Friday, 25 May 2007

The Walls

Another week, and some, has gone by. The working bit is over for now, and it's almost time to get into the weekend again. I spent the last one working up a storm building rock walls. Well, some of it was spent that way, a greater part was actually spent digging and cracking the existing rock to make room for the wall to go in, and the set of steps to go up to the higher level.

This weekend, as long as there are no other exciting events waiting to surprise me, will be similarly spent. I should be able to get the wall near the chook run finished off if all goes well.

We had our first frost yesterday, and another again this morning, so my lament about Winter never arriving was premature, just as I knew it would be. They were only light, though a taste of things to come. Hopefully it wont be like last year where we got some -8 degree nights and killed off a few trees that are supposed to survive frosts well enough. With luck the bit of rain we've had is enough to moderate things.

The chillis survived these two frosts, but the basil has taken it poorly. With the clear sky out there I'd say we shall have another dose tonight and most of these tender plants will be gone. I'm interested in seeing how the perennial coloured cotton goes. There was no indication of frost hardiness, but with it being a more primitive strain perhaps it will survive a bit longer. The two I have potted up and put into the glasshouse and recovering well. Still haven't made any handkerchiefs from the cotton yet though :)

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Odd Jobs

Autumn certainly isn't in the rush it was last year, by now it had been and gone and Winter was well underway. Whilst there are obvious advantages to a long drawn out balmy Autumn it does have me a bit concerned what with climate change and all. Maybe Winter will never come??

Roses and cotton are both still putting out flowers, though some of the fruit trees have finally started to shed their leaves, and the two ash trees and the pistachio out the front are turning bronze-blood-red and golden yellow respectively. Some of the plants have the right idea, though the temperatures certainly aren't encouraging. We've had low twenties for weeks now, with overnight temps always above the mystical 5 degrees that seems required to set frosts in motion.

We obtained four new chooks recently, freebies from a notice in the window of the local store. At last we have chooks that lay eggs! The existing ones, Silver Grey Dorkings and a single Barnevelder and Spangled Hamburgh go off the lay at the slightest provocation, so we do a lot of feeding for little return. The new birds look to be Isa Browns or some similar factory breed, and they're living up to their reputation. Most days see four eggs come in from them. The Hamburgh has a go every now and then, but I think she's getting on a bit.

On the blacksmithing front I searched the big town for a source of charcoal and came up empty-handed. It looks as though I'm going to have to build myself a charcoal factory. I did try the compressed charcoal briquettes but it seems they have some additives that turn into a gluey slag, definitely not the best.

I've also finished the new blower, a much better one this time around. It is noisy though, and uses electricity, so I'll be looking to replace it with a manual one at some stage. I won't rush into it until the kids are big enough to power it reliably for me.

I'm starting to get into Winter mode on the jobs front, I've begun one rock wall near the chook house, and hopefully by the end of Winter it will be finished, along with a couple of small terraces across the back yard. I've got the spots ready for a couple of new fruit trees, but with our desire to move in the next couple of years we won't be spending a fortune packing the place with trees now. Who knows, the next people who take it on may bulldoze the lot, subdivide and sell it all off.

I plan on taking cuttings of all our fruit tree varieties this Winter, and then next year raising the rootstocks to go with them. It seems a bit backwards, but I learnt the proper method of propagating rootstock recently, but it was too late in the season to do it. In order to ensure I've got the needed material I'll take the cuttings now, that way if we should happen to strike it lucky and move sooner rather than later I've got all I need to reproduce the varieties we've already collected.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Forging A Blacksmith

For a long time now I've wanted to get into blacksmithing, well, any coloured smithing would do as long as it involved fire and metal in some combination. I'd finally set myself a goal to get started this winter.

A series of two (does two make a series? Perhaps not!) events led me to dive in head first rather than holding off until some time in the future. No point waiting around really. The first occurred whilst helping a friend with some access issues thanks to the recent site move. I took a browse on his blog over here (Day 47), and read that he had put the missing fuse in the line to his blacksmithing shed. That sparked my interest, the very word was enough for me, and was followed by an email conversation about how he had set it up and so on. He posted pictures as a follow up here (Day 50) and it's a great looking setup that had me riled and ready to go.

I was tipped over the edge after leafing through some old magazines and seeing a short article about a young fellow who had received a blacksmithing book and tools and embarked upon his journey. I thought if others can, why can't I? What was I waiting for? It was time to get started.

Anzac Day rolled up, and it was a perfect opportunity to do such a job. Step one was a scrounge through the junk pile I call a shed to get some appropriate bits and pieces, then a careful appraisal of the different wheels on hand to select the biggest and best. I had a piece of metal shaped perfectly to fit inside a wheel, nicely domed, and thick enough to handle some arc welding.

I had some scraps of pipe that would all assemble together to do the job. All my starting materials, excepting the legs, are in the image to the right.

After gathering all the components it was a matter of widening the hole in the base plate (the large round section) so that it would comfortably accommodate the "just below the fire" bit (the large diameter galvanised pipe). Most designs I've seen would have a tuyere at this point, but my materials dictated my tuyere would be an extended affair in order to get all the bits welded together with a semblance of neatness.

The central hole was expanded by cutting slots out of the metal and then bending the remaining triangles out until they formed a snug fit with the wide diameter pipe. The pipe was then prepared in a similar fashion, triangles cut out and the remainder hammered inward until it would form a snug fit against the joiner, the rusty yellow bit that was just the right size to connect the gal pipe to the longer pipe with the tee in it.

All of this was then welded together, and the gaps sealed up with yet more welding. This time around I actually remembered to grind off all of the galvanising to make sure the weld would be clean and I wouldn't suffer the undue effects from the fumes that invariably arise whilst welding through a galvanised coating.

Much welding and grinding later the core of the forge was together. The following image shows the assembly, up-side down, but ready to go. In my plan I wasn't going to worry about welding this into the wheel, it was just going to sit in there and the concrete will hold it in place.

The next step was to cut myself some legs. A pile of twisted star posts gathered at the last council clean up contained three worthy candidates that were lopped off and welded around the wheel. Calculating the locations was a matter of trial and error, measuring the points until I had the three locations equi-distant. I'm sure there's probably a scientific or technical method to achieve the results, but I got there in the end.

Once the legs were on, all the joins got a coat of anti-rust primer and once dry it was put together. My grate is a cast iron drain grate from the local hardware, and along with the concrete and an end cap are the only purchased parts of the whole thing, oh, and the welding rods. I positioned the grate and then moulded some concrete around the sides to form a bowl. Now it was just a matter of waiting for it to dry.

The next step in the process was putting together a blower of some kind. I've got an old rotary blower, not sure whether it was hand cranked or run by a machine, but it's missing enough bits and in such a state that it would be an epic undertaking to get it running. As I'm an impatient fellow I put that aside as a project for another day and set about making myself a blower out of a hand-held vacuum.

Once completed, the blower was a work of art. Two tins from a couple of recent homebrew kits were moulded to form the air-flow management system, and all of this was hooked up to the outlet of the vacuum. Everything seemed to be ready to go.

Sunday rolled around, and it was time to fire it up. I'd collected some charcoal I'd buried up the back yard from a bonfire we'd had not long after moving here, which was still in fair condition. A bit of drying (first decent rain in ages fell the two days beforehand) and it was ready.

After starting a small fire in the bowl and getting that running along nicely I loaded some charcoal around the edges and waited for it to warm. Judging the time to be right I pushed my first bit of metal into the coals and switched on the blower. About a minute later it switched off. Seems the rechargeable vacuums don't run for a long time at all, top of seven minutes when fully charged. Thinking I'd be smart I installed it on the charger base and powered it up, only to find it won't run and charge at the same time, unlike a mobile phone for instance.

Frantically searching for a solution I realised I could apply the same style of solution to a big vacuum that I had in the shed. A cut up plastic bottle covered the outlets of the vacuum, and fed into the hose and then into the forge. Half an hour of panic later and we were back in action.

After a test run with a scrap of light metal that bent nice and easily I tried to think of something useful to make, before my scrounged charcoal ran out. I didn't have a pair of tongs, not plain ones anyhow (the ones I've got I believe are used for making holes in things, perhaps horseshoes?). I chopped myself a bit of rebar into two appropriate lengths and set to work.

There are no pictures of the action, being a bit busy at the time, but next time around I'll try to get some. The tongs below are not quite finished, I need to bend the handles back in a bit to make them easy to use with one hand, but they're not a bad start (if I do say so myself).

At one stage the air flow started to decline, and a quick check of the underbelly of the beast revealed that the whole was glowing red hot. I'd forgotten to let out the ash at intervals and the whole pipe was clogged with glowing coals. This was swiftly sorted out and work resumed.

I've been doing some research on how to make charcoal, and I think sometime in the near future I'll be undertaking a project to make myself a home charcoal factory. The only bit of design work and research still needed is a method to clean the smoke that comes off, hopefully to gather some other useful products like wood spirits. I know in theory it should be a matter of bubbling the smoke through water, but I wonder whether this will choke off the draw of the chimney, meaning the charcoal producing flames will go out. I may have to do a few tests.

I also need to re-work the blower. I began pulling the vacuum apart to remove the excess cleaning elements and work with just the motor, but got side tracked when an old friend arrived for a visit, but also needed a hole in the muffler of their car repaired. It was certainly a metalworking day.

On the garden front, we've still not had a frost, though I fully expected one after a few days of cool rainy weather. I also got myself an order of unusual tree seeds, which were potted up and put in the glasshouse. Some of them take up to two years to germinate, so I hope I'm devoted enough to keep the water up to them and the weeds out. Got myself some Tea Tree, Witch Hazel, Juniper, Siberian Pea Tree, Boldo, Cornelian Cherry, Bunchberry and Kangaroo Apple. They should add some interest around the place when compared against the usual apples and pears type forest fare.