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Learning to weld – 2 simple projects

June 21, 2015

I have long had a desire to try welding. As much as I enjoy wood work, and the natural beauty of wood. There is an interest in the sheer lightweight strength of metal and the fairly fast fabrication associated with welding.

After a long time of being a subscriber to the SV Seeker youtube channel (highly recommended) I found that I could resist the temptation no longer. So I went out and bought myself a Clarke 151EN. It seems to have a pretty good reviews, capable of some fairly serious work, with the potential to add a gas bottle later if I wanted to try that way.

The next question was what to make? I am a terrible hoarder, and as such I had kept hold of the various metal framing components of an old bed. I discarded the mattress, but I kept basically everything else, since it had a solid cherry wood frame and a bunch of metal framing components and brackets.
My stock of metal materials included about 4-5 meters worth of relatively small thin box section, a little under 4 m of about 4mm thick angle steel. and 4 corner brackets and 4 L brackets, all 4-5mm thick steel.

I decided to make 2 things, firstly using the thin box section I decided to make a basic frame, essentially a table frame but without a top, that I would use to just provide slightly better storage for my longer lengths of wood.

This was pretty easy to put together, I used a hacksaw to cut to lengths, and a grinder to clean up the areas that I was going to weld together. As my first project I found I very easily melted through the box section, and had to faff around a bit filling it in. I had mostly fairly poor looking welds, but even then, was producing good strong joins. I dailed the power settings down from what the manual recommended, and managed to do a little less burning through.

What I ended up with was a very lightweight frame which has no problem with being piled up with wood. this gave me some reasonable storage options under one of my benches with hopefully easier access when I need to use any of it.
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Second project – Stool.

This one came to me partly because after the first little project I wanted to try welding a thicker material. I looked at what I had and laid out my L shaped brackets. I realised I could tesselate them into a single large rectangular plate that would be about the right size for a stool seat.
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This would also be an interesting test of weld strength. Could I weld them such that the joins would be up to the task of taking my weight?

It was fun welding the thicker material, no melting holes through, I felt like I was getting some pretty consistent welds. I wound up welding along both sides. possibly if I was any good I would only ahve needed to do so from one side? I’m not sure. in any case I did weld from both sides and felt like I got penetration throughout the join.
Obviously in most situations grinding away a weld is kind of cheating. But in this case I wanted the top surface smooth so I felt no guilt at grinding everything nice and smooth.
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The magical thing about welding, as compared to gluing/nailing etc. Is that you literally melt additional metal into the join and create something that can look as if there was never two pieces. Yes a nicely done wood glue joint can look like a single continous piece of wood. But you aren’t melting new wood into the join. With the welds ground down, you can see that there are some patchy holes, but in general it looks like a single sheet.
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Once I had the sheet done for the seat, I figured I could reuse the corner brackets to make the start of the legs, then use the angle steel to make the legs themselves.
I had a smaller strip of metal which started out welded to the angle steel, which I used my grinder to remove. I was able to cut this into lengths and weld them as ties for the bottom of hte legs to hold everything together and square. Lastly I bought some castor wheels to weld to the bottom to make my stool mobile.
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And for good measure, I painted it red.
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It is a pretty heavy and sturdy stool, however in hindsight the wheels are really too close toegether in this design and on the uneven surface of my garage floor the stool wants to tip over more than it wants to roll. If I was doing it again I’d be tempted to consider some way of making a star shape to hold the wheels further out, to provide more stability.

These were two fun and useful projects that I was able to make using only material that I had hoarded over the years. Havinng a welder means that I will now be keenly aware of salvaging scrap metal just as much as I am at holding onto any piece of wood that looks like it might one day turn into something nice.

My next project is to make myself a proper welding table. Essentially a heavy duty metal workbench on wheels for the garage. This will require me to actually buy materials just for the project. I’ll try to keep track of the costs so I can report the real world cost of making your own.

Windows and doors – a cautionary tale

May 23, 2015

One of the major things we wanted to do to the house when we bought it was to replace all the old windows/doors. The original windows were aluminium frame, they were double glazed, but not to a modern standard. The metal frames seemed to act as heat sinks, during the winter they were freezing to the touch. In addition to this we had a couple of specific changes beyond just replacing with newer versions.

The first change we wanted to make were to the kitchen and bedroom windows, the originals consisted of 4 panels, the ones on each end open, and two fixed in the middle. This meant having a vertical strip of metal frame in the centre of the windows, and given the really rather lovely views we have, they sat right in the middle of the view. So the first major choice was to have a single large pane of glass in the centre. They look spectacular:

Before
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After
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The second change was the old french doors in the lounge that open onto a patio under a pergola. We wanted to replace these with bi-fold doors which would allow us to create a much larger opening in the summer to really connect the living space to the outside. The final major change was part of our complete change to the kitchen/dining room. I’ve written before about removing the wall that used to separate the two rooms, and removing the old kitchen to install the new. The last part of this is to turn what used to be a dining room window into another bi-fold door to the outside, leading onto a balcony that would have steps down to the garden.

This is a big job, and a very expensive thing to do to a house. Replacing all the windows, the back door, french doors, and introducing a new one. 

We first set about getting quotes not that long after we moved in, but we knew that the kitchen/dining room/door/balcony plan all hinged on getting planning permission for the balcony. That took a while longer, so the span of time involved has been about 10 months from initial quotes to now.

The first quote came from Crystal windows, they had a rep standing at the exit to B&Q, and they seemed as good a place as anywhere to start. And so they came and measured and spoke to us. We knew we wanted 3 quotes to compare, so we started looking for additional options.
The second quote came from Essex Windows, the main man sets up a stall in our local market every Wednesday and Saturday. We spoke to him and arranged for him to come and quote us as well.
The last quote came from local company Manor Windows. They have an office on the main road through Royston.

And so we were set three possibilities. Crystal came first, measured up everywhere and we drew some pictures of what we had in mind for a few of the above changes. From them we collected the measurements they made and passed them to the other 2 companies for the purposes of a quote. There was no need to have them all measuring at this stage as they would all return to do a ‘proper’ measure before ordering frames.

Ultimately all 3 quotes came in around about the same price, a little shy of 14k. I did say it was an expensive thing to do…

As we’ve been working on the house we have adopted a policy of buying local. Using local businesses where we can. We bought the carpet for our living room from the carpet shop on the high street, I used a local electrician and plasterer whilst sorting out the kitchen.
So we chose Manor Windows, Which is operated by Roy Tucker. They seemed as good a choice as either of the other two, with the added advantage of an office within walking distance.

Big Mistake

Now before I get too far into the troubles, I will first state that the quality of the installed windows is great, the product is everything we wanted, the house looks amazing with the new rosewood frames. However, things have not gone smoothly and I ascribe this mostly to Roy being incompetent at communication and coordination. Physically installing windows seems to have been mostly pretty good, but I don’t rate his ability to run and manage a business.

When we were finally ready to pull the trigger on windows, a long time had passed since the initial quote, and it was no longer valid, which we expected. This meant asking them to prepare a new quote. We had also determined in the interveening time that some of the measurements Crystal had originally taken were wrong. So we started again, measure and quote.

The first signs of trouble…
The new quote was different to the previous by a not insubstantial amount. prices had gone up, again this is to be expected. However there was no real rhym or reason to the changes. In some places the glass was 40-50% more expensive than the previous quote, in others it was the same, or just 10-15% different. There were different prices for the glass at each end of our bay window, despite being identical pieces. All the handle colours where listed incorrect as gold when we asked for Silver. The only thing listed for the bi-folds was the price, no measurements.
We took all of these issues to the office to find Jean. Jean is the person Roy pays to apparently sit in the office and play on facebook. I say this, because during the first few visits, every single time she was on facebook.
Jean assured us that the software they use can be a bit ‘funny’ but that Roy would get it all sorted and update the quote.
We really should have run away at this point. If they can’t get these details correct, it really is warning sign. But we were keen to proceed, I was trying to time things to happen in time so that I could install the kitchen after the windows had been changed. And so we pressed on…

One thing Roy had told us when he came to measure again was that after deposit, it would take 14-17 days for everything to arrive and they’d set to work and it would take 4-5 days to complete the works. Once we had at least got the quote to show the right colour for handles and fixed some of the minor issues we decided to get things going and pay the deposit. This was a pain in itself as they used Paypal to accept payments. My bank blocked our attempt to pay half up front immediately. I had to phone them to get them to unblock it and allow the transaction to go through.
And so we went to the office on another Saturday, to find Jean on facebook. We confirmed deposit had arrived, and asked when we could expect them to start work. At this point we were informed that Roy was now on holiday in new Zealand. For 2 weeks he would be uncontactable, and nothing would happen in his absence.
This was pretty frustrating, timing is important and this immediately added 2 weeks to what we thought was really just a 3 week plan.

2 weeks later Roy was due to come on Tuesday after bankholiday monday to perform the measurements. he does not arrive, apparently a ‘tooth problem’ means he can’t make it, he will be there tomorrow…, Roy and a crew of 3 others arrive the next day to get all the full measurements for everything. I was particularly keen to ensure the measurements for the new dining room door, since I would be altering the floor height and wanted to make sure they took note. Roy assured me that they would be checking everything thoroughly, after all, if he turned up with the wrong things I would be very upset. Oh. how right he was.

After some more chasing, another visit to facebook playing Jean, I finally extracted an estimated start date from them, a monday another 2 weeks hence, 5 full weeks from the point we paid the deposit and the week after my new kitchen units would be delivered.

And so the plan was set, I took a week off work, and I let them know that I would like them to start with the kitchen window and the dining room door. That way I could be installing kitchen whilst they did the rest of the house. The response I got was a terse single line. “we will be starting from the top down”
I questioned if there was a reason they could not proceed as I had requested, and this revealed a sensible argument, they don’t want to remove an old window above a newly installed one in case falling debris causes damage. Fine, I asked them to start with the windows above the kitchen/dining room. Then do the kitchen/dining room, before moving on to the rest of house.

Monday comes. at 7.30 I set to work on the kitchen.

By 10 I’m starting to get pretty annoyed that there is no sign of Roy. Just then I get an email…
“Hi, we have loaded your windows this morning and ready to begin installation, there has unfortunately been a delay on the glass. The glass is being made up today and tomorrow and we will be on site to install on Wednesday. We have an extra man to help catch up and push things along. Apologies for the delay’
Yes. and email. on the day that I have taken off work, expecting them to start, they felt this was appropriate. I phoned.

I was angry, but I did not shout.

I simply asked how the hell they get to the morning they are supposed to start, before discovering there is a problem with the glass being ready.
This revealed that there had actually been a ‘mix up’ with the paper work, the glazing company did not have any requesting the windows. It’s hard in these situations to know who is at fault, but I have a strong idea that a little less time on facebook and a little more time double checking suppliers and this would not have happened. Roy assures me he will bring 4 people and they will be able to make significant progress.

Wednesday comes, I’m getting close to the point I really want to install cupboards under the window, but cannot. 8.30 am….
1 man arrives. He has no idea where Roy is, he has no idea where anyone else is. He has the glass on the van and proceeds to unload it into my living room.
Jean doesn’t really know where Roy is. Or where either of the other 2 people who were supposed to come are. She has nothing to offer. It later transpires that Roy had some tooth trouble. again. Apparently a lack of sleep, and emergency dental appointment, send him home to bed with painkillers. I don’t know any of this because he contacted me, I only know through the proxy of speaking to Jean.
The sole guy duly collects the window frames and moves them to the back of my house, but ultimately there is nothing else he can achieve on his own so he heads off.

I was angry, but I did not shout.

Thursday. 4 days into their timeline, infact the day they thought they would be done. 8.30 Roy and 1 other arrive. Roy apologises, and I tell him that I don’t need an apology, I need progress. I ask about the extra people, but no, Roy says it is just the two of them, they will make progress.
In this first day of actual work they do manage to replace the bedroom window, the kitchen window and the ensuite and dressing room windows.
They leave at 3pm
Call me crazy, but at this point I would like to feel that there is some sense of working to make amends for the delays. But no, 3pm and off they go.

Friday, The same 2 arrive again at 8.30. Still no additional resource to catch up. They set to work and replace the remaining windows on the first floor., and set to work on the back door.
I come down from working on the kitchen to see how things look as they are packing up for the day. I am greeted by this view of my back door:

The door is on backwards, the window is the old window cobbled back into the hole. It is at this point that Roy comes to explain, apparently there was more plaster on the wall than they expected, and it would have interfered with the hinges, so they will need to order a new frame with more padding to compensate. The window was just wrong, made to the wrong measurements. Realistically it will be 2 more weeks before they are able to put this right. In the meantime the door is at least secure.
End of the week the job was supposed to be completed and I’m not terribly happy. We’re just about to go into another bank holiday weekend. When will Roy be back? not Saturday that is for sure. They will be back Tuesday. I ask if they will be able to install my dining room door then, and it is at this point, at the end of the week, for the first time… Roy reveals that there is no delivery date on the bi-fold doors yet.

He apparently didn’t think this was worth mentioning before hand, given everything else that had screwed up, perhaps he was hoping that by the time they’d messed up everything else, they might finally arrive. He leaves me with promises to call the company and see if they can get the doors out to them for next Tuesday, he says that if the problem is merely delivery he will go collect them himself.

I was angry, but I did not shout.

Tuesday comes…Roy and 2 others arrive. 3 whole people! I’m busy in the kitchen and Roy does not come to talk to me. I Assume this is bad news on the doors. They set to work on the bay window, and to pointing in around the frames of the already installed windows. I decide to leave confronting Roy until later in the day. At this point I know I will be angry, and there is no point doing that early in the day.
When I notice that they are wrapping up I wander down, I find one of the other workmen and ask if they will be back tomorrow to fit my doors. He claims ignorance, they only find out each morning what the plan is for the day. I’ll need to talk to Roy… but Roy is not here. I’m told that he has gone to fetch a board that they can lay over the roof of my pergola to do the pointing for those windows. This makes sense. I check…”So Roy is coming back?’ oh yes I’m told.
2 hours later, no sign of Roy, I’ve not left the house because I expected him back. I try to call him. No answer. I call the office. Jean informs me that he is actually out at another survey, she knows nothing of any plan to return. The doors have not come in. They *might* ship on Friday.
Through some text messages I find that Roy is not intending to return. But he is expecting the doors the following Tuesday and they will be back to complete the job.

For those keeping track we’re now into my second week (which I had to extend my holiday for) The subsequent week I have to return to work. I inform them that I will need to make arrangements to work from home on Tuesday, so I need to know that this is going to happen. I also check if they will install both doors in one day… They don’t know, it depends when they arrive. So I also need to make plans to be available on Wednesday. My wife will be working from home so that is an easier day to cover.

I check on the Friday, “you are still on for Tuesday?” yes, doors will be coming.

I get back to work on Monday after 2 weeks off, and immediately have to re-arrange meetings for Tuesday so that I can work from home.
We’re now 7 full weeks since deposit paid and entering the 8th.

Another Tuesday, and I am working from home. 10am…Jean calls – Yes the doors are on their way, she will call again when they have them at the yard.
I ask – shouldn’t you be here starting to remove the existing doors/openning the wall. If the doors are definitely coming today… But no that is not what they want to do.
The day passes… 2pm comes. Jean Calls.. The doors are ‘nearly’ at the yard. Roy has gone to pick them up. But there is no time now to actually do anything with them other than drop them off, he’ll be with me in about an hour. They will be back tomorrow to install.

I am angry. But I do not shout.

I do suggest that I should invoice them for every day that I have re-arranged my life to be in the house waiting for them, on days they have told me they will be working, only to find they do not turn up.
3 hours later…no sign of Roy. I call the office. but it is 5:00:01 and of course there is no one there. I text Roy – I was told you were coming with doors to drop off. But no, apparently he has now decided they’ll just come tomorrow, and start at 8.15.

Wednesday comes. and I go to work. Leaving my wife to deal with what will hopefully be the final day of this mess.
8.15 they arrive, and they set to work. One begins to cut into the wall under the dining room window, Roy begins to remove the french doors. Progress is being made, despite myself I’m a little happy, things are finally going to be done. I’m finally going to be able to lay the floor in my new kitchen/dining room.

Around about midday I notice on my security cameras that it looks like the livingroom bi-fold has been installed. I ping Kat to ask how things look.
a few minutes later she asks me to phone…

The door is set to open the wrong way around. Our french doors opened from right to left. Our bi-fold should do the same, this would leave the doors opened up against the edge of the house. However these doors open left to right. This means that the doors hang out into the middle of our patio when they are open. The other door is apparently also wrong. The plan is for there to be a balcony with stairs on one side. The door should have opened from right to left, but it opens left to right, so if installed it would block the stairs when open.

Everyone is angry. There was apparently some shouting.

We had clearly explained our requirements to everyone that quoted us. Whats more our requirement is obvious in the lounge. No sane person would set up doors to hang into he middle of the patio. Roy claims that we gave him a drawing that showed them this way around. The drawing he is refering to was one from 10 months ago, one which we provided for initial quote purposes. And one on which we had drawn the doors, from the perspective of looking from inside the house to outside. The same perspective as we had drawn the windows. Roy claims that the ‘convention’ is to draw windows from inside looking out, but to draw doors from outside looking in. He believes it is our fault, apparently we should have know this ridiculous convention, he felt that he had done what the drawing showed. We felt that we had explained verbally what we wanted, and drawn something that matched this. He had repeatedly said they would check all the details, but under pressure apparently this only counts for the measurements. Roy refuses to accept responsibility for his mistake.

During this exchange he also informs Kat that Jean has resigned, because of me… Now I find this pretty hard to believe. Kat took Jean flowers to apologise if this whole situation had impacted her personally. Because Kat is an awesome human being. I am not. However, as previously noted, I never shouted at anyone through this, I never swore or called people names. All I ever did was tersely ask them to explain to me how they had made the latest mistake, essentially I wanted to hear them admit and accept that things had gone wrong because they had messed up, or here them admit that they had lied to me. I’m sure these were not great conversations to be on the other end of. I doubt though that they would be sufficiently uncomfortable to resign over. If what they claim was true, in that this has all been a rare confluence of mistakes that simply don’t happen normally, then I am at worst a single angry customer who would be out of their hair as soon as they finish. However I have a better theory. I suspect that I am far from the only angry customer, that actually this kind of thing is frequent, and Jean is sick of being in the middle of an angry customer and an incompetent Roy. I guess I’ll never know.

All the delays and stupidity seem like such minor concerns now, against this massive screw up. Roy offers to install the wrong doors, but knock £1250 off the price. This is about 25% of the cost of the doors. But there is simply no discount level at which we will accept them the wrong way around. We never plan to move again, this is about making our home awesome for the long term.
Days pass, with sporadic responses to text messages. Roy initially wanted to ‘check’ his paperwork. but that amounted to nothing. Eventually we are presented with 3 options. Accept the wrong doors and the £1250 discount. Stump up an additional £5000 to have him order the correct frames (which will also be 3-4 weeks before they are ready) or have him finish everything else and take the bi-folds away. He won’t charge us for them. And we just find another supplier.

We choose the last option. And at time of writing that is were we are. Everything except the doors is completed now, the read door is now installed correctly at a window of the right size fitted. We have one incorrect door in the lounge, and a large hole
in the brickwork beneath the dining room window covered with a plywood board.
We have a new company coming to measure up to provide the doors, and I guess another 4-5 weeks to wait before they can finally finish the job. When they are ready Roy will remove the installed door.
Another 4-5 weeks before I can put floor down in my kitchen.

I am angry. but I do not shout. except on the internet, where I caution you…ask around, ask your neighbours, get personal recommendations, and most of all, if there is even a tiny hint of not paying attention to details…run away. Oh and, if you live in Royston, I’d strongly advise against using Manor Windows.

(Update: the time came and new company installed new doors and make showed up on time to take their away. Great to finally get everything finished.)

Considerations in complete kitchen replacement

April 11, 2015

I’ve had a busy few weeks, and I’m currently in the middle of probably the largest house project I’ve undertaken.  In my last post I talked about removing the wall that used to be between the dining room and kitchen. This was the precursor to removing the old kitchen and installing a new one.

In the last week I have completed removal of the old kitchen, so I now have a large empty room, and it is time to start putting things back together.

I thought I would write some notes on the various considerations that I’ve had to make to get me this far, and some of the next steps. I’m doing almost all of the work myself, but there are some things that I am outsourcing and those things require coordination.

Things I need other people for

Electrics, whilst I’m pretty confident in my ability to handle wiring jobs, the reality is that the building regulations require me to either make use of a qualified professional, or pay a fee to have one sign off on anything I do. I decided I might just as well hire an electrician. I needed them to relocate a light switch (it used to sit on the wall I removed) and run all the wiring for new spotlights for the kitchen, removing the old florescent tube.
The electrician needed to drill holes in the ceiling for where the lights would go, and cut holes in the ceiling to aid the rewiring. Another option could have been to lift the floor of the bedroom above, but the ceiling is already trashed from the fact there used to be a wall…

I also realised after removing the kitchen that the new kitchen, whilst very similar in layout, is not *quite* the same and this led to the need to move some switches and make adjustments. In particular the new oven is a range cooker with a double oven, it has a much higher potential power requirement than the old oven and the old wiring was simply not sufficient.
I’m also brining a unit further out into what used to be dining room space (to accommodate the wider oven) and this would put a set of draws in front of a double socket. So the socket needs to be moved a few feet over.
None of this is terribly difficult, however it is all work I need a qualified electrician to do, and that I need to pay for.

Gas safe engineer – The old and new ovens both have a gas hob. The old connection was fixed and needed a qualified gas engineer to disconnect it. He will need to come back to setup the right attachment for the new oven. This is another of those jobs which is really not very complicated, certainly no more so than regular plumbing. However when it comes to handling gas you must use a qualified engineer to do the work. In particular they have the tools to double check there are no gas leaks. As with the electrician, he will provide a signed document that I can use as proof that the work was done properly, which is key for insurance etc.

Plasterer – I’ve tried plastering, it is hard work, and hard to get right, plastering a ceiling is probably the last thing I would even contemplate trying myself.  I need to have the ceiling plastered and make good the walls where the old dividing wall once was. With all the electrics tweaks, I’ll also need them to make good the various channels that need to be cut to accommodate wiring. And of course I ripped off old tiles. If I was going to tile again I could probably get away without re-plastering in those places, but I want to have just plain walls, so again require a plasterer to make good.

I’m also having the windows replaced by a window company, again in theory I could have tried to do this myself I guess, but it is not a job I fancy taking any chances on. Some of the value of the windows are the associated guarantee from being fitted by registered fitters. However this is sort of separate to the kitchen refit, it just happens to be something I’m doing around the same time.

So – when refitting a kitchen expect to have to do some electrical changes, particularly if upgrading an oven. And expect to need a plasterer to make things good again. If you have a gas applicance you will need a gas safe engineer.

But for everything else….there is me.

The main consideration I needed to make for removing the kitchen was hiring a skip sufficient to take away all the rubbish. This is quite tricky because it can be hard to visualise how much capacity you will need. On the one hand, all the cupboards disassemble into nice flat panels which pack nicely. On the other, its surprising how much space tiles take up when you’ve taken them off the wall. I filled 3 black bags. The oven itself takes up a chunk of space which doesn’t compress, the sink, the hob, the extractor etc. All things that needed room in the skip.  I was also removing the carpet in the dining room, probably 15 square meters of carpet and the same again in underlay. It rolls up fairly tightly, but it is heavy and takes up space.

Ultimately I ordered a 4 yard skip, and it turned out to be pretty much perfect. I got everything in, and was able to take few things that my neighbour wanted rid of.

Other than that the issue was time, It took me a couple of days to disassemble most of the kitchen, and another to fill the skip and remove the last pieces once the gas hob was disconnected.

There was nothing that I found I couldn’t tackle on my own, so whilst things would go quicker with a helper, one wasn’t necessary.

One very useful thing I learned was the use of a wall paper stripper (steamer) to remove tile adhesive from the walls after the tiles come off. This was not at all obvious to me, initially I was going to try and use my oscillating multi-tool to cut away at it, but that wasn’t working very well and promised to be very slow going and dusty. I did a quick search and found that the adhesive will actually turn soft again under steam. This worked great, though I did blow the plaster in a couple of places by holding on too long, but since I knew I was re-plastering anyway, it was not a huge deal. It was pretty fast and left the wall pretty flat and undamaged by scraping (except for the aforementioned plaster blow outs which I could probably have avoided)

Next steps

I want to drill a hole for the extractor hood to vent to the outside. This requires a specialist tool, but it also requires me to be pretty sure where the extractor hood will be positioned I have the measurements from the kitchen plan, however I do need to allow for the walls to not be exactly vertical and it might push things over a little in the actual placement of units. The chimney of the extractor is 220 wide, the hole needs to be a minimum 125mm, so there is a little give, but it will require some careful double checking before I start to drill.

I am installing under floor heating, this will raise the floor heights, and the units will need to be commensurately higher, so some consideration for what I’m installing under the units to raise them or if they will have enough adjustment built in.

I was checking the documentation for the extractor hood and discovered that the minimum height it has to be installed above a gas hob is 700mm, which when combined with the minimum stated height of the extractor hood itself and the height of the floor/oven etc, led to the conclusion that my room is not tall enough…So I know I’m going to have to make some fairly aggressive alterations to the chimney sections to allow them to fit in a smaller space.

I still have to work out the details of the plumbing for the new sink and tap. It is highly likely that I’m going to have to shut off the mains water and substantially rework the pipes to fit the new requirements. But there is not much to do about that until the actual kitchen arrives to fit against.

Wren Kitchens wanted about £3000 to ‘fit the kitchen’ with all these considerations I’m not entirely clear whether that would have included absolutely everything that needed doing, or whether some things would have been considered optional extras (moving plug sockets?) In any case I’m on track to spend half of that, even including all the plastering that is more to do with the wall removal than the kitchen install.

DIY skills – level up – Removing a wall

March 8, 2015

Last weekend I levelled up my DIY ability.
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I’ve done a fair number of DIY tasks over the years, from the relatively mundane painting walls up to things a little more interesting such as building decking, and even once I built a raised pond, which involved digging foundations, pouring concrete and brick laying. However, last weekend was the first time I have removed a wall in my home.

Ok, so it was just a partition wall, and it was not load bearing. But still. it was a wall, and now it is gone ;-)

Getting permission

By far the longest part of the process was getting building regulations approval to do so. If you’re thinking of removing a wall in your home, even if you know it is not load bearing, you need to talk to your local building authority. In my case it wasn’t the structural issue of removing he wall, but the impact on the fire escape regulations that I needed to be aware of.

After a certain amount of back and forth, which included an initial suggestion that I install a sprinkler system(!), I asked them nicely to come visit me in my house and discuss my options, and they were able to agree that I just needed to have some additional mains wired smoke and heat detectors in order to be on the right side of the regulations.

Part of the deal is that I had to pay a 200GBP fee for the privilege of removing the wall my self. I then have to pay a registered electrician to move the light switch (that was in the wall) and to install the detectors. This is about another 400GBP for supply and install. Then I can call the building regulations department and they will send someone to look at what I’ve done, and what the electrician has done, and they can nod sagely and give me a certificate to show I wasn’t just a lunatic removing walls at random and that I did actually do it properly. This piece of paper would be pretty important should I ever wish to sell the house, but also if I did have a fire, I’m pretty sure my insurance company would need to see that I had followed the rules.

Remember – just because you *could* remove a wall without seeking approval does not make that a good idea. If you had a fire, you can bet that any insurance company would notice the alteration and use it to invalidate some or all of your claim.

Starting work
With permission to proceed I set to work.

tools:
Bosch oscillating multi-tool
JCB Solid forged 300mm steel Utility bar
hand saw

With just those three tools I was able to deconstruct the wall over a period of one weekend. The oscillating mutli-tool (OMT) was incredibly useful, I could slice through plasterboard pretty easily and control the depth of cut to know I was really only just barely cutting through. With the first few cuts this was very important as whilst I was pretty sure the wall was empty, I didn’t really *know* it was empty. Once I’d cut out a few panels I was able to increase my confidence in what I was cutting into.
I cut the plasterboard away in fairly largish chunks initially, and eventually I started using the OMT to help score where I wanted things to break and using the utility bar to pry the board away from the wooden frame.
The wood frame was upright pieces ever 400mm ish, with horizontal pieces nailed between. Normally only one horizontal section, but more around where things needed to be more stiff, eg next to the door frame, and where the kitchen radiator was supported. Mostly I cut out the horizontal pieces with a hand saw, then I could cut the vertical piece near where it connected to the long horizontal of the top of the frame. at this point I could usually just lever the vertical section out of its nails at the base. But sometimes I also cut it near the bottom to just pull out the section. I was actually trying to retain the wooden frame pieces in the longest lengths I could. I plan to reclaim all of that good quality construction timber to build a work bench along one wall of my garage.

I had one mini-emegency when I was removing hte kitchen radiator. I had closed off the thermostatic valve, and drained the radiator down as usual. Then when I was prying the radiator off the valve connection, and generally exerting a fair amount of force to get things off, suddenly the valve went full open. This meant a fairly high pressure spray of water into the kitchen. I was briefly afraid that I’d managed to crack a pipe connection or something. I hurriedly reconnected the radiator, and sealed it up again. Satisfied there was no other leak, it was just the valve having mysteriously failed. I switched the thermostatic controller out for just a shut off cap  and went back to taking the wall down, except the bit supporting the radiator.
The next day I went and bought myself a blanking cap to go on where the radiator connected. I figured if I could get back to a similar point to previously, eg the radiator empty and the valve shut, I could quickly pop the radiator off and the blanking cap on, so even if the valve was bust/unreliable I could be confident not to get water everywhere. That plan seemed to work out just fine. And so the final deconstruction of the wall was possible.

Here is short timelapse of the whole process..

Disposing of the waste

It is important to know that you cannot just throw plasterboard in your bin, in fact you can’t even throw it in the average skip. You need to make special arrangements to dispose of plasterboard. Fortunately for me, my local recycling centre takes plasterboard. So 3 car trips later, and I had removed most of the unwanted waste from the wall, whilst also having a nice big pile of wood to use in the garage.

Summary

All in all this was a pretty satisfying job to do, it was hard work for a couple of days but the space feels awesome now it is opened up. By reclaiming all the timber, I’ve saved myself having to buy some special for the garage which will save me a fair chunk of change.
The next job is to get rid off all the pipe work associated with the old radiator…that will involve another DIY first, draining down a heating system and cutting and capping some pipes.

Now I just need to find an electrician who responds to email and can come do the parts I need them to do.

Hubsan x4 H107c micro quadcopter – first flights

February 8, 2015

A long time ago I bought myself a small rc helicopter. It was quite tricky to fly and fairly limited in abilities. The battery life was poor and the batter was hardwired. All in all it was probably not the most awesome experience. Roll on perhaps 7/8 years and technology has moved on a great deal…

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Last week I bought myself the hubsan x4, a cursory search shows this is a very popular micro-quadcopter and a recommended choice for a beginner to learn to fly quadcopters with. It is cheap enough and robust enough that it can handle a few crashes without a serious problem ;-)

It is a great little toy, very easy to get started with. It is so small that you can fly it around indoors easily enough. I almost immediately ordered extra batteries, because you can easily swap them over. So whilst each one lasts perhaps 8-10 minutes of flight, you can swap out a new batter in a few seconds and carry right on flying.

 

I took it up to the heath to have some fun flying outside. It was a pretty windy day and all credit to this tiny little flying machine, I was still able to control it and fly it around despite the wind. Though I did have to go into ‘expert’ mode. In normal mode I just wasn’t able to tilt into the wind hard enough to move against it. I took some video and cut it together:

This was great fun, with the extra space to fly around in I tried a few things like the built in flips, (near the end of the video), I also launched it by throwing it into the air then powering up the props. That is a pretty amazing trick when you think about what is involved. It is a very small and really reasonably cheap machine, yet it can very rapidly, from a random throw, power up and gain stable flight.

I also did some stuff of taking off and landing on my hand, which again considering the generally windy conditions was pretty neat. The one thing I didn’t get much of was stable footage at height, since the wind was tossing things around quite a lot.

I removed the worst of the wobbly sections, however it is easy to see how this could become addictive and lead to wanting bigger and more capable quadcopters. The Hubsan is good enough and fun enough to get a glimpse of the potential. The hubsan is a little skittish in the wind, and with the fixed camera the video is a little all over the place. In calmer conditions I could probably get more stretches of reasonable video, but it immediately makes you realise why bigger machines have gimbled mounts for their video.

Also watching the craft and flying it is fairly straight forward, but it can actually be quite tricky to keep the camera pointing where you want, because you have to constantly adjust your control to consider which way the x4 is pointing. It is much easier to keep it pointing away from you and just fly forward/back side/side, but then you only get footage in one direction and not necessarily what you want. This leads immediately to realising the allure of the ‘FPV’ quads which can stream video live to a screen, so you can choose to fly from its point of view.

For now I will have to remain content to keep practising with the x4. However I can see how easy it would be to get carried away…

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Orbis Access – A new investment site is born

January 21, 2015

Today a new investment website has been born and its name is

Orbis Access

I am not a spokesperson for the company, and I should not be looked to for any kind of investment advice. I was however part of the team that brought this new site out into the world. I’m not going to write much about the business because you can read the site for that, I am however going to write a bit about my experience in being a part of the project.

Just over 4 years ago I made a pretty big change to my life. I had been working for IBM for 10 years and I made the decision that it was time to move on and seek new challenges. Well I say ‘I’, my wife and I both wound up moving house and changing jobs. It was a big year.

The company I joined was Orbis investment advisory limited and I joined an exciting new project which was then in its early days. The project was ambitious, and represented a great opportunity for me professionally to get involved in a lot of new aspects of software development and indeed business development. During my time so far I have worked alongside some awesome, intelligent and dedicated people, and it has meant a great deal of hard work and sometimes long hours. The most apparent outward effect of this time period on my blog was that I went from reliably posting weekly to haphazardly trying to find time to get something up maybe monthly ;-)

It has been a fascinating journey and a rewarding challenge. I joined the team as senior tester at a time when the whole team was perhaps 15-20 people. We grew fast, and each of us had to learn what it means to bring a brand new financial services company to life in the world. This is not like launching a new social media site, or photo sharing community or news aggregation service etc. The financial services industry in the UK is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. There are high standards to meet, structures have to be in place to ensure the utmost protection for client money and data. As a tester by trade when I started, my world view had to expand from simply worrying about finding bugs in code, to dealing with the overarching quality of everything we do. It was pretty amazing, and daunting. Being empowered to make decisions is a lot harder than you might imagine. Its seemingly easy to have ideas and criticize things when you can’t make changes, but when given the chance to make whatever changes you feel are important, with the only requirement that you be able to justify why you think it will work. That is a whole different challenge.

I’ve been involved in lots of different discussions and decisions as the team has worked through such things as:

  • exactly how our order process should look.
  • what is the best way for our operations team to manage thousands of payments easily.
  • what kinds of tests should we write and how should we best simulate what conditions will be like for the site with lots of clients all with long history data.
  • How do we handle it if an internal or external system has a failure.
  • What evidence do we need to produce to satisfy regulators and auditors that we are following or processes.
  • what font choice we should make. (I learned a lot I didn’t know about fonts)

Usability testing helped inform many choices around the outward style and content of the site. Quantitative and qualatative research led by business analysts drove the specifics of the offering. Whilst team input and industry best practice has helped shape the way our development team writes, builds, tests and deploys the site.

So now, we are live! Right now. I find I experience an odd mix of excitement to be live and realisation that being out in the big wide world ups the stakes significantly. I’m confident in what we’ve built, but of course you can never be certain that you’ve covered all the angles. I guess this is why actors like the stage and live broadcast has a different feel to pre-recorded etc. At IBM I was insulated to a great extent from customer experience of products I had worked to test by virtue of the large organisation and service structures etc. It was much more like prerecording, going through a long careful editing process etc. Not so with Orbis Access, I will be made aware of any and every issue that is reported no matter how minor, anything that a client reports to us will certainly lead to questions of why we didn’t find it before a client and how we can do better, this is live and the whole team is on stage.

Despite the nerves, it is fantastic to finally be able to share this project with the world at large.

And I’ve gone this whole post without really saying what this site offers! Well there are many people better qualified that me to discuss the nature of the offering and its comparison to the market, and some have been invited to review and comment upon the site and what OA has to offer.
When those people begin to write about us, I will probably add some links below. Hopefully if you go looking for information, either on our site or through google, then you will find out all you need to decide for yourself. Suffice for me to say, if you’ve been thinking that you could or should be doing something a little more with your finances then maybe you should take a look at what OA has to offer.

Just to end things on a more normal ‘projects’ note… ages ago I posted about playing with engraving glasses with dremel at that time I actually made a set of wine glasses for the office with the OA logo on… and here they are:
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Coverage of the launch:

Weekend project: custom case for raspberry pi camera

January 11, 2015

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Last week I wrote about the one hour challenge I set myself to setup my raspberry pi with its new camera module and get it running as an IP camera along with my other 2 dedicated ones.
This led naturally on to wanting it to be set up a little better than precariously balanced on boxes and blue-tac’d in place. So I set off on another one our project to see how far I could get in building a case. Whilst 1 hour was no where near enough to do everything I wanted, it was a good way to prompt me to action. The challenge of an hour forced me to stop procrastinating and make some decisions to get going.
Once the hour was up I was well on my way with a vision of what I wanted to do and so the weekend challenge was on ;-)

In the first hour

The first hour was really a case of making the big decisions. I started with 15 minutes sketching out ideas and thinking through things like inserting a nut in the bottom so that I could potentially mount the whole thing on some kind of bracket via a bolt etc.
Here are my initial sketches
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I decided to go with a low flat design that would be stable laying on a surface. I wasn’t worried about exposing any of the ports etc, just power in the back and the camera at the front.

The next decision was material, I considered metal or plastic, but really mdf is what I have laying around the most, and is also the thing I have the most tools/experience in working with, so that is what I went with.

The first thing I worked on was how to mount the camera module in a small mdf panel with the camera exposed. Here my new table saw set up made things pretty easy, using the sled I could just cut about half depth slices, and just move the block on each pass until I had a rebate wide enough for the camera module to just fit snugly in place.
I then used the drill press to drill out a hole for the camera lens to poke through.
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With this part made I’d essentially determined the height and width of the case I was building, so I could use the bandsaw to cut out a bottom/top and rear to match. I decided to make the long sides from hardboard recessed into slots.

Here I made an unfortunate error, I was just sizing things by eye, but I didn’t yet have the wifi dongle for the raspberry pi, and I didn’t allow quite enough space in the case dimensions, so right at the end I had to hack a little rebate on the inside of the case to accomodate it. I should have done more research about how far it would protrude to get my measurements right up front… Alternately, if I had decided to expose the SD card slot I would have had more room to play with.

My hour was up around about now, I had pieces cut about to size and I knew I could mount the camera module.
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What was left to build

As I mentioned above, I decided the long sides would be hardboard set into slots that run alon the bottom/top and up the front and back pieces. This would then get glued in place.  I quickly set a stop up on the table saw sled and used it to get repeated slots on each piece that would be hte same distance from the edge. This would have worked perfectly if I had been a little more careful on the bandsaw… Turns out my pieces were not exactly the same width, and so whilst the slots were the same distance from the outside edge on each piece, this left them at slightly differing distances between the slots. So I had to widen a couple to get everything fitting. A lesson learned, in rushing during the first hour I paid less attention to exact cuts, and that caused me trouble later when I decided to use this method of box construction.
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With a bit of finessing I was done for the physical construction which really didn’t take that much more than an hour, certainly less than 2. At this point I had a press-fit case of plain mdf and hardboard. I decided to glue up the whole case except the top. The idea being that the top would always remain a push fit,  and the means to get the pi in and out.
So I clamped things up and let the glue set (using lots of new clamps I got for christmas/birthday, hurrah for having plenty of clamps!)
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The Paint Job

By now I had a pretty good idea that I wanted to use the project as something to play with my new air brush. Being bare mdf, I put on a first coat of primer by brush. This is possibly the only option I had, however the brush marks later frustrated me a little in the pursuit of a nice finish.
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I followed the usual routing, paint, dry, sand lightly, paint again. to try and build up a couple of coats of white to give a base for everything else. I wound up airbrushing white on to try and get things looking smooth which was good practice for airbrushing solid colour blocks.
I then set about coming up with idea for what I wanted to paint on the box.

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I decided to go with my blog logo on the top, with a raspberry pi logo on the bottom, a power symbol next to the power in hole on the back, and a stylised eye around the camera on the front. This gave me a good chance to practice cutting out templates etc. My logo was tough since the geek is made up of lots of small boxes, this meant lots of very fine bits of paper that needed to be left and not broken during the cutting process. To minimise the risk of screwing it up I cut each letter separately ( this also meant I only needed to cut one ‘e’) and I cut the ‘maker’ separately but as one piece. Finally cutting out the cog shape separately also. This made for a less risky construction of template. However it proved difficult to get things aligning nicely, and I didn’t leave the paint enough time to dry for each part, so putting the template down again to spray the next part lifted some paint from previously sprayed letters.

The raspberry pi logo was pretty straight forward, I did it as two separate templates since it is a two colour template.
For the eye I wound up just free-handing something based on an example I liked. I took measurements from the front of the case so I could sketch my template out to have the camera lens as the pupil of the eye. This probably worked out the best, I’m really happy with how it came out.

Having selected my templates I was thinking about colours and decided I’d make the box itself black, then use the raspberry pi logo colours on their logo and on mine. Then just leave white for the front and back. This involved practising laying down a black coat, then spraying the template with white first. So that the colour would show up on the white. Practice went well, it is reasonably easy to get the template back in place for each pass. However on my paper example the paint dried quicker than it did on my actual case…

practice run
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With confidence this was going to work I set about spraying the box black and building up a nice coat all round. I used the nut I had included in the design to allow me to mount the case in the air and let me spray all the surfaces etc.

Around about here is where I was close enough to complete to want to drive to finish within the weekend. Really I should have allowed more time for each stage to dry before moving on to the next. But I was full of enthusiasm and things were looking pretty good.
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Here is the box in about its best state, with everything painted, and a clear coat sprayed on to seal everything in place. As I mentioned earlier the maker geek logo was a little wonky due to my decision to template in parts. I’d also made a bit of a mess of the ‘maker’ paint when laying the template down for the geek letters. The green was a little more watery than the other colours so it ran a little more. However despite it all I was fairly happy at this stage.

Unfortunately this is where impatience and earlier mistakes caused problems, I wanted to get the raspberry pi installed, so I didn’t really give the box enough time to dry. It was almost completely dry, but of course my finger found the one corner on the bottom where the clear coat was still wet, and so I got a finger print in it. Perhaps I should have cut my losses here and left it alone to properly dry, but instead I forged on, and discovered the box needed adjustments to let the pi fit with the wifi module installed.
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This involved slightly rougher handling of the box, which further damaged the paint on the bottom ;-( It’s not awful, but had I just decided to let the paint all dry over night, I would have found the fit issues with more time available and been able to avoid causing problems to the paint work.

For better or worse, here it is completed within one weekend.  From inception to completion was probably 5/6 hours work not including gluing and drying time.
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It is cool to have another camera in place and the case is a huge improvement on just propping the bare board somewhere. However I may have to come back to this and make a v2 case to avoid some of the failings in this one.

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