Guest Book

          Home 2015

This website is a log of my hobbies, passions and projects. It will hopefully over time fill up with helpful advice to
encourage, inspire and guide others with similar interests. rab by the way are my initials Robert Andrew Burke

April to July 2015:
It' been quite a while without adding any posts, it seems like everything is getting in the way of carrying out home projects and hobbies, and life being filled with things less noteworthy of recording here. However I still try and keep myself busy and have a few items of note that others might have some interest in.

In the last post I reported on a trailer I have been building, well I managed to finish it for a fraction of the cost of buying a trailer of equivalent size and quality
Completed Trailer

608 Bearing Tutorial

608 Bearing Tutorial
Updated to Blender 2.63+

To make the trailer more useful I have included fittings to allow a canopy frame to be mounted on top of the trailer to secure a tarpaulin canopy. The space inside is larger than the payload space of a Vauxhall Astra van. With the front section removed, tailgate lowered vertically and ladder rack H bars fitted, the trailer will accommodate 8 x 4 boards down the centreline and balanced over the trailer axle.

I have a few building projects planned over the next couple of years and this should be a useful addition for moving equipment and materials without the need to tax and insure another vehicle.

Trailer With top canopy

In the last post I wrote about identifying the old vehicle axle that was on the original donor trailer. After a lot of Google searches I have finally found an image that matches the axle. It turns out to be from an old Reliant Rebel van which was produced at the Tamworth Reliant factory between 1964 and 1974. These old Reliant's are few and far between now and there isn't much call for spare parts, but due to their light weight construction the axles were often used to produce three wheeler trikes. As it has been used on a traler for the past few decades it hasn't had excessive wear, so if anyone is interested in having it, including two wheels and tyres for spares or repair drop me a line via the contact link and we should be able to agree a reasonable price.
Reliant Rebel Van back axle 

Chimney Rebuild
Chimney Rebuild

Late last year I reported on the work to install a wood burning stove, after rebuilding the top of the chimney stack I abandoned the outside work due to inclement weather. As we are now in the midst of summer it presented the ideal opportunity to complete the work on the stack, to re-dress the flashing and repoint the remaining brickwork. As the existing mortar was quite degraded the joints had to be dug out quite deep before refilling with a new strong mortar mix. Hopefully the chimney will now remain maintenance free for the rest of our time at the house.

Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition
Having used linux for almost all my computing work over the last 6 years, an opportunity arose to get a lightweight ultrabook laptop as I travel a lot and carrying a heavyweight laptop around Europe isn't any fun. I settled on the DEL XPS 13 Developer edition which has a great specification for a small form factor laptop.

  • 5th Generation Intel Core™ i5-5200U Processor (3M Cache, up to 2.70 GHz)
  • Ubuntu Linux 14.04 SP1 (now using 15.04)
  • 13.3-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) InfinityEdge display
  • 8GB1 Dual Channel DDR3L at 1600MHz
  • 256GB Solid State Drive
  • Intel(R) HD Graphics 5500
  • 2.8 lbs
Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook
The laptop came pre-loaded with a DELL version of Ubuntu 14.4 that just needed to go through the setup process to finish the installation, unfortunately the setup crashed but fortunately still allowed Ubuntu to load, though only part configured on the next boot. After a couple of updates I was able to make a Dell recovery drive and set to reloading the Dell version of Ubuntu. More problems occurred with the reload going into an endless loop and Ubuntu not booting. Having failed with the DELL software I then tried to install Linux Mint 17.1 which again wouldn't boot. A bit more digging and I discovered the bios had been setup for both UEFI and legacy mode. Resetting the bios to just UEFI mode finally allowed a reloaded Linux mint to boot, and after a couple of updates all seemed to be okay until I tried to use the microphone which didn't work and according to the DELL website needed a couple of kernel patches to get it operational. Even after 6 years plus of using linux that was a step too far and the only options available to me was to either admit defeat and send the laptop back or try the latest Ubuntu version 15.04 which has the newer kernel with all the DEL patches included. Fortunately the Ubuntu 15.04 has done the trick and everything I have tried appears to be working. It is a shame this didn't work out of the box and it is experiences like this can easily put off a less determined person from persevering with Linux. No doubt branding this model a developer edition was done to deter the less experienced user.

Though I am not a fan of the inflexibility of the Unity menu system, I am getting used to it and with a few .desktop hacks have been able to add the latest versions of Xampp and Blender to the menu.

Add Xampp launcher to Ubuntu 15.04 menu
XAMPP is a completely free, easy to install Apache distribution containing MySQL, PHP, and Perl. It effectively turns your computer into a web server for local development of PHP/MySQL driven websites. The latest version of xampp installer now includes a gui based startup manager that makes starting and stopping the program much easier than writing commands in the terminal. Unfortunately the the setup script doesn't load the manager into the Ubuntu menu. So to achieve this I had to manually create an xampp.desktop file.

Before creating the .desktop file I first needed to be able to launch a password prompt window as Xampp needs to run with root privileges.

To do this gksu needed to be loaded, this was don by running the following command in the terminal.

sudo apt-get install gksu

Then the text editor was launched from the terminal with root privilages using

sudo gedit

Xampp Manager

In the text editor the following text was added and saved to /user/share/applications as xampp.desktop this is where all the programs .desktop files are located on my computer.

[Desktop Entry]
Comment=Open xampp manager
Exec=gksudo /opt/lampp/

From the above file the key entries were:
Xampp Launcher in Unity menu
Name=  is the name that will show under the icon in the unity launcher
Exec=   executes the command, gksudo calls the password prompt and opens the file from /opt/lampp
Icon= is the location of the applications icon which was found at /opt/lampp/htdocs/favicon.ico

Add Blender 2.75a launcher to the Ubuntu 15.04 menu

Unlike Xampp, Blender does not need to be run in root privileges therefore gksu does not need to be used so setup is a little easier.

In the text editor opened with root privelages (see xampp above) the following text was added and saved to /user/share/applications as blender275a.desktop this is where all the programs .desktop files are located on my computer.

[Desktop Entry]
Name=Blender 2.75a
GenericName=Blender 2.75a
Comment=Make and edit 3D files
Exec= /home/[YourUserName]/[FileLocation]/blender-2.75a-linux-glibc211-x86_64/blender

From the above file the key entries were:
Blender Launcher in Unity menu
Change: [YourUserName] for the user name you use on your linux system.
Change: [FileLocation] for the location where the Blender  tar.bz2 file was extracted to. 
Name=  is the name that will show under the icon in the unity launcher, make sure the version number is included if you have more than one Blender version on your machine.
Exec=   executes the command, in this case launches blender from the specified location.
Icon=   is the location within the blender directory that the blender icon is located

A full explanation of all the available options in the .desktop file can be found at:

Blender Update
Though Blender doesn't feature in my work anymore, I am still keeping abreast of the changes that are taking place with the software, which is still developing at a rapid pace. Not using Blender for work is a major limitation in staying up to date with the software and being able to help people by updating on what I have learned. Since my last report on blender development back in April 2014 there have been five new updates to Blender and the software is now at version 2.75a
Blender 2.75a Some of the highlights in the recent upgrades are:

Cycles Renderer
Now supports Fire and smoke rendering and render baking.

Has added the ability to add textured strokes, it has also been incorporated into the Cycles render engine and now includes an svg export facility to export the freestyle lines to inkspot

User Interface
Pie Menus have now been added


January to March 2015:
Having installed a wood burning stove towards the end of last year, I found myself with a need to be able to collect quantities of lumber when it becomes available. It is certainly not cost effective to buy nets of firewood from the local shops, and very little of what we have brought has been suitably seasoned to be classed as fire-wood. So to start this year my first project was to acquire or make a suitable trailer which has turned into quite an enjoyable project.

I started off by winning an ebay auction at a great price for what looked like a sturdy box trailer. It was made out of heavy grade 2 inch angle and had leaf spring
Old Box Trailer
and dampered suspension. However it was obvious the boardes were rotten and the wheels sat inside the trailer compromising the load space.

Typically for me rather than just reboarding the trailer I decided to redesign and rebuild it to make it a lot more functional.

608 Bearing Tutorial

608 Bearing Tutorial
Updated to Blender 2.63+

The trailer box measured 4 foot 6 inches by 6 foot 6 inches and 1 foot 6 inches high, but was compromised by the inner wheel arches. Besides carrying logs I also have a need to carry timber for construction projects and being able to easily transport 8 foot by 4 foot boards was a must, so I decided the box must accommodate at least 4 foot between the wheel arches and also the centre section should be able to extend over the front A frame and out over the tailgate so 8 x 4 sheets can be stowed vertically in the centre of the trailer. The existing framework was totally over engineered with heavy gauge steelwork on non structural parts of the box, so again I decided to completely strip down the trailer and re-weld it using structural steel only where the strength was required and use lighter grades of angle for the non structural part.
Old Trailer Axle - Can you help  identify what car it was off?
The suspension and axle has been based on an old car, possibly from the 1960's, rear axle again much heavier than required for a trailer and restricting the space between the inner wheel arches to only 3 foot. I am quite intrigued to find out what car was used as the donor for the suspension and axle, a trawl of google hasn't yet identified the axle.
Old Axcle (what car is it off?)
Old trailer axle (what car was it off?)
The strip down has gone well and after a significant amount of descaling, cutting up and re-welding I now have a decent trailer frame. It was really rewarding breaking out my old welding set after many years mothballed in the corner of my workshop and discovering that I can still produce good quality slag free structural welds. The new axle is based off Ford Fiesta rear hubs mounted to an axle beam made from 2 inch box section. Retaining the dampened suspension means the trailer shouldn't bounce about like so many commercial trailers do. The project is ongoing and hopefully will be completed in the next few weekends.
Rebuilt Trailer Frame

1903 Collard and Collard Piano repairs

I planned to do a lot of work on restoring the piano over the Christmas break, but unfortunately I came down with probably the worst cold I have had in 30 years and for several weeks didn't have the energy to tackle the many little repairs that will be needed to get the piano back into playable condition.

To be able to repair different parts of the action it is necessary to remove the action from the piano, and on these old piano's it couldn't be simpler. However once you have lifted the action from the piano frame you need something to hold it upright so you have access to both the front and back faces. I manufactured a couple of wooden stands that the bottom dowels of the action frame sit into and are supported by a small block of wood that props up the action frame to stop it toppling over.

Very simple but effective solution.
Piano Action Stand

Removing the piano action 001
Removing the front panel was simply a matter of lifting open the top cover which hinges back on itself, then on the inside face of the front panel there are a couple of turn buckles that  need turning to release the front panel from the piano frame. The front panel could then be lifted away from the piano.
Piano Action Removal 002

Removing the keyboard cover was then simply a matter of lifting it off its location as it sits in place on a small rebate either side of the piano keys using gravity and a couple of locating dowels.

This then completely exposed the action. A further two turn buckles one either side of the action frame held the action in place. Once these were turned to free the action frame, it could be tilted forward and lifted from the piano.

Collard And Collard Piano Action Removal

With the action frame removed the locating dowel hole for the frame can be clearly seen at the side of the keys.

A = Action frame locating dowel hole                                            B = Rebate for the Keyboard Cover
Collard And Collard Action Removal

With the action removed from the piano it can now be propped up on the home made stands giving easy access to work on all the parts that need repairing.
Collard And Collard Piano Action Removed


July to December 2014:

If you have looked in on this site from time to time you will probably have noticed a drop off in activity during 2014. It's been one of those years where life, health and work has completely overwhelmed me and I haven't had the time or energy to keep up with regular posts.  Hopefully things will change in 2015.

This doesn't mean I haven't got anything to add for the second half of the year, though compared with a few years ago, what I am doing now is far less interesting so not really worthy of adding here. There are a few new projects to report on, and the continual and rapid development of Blender, which I am still trying to keep abreast of, but as it is no longer part of my day job it's becoming increasingly difficult to stay on top of.

Things of note over the last six months are:

  • the acquisition of a vintage piano that needs a major overhaul to get it back into playable condition.
  • Installation of a wood burning stove.

608 Bearing Tutorial

608 Bearing Tutorial
Updated to Blender 2.63+
Collard and Collard 1903 Piano
Having spent the last few years slowly improving my piano playing, a friend mentioned their family had an old piano they had been trying to re-home for some time without success. It hadn't been played for many years but they remembered it had a great sound when it was played decades earlier. Against all the advice you read on the internet I decided to take it on as a project to see if it could be returned to playable condition even before I had seen it.

The piano turned out to be a typical old English upright built in 1903 by Collard and Collard of London for Frank H Arnold a piano dealer that used to operate from 262 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield.

As with most of the pianos of this time, it had a very decorative and well made case covered in a quality cherry wood veneer with some fine decorative inlays. The case would have had two candelabras, but these had been removed and were no longer available. As a piece of furniture it will polish up well and look good in any period home.

Unfortunately, that is all that you can say is good with the piano as the makers seemed to invest their money and effort into the case rather than the mechanism.
Frank H Arnold Piano Dealer
Collard and Collard Piano
Inside is a straight strung, over damper mechanism, often referred to a s a bird cage action due to the vertical rods that operate the dampers resembling a bird cage. This type of mechanism was superseded in the late 1800's long before this piano was even built, with newer under damper over strung mechanisms offering much better tone and damping. It is this change in mechanism that makes these old pianos valueless. The manufacturers even resorted to deception to continue selling these outdated designs. The silver frame at the top of the piano isn't part of the cast iron harp, but instead a moulding added to make it look as though the piano has a full harp. It offers no structural value top the piano at all.

Bird Cage Action

What needs to be done to make the piano playable:

  • The piano has a very honky-tonk sound which will need to be softened by cleaning and voicing the hammers.
  • The dampers aren't making contact with the strings indicating the mechanism has moved at some stage and they will all need to be reset.
  • Many of the hammers (around 40) are tight and don't return after they have been played.
  • One hammer mechanism in the middle octaves is missing and has been replaced by the highest pitch hammer (fortunately the broken hammer was in the bottom of the piano frame). A new mechanism will need to be made as spares aren't available and the correct hammer reinstated.
  • One hammer pivot is broken and will need to be repaired.
  • A few of the keys are sticking and will need to be freed off.
  • One string had previously been spliced which broke on the first attempt at tuning.
Though I haven't managed to successfully tune the piano yet the few octaves I have tuned have seemed to hold their tune, so hopefully the tuning pins are still tight enough in the pin board.

Vacuuming off the surface of the hammers and removing many decades of dust has made a significant difference to the tone of the piano, so I am hopeful that this can be brought back to a playable piano once again.

This diagram of the over damper mechanism was produced using Blender and freestyle.

Wood Burning Stove Installation

Unfortunately in England we can't just research and fit heating appliances ourselves, we are burdened with lots of regulation and the need to notify the work to the Local building control department. As I am not a registered competent installer that can notify installations it has meant I have had to draw up plans and submit them to the Local Building Control for approval to carry out the work, and they have visited to check the installation. The plans were drawn up using Draftsight a free to use 2D CAD program, with the 3D details of the register plate and and termination being done in Blender with a Freestyle edge render.

Chimney Repair Knocking out fireplace
Adding a support lintel
Typically for a small building job this presented no end of unforeseen problems. The first one being the chimney, when I went onto the roof to change the chimney pot I discovered the mortar at the top of the stack had broken down and the bricks could be simply lifted off the stack. Rather than just a few bricks the top five courses had to come down and be rebuilt, I will re-point the lower bricks which were still well bonded together in the spring. In the lounge the fireplace was also much more difficult to open up, what I expected to be rubble filled turned out to be fully keyed solid brickwork. Every brick put up a fight and took much longer to knock out than expected. On the plus side when the opening was knocked out the brickwork above remained self supported making it an easy job to fit the new lintel. Fortunately the stainless steel chimney liner was an easy install just needing me tie a rope onto it and feed it into the chimney pot at the top. My wife encourage it through the chimney offset's by pulling the rope from the fireplace opening.

The finished builders opening
The almost completed installation
Finishing off went much easier, though I haven't plastered for quite a while, it is very rewarding still being able to float in a smooth finish. Though some cosmetic tidying will be required when we change the flooring next year, the Building Control officer was happy with the installation. We are now enjoying the warmth of a real fire this Christmas.

January to June 2014:

If you have visited my website over the last few years you may have noticed the lack of posts in 2014. As has happened previously work and family have completely taken over my spare time and it has been difficult to find both the time and motivation to write up details on the very few bits of project work undertaken this year. So apologies for letting the site lay stagnant for the past six months.

Though nothing has been entered here I have progressed one or two projects a little. My contact page had become targeted by a spam-bot, the page was originally created by an online form to email website and has proven to be unreliable. It became so annoying clearing several spam emails every day that I had to take the contacts page down. I have now rewritten the contact form and and the form handling code to hopefully be a little more secure.

On the graphics front Blender has advanced a lot more than when I last reported on an update with the 3D Graphics software back in February 2013, which was then at version 2.66. We are now at version 2.70a and there has been far too many advancements to report on but it is well worth a look at the release logs. The highlights include the inclusion of the Freestyle  non-photorealistic (NPR) renderer allowing better control of line renders and should with practice make it

608 Bearing Tutorial

608 Bearing Tutorial
Updated to Blender 2.63+

Blender 2.70a easier to create technical graphics and line drawings.

Cycles render engine has also progressed significantly and now boasts an array of capabilities that rivals many of the professional renderers.

These include:
Subsurface Scattering shader
Real-time viewport preview
HDR lighting support
Hair rendering
Support for motion blur

My day job rarely allows me to use Blender or do any graphics, but I have managed to slip in a small smoke simulation which demonstrated the problems of smoke
nuisance that can be caused by cliosed top chimney terminals when fitted to a problem chimney.
Back in 2011 I had been experimenting with a project to check the viability of a home brew solar heating system, which showed some very pleasing results. I was intending to build a solar wall on the side of my garden shed and pipe the heat into the house. Fortunately there was an offer on a 6ft square polycarbonate greenhouse at a local discount warehouse. The greenhouse  with a slight adaptation has now been mounted to the south facing side of my garden shed and makes up the basic structure of what will be almost 8 square metres of solar heating.

Start of Solar Shed
As I progress with this project I will add a few updates on how the solar collectors are built and hopefully a few logs of the energy savings it achieves.

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