Author: Simon (page 1 of 2)

Thirty-Seven: Curbside Chairs

Many moons ago I came across a pair of much loved chairs by the side of the road just outside our house. It appeared that someone else had had given up partway through a reupholstering attempt and I thought I would pick up where they had left off.

After quite a while taking up a lot of space in our garage that we didn’t really have to spare an ultimatum was set; either work was to commence or the chairs needed to go. So we began to finish the task of stripping back the chairs in preparation to reupholster.

Partway through, I discovered what I assume was the reason the previous owners halted work on the project; a nasty crack in one of the chairs. But I wasn’t about to give up that easy. So I measured up and set to creating a brace from some leftover hardwood I had lying about from some other long forgotten project.

Meanwhile, Zara had taken the old vinyl covering and made up a paper template for our new upholstery. Using her sewing skills she was quickly able to cut out and sew the top layer to a calico backing for extra durability.

Then life got busy.

But after a hiatus of some more moons work continued. I threw a lot of elbow grease into sanding back the timber before getting a few coats of stain/varnish on, giving the old chairs a fresh breath of life.

Now the end was in sight and we set about powering home. Some heavy duty cotton webbing stapled on, cut the high density foam to shape (tip: foam is the same texture as bread, so use a bread knife to cut it!), then it was time to put everything together. Some more staples on the underside and some nice brass tacks for the top and the chairs were finally complete!

From hard rubbish to comfortable spare chairs.

Thirty-Four: Drawer divider

Like many people we have a drawer with miscellaneous cords, cables and adapters which gets very messy very quickly. No matter how hard you try to keep related things together you can never find what you’re looking for without pulling everything out and sorting through it.

Well, I had a spare hour or so and decided to rectify that situation in our drawer.

So after a quick measuring of the drawer and drawing of the measurements all I had to do was cut out the pieces from some spare MDF and slot it all together.

Voilà! Now there is a bit of order to our cord, cable, adapter drawer.

Thirty-Three: Homebrew

I like beer. I like making things. I guess homebrewing was inevitable.

Brewing at home is so easy. To get beer you only need a handful of ingredients and very little equipment. The essentials are malt, hops, yeast, water, an airtight container (with an airlock) for fermenting and bottles for storing your end product.

This post is about my latest batch, which is actually my third brew. So far I have used cans of pre-hopped malt extract for all my brewing and I can wholeheartedly say that this is a great way to get into homebrewing, though I would advise spending the little bit extra and getting a premium quality can from a homebrew supply shop rather than a cheap Coopers can from the supermarket. As easy as cans of malt extract are I plan on switching to the brew-in-a-bag method for brew № 4, a technique I might write about at a later date.

Please note, as usual this won’t be a “how-to” kind of post, rather it is an account of my experience making something for myself and hopefully contains some useful tips for anyone starting out. If you’re interested in homebrewing make sure you read something a bit more detailed than this post (I have found this page quite useful) as I’ve definitely left important details out for sake of (attempted) brevity.

My first two tips are: sanitise thoroughly and don’t drop glass thermometers on tiles. The flavour of your beer is greatly effected by your cleanliness and you can easily lose an entire batch to some funky flavours if you get lax. I have found no-rinse sanitiser works great and it makes it very easy to quickly ensure your fermenenter and utensils are clean. Not dropping thermometers is pretty self explanatory.

Sitting your tin of malt extract in a pot of boiling water for a while before opening will make it a lot easier to pour and I swirl a bit more boiling water around the can to get last of the syrup out. Most recipes call for additional malt and it usually comes in the form of a very fine powder. Powdered malt will clump very quickly when in contact with any moisture (even moisture rising from the warm wort). I had clumpy problems with my last brew, so I carefully sprinkled it as I stirred which seems to work. I also tried putting a small amount in a separate container and adding a little bit of water in an attempt to make a thick syrup. This did not work very well.

Once you have all your malt dissolved you need to add the yeast. I have always purchased good quality yeast and avoided the yeasts that might come with a can of extract, as yeasts actually contribute a great deal to the final flavour of your beer. You need to ensure your wort (the unfermentated water-malt mixture) is in the recommended temperature range for your yeast otherwise you risk killing the yeast. Once you have pitched the yeast seal it up and install the airlock.

Now the waiting.

Fermentation duration can vary depending on a huge range of factors, so using the airlock bubbles or simply counting the days are pretty bad indicators of whether or not the yeast has eaten all the sugar it possibly can. Luckily there’s another method that is really easy and accurate; checking the specific gravity. Basically the specific gravity of your brew is how dense the liquid is – as the yeast converts sugar into alcohol the brew gets less dense and the specific gravity drops. You measure specific gravity when you first put the brew in the fermenter with a hydrometer (readily available and cheap) and you know fermentation has finished once your specific gravity stays the same over a couple of days. This method has the added bonus of sounding sciencey. I have found that my brews take 4-7 days and I usually just wait for the airlock to stop bubbling before taking hydrometer readings.

Brewers yeasts need to stay within a particular temperature range; too hot and you will get undesirable flavours, too cold and it will just stop fermenting. This was the first time I have brewed in the cooler months and I ran in to some troubles keeping my beer warm enough. I ended up using a heatpad (a flat heating pad you sit your fermenter on top of) and wrapping an old towel around the fermenter as insulation. Then I realised my yeast could handle much lower temps than I thought.

Once my specific gravity was steady it was time for bottling.

Bottling is the most tedious part of homebrewing, but the golden rule helps. The golden rule of homebrewing is to imbibe a golden brew whilst brewing (or bottling). Again, sanitising is essential for ensuring your beer is drinkable and if you are planning on making more than one brew in your lifetime, I strongly recommend investing in sanitiser injector (a nifty device for squirting sanitiser into your bottles). A bottling wand is also handy but – if you are quick with the tap – not entirely essential.

As the yeast has now converted all the sugar it can you need to add a little bit back in just before bottling so that it can produce the CO₂ you need to get a bubbly beer. This is called priming and there are two different ways to do this. One is putting a little bit of sugar into each bottle before adding the beer (bottle priming), the other is to add the sugar to your beer before bottling it (batch priming). I have decided to use the batch priming method and transfer my brew to another bucket before adding the sugar. This allows me to leave all the sediment (or trub) in the fermenter and easily dissolve the priming sugar without stirring up all the gross muck at the bottom which makes for a much clearer beer.

Be careful and precise with priming! There are calculators to help you determine how much sugar to use. If you use too much you can create too much CO₂ and your bottles might explode, which is both very dangerous and a waste of good beer. This brew I have aimed for a higher carbonation than I have attempted before, so I have isolated the bottles in the back shed just in case.

After a couple of weeks in the bottle I had a taste but was very disappointed. It was still quite syrupy tasting and was not at all bubbly. I figured that it had been to cold in the shed and the yeast had not been able to do its job properly, so I left it a bit longer. Now it has been in the bottle for about a month and half and we have had a good run of some warmer weather it is tasty a lot nicer and had a good amount of bubble to it. Homebrew benefits greatly from a few (or more) months bottle conditioning time.

It is a good idea to label your homebrew with at the very least a name and date and this can be done with masking tape and a pen. I enjoy going a little further and design my own labels as a bit of creative outlet. This is actually pretty easy. You can simply print your design onto normal paper, cut it out and paste it on. After reading around many forums I found someone recommending milk as glue (just brush a little bit of milk on the back of the paper and stick it on). I tried it and find it to work very well and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to glue a label on glass. It stays stuck even when the bottle is damp from condensation and performs admirably in a bathtub full of ice. The best bit is it comes straight off with a soak in warm water and doesn’t leave any horrible residue making cleaning your bottles for reuse easy.

Last step, enjoy the beer. You’ve earned it.

Last last step, make more.

Thirty-One: Shelf Desk

Living in a smaller house has its limitations. For instance as much as I would love to have a huge desk to put my computer and accompaniments on I really do not use them enough to justify the space it would take. So I set up on the edge of a shelf and it actually worked pretty good, except that there wasn’t enough space to have the mouse on the same shelf as the keyboard, which was a little awkward.

So I devised a solution.

Using scraps and timber reclaimed from past projects no longer in use  I was able to put together a shelf pretty easily and only needed a few bits of new hardware to get it built.

The design is pretty simple, with a single piece of MDF serving as the desktop and a length of sturdy timber running from left to right at the front and back. The back hooks onto some dowel in the holes on the shelf unit and the front is supported by a pair of adjustable arms.

The adjustable nature of the support arms made the connectors a little fiddly to make, but were totally worth it as I can now ensure the desk is level no matter what height I set it at.

A couple of cabinet hinges to attach the other end of the arms to the desk and it was done.

The result is not perfect. The main issue is that it bows a little in the middle as I did not brace it from front to back, and it could be improved aesthetically. But considering it is probably only a temporary set up it certainly does the job.

Twenty-Eight: Boxes

A while back we bought a new bed. It’s great, but we immediately  found that the cardboard boxes we had previously stored things in under the old bed were just a little bit too tall to fit. Annoying, but fixable. Our first thought was to look for plastic tubs that would fit under, but after a fair bit of looking around the closest we could find was still a couple of millimetres too big. Then I thought: I could build that!

So I measured up the space and drew up some boxes that would fit perfectly and maximise our storage. They’re a very simple construction, using cheap pine lining board I chiselled off one of the edges of the groove to allow for the base (with the added bonus of making the finished product look a lot neater). I then made a simple butt-jointed frame from the boards before dropping in the plywood base and stapling it in place. Here’s a diagram to help explain how the base is attached:


They worked great but because I had made them such a precise fit they were very difficult to grip and slide out; they needed handles. I had a look at Bunnings, but to buy enough for the 8 boxes we had made would cost way more than we had already spent to build the boxes. As luck would have it, people throw these things out, and after a few weeks of scoping out our local streets for sets of drawers in hard rubbish I had procured the requisite handles.

From this point some time has passed. We moved house and in the move a few of the bases dropped out from some of the boxes (turns out the staples we used were not long enough) and the handles still had not made it onto the boxes. One night last week we had a spare half hour and decided it was about time we finished these off. So out came the drill and the longer staples I had finally got around to buying. We got a bit of a production line going with myself measuring and drilling holes for the handles, and Zara re-stapling and installing the handles.

The original cutting and assembly of the boxes did take quite a bit of time, but between the two of us it wasn’t too bad and we now have some very solid, custom sized under-bed storage. 

Twenty-Four: Yarn Bowling

For Zara’s recent birthday I decided to get her a yarn bowl. A yarn bowl is a bowl that you put your skein of yarn in to allow it to pull freely as you knit (or crochet). I wanted to get something nice and vintage however I quickly discovered that most are either modern plastic rubbish or very expensive ceramic antiques. Neither really seemed right, so I thought I would make one.

Ceramic appeared to be a silly choice of material for something that I thought is so likely to fall to the floor at least once in its working life, plus it is a little out of my skill-set. So I settled on wood. As I have no lathe I went searching for a ready made bowl and got lucky at Savers where I found a perfectly sized wooden bowl.

A bit of research showed that many designs use spiral cut into the bowl for the yarn to run through, so my next step was to work out how to cut that. I borrowed my brother’s rotary tool thinking that’s what they’re designed for, but had very limited success (or no success really). With Zara’s birthday looming, and very little time to work on the project with her out of the house I needed a solution. Turns out in the days before cheap power tools people used coping saws for this kind of work, so after a quick stop at everyone’s favourite monopolistic hardware warehouse I was in business.

With the groove cut I thought a lick of paint would help with the final look, so on went a few coats of paint.

During this whole process I was a little worried about the weight of the bowl; it was very light and just didn’t feel like it had enough heft to stay still while yarn was being pulled. I really wasn’t sure how I was going to correct this. I thought I could add some weights of some kind recessed into the base of the wood, or put some kind of heavy metal disc onto the bottom as a kind of base but I couldn’t find anything that would be heavy enough and small enough to fit (let alone actually not look hideous).

Then on an impromptu trip to Savers I came across a great metal base to some object that had since been bought by someone else. I managed to purchase it while Zara was looking elsewhere and concealed it in a pocket until home.

It was a perfect fit and added a good bit of weight (and much needed flair). After a very fragmented building process I am pretty happy with the result, and Zara says she likes it, so that’s good too. Nothing like a hand made present.

Twenty-Three: Clothes-Line

Part of the reason we have been a bit irregular with our blog posting is that we recently moved to our new home in Brunswick. It is a lovely house, with an actual backyard (well, more of a courtyard really). Strangely there was no clothesline though, so I immediately began to mentally design a system.

The result is a cheap, high capacity and expandable system that is unobtrusive when not in use.

The main components are stainless steel eyelets and multipurpose rope (with a tracer colour in it to avoid accidents). I fastened the eyelets on the two side fences opposite each other, so when the rope is strung between them it spans the entire backyard. By stringing the line through the eyelets in the below configuration I can quickly use one length of rope to create 20 metres of clothesline.

This system is completely customisable; I can string up a single length, or two, or run the rope directly back across the yard twisting it around itself slightly to create a nifty way of hanging socks without needing pegs. It is also expandable by simply adding more eyelets and rope.

For a finishing touch I added a cleat hook on both sides of the yard to simplify tying off, as well as a hook for hanging the rope when not in use (the hook turned out to be way bigger than I needed and will probably be repurposed in a future project).

All in all I spent very little and got very much; totally worth it.


Twenty-One: Cordial Cordials

Zara and I recently held a small combined 30th birthday dinner with some of our friends. We were in need of some less alcoholic options for our guests to drink and after the success of my first cordial making attempt I thought I would try my hand at a couple more.

Zara’s lemon tree provided us with its first ever crop this year and our new house has a big orange tree out the front, so I thought an orange & lemon cordial would be a good option. After a bit of reading different recipes I sort of just made it up, mostly using this recipe as a base. Sadly I was in a bit of a rush when making it to record my recipe, but I’m sure I added a fair bit more juice than called for and also added a little bit of mandarin zest and juice as I thought the base recipe was a little lacking.

A few years ago I made a ginger syrup, so figured I would try that again, but this time used a recipe from Mary Blackie’s Great Australian Country Cookbook which I picked up in an op-shop recentlyish. It’s pretty straight forward, just cook up grated ginger and sugar in water. It makes a pretty zingy ginger flavour, but is still quite sweet; I think next time I’ll add some lemon juice to balance it out. It uses a fair amount of ginger, but if you keep the strained out cooked ginger you can use it for any number of other applications (we froze it and have since used it in Vietnamese ginger chicken and still have more in the freezer).

Both cordials were delicious, and while I attempted to make smaller amounts, I am not sad that there is a fair bit left over. Come summer I think I’ll try to make sure I’ve got a bottle in the fridge at all times, as they’re so easy to make and so very refreshing.

Eighteen: Bramble Gin

A long, long time ago, in a kitchen far away (well, the kitchen in our old house a few months ago) I started making some bramble gin. Blackberries were in season and we had a little bit of spare gin, so I thought I’d give this blackberry infused gin a try.

I mostly followed this recipe, which is pretty much:

  1. Wash blackberries.
  2. Put blackberries and sugar in gin.
  3. Wait (3 months).
  4. Strain blackberries (I used a paper coffee filter).
  5. Drink.

Now that it’s had time to steep, my gin is ready for helping out with these cold winters nights. It is reasonably sweet, and has an almost cough-syrupy flavour (though not in a bad way). Whilst not bad by itself, I’m looking forward to trying it in cocktails – maybe gin bramble, or mixed with some sparkling wine.


Sixteen: Green Tomato Pickle

A few months ago we had some tomato plants spontaneously sprout in our back garden. They thrived, even with the minimal care I provided them, and gave us quite a bountiful crop of little tomatoes.

They weren’t the best tomatoes I’ve ever eaten, but were OK and more importantly free. When the colder, wetter weather started up we still had a few green stragglers on the vine, and having read that tomatoes really don’t like being wet I decided to pick every last one and turn them into a green tomato pickle.

I ended up with about half a kilogram of tomatoes—some green, some red—and quickly found a few different recipes. I based my recipe on a tomato relish recipe in an old book we picked up at an opshop: Australian Preserving with Fowlers Vacola, and simplified it to these ratios:

  • 6 parts tomatoes
  • 1 part onions
  • 1 part sugar
  • 0.6 parts vinegar
  • 0.02 parts salt
  • Plus some spices

Cooked it all up and dropped it in a sterilised jar (only made one jar). Now just letting it sit for a month or two before trying it so the flavours can develop (and because we have heaps of half eaten preserves in the fridge already). Looking forward to trying it on a nice bratwurst this winter.

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