Monday, 31 May 2010

Tesla be damned

So last week I went to the Lake District for a few days holiday with my chum Nick, and we had a jolly time. It's a beautiful area, and the weather was mostly nice - with one notable exception...

On Wednesday we went for a walk up Barrow Fell, near Keswick - described in the local blurb as "of modest height at 455 meters, there are excellent 360 views from the summit, a great reward for not too much effort". Just the job.

It had rained earlier in the day but as we made our way up there was a nice bit of sun peeking out from between the clouds. There was even proper bright sunshine just as we got to the top :-)

After about 5 mins at the summit, sharing pleasantries with another walker, taking pics and having a bite to eat, some grey clouds came in from the southwest and it started to rain.

Barrow Fell summit
Grey clouds approaching...

Suddenly there was a BANG and flash of thunder and lightning, and what felt like something hitting my head. Nick had the same sensation hitting her leg (she was sat down). We both saw this as our cue to pack up and begin our descent. Fast.

At first I thought "That can't have been lightning", but Nick was pretty convinced, likening it to being hit by a big hailstone. She had been sat on a backpack/seat made with a metal tube frame, so might've had more of a hit.

We're heading down the fell as quick as we can, saying things like: what was that? were we really just hit by lightning? should we ditch the backpack? and thinking that a full on lightning strike could some serious damage to either/both of us.

The rain is quite heavy by now, and then there's thunder and ZAP! we get hit again. It wasn't painful as such, more alarming - simply a shock, and a strong static shock on my head. An electroshock therapy taster session.

A quick mental check and I figure that I don't have much metal on me, although I'm a little concerned that my new phone might have been fried. Is my head feeling funny, or is it psychosomatic?

ZAP! we're hit again. This is ridiculous - surely we're going to get hit by a real bolt at this rate! Can we move any faster!? The other walker showed us the stability advantage of walking poles, gracefully overtaking us as we scrambled down.

ZAP! we're hit again, and I'm sure I saw a hair-thin arc of lighting just in front of my head. The walker got hit as well, doing that hand shaking thing when you get a static shock.

I double checked my baseball cap and found that actually does have a metal stud at the centre - ideal for a lightning conductor to my brain. I took it off and strapped it to my bag.

By this point we were highly motivated individuals, moving quickly down toward the tree line near the bottom of the fell. The atmosphere feels less close now, and we reach the bottom without further shocks. I feel a bit nervous about going under a tree to cross a stile, but it didn't get struck.

The rain stopped and, once we got over the stile, we began to catch our breath, although it wasn't until we were sat in my van down that we could really relax and think about how it could've become life-threatening - hell, it was life-threatening, just with more emphasis on the threat part.

The scary thing, aside from thinking that we might get fried at any moment, was the speed it changed from a lovely day to a dangerous storm, and there's nothing we could've done to prevent or predict it. A small reminder that in spite of our apparent mastery of our environment, we don't really control anything.

A quick check reveals no burns on our heads, and Nick hasn't suddenly got a streak of white hair. Maybe my head feels a little funny but it's faint enough that I'm not sure if I'm just imagining it, so it's probably not serious...

Next on the day's agenda - kayaking on Derwent Water, where we find ourselves irresistible to polystyrene cups in the reception. I suppose for a minor lightning strike, you only get a minor superpower. The storm cleared away and we went on the water without any more shocks. Which was nice.

Later on via my chum Claire, I find that four people were injured by lightning strikes (none seriously) in the same storm, on three other hills approx 2-4 miles from us. A lucky escape!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Drawers - part 1

I actually did more planning for the drawers before building the framework, but didn't want to disturb the narrative ;-)

I measured the cupboard and considered how much clearance the drawers would need from either side to ensure there wouldn't be any problem opening them, then rounded the remaining space down to a convenient width of 520mm:

Drawer plan

The sides will be shorter than the gaps; the back panel will be slightly tall (a lip at the top), to prevent the drawer being pulled out accidentally; and the front panel will cover half of the framework horizontals above and below it, except the top drawer which will cover all of the top horizontal.

The rear and sides will be connected with box joints, and the front and sides with rabbet joints. The drawer bottom will use dado joints, which will be get nailed and/or glued as well.

Now I know what sizes I need, I can work out a bill of materials, specifying all the parts I need.

Drawing up plans at home is fine, but has a problem in that you can't be sure what materials will be available in the shop. The online guides to making drawers I read suggested ply for the sides and bottoms - but the shop didn't have thick enough ply for the sides, so I picked MDF instead. Hopefully it'll be strong enough!

Once I got my newly purchased two sheets of ply and three sheets of MDF home, I was able to plan how to get the most out of them. Unfortunately there didn't seem to be a way to waste less, but I did get a bit to use as fascia beside the drawers. Different drawer sizes might have been more efficient, but it would have turned into differential equations, and that would be taking it too far...

Drawer cutting plan

Ideally I'd be cutting all of these bits of wood with a table saw, which would be quick, and should help keep edges straight, distances consistent, and angles correct. I don't think I've got the space for a table saw, even if I did think I'd be able to justify it.

Maybe a circular saw, which would be better than cutting everything by hand saw? Nah, still don't think I can justify it.

I had heard about the Dremel multi-tool, which is meant to do cutting, routing, sanding - you name it - and thought that it would do a lot without needing a lot of storage space. It sounds like it would be adaptable to a range of things I'll want to do for this and other projects (my LED guitar for one).

It should cutting box joints, and routing for rabbet and dado joints - I'll have one. In fact I'll also have the pillar drill accessory which I'm bound to use - maybe even instead of the router accessory.

Well, when I tried some cutting, the shape of it meant I couldn't get the right angle, and the cutting disc snapped (I think that's an intentional safety feature). So I'm back to the hand saws. Sawing the boards by hand didn't take too long, but did require a lot of edge shaving, to square everything up.

The next task is box joints, with tenon saw, hack saw, and file. If it was real wood I'd chisel it, but I expect MDF would split in all sorts of horrible ways.

After one box joint the build stalls for a while, because it feels like I'll be sawing for ever. There may have been a rather entertaining a party and a few nights out that took away some momentum as well. Anyway, a few evenings later the mood strikes me again and in just two evenings I get all the other box joints done, with the ply cut to size for the drawer bottoms as well. Progress :-)

Drawer parts with cuts for box joints:
Drawer parts

Those MDF pieces are missing some important cuts: The rabbet joints where the front attaches to the sides, and the dado joints where the bottom fits into the front back and sides. I haven't the skill/patience do those accurately with just hand tools, so I do need a router.

The Dremel can do routing, but it's too wild to use freehand making a dado joint. Using pillar drill accessory as a router looked risky as well, so I went and ordered the router attachment. On the plus side, waiting for delivery of the router gizmo meant I started writing this stuff up...

Tuesday, 18 May 2010


Ok, the new shelves are in, and I have a load of wood ready to make the framework per my design:
Drawer framework plan

As I want to make some proper joints, I need a few tools - a wood saw and power drill are a good start, but a back saw of some sort would help. I think it was a tenon saw I bought.

I also went on a little diversion here, spending most of one morning re-organising my tools into a tote-style tool bag, and putting screws and nails into separate compartments. I'd be worried about OCD if it didn't pay off by making things easier to find, but it does, so that's fine :-)

Anyway, the frame starts with the outside edges of a cuboid:
Outer framework for drawers

The edges resting on the floor are basically there to hold the four uprights in the corners, each of which have been cut at the bottom so they fit over the skirting board.

The corner joints at the top are a sort of combination of mitre and lap joints. Not the most accurate mitres ever, but the overall sizes lock it in place:
Joint in drawers framework

With the outer edges done, I make lap joints on the four uprights, facing the front and back of the cupboard. These are inset with horizontals going from side to side, which in turn have lap joints and corresponding horizontals going front to back.

To space the drawers from the sides, and for more vertical strength, additional vertical colums are created between the front horizontals, to be kept in place with dowels.

Most of this is in the sketches on the right side of this bit of paper:
Design sketches

Not very well described, but it's late, and I have a video of me on a dry-run putting it together that might show it in a comprehensible manner, in which case I'll post it. Update: Here's the video.

Here are all the framework parts ready to be set in place:
Framework for drawers - parts

And here they are in place, with dowels, glue, and just a couple of screws to make sure it doesn't move:
Cuboard with framework for drawers

I haven't mentioned the two uprights in the middle before; they're screwed to the front-back horizontals, and should stop the drawers fishtailing (as well as giving more vertical strength).
A closer view:
Framework for drawers

Note the horizontals going front to back are slightly inside the verticals - they will be supporting the drawers.

Inevitably, this produced plenty of spare wood and off-cuts - hopefully I'll have use for some of them over the rest of the build, and eventually the remainder can go in someone's BBQ, chiminea, or something:

Next up - drawers...

New shelves

I got the tool I was waiting for today - W00t! I'll talk about that later, once these posts have caught up...

Back in the chronology of the build, I've got the drawers design looking quite solid, but need to put the replacement shelves in before any of the drawers (while access is clear for my step ladder).

This requires more plans:

Shelves plan

Three shelves, the top one shallower for ease of access, and at a reachable height (for me at least). The other two shelves evenly spaced, of course.

There's usually lots of notation about which way is up, forwards, backwards, etc. in my plans - better to note it than make a stupid mistake, I think.

Disliking waste, I like to make good use of the resources available - i.e. re-use stuff that I've already got. This includes some 6mm plywood from the original shelves in cupboard #1 I can use for these shelves :-) It's a little bit bendy, but I'm providing more support timber than it's original use, and the shelves are slightly smaller so will probably have a lighter load.

One trip to the DIY store for the wood (for this and the drawers framework), followed by lots more measuring (the cupboard isn't quite square), sawing, drilling and screwing; and this is the result:
Cupboard 2 - re-shelved

The ply looks a bit crap in place, next to the pine, but hopefully a coat of paint will make it a bit more respectable.

Monday, 17 May 2010


With a design fermenting, the first physical job was to take out the rather crap original shelves. (Odd that they were so rubbish when the rest of the flat was so well presented...)

I forgot to take a picture, but there were three shelves mis-matched sizes, materials, with a tendency to sag, and the higher ones were hard to reach/use. Those came out, along with the few bits of wall plugs I could extract.

That left an cupboard containing only holes and dirty marks (and air). Fill up the holes with polyfilla and give it a coat of paint, and that's a good starting point for the job proper:

Cupboard 1 - de-shelved

With a nice clean slate to work from, I started refining the design with scale plans for specific parts...

The framework:
Drawer framework plan
The vertical posts in the corners have to be cut so they fit over the skirting board, but reach top to bottom so will transmit the load of drawers, contents, and someone climbing up to the floor - no wall fixing, so no chance of pulling the supports out of the wall :-)

The vertical posts inset from the sides also provide support, but more importantly they are the side boundaries for the drawers. Note the bigger space on the right, so drawers aren't blocked in by the door.

The base of the framework:
Plan of drawer framework base

The base and outer pieces of the framework form the edges of a cuboid.

The observant will have noticed that the number of drawers has increased to four - after measuring up three seemed too low for the top of the drawers. It may turn out that four is too high, but hey - more storage!


So - the second cupboard. Design started months and months ago, when I though "That cupboard is a state - I need to use that space better", and came up with a plan of putting shelves up the top, and some drawers at the bottom.

The shelves shouldn't be so deep that stuff gets lost at the back, and the top shelf should be slightly shallower than the rest, otherwise it won't be possible to reach up and over.

At least one of the drawers should be deep enough to store my walking boots (as all my occasionally used shoes just clutter the place), and the whole thing should be sturdy enough to climb on to reach the top shelf.

Important note: the cupboard door partially blocks the cupboard, so the drawers can't be full-width if I ever want to open them :-)

I made a rough sketch with approximate dimensions, but don't know where it is at the moment, so you'll have to take my word for it that it was genius - despite later making radical changes to it later.

After my success with cupboard #1, I started sketching a second draft for cupboard #2, of which I do have a picture:

Design sketches

Top right is the timber framework to contain three drawers, and the rest are joint designs (some used, some not).

The plan was to use the wood's inherent strengths via proper joints, rather than just screwing/nailing/gluing everything.

The joint immediately below the framework shows a side-to-side horizontal, inset with a front-to-rear horizontal, with vertical posts, all to be fixed with dowels. This provides the support for each drawer directly (i.e. not using guide rails). This might result in drawers that are a bit hard to pull and push, but I'm hoping that decent design plus a bit of wax to make them slide should see me alright :-)


So, to kick this blog off, I shall post about my current DIY project - re-building the shelves in a cupboard. Yeah, I know - exciting.


There are two cupboards in my flat, and when I moved in they both had rather rickety, oddly spaced shelves. Three years on, I finally decided to improve upon them.

The first one was a cupboard with the boiler in, so I replaced the old shelves with some much sturdier and worth of being in an airing cupboard. No documentary of that though.

I'm working on the second one now, which requires a more complicated build, so I shall document my progress in the following posts...

NB: I'm a good way through the project, and am catching up on the blogging part whilst waiting for delivery of a tool I need for the next step.