Craftsmen today are not what they were!

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One of my current projects started out as “just replace the spoke” on a wheel dating from about 1880. Now as a rule I don’t rush to attract repair work, there are always issues, but like everyone else I have bills to pay, so if I get offered a repair job I look carefully but this one is proving to be the daddy of them all.

By the looks of it no one has touched this wheel since the day it was built. By that point in history, carriages were made in factories, maybe not quite as we think of them today but products were made in batches, and the workers in the largest establishments would perform a single task such as cutting felloes all day. In the smaller factories they would have someone who just made wheels. A carriage builder would have a series of standard size wheels they would use for their carriages, and depending upon the size of the operation these would be either brought in from a wheelwright or produced in their own shop. Whilst each manufacturer would have a standard range of sizes there wasn’t any standardisation across the industry. Therefore every set of wheels I get to work on is different.

By this point in time there was a degree of mechanisation, The First Band saw recorded is 1808 so by the late 1800s it wouldn’t have been unusual in a wheelwrights shop particularly  for sawing the sections of the rim called the felloes. The conventional method for doing these is first make a pattern from a piece of thin scrap, scribing the inner and outer arc with a pair of compasses. This is then transferred onto your piece of wood, which is then cut out on the band saw. That way you get a uniformity to the felloes, the spokes are cut to the same size, and when assembled everything runs true. I like to work to an accuracy of about 1mm, but then I use some modern machinery. For old wheels a difference of 3-4mm isn’t unusual but this set take it to extremes.

In taking this wheel apart, I discover the wood is very brittle and two of the felloe sections broke. So being clever I then used one held against a piece of ply to create a pattern and two new sections  are cut on the band saw and shaped with a spoke shave. When I tried to reassemble it all and experienced some difficulties, I stopped and went back and checked my measurements with a micrometre.  What I discovered was that each of the seven felloes sections is a different size, in length by up to 50mm, and in width by a margin of 8mm, from one end of the section to the other, and no two sections match. Therefore each spoke and each felloe is completely different, which means the centre of the wheel is off by about 15mm. Undoubtedly a boisterous ride. To compound the issue most of the wood is now completely dried out and breaks as soon as you touch it.

There are two solutions, if this was a museum piece, a carriage that never goes anywhere, then I would have to refit each piece individually, slowly and painfully working my way round. Or in this case as its a working governess cart replace all the felloes and spokes in one go, retaining the hub now in the centre, which should greatly improve the ride quality.

What this goes to show is, we look back at the Old Time Craftsmen and think they were experts, masters of their craft, but when you look closely you discover they had as many bodgers then as we have now, and this set is one of those.

 

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Ten Pin Bowling

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This weekend we installed a pair of outdoor 10 pin Bowling lanes at Canary Wharf in London. These form part of the estates free summer entertainment, an opportunity for office workers to come outside and have fun.

The specification from the client was for a fun activity for outdoor use that didn’t require electricity to operate. We gave them several options and the 10 pin Bowling lanes were the favoured option, complete with a gravity ball return on the side.

Today I went back to see them in action, and was delighted to see a queue of eager  participants.  There is already talk of inter office leagues.

This is a project we saw through from initial idea, created the design, manufactured, and now installed. We knew it was going to be popular, ask every delivery driver who dropped into the workshop when we test assembled them, it proved impossible to deliver a package without bowling a ball first. Now we are in discussion with a pub co for several sets for Pub Gardens, Beer and Skittles – A classic combination.

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Smokin Gravy Powder

Smoking Gravy Powder, sounds like something a college student would attempt after a heavy night out.  I remember when I was at college my friend George tried drying Banana skins under the grill in an effort to create a legal high, setting fire to the cooker , and resulting with a very difficult conversation with a Fireman and the Provost at 3 am who had come in answer to the smoke alarm, but even he, trendsetter that he was didn’t go as far as smoking  Gravy Powder. here I suspect I am treading a new path.

Let me start again and you can see where I am going with this. Several members of my family have food allergies, which means there are very few off the shelf products we can buy. When this first raised its head 20 years ago, a number of things disappeared from my plate, but the one I missed the most was gravy. Due to the additives in commercial gravy powder we cant have it, and so that set me off on that great food journey to where we are today. Over the years I have developed various sauces and ingredients which I can make to replace the commercial products denied me. Several of these are so good you feel disappointed when I do get to have the commercial version again. Bread is a classic example. We make it fresh every day. However sometimes when I am working away I try a supermarket sandwich, and it doesn’t come close.

Anyway we digress. after a few years we did manage to find a commercial gravy liquid we could have, but now the manufacturers have changed the recipe, which now includes ingredients we cant have. So the hunt is now on for a Tom Green Substitute.

Luckily last summer I developed my combined smoker / Dehydrator

From which then came the surprise of the summer Smoked Tomato powder which we  now couldn’t live without, it finds it way into all manner of meals. Since then I have tried smoking and dehydrating several vegetables. Smoked Pepper powder was a critical success, Home grown and smoked paprika whilst great it turned out too hot for my palette, as it turned out I grew what for me would be a very hot pepper ( 5000+ scoville), so this year I am growing a milder paprika pepper. However we haven’t tried a smoked vegetable mix.

So today we have dried tomato, mushroom, and red onion, smoked with maple wood, and then powdered. The resultant powder is then mixed with some corn flour act as a thickener, and hey presto you have additive free, allergy friendly , meat free, salt free gravy powder with extra flavour.

As always this is just one more step along the way, we can improve on this first attempt. Its pretty good, but as all my old school reports frequently  said – he can do better he just needs to try. I am back on stage at the Forty Hall food festival this summer so I might just have found what I am doing.

 

 

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What do I do Now?

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For 35 years I have had the same job, running an Entertainment Technology Company in London. I started the company in 1983 with a shoe string budget, working from my parents garage, and gradually over the years we grew, gained some colleagues, more equipment, proper premises, and diversified into new markets.

At its height we employed 12 people, at which point as the boss you then spend your whole time worrying about cash flow as every month that’s one hell of a wage bill to pay. So I wasn’t sad to shrink back as the next recession came, – I went through a few. Most of my competitors from the old days have long gone, but then we diversified.

Finally yesterday it all came to an end when someone wrote a cheque, and today for as long as I can remember I had nothing that needed to be done. That feels really strange but very nice.

So what now. All the projects I have been working on part time for years, can now be full time projects. There are lots of plans for new books, new workshops, new videos. I have a backlog of projects, and finally I can open my wheelwrights shop in Norfolk.

I want a wooden bath, more hot tubs, the Horse Powered Ice Cream Machine needs to get finished, and I have slowly been acquiring the bits to cast metal. I am booked to appear at a Food Fair in August so I need a new food project by then. I have been invited to submit designs for a lighting sculpture to be used at a festival in January.

Wish me luck  as they say the best is yet to come.

Tom

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Which shape skittles?

Most of my work is one off pieces, working for clients who have an idea but not a set of plans so part of my job is the design, and drawings necessary to complete the finish project.

Next weeks project is the construction of a pair of outdoor Ten Pin Bowling Alleys which are to be installed in a Central London Office Development . Street games for office workers. I have an idea for the lanes, and the ever so important ball return, what I am stuck on is the Pins or skittles.

I owe it to my customer to be efficient with my time, after all they are paying for it so I went online to see if it was cheaper to buy skittles ready made rather than make them. I had sold them the concept on the basis of themed skittles shaped like a well known building, however having commissioned the work they then asked for Traditional skittles. That’s when the problem started. It would appear there as many shapes of traditional skittles as there are types of tea.

Which shape to I make? do you prefer 1, 2, or 3.  Let me know and remember to press subscribe to find out how I got on

Tom

Posted in art, craft, design, Diy, games, Garden, heritage craft, home, humour, leisure, London, sport, street games, tradition, Uncategorized, wood, work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How to make a Hot Tub

Its 3 years since I posted the How to build a Hot tub video and its proved to be my most popular video with close to 400,000 views to date. The video is linked to a set of plans, my first book and its just been reprinted available exclusively from www.fitzrobbie.co.uk   if you watch and then read the book you have all the information you need to build the tub and the heater. Just add water

I have had my tub for 3 years now and the first dip of the year is keenly anticipated, as its made such a difference to our life although I do have to say as I get older the temperature we go in at gets higher. In the photo the first time we had ever used the tub it was a chilly 22 degrees, how we suffer for our art. Now its more likely to be at 34 degrees and on one memorable day we soaked under a starlight sky at an incredible 37. Really too hot but Ooh so good on a cold night.

Over the years I have been asked all manner of things, cost is the most popular and the answer its cheaper than buying a commercial one. I have been asked having used it for a time would I change anything, and the answer is not really, I am still happy with the design,

 

Posted in books, craft, design, Diy, Garden, heritagecraft, history, hobby, home, hot tub, humour, jacuzzi, leisure, old bloke, tom green, Uncategorized, video, wood, work, youtube | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Now For Something Completely Different

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Today is the start of a new project for me and I need your help.

As part of my normal working life I have been employing and interacting  with young people for many years and have slowly come to the conclusion that whilst there formal education is better than its ever been, sharply focused to pass exams, its at the expense of their general education.

As an example I once employed 3 young people on a video project, all recent graduates with decent degrees. Not one could tell you what the local council actually did, convinced as they were its to do with mental Health. None of my recent crop could tell you where the Battle of Hastings was fought, I think I would have even forgiven the answer Hastings, again all well educated young people.

I once convinced a group of young technicians that television has always been in colour its just coloured paint wasn’t invented until the 1960s.

I spoke to a friend who runs a youth training project. on the first payday for each new group he can guarantee he will have an angry trainee brandishing his payslip accusing him of fiddling his wages. He had be promised X and now he has been given much less. Tax it would appear has never been discussed. I could go on

So its time for the Old Blokes Guide to life for which I need your help. Have a look at http://www.theoldblokesguide.net and join in. The plan is to compile a book, a compendium of things you need to know to navigate life, mistakes you can avoid, pieces of wisdom you wish someone had told you when you were young. So join the conversation go to http://www.theoldblokesguide.net and click like, leave a comment, or just follow.

 

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