Author: Simon (page 1 of 3)

Fifty-Two: Record Rail

Our little undertaking is nearly at an end!

For the last of our fifty-two projects in fifty-two weeks I constructed a display shelf for records.

The physical size of a record allows for some great album art, but we lacked a good way of displaying our collection. Zara has long wanted some kind of shelf to exhibit some of these artworks and I finally got around to building one.

It was decided that simplicity would be the most elegant solution so a design of a single rail with a groove was conceived.

I had enough length of a rounded timber moulding leftover from a project earlier in the year and planned to route out a groove before using double sided mounting tape to attach it in place. However, once I started I realised that there wouldn’t be enough depth to the shelf and LPs wouldn’t have enough backward lean to stop them from falling forward. After a quick trip to Bunnings I had the requisite timber to implement my design alteration and with the help of my brother’s router I pretty quickly had the rail completed.

A few coats of stain and varnish later and all that remained was to affix the rail in place. Double sided mounting tape and a spirit-level app for my phone really did the trick and with a little help from Zara the rail was installed and ready to display some records.

And that’s 52!

We plan to take a couple of weeks to collect our thoughts about this yearlong undertaking and post a wrap-up soon(ish), so stay tuned.

Fifty: Toys

Over the last few years, thanks to friends and family, the number of little children getting about in our house has increased. Occasionally we spot really nice toys at op-shops and we now have a modest collection we can pull out when we have little visitors. One of our favourites is a wooden duck walker thing that has feet that flop when it’s pushed but sadly one of our nieces was a little bit rough with it and snapped its axle in twain.

Luckily it wasn’t too hard a fix. First, I sawed off the broken dowel flush with the wheel. Then I was able to carefully drill out the centre of the wheel. After that all I had to do was cut a new piece of dowel to length and reassemble with a little bit of wood glue.

And there you have it, a lame duck no more!


Another wooden toy we have picked up is a little rainbow xylophone. However it was a bit hard to play as it came without any mallets. So I made some.

I was able to buy the spheres pre-drilled which saved me a lot of hassle, so all I really had to do was cut my dowel to the correct length and glue it in. After a bit of a sand with some fine sandpaper they’re good to go!

I really like having toys that I can repair.

Forty-Nine: Toothpaste

For many years on and off we have used toothpaste made from bicarbonate soda. I’m not certain what my original motivations for using it were, but now it is probably a combination of frugalism and an attempt to reduce landfill waste.

I don’t really want to go into the oral health side of it; there’s plenty of “information” floating around the internets from people with all kinds of opinions. After my latest quick search I took away “it’s not so much what you brush with, but how you brush”. Brushing with a poor technique can cause much damage.

One could simply dip a damp toothbrush into some bi-carb and go for it, but we’re a bit more couth than that. We have traditionally added some essential oil to our jar of bi-carb which makes it a little more palatable and helps turn the powder slightly more paste-like.

This time around I thought I would look at some other recipes and try out something different.

Batch One:

My first batch is chocolate flavoured! Apparently, a chemical found in raw cacao has been shown to help remineralisation of tooth enamel. Theobromine is the primary alkaloid found in cocoa and at least one study that I quickly found (Kargul et al., 2012) claim that in certain concentrations and circumstances it was beneficial for enamel hardness. However theobromine is only about 1% of raw cacao beans, and the myriad other components—particularly the carbohydrates—make cacao’s claim as a super-dental-health-food a bit sketchy. But whatever, I have heaps of cacao nibs that need using!

So in with my quarter jar of bi-carb went about half a teaspoon of ground cacao nibs, plus another teaspoon full of coconut oil and about 10 drops of spearmint essential oil.

I thought I would try out the suggestion of adding coconut oil that I found in many recipes to try and get a bit more of a paste constancy.

Batch Two:

This batch is more like we have usually made, just bi-carb and essential oil. Last time we borrowed some clove oil from my brother and his wife which we really quite liked the flavour of, though I never got around to buying some of my own and decided to just use the spearmint oil we already have.

It is never as potently minty as most toothpastes are, but I have found that to be a bonus as I can brush my teeth and immediately eat something without it effecting the taste.

Bi-carb toothpaste is quite confronting the first few times you try it. Mostly, it is very salty; water tastes very sweet after using it. But I very quickly grew accustomed to it and now I don’t really notice it.

Also, we haven’t completely forgone toothpaste. Sometimes I just want the full on super minty oral assault that a commercial toothpaste provides, so I usually alternate between the bi-carb and an Australian made “natural” toothpaste (chosen more for the Australian made than the “natural”).

Bi-carb toothpaste: give it a go! (Or don’t. It doesn’t bother me.)

Forty-Eight: Kitchen Shelf

When we set up our kitchen in our new house one corner felt a bit crowded. A few months later and I finally got around to solving that problem with a simple shelf to make better use of our bench space. 

I have had some fir timber languishing in storage, leftover from a long ago project. I purchased it at Urban Salvage in Spotswood. They mostly deal in salvaged timbers for flooring but have a great section of “scrap” timber which I used to enjoy browsing through when I lived closer. The selection was much more interesting than the Bunnings standards of pine or “Tasmanian oak”. They were also pretty cheap; my couple of metres of fir was only $5.

I decided that I would take the opportunity to practice my joinery skills and attempted a simple box joint. I wouldn’t say it was a raging success but it wasn’t a complete failure either; it’s just not the tightest fit. I thought it prudent to reinforce my work and luckily had a couple of metal brackets leftover from another kitchen storage project.

After a few coats of clear varnish to protect the timber from everything a kitchen might splash at it my shelf is complete. The corner is much tidier now!

Forty-Five: Aftershave Mk Ⅱ

Earlier in this project I attempted to create my own aftershave. As mentioned in the original article I used cetyl stearyl alcohol which didn’t really mix well and ultimately led to the mixture being unusable.

After purchasing a more liquid alcohol (isopropyl) I finally got around to having another crack at it.

This time around I was interested in making my own fragrance instead of relying solely on purchased essential oils. Steeping some botanicals in white rum for a few days did the trick and my combo of bay leaf, cassia bark, and a few other spices smelled delicious.

I used the ratios I devised previously (1 part glycerine, 4 parts witch hazel, and 8 parts alcohol) but didn’t measure anything very precisely. I also added a little vitamin E oil. Sadly I didn’t realise that Isocol isopropyl alcohol also contains a fragrance and my bay rum mixture needed a little backup, so I also added some cedarwood and bergamot oils to help out.

The resultant product smells nice enough, although tainted by the Isocol fragrance. If I ever get through the whole bottle of Isocol I will attempt to source some fragrance free isopropyl alcohol.

Ultimately more usable than my previous attempt.

Forty-Two: Door Marmalade

In the winter of ’17 I pruned our orange tree. Most of the cuttings were predominately leaves, but there were a couple of nice straightish branches. As usual I was reluctant to just throw away timber, so I squirreled it away in the shed to dry out a bit.

Our house is built to have air flowing through it to keep it cool, so keeping the front door open is important. I figured I could use the biggest branch to make a door stopper but the gap at the bottom of our front door is pretty hefty; about 3cm. So it required me to put two pieces together to get enough height to properly wedge the door open.

A quick bit of sawing and an overnight gluing and I had my door stop.

It is not perfect, nor exactly what I had in mind when I started, but working with a raw natural material was interesting. Finished with a light sanding and some orange oil it looks fine, and it works a treat.

It’s a door jam, made from orange wood: door marmalade. Get it?

The smaller sticks I have used in the garden to keep some of our tomatoes upright.

Forty-One: I Can Fix That!

While the main focus of this project was to create things, the original manifesto also mentions mending things—something which we seem to have mostly forgotten about. But fear not, I have fixed some things and will now briefly tell you about it.

Thing 1

On a recent weekend away we had plans to do some baking, so we packed some flour. Sadly the box that held the flour jar also held many other things, until it gave way and held nothing (something which we had both seen coming, but did nothing about..).

Luckily the damage was not catastrophic; only two neat chips broke away from the lid. A pretty simple fix. My main takeaway from this fix (and others before it) is that ceramic adhesive is good stuff. It is easy to apply as it doesn’t set quickly and allows you to manoeuvre the piece(s) into the perfect position. It also is easy to get a clean finish as you can just wipe away excess with a damp cloth, or once it has set, using a razor blade to scrape your joins clean.

Thing B

(Sorry, no photos for this part. I took some but they’ve disappeared.)

A few months ago I dropped my phone one too many times and cracked the screen badly enough that the touch stopped working. This made me pretty unhappy, as while it was not a super-expensive nor new phone, it was perfectly serviceable and I was not planning on retiring it any time soon. Apparently, the average working life of a mobile phone is 7 years but worldwide the average consumer changes their mobile every 11 months (Sharpe, 2005), which I find quite disturbing considering the environmental impacts of the mining, manufacturing and transporting of these little pocket computers. Not to mention the horrific consequences of dumping e-waste into countries ill-equipped to handle it.

Sadly greed and a lack of regulation means that most things built these days are not easy to repair, even though it would be relatively easy to do (or we could use our awesome technology to just make phones that don’t break, but where would the profit there be?) </rant>

Anyway, I should get back on track. I ordered a new screen from the eBay for about $25—roughly $175 less than I was quoted for repair in a shop—and when it arrived I set about pulling apart the old Nexus 5.

Long story short, is awesome and I was able to swap the screens without much trouble.

My take-away from this fix was to do one’s research. As previously mentioned, phones are not really built to be repaired. I got lucky as the Nexus 5 is pretty good in that regard, however I also started to pull apart my old Nexus 4 (the screen on that also died an untimely death) and quickly found that it was going to be a fair bit of work and require a heat-gun to soften the glue. I recommend you watch a disassembly video before you buy the parts and decide if you’re capable.

Thing Ⅲ

I’m not entirely sure where this little table came from, but if I had to guess, I would say an op-shop. Sadly it wasn’t really built to last and the hinges that are vital to its structural integrity were pretty flimsy and have mostly given up on life.

So off I went to The Big Green Shed and bought some new hinges. Made from solid brass, these hinges are a lot sturdier than their predecessors and should last considerably longer. The new hinges were a little bit bigger than the old, so some chiselling  was needed to get them to fit, but nothing too difficult.

They were a little pricey at $2 a pop, but for the cost of two coffees I’ve kept alive a table to put my two coffees on.


Sharpe, M. (2005). “Climbing the e-waste mountain.” Journal of Environmental Monitoring 7(10): 933-936.

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.

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