Author: Simon (page 2 of 3)

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.

Fourteen: Thornbury Afternoon Tea

Back in the tea craze of the early 2010s I was introduced to Melbourne breakfast tea. The cynic in me would have dismissed it as just T2 cashing in on Melbourne’s narcissism had I not tasted it. It was hard to deny it was actually pretty tasty. However, this was also around the time I started looking more in to the ethics of what I was consuming, and T2’s (at the time) complete lack of fair trade tea put me off a bit. Then Unilever bought them out in 2013, so that was the end of that.

Luckily, T2 need not have a monopoly on regionally named teas!

Melbourne Breakfast, as far as I can tell, is just black tea with vanilla. Sound easy? It is.

I first attempted making my own Melbourne breakfast 6-12 months ago, and while it might not be exactly the same (more on that in a second) I’m perfectly happy to drink it. All I did was place a split vanilla pod in a jar with some English breakfast tea and waited a few days / a week. Voilà, Melbourne breakfast!

As I said, it wasn’t perfect, so I researched how flavoured teas are usually made. Apparently you should lay the tea out flat, spray liquid flavour onto it and then let it dry. This sounded too difficult, time consuming and tedious, so I’ve never bothered.

After my initial success I was curious about what I could try next and, as I resided in Thornbury I wondered what flavour would Thornbury tea be? For those unfamiliar with the historical ethnic makeup of Melbourne’s suburbs, Thornbury traditionally has a large Greek / Mediterranean population. Consequently there are many lemon trees, rosemary hedges, and olive trees in front gardens. I decided a tea with rosemary flowers (not the leaves) and citrus peel could be interesting, and that olive tea would be gross. So I made it.

Unfortunately, I think I needed to put more of the flavouring ingredients in as the resulting tea just tastes like plain black tea, but I’ll add some more in the next few days and see how it goes.

Why not try creating a local variety yourself? 

Twelve: A Pig Named Smudge

We have a few nieces and nephews now, and have decided for their birthday presents that Zara and I will take them on an outing. One of our nieces had her second birthday over the weekend and we thought we’d give her a trip to the Collingwood Children’s Farm (which we’ll do sometime in the future) but we also wanted to give her a little something on her actual birthday. So I made a little farm animal from felt.

After a quick look around online I found a free pattern to work with (here) and then grabbed a couple of sheets of felt from our local haberdasher. Marking and cutting the felt was quick and easy, then it was on to the sewing machine.

I was not sure how I was going to go, as the pieces were pretty small, and this would be the second time on a sewing machine in probably 15 years, but I managed OK I think. I did sadly stitch a little far up one side of the snout, so when I turned the pig the right way out and got some stuffing (reused from an old cushion) it looked more like an anteater than a pig, but luckily Zara came to rescue with a rhinoplasty solution.

After some more fiddly sewing for the ears and a little embroidery for the eyes he was starting to look a bit piggier. Annoyingly, at this point the pen I had used to mark out my pattern had started to show through the felt a little, giving some smudgy looking birthmarks on the belly. So we named him Smudge. I’m very happy with the result and now curious to try my hand at other animals.


Ten: Aftershave

A few years ago I looked in to making an aftershave lotion, as I thought it would be an interesting project. Years later I’ve finally attempted it.

It is far from difficult; I mostly used this article as a guide. The chance to play around with fragrances was fun, however we don’t really use essential oils all that much and the price of them can be a little prohibitive, so I had a very limited palette to work with (I actually used every flavour we have: cedarwood, bergamot, lemon, and a hint of spearmint).

The main lesson I have learnt this week is that while cetyl stearyl alcohol is apparently nicer on your skin than the usual ethyl or isopropyl alcohols included in recipes, it requires an emulsifier to mix nicely.  Consequently my lotion is not the prettiest substance, but with a bit of a shake before use it is perfectly fine.

For those that are interested, a good starting point is a ratio of 1 part glycerine, 4 parts witch hazel, and 8 parts alcohol (which I used a combo of the aforementioned and unrecommended cetyl stearyl plus a bit of highly recommendable gin). Then just add the essential oils of your choosing and shake. Easy.

All in all, relatively easy, but I will probably continue to tweak my ratios in future attempts.

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