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

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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,

 

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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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A Pigs not just for Christmas

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A couple of month’s ago I acquired this vintage Leather sewing machine and I have been waiting for an opportunity to try it out. From my research I think it dates back to the early 1900s so like so many of the tools in my workshop its over 100 years old, and now I have managed to track down a workshop manual and adjusted a few bits its in perfect working order. I suspect none of my modern tools will last that long.

Much to my dearly beloveds despair when stuck indoors on cold winter nights my guilty pleasure is those terrible programs where some expert rifles through someone’s  shed or attic and declares the pile of worthless junk is actually worth thousands of pounds when sold to a trendy shop or restaurant. Putting aside my disbelief at the prices they quote, something I have seen a couple of times which they get quite excited about when they are rooting through some stately home loft  are Leather Pigs. Subsequently I have discovered they all come from a company based in England that’s has been making these for many years, along with many other designs, ranging from Fish to Lions, even buffalo and Giraffes, all made from leather and sold in the most upmarket shops all over the world for prices I can only dream of. I find myself inexplicably drawn to the pig, and as I like working with leather….

So this year for my Christmas project its been the Year of the Pig, and a chance to use my new to me sewing machine. To make life simple I changed from my usual saddle leather to a much softer flexible leather, albeit at a scary price, but then it comes in much larger pieces. Its been an interesting project, starting with creating the pattern, to cutting and then sewing the leather pieces to get to the finished Pig. Inside the leather cover there is a wooden frame so it can withstand someone sitting on it, and its stuffed with wood wool, another material I have never worked with before. It all took much longer than anticipated but that’s down to the sewing machine, but now I have conquered the adjustments the next one will be much faster. Which is just as well as my dearly beloved has decreed if you make a family heirloom, and you have two daughters then you need to make two. I wonder if I one of them would like a lion?

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Fun with Fire

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“Fun with fire” or “The Old Blokes Kitchen rides again”.

February is becoming one of my favourite months, nothing is growing in the garden, so when I do get some time off, I have time to play and experiment which this weekend I am doing in abundance.

One of my big projects for this year is to write my next book provisionally entitled “Fun with Fire” although I do like “The Old Blokes Kitchen Rides again” which will be all about building a smoker, and smoking some food along with some recipe’s., and that’s what we doing this weekend.

By way of an experiment I am smoking a variety of vegetables to see how we get on. Some I have tried before and some I haven’t.  Mushrooms are a returning favourite but this time they have been joined by sliced potato destined for dinner as a potato and mushroom gratin with a white sauce. My mouth is watering at the thought of it.

I purchased from my local supermarket what they call wonky onions, ones that didn’t make it too the shelves for cosmetic reasons. Perfectly good onions and I am looking forward to the Smoked Onion Chutney I am planning with them.

The squash is tomorrows lunch, smoked squash soup with perhaps some smoked carrot for even more flavour.

Finally whilst that’s been smoking I have been making Pork Sausages with my smoked Tomato powder which has become a staple of our cooking, Sausage and tomato are a classic combination so why not in the same sausage, we will find out, and once the veg is out the remaining sausages will go into the smoker overnight.

Can you overdose on smoke? I hope not.

If that gets your juices flowing remember to press the follow button and keep up.  I Have just been listening to an episode of @the kitchen cabinet and they mention smoked Milk Ice Cream. Now that we do really have to try

Tom

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Grow your own Baskets

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After many hours of discussion and pouring through catalogues to select the right species of tree we have now finally finished planting what is going to become the woods at the bottom of the garden.

As someone who works with wood I am very conscious of the impact and environmental value of wood. As a workshop I consume a lot of wood, although I like to think we make maximum use of every piece, and more importantly every offcut and waste piece. The good stuff gets turned into charcoal which we then use to cook with, the rotten stuff is used for fuel for the bread oven or hot tub, the sawdust depending upon which wood we have been working with is often used for food smoking.

However for sometime we have been talking about planting some trees in a damp grassy piece of land at the bottom of the garden, which gets waterlogged in the winter, partly as a way of draining the land, partly to act as a privacy barrier, and partly because we like trees, and it gives us an opportunity to plant useful trees, ones that can be used in the workshop.

We started with a large quantity of Hazel and sweet chestnut trees, not for the nuts as the squirrels always get there first, but as a coppice crop, which when established can be felled to provide fuel and wood. I am hoping to build  new workshop this year and have been working on a design for wood fired central heating which has got to be the height of luxury in any workshop, so will need a ready free supply of fuel. To this I added Purple Ozier or willow perfect for basket making. I have dabbled with basket making in the past and really fancy growing my own and the waterlogged ground is ideal for willow.

Slightly more of a fantasy choice was Red Oak. Now oak is always going to be an good choice but this particular variety has a bark which is used in the Natural Leather Tanning industry, and I do use a lot of leather. To date I have never considered tanning my own but I was in conversation with someone else the other day and the subject came up. As they say never say never it might happen, but at least I will have the bark ready. My understanding is you then mix it with a few gallons of urine so we might just settle for enjoying the tree.

Whilst we are waiting for it all to grow we have planted Nordsman Fir in the gaps ideal Christmas trees. The previous owner planted a few and its become a family tradition to go and cut down one from the garden, so we need to replace a few. Finally at the sides we added a few bushes, Blackthorn for us for sloe gin, and snowberries for the birds in winter . In all over 140 trees . Now we just sit back and wait for it all to grow.

 

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Let there be light

 

 

imageJanuary is always a cold month, just the time to come out of my nice warm workshop to assist my good friends at http://www.trafalgarlighting.co.uk with the Canary Wharf Winter lights Festival. 30 world famous artists install artworks on the theme of light around the estate, and in amongst it all is some of my work, including the Winter Lights sign, this year made with LED flexineon, which seems to turn up on Instagram more than the artworks.

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I am also responsible for the 80 mt long colour changing sky bridge, as well as a number of atmospheric pieces around the estate,image

As for the real artists, there are some you like, some you Question, and some you really wish you had thought of it first.

I love the 4 Mt high inflatable rabbitsimage

and these spinning shapes were mesmerisingimage

If your in London you have one week to go and see for yourself. It’s well worth a visit

As for me it’s back to the warmth of my workshop.

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