Thursday, 26 March 2020

Trying to be useful! An Introduction to Inkscape

Just recorded this quick rough introductory video for the brilliant free and opensource Inkscape, It's a fabulously useful bit of software and is hugely used in the maker community to create files for printing, laser cutting, vinyl cutting, paper craft and more. As it's a community developed piece of software it has some amazing plugins and use cases (briefly looked at towards the end of the video). I also mention in passing in the video an amazing extension called SVG2shenzhen which allows people to design artistic printed circuit boards (PCB's). If people are interested in it I wrote a tutorial on SVG2Shenzhen in Hackspace magazine issue 23 which you can buy or download for free here. Perfect time to learn software whilst we are isolating and perhaps a great thing for those home schooling? If you found this useful do feel free to  buy me a coffee on my kofi! 

Monday, 23 March 2020

Hackspace Magazine issue 29! New Lasercut Rocketry tool on thingiverse.

So another month and another wonderful issue of Hackspace magazine is out and as ever I update this post to keep a track of all my articles. However this month I am breaking the norm and doing this post as I wanted to mention a tool I made as part of an article in this months on Dividing and Indexing. The tool is still a little work in progress, but it is a laser cut assembly that can scroll or self centre the 4 jaws or pillars and can hold a tube concentric to its central point of rotation. The centring assembly is using the same idea as a longworth chuck which I posted about years ago on here!

It can therefore hold tubes and other items and using the numbered gear wheel you can rotate and lock the held item in various positions. You can then use the vee grooved slot to lay a pen or pencil along and mark positions accurately in any division of 60 points around a circle. As such it's useful for rocketry it you wanted to mark a tube for 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12 fins etc. Do check out the article for more detail and the item itself is on thingiverse. 

Saturday, 7 March 2020

Makers Life 25 Watt Soldering Iron.

So I've been perusing cheap soldering irons for running soldering workshops and it's led to myself and Big Les P discussing and buying the various, super cheap, ones that CPC farnell sell.

Les looked at the 20 watt and 40 watt versions of the Duratool iron and found the 20 watt ones ok but the 40 watt ones not to good and likely to burn through tips. Check out his post for more detail.

I'd bought some of the 40 watt ones (at £2.50 each it's not too much of a risk!) and I agree with Les's appraisal. So, I decided I'd try the 25 watt "makers life" iron which was on CPC for £4.49.

They are similar to the other Duratool branded irons apart from they have a different type of tip and a different threaded collar that clamps the tip down. It's a nicer system than the screws on the 40 watt iron but it might be tricky to get replacement tips... But at £4.49 it's not too much of a concern.

In use the makers life 25w is pretty good. It has a slightly thinner tip than the 40w iron but it's still quite chunky and takes a little bit of getting used to after using finer tipped irons. The cable is about a meter long and reasonably flexible, it's definitely no high end silicon lead but is a little more flexible than regular mains cable.

The tip takes solder well and it heats up reasonably quickly for a cheap iron. It's good for through hole certainly, but it's fair to say  I wouldn't want to try SMD hand work with it.

So, it meets my needs, a working iron which is good enough for workshop users and cheap enough for me to buy a stack and not be too precious if they get abused or broken. As they are cheap (and I have the 40w ones too) they are useful for more hacky jobs... One may well become a thermal insert rig on my arbour press for fitting metal threaded inserts into 3d printed stuff! :)

Monday, 2 March 2020

Review, Faithful tools 38mm diestock holder

So most my thread cutting dies are small and around 25-30mm diameter ones and I have a range of die holders that have accumulated over the years of varying quality. I recently needed to cut some M12 fine threads (1.0 mm pitch) and bought a reasonable quality die online without much thought. When it arrived I realised it was a 38mm diameter die and I needed a holder to use it.

I found this die holder online for £8.99 and bought one, not really expecting much than a cheaply finished "do the job" tool. I was pleasantly surprised when it arrived that Faithful Tools have done a very nice job on these. The holder section is nicely turned and has 4 different screws to hold the die securely and adjust. The handles are nicely made and reminded me of some apprentice pieces I made a while ago as the have tool blacked the handles after knurling the grip but then have turned down the shaft to reveal the raw steel colour underneath. It's a nice decorative effect but also the tool blacking stops the knurled sections and the die holding section from oxidising as easily.

In use they are very positive to use and hold the die well and allow the user to cut threads nicely. A very nice cheap tool that's finished to a higher standard than you would think!

Thursday, 6 February 2020

New Lathe Restoration project: Super Adept

I've been keeping my eye out for a Super Adept lathe (at a none inflated price!) as I have always wanted to have a play with one particularly after reading this thread about a major renovation and modification of one  over on the Model Engineering forum. These adept lathes seemingly are quite sought after now, despite them having a reputation for not being very good! They were indeed manufactured to keep to a budget, castings can be quite rough and they aren't particularly set up to be precision machines. It's definitely the case that you shouldn't buy one expecting it to be a quality watchmakers lathe without being prepared to do a lot of work on it. 

This one has arrived in reasonable condition with the spindle and spindle plain bearings in fair condition and not worn out. I can adjust the split bearing to get rid of any play on this the original spindle. Many people have modified theirs with new spindles and bronze bushes but until that's necessary on this one I'll stick with the original spindle. After some slight tinkering and adjusting of the jib strips (one of which on the compound slide is in a poor state) the lathe seems to move quite freely and the ways are in good order. 

At some point some disassembly must have occured because the lead screw nut appears to have been assembled onto the wrong side of the carriage. Every picture I can find shows the nut being mounted to the back of the carriage and this makes sense in terms of forces when performing cuts.

There are a couple of other issues that need addressing and I also have some plans for slight modifications. One issue is that the original tailstock spindle lock nut/handle has been replaced with a simple bolt. The original handle (and its been attempted on the replacement bolt) is supposed to have a pip on the end that registers with a thin keyway on the spindle and stops the spindle from spinning. It's not quite enough of a pip left on the replacement bolt and it means the spindle sometimes spins in place and this has created some damage (cosmetic) to the spindle itself. A replacement handle is needed. There are also no accessories with this lathe and as such I need to make or modify some to fit. I need to make some adaptor plates for some small chucks I have that are on a Unimat thread and then it will have a 3 and a 4 jaw chuck. I need to make some centres for it, which is a little tricky as they are apparently an MT0 taper, but none MT0 standard diameters so some guess work and test pieces need to be made. Other items I plan to make include a tailstock centre mandrel for a small drill chuck, a faceplate, miniature driving dog, possibly some new handwheels/handles, some small oilers for the headstock as well as of course fitting a small motor and creating a stand/box/mounting board for it. Stay tuned for updates!

Finally, there's lots of links around for Adept information but I couldn't find anywhere that listed all the thread types for various parts so my own and others reference;

Spindle nose thread 3/8" BSF
Tailstock lock handle 1/4" BSW
Tailstock clamp nut 1/4"BSW
Compound slide nut 1/4" BSW
Headstock split bearing screws 3/16 BSW

Friday, 31 January 2020

Lathe tool height gauge, and the kindness of makers.

Whilst this isn't the most earth shattering of makes I wanted to post about about it as it was nice the way that it came about. So above in the picture is a little gauge I have made using a piece of clear acrylic, a couple of 3d printed blocks and a small piece of mirror. The clear acrylic has been marked using a sharp scriber held in the lathe chuck to mark the height of the centre line of the chuck. Many lathe tools require to be set as accurately as possible to centre height or a position relative to centre height. It can be hard to see around the toolpost and this little tool means that I can quickly shim a tool to the required height and I can look directly down into the tool and see the tool tip and the centre line in the mirror helping a quick and accurate cut. It can be used facing the tool tip or sat alongside the tool if the tool is at 90 degrees to the chuck face. 

I've had this on my to try list for ages but I never seemed able to find a piece of mirror the right size and I didn't want to buy a larger glass mirror and cut it down. Here is where the kindness of makers comes in, I saw a friend of mine on twitter talking about how well this plastic mirror material was cutting on his laser cutter, shamelessly I enquired if he had any scraps that a 30mm square could be made out of, luckily he had a 35mm length of scrap and was kind enough to cut me a few squares and post them up to me. Maker community rocks!

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

10 minute make; Laser-cut Polygon Box

A few of us at the Ffiws Makerspace have been talking and exploring the idea of laser-cut boxes and packaging for small products. Last night in a quiet 10 minutes I had a play with an online resource called which is an online generator that allows a user to put in some dimensions for a MASSIVE range of box types and it generates a file to download (it will create .pdf, .SVG or .dxf files). 

So I designed this little polygon box and downloaded an SVG file to open in Inkscape as I knew it would need a little editing for laser cutting. Basically, the file looks like the preview in the image above, you have a red outer line that needs cutting and some blue dashed lines that indicate the fold lines. If you wanted to print this onto cardstock and cut it out it would work well but I removed the blue dashed lines in Inkscape and changes the outer red line to a black 0.0254mm line so that it would cut on the laser. 

After cutting I used a ruler and a point to score the fold lines into the design and assembled it with some PVA glue (it would have been easier with Pritt stick probably for this thin card but it's all I had)!

The results are good, and I imagine if you cut a load and sat for an hour assembling them you would get quicker and more accurate in assembly. Of course, you could also use the lasercutter to add your logo or business details to the box design or personalise for a gift etc. Fun little 10 minute make for sure. 

Monday, 13 January 2020

10 minute make; Alpine Butterfly Knot

Knot tying is a great skill to practice and makes a superb #10MinuteMake. This knot "the Alpine Butterfly" is of interest to me as I use it to tie loops in lines to attach parachutes too for rocketry. It's a good knot mechanically as it can be loaded on the loop and on either side. It can be tied into the middle of a line and also can be used to isolate a damaged piece of line or rope by tying the damaged section into the loop. Really handy! I found this copyleft license-free image that shows how to tie them. 

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Machining Rocket Deployment Charge Wells.

Machined out these small aluminium charge wells for deployment charges for rocketry. I have used small copper plumbers endcaps before now but needed slightly more capacity and I  wanted to try and make them in a way that the E-match wires would sit flush through a small slot, making them easier to seal. As I use Pyrodex rather than BP it's important that the seal is good to contain the Pyrodex correctly. 


Machining them was pretty easy, I turned some stock down to 20mm diameter and centre drilled a 5mm hole for an M5 fixing (I potentially could have used smaller but I needed 5mm to give clearance for the home ground HSS boring bar). Then I bored them out to leave a 3mm wall thickness and parted them off on the lathe.

Having parted them off I decided that they were a little too long for my needs and I milled a couple of mm off each of them as there is no use carrying that weight if you don't need it! I then used a small endmill to mill the small slot.

It's nice to be able to try these ideas and I love machining parts for rockets... I mean I could just buy everything but where the fun in that! :)

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Upcycling Pallets for Vertical Gardening!

I'm always collecting pallets as they are a useful, often free, source of either wood for projects or, if a bit too far gone, can be split for kindling for the wood burner. I've seen loads of projects using and upcycling pallets and indeed I've seen a few variations of this project where you turn a pallet into a vertical planter for gardening. I'm no great gardener but do try and grow a small amount of veg each year more for fun than on any grand scale, but also bought veggies, especially salad greens are costly and usually come in loads of packaging. A vertical planter would be great for those short of space, which we aren't particularly, but we do suffer a lot with slugs and snails. It seems that a vertical system would be easier to defend from these critters by using some copper tape around the base, so I wanted to see if this works well this season.

To start with I looked through the few pallets I had and found a likely donor for the project. The above one seemed ok and had three feet that could be turned into planting areas at a reasonable spacing. One end had an extra reinforced bit which I considered removing for ascetic reasons but I'm not too worried what it looks like and wanted it to be as strong as possible to cope with the winds we get up here!

Making the planting areas is as simple as adding another plank to the sides of the legs to make a base. I did this with some other pallet timber, it's crudely done with just nails, I didn't even make any measurements but rather nailed on an oversized plank and then cut it flush at the edges. Inside the planting area, the planks weren't wide enough to completely span the base so there is a 10mm gap or so either side, this is better as it will act as drainage for each level but once the planters are lined with gardeners membrane they will still hold soil well.

Many people build these and screw the planter directly to a fence or a wall, I decided I wanted to have this more mobile so I can experiment with placing it in different parts of the garden at different times of the year.  I found some scrap timber and made 2 wide feet and screwed them onto each side to make it free-standing. 

Above is the completed structure and I decided to give it a coating of wood preservative to try and make it last a year or two longer in the weather. I dragged it into the porch and gave it a slapdash coat before stapling in some weed membrane to finish off the planting sections.

Its been a fun, quick project and I'll be filling it with soil and sewing some salad greens and other bits and bobs in it at some point, I'll repost hopefully later in the year with it brimming with life!