing.
I was seduced by the rotating headstock for bigger items, but if truth be known I have used it twice, neither time I was comfortable with.  The head is easy to turn, just release two nuts and has three positions.  The lathe comes with an extension Banjo for outrigger turning but it never seems to fit in the correct spot.  The tool rest also is a little chunky for small turnings and you cant always get close enough for thin objects (a definite downfall for making pens).  In addition the tool rest is a little long again getting close to the headstock spindle and tailstock for short barrel pens.  The position of the drive motor is also not ideal, it is close to the dust and can get in the way of some bits of wood when using a small face plate.
Although a nice solid construction I have found that the friction nuts below the banjo and tail stock do become a little loose and are hard to access to tighten whilst mounted to the bench. There are a few things I wish it did have. Firstly a lockable and index able headstock, for ease of chuck change and allow more intricate work. Secondly a hand wheel on the headstock so that it is easier to turn the spindle to rotate the work piece.
So am I happy with my Lathe?  Yes.  It was the right lathe for me at the time and price, and will continue to cover my needs for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

It’s cricket Jim, but not as we know it…

I love cricket, I have done for a long time.  I remember long lazy summers playing cricket at school and for my local club.  The advantage of age is that memory gets hazy, from here I can remember me as a junior Bradman, not the player I truly was.
I remember my Dad and brother heading to the Oval to watch England play in a test match each summer and waiting to be old enough to go.  Eventually that time came.  It was great, a sunny day, a packed lunch from Mum and a whole day watching the aeroplanes flying overhead on approach to London Heathrow (apparently there was something going on on the pitch but who really cared about that).
Ever since then my older brother, dad and me have tried each summer to get to the cricket, whether it be a test match or a one day game.  Over the years this has become harder and harder.  Last night we managed to honour this tradition with a trip to the MCG in Melbourne for the domestic T20 clash between the Melbourne Stars and Sydney Thunder. 
I will put it on the record now, this is not true cricket.  It is not cricket in its purist form.  There is no battle between batsman and bowler.  No admiration for the perfect shot.  It is a neatly packaged, made for TV, younger generation friendly form of the game.  Only twenty overs each, time limits, cheerleaders, kiss cams and fireworks.  It is not cricket………yet it is strangely alluring. 
The knowledge that the batsman will have to go for the big shots, that there will be mistakes. We love run outs and the humiliation of dropped/missed catches.  You know that there will, or at least should be action a plenty.  On this occasion there was.  It is a great way to get the younger generation through the gate, and judging by the age of the crowd it was works. 
We may have stepped away from tradition and become even more slave to the now generation, but to keep the game relevant it certainly crosses the boundary well from competition to entertainment.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Bloggy Christmas and a Bloggy New Year

It has been quite a while since I blogged, I was busy ok.  The lead up to Christmas is always busy at Quackadoo, so I spent many days in hotel rooms, chasing lost passengers and the setting sun.  Luckily this year I was rostered of for Christmas so got to spend it with my loved ones, but I did spare a thought for all those out there working.  Funny, when I was younger I thought only firemen and policemen worked Xmas, how wrong I was, for many it is just another working day.
Not only was the aviation game busy leading up to the big day but so was my workshop.  It was my youngest' last year at pre-school, so we wanted some good presents for her fantastic teachers.  Last year my wife led the way with mug rugs and coffee cups, this year was my turn and pens.  My daughter picked the acrylic colours and my son helped to drill the blanks.
The pens were well received by all the teachers, especially as they had my daughters input.  I also had some pens to knock out for a great project run on the woodwork forums sight called “pens for the troops”.  A couple of times a year pens are sent to service personnel overseas as a gift from home.  This is the second time I have participated and am sure I will be back for more.
Finally was my pen swap for the IAP Fall PITH.  This is always fun, swapping pens with people overseas. Here was that I sent, rosewood and she oak Polaris. Pens swaps are great and if you want to be involved the woodwork forum is holding one here.
Now that the silly season is over what does this year hold?  Hopefully a few more blog posts, hopefully a new house to talk about and maybe I will get around to some more reviews including this bad boy .
Until then sit back, relax and enjoy the journey.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Dealing a quick deck

The house we are staying in (well squatting if you ask my parents) has a short decked path way at the front.  This deck must have been laid when the house was built, and that must have been a while ago.  It was loose, broken, creaking and bouncing all at the same time.  After a large cracking sound was heard the other day as I floated across it, I decided it was time to re-surface it.
It was a simple task. I measured the current decking wood to see if there was a similar size replacement (90mm x 22mm) which I discovered there were two.  The choice was treated pine or Merbau, I went the Merbau, it has a nice reddish/brown colour, is strong and hard wearing.
I am un-imaginative at times so I just replicated what was there already,removing the old boards and replacing with the new.  I was going to rip the whole old deck of but decided I was likely to get bored, it rain or I get called to work and didn’t think only half a deck would be appreciated by the family.  Previously the wood was held down by nails, this has been replaced by stainless steel decking screws.  I left the boards long to cut the shape at the end.
Years of watching Better Homes and Gardens had paid off with setting out the spacing.  It is really simple, two nails to get an equal gap each side, magic.
A few hours later and was done.  With a Jig Saw I trimmed the edges to the desired shape.  Now the deck is firm, and looking good, all it will need is a coat of oil each spring and it will last forever (well at least long enough for my house to be built, me move out and be a long way away).