Handmade Wooden House Name

It’s been a while. Apologies. Work at uni has been a little tough as of late. Things are a little delayed, but they’re looking up so I’m getting back in to the swing of my extra-curricula activities.

As I’ve mentioned before, I find designing, creating, DIY etc really helpful to relieve stress and anxiety. I recently visited my parents’ new house as a combined escape from Manchester and drop-in visit. To my horror, their new digs didn’t have a sign outside which for one made it a ball-ache to find, and two it just wasn’t right…period!

The previous owners of the house left loads of wooden posts behind so I set about finding some which were on the less-rotten side of their shelf life. A bit like buying a house, I had to see the potential in them. The steaks for the ground needed a good sanding, but came out quite nicely in the end. The post for the actual sign needed a brief sand down too and afterwards I attached a baton on the back to help secure it into the workbench vice. I specifically chose the fractured end of the post because it look rather nice too. You can see it later in this blog post.

I must admit my favourite font is Times New Roman and after a brief internet search for other ideas, I went with it and set about the design. I cut out the words to create a negative stencil and taped it to the post, making sure it was absolutely centred.

Initially I thought I could directly router the words into the post, but fancied polishing up on my chiseling skills instead. So, I covered the exposed post with industrial sellotape, left over from the removal company, and spray-painted over the stencil.

Once the stencil was removed, it was just a matter of slowly chiselling away whilst taking in the view from the house.

After a good sand down to neaten up the letters, I used black acrylic paint to make the house name stand out. Luckily it went well, but yes this is the point in a project when if something will go wrong, it will. But it didn’t, so we’re good! You can see the fractured end on the left of the sign. It’s a little reminiscent of wings or something. Can’t quite put my finger on what exactly I like about it, but I do.

I coated the sign in some lacquer to seal in the acrylic paint and attached it to the two steaks once the lacquer was dry. I then carefully hammered the house sign into the ground by the entrance to the driveway, situated amongst the daffodils.

I’m pretty pleased with how it came out and it seemingly preceded my first encounter with a neighbour who asked if I worked with stone. I replied ‘I don’t…yet’. Although taking commissions could be enjoyable as a side hustle and maybe lucrative, I might just stick to the odd one if asked.

Let me know what you’ve been up to! If there is anything you’d like me to try, please drop me a line!! Happy to answer questions or help out where I can.

Dom out!

Home alarm with an Arduino

My university degree didn’t involve electronics, or at least the hands-on aspect of using them at least. I did cover basic circuitry, but my study mostly focused on the physics of it all, namely something known as quantum mechanics. I won’t delve into that side of things, but the thing to remember with that can of worms is that the physics which governs the world we see is itself a world away from what governs the world at the nano-scale.

1 nanometre (nm) = 1/1,000,000th of a millimetre (mm)

It just so happened that in my final year at university I lived with two friends, both of whom studied electronics and electronic engineering so I probably had the best chance of learning something of it all. I wasn’t up for having ‘Electronics for Dummies’ sitting on my shelf…haha. I thought it might be fun to design my own silent alarm for our then flat. I find a more hands-on approach teaches me more than just the books. We never actually used it in the end.

I started with a breadboard. This is a plastic block with wires inside that allows for the user to test circuit designs without needless soldering and wasting supplies. The block has some 400 ports which are filled by simply push-fitting wires and LEDs into.

Breadboard with push-fit ports for solderless prototyping.
Arduino used for controlling home alarm.

The sides of the breadboard have a row of two ports. The rows are connected lengthways which means you can either supply (+) or ground (-) a current which supplies the rows of 5 ports in the middle of the board. In short, this just means you can neaten up your prototyping. Hopefully it’s illustrated better below.

I assigned a red LED to each door in my house to tell me if it had been opened and a single green LED to signify all doors being locked. I used those supply and grounding rows to neaten up the design. Each LED has its own colour-corresponded supply wire. This was because each LED was controlled on a separate circuit as each door is separate.

Wired LEDs for locked (red) and unlocked doors (green) with individual supply and shared grounding.

Next, it was just a matter of creating individual circuits with a 5V supply for each door. This time, the circuits shared the same supply, but had different groundings. This allowed me to monitor the output.

Inputs and outputs for doors with shared supply and individual grounding.

Now the coding bit. I won’t go into too much detail because frankly I’m still learning myself. I measured the output of the circuit for each door to determine if it was still locked or had been opened. If a specific circuit was broken for longer than 2 seconds, then the green light from the first circuit would turn off and the corresponding red light flash. A second ‘on’ and a second ‘off’.

I coded the alarm using the Arduino platform. I used something called an ‘if function‘. This allowed me to code in that ‘if the circuit is completed’ (i.e. the door is shut) then ‘the green light is on’. Then I coded that ‘if the circuit is broken for 2 or more seconds’ (i.e. a door is opened) then ‘the green turns off and the corresponding red light flashes’. Once the bugs were ironed out, it worked pretty well.

Portion of the code written for the alarm.

I designed a case for the alarm with TinkerCad. I roughly measured the dimensions of the Arduino mother board, its power supply and the breadboard and placed pilot holes to neaten up all the wires going in and out of the case.

I then printed it using the Neo 3D printer. This one uses a laser to cure a resin. After cleaning it with rubbing alcohol to remove excess resin and a thorough wash in warm soapy water, it was ready to go.

Final Alarm Design

It worked quite well. I also designed and printed a second LED alert module. The larger alarm will be placed somewhere inside, whilst the second module will be visible from outside the front door to alert someone coming home of a break in the circuit.
Have you used an Arduino before? Let me know what you used it for and how it went. If you have a design in mind, please get in touch and I’ll do what I can to help.

Making kombucha leather fabric: Using the SCOBY sheets (3/3)

Now this part was probably my favourite aspect out of the entire project. I called upon the wonder skills of my Mother over at Textiles Matters who kindly tested the capability of the SCOBY fabric to hold a stitch. Well neither disappointed!

I plan to test thee strength of the fabric using a tensile testing machine. This applies a ‘pulling’ force to an object and determines what’s known as the ‘ultimate tensile strength’. Essentially, this is the point where the most force is withstood before eventual failure.

I’d love to know if you’ve given this process a go at home and how you got on with it!

Making kombucha leather fabric: Drying the SCOBY sheets (2/3)

Okey, this part of the process I found quite exciting as you can see the material form as the SCOBY sheets dry out. It takes a while mind, but well worth the wait.

For my SCOBY sheet, I waited for approximately 4.5 weeks because I wanted it to be on the thicker side. There’s a lot of water in the SCOBY sheet so this means you end up with a decent thickness of the final material. I gently peeled the small SCOBY from the larger sheet and made started some kombucha with it. If you want to drink the resulting kombucha, follow the SCOBY growing blog and just place the smaller SCOBY into a large glass jar.

I then hung the SCOBY sheet in my kitchen using some clothes pegs for about 3-4 weeks, flipping it once a week. Rudimentary, I know! The longer the SCOBY sheet was left to dry, the thinner the material became until it was a little like the iron-on stiffening material.

I noticed that the material became a darker brown as it dried out, so don’t be alarmed if this happens. This is even more so if the SCOBY sheet is thicker to start with.

Good luck and let me know how you get on! I’d love to see what you manage to do! I shall post about what I got up to with the SCOBY leather shortly.

Making kombucha leather fabric: Growing SCOBY sheets (1/3)

This is the first step to creating some leather-like material at home, using the same process to make Kombucha.
I shall detail the drying process in the next posts.

I’ve always been a little sceptical of kombucha if I’m being honest. I think it’s because it’s often associated with being trendy rather than solely for its benefits and so I could never get my head around drinking it for the sake of a trend. We had some periodically in the house growing up which was home made, flavoured with slices of gingers for some spice and orange peel to balance and take after the slight bitterness of the unflavoured stock.

I came across a rather interest art project which looked at producing a leather-like material via drying the SCOBY growth. It was somewhat of a serendipitous find I’ll admit whilst I researched ideas to easily introduce Materials Science to schools during the COVID restrictions which could be lead via Zoom or Microsoft Teams. After some trial and error and tweaking of the recipe, I managed to put together a method to create sheets of SCOBY. Now, SCOBY is an acronym for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. I.e. it’s a living thing. As such, it grows to fill the available space. What’s more, it grows in layers which can be separated with your hands to have more Kombucha.

What you need

  • 1 large pot (2 litres capacity)
  • 1 Wooden spoon (NOT metal)
  • 1 large glass roasting tray (200mm (W) x 300 (L))
  • 1 sheet of muslin (250mm (W) x 350mm (L))
  • Clingfilm
  • 1 sharp knife
  • 1 large tea towel
  • 0.8 litres freshly boiled water
  • 1 breakfast tea bags
  • 1 green tea bag
  • 80g caster sugar (or up to 120g to sweeten the mixture if you’ll be drinking it too)
  • Layer of SCOBY with starter culture (approx 100ml)

Method

Pour the freshly boiled water into the pot and dissolve in the sugar with a wooden spoon. Once the sugar is dissolved, add in the tea bags and gently stir. Leave the mixture to steep until the water is room temperature and then remove the tea bags. I leave it over night, but you can remove the tea bags anytime before that. The mixture MUST be allowed to cool.

When the tea mixture is cooled, thoroughly wash your hands and then wash out the glass roasting tray and make sure there is no residual soap. Try not to touch the inside of the tray to avoid contamination. Place the glass tray onto the tea towel somewhere out of the way in the kitchen.

Wash your hands again. Gently wash your SCOBY with cold water only and separate your SCOBY transversely (horizontally). You should see faint lines of separation between layers on the side of your SCOBY. NEVER use a knife or scissors to cut it as metal is detrimental to it. Hence why we’re using a glass roasting tray. Spare layers of SCOBY can be used to make more Kombucha.

Wash your hands and gently place the SCOBY into the glass tray and add approximately 100ml of the starter culture with the cool tea solution. The starter culture can be the kombucha from which the SCOBY came or what a new SCOBY is delivered in. Place a sheet of clingfilm over the glass tray, making sure it’s fairly taut to avoid it sagging into the mixture. Carefully stab holes into the clingfilm with a clean knife to allow for air flow and cover with the muslin cloth to stop bugs from getting in. Fruit flies love it, but aren’t the nicest thing to have in your kitchen.

Leave the mixture for about 2-4 weeks. You’ll see a layer covering the dimensions of the glass tray slowly form as the SCOBY grows. The longer you leave it, the thicker and more opaque this layer becomes. Thicker layers take longer to dry out, but are more robust.

Have a go yourself and let me know how it goes! Also, if you have any advice or questions let me know.

I shall be posting how I dried the SCOBY sheets and what I got up to with them.

Homemade leather card holder

I thought I’d give working with leather another try. It isn’t that my last home project using the material was particularly difficult, but rather I had some leftover leather after making a knife sheath and so didn’t want to just discard it. Despite already having a sturdy wallet already, I have on numerous occasions been tempted to buy a card wallet to replace it. In a world where cash is becoming somewhat of an outdated commodity, we find ourselves more and more just ‘tap and go’-ing. Call me old fashioned, but cash is king…

I set about making a card wallet, which boasted the usual tenuous waistline, but with a central compartment for cash! Luckily for me, the notebook I butchered had designated slots for business card, which I used to create the card slots.

Final pieces of leather for card slots

To create the regions for the cards and the cash, I realised that 4 separate sheets of leather would be necessary with 2 smaller additional strips to divide each card slot themselves into 2. I used the same waxed linen thread as used for the knife sheath.

Layered leather pieces for card wallet

Unlike with the knife sheath, I wanted the card wallet to have smaller and more subtle pilot holes for the thread. I still needed pilot holes so fashioned a thick needle to poke a hole through each layer. I then used the surgical needle holders to pull the needle through to complete the straight stitch. I realised it was easier to stitch in the card slots for each side of the card wallet separately and then stitch the two sides together. It meant more work, but was easier and meant I could better approximate the edges without issue.

I repeated this for the other edges of this side of the card wallet and then did the same for the other side.

Two sides of the card wallet

Once I’d finished the two sides of the card wallet, I had to then stitch the two side together. Think about the spine of a book. That’s at least what I thought it looked like anyway. This part was a little more difficult because I was working with a straight needle, but managed to use the flexibility of the leather to my advantage.

It was then just a matter of rinse and repeat for the other side and the bottom of the card wallet.

The final card holder

This was a lot of fun. It was harder than when I made the sheath, partly because for that I punched holes before I stitched the sides together and because the sheets of leather were larger. I guess the proof will be in the pudding on this one so I’ll do my best to remember to update you on how it holds up!
I must admit, I didn’t sketch a plan for this, so can’t really offer a resource for you all to follow. I shall try to deconstruct the card holder and post up a sketch design.

Find my email address in the Contact section and drop me any photos of what you’ve made too.

How do I communicate the future of 3D printing in medicine?

It’s safe to say that 3D printing is not a new concept to most with the first findings tracing back to Hideo Kodama in 1981, a Japanese inventor. If you have any questions on his method of 3D printing, just drop me a line. 3D printing has become one of the most widely recognised buzz words not only in research, but amongst creators in general. The technical definition is that 3D printing is a type of additive manufacture, but this isn’t much better than if I just said it’s ‘printing in 3D’…
In short, it is:

Creating an object by adding layer-upon-layer of material

Science fiction has done well to make people aware of the future for 3D printing in medicine and has certainly got everyone excited about it. I won’t go into the details of it too much, but practically it isn’t as easy as TV/Film makes it out to be which is why communication is so vital. Organs and tissues are incredibly complex. Without going off on a tangent, it is important to remember that they are hierarchical and have developed through extensive trial and error. As such, our approach as tissue engineers must reflect this and so we are tackling the larger goal in bite-sized portions.

There are a variety of 3D printers available. Some heat a plastic filament, a bit like thick fishing line, whilst others use a laser to cure (set) a liquid resin and some work a bit like your home inkjet printer. They each have their benefits and pitfalls, and so are chosen depending on the product requirements.

Stratasys is probably one of my favourite brands to work with. Having found a fairly apt organ designs online, I set about a process known as ‘wrapping’. This is where I effectively superimposed a 2D image of the same organ around a 3D object. It’s not the easiest or quickest of processes, but once you’ve found a good anatomical image, it means you can highlight some of the finer details.
Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture of this step.

Wrapping a 2D image round a 3D object (Find here)

Next it’s a matter of starting the printer and the long process of making the object. Inkjet 3D printing allows you to use multiple inks simultaneously, whilst also printing disposable support material to help steady the object as it prints. Also, it means you can print materials with different stiffness’s at the same time.

Final print of objects on inkjet 3D printer (Stratasys J750). The white coating is the disposable support material.

The support material is easily rub off, it has a wax-like appearance and consistency. I then gave the prints a thorough scrub with warm soapy water and let them dry over night.

3D printing in medicine is not only for the development of patient-specific treatments, but represents the future of other methods, like off-the-shelf treatments. As such, I thought it would be good to demonstrate this and so I set about making some packaging from old Easter egg boxes. I added basic information about the 3D printed organs too.

  • On-demand 3D printed manufacture
  • Patient-specific tissue matching
  • Engineered biomimetic architecture
Information for the packaging of the 3D printed heart model.

It was then just a matter of constructing the packaging and using wire ties from the packaging of a child’s toy to hold the organ in place.

And that was it. They are ready for me to use at OutReach events for The University of Manchester and I plan to use them for some online teaching resources too.

The final packaged 3D printed heart and kidney models.

Although they are a simple model, these printed organs help to illustrate the end goal of a lot of regenerative medicine research which is going on right now. Having something for members of the public to hold and ask questions about goes a long way to support their learning and understanding.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on 3D printing in medicine. Do you use 3D printers at home? Let me know what you’re getting up to with them!

Knife sheath from an upcycled leather notebook

I love a good looking sheath for any knife, especially a leather one. I had a look at buying one, but as most of you create lot can appreciate there’s nothing better than something you’ve made yourself. I thought about whether it was necessarily needed for my newly upcycled kitchen knife, but I thought it might be a nice addition to it.

I looked about for some sheets of leather on eBay and Amazon, looking for something with a 3mm thickness based off of sheaths I’ve had in the past. Also, I thought if it’s too stiff then that would be better than if it were too thin. Lo and behold, my sister kindly saved an old leather notebook and suggested it in place of buying leather and waiting for it to arrive. Smart thinking! It was about 2mm thick which turned out to be just right.

The outer cover of the notebook was ideal for the sheath. It was the largest piece of the notebook and covered the entire length of the knife. Therefore, I set about cutting off the outer cover with no.20 scalpel blade and did so just before the seam line so as to save as much of the leather cover as possible.

It took a fair bit of time, mostly out of caution so as to not slip and cut a digit. I need my dexterity for my lab work afterall!

I cut the sheets into 95mm wide strips and cleaned up some of the straggling thread. The width was optimised to remove as much of the glued regions as possible with the scalpel, whilst still allowing enough for the sheath.

It just so happened that the ferrule of the knife aligned nicely with one of the seam lines of the leather strips whilst allowing enough for a seam line to be installed at the blade tip. I cut along this existing seam line to create the top part of the sheath which needed to be shorter. My initial design only required one of the strips to be cut like this.

Next, it was a matter of creating holes along the edges of the leather strips to stitch the leather strips together. Ever stitched leather without punching holes first?! Total! Total! Total nightmare!! I actually punched the holes in each strip separately rather than holding them flush and punching them. I tried my best to keep the distance between holes the same and luckily for me it worked out. Next time, I’ll punch them together.

I doubled up some waxed linen thread as this would provide the strength I needed for the sheath.

This took a little more time than I expected, but was worth it as I couldn’t tighten the stitch too tightly to avoid rupturing the separation between holes. After completing the right edge, I started on the tip end and decided an angle on the left side would follow the shape of the blade so I stitched it first and then cut the bottom right corner off.

The inside of the sheath

I found that stitching the left edge with the knife in the sheath made it easier to approximate the final edge and the tightness I wanted. However, the top leather strip wasn’t as tight as I would have liked so used the seam line to hold the top and bottom strips together to more easily tighten the strip over the blade.

As I hinted at before, it was at this point that I thought it better to cut off the leather strip which extended under the handle of the knife.

Something Coco Chanel once said has always stayed with me:

” Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off “

Coco Chanel

I’ve always tried to apply this to everything I do. What I mean by that, is I use it to help me to know when enough is enough. With the sheath finished, I pondered whether a belt loop would be of use or if it would add anything to the design. With Coco in mind, I decided against it. I did, however, decide that some sort of attachment might be good to have to at least help secure the blade in the sheath. So, I stitched one in as a final edit to the design. I got to use my needle holders from my arsenal of surgical instruments. I use them for some surgical-based work I’m doing.

And that was it. the sheath was finished and worked really quite well!

As always, let me know what you refurbish or renovate. Ever worked with leather before? Please let me know any advice on using it or maybe even of any ideas for future leather work.

Upcycling a chest of drawers for my parents’ hens

I haven’t made a hen house before, although I understand the need for a decent structure for it to have. I’d say I went into this with a well-oiled plan, having used the design software I mentioned previously, but nope. I had a good idea of what I wanted it to look like based on what I was starting with and well let’s be honest, most basic hen houses look the same.

After some 30 years of calling the South East ‘home’, my parents have decided to move further North. Unfortunately, due to how the move has panned out and the interest shown by the buyers, my parents’ four resident hens; Patch, Blue, Dorothy and Betty (left to right) shall be continuing their occupancy of the South East. However, the fancy Eglu isn’t staying, hence the post. It so happened that there was a disused mahogany chest of drawers which my Mother charged me with turning into a hen house whilst I’m home. Challenge accepted!

First things first, the drawers came out and I removed the fronts off them. This nicely freed up some extra wood to save me (proxy of the folks) some money. furthermore, the outer frame was mahogany so was sturdy enough without cladding. The cross beam at the front wasn’t as sturdy as I’d have liked so a bit of re-enforcement was needed. Not only did this support the cross beam, but nicely separated the internal compartment to create a nesting area and a laying area. As such, I shifted this to the left to create a larger nesting space and room for the door. Approximately 1/3 for laying and 2/3 for nesting.

I wanted the internal portion of hen house to span the natural dimensions of the chest of drawers so I boarded up the front of the top portion using the wood from the drawers. It wasn’t until I did this that I realised that the cross beam needed even more support so that was my first trip to HomeBase.

Next it was a matter of adding doors for the laying and the nesting areas, each with bolts to keep out the foxes, plus a hole for the sliding entrance door.

Dad made a good point about lining the feet of the hen house to at least do some to protect against rot, so that was next whilst the roof wasn’t on.

Now for the hard bit, well at least as much as cutting word along the grain anyway! The needed a slant to it to direct water away and to avoid pooling which would otherwise lead to a leak, cold chickens and rot of the hen house. My second trip to HomeBase consisted of buying some one-by-four which to produce an angled roof. The angle spanned the depth of the hen house, finished off with some chiselling for a flush seal with the roof. Some liner for the edges too.

And then the roof. This was a compromise between allowing for a good enough overhang on each side to make sure water didn’t simply run down the sides of the hen house and what was left from the drawers earlier on. It was patch work. But with a nice sheet of tarpaulin, you’d be none the wiser.

A bit of tidying up and a ramp for the chickens to use to enter the hen house was next.

A touch of paint and voila!

Let me know what you are refurbishing and renovating! I’m always open to new ideas for future home projects and to help with any questions or queries.

Renovated carpentry knife for the kitchen

I’ve always wanted a meat cleaver, or at least a decent sized knife with some weight behind it. My Dad has a wide variety of tools from his Father, most of which have been outdated by either mechanical equipment or developments in the design. Rummaging through them, one in particular caught my eye and having wielded it like William Thatcher in A Knight’s Tale for a moment, it was destined to be a part of my kitchen setup.

Having clamped the knife in the bench top clamp, I set about giving it a good sanding down to remove as much of the rust as I could with the hand sander. I then finished it over my hand with some P80 sand paper to give the cracks and crevices some well-needed attention.

After that, I sanded the blade and handle with P80, P120 and P240 sand paper to produce a nice smooth finish. I gave it a good wash with hot soapy water and dried it thoroughly by the fire.

Once dry, I applied some briwax to the handle and let it dry again.

Finally, I could sharpen the cutting edge. The band sand came in handy here to remove large defects and do a larger portion of the work and then the hand sander to neaten bits up.

I then lightly oiled the cutting edge and gently rubbed it against P120 and then P240 sandpaper to sharpen it further. I knew I would get it as sharp as my other knives, nowhere near in fact, and this is largely dur to the shear thickness of the blade. As such, it’ll serve nicely as a meat cleaver or for chopping up large root vegetables. Washed it again to remove the oil and clean up the blade.

I’m so pleased with how it turned out! Not bad for 2 days’ work.

Let me know your thoughts and what you’ve renovated too! I’m always on the lookout for new things to refurbish and would love to see what you are doing too and exchange ideas for future projects!