Pens & Swords

While the pen is said to be mightier than the sword, why not have both?

This latest kit from (combined with the Knight’s Armor Pen Kit from Penn State Industries) is something a bit special!


Spinning and other metal work

There are some awesome 19th century metal working workshops at Sovereign Hill.  Next week, I will be visiting one that is 150 years into the future from these workshops, but more on that at the time.

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One of the things I did want to see while I was there, was the metal spinning.  While it is a really old process, it is still very much in use today, forming things like metal bowls.  Of course technology has made things easier, but you would have to be impressed with the quality of the result from the old techniques.


The process here involves holding a flat disc of metal against a mold.

SH-8The metal worker has a long rod that is supported against the upper arm, and against a pivot point close to the disc.


By then gently pushing selectively over the surface while the mold and disc are spun rapidly, the metal is slowly bent in until it is flush against the mold, copying its shape.

I found it really interesting that as the metal was being spun, it actually curved outwards as the metal spinning stretched the metal.  It was then rolled over towards the mold with the rod.  This process was repeated as the metal continued to be stretched and molded to shape.

SH-6I wanted to get more background about the process, especially the traditional aspects of it, but the gentleman demonstrating made very clear he wasn’t interested in sharing.  A shame, seeing as he has been doing it for about 50 years apparently, and would have a wealth of knowledge.  He’d also have shoulders of rock doing this for so long.


Think some areas of the workshop haven’t been cleaned in those 50 years either!


The workshop produces many of the items for sale at Sovereign Hill – bells, plates, gold panning pans etc.  Bought one of those as well – cost all of $12 too.

Spun items (produced by hand, or by modern methods) have a distinctive fine ribbed surface.  Next time you come across a metal bowl, have a look and see if you can work out if it was produced by spinning, or some other process.



Wheel Steel

By far and away, my favourite area of Sovereign Hill is the wheelwright’s shop.  This is a fully functional 1880s/1890s industrial revolution vintage workshop, full of line shaft driven machinery, and some really cool specialist machines at that.



Machines need power.  It can be horsepower (literally), water power (waterwheel), but what really rocked the industrial world was steam.  I mean really rocked the world – it was (and still is) an incredible way to transfer energy from fuel to a mechanical form.  Not 20 years ago, I was still working on a steam powered warship (which used the more traditional method of flame in a boiler), but even today, nuclear power is still fundamentally a steam system, just with a different source of heat.

Sovereign Hill has wood powered boilers to drive the place.  They run at a pretty minimal level compared to how much demand there would have been with the place rocking “full steam” at the end of the 19th century, but they still go through an entire tree a day (and no, I don’t see that as particularly wasteful, or even a lot in any respect).


The steam produced here is saturated steam, so it is not particularly high temperature or pressure, but is still more than enough to drive the steam engines around the place.

SH-83In the wheelwright workshop, the engine sits in one corner, and drives a really significant pulley and belt.  This is then distributed by a series of shafts, pulleys and belts to the various areas of the workshop.


Creating the hub

First step, after choosing a suitable round of timber, and knocking the bark off, is to drill the central hole.  Once, this would have been done by hand with an auger bit…..


…. but a boring machine turns a difficult and tedious task into something a whole lot easier, and faster.

The timber is processed green, very green, so it machines really easily.  It does mean that there is a long drying time involved in the process, but more on that later.  When you watch the video, look at just how much moisture pours out of the hole as it is drilled through, and in a number of steps, the amount of steam coming off the timber as it heats up from being worked.


The drill bit doesn’t exactly look as you’d expect, but it is the shape that works best in drilling with the grain, deeply through the core of a log that is very wet/green.

The wheel on the right moves the log back and forward, plunging it into the drill deeper and deeper each time, until it pierces through to the other side.  The operator has to back off very frequently to clear the shavings.

A square-ended shaft is rammed into this hole, for mounting in the next machine – the hub lathe.

SH-81This has two cutting sides.  The right hand side planes the hub down to the correct diameter, then the blades on the left are bought to bear to shape the ends, and gently radius the hub along its length.

With the wood being so green, the timber peels off in a sheet, in quite spectacular fashion.  Easy to imagine this is not dissimilar to how ply is made.


The hub then moves over to the mortising machine.  There are a couple of steps that this machine does.  The first is where it drills holes around the circumference, which allows the morticing chisels to work with a lot less effort.


The second step involves the morticing chisels that cut with quite a punching action – very violent, but also very controlled.

The machine automatically raises as lowers the hub into the chisels via a large cam on the front, and indexes from one hole to the next via a auto-advancing mechanism on the left.  It is really impressive!

SH-30The hub is then shelved.  For years.

Like any other timber, a basic rule of thumb is a year for every inch of thickness for it to dry.  2-3 years for the average hub, up to 10-15 years for really heavy hubs (for really serious wheels!)

I don’t have any photos of the spoke manufacture, but you can see more in the video anyway.

The lathe creates the oval spoke, with a square end.  Next, a quick pass through a tenon former creates the initial shoulders, that will then be refined once the spoke has been seasoned.

The third machine shaves a small amount off the circumference of the spoke, near the hub end.  This is a deliberate weak spot, that allows the spoke to flex and absorb vibration, not unlike the narrow portion of a hammer handle.  A spoke only takes a few minutes to make with this method, saving hours of work with planes, saws and spoke shaves.

Once the spokes and hub have seasoned, it is remachined to final dimension (after all, there is quite a bit of timber movement during drying), and then assembled.  The spokes are hammered home, in every second hole, creating the wheel spider.  It is obvious where this name came from.  The spider is assembled in this way, other the increasing buildup of forces in the hub from each spoke would cause it to explode apart by about half-way around.  The spokes are not secured in by any method, other than friction.

SH-28Round tenons are cut on the outside edge with another machine.  This is pretty manual, but looks easy and quick to operate.


If the workshop has a quality supply of good timber, and the required equipment, the rim timber can be steam-bent in to half, or quarter rounds.

SH-73 SH-74This is a great technique, as it ends up with very strong members, that have the grain running around the rim.

However, if the timber supply is limited or steam bending is not available, much shorter sections can be used that tie two spokes together, and this is repeated around the circumference.

These are called felloes, and are typically cut out on a bandsaw.  They are held against the spokes, and the locations marked, then drilled.  Getting the felloe attached to the spokes is a bit tricky, given they are drilled for their final location, up against the shoulder of the tenon rather than the larger diameter of the end of the tenon.

To fit these on then, another tool is needed to pull the spokes apart so they can engage the holes, before being driven home.

SH-27The gap between each felloe is quite small, but even so, a tenon saw is used to cut in between the gap to ensure the joint can close up fully.

The steel tyre is the final part, and this gives the wheel its real strength.

In an older process, the steel tyre is cut shorter than is needed.  This is calculated as a combination of the size of each gap between felloes, and a fudge factor that comes from the experience of the wheel wright.  A metal bender is used to bend the steel into the required diameter hoop, and the ends are then forge-welded together.

SH-88I am not sure what the pile of hoops outside the workshop is for – tyres are normally cut to match to the individual wheel, not in bulk.

With the undersized tyre, the next step is to get it to fit on the wheel.  This is done by heating to a black heat in a fire, which increases the diameter of the metal hoop, sufficient to be able to fit over the wheel.

The wheel is placed in a pit with shallow walls, surrounded by barrels of water.  The tyre is dropped over the outside of the wheel, and before it has a chance to cause the rim to start to burn, the barrels of water are kicked over, flooding the wheel and cooling the rim.  If the rim had burned, it would have resulted in a layer of carbon, and a great opportunity for the steel tyre to slip off the rim.

SH-26You can see an example of a pit behind these carriage wheels.

Some wheels are designed to have a bit of curvature – this provides additional capability of the wheel to flex, which also takes some of the forces that the wheel will encounter in use.


Sovereign Hill has a rim press to fit tyres a lot easier than the fire-method.  These are more for wheels that are aesthetic (cosmetic), rather than functional.  The tyre is larger than the diameter of the rim, and the rim press compresses the tyre onto the rim.


They have had fun with this press, including trying to see what would happen if they kept going and going.  Not surprisingly, the wheel failed, which each spoke snapping at the weakest point.


So that is the story of carriage wheel manufacture at Sovereign Hill, or at least as much as I was able to absorb from watching their demonstration.  The associated video is in the next post, and it is as good as I could get, shooting handheld in the middle of a large crowd of jostling people.

Following that, I’ll put up another post, showing a certain 4′ carriage wheel that I purchased from the place, made with all the traditional techniques.


I’m Back, Baby

Quoting a certain Bender Bending Rodríguez.

The Christmas break has finally arrived, so finding just a little time to breathe, including seeing the inside of the shed!

After giving a very quick cleanup (not much more than opening the doors, and using compressed air as a broom), started working through a few quick, but long outstanding jobs.

Starting with the Nova DVR lathe.

For a long time, I’ve been finding it doesn’t always start on its own, and needs to be given a bit of a spin before turning it on, or giving the blank a little slap afterwards to get it underway.  I had the opportunity to catch up with the Director of Teknatool at the last Melbourne Wood Show.  Among other topics of conversation, I mentioned this (relatively minor) issue.  He suggested it is probably no more than a bit of dust impacting on a sensor, but I hadn’t had a chance to now to find out.

Quick blow out with the air compressor, then tried the lathe out at various start speeds, from 500RPM right up to 3000RPM.  No hint of an issue at any speed – problem solved.

Next, time to do some maintenance on the 3D printer. It hasn’t been running for a few weeks as I simply haven’t had time to look at it.

The main problem I was having that I could tell, was the filament (being somewhat hydrophilic) had absorbed too much moisture, and was spluttering a lot while it printed.

Took one roll of filament and placed it in an airtight container, along with a packet of DampRid, and a hygometer.

The hyrometer is a bit flash for the job, but I really liked the look of this one from Carbatec

BA984It is a combination of both a hygrometer and thermometer.  Beautiful piece, German engineering.

The container (and contents) started at 55% humidity.  After a few days with the DampRid, the moisture content in the container had dropped to 12% at 25C.


Seemed a good start.  Next, I needed to change out the nozzle.  I had played with a 0.2mm nozzle for a while, but wanted to change back to the 0.4mm one.  Unfortunately, one had damaged thread, and the other was completely glued to the other printer head with leaked plastic (that head needs a complete rebuild to remove the faulty (leaking) component, and a damaged heater).

Only problem is, removing a nozzle is easy, if you can heat it to normal operating temp (200C).  With the heater not working (yet also glued in with leaked plastic) there was a bit of a difficulty.  I briefly tried a soldering iron, but there was no way that was going to achieve the temperature needed overall.  So next option – LPG burner.

Being careful with the flame, I was able to get the nozzle up to temp, and it unscrewed easily.  Continuing with the flame for a bit longer, I cooked off the nozzle, getting rid of plastic on the threads and inside the nozzle as well.  The nozzle on the printer was easy – a working heater and thermister makes it very straightforward to remove one, and replace with the other.

A quick print of a mini robot proved everything was working, so I dropped a 5 hour job onto the printer as a bit of sink or swim.

It swam.

I still have some new components coming for the printer – more on that later.

Finally, I took a quick factitious photo of the cameras, mics and CNC router bits all ready to be used with the YAS Engineering CNC mill when it arrives.  Checking with YAS Engineering, and the CNC is only one simple component away from being delivered.  Just one electrical connector to go, and the unit will be ready.

Photo 22-12-2014 15 21 09Can’t wait!

Burl Bowl

While I was shedless for a year, working out of a cramped (uninspiring) garage, I made a start on a bowl from a Mallee (?) burl.

It was an excuse to use the Teknatool Titan II chuck on the DVR XP as much as anything (the chuck was certainly a lot more powerful than the job necessitated!)

The bowl sort of progressed, then was put aside, had a bit more done, then set aside again over a 6 month period.

I found it in the garage the other day, and took it to join the lathe in the shed.  With some more turning, quite a bit of sanding, then polishing with friction polishes from Ubeaut, it finally got finished.

Photo 4-05-2014 17 51 24 Photo 4-05-2014 17 51 50The base may look heavy, but other than the rim, the whole bowl is a pretty consistent thickness.  It is 180mm in diameter, 80mm high, and has a 4mm wall thickness.

Finished by sanding to 400 grit using the Skilton sander, then polished, first with Ubeaut EEE Ultrashine, then Ubeaut Glow to give it a rich gloss.

A birthday present

Photo 4-05-2014 8 16 40A 70th birthday present for my Uncle.

Happy birthday Peter!

Acrylic pen, turned on the Nova Comet II.  With the drill press out of action, it took a couple of seconds to remember that I now had the Nova Pen+ Jaws from Teknatool

6034_JawsThey worked perfectly, and worked with the pen mill as well mounted in the chuck.

It was nice not to rush this job – I had time to take my time.

Pen sanded to 12000 grit with micromesh acrylic sanding pads.

Lathe Area Organisation

Further progress on the turning corner. Shelving in, light installed, chisels mounted, sawdust made 🙂




Upgradeable technology- the DVR advantage

Normally when you buy a lathe (or drill press), you look at the features, make your choice and that is it- they are the features your tool will have for the remainder of its life.

You normally would expect those features to be static, ‘locked in’ as it were. Fundamental things like torque, but also the operator interface as well, preset speeds, how you can change speeds, safety features (such as chisel dig-in detection) etc.

Not so with a DVR lathe from Teknatool. I was not aware of it, but there was an older version of the DVR lathe that didn’t have some features of the current machines, and an owner of an older one could be left wishing their machine had more of the features of the current machine. Instead of replacing the lathe with a newer model, a DVR owner can simply upgrade the control board to get the higher torque, the safety features and the variable speed selection by replacing the “plug’n’play” computer control board.


Not that I need to at the moment, as my DVR lathe has all the current features, but it is great to know that if (or rather when), Teknatool come up with smarter ways to implement the onboard DVR technology, and add software improvements (as well), that existing owners are not left behind. They can choose to purchase the upgraded control board.

That is a pretty cool concept!

Day of the Machine

After taking much of the day to do some family things (beach before, and BBQ after) for Australia Day, I also moved a number of machines into the shed, now that the electrical was completed and therefore the machines wouldn’t get in the way.

Heavy buggers, especially over soft, churned up dirt the backyard has become.  The pallet jack is such an asset – able to lift the heaviest machine easily, and with reasonably wide wheels, can even manage the ground to a certain extent.

Even so, it was too much to move the thicknesser on my own (230 or so kg), so with a brief assistance of a couple of neighbours, it flew across the back yard.

Paying the price for it all now though!

Never-the-less, a good number of moves was achieved – slowly emptying the garage, and the shed starting to take on real character.

Placement/layout is by no means locked in (never is in my shed!), but am roughly placing them still in accordance with the original plan.

What was moved in this time was the Jet lathe (still uncertain about its long term plan), Jet 14″ bandsaw, Torque Workcentre, the workbench, thicknesser.

Episode 98 Upgrading Jaws to Nova Infinity

Episode 98 Upgrading Jaws to Nova Infinity

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