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What shall I build to please the boss?

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Iain Downs10/12/2016 09:39:04
819 forum posts
734 photos

I've been at the model engineering hobby for a bit over a year. I've spent most of my time fettling my machines and appear to have become obsessed with the process of scraping (which is very time consuming and hard to explain the attractions of to the layman. "I'm making things.flat ..".

But I've not made anything at all which my wife can recognise as a thing.

To be honest, I'd also like to take a turn at doing something I can recognise as a thing so that I can return to my peculiarities and over-ambitious long term goals (a lathe) with some sense of achievement.!

So my requirements are:-

  • It must look like a thing to SWMBO.
  • It should be within my level of skill ( can turn to a few thou. Turning to a thou is luck. I can scrape better than a thou! )
  • Ideally it should not require any specialist tooling that I don't already have.
  • I would prefer to start with raw stock rather than pre-prepared kits, though will certainly consider castings.
  • I should be able to build it in (say) under 40 hours or so.

I have a 7x14 lathe, micromill and rotary table and a reasonable collection of cutters. NO gear making stuff.

I'd like to make a clock at some point. Ideally to my design, but recognise I should build something that will work first.

I quite fancy a stirling engine or a steam engine. The former is more interesting in that you'd expect a steam engine to work, but sticking a chunk of metal on a cup of coffee and having it turn is a bit more 'wow'.

I get the impression that the stirling engines need better machining skills.

I'm entirely happy to have other suggestions, too - zany ones are particularly welcome!




Edited By Iain Downs on 10/12/2016 09:40:12

Michael Gilligan10/12/2016 09:46:52
19601 forum posts
997 photos

A brilliant question for discussion, Iain

My first thought is "does your good lady have any hobby interests of her own, for which a 'thing' would be useful" question



Many years ago, I practiced my 'piercing saw and filing' skills by making some little hexagonal patchwork templates for Mrs.G.

Edited By Michael Gilligan on 10/12/2016 09:51:13

Nicholas Wheeler 110/12/2016 09:57:02
823 forum posts
59 photos

You must have some 'things' in the house that would benefit from a little workshop attention?

If you don't, your wife certainly does! A casual "Oh yeah, I fixed that last week" will be much more satisfying for both of you than a whizzy gizmo.

Gordon W10/12/2016 10:06:57
2011 forum posts

In our house it is expected that things will be fixed- by me. I suppose most of us get the " what's it for ?" reactions. I did make a coffee cup stirling, set it up and had running , all I got was- can you shift that. Made a model cannon after seeing the price on an antiques program, antiqued it and all. Now it is in the sitting room, keeps moving about but always is pointing at me. Is this a sign ?

Edited By Gordon W on 10/12/2016 10:07:26

Mike Crossfield10/12/2016 10:07:12
270 forum posts
36 photos

-agree 100% with Michael.

I have made various items to support my good lady's handicraft hobbies, and earned lots of brownie points in the process. Things like a lace bobbin winder, a stand for sewing frames, a sewing stiletto, and tools for inserting and removing drawing pins.


Iain Downs10/12/2016 10:08:51
819 forum posts
734 photos

Sadly, Madam doesn't have hobbies as such. Full time work, teenage boys and lots of talkative friends occupy her waking hours.

Well, I have fettled the lizards cage (new catches for the 4 foot square plastic front) and I have fixed the broken coat stand and a few other small things.

Whilst I agree that fixing things wins brownie points, I find that their lifetime is extremely limited. If Chernobyl's half life matched that of my brownie points, they would have moved back in within the week!

If I made a clock (and it worked and it looked reasonable) there would be a little brownie point reminder everytime she looked at it (or I did to be fair).

We could bring out the stirling engine for guests who would (no doubt) be amazed.

And there's nothing particularly broken at the moment which a machine tool would help with! (Repainting the house, fixing the obscure leak in the roof which happens 0.75 times a year don't appeal and wouldn't help!)


Clive Hartland10/12/2016 10:28:53
2759 forum posts
40 photos

How about a pair of ornate brass candlesticks? You have the lathe and ability. Or make a Nut cracker in the style of a body and a screw down handle so there is no sudden crack as with a lever type.


Frances IoM10/12/2016 10:29:57
1200 forum posts
28 photos
simple - engraved tokens that match supermarket trollies or many lockers (ie same size as ?1 coins) easy presents and useful to have in purse so no need to hunt for ?1 coins
Hopper10/12/2016 10:38:48
5508 forum posts
137 photos

I would not start with a Stirling engine. They are notoriously finicky to get running and yes you are right, they need some fine machining to get them to seal well without much friction. Some builders never get them to run. Not a good look when trying to impress upon the domestic authorities the point of all that money spent on machine tools.

A simple oscillating steam engine would be a good place to start, IMHO. One popular such beginner project is Elmer's Wobbler Engine #25. Free plans and instructions here **LINK**and there must be dozens of build threads on the Net for this little beauty.

You can either build the boiler to go with it, or cut corners and run it on compressed air. Even a little compressor like for air brushing etc will power one this small. The engine is made from common bar stock, no castings.

With the equipment you have, you will have no problem machining within a thou once you get going. That is how you learn. The bore and piston fit are the main precision part on this engine. You could always cheat a bit and ream the bore to final size then turn the piston to fit the bore, using emery cloth to get that last thou or so off to achieve a beautiful smooth sliding fit. The other precision part is the flat surfaces mating between cylinder and main frame where it oscillates and the steam ports seal. A doddle for a chap who is handy with a scraper.

And these simple little engines are a beauty to watch in action with the oscillating cylinder, and lovely chuffing noises, so should make a suitable impression on 'er indoors.

Edited By Hopper on 10/12/2016 10:41:20

Edited By Hopper on 10/12/2016 10:43:58

Michael Gilligan10/12/2016 10:39:53
19601 forum posts
997 photos
Posted by Clive Hartland on 10/12/2016 10:28:53:

... make a Nut cracker in the style of a body and a screw down handle ...


That had me worried, Clive surprise

I must have an over-active imagination today.


Danny M2Z10/12/2016 11:06:42
948 forum posts
1 photos

If you wish to purchase something to keep her happy, a nice ultrasonic cleaner for her jewellery might be appreciated. They do have other uses of course smile p

* Danny M *

Neil Wyatt10/12/2016 11:07:48
18899 forum posts
734 photos
80 articles

Before getting into model engineering I made a wooden case for a battery movement with a short pendulum. It's still quietly ticking away on the living room wall. I doubt I would have got any more brownie points for a Claude Reeve Regulator, in fact if it had a loud tick it would be banned from the populated parts of the house


BW10/12/2016 11:13:11
249 forum posts
40 photos

If you have a breadmaking machine you can make a very simple gadget to remove the paddle from the baked loaves, Have a look at the D shaped hole and make a thing to fit. If you've got a breadmaker you will know what I mean.

Snazzy metal spinning tops for children or grandchildren ?

A pen ? A mechanical pencil ? Can be done from scratch without kits or get a headstart with a kit.

Artistic tree type thing for holding ear rings and rings and jewellery.

Set of old fashioned snazzy looking weights for kitchen scales ?

Chess set ? Draughts set ?

Fire poking things & tongs for fireplace inside the the house ?

Diy brass hose fittings instead of cheap plastic ones that always fall apart or leak terribly.


Clive Hartland10/12/2016 11:41:16
2759 forum posts
40 photos

Michael, are you sure that Pacemaker is set properly, you will be wanting to act out your imaginations next!

By the way, get better soon. Clive

Geoff Theasby10/12/2016 11:46:58
613 forum posts
17 photos

Be subtle, softly, softly, etc. (Look the other way Diane) Something without a plug on it, is quiet, doesn't drop oil, even if its clean oil, and it helps if you picked the right domestic candidate in the first place... I am allowed a Stirling engine, built from a machined kit. It doesn't work but looks good. A framed and signed picture of Hank Marvin, but not a Stratocaster hanging on the wall. The only Aston Martin I will ever be able to afford, a large scale model. A '00' gauge 4F, "But only if its properly displayed on a bit of track, and in a display case so it won't gather dust." I built a timer from laser-cut wood pieces, which looks stylish, but is "rather large" . I think I'm approaching saturation. I do, however, have an 'aerial farm' in the garden, for communications, radio astronomy, and experiments. And a basement all to myself.


Nick_G10/12/2016 11:48:19
1808 forum posts
744 photos


A fire poker.! .............. Providing you have a fire. wink

Made one the other week for a friend of mine. Nice and simple but usable item.

Main shaft is from steel turned to about 12mm plus a shoulder then a bit of taper turning at the tip with the cross slide.

Handle is individual segmented pieces of aluminium and fozzy bronze ......... Simples. smiley

Obviously brass would have been a far more economical option but I did not have any so used the bronze I did have.

There must be a 1001 variations on this handle theme making it as simple or as ornate as you like.


JA10/12/2016 12:16:17
1282 forum posts
79 photos

Good question, this thread could run for some time.

I don't think fixing something is the answer, not enough kudos and do you want to be known for just fixing things? It should be some thing that is seen to work. John Wilding has some good simple clock designs that are well within your capabilities. However what ever you decide keep away from the complex for the moment particularly if she knows your plans.


Iain Downs10/12/2016 12:56:47
819 forum posts
734 photos

Some good ideas there.

I thought of candlesticks. However it would seem that our taste in candles runs to the large so it would need a goodly amount of brass and making two matched items... I saw a you tube video where someone was making them with a former, presumably cut from tool steel which I liked the idea of. Need something a bit bigger, though. This one has legs, I think (have to hide the cost of the brass, though).

I have a breadmaker. The old breadmaker needed the device you describe. the new one has diamond coated paddles which (usually) just slip out. Perhaps I could make one for when the paddle wears out and whip it out for a few moments of glory.

I like the poker very much and would love to have a fire. But despite being in an old house it has no operational fireplaces. I quite fancy putting a stove in the recess in the living room, but I doubt that spending a couple of grand to get the chimney lined and the fireplace reworked for the sake of a poker would go down too well...

I will check out the steam engine and the clock references.


Steven Vine10/12/2016 13:46:43
340 forum posts
30 photos

A metal tree for the hallway, to hang keys on as you come in. Or a tree for mugs in the kitchen, Or a rotating table for cake icing and decorating. I would show pictures, but said objects are with the ex wife!


not done it yet10/12/2016 13:58:51
6519 forum posts
20 photos

A shed at the bottom of the garden?

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