Model Steam Engine

It’s taken almost 12 months to finish, but I’ve just completed my first somewhat complicated project on the lathe my dad gave me for christmas last year – A small wobbler style steam engine, based on the plans at

The completed engine

The engine is built from aluminium for most part, with brass for some bits like the crank bearing, and the piston. This was mainly because aluminium is a lot cheaper than brass, and i figured I would make a few mistakes.

The flywheel was the only part I didn’t make completely from scratch. I believe it originated from a cassette deck I disassembled at some point in the past. It was the perfect size, so I decided to use that, instead of trying to find the materials to make one from scratch.

Firing it up for the first time was great. Seeing something that I made spin under its own power is a great feeling!

I haven’t extensively documented the creation of the engine, but I’ll show off some of the construction in the pictures below. I really need to get into the swing of documenting these things, so I can make more detailed construction blogs.

During the construction, I had a few issues, like breaking numerous drills and taps in the engine’s cylinder while fitting the cylinder head. I attribute these to poor experience on my behalf, and some of the drills I tried to use just happened to be super poor quality I’m afraid. That’s all OK though. This is a learning process!

In the end, while this engine isn’t the prettiest engine out there, it filled the goal I set out which was to build a functional working engine. I’m already working on my next engine, based on a modified version of the same plans. I do plan on spending a little effort on the next one finishing it a little more nicely, now I know I can pull off building a little steam engine from scratch.

Well, that’s it for now. I hope you enjoyed the blog.


Step for sore puppy

Our dog Bella is about 9 years old now, and she has arthritis in at least her back hips, and I suspect her front ones are developing it as well.

So, my wife and I figured she needed some kind of step to help her get up onto her favourite chair, so this past weekend  I made her a step to help her get onto her chair.

All projects begin with some planning. Design wise, it’s pretty basic. It is just a wooden crate. Sketchup is fun and easy to use for sketching out designs like this. I began using dimensions from pine timber at Bunnings, but due to there being a surprise amount of timber needed to go into it, I decided to use what I could scrounge up around the house. Free is always good.

This is a rough cut and screw together project. There is no fine woodworking happening here!

Screwing sides together

Screwing sides together

In order to avoid bothering with trying to glue up a bunch of not completely straight pieces of timber, I went with screws. The strips of timber on the ends hold the two side pieces together. They are also decorative. Width wasn’t particularly important, and these were offcuts from ripping the timber for the thin strip on the top of the side.

On a side note, It can be a pain to rip a board that is already cut to length with a hand held circular saw, as the fence runs out of timber to guide it. It is easier to do if the board is longer than needed though.

Screwing the sides together


Sides done, now working on the top



Job done, Bella testing out the box. Apparently it makes a good pillow


For anyone interested in building something similar, Here is a picture of the sketchup drawing of my project. Please note that I made this to suit the timber I had lying around, and to match about 1/2 the hight of the chair, so if you are making this for a similar purpose, you may need to adjust your sizing to suit your chair, and the timber you are using. You could also turn this upside down, and it makes a fairly sturdy storage crate.

sketchup layout

Plant stand DIY

Long weekends are good times to do projects around the house, and at the moment we are trying to grow some stuff. Here is one of the things I made last year during a long weekend. I can’t remember which weekend it was. I need to be more efficient at posting these posts.plant stand

We had this big terracotta pot from our previous trials, and we needed a stand to get it off the ground, to make it easier to get to, and to stop Bella, our dog from digging in it. Even though she has an entire yard that she can dig in, as soon as you give her a nice pot plant to dig in, she will. if there are plants, she’ll have them out of there!

The frame is nothing spectacular, and won’t win any design awards, but it’ll hold for now.

I made the design up as I went along, cutting up a length of construction lumber, and some bits of a pallet to build it, it was all just stuff I had lying around.

Its still holding strong so far, although the lettuce we had growing in the pot has succumbed to the heat of summer. We need to find something new to try and grow in there.Plant stand close up

I think it turned out pretty well. At the very least, it performs its intended task quite well

Sandpaper storage shelf (aka, I got a saw for my birthday, and needed an excuse to cut stuff)

Here is the completed shelf in its current location.

Here is the completed shelf in its current location.

I turned another year older recently, and for my birthday, my wonderful wife bought me a Ryobi One+ battery powered circular saw.

Of course, If you get something like a saw for your birthday, you instantly need to find something to cut.

I had to sit through an entire day of work before I could play with it, so after work, I stopped off at Bunnings on the way home, and bought a couple of sheets of MDF. I had an idea to make a shelf to store my sandpaper neatly.

Every time I make something like this, I always manage to stuff up in my measurements, and this time was no different.

When measuring up the MDF for the sides of the cabinet, I seemingly picked the narrow sides, instead of the long sides.

However, I measured and cut the the top and bottom with clearance for the sides Plus the sandpaper, but the front and back only had a little extra leeway, and the paper wouldn’t fit if I added the sides in the same way.

I didn’t have enough MDF to cut 2 new sides out, so instead, I used the sides, and the bottom, but cut another top that was the width of the bottom, Plus the thickness of 2x sheets of 12mm mdf. this meant I wouldn’t eat into the size of the top shelf.

The bottom was slightly larger than the rest of the compartments, as A: I was lazy and B: I wanted to try and make a little drawer for other bits and pieces, so I got away with using the original bottom.

I cut the slots for the 3mm MDF with the saw as well. If I did something like this again, I’d probably try and get a 3mm bit for my router, as for each slot in the MDF, I had to do 2 overlapping cuts with the circular saw. A lot of people do this kind of work on a table saw, but as I don’t have one of those, and I do have the hand held circular saw, that’s what I used.

As it was, Come assembly time, I discovered I wasn’t quite accurate enough with my slots, and while some were OK, a couple were a little too tight. While trying to tap the shelves into position, I was actually driving the sides apart. with a few knocks from a mallet, and some clamping and extra glue, I managed to get things to fit up well enough again. I’ll have to be a bit more careful next time. Its all a learning experience.

So, its not exactly an action shot, but

So, its not exactly an action shot, but here is the saw after cutting the slots for the shelves

I was impressed with the performance of the saw. After a couple of hours of working with it, not working full time obvously, but working it enought that I thought I might have dropped the battery a bit, the battery was still reading fully charged on its built in meter. I think I’m going to like these 5 amp hour batteries that I bought to go with my Ryobi One+ gear.

Out of glueup, and the shelves fitted.

Out of glueup, and the shelves fitted.

DIY Camera Slider

Here is the complete slider. I originally had a different head on it, but this one is much more flexible than the first.

Here is the complete slider. I originally had a different head on it, but this one is much more flexible than the first.

Video sliders are handy little things. I probably first became aware of them on Philip Bloom’s blog (which is great, if you’re into video production). They are quite effective at adding some interesting movement, and dramatic effect to shots that my otherwise be fairly static. This last week I attempted to make myself a mini camera dolly / slider with bits and pieces I had kicking around.

I began with the rails. They are made from 2 pieces of Aluminium extruded angle, maybe 2cm square. The length length was whatever they were already ( i guess about 50 – 60cm). They are screwed down to two pieces of wood, one on each end. The rails are basically done at this point. I thought it would be handy to put some sticky rubber feet on the bottom to help hold the slider in position. (The feet didn’t work the greatest, but they are better than nothing)

The ends are terribly complex things to make. A chunk of wood, and some screws, and you're done.

The ends are terribly complex things to make. A chunk of wood, and some screws, and you’re done.

The tricky part was always going to be the sliding platform. Most pro ones use bearing to roll smoothly, and effortlessly across the track. I don’t really have any bearings suitable, and while I did contemplate buying some for the task, I decided simple is best. Digging through my piles of bits and pieces, I came across some small nylon sticks. I have no idea what they are from, but they were the right size, and right price. I drilled two holes through all 8 of them in pairs (a top, and bottom piece for 4 corners), so the holes would line up properly. Then I grabbed a piece of aluminium plate which I had kicking around, and marked out holes that would match the holes drilled in the sliders. I managed to get the holes pretty spot on, and the small bolts I used just dropped right through. I tightened the bolts up until everything was held in place, but there was still enough movement of everything to slide.  At this point, I drilled a hole through the center of the aluminium base, and bolted on the tripod head (which was later swapped out for the ball head, which is pictured, and is mounted in a different spot)

Here is a close up of th sliding platform, giving a general view of how its constructed

Here is a close up of th sliding platform, giving a general view of how its constructed

Here you can see the bottom nylon sliders

Here you can see the bottom nylon sliders

The grand total of this build was $0 for me, but if you have to buy parts, obviously it will cost you more.

Below you can see a very boring, and short demo video I made last night with the slider. Not at all interesting, and as I just chucked the camera on, lighting and colour balance isn’t the greatest, so forgive me.

Is it any good?

So, do I call this project a success? well, it works, kind of. It might be fun to play with round the house, but I’m not sure I’d want to take it out in public. It certainly has its issues, and I suspect, at the very least, will need a few revisions.

There is slack in the sliding platform which lets it slop around a bit too much. I can avoid some of this by tightening the nylon sliders, but that creates too much friction and then the slider doesn’t slide very well. I am contemplating fashioning a different one, made from one or two large pieces of nylon cutting board which are grooved to fit the rails in exactly.

Also, the small bolts that I’ve used have a tendency of coming loose. The addition of a lock nut on each would probably fix. I just need to find some.

General stability is lacking, and with the DSLR mounted, its impossible to let go of  it without it falling over sideways, and smacking the camera lens into the ground, which we all can agree that that is a bad idea. The slider could definitely do with some wider legs, and I’ll be looking into that shortly too.

Project CB250: getting started

Over the weekend, I made a little start to my project bike. I pulled some of the bits and pieces off the back of the bike. The picture below is shows proof that I’m keen to get started on this build.

Getting startedIdeas:

I began, like everyone does these days,  looking at bikes online. Initially,  I found a couple of CB250 about,  but nothing super special. Actually they were fairly ordinary I thought. They still looked like chopped up CB250s, and were not what I was thinking at all. But when I started thinking more seriously, I actually found a few more modded bikes for inspiration. The net is full of other bikes for inspiration these days. I want to do a post at some point that has other CB250 builds in it which I’ve found, that has helped inspire me.

Everything up front:

The handlebars are going to be one of the first things to get swapped. Its just got to happen. Once I get some clip ons on there, I’ll need to fit all the controls of course. For now, I’ll keep using the current leavers etc… but they are all a bit rough, and at some point I’d like to think about trying to re-finish them, or replace everything (Switches included) with after market gear. For now, They can stay original though.
After handle bars, there are the gauges, and the headlight. Both are a bit scraped up from some kind of drop at some point (not me). I’m thinking of either going a compact digital LCD system, or maybe a single all in one gauge for the instruments.
Regarding the headlight, I’m interested in trying out some LED headlights I’ve seen online. They seem neat. I just like the idea of the LEDs, and think it would be fun to play with.
Original mirrors are already gone, and will be replaced by ones that go in the ends of the handle bars. That’s what I’m thinking at this point anyway.

Replacement tank:

This is going to be key in making the bike look different. I’m trying to get away from it screaming CB250!!! I don’t have a tank yet, and I don’t really have an idea for a tank. I’m hoping I’ll be able to source something fairly easily  and relatively quickly, as I don’t want to get too far into anything else before I have the tank worked out. Getting a tank is going to be pivotal to developing things like the seat.


The seat is where I foresee the most work being involved for this part of the build. I’m thinking a relatively flat seat, with a fairly simple “loaf of bread” style upholstery. Its fitting the seat, and deciding if its better to leave some of the existing under-seat brackets and bits, or to remove or modify them for the task. This will be the no turning back moment. Everything else I’ve planned is reversible (well, depends on what will be needed to do the tank I guess). This is commitment time.  Actually, I’m not that scared of committing. I just want to make sure I have an action plan and have it ready to go, so I know exactly what I’ve got to do to make it ridable. I don’t want to end up with a bike stuck, than no longer can take the original seat, but also doesn’t have a new seat that can go on it!


Now, this is where things can get tricky, I’m fairly limited in my ability to to full on work to the engine. The bike has done about 93,000km, its probably getting close to needing some work done internally. Some stuff which I can do myself I’ll give it a go.
Sometime, I want to pull  the engine out of the frame, so I can clean it up, and clean the frame up, and paint it all up. I like the look of the engine with black engine enamel, and polished edges on the cooling fins, so that will be my goal for that. Painting the engine while its out is probably the best thing to do.
At this time, I’m not sure if I should paint most of the engine, or try polishing some of the covers as well. The problem with polishing, is there are a few dings which are pretty deep, and may not polish out so well. Then again, they may not paint over so easily either.
I don’t know if engine work will make it into Iteration One of the project.


No plan to do too much to the actual frame of the bike. As stated above, a few under seat brackets will get the chop, and I need to work out how to close in the ends of the chassis, probably a semicircular pipe the same diameter of the frame, bolted, or welded to the frame. Below is a picture from CafeRacerAustralia of what may need to be done to the bike.

Something like this may need to be done to my bike

Something like this may need to be done to my bike

Exhaust :

The current exhaust is a bit rough. It is scratched up, and has a few pinholes in it (as you can see from that black splatter patch under the bike in the photo). I am thinking very serious about making a custom exhaust for the bike at some point. There are a couple of ways I’m thinking of going right now. Option one is probably the easiest, and will basically follow the current exhaust, but with a new muffler, maybe a non cone shapes one, which is parallel to the ground. A lot of the other modded cb250’s seem to keep the exhaust fairly similar, to the point where I think they are just painting the current exhaust, or swapping the muffler for a different one. Option Two is to re-route the exhaust, so it kicks up high. Not sure if this involves kicking the exhaust up just where the muffler begins, or completely re routeing the exhaust. But no stress right now, that will be some time away I think. For Iteration One of the project, it will be donning a wrapped exhaust, with a High Temp painted muffler to hide some of the scratches in the current pipes.

That is already a fair stack of work to do. On top of this, there will always things that pop up along the way to do. I’m going to keep planning, and hopefully soon, I’ll have a neat little bike to ride around on.

Recycled Wood Coffee Table

After replacing some of the fence palings with new ones at our house, I had some old ones left over, some of which were OK enough to warrant possible re-use.

At the same time, we were in need of a bigger and better coffee table for the lounge room, so an idea for a project was born. I will build a coffee table!

I began by sorting the boards, picking usable ones. There was lots of rough ones, split ones and rotten ones. Eventually, I found enough lengths that were good enough. At that point I got to work cutting them all to length.

At this point, I used a belt sander to try to remove as many of the splinters and rough surface as possible. If pieces weren’t fitting beside each other very well, I would plane them down with a hand plane, until they fitted better.

The boards, cut to size were then screwed to a couple of thicker pieces of timber, sourced from an old shipping pallet that was kicking around at home. Skirting boards were also screwed to the pallet timber.

There was a bit more planing and de-splintering done at this point, getting ready to apply a finish to the timber. Once everything was satisfactory, It was time to apply several coats of varnish. I think I applied 3 fairly thick coats over the course of a couple of days. I figure that should help hold the timber together a bit, and stop it from splintering.

With the table top sorted at this point, it was time to work on the legs. I used a length of 25mm square RHS steel. The joints were mitered by hand with an angle grinder, then tidied up the old-fashioned way, with a hand file. It would be nice to have a better method to cut things like this, but I can’t justify a bigger cutting method. A horizontal band saw, or a drop saw of some description would be really handy here.

Of course, the old-fashioned way requires lots of checking. Getting close, but still needs a little more work.

Here we can see the rough little welders square I made to hold the legs square. It wasn’t perfect, but was close enough for this task. I think I’ll have to try again for future projects. By allowing me to clamp the pieces together, it made it so much easier than it would have been if I had to take the pieces while they were loose.

It’s a little of a jump step again, but once I had the legs welded up as square as possible, and ground flush, I joined them together with a couple of pieces of 30mm angle iron. Tacking, and measuring  and adjusting , re-tacking, measuring .. etc…. I eventually got it pretty good. The legs weren’t exactly square, but it’s visually un-noticeable in the assembled product.

And then the legs were screwed to the pieces of timber at each end, holding it all together. Now, all I need to do is pull the legs off it, and paint them black. The paint has been purchased, so it shouldn’t be too long before I can call this one 100% complete.

And that’s it for this post. Sorry I haven’t been posting much lately, things get busy, and this year has really flown.  I hope you’ve enjoyed.

Bye for now.

4 key midi keyboard with Basic Stamp

diy 4 button midi controller test

Here is the four button test layout, showing how simple the circuit itself really is.

So, I had this old Basic Stamp sitting here feeling unloved. I decided it would be fun to try to build a midi controller. My initial idea was a of using the jog wheels off some old VCR players as mini turntable style jog wheels, but before I get to that, I wanted to start small. I wanting to test the theory first, so I wired up the midi output to a DIN connector, and used sample code available HERE (also shows the wiring for the midi connection) to make the basic stamp output a single note over and over again, with a pause between.

With that working ok, next step was to connect some buttons to the controller, and program the buttons to output separate notes. The wiring was pretty basic, just the usual button set-up, with a pull up resistor on the input pins. The magic was mostly done in the code, which wasn’t too difficult. The code basically transmits a midi on command on each press, and a midi off command on the release of each button.

At this point, I have a 4 button midi controller. maybe useful for triggering samples or something. My next progress will be to try to get a rotary encoder to work with the setup.

I haven’t worked out a good way to host files other than photos yet, so I’ve included the code in the body of the blog below. Hopefully you’ll be able to copy and paste it if you’re interested.

' {$STAMP BS2}
' {$PBASIC 2.5}
'Mini Midi interface,
'Author Matt Ruth
'Date: 11/7/2010
'don't expect too many basic stamp projects from me, the plan is to put this controller to work, then leave it there.
'I only have one basic stamp, and anything I buy in future will likely be arduinos!
'future revisions:
'read the state of each button, and transmitt all states in one serial transmission, instead of individually.
' EG: $90, note1, velocity1, note2, velocity2, note3, velocity3 (
'also make the midi notes variables which are declared at the top of the program
'add data transmit led
'add jog wheels of course
'make unit as a midi foot switch trigger, getting to use more rugged switches

'following variables are used for midi output. Taken from website tutorial on midi output
outpin CON 15 ' output pin on which to send MIDI data
baudmode CON 12 ' baude mode for serout: (2500000/31250)-20 msec
 ' note that this value should be 12 for BS2. (60 otherwise)
 ' Serial rate for MIDI is 31,250 data bits/sec.
outpause CON 0 ' pause time in units of 0.4 millisec between bytes
 ' on the BS2, units are 1.0 millisec
INPUT 11'button one
INPUT 12'button two
INPUT 13'button three
INPUT 14'button four
butt_11_state VAR Bit
butt_12_state VAR Bit
butt_13_state VAR Bit
butt_14_state VAR Bit
butt_11_state = 0
butt_12_state = 0
butt_13_state = 0
butt_14_state = 0

GOTO main
IF (butt_11_state = 0) THEN GOSUB Onepressed
IF (butt_11_state = 1) THEN GOSUB Onestillpressed
 'send midi on note here
 SEROUT outpin, baudmode, outpause, [$90, 60, 127]
 DEBUG "1"
 butt_11_state = 1
 'DEBUG ".", CR
 IF butt_11_state = 1 THEN DEBUG ",":SEROUT outpin, baudmode, outpause, [$90, 60, 0] 'replace debug with midi off note
 butt_11_state = 0 'off note may need to be $80

IF (butt_12_state = 0) THEN GOSUB Twopressed
IF (butt_12_state = 1) THEN GOSUB Twostillpressed
 'send midi on note here
 SEROUT outpin, baudmode, outpause, [$90, 61, 127]
 DEBUG "2"
 butt_12_state = 1
 'DEBUG ".", CR
 IF butt_12_state = 1 THEN DEBUG ",":SEROUT outpin, baudmode, outpause, [$90, 61, 0] 'replace debug with midi off note
 butt_12_state = 0 'off note may need to be $80
IF (butt_13_state = 0) THEN GOSUB Threepressed
IF (butt_13_state = 1) THEN GOSUB Threestillpressed
 'send midi on note here
 SEROUT outpin, baudmode, outpause, [$90, 62, 127]
 DEBUG "3"
 butt_13_state = 1
 ' DEBUG ".", CR
 IF butt_13_state = 1 THEN DEBUG ",":SEROUT outpin, baudmode, outpause, [$90, 62, 0] 'replace debug with midi off note
 butt_13_state = 0 'off note may need to be $80
IF (butt_14_state = 0) THEN GOSUB Fourpressed
IF (butt_14_state = 1) THEN GOSUB Fourstillpressed
 'send midi on note here
 SEROUT outpin, baudmode, outpause, [$90, 63, 127]
 DEBUG "4"
 butt_14_state = 1
 'DEBUG ".", CR
 IF butt_14_state = 1 THEN DEBUG ",":SEROUT outpin, baudmode, outpause, [$90, 63, 0] 'replace debug with midi off note
 butt_14_state = 0 'off note may need to be $80

Scrapbooking paper shelves


Starting at the end, Here is the finished product. Lots of room for paper, with a larger bay at the top for other items.

My beautiful wife needed a place to keep all her scrapbooking paper,  and after trawling through hardware stores and craft shops,  we still couldn’t find a suitable storage solution for the 12×12 inch squares.

I found several shelves and boxes online,  but at $100 each,  they are kind of expensive. I decided to try my hand with making one myself.

problem one was how do cut straight and square. My advice is if you have the choice of a hand saw, and a jigsaw, take the hand saw every time. A jigsaw is made to not cut in a straight line, so trying to cut straight is a bad idea, even when I tried to take my time, and use a straight edge clamped to the wood, I still almost messed it all up.

After making the initial cuts with a jigsaw, I gave up and grabbed my hand saw. a line where you want your cut, and taking your time will see a fairly straight cut. It’s no pro job, but it was by far sufficient to get the job done.

Problem two was how do I mount shelves? usually the way to make grooves would be to use a router and a straight edge, but as I don’t own a router, I couldn’t do it that way. My solution was to use extra pieces of the 3mm MDF, cut 50mm high to the inside of each shelf, with a gap of 3mm for the shelf to slot into.


I started at the bottom, nailing a piece onto the side, using another piece as a spacer for the shelf


Making the grooves this way, while theoretically uses more MDF, I found that I didn’t need to actually buy more MDF as there was plenty of off-cuts left over to do the job.

So there you go, Close to a $100 scrapbook paper rack, for about $30 in materials. I’m pretty happy with the end results.