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Member postings for Iain Downs

Here is a list of all the postings Iain Downs has made in our forums. Click on a thread name to jump to the thread.

Thread: Workbench top
26/01/2022 16:20:16

I built mine of 2 layers of 18mm marine ply. I have two regrets. One I should have varnished it. Now it's quite black and ugly. Two I should have paid more attention to the levelness. somehow, despite 6 inch deep ply battons supporting the length, it's got all lumpy and twisted, which makes it a bit rocky with some tools and parts.


Thread: Deep and narrow tool storage
23/01/2022 10:27:04

That and the short supply of builders who, in any event are still catching up with work promised at the peak of the pandemic.

But I was quite surprised at the price of the wood. Madam suggested I should use my upcoming welding course to make them out of a more durable material. Ignoring that my welding (currently at least) makes my woodworking look professional, the cost of sheet would have exceeded both the cost of wood and the cost of the premade tool chests - at least the cheaper ones.


22/01/2022 18:14:42

I turns out that what I want to spend and what I have to spend are a fair bit apart.

I have found nothing off the shelf which comes close to fitting in the space I've got. In further review, the wheeled tool chests are too high and too narrow - not making good use of the space.

The only plastic trays I found (see above) are the about the right size for drawers, but the only web site that sells them (that I can find) doesn't work and in any event were going to cost quite a bit more than my final solution. In addition there is almost as much joinery in making the shelf unit they would need.

So. Despite everything, I have become a joiner again. The wood and runners are going to cost me around 100 quid which is more than I wanted to spend, but there you go.

So I expect to end up with 6 drawers, about 75mm hig0, 350mm across and about 540 deep. Good use of the space and perhaps I will learn some joinery. One drawer already made and looking better than I expected.

Thanks for the help and pointers.

I will post a picture when done if I'm not too embarrased.


20/01/2022 16:37:37

Woodwork is not my thing.

However, I have had the thought that I could make a box with shelves in it (no precision required) and use plastic trays as the drawers. I've found some the right size at around 9 quid a piece.

I may still look at what I can buy ( I found nothing at IKEA), but most options seem to run to over 100 quid and that's more than I want to spend.


19/01/2022 20:01:38

I'm struggling to squeeze all my stuff into my shed and am in the process of re-organising.

It turns out I have a space into which I would like to fit some drawers. The gap is about 46cm wide and 60cm deep and either 78 or 63 high depending on if my shop vacuum sits on top or not. I would prefer if it did .

I would favour many (relatively) shallow drawers over a small number of deep one.

The options I've found so far are

cabinets on wheels which are wide and not deep, that would need to go in sideways and pull out. This is feasible, but not ideal.

one (only) from halfords which is meant to be bolted to the side of a bigger system that would fit but I would lose quite a bit of space (35 wide x 45 deep).

ideally something 60 cm deep and close to full width.

Does anyone have any ideas or experience which will help? Oh - recent experience seems to indicate I have neither the time or appetite to make something.


Thread: The future of casting kits
18/01/2022 16:40:59

I chose to build my first engine out of barstock rather than casting and the reason was cost. What I've built (which may someday run) is roughly equivalent to a Stuart 5A. Castings would have cost me £800. My actual material purchases were nearer £120 - £150 - and spread over time.

Apart from the joy of starting from scratch, it's a lot easier to get a bunch of £50 quid purchases around the missus than one £800.

I expect it's taken me 3 - 5 times longer, but I don't charge for my time.

CNC would have made it much more palatable of course.


Thread: What Did you do Today 2022
17/01/2022 19:32:44

I'm almost embarrassed to Post this given the rather nice workshop image above, but one of my Xmas projects was to create some storage under my Bench.

10 years ago, I thought my shed was brim full and there was no way I could fit anything else in, but each time I buy something new, somehow (with quite some pain sometimes), I find room for it. This time the culprit was a scrollsaw.

Under my bench was a pile of stuff. Not very efficient and hard to get to. This was my response

shed drawers.jpg

Frankly, they are not as nice as they look.

I made (at least) two mistakes. Firstly, I should have let the timber merchant cut the pieces to size (and straight) rather than just to fit my car. I appear to be incapable of right angles with a circular saw. Secondly I should have built the drawers into a carcass rather trying to fit into the bench.

The drawers on the floor weren't too bad, but getting the drawer immediately under the bench aligned so it even vaguely worked was a bit of a nightmare. In the end it is hard to close and so has had stuff I rarely use relegated to it, rather that stuff I need all the time.

Still, its storage.


Thread: Putting a Chuck on the rotary table.
08/01/2022 17:21:12

I've just bought a 4 hole ER32 chuck which is for mounting on my HV4. Fine for round things up to 20mm, but not great for bigger stuff.


Thread: SPG Tools in Hinkley
08/01/2022 17:09:50

I bought my lathe from them quite some time ago and bits since. The website was fine before Xmas. Most likely forgot to renew their Domain Name - even big companies can cock this up (don't ask me how I know...).

Their phone numbers are



and email

Email us:


Thread: Steam Engine Number One
31/12/2021 16:07:21

Thanks Paul!

There is a gap of somewhere around .010", so I think I'm more or less on track. Ah - just re-read your post. No there will be no gap in the cylinder (or not much. They were sized to be a close fit. There is a gap around what you said when out of the bore. I did think of taking a little off the gap as a first step, so that's encouraging.

Is 460 bearing oil way Oil? I have that and some gear oil. I will be running this on air for the moment (discussions of boilers will come later!) and have an air oiler.

I've followed Jason's suggestion and removed the rings for now (breaking one and twisting the other - may need a re-do).

Somewhere in the next two or three hours I will be popping out to the shed and applying some compressed air. I have NO IDEA what will happen. If anything moves at all, I will call it a success and retire with a glass of something.

I will leave this post with the machine assembled and ready to play.

finishing 16.jpg

You will see that there are still a few bits which are not perfect (most obviously the eccentric rod bearing), but I'm pretty pleased with how it has turned out.

So if you find this is my last post in this thread because the damnable thing won't run, I will pretend it was intended as a work of art all along and not a working machine. Surely the Tate modern will pay a fortune for a complex piece of machinery which doesn't quite work - a metaphor for modern society, perhaps?


30/12/2021 21:19:46

Thanks, Jason.

I have honed the cylinder, but have I honed it enough? I will take out the rings for now - this seems the most expedient.


30/12/2021 20:31:50

Tomorrow is my birthday and the present I most want is a working Steam Engine.

I was in with a chance.- all the bits made and finished (except one bracket which will take 20 minutes). Painted and Polished (with varying levels of professionalism) and the bulk of the engine (well the bits that don't move) all together nicely.

I even managed to get the piston rings on the piston without breaking any!

Which is where it has started to go wrong. without the rings the piston is a smooth fit in the cylinder. It moves freely. Having put the rings on and got the piston in the cylinder (using the old cable ties to compress the rings trick - probably learned on this forum), it's sticky. Very sticky. Which is to say it requires quite some force (a few pounds?) to push the piston up and down. This seems wrong. I lubricated the cylinder with 3 in one first.

The cylinder is 50mm diameter and the two rings are just under 3mm wide and a bit under 2.5 deep. they were a close sliding fit before heat treating. The gap is somewhere around 2mm.

Please make my birthday special! Help me sort this out...smiley

Oh and if you want to know how many rings you will find if you cut my head open, think Beatles songs. Yes! one of the young ones!


Thread: The great workshop bake-off (paint that is)
29/12/2021 10:52:17

Thanks for all the responses.. I ended up baking at 120 C for about 40 minutes after a gentle warm up fro 15 mins at 60 degrees.

Don't ask me why I picked these numbers, there wasn't much science behind it. I thought that over 100 C was needed but felt it would be better with a more gradual heat up than just sticking it on at 120 C to start with.

The results? Well, in general I would say successful. It's all murky and subjective of course, but the paint seems much more stable, though it is a bit prone to chipping / scraping on the sharp(ish) edges.

On the other side, as I handle the pieces, I find my fingers getting dirty (even after cleaning the pieces with a damp cloth), so I'm not sure it's entirely successful.

In short - a success, but certainly the better approach is to start in a warm place!


23/12/2021 16:56:29

I have recently been attempting to paint my vertical mill engine.

I have chosen rust-oleum black BBQ paint based on reviews.

However, things have not gone as well as they might.

I suspect that one reason is that I was painting them initially in a damp workshop at a low temperature. Only later did I read the instructions that said, 'not below 10 degrees'.

The symptoms are two-fold. Firstly, the paint seems to chip off with a strong glare and secondly, the parts remain tacky (sticking to worktop surfaces, paper and the like) over a week after being painted.

With a later batch, I kept them and the paint inside and had the shed heater on for an hour or so before painting (so only a bit under 10 degrees, but paint and parts at 18 - 20) and that seems to have gone better.

It's been suggested that sometimes these paints need to be baked before they set properly. I'm up for that and have gained permission from SWMBO to do some cooking tomorrow. I should note that this paint does not appear to need baking either from the website or reviews, but may be worth a try.

But at what temperature and for how long?

The largest pieces are the flyhweel (2kg) and crankcase (3.3kg).

I look forward to your advice!


Thread: Steam Engine Number One
20/12/2021 15:39:50

My last post today starts with a confession of failure.

Both my lower cylinder plate and my steam chest needed bits attached to them. I've had a go at silver soldering the bottom cylinder plate, but was unable to get it hot enough, or there wasn't enough flux or I'd picked up the wrong type. Or something.

I have rebought some known flux and solder and intended to practice on a few bits and then do the job. In the end I couldn't be arsed. I have to finish this damned thing some time. So I got some JB Weld and I've gummed the bits together with that. Feels a bit wrong, but what can you do? Silver soldering practice in the New Year!

My other, hmm, challenge, has been the real finishing off part of finishing off. Polishing and painting. My idea was that some bits would be shiny and bright and the rest black.

I started off by attempting to polish the 4 uprights. They are 16mm stainless about 200 mm long. Essentially they are a 200 mm bar with a 10mm diameter projection at one end and 6mm at the other, both threaded as needed for mounting.

I held the 10mm dia piece in a collet in the lathe and ran through various grades of wet and dry, followed by some polishing compound.

The results are a little mixed. All are shiny, but on some I've not been able to get the surfaces smooth as a mirror. Less scratches and more lots of very tiny pits. I have no idea if that is the type of metal, the nature of the abrasive or the cack handed nature of the operator. You will inevitably have your own opinion....

One thing I did notice is that some cheap and cheerful sets of wet and dry (bought in bulk from one of the usual places), left a cloudy finish on the piece, whereas some stuff I've had hanging around for ever which has a lower grain (2000 and 1500 respectively) left it lovely and shiny.

Finally, I've moved on to painting. Another delicate skill for which I have little talent. I'd decided a needed to use a heatproof paint around the cylinder and should use the same paint elsewhere to have a consistent colour.

The long and short of it is that the paint has gone on reasonably well, but if I look at it wrong, it chips off. I'd cleaned everything in alcohol and work latex gloves - I've never been so clean! I bought something called 'Rust-Oleum AE0020001E8 400ml Stove & BBQ Paint Black' on the grounds that it had the least bad reviews.

I made a little scaffold with a turntable so I could hang the smaller pieces and rotate them as I applied lots of very thin coats (which, mainly, I managed to do).

finishing 12.jpg

Mr Robinson (Heath) would have been proud.

So at this point, most parts have had several coat - bearing surfaces masked of course, and I'm expecting a mess when I peel the masking tape off - and as implied earlier, this is as good as it's going to get. If it comes off, it comes off.

Here you can see work in progress. Black base, flywheel, bearings and so on. There's more to do, but I'm waiting for the JB weld to dry (and have probably run out of paint)

finishing 15.jpg

Perhaps in 10 years time when I've recovered (or gained some skills), I will repaint.

I'm leaving the eccentrics as they are and still have a bit of polishing for rods to do, but it's nearly nearly nearly at the point where i can put it together, apply some air and .... Who knows?!


20/12/2021 15:16:55

Day by day, ever closer comes the time when I can put this thing together and see if it works. I am fairly determined to have it built and ready to steam air up by the end of the year! Yes, in two weeks I will stop yammering on about my engineering weaknesses in this thread. Some assumption here that I can get to my Shed and it's not TOO cold... :sad

Mind you I have another project in mind to start which will expose still more about my lack of skills. Ideally, whilst taking less than the 3 years + that this has taken.

So what have I been doing? Finishing off (as I call it).

I realised that my cross supports (one supports the eccentric rod and one the bottom end of the cross head guide, were a bit rough, being formed from cold rolled. So I thought I would smooth them off. It's kind of like taking pride in my workmanship as long as it's not too hard (which you will find a theme in this post).

Anyway, I've read about how cold rolled can turn into a banana if you skim one side of it, so I warmed both up to cherry red and let them rest for a bit. Then in the mill an skimmed with a face mill. Seems to have worked.

finishing 09.jpg

The other thing I've been expecting to do for quite some time is to rework the cross head bearing. Basically, I messed the manufacture of this. The holes were around 10.2 mm with the axle being about 10. Thus it rattled. I'm not entirely sure how bad this is for a bearing, but my guess was - not very good...

So I opened out the holes and then made a 12mm pin for the axle.

This is me finding a way to hold the part in a useful way.

finishing 10.jpg

Not my best photo (and my best aren't that good!), but what you have here is the big end rod clamped in a V block with an adjustable parallel under the big end bearing mount, setting it square with the bed. This should set the axis of the cross head bearing 90 degrees of the big end. Which is a good thing.

I centred on the current holes and then took a first cut with an 11mm end mill, then a 11.5mm drill then finished with a 12mm reamer. The idea was that if I was a bit off with the centring the 11 mm end mill would still cut a nice clean hole for the larger tools.

Cross head proper was a bit easier, - just clamped in the vice and again 1mm end mill, 11.5 mm drill and a 12mm reamer.

Finally a bronze bearing 12mm in diameter and it no longer rattles but does turn freely.

One thing that I've left for a long while is some drain cocks on the cylinder. It looks unlikely that this will ever run on steam, but if it ever does, I will need this. I can tell you how long I've been planning this - I bought the cocks and taps at a live ME show! Yes, THAT far back!

The only interesting part here was drawing a diameter in line with the cock location and then ensuring it was vertical with a square in the vice.

finishing 13.jpg

A bit more, but I will add this as another post.


Thread: Digital Caliper - again, sorry
11/12/2021 13:50:07

I didn't realise you can get ones that short! That could be handy for getting in awkward places...


10/12/2021 16:48:08

Hmm. Firstly, it's aliexpress I found it on, not banggood. Secondly, it wouldn't post from Germany (though it said it would in the selection page), however it will post from Czech republic, though with postage added and VAT.

which has brought it up to 25 quid.

As and when it arrives I will let you know if it is as good as the first one.


10/12/2021 16:40:51

It seems like I was a little hasty. I can still buy the item on bangood. It's name is TACKLIFE DC02 Digital Vernier Caliper 150 Mm, Stainless Steel, Precision Adjustment though I will omit a link as this may be naughty.

I'm going to buy me another one. It's about 18 quid.


10/12/2021 16:29:55

I've had a bunch of cheap calipers, with variable results.

I was going to recommend one I bought 2 years ago, which has a long battery life, remembers where you left it and was reasonably smooth in action.

Unfortunately, as far as I can see it's no longer for sale anywhere, so this post is a bit useless.

No guarantee that other samples would have been as good, of course.

In any event since I've started it's a tacklife digital vernier and I would buy another one if I could find it.



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