Xmas in July, part 1

Took the family to Sovereign Hill for their Xmas in July that Sovereign Hill runs each year, and had an excellent time.  Not only what they have done for the occasion, but more broadly because I really like the whole Sovereign Hill experience.

Sovereign Hill, for those that don’t know, is an open-air museum and historical park, situated in an early gold diggings area in the Ballarat region.  It covers the time around 1850 (with some of the equipment being closer to 1880s/1890s as the industrial revolution found Australia).


These are just the outside of some of the buildings, but what is inside is the real treasure.  Being the mid 1800’s, wood and steel are the main materials of fabrication, mixed with a huge amount of ingenuity.  Not to mention, nothing was made with a designed life expectancy – a tool was made as well as was possible, and that means many of the tools are still very functional today.  There are mines to explore, gold to pan for, 9 pin wooden bowling etc etc.

We stayed in the attached accommodation, so had our own access pass through one of the buildings into the site, which was a very nice feature.  Being able to take in the place in as big or as small a bite as you wanted, being able to return for a rest before the next assault made for a really enjoyable experience.

The Xmas in July was well done too, and the weather in Ballarat lived up to its reputation – cold!  Which was very appropriate for a winter-wonderland based Christmas experience (complete with simulated snow (of the soap/foam variety), which was very much for look than tactile experience!)

At night, the buildings were illuminated by the same company that does other building illumination projects, including the Sydney Opera House, and White Nights in Melbourne.

We attended both the Xmas-type functions (such as the building illumination, and their Xmas dinner), as well as the standard offerings, such as the exceptionally well done “Blood on the Southern Cross”.

I was expecting the latter to have a real bias, but found it was approached really well, and came away from the 90 minute sound and light show (including multiple locations) really impressed with how it was depicted.

From a shed-dweller’s perspective, there is so much of interest at Sovereign Hill.  From the construction of the buildings and fences, through to the metal and woodworking (both manual, and steam-powered) that you get to observe first-hand, but more on that in future posts.

Really got me wondering if I had been born about 150 years too late – the combination of wood, metal and steam, and how they were worked really resonates with me.

If you take a modern wood or metal worker, they would be pretty at home in the workshops from that era, and take an artisan from that period and drop them in one of our workshops, and they would hardly notice a difference, other than the absence of line drives, belts and steam – all replaced with electric motors.  The machines themselves – not much has changed, other than perhaps the addition of shielding!!

I haven’t even touched on the topics I will get into in upcoming posts, that deserve their own dedicated attention. Not to mention that the two full days we spent there (Wed afternoon to Fri morning) still didn’t leave enough time to do everything that was available to do or see!

Bottom line, if you have an opportunity to go to Sovereign Hill (and haven’t already), it is a real experience.


Cool Tools Woodworking Special

My mate, Chris Grundy and a woodworking special edition of Cool Tools (complete with small blank sections for ad breaks)

The Wood Whisperer at the Melbourne Show

Marc managed to make an appearance down under!


Stu’s Shed at the Melbourne Wood Show

In a week (tomorrow) is the start of the Melbourne Timber and Working with Wood Show.  The maps are now out on the Impressive Exhibitions website, and can be found here.   Exhibitor List  and  Floor Plan

Zooming in on the plan, and right near the entrance is Triton’s stand (#20 & #21), and as part of that is Stu’s Shed (and thanks to Triton (aka Kincrome) for use of part of their stand).

Stu's Shed at Melbourne Show

Stu’s Shed at Melbourne Show

I am still working on just how the stand will look (and function)- Kincrome are providing benches and storage units that look pretty cool, and provide a decent amount of working area.  I will have a Triton router table there (again provided by Kincrome) so can do some demos on that, and I’m hopeful of having one of the new Comet lathes from Teknatool as well.  Over the next week, the plan will reveal itself  (to me as well!)

Kincrome Worx Modular

Kincrome Worx Modular

Now I’ve a better idea of the location and size, I’ll make some modifications to my ideas – scale back some concepts!  Not a bad thing – it is very easy to try to do too much – grandiose plans!


Colour my (shed) world

Even from early shed days, there was an interesting trend in the colour schemes in the shed, that paralleled where I was at in terms of equipment, and woodworking in general.

From slow beginnings, almost a precursor stage where there was an influence of GMC Blue.  This expanded somewhat, but then Triton orange appeared, and surged.  The amount of large machines grew significantly, as did my capabilities to produce a decent product.

Jet beige tried to make an appearance, but for a number of reasons, never really establised a foothold – it may have been just too early, too pricey (at the time) or for whatever reason it just didn’t catch on.  Don’t get me wrong – good product, but only one machine remains in current use.

The real surge (colour-wise) was from Carbatec blue (and some Tormek blue), and as you can see from the (very rough) diagram, it firmly pushed Triton out of the workshop, each orange machine getting replaced with something blue (and silver).

The workshop has been expanding a little since, with a combination of Torque green, and Festool green (yeah, I know the tools are mostly blue casings, but I still think of Festool based on the colour of the logo, and the colour of the latches on the systainers.)

I’m not sure what point there is to these observations.  If I drew a line through the current point and had started there, I would have saved a lot of buying, then selling of items.  But that just would not have happened – at the start there would have been no way I’d invest that much into a hobby that was not certain.

My introduction into woodworking is easily credited to that spike of orange.  It was a dominant force, and really set the hobby in motion.  That it has faded now only reflects some opportunities I had, and that my requirements outgrew it to some extent.  There is little I make these days that couldn’t have been made back then either (excluding the lathe that Triton prototyped but never released, and the unique capabilities of the Torque).  My ears are probably a lot happier – induction motors are so much quieter!

There is still some GMC in the shop (very little – a drill, a 3 mill. candle lamp, a router) and some Triton (circular saw and routers) but that is pretty much the extent of it.  The lack of Jet is a bit of a surprise – not a reflection on the brand, but some opportunities that were missed that others grabbed.

Are there any lessons in this for someone either starting out in woodworking, or considering doing so?

Woodworking is a very personal pursuit.  Every single person will have a different story, different requirements, different resources (space, time, money), and a different degree to which they want to become involved, so it is very difficult to even make generalisations.

I know a number of years ago (when Triton was still very popular, and readily available), as the influence of Chinese manufacturing was starting to be felt, there were a lot of comments out there about why buy Triton – you could get a reasonable tablesaw for the price.  Perhaps true, perhaps not (at the time).  It is certainly the case currently (but again, that will change).

Triton was very much a feeder brand – it bought people into woodworking that may never have gotten involved otherwise.  And because you could build up your collection of tools, accessories and additions over time, your budget didn’t take the same hit than if you spent it all at once on a dedicated tablesaw. It could be folded away, (and transported) which was another important consideration for those space poor, and not necessarily looking at setting up a full workshop (not at least until the addiction takes hold and spreads).  Many woodworkers to this day are still happy using their Triton workbenches, and may not have invested much, if any more than that.

If asked today, Triton probably would not be the answer I’d first think of, given the price has risen, and even more so compared to the price other brands have come down.  Get a shed, or workspace that is dedicated (if at all possible), some basic tools, and take your time to build from there.  A jigsaw (the puzzle, not the tool!) is completed one piece at a time, each is contemplated, assessed and placed before moving onto the next.  Treat your tool acquisition in the same way.

These days, now I’ve had a sentence or two to think about it, I’d probably say, start 2nd hand.  Acquire, contemplate, assess, place, use, then as your workshop grows you can then look at moving items on and scaling up the collection to bigger, better, perhaps newer.  At least when you do decide to, you will have a much better idea of what the replacement should be, and you should be able to recoup a large portion of your investment to reinvest.

Triton Tools during my Holmesglen courses

In my case I outgrew the Triton range.  However in saying that, the money invested was not a complete loss.  When I on-sold the tools, I still got around a 75% return on my investment.  The money that I didn’t get back could easily be put down as being paid for the use I got from the machines, the education I received in using them, the lessons I learned.  That 25% is not a bad investment!  On top of that, some of the work I did on the Triton saved me a great deal compared to the alternative – buying the furniture items from Ikea and the like.

Without even counting the magazine articles I wrote, the demonstrations I was doing, the courses I ran, once the last item was sold, I could easily say that the Triton made me money.  A hobby that paid for itself!  That is not a bad hobby to get into.

What you need to do is determine what sort of woodworking you want to pursue, at least initially – no matter your choice, you are not locked in.  The way to work that out is quite simple.  When you imagine yourself in 5 years time, a veteran woodworker, what sort of things do you imagine you have made?

Turned bowls, vases?


Fine furniture, Krenov cabinets, Windsor rocking chairs?

Practical furniture, bookshelves, kitchen cabinets?

Scrollsawn masterpieces?

Kids’ toys, dollhouses, marble rollers?

Kids’ furniture, playhouses?

Fine boxes, dovetailed joints, fancy lids?

Pyrography, burning pictures in wood?

What you visualise will determine what path to pursue initially.  You can then find books and magazines on the topic (libraries are a great initial resource, and the price is right).  You could enrol in a course.  You could join a club or get into the woodworking forums (but be aware that everyone has a bias (even me), and they may guide you to what would be best for them and their version of this pursuit, and not necessarily yours).

Whatever direction you choose, if it is something that really excites you, then that is an excellent place to start. Start small, build up your collection, and challenge yourself.  But most of all, enjoy it – life is too short not to really enjoy what you do.

Australia Day

Let me paint you a picture.

It is 2pm in the afternoon. Sun is shining, sky is clear and blue, save a few of those small cotton-ball-like clouds that are a dazzling white, just to show you how blue the sky really is. The temperature is a balmy 28 degrees.

Just outside my shed door (open so the stereo music can be heard) is the swimming pool, with water so clear the bottom of the pool looks only a few inches below the surface. I’m floating on a thong decorated as the Aussie Flag (no- not in a thong – not thinking Borat


More like Kylie at the Olympics


Kylie ON a thong, not in….. Ok you get the point.)

The pool is warm, and a floating server holds beers around the rim. A copy of ManSpace floats just below the surface- where it fell when dozing overtook reading.

The beers are cold, the BBQ still hot after the steaks. The remnants of prawns sit piled on a plate. An occasional crack can be heard from the esky as the ice inside slowly succumbs.

This is Australia Day, the Aussie way.

Later, the family is heading into the city to watch a Disney concert- some all dancing all singing spectacular, then as the sun sinks and light fades across the Yarra, fireworks will again illuminate the sky, throwing the cityline into silhouette.

From there, home, and some Benedictine and Cointreau with cream over rocks (or perhaps with whiskey and some lime wedges).

Happy Australia Day!


Time, The Blogosphere, and World Economy

23 January 2012.

My daughter’s 5th birthday, celebrated with a large party of family and friends a couple of days ago, and on her actual birthday with grandparents, lots more presents, and time.

For a year or so before Jessica was born, I was heavily invested (timewise) in the Australian Woodwork Forums, moderating, writing and producing videos for a new area that we’d created which had particular appeal to me, as it combined my woodworking and a fascination with video editing.

To roll that back even further: other than always having a particular interest in photography, in 1986 I got to use an SLR for the first time while doing a short course at high school. The photographic interest at that point became the seed for a hobby that kicked off heavily in 1988 when I toured Europe for a year and bought a new SLR (Minolta 7000) while passing through the US on the way to London. That hobby (obsession) continued until 2000, when Kodak took some of my films I had just shot on the Great Ocean Road of Victoria, Australia, and destroyed them all by processing them in the wrong chemicals (they processed the Velvia slide film (E6) in print film chemicals (C41)). My interest in photography had a revival once I got my first digital SLR, but the intensity that I pursue it is only at a 1/10th what it used to be. Still, through a combination of a significant back-library of photos, and what I still take these days, my little photo blog has content to last. Stu’s Darkroom

But back to the video editing. Photography and videography do have a lot in common- video being a bunch of photos taken at 25 frames a second (or 29.79/30 FPS for NTSC). A year after my first SLR experience, I shot my first video- creating a music video for a band at school for a national battle of the bands music video competition called Shazam. The band’s music entry didn’t get anywhere particularly, but my video got through to the final 4. This was in the days long before you could whip up a broadcast quality video on your desktop computer (or your iPad).

In 1999, I was in Cairns diving on the Great Barrier Reef on a dive cruise, and met a couple from the US. Their next stop was Melbourne, so I took them for a trip down to Phillip Island for the day. Turned out, he was a programmer for Adobe, and he offered me their suite of products at cost. One of those products was Premiere: their non-linear digital editing product.

Photography, video, and the ease of desktop editing crashed into each other. All it needed was a few more years for the power of the average computer to catch up to make it a reality.

So there I was in 2006/7, producing small videos on woodworking and we (woodwork forums) become aware of a new blog/podcast starting the the US, called the Wood Whisperer. Not sure exactly when Marc started, but it was around then. What caught my attention was his videos were in iTunes, and I was really interested in getting some of my photo essays on there, in a similar theme to what Magnum was doing with their photo essays.

I needed something to test, and set up a web server at home to host the video. I didn’t want to start with a serious photo essay, so chose one of my woodworking ones. And to package it up for submission to iTunes, I created a simple blog. Stu’s Shed.


This year (end of June) marks 5 years since that curious twist resulted in this website taking off, 5 months after my daughter’s birth. Boy has it been busy times! I read with interest on Marc’s personal blog about just how much of an impact having his first child recently has impacted hugely on him and his (now) business of The Wood Whisperer, and not only can I sympathise, but it makes clear just how time consuming it has been for me to hold down a full time job, with a new child, and run a demanding woodworking blog. I’ve grown the site as much as time has permitted (and continue to do so), but no wonder how much I’ve burned the candle at both ends to keep it running, and still not been able to derive an income from it- time to do the niceties of planning, regular articles, regular videos etc just doesn’t exist (as even Marc is discovering!)

You can read Marc (Wood Whisperer) Spagnuolo’s article here.

We have different models for our blogs, Marc and I. Between Marc, Matt (as in Matt’s Basement Workshop) and I, we had the first three woodwork podcasts (and the first three woodwork blogs (?)) out there. There are a few more these days! I still try to keep mine a bit different- not to be better, but why duplicate what someone else is doing?

This year, Stu’s Shed will, like my daughter, turn 5 years old. It will pass the 2000 article point, and hopefully the 150 video mark (yes, I want to get back to more regular video production). I doubt anyone will offer me $1000000 for my website though!

Still, my constant readers, we will continue on this weird journey together! Now the mad season is coming to an end (Xmas, birthdays etc), I can get back to my job of creating sawdust!

Oh- on World Economy? Have a read of this fascinating article on manufacturing and the western world. It uses the example of the iPhone, but really can be applied across the board to any industry trying (and failing) to keep manufacturing local. The world is a very different place these days. If Michael Crighton wrote Rising Sun today, I wonder how different the story would be?

Apple, America and a Sweezed Middle Class I wonder what future we are setting up for our future generations as western society follows our economy?

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