25 February 2009


As I'm starting to get into the flow of things again I thought I'd better take some WIP pics of the progress of the cherry coffee table as this one is eventually going into F&C. I had an interesting conversation some time ago with the Michael Huntley the ed about the best way of going about this sort of thing as on the face of it, it seems an quite a straight forward thing to do...whip out the camera, couple of snaps and back to work. Previous examples though, that I'd taken were full of background clutter as well as being out of focus and he said that far better pics could be shot against a plain, light grey background. He even suggested that a biggish piece of hardboard be kept specifically for that purpose and painted this light grey colour. As luck would have it, I did in fact have a reasonably big piece which I sorted out and stored on the Airpress stand but then, over the course of doing stuff in the 'shop, the task of painting it got put on the 'back burner'...a bit like the scribing gouge handle. Things change though 'cos today I was reading the current issue of F&C where there was a simple piece that had been rather well photographed and when I took another closer look at how it had been done... all the WIP shots had been taken against a light grey background. Now it takes a little bit of time these days for two and two to add up to four, but after a while, the penny dropped and I recollected my conversation with the ed. some couple of months previoulsy. Tonight then, I've been busy in the 'shop with the first coat of paint on the hardboard and I reckon I've probably got enough time tomorrow morning to put on second coat. I'm not sure if the colour I've selected is too dark so I may well look at it again at the weekend and repaint it with something a shade lighter.

22 February 2009

The Missing Ferule

I got up this morning bright and early, full of good intentions as you do...I was going to do a bit on the Cherry Table just to push it along a bit. I've done the marking out for the mortises so I just need to sort out the tenons and I'd be ready to crack on with the joint cutting. One of the things I'll need later on though for the jointing is a scribing gouge, or even two with different sweeps. Martin let me have one a while back which I re-handled in a bit of English Walnut...I'm well into my London pattern octagonal handles as they're just so easy to make and do look the part. I'd previously got hold of a smaller sweep from PFT in town so I decided that I'd make a new handle for this one today. I rummaged around in my oddn'sods drawer under the bench and hoicked out a bit of walnut, prepared it to 24mm square and then planed it into an octagon ready for mounting in the lathe. The technique is to turn down the first section ready to fit the brass ferule which sits on the revolving centre (it's then easy to offer it up) so having rummaged around in my drawer I had another rummage around in all my 'baccy tins for the right sized ferule and I just know that somewhere, somehow I had one that was the right size.
But it twern't there...what the hell had happened to it? I was certain it was there 'cos I saw it in the tin before I went on holiday. You know how it is, your absolutely 100% positive that the item in question was there, but you just can't lay hands on it, so then I started to slowly trawl back through the dim recesses of what's laughingly these days called a brain to try and fathom out what happened to it, or where it went.
...and then I remembered, in a sublime flash of insight ( a rare occurrence these days I have to admit) I'd used a couple of weeks ago to make the screwdriver so it hadn't gone missing after all. No great dramas then, I'll just have to put the new handle on the 'back-burner' 'til I get hold of another ferule.
I spent what remained of the day making a bigger storage unit for my growing collection of chisels and gouges. What was holding me up on this little project was getting the right sized piece of clear plastic to go over the front, but if you recollect from an earlier Blokepost, I'd seen just the thing in a skip at work a while ago...good job I'd remembered where I'd put the plastic!

18 February 2009

Knights and the Sleeping Lady

After a slighAdd Imagetly less hair raising drive than the last time, we made it to Gatwick through thick sleet for the last ten miles and duly arrived in Malta at around mid-afternoon to a beautiful warm and sunny day...a bit different to the UK that we'd left behind a few hours earlier.
It was quite odd for me in a strange way to go back to Malta and it took me a little time to adjust . Here's a small island then, slap bang in the middle of the Med, where they drive on the left, drink pints of Hopleaf Pale Ale, have red post boxes, blue police lamps, M&S, BHS and all the public signs are in English...but when the locals open their mouths they speak in this totally indecipherable mixture of Arabic and Italian (plus a few other bits thrown in) Add to that, all the houses have flat roofs and are painted in varying shades of off-white and it's little wonder that it's a bit confusing at first. You cant' help at wonder either at the Maltese apparent disregard for tidiness, everything seems to be done in a ramshackle and chaotic sort of way, just one example of which is that all the electrical wiring has just been strung along the outside of the buildings as if it's been deposited by a giant spider...except spiders are a lot more mathematical. This feeling of unruliness seems to pervade most aspects on the island...it's as though you want to get them to just finish something off and do a half-decent job of it!
For all that though, it's a great place and absolutely stuffed with history and culture, not least of which is the episode of the Great Siege of 1565, when Soleyman the Magnificent attempted to oust the Knights of St. John, entrenched in their fortresses in Malta. Accounts vary, but it's estimated that the Turks sent 40,000 troops, opposed by just 600 knights and 7,000 or so local Maltese militia. The Turks began by hauling 36 siege guns firing huge stone shot up onto the Sceberras Peninsula (now modern day Valletta) to begin pounding Fort St. Elmo, followed by mass infantry attacks... they were confident that it would fall in a few days. Each night though, under cover of darkness, the wounded were rowed across Grand Harbour to Birgu and replaced with fresh volunteers, so that after five weeks of bitter close quarter fighting, the fort was little more than a pile of rubble and finally succumbed to a vast Turkish onslaught on June 23rd. Grand Master de Valette had forbidden the defenders to surrender and so they were slaughtered to the last man...the spot where they said their final prayers on the night of June 22nd can still be seen (pic through a dusty window) After they'd taken the fort, the dead knights were decapitated, their corpses nailed to crucifixes and then floated across Grand Harbour to Fort St. Angelo, where they washed up the following morning. The Grand Master was so incensed by this act that all the Turkish prisoners were immediately brought up from the dungeons in St. Angelo, decapitated on the spot and their heads were fired back across Grand Harbour into the Turkish lines...no surrender and no quarter given! The Turks then turned their attention to Birgu and Fort St. Angelo, where again the knights and their Maltese allies stubbornly held out 'till Sept 8th when reinforcements from Sicily finally arrived... the last remnants of the Turkish army were slaughtered in their thousands at St Paul's Bay, where all the big holiday hotels are now. It's estimated that the Turks lost 30,000 men during that summer to wounds and disease. Afterwards off course, money in vast amounts from flowed into Malta from a grateful Europe and the modern city of Valletta ('a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen') rose from the ashes of the Turkish camp on the Sceberras Peninsula.
One of the highlights of the week though was the visit (long booked in advance) to the Hypogeum in Paola. This is an underground necropolis that was discovered by accident in 1902 when workmen broke through the roof during the construction of local houses. The archaeologists at the time thought that another early Christian burial site had been discovered...later on it was realised that the site dated to at least 3500BC and contained approximately 7000 human remains.
Now 'awesome' is a word that's unfortunately crept into modern parlance...I've even heard it to describe a stupid computer game! Only certain things or events can really be described as truly 'awesome'...standing in the utter stillness at the bottom the Grand Canyon is one and gazing up to the top of the Great Pyramid of Cheops is perhaps another. Unquestionably, the sheer delicacy and breathtaking quality of the stone carving in the 'Holy of Holies' at the Hypogeum, executed over 5000 years ago using little more than stone tools and in semi-darkness 40' underground has to fall into this category...just awesome.
The gem that was discovered though in one of the chambers is the 'Sleeping Lady', a small figurine about 130mm long made from clay. It depicts a rather large female effigy taking a nap, or is maybe meant to represent the position adopted in death...who knows? She's estimated to be over 5000 years old and is now kept behind plate glass in the National Archaeology Museum in Valletta. That such a remarkable find came out of the ground after so long and in such good condition is again...awesome.
Traveling around Malta is a sheer delight and the only way to do it is on the yellow buses. I'd go so far as to say that they're a national...no, let's up the ante a bit, an international treasure. There are a few new ones but most date from the 50's and onwards and try as I might, I didn't see two that were the same. It's my belief that the synchromesh gears on the older buses wore out in about 1958 and the decibel level, going up a steep hill at 15mph, breathing in a heady mixture of hot engine oil and diesel fumes is beyond belief...normal conversation is all but impossible. They're driven by the Maltese with what can only be described as 'passion' over some of the worst pot holed roads in the civilised world! I have a theory (and there's probably some credence to it) that the Turks built the first decent roads on the island in order to haul the guns up onto the Sceberras Peninsula to batter Fort St. Elmo to bloody ruin...and the Maltese haven't done a lot to improve them in the intervening centuries!
If you do catch one particular bus (a number 41) driven by Michael (Schumacher that is, he of the mullet, big shiny shades and Australian flag) and you're unfortunate enough to be standing... just make sure you hold on for dear life!
Something must also be said of the events of WWII, where Malta again took a devastating pounding from the Italians and Germans, particularly around Valletta and the dockyard area... dockyard workers still use the air raid sirens to start and finish their day. We went down into an air raid shelter in Vittoriosa (Birgu) hewn out of the rock that could accommodate 600 people during the raids. In all, there were nearly 3000 raids in total and 16,000 tons of high explosive fell on the capital and it's surrounds. Or guide cheerfully admitted that the Maltese hate the French (who desecrated their churches in 1798) look with disdain bordering on contempt at the Italians and have a outright loathing for the Germans...though it doesn't stop them buying Mercedes cars.
Before this Blog entry turns into a novel, just a word about some of the pics:
There's a main shot of Valletta looking down the main street, the one with the wiring shows just what most of it's like! There's a couple of the buses as well and two shot inside the Palace Armoury...the one with me in it shows the armour worn by Grand Master de Valette at the time of the Great Siege in 1565. There are two shots of the sumptuous High Baroque interior of St John's Co-Cathedral as well as the pic of the site of the knights chapel in Fort St.Elmo (now rebuilt) not forgetting the 'Sleeping Lady'. SWIMBO is shown inside the air raid shelter with our guide and there's one of me at the Mdina gate. The last couple of shots show the reenactment of the events on the island at the time of the French occupation in 1798...stomp around in a gaudy uniform, drink some vino and fire off a little black powder.
Not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning!

08 February 2009

Top Gear

This will be the last post on the Blokeblog for a week or so as me an SWIMBO are taking a short break to somewhere a bit warmer than the UK at present, as we're off to Malta on Tuesday. This'll be my second trip to the island and I'm quite looking forward to it...as you can see from the pics the first time was a long time ago.
It's odd how you can recall snippets of things from your childhood...I remember that I was out with my mates playing on a bombsite somewhere and I got called in for tea, which was scrambled eggs, which I hated. In fact I hated them so much that I've never eaten them since, and that was over 50 years ago!
That's also me in my first motor, Christmas 1954...do they still make pedal cars like that? Anyway, should be a very interesting visit and probably a bit different to the last time I was there

06 February 2009

The Joys of a Skip

Just down the hill from my office at work there resides, on a monthly basis, a huge walk-in skip that usually fills up with an assorted collection of bent or broken office chairs, old filing cabinets and pretty much anything else that's going into a landfill somewhere. Most people I know just walk past, after all, it's only rubbish, but you know what...
...I can't resist a skip!
Every time I go past I always have a quick peek over the edge just so as I can see what tempting and tasty morsels have been discarded. For example, the other day some beds from the soldiers accommodation blocks had been dumped. What intrigued me was that the slats were not flat, but laminated into a gentle curve (gotta be project in there somewhere) but on this occasion I declined...I know that in about six month's a light'll go on somewhere and I'll bitterly regret not having a forage.
However, about four months ago someone had lobbed into it several sheets of 1/4" Perspex...I saw it in there just couldn't be bothered to get in there and hoof it out. Big mistake! One of the things that I want to do in the 'shop is to make a new rack for my bench chisels and I need to cover the front of it with the acrylic (so that the blades can be seen but the edges can't be touched) I knew instinctively when I'd left them in the skip that a gargantuan error of the most basic sort had been committed, so I made a mental note that anything similar that I saw in the future would get surreptitiously lifted at the first opportunity.
Such a wondrous event happened yesterday, there was a big sheet of 1/8" plastic sheet in there that some kind soul had casually chucked over the edge that would be ideal for this little chisel project...
... so that was removed fairly smartly and is now in the 'shop. It's not perfect 'cos it's a bit bendy and not really Perspex but for what I want it for it'll be just the ticket.

03 February 2009

Resistance is Futile

At last I've started to make a reasonably sized project after all the smaller ones of the last couple of months. This time it's a coffee table in English Cherry inset with an octagonal, highly polished fossil top, in keeping with the stuff in SWIMBO's display cabinet. I'd previously bought a good board from Yandles before Christmas, cut it into rough sizes and then planed each piece oversize using the p/t. These were then left under a bench 'in stick' to further condition for a couple of months... amazing that a really good board of material can be reduced to a few sticks of timber in such a short space of time!
So Sunday was spent in just skimming the pieces with the LV LA jack and reducing each down to an exact size. I also had to glue up a couple of pieces to form a wide cross rail in the middle of each end frame. These will eventually be inlaid with a burr material of some sort, but the problem is I haven't got any at the moment, so it looks like another trip to Yandles is on the cards and I dare say that I'll come away with considerably more than just one lump of wood. They've got so much droolworthy timber and tools my right hand starts to twitch towards the wallet just thinking about it.
On an entirely different note, one of the lads who came to the WinterBash in Dec let me have a few boards of 18mm WBP ply and mdf, free and gratis. This is going to be earmarked later on for some veneered units for the lounge. I've already got a large quantity of decent English Oak (air dried) that's destined for the bandsaw as veneers. There's no point in veneering stuff in the AirPress at the moment 'cos it's so bloody cold in the 'shop the glue don't go off! I couldn't really let Simon give me the material to me for nothing as it seems a bit mercenary, so I let him have the Pau Rosa screwdriver with which he seemed mightily chuffed. SWIMBO also came out for a run on Saturday to collect the timber and we took over a box of fresh cream sticky buns to have with coffee...Simon had also made some waffles which were delicious, so at the end of the day and all things considered, t'were a good result all round.