Wednesday, 18 January 2023

Pasting Table Mods, a Temporary Autonomous Workspace!

I've been working on lots of larger lightweight projects of late. You might have seen the hot air balloons I'm designing and building from large tissue paper panels but I'm also working on some larger cloth wing designs and more. I often don't have the length I require for the work on my shed workbench or regular bench in the house. So I went and bought a wallpaper pasting table. They are CHEAP! But with cheapness comes lightness and some lack of rigidity. However, for lightweight tissue paper or cloth work they are perfect in many ways and create a great Temporary Autonomous Workspace (been reading a lot of anarchic stuff lately and this name has stuck in my mind!)

There's one problem for me though, they are built way too low! Even doing light work standing at one of these for half an hour causes my lower back to start to grumble, I needed to raise the table, but equally I needed the mod to not stop the table folding away. 

So off to FreeCAD! (ICYMI here is a free to DL book I wrote on FreeCAD) The solution is pretty simple, there's enough room to add an adaptor to the 20mm square-ish legs and still allow the legs to fold away inside the table. I quickly CAD'ed an adaptor which had a square hole for the original leg on one side and then had a circular hole to receive some 25mm diameter dowel I had knocking around in the shed.  Once printed up in some PETG filament I epoxied the adaptors to the table side and then they live permanently attached and fold away with the legs. 

I then chopped a few dowels to length to bring the table up to where I need it. The 3D printed adaptors are a press fit on the dowel side which means I can insert the leg extending dowels and turn the table onto it's feet without them falling out. In turn the dowels can sit inside the table when folded, I should probably create some kind of storage strap or mount to stop them clattering about inside the table, but it certainly does the job. Available widely for around £15-20 this is a really handy tool hack for me!

Friday, 6 January 2023

Nextool Vanguard; a £32 Multitool Review


A while back in issue 58 of Hackspace magazine I reviewed a small folding scalpel the "3 Coil crane" and it's a fabulous tiny tool. I ordered that scalpel from a company I've used a fair bit over the years, Heinnie Haynes, who are based down in South Wales. Heinnie sell lots of outdoor equipment, clothing, shelters, packs etc, but they specialise in bladed tools and have a huge range including multitools, bushcraft knives and more. 

I sent them the link to the Hackspace article and they told me to mention anything I saw that I thought might be good for a review, that might be of interest to makers. Recently they've started stocking some interesting multi tools that sit at the budget end of their multi tool offers. The Nextool range is pretty affordable and one in particular stood out, the Nextool Vanguard as it has a built in adjustable spanner. I wanted to take a look and Heinnie were kind enough to send one out to me. It's been in circulation for a few duties over the last couple of weeks and I've put together this little video review. Hope you enjoy the video and do check out Heinnie Haynes, they've always given great service over the years and I'd genuinely recommend them, 

Saturday, 31 December 2022

2022 project favourites roundup, and here's to 2023!


I don't think I've ever done a "round up" post before but it's new years eve and I have a cold so thought I might take the opportunity! 2022 has been a fab year in which I've had chance to work on lots of interesting projects. First mention is for my free to download FreeCAD book "FreeCAD for Makers" which was released this year, has been downloaded many many thousands of times and has been met with great appreciation and enthusiasm. I'm currently amassing projects for another book which I hope to make some progress on in 2023. It's got the tentative working title of "Concretedog's Flight Lab"! 

Another project I enjoyed working on was the "EXO-S Experimental swing wing glider". Basically a rocket propelled transformer that moves from a rocket shape to an unfurled glider at apogee rather than releasing a parachute. It was fun to work on the mechanisms and I plan not only to revisit and revise the swing wing glider concept for better performance in 2023 but I also have plans for other folding and deployed air vehicles... stay tuned! I put together a short video on the swing wing glider over on my youtube channel.

There's stacks of other flying projects that happened in 2022, including the Flat Pack rockets I designed, and there are a few that haven't yet appeared in print, at the risk of 2023 spoilers there's some interesting ones coming up including compressed air rocketry, supercapacitor free flight planes and an interesting take on paper aeroplanes! Keep an eye out on future issues!

In some ways my favourite flying project has been the tissue paper hot air balloon designs. These are great fun and super cheap to make. I released 3 designs alongside the Hackspace Magazine article on them and there is also a small video with some test flight footage and some instruction on assembly above. I've just built a much larger design which I am hoping to test fly very soon and I have some plans to hopefully fly these at some maker events in 2023 and a cunning plan for a safe, no fire (hopefully!) and no litter way of flying these outdoors. 

Finally, I couldn't do a round up of 2022 without mentioning the watch assembly and repair projects I've undertaken this year. The visible tip of this iceberg is the watch I assembled around an NH35a movement for Hackspace Magazine, but I've also carried out numerous other builds and repairs and generally upped my game in this area. I know have a couple of mechanical watches I've built in regular circulation on my wrist! There's been a lovely reaction to these projects and it's been great to see a few followers on social media get involved in watch fettling! If you are interested in downloading and reading any of my projects in Hackspace Magazine I tend to keep this post up to date with what I have in each issue with links.

There's LOADS more I could cram in but those have been the highlights maker project wise. I'm really looking forward to 2023 and if any of this peaks your interest do feel free to follow along! I'm posting a lot on Mastodon these days and you can follow there at . I'd love it if you gave me a follow on my Youtube Channel which I'm planning to use more in 2023 and you can still find me on twitter but it's a bit bonkers on there these days to say the least! However you connect I'd love to hear comments and suggestions on any of my projects and I thank you for your interest! I wish you and yours a happy and safe 2023, full of whatever projects may take your fancy!  Jo. 

Friday, 11 November 2022

Multiple Projects, the Makerspace of the Mind!

Until pretty recently North Wales didn't really have any Makerspaces, Fablabs, Hackspaces or whatever you might want to call some kind of creative communal workshop. Apart from travelling out to events it's probably still fair to say most of my maker experience has been on my own. This isn't a cry for help or a complaint but it is interesting sometimes to reflect on how that can impact on you as a maker. 

For me one of the essences of Maker culture is the cross pollination of ideas and techniques from one person to another. When we opened the first Ffiws makerspace, pre Covid I ran a regular evening as "maker night" where anyone could attend without booking and perhaps play with a machine or bring in a project to tinker with on the desks in company. Once we got up to maybe 8-12 people rocking up you instantly start to get those fabulous moments where some aspect of somebodies work is intriguing, inspiring or just plain old useful to someone else. Often this is conceptual, the "oooh" of someone seeing a lasercut living hinge for the first time or someone seeing a vinyl cutter cutting an unexpected material. Often it's direct, "wow that's cool, show me how that works". Sometimes it's permissive "OK watching you do CAD modelling makes me think it might not be impossible". Another area that's ripe for creating new connections is discovering a new tool in someone else's project. So how do you get all these lovely benefits when you are largely on your own? 

Well, in this youtube/peertube/vimeo era of loads of video content, this works for many. For some though its more a consumable rather than actual inspiration or knowledge growth if its an entirely passive activity. For example, I often binge woodworking videos but I suck at woodwork really, I watch them as I find them satisfying and often very soporific and chilled to watch, but I'm not actively applying what I am seeing to my ongoing projects nor am I actually practising the observed skills that then might have created a moment of cross pollination.

For me I've come to the conclusion that I need to prompt myself to work on projects in new areas, be it new materials or new techniques. Having a less comfortable project area pushes me to explore new knowledge and skills and it's often within this process that the moments of cross pollination occur. 

As a really tangible example, recently I had one of these moments that linked sewing and airplane design and construction!  I only really sew due to making parachutes for rocketry,  but that has led me to actively look at lots of sewing content and techniques and has led to me stitching up a few wider than rocketry type projects. I was recently discussing a large airplane/drone construction project with a maker and they were lamenting not having a rivet spacer tool as they were too expensive as aerospace tools often are. I didn't really know what one was and enquired. It's a kind of expanding rack that allows you to fill any space with evenly spaced marks for rivets. It also often gets used for other tasks, for example it can be used to mark equidistant points for wing ribs when making a smaller aircraft or drone. On hearing these tools can be £100 plus and having looked them up online, CROSS POLLINATION, they are astonishingly similar to button hole spacers used to mark button hole locations on garments and these cost perhaps £10 to £20 pounds!

So whats the point of this ramble. Well, it's a reminder to perhaps force yourself to pick up a project in a totally unrelated area than which you have worked before. Whilst it might not be a lifelong area you explore, the cross pollination benefits are often worth the trial!

Wednesday, 26 October 2022

Watchmodding in Hackspace Magazine, Bonus content!


In issue 60 of Hackspace magazine I wrote a piece about building a mechanical dive watch from a collection of components it's a great hobby and you can build a pretty expensive watch for a lot less than buying one! Writing the piece I wanted originally to talk about some repair tasks I'd undertaken and my route into watch assembly and modding but I was going to be way over wordcount! So I've decided to add that section here as a blogpost. Below is the text as written as an opening for the article.

Making a watch has been on my list of “things I’d like to have a go at” for a long time but ultimately it was the repair of another watch that led me down the rabbit hole of completing a make a watch project.

The repair in question was for an old 1990’s Gul brand watch which I’d had since new. Not a particularly good or expensive watch but well worn and had served me well. I’d managed to slip and catch it on a stone wall and had chipped the watch glass, or crystal as they are more commonly known and rather than a scratch it had some cracks that made it difficult to read the time. I already had the tools to open the watch which I’d picked up years ago and ever since had replaced batteries in quartz movement watches as a matter of course. These tools were bought as a very budget set and included 2 really useful tools, an adjustable 3 pronged watch case opener which can be thought of as an adjustable wrench for screw on case backs and a handheld dust blower, perfect for removing pesky flecks and spots of dust.

Removing and replacing the crystal requires a few more bits of knowledge and indeed some tools so I began investigating how to achieve this. The first obvious step is to, like when changing a battery is to take the back off the case. Some watches have press fit case backs often with a small lip where you can insert some kind of prying tool or “spudger” whilst commercial spudgers are cheap and available you might improvise with a fine flat tipped screwdriver or a firm thin guitarists plectrum is often useful. For my gull watch it has a screw down case back so I adjusted the three jaws of the case opener to fit into the indents on the case, carefully placed it on the case back and unscrewed the case.

With the back of the case removed you now need to remove the “Movement” which is all the gubbins that run the watch from inside the case. Whether a watch is mechanical (a wind up watch ) automatic (a mechanical watch that also self winds) or a quartz watch (runs from a battery) you need to somehow remove the crown and stem from the movement before it can be lifted out of the case. Each different movement will be slightly different, some have a lever you depress, some have a hole you insert a thin tipped tool into and the location of these points will be different. A good starting point once you have the case back off is to get a magnifying loupe or equivalent and try and identify the make and model of the movement which will usually be engraved somewhere visible. My Gul watch has a cheap but perfectly good “Miyota” quartz movement and with a quick online search I found an image of which hole I needed to press a thin pin type tool into to release the stem and crown. With the stem and crown removed the movement is now free to be lifted from the case. Although not every watch has one many watches have a case ring which is a plastic or metal ring which fills any gap between the watch case and the internal movement, sometimes these are attached to the movement but sometimes they are separate so take good note and maybe a picture on your phone before you remove the movement so you can tell where everything aligns.

Be very careful with a removed watch movement, if, as in this case, we are disassembling a complete watch the hands of the watch are very fragile and you definitely shouldn't ever place the movement down on its hands. Similarly later when we are working with a movement before the hands are fitted the tiny shafts the hands fit too are incredible easy to damage so be very gentle!

The disassembly of a watch as we have done so far is a really useful experience when it comes to building a watch later. However when assembling a watch from components a watch case will usually have a crystal fitted so the rest of the Gul watch repair is perhaps less relevant but it’s a really common repair task. To replace the crystal we need a special tool, a crystal press, which allows us to support a variety watch case and the crystal sizes to remove or replace the crystal without damaging either component. They can be found quite cheaply for around £20 online, and although I am sure some vintage high end Swiss maker presses are infinitely better, a cheap one will work! To remove the cracked crystal we need to find a pair of the replaceable dies that are sized correctly. For removal we would place the watch case upside down so the crystal is towards the lower die. The lower die should touch and support the watch case but not touch the crystal so the crystal can be pushed into the bowl section of that die. The upper die should fit inside the back of the case and only touch the crystal, it’s good practice to find the die that covers as much of the crystal without touching the case as then you theoretically need to apply less force over the larger area to remove the crystal. With the two dies in place its a simple squeeze of the press to pop out the crystal. If you now look inside the case where the crystal was sat you might have a small seal/gasket, check that that gasket looks OK and be careful not to touch or move it unless you really need too. You next need to identify the diameter of the crystal to be able to order a replacement. For this a set of vernier callipers, digital or analogue, should be accurate enough. Most watches are metric and crystals are sized to 1/10th of a millimetre, so for example its possible that a 24.5mm crystal wont be tight enough if the watch it fitted with a 24.6mm one. Measure the diameter at least three times to make sure you are certain! Crystals also come in a variety of geometries, domes that can be flat one side and domed the other, hollow domes or flat both sides and more. When you are looking online most traders show pictures which you can compare to your damaged removed crystal.

Replacing the crystal is similar to removal. You now place the watch case on the lower die facing upwards, the lower die should now be a size that supports the case and you should be able to find one that will support the case and that locks the case into position so it cant slide sideways. The upper die should be one that will push the crystal into place and touches as much of the crystal as possible to again reduce the amount of pressure you need. Triple check everything is aligned and that everything is clean and squeeze the press to fit the crystal. Then admire your work, it’s incredibly satisfying!

Wednesday, 19 October 2022

My FreeCAD book! Response is good!


I probably should have blogged on this earlier but better late than never! Recently my free to download book "FreeCAD for Makers" has been released on the Raspberry Pi Press. It's an edited together version of 16 tutorials I wrote for Hackspace magazine. I'm extremely pleased with the book, it's written so that if you learn the first two sections you then are equipped with enough knowledge to jump to any other section in the book to explore more advanced and niche uses of parts of the wonderful opensource FreeCAD. It's suitable for absolute beginners in computer aided design (CAD) and covers a real range of CAD uses and approaches. 

The reaction has been great. I'm super proud to have a foreword by Yorik in there who is a legendary contributor and developer of the FreeCAD project and I'm really pleased that the established FreeCAD community approve and have been sharing it widely. Apparently it had over 8000 downloads in the first few days of release. I tweeted about the book release and I think it's the closest I've ever had to a "viral" tweet as it's had well over 1000 likes and over 400 retweets! I'm planning to get back to doing some more FreeCAD videos over on my Youtube channel soon but if you are interested in learning the fantastic FreeCAD then do grab a copy of my book to get you started.

Sunday, 9 October 2022

Organiser Prototype

The other day we were in an outdoor equipment shop and there was an organiser idea for use in a tent, or elsewhere that caught our eye as an interesting and useful idea. It was under £20 but it struck me that I had everything to make the device between my sewing stuff, accumulated junk and the 3D printer. 

Today I knocked up this first short prototype. A double length of 12mm wide webbing (left over from a parachute prototype) was stitched by hand with loops either end and the middle with a series of slack looped sections. These slack loops allow you to use a variety of clips and carabiners to attach all kinds of items to the system. We do have a fair few commercial keyring type around but it was fun to print a few different carabiners and mitton hook designs found online as well as CAD'ing a few designs of my own. 

The original product has a pair of flexible pipe cleaner-esque sections on the end which you can twist around an object as a connector. Instead I decided to use a couple of old shock cord toggles combined with a small length of paracord. You can place a loop over the toggle and then pull it tight and the toggle locks the loop. It can create a surprisingly tight yet easily removable temporary fixture and works extremely well. 

All in all it works very well and I already have an order to make one suitable for our large family tent. The next ones I'll knock up on the sewing machine for neatness and strength and I also plan to create a couple of small hanging stuff bags for items that are less easy to hang. I might even make one for the shed!