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.


Line Shafts and Powering Machinery

We have not always had the luxury of small, compact, powerful electric motors for powering workshop machinery.  Instead, once workshops moved to having powered machinery at the start of the Industrial Revolution, they were using water, coal and fuel oil to to power the workshop.

Deutsch: Erste Dampfmaschine in der Dillinger ...

Deutsch: Erste Dampfmaschine in der Dillinger Hütte (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It would not be economic to run tiny steam engines, let alone split a river into multiple streams, one to each machine and its individual water wheel!  So instead there was one power source that drove a primary line shaft across the workshop, which with a series of pulleys and belts drove ancillary shafts, and from there to individual machines.

Line shaft and belt driven machinery. MACHINE ...


I posted a video on one working setup at Sovereign Hill in Ballarat where they demonstrate wagon wheel manufacture, back at Episode 79

Episode 79 Wagon Wheel Manufacture
Formats available: MPEG4 Video (.mp4), Quicktime (.mov), MPEG-4 Video (.m4v)

With the prospect of a new shed on the horizon (and especially one with a higher ceiling), I have already been visualising what the workshop may look like, including giving it some real character.  The romance of the old industrial age is something that does appeal, and where I can’t convert a workshop to run on line shafts (and the OHS implications in this day and age would melt the internet), I can still have some of the relics of this bygone age around, including a pseudo line shaft or two!

I already have one pulley that I bought from Chris Vesper a year or so ago – a very nice example of one, with classic timber laminations.


While one pulley is nice, having a small collection would be even better, and so I had a bit of a search around eBay.  The timing was perfect, as I not only found the following, I was very fortunate in winning the auction.

But this was was not just an auction of a few of the pulleys, but much more rarely, some leather belts as well.

w3 w1 w4 w5 w6

With such a cool collection, I’m thinking of recreating a bit of a line shaft setup, and the belts will really add to that effect 10 fold!  Now I just have to get them from the Blue Mountains to Melbourne!

Ballarat Timber

From recent posts, you have probably been determined that I made a trip to Ballarat for a bit of a break.  Unfortunately with the way the world is, I couldn’t announce the trip to make arrangements to catch up with any readers up there, so my apologies if I missed seeing anyone local. (I wanted to ensure I still had a shed to come home to!!)  Even so, at one point there was (as a friend let us know) a car parked across the street with a couple of people just sitting in it, who when approached made some story about needing jumper leads, but as soon as our friend went to feed the cats inside, the car was started and drove off very quickly.  Their number plate had been taken, and this was passed to the police who agreed it was all very suspicious, but weren’t interested as they hadn’t actually done anything. (To Serve and Protect? – protection needs a degree of proactivity).  Anyway, we got home safe, and the shed is still there, calling me!

I did get a chance to drop in on Terry Fogarty, of “Timber Cabinets (.com.au)“.  Terry took the Festool courses at Ideal Tools (these courses used to run in Williamstown, but I expect could still be arranged if there was a group who got together and had a location for the course, Terry could come to you), including the Hall Table course and the Domino course I did a couple of years back.

He has moved back to Ballarat, continuing his custom timber furniture business.  I had a chance to look around his workshop (significantly shrunk from the small factory site he had in Melbourne).

He had a new website as well, which has plenty of photos of his various creations.

A real shed!

If the shed looks like it has a bit of a lean, it is NOT the camera!  The floor has a real curve to it as well – must be to make sweeping easier – it all gathering in the edges 😉  But it isn’t the state of the workshop that counts, it is what you do with it.  The TV was playing the cricket in the background, but given how bad it was going for Australia, the sound was off.  Bad enough just seeing how bad they were playing!

The Workshop

Outside is the timber store (for want of a better description)

Wood Store

In the foreground you can see the start of the latest table project – going to look stunning when it is finished.  That central strip is a superb feature.

So check out Terry’s website, and see just what can be done in a workshop.  If you are looking for a custom build (or a course on making furniture yourself), give him a call.

Gold Fever

Made a trip to Sovereign Hill, Ballarat.  Never been there before (having not gone to school in Victoria), and was thoroughly impressed with the whole place.  Thought it’d be interesting to have a brief look at the wagon making in this post.  It is only superficial – I’d need a whole day there just looking at that one topic to do justice to what they have there.

Visiting Days of Old

Started the day with a ride in one of their stagecoaches – they work hard – leather shocks, heavy brakes (particularly down-hill), a significant amount of unsprung weight and no pneumatic tyres.

Touring the Diggings

They sure do look the part.

Belt Drives

On site there is a fully fitted workshop, and fully functional including the overhead belt drives (which are very cool)


What they drive are some incredible machines, massive linishers, auto lathes etc.  I took some video which I’ll edit up in a week or so.

Wheel Shop

We’d all kill for workshops like this – both their size, and capabilities.

Drilling the Bore

When manufacturing a wagon wheel, you can do so it all by hand (as it would have been early on), but the processes were improved and refined, and automation increased. I was very surprised just how sophisticated it had become.

Machining the Hub

This unusual looking contraption took the shaping of the hub from a process that could produce about 8/day, to one that could turn out 600. It peels the outside to the right diameter with a veneer knife, then a couple of shaping cutters to form the ends. (Video to come for this and the next machine)

Power, Auto Indexing Mortiser

This one absolutely rocks – it is a mortiser, but not only does it form the mortise in quite an impressive method, but the operator sets it up and walks away – it indexes to each position, predrills and mortises the entire hub.

Steam Timber Bender

Around the rest of the workshop, there are plenty of other interesting machines including this steam bender.  In the foreground are a bunch of wheel hubs.  I guess they are there because there a heaps of demos, and not so many wheels made, so these hubs feed the steam bender boiler.

Wood Store

Lots of stock, and it is all racked properly for drying (and more hubs!)

Wagon Shop

From the wheel manufacturing area to the wagons themselves, we see more traditional woodworking areas. (Traditional as far as what we would expect that is)

New Wagon Under Construction

They only use traditional machines and techniques here – wonder how easy it would be to do something like this in a modern workshop.

Finished Wagons

By the end of the day, there were a few changes.

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