Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Homemade polytunnel...

Yes I built my own polytunnel and it only took six years, well it took a couple of days really, but it's taken me six years to get round to it, I did think about building one when we first got our allotment but if I'm honest we soon filled up the space so we put it on hold, but now that we have a much larger plot we decided to build one.

And here it is, with it's nice polythene coat on -

Hopefully it'll prove productive.
It's made mainly from wood and some bits and pieces I had lying about, to get the curve in the roof I used some old yellow gas pipe I have, which I've been using to make covers for our veggies to stop the birds and other animals getting at them.

The construction was easy enough, but if I were to make another one I'd probably do things differently, but saying that it works and it's pretty sturdy for what it is.

I made the frame work from 2.4 meter lengths of 63mm x 38mm cls timber, some of which I cut in half on my table saw.

The frame done, starting on the uprights - 

Pretty basic, I was making it up as I went along.
Better view of the work so far - 

Uprights on one side done, on to the next.
Adding some extra support to the uprights - 

I wasn't being too accurate.

Okay, pretty straight forward so far, the base is about 18 inches longer than it is wide, so the whole thing ended up being 8 feet wide by about 9 1/2 feet long and overall it's about 6 feet in height plenty big enough for our new plot, and we should be able to get a good crop of tomatoes and other heat loving plants, like melons if I'm honest I'd quite like to get a good melon plant growing, but I digress.

So I've got the base done, and the uprights and I've added some extra support, now onto the roof sections, basically for this I'm using gas pipe, which is a pretty tough plastic tube. it does bend, but not as much as the blue water pipe you can buy.

To fix the pipe what I did was to make holes in the ends of each upright using a forstner bit, a spade bit would do just as well, the idea was to use some old rungs from a climbing frame to slip the pipe onto, the reason for this is because I'm building the polytunnel in our back garden, at some point I'll need to take it apart and transport it to the allotment, so I'm making it as sort of a kit basically, one that can easily be taken apart and put back up again.

Metal tube fixed into the wood (I'll explain the metal strap in a minute) - 

Okay, now to see if the plastic pipe fits over the metal tube.
The plastic pipe fits snugly over the metal tubing - 

Well it works.
Doing things like this meant I could detach the roof section in one part, just a case of sliding it off the metal tubes, and now to explain the metal strap, as I'd cut the wood in half it was on the thin side really for drilling into with what turned out to 19mm bit, and because of this the wood was in danger of cracking where each tube went into it, so I made some straps from an old steel band (one that used to hold a packing crate together) I put a strap round each upright where I'd fixed the metal tubes in, this is enough to reinforce the wood and stop it cracking (I hope)

And that was about it really, I added a beam that runs from front to back to give more support to the roof struts, mainly because I wasn't sure how much weight it would take once the polythene went on, and I also added a door (always handy) and some diagonal supports on the front and back ends.

Here are a couple of pictures of it up on our new allotment plot, before we gave it it's coat, this should give you a clearer view of how it's made, as I said I made it up as I went along, and although it might not be built like a conventional polytunnel / greenhouse it works, and it's sturdy enough to cope with strong (ish) winds, and of course it was cheap, in the end it cost about £45 and we have plenty of polythene to patch up any holes that develop, in fact we have enough to cover it completely again.

Front - 

Doesn't really get much simpler.

Back - 



And here it is again with it's coat - 

Here's to growing a melon or two.

A couple of points before I go, I've used white duct tape to tape up the few joins in the polythene I may upgrade this to small wooden battens at some point, I also ran lengths of the tape over each roof strut and wrapped the metal straps in tape as well mainly to stop the plastic catching and tearing on any rough bits, I do also need to add some wooden battens to the door to hold the plastic on better, I used clout nails and staples to fix the plastic in a few places while we put it on, but mostly the plastic is tucked underneath the framework and I have also built up the soil all the way round the polytunnel, this will also help keep the plastic where we want it and not on someone else's plot after a strong wind.

Thanks for reading.


Monday, 10 April 2017

Allotment update (part 2)

Welcome back, this is part two of my current allotment adventures, I had to break it into two posts as it seems I've done quite bit.

So this is pretty much where the new plot was at in part one -

Oh look weeds, some things never change.

The first job this visit (it's now March the 18th by the way) is to prepare some areas for sowing more seeds, and do some weeding.

Bit of digging and raking and voila - 

On to sowing.

You may have noticed that I haven't sorted out pathways and such like yet, this is because I'm taking the same approach with this plot that I did with our half plot, that being I'm letting it evolve, I will eventually put in a path that runs the full length of the plot, I'm also not having a load of defined beds for growing things, apart from the fruit, and I need to put in an asparagus bed, but that will be it for beds as I like to move things about.

After a while the newly prepared section is done, I've sown carrots, parsnips, three different types of radish, mixed salad leaves as well as lettuces, mud fruit (beetroot) pak choi, and spinach, although I suspect the parsnips won't do anything, every seed from that pack of parsnips has failed to germinate, even the ones I've sown at home to see if they'll grow.

Sown areas sectioned off and watered - 


Looking like it might actually be productive.

And now we get to April, this visit consisted of putting in some canes for beans and peas, I also rescued a few more alliums and put in some more parsnips, this time from a different packet of seeds, I'm also pleased to report that the grape vine I moved is showing signs of life, it may not produce any fruit this year, but at least it's still alive.

Pea and bean canes in, peas (Kelvedon wonder) and beans (borlotti) sown and watered - 


About half of the plot is now doing something.
Rhubarb is coming along nicely now as well - 

Quite a lot of it as it happens.

And that brings us up to date, I have recently finished the main frame work for a home built polytunnel which needs to be put on the new plot and be covered in plastic, I will write about how I made it so keep an eye out for that, and obviously there will be a few more allotment updates throughout the year, but for now I'll leave you with a picture of a hedgehog, I found him stuck between a gate and gate post on the site, I set him free and he seemed to be fine, hopefully he'll repay me by coming onto my plot and eating all the slugs that usually eat all my veg.

He's not very talkative - 

He was a good weight, at least a kilo.

Here's the plot as it is now - 

A far cry from what it was just a few months ago.

Thanks for reading.


Allotment update (part 1)

So if you didn't know already it's spring and things are racing ahead of me as usual, but I have managed to get our new plot up to scratch, well more or less, so to that end here's the first of a couple of posts on where we're at with the new plot.

A quick recap, this was January this year (the 6th to be exact) -

This is how I left it, a lot clearer than it was.
And so on a frosty morning on the 20th of Jan I set about making major inroads to getting the plot ready for growing things this year.

Early morning frost - 

A frosty start.
After five hours of burning the massive pile of rubbish I had and digging over some very hard frozen soil what I had left was a blank canvas, I put the the larger bits from the bonfire in the compost bin and spread the ash around, and I managed to dig over the top section near to where the apple trees are, and that was all I managed that day.

Slow going, but making progress - 

Digging hard soil is not fun.
I did intend to visit the plot again a few days later, but time got the better of me, so the only visit was after the strong winds we had to check for damage, luckily there wasn't any.

And so onto February and it was more digging, only this time the ground wasn't frozen which made life a little easier.

A couple more hours of digging and removing very long dock roots - 

Starting to look like things might grow in it.

Two weeks later (around the 17th of Feb) and it was the final stint of digging, by this time the ground was thawed and actually quick pleasant to dig through, although I did have to remove the longest dock roots I've ever seen, some at over two feet, very difficult to get out in one piece, most weeds I just chop up with my spade, but dock roots, dandelion roots and nettles I try to get out whole, otherwise they come back, I have special areas for nettles though as they are good for bees and make good fertiliser.

So after more digging the new plot had been entirely dug over, and I even managed to do a small bit of digging over on our half plot.

New plot done, it took some time to clear but it looks good now - 

Still some weeds lurking though.
And the half plot also being worked a little - 

It looks a lot smaller than our new one.

That was about it for February, I then didn't do anything to either plot until the first week or so in April, but most of the hard work was out of the way.

I spent two days planting various things on the new plot, on the first day I planted broad beans, french beans more onions, early spuds (also put three rows of early spuds on the half plot) and mulched round the rhubarb and fruit bushes and lastly I cut back the green manure on the half plot.

Broad beans and onions in (only a small amount, the main crops are on the other plot) - 

Sowing has commenced.

Five and a half rows of spuds on this plot, and three rows on the other plot, and I also have some more spuds for later on in the year.

Spuds - 

Much bigger rows than I'm used to putting in.
More spuds - 

These rows are about half the size of the rows on the other plot.

The rhubarb on the new plot is starting to grow (it's much further along now) and it turns out there's two different varieties, I've also started laying some old fence posts down along one side of the plot where all the fruit bearing plants are, eventually I'll move the fruit plants from the other plot down to this one as well, need some more fence posts though.

Rhubarb - 

I'll add our other rhubarb plants to this bed as well.

Green manure cut back - 

I will dig it all over soon.

And finally allium rescue, whilst I've been removing dock roots and such like I've been finding various allium type plants, these are mainly self seeded leeks, but there are some garlic and possibly a few onions, so rather than bin them I've sectioned off a small area for the purpose of rehabilitating these neglected alliums, whether I'll get anything useful from them I don't know, but that's no reason not to try.

Allium rehab - 

Waste not want not.

And that's just about it for part one of this two part allotment update, stay tuned for the next thrilling episode.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, 10 March 2017

Wedding ring modification...

Like a lot of married people I wear a wedding ring, and if you've ever worn a ring you'll know that whilst it might have been a good fit when you first got it a few years on it might be too tight, or in my case too loose, in fact so loose that I lost it, which I was very annoyed about as it took some time to find a ring I was happy with.

I did eventually find it again, in a gardening glove as it happens, yes it sat in the glove for weeks so long that I'd actually found a replacement for it, and about two days after getting the new one I found the old one.

As the ring was loose and I was constantly worried I'd loose it again I decided to do something about it using wood of all things.

I've seen numerous rings both bought and hand made that use wood, or a combination of wood and metal (silver etc) so that's what I went with, I used Oak, but other woods would work as well, as long as they are harder types.

Here's the first one (I shall explain later) - 

The first one, which I broke.
The idea was to simply make the ring tighter using wood. So I cut out some bits of wood and then using a small forstner bit I made a 19 mm (just a bit smaller than the actual size of the ring) hole in each piece so that I could mount them on my lathe, then using the lathe I turned two bits into shapes I could slide into the ring, this made the internal size smaller and thus tighter on my finger.

The two halves - 

You can see which bits are meant to go into the ring.

I made the two parts bigger so that I could turn them to size once I'd glued them into the ring, this I found was easier than trying to turn them to size before gluing to the ring.

One of the halves being made - 

Scrap bits of wood are handy for this type of thing.

And once I had the two halves I then glued them into the ring using epoxy glue and using a small clamp held the two parts in place while the glue set.

Clamped and waiting for the glue to set - 

I left it for 24 hours before removing the clamp.

When I was happy the epoxy had set nice and firm I took the clamps off and set about turning the inside to a size I could actually get it onto my ring finger, after that I polished the whole thing, wood and all and then sealed the wood using ca glue (super glue basically, and yes you can use it as a polish and sealer)

And done - 

Not a good picture.

Okay, so it worked and better than I'd expected but there are some things to consider if you try this, or indeed if you try making a wooden ring, the first being that it's wood, it's not as strong as metal (the ring I modified is silver) this I found out when I went to my allotment the day after making this and broke one of the wooden section whilst knocking in some steel posts to repair some fences.

The same would apply for a completely wooden ring, basically it's not going to take much punishment, yes you can use harder woods but even so it'll still break eventually, so maybe take it off for any heavy jobs.

(Technically you shouldn't wear rings whilst using tools and machinery, look up 'Ring Avulsion to see why, if you want to hang onto your last meal don't look it up)

Another thing to remember is that wood like a lot of materials moves, as in it expands and contracts especially in relation to moisture, and there's not a lot you can do to stop it even if you seal the wood, so remember wearing a wooden ring whilst washing up for example will cause the wood to expand and as it drys out it'll contract and the more movement there is the more likely it will crack or warp or break in some other way.

When wood is combined with metal in this way there are conflicting forces at work as well, the wood will expand and contract with moisture, the metal with expand and contract with heat, so as an example if the wood dries out (when it's warmer) it will contract, however the ring (as it's metal) will expand slightly when it's warmer, so far I haven't had any trouble with this.

The last thing to take into consideration is the ring itself, this would have been a little easier had the ring been slightly larger, but I still managed it, and the other thing that helped is the shape of the ring, it's a 'D' shape, so it's flat on the inside which made fixing the wooden sections to it a lot easier, I'm not sure this would work with rings that are curved in the inside.

But I wouldn't let that stop you, I intend to have a go at making a ring from wood once I get time.

As experiments go I'm saying this was a success - 

I think it worked well.

Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Simple book shelf / rack...

My desk is next to a large window sill which I've discovered is a convenient place for books, however having piles of books all over the place causes problems when it comes to cleaning, and opening windows etc so I decided I needed a book shelf or rack of some kind to make it easier to move the books when I need to get at the windows or the blinds.

This is a really simple book shelf, it uses four pieces of wood and although I've made mine look a little arts and crafty there are numerous ways you could decorate a similar shelf.

Here's the finished shelf -

Pictures a bit dark, but you should get the idea.
I made it using pine shelves, but more or less any type of wood would do, pallets or sheets of plywood even the dreaded mdf (I really hate mdf)

The shelf is about 8 inches (20cm) in height and the same in depth this is just a bit smaller than the depth of the window sill, and it means I can open and close the blind without having to move the shelf every time, when I had books stacked they tended to get pushed right into the blind so I'd have to move them to open and close it.

As the window sill is quite large I was able to make my shelf about 3 feet ( 92cm approx) long  which is just enough to hold most of my books, well at least the ones I'm currently reading and using.

The bits - 

The sides need cutting.
Basically I took one of the shelves and cut it in half, the two halves will make up the top and bottom of the rack, the sides were made from a bit of shelf I had left over from another build.

The top and bottom parts are roughly 4 inches wide (10cm approx) and 3 feet (92cm approx) long but sizes will depend on where you want your shelf to go, so you may have to make it longer or shorter.

The two sides were made from 8 inch (20cm approx) squares of pine, I added a curve detail to mine, but you could leave them square or cut some other shape into them.

In order to stop the books from falling off I've put the top and bottom sections at an angle so the books will sit slightly tilted, this I've found helps to keep them from falling off the shelf.

Side parts marked up and ready for cutting - 

Simple enough to follow ?

To get the angle how I wanted I measured 3/4 of an inch (20mm approx) up one edge and measured 4 inches (10cm approx) along the bottom edge until I was flush with the bottom edge, and to get the marks for the top part of the shelf I used a large square, but you could use a large book.

Marking for the top part of the shelf - 

Seemed like the easiest way to do it.
Once I'd marked out where things were going to go on both sides I draw a rough curve on one piece and cut it out on my bandsaw, a jigsaw would work just as well, then using this as a template I drew a curve on the other piece.

One side done (apart from some sanding) - 

Getting there.

 Both sides done - 

Simple curve, but quite pleasing.
The book shelf is fixed together using glue and screws, for the screw holes I've used a bit with a built in counter sink (some times called a screw digger) this allows me to make little plugs to cover the screw heads, and I can either leave them proud of the wood, or cut and sand them flush, but seeing as I'm going for the arts and crafts type look I'm leaving them proud.

Screw holes done - 

I've used 8mm dowel to cover the screw heads.

Time to put it all together, bottom section on - 

Almost done.
Top section on - 

Finished apart from some plugs and a sand and wax.
To get the colour I wanted I used a homemade wood stain and then a coat of a dark oak coloured wax (the same method I used to make this clothes horse opens in new window) and for a nice shine I finished it off with some beeswax polish.

All done, time for a test - 

It works.
And it fits on the window sill as well - 

Much neater.
This is a simple project, one that could easily be done by kids and although I have bandsaws and other such tools it can all be made with nothing more than hand tools, so no special equipment is needed, and it's cheap as well, I used shelves bought from a diy shop (and some wood I had left over) but as I said it could be made from pallets or other reclaimed wood.

Thanks for reading.




Saturday, 21 January 2017

When is a stool not a stool?

When is a stool not a stool?.....when it's a picture frame.

For a while now I've had an old stool in my shed, it's in bits as I figured it would come in useful and recently I decided to see what I might make out of the seat part, which was the largest part, the rest being made up of various turned parts, which I'll find a use for eventually.

I give you exhibit 'A' -

But what to do with it?
Not much to look at really, it's in a sorry state, so what to make from it? well I decided on a picture frame, I had thought about making one but in the end I made eight small picture frames and not square ones either, I made round ones, well I have a lathe so might as well go round.

So the first thing to do is cut it up, I flipped it over and marked out the largest piece I could get out of it, it was then I realised that I could probably make more than one if I made them smaller.

Wood marked up - 

Worked out at around 6 and a half inches (17cm)
Next I cut out the square on my band saw - 

Plenty of wood left over.
Onto to turning, using a forstner bit I made a hole so that I could mount the square onto my lathe using an expanding chuck, then I gave it a quick turn to mark out a circle so that I could cut off the excess, it saves time basically.

Circle marked - 

Chop off the unwanted bits.
The fist thing I did was turn the back of the frame in order to make a rebate for the hardboard backing to sit in, then I realised I didn't have a chuck large enough to hold the frame so I could shape the front, to solve that small problem I made a chuck out of some old chipboard (parts of an old wardrobe) fixed to a face plate.

Chipboard chuck - 

Simple, but effective.

Frame mounted onto chuck, held in place by friction - 

It's a tight fit, so no danger of things flying off.
Once I got down to the smaller sized pictured frames it was easier and I didn't need to make chucks as I have various different sized jaws for my expanding chuck.

And when I'd finished making the frames I used a bit of dark oak wax (Liberon black bison, good stuff) it was on to figuring out how to make them hold a picture.

For the back of the picture frames I used some old hardboard that came as packing material in something we ordered, I cut circles out that fitted inside of the rebates on each frame, and fixed the hardboard into place with some small screws.

Backing cut out and small screws - 

Simple solution.
Backing fitted into one of the frames - 

One screw would do just as well.
And that's more or less it, apart from the glass for the front of the frame to protect the pictures.

Obviously you could make some of these and get small glass circles cut, not sure how much that would cost, some other options are thin perspex, one of our local diy type stores sells a large sheet of perspex for £16 and it would make a load of picture frame fronts.

For the time being however I've used a very basic solution, and that is a plastic laminator sheet, the sort of thing you would normally use to protect documents and such like, it turns out that if you run a sheet through a laminator a couple of times it makes a thin clear sheet of plastic, which is easy to cut into circles and works quite well in picture frames, you could also use the clear plastic that usually comes in the packaging for kids toys (I've used this to make stencils before - opens in new window)

Laminator sheet ready for cutting - 

Works surprisingly well.
I will probably, depending on how well this laminator sheet plastic lasts upgrade to clear perspex at some point, but for now my main problem is what to put in the picture frames, I'm thinking I might make some cyanotypes for them using the light reactive paper I have.

I ended up with eight in all, some are small enough that with a magnet glued onto the back they would stick well to metal notice boards, or even fridges, do people still have fridge magnets? and I need to come up with a way to hang the frames from walls and such like.

The finished frames - 

Not bad for an old stool.
So when is a stool not a stool? when it's eight turned picture frames, and making this has given me another idea, kind of a variation on this so look out for that at some point.

Thanks for reading.