machines which I have made, am making, or intend to make, and some other stuff. If you find this site interesting, please leave a comment. I read every comment and respond to most. n.b. There is a list of my first 800 posts in my post of 17 June 2021, titled "800 Posts"

Category: Book review

Carriage Assembly, and Gun Spiking.

If you have been following the build of the model Armstrong cannon, you might remember that most of the steel panels for the carriage were laser cut a few months ago. In the past few days I have been drilling dozens of 2mm holes, ready for final riveting.  Meanwhile the parts are held together with 2mm bolts and nuts.  I expect that the rivets will not be installed until I can see that everything fits and works as it should.


Only a few fasteners so far, but it is surprisingly rigid.



The angle iron is cut from the corners of rectangular section tube with 2mm wall thickness.  It does require some more finishing and rounding off, but the scale is accurate.  The big hole is to allow the hydraulic recoil tube to be inserted.  The recoil cylinder will be 18mm diameter.

SWMBO’s comment….  “It looks like it is made from Meccano”.  I guess that there are a lot of holes.

Meanwhile I have discovered an excellent reference source, published in 1879.  It is a free book, available online at Google Books.  “Treatise on the Construction and Manufacture of Ordnance in the British Service”.  517 pages.  Original price 9 shillings.  It is full of gems for the cannon modeller.  As an example, this is a drawing of the sights on the 64 pounder RML converted to 80 pounder.  You will see that the barrel shape is different from the one which I am modelling, which is a mark 3.  But it is probable that the sights remained the same as those pictured.  A great find, with enough detail for me to scale down and model.

Screen Shot 2020-07-19 at 12.18.03 am

Note that the sight on the right is not vertical, but sloped at approximately 2º.  That is to compensate for the slight deflection of the projectile to the right, caused by the rifling.

Screen Shot 2020-07-19 at 12.07.37 am

From the same book, a detailed description of the Vent / touch hole / ignition hole.  It was NOT just a simple hole drilled into the barrel, but a copper cylinder which was threaded into the barrel.  The touch hole was drilled through the copper.  The reason for this was that the touch hole gradually became bigger with use, and needed replacement after a certain number of firings.  It also allowed repair of the touch hole if the gun was “spiked” by the opposition, but that was a major exercise which required specialist knowledge and tools, and a return to the factory or one of the 5 workshops listed above.

Book Review. “Mortal Wounds”. Not for the faint hearted.




By Martin Smith

Hardcover.  £25 RRP.  Pen-and -Sword. UK.


This book was not a relaxing read.

The author, Dr Martin Smith, is a Biological Anthropologist with particular interests in prehistoric populations.  He examines human remains, taking a forensic approach, to try to determine whether violence was the cause of death.  Since ancient remains rarely consist of more than skeletons, soft tissue injuries are not evident.  So, the violent causes of death where bones were not injured are not assessable, and the incidence of violent deaths is certainly underestimated.

Crushed skulls, decapitations, cut wounds in bone, shattered bones, remains of weapons such as arrow heads and or spear heads inside skeletal remains are all assessed as violent deaths.  Evidence of bone healing is also taken into account.

The book is divided into eras, from the deep past, the Mesolithic, the Neolithic, the bronze age, the Romans, Medieval England, the high Middle Ages-Renaissance.  It does not deal in detail with the twentieth century.

Although the descriptions are often shocking, some fascinating conclusions are reached.  Human history, it appears, has always been violent.  At least 10% of all deaths in the “stone age” were violent, usually as evidenced by skull fractures, and contradicting the traditional “peaceful primitives” view of the era.  The incidence of violent deaths is highest in the lowest, worst nourished classes, in all societies.  Wounds resulting from black powder firearms were often more severe than from modern guns.  (to mention just a few examples.)

There are many illustrations, line drawings and maps in the 290 pages.  The text is a pleasure to read, although, I confess, I had to take it in small doses.

Another really fascinating read from Pen and Sword.



Book Review. The Trafalgar Chronicle – 4


New Series 4

Edited by Peter Hore

Softcover.  £20 RRP.  Seaforth Publishing.


“Dedicated to Naval History in the Nelson Era”, the fourth volume in this series contains 21 essays, richly illustrated, and clearly reflecting the fact that the authors are enthusiastic, knowledgeable and articulate about their subjects.


This is a book to be read from cover to cover.  It has classy feel, the illustrations and maps are excellent, the topics interesting and eclectic within the period.


I particularly enjoyed the chapters “The Decaturs”,  “Nelson Was an Irishman”, “Russians on the Tagus”, “Captain John Perkins” (the first black officer in the Royal Navy) and “The Carronade”.  The last because this reviewer has a particular interest in carronades.  If I might take the liberty of showing a personal item….

carronade - 6

Photo 1  Model carronade made by the reviewer 2015

The essay by Anthony Bruce is the best description of the history of carronades which I have read.  Particularly the descriptions of naval actions where carronades made a significant contribution.


I eagerly look forward to further volumes in this series.


Naval Gunnery. A Book Review.

Naval Gunnery.  A Description.  by Captain H. Garbett.  R.N.  360 pages.


Was originally published in 1897, and is a book which has been considered by academicians and scholars as being of great significance and value to literature.  As such, it has been reproduced by Alpha Editions in an inexpensive, facsimile, paper back edition.

I came across an article about rifled muzzle loading cannons which referenced the book, and led me to purchase it from the Book Depository for $AUD20.

It, the book, is fascinating.  1897 English, is beautiful to read, non ambiguous, and unusually, does not provoke the grammar Nazi in me.

And the book has answered my questions about cannon construction.  Not completely, mind you.  I still do not know how they managed blind rifling.  But most of the first 78 pages are about muzzle loaders, particularly Armstrong muzzle loaders.  With diagrams.


One question which was answered was about the “recoil tube” located below the barrel of the Port Fairy 80 lb RML’s.  I wondered whether it was like a gas shock absorber.  The book explains that these long cylinders had a piston, and were filled with “Rangoon Oil”, (look it up.  It is in Wikipedia), and they were indeed designed to moderate the rate of recoil of the cannon.

Another fact about rifled cannons…   the rifling causes the projectile to emerge from the cannon slightly to the left or the right of the cannon axis, depending on whether the rifling is clockwise or anti-clockwise.

The book has chapters on breech loaders, naval mountings, quick firing guns, magazines, shell rooms, loading arrangements, sights, powder, cordite, projectiles fuzes, battleship development (up to 1897), battleship organisation and manning.

360 pages, 12 plates (black and white), 113 text illustrations.

If you have an interest in pre-dreadnought naval guns, this book is highly recommended.


Between the Classical Greeks and the Romans. The Hellenistic Kingdoms!

OK, now I realise that few of my metalworking, engine modelling, machinist friends will be interested, but just in case……a history book review….


Philip Matyszak

Hardcover.  £20 RRP

It is satisfying to read a book which plugs a gap in the history timeline.  I chose this title because Philip Matyszak is a terrific author and I always enjoy his books, but once I had read the initial chapters I realized that I knew very little about the kingdoms which remained after the split of the empire of Alexander the Great.

The first third of the book summarises the career of Alexander and his wars of conquest.  Then the maneuvering and wars which determined how the empire was to be divided, and who the rulers would be.  Then a closer look at each kingdom.   The west (Greece, Macedonia), the Seleucid empire (Syria, Persia, parts of India and Afghanistan), and Ptolemaic Egypt.

Matyszak emphasizes that the Hellenistic kingdoms period was not just an interregnum between classical Greece and Rome, but a period with its own significance in warfare, the arts, philosophy, etc.  Three of the seven wonders of the ancient world originated in the Hellenistic kingdoms.

Unfortunately, there are many place names in the text which do not appear on the four simple maps.   Why can’t decent maps be considered an essential component of history books?

(If any of my metal working, modelling, machinist friends would like to borrow this book, just ask.)





Bucket List. A Book Review leading to..




Emily Malcolm and Michael R Harrison

Large format, hardcover.  £35 RRP


Doesn’t sound particularly interesting?  That was my thought when I read that this book is a catalogue.  After all, who reads a catalogue?


However, the artwork on the covers is attractive and interesting, and I do have an interest in ships, models, modelling and history, so I opened a few pages at random.   And was transfixed!  This book is glorious!   Back to page one, read a few pages, then worked through every one of the 373 pages.


The photographs of the models are beautiful and expert.  Most are laterals, but some are of smaller details.  There are many historical photographs, pictures of modelers in action, previous exhibitions.  To describe the pictures as “lavish” would be an understatement.


Glasgow and the River Clyde was (and is?) famous for ship building.  Most of the 676 models in the Glasgow Museum’s collection are of ships built or owned in this region, over the past 150 years.  So this book includes models from the age of clippers and steam dredges, through the age of steam and dreadnoughts, to Queens Mary and Elizabeth, and later.  A wonderful historical tour.


Chapter 1.  Models in Shipbuilding (the whys and wherefores of making model ships)

Chapter 2. Professional Model Making (there were companies which made models for ship builders and owners for industrial and marketing reasons)

Chapter 3.  Amateur Models.  (including models made by French prisoners of the Napoleonic wars)

Chapter 4.  Ship Models and Exhibitions

Chapter 5. Building the Collection

The Catalogue  (220 pages)


Glasgow is now on my bucket list.

A few random pages to tempt you.



Yes, I do find dredgers interesting.  Note who bought this one.


Book Review. Battleship Bismarck. A Design and Operational History.

No hesitation about this one.  It is magnificent.  A big, expensive, superb book.  Very detailed.  Lots of photographs, maps, diagrams, plans, tables.  And written by people who really know their subject.  All naval architects.  Very readable, but probably not in one session.  In fact, I have read it, selecting sections almost at random, then finding it very difficult to put down.

Here is my official review.


BATTLESHIP BISMARCK-  A Design and Operational History

By William Garzke, Robert Dulin and William Jurens.


This superb book, IMO, is destined to become THE authoritative account of conception, design, building, brief naval history and destruction of one of the most famous ships ever.  Written by expert naval architects, the 610 pages of double column text are illustrated by many original photographs, maps, and diagrams.


I suppose that some people will read it cover to cover, but I found myself being drawn initially into the design and building of the massive battleship.  In a later reading session, I read the incredibly moving accounts of the German survivors.  And in another session, the sinking of the Hood.   Then, not necessarily sequentially, the chapters leading to the discovery of Bismarck, the disabling of the rudders, and the final, fatal confrontation with the vengeful Royal Navy.


Recently we have been treated to magnificent Seaforth publications of books of plans of warships Helgoland, the Repulse and others.  I confess that I was slightly disappointed that similar detailed plans of the Bismarck were not included in this publication, but I understand that there are limits.  Perhaps a separate book?


Congratulations to the authors and publishers of this magnificent work, which I am delighted to add to my library.

Some pics of the book.




At £55 it IS expensive.  But in this case you get what you pay for.

Seaforth Publishing.







The Boer War. A Book Review. Excellent!



After reading this book, cover to cover, in 2 days, I felt that I had a real grasp of the reality of the 1899-1902 war which so shaped South Africa’s history. I now realise that my previous knowledge of the war was very sketchy.


The 100 iconic objects which are held in the War Museum of the Boer Republics, and 200 other objects, maps, and many photographs, are beautifully presented in this high quality book of 260 pages.  The story of each object is told in short essay style by gifted, expert writers.


The many subjects include battles, weapons, military personalities, politicians, places, civilians, equipment, prisoners of war, concentration camps, costs of the war, and longer term outcomes.


The book does not glorify the Anglo-Boer War.  If anything, it is an anti-war treatise.  It certainly has had a major impact on this reviewer.


Thoroughly recommended.





German Battleship Helgoland – book review.

Seaforth Publishing, in association withThe National Maritime Museum Greenwich, is publishing a series of books of plans and history of famous warships, in this case the Helgoland.


Detailed in the original builders’ plans

By Aidan Dodson



I opened this large format, hardcover book of ship plans at midnight, expecting a quick flip through, and was able put it down 3 hours later.   But I will be returning.

The first 20 pages outline the development of German dreadnaughts and their wartime careers and fates, and a fascinating history it is.  The ship structure, armament, machinery (including engines), protection, pumping systems and damage control, and fire control are described in a degree of detail which was satisfying and not overwhelming to this non expert but interested reader-reviewer.

Then, all but 20 of its 144 pages are reproductions of the original builders’ plans of the WW1 German battleship Helgoland.   The plans are detailed, and beautiful and fascinating.  With original annotations in German, translated and explained in the margins.    The 940 x 290mm centre fold of the longitudinal section is just stunning!

Modelers, historians, ship aficionados, and anyone with a vague interest in battleships will love this book.  I certainly do, and eagerly await further volumes in the series.


Front jacket




The German navy used triple expansion reciprocating engines rather than pay royalties to Parsons to use turbine engines.

Modelling Jeeps and Tiger Tanks (books)

I received 2 more books from Pen & Sword  for review, and these are both directed squarely at modellers.  They both contain interesting information about their use in WW2, but are mainly about the external appearances, and configurations.  Not much information about manufacture, strategic importance, or mechanical aspects.



Second World War

by Lance Cole


This large format, 64 page book is written for Jeep enthusiasts, Jeep modellers, and Jeep restorers.

This reviewer is an experienced 4×4 driver and owner, and interested in WW2 vintage Jeeps from an historical perspective, and for technical comparisons.

The book will have enormous appeal to its target audience, but less so to the casually interested reader like me.  It does include some general historical notes and comments, but these seem incidental to the main subject matter, which is about modelling of the body work and weapons.

There are many photographs of Jeeps in wartime configurations, and mounting various weapons.  Also lots of photographs of model Jeeps.

Modelers and restorers will love it.






German Army and Waffen-SS

The Last Battles in the West 1945

by Dennis Oliver



This is another of the series of Tank Craft books which aims to provide model-makers and enthusiasts with photographs and line drawings of battle tanks which are popular subjects for modelling.

The 64 page , large format book has many such images, as well as notes about the military actions, as far as is known, of the German Tiger tanks in 1945.

The illustrations are of the tank exteriors only.  They are detailed, colour and of high quality.

A 15 page section lists and assesses commercially available kits from various countries.

Tiger Tank modellers and illustrators will love it.









Large Scale Warship Models (a book review)


From Kits to Scratch Building  by Kerry Jang



This 110 page, hard cover book is aimed squarely at the model ship builder.  The title is slightly misleading because the book is more about methods of modelling, rather than models, per se.

The author, an expert and award winning modeller, describes the methods he uses to make superb, large scale ship models.  The methods include up to date techniques including 3d part printing, rubber mold making,  and use of modern adhesives, paints, materials etc.  There is a very interesting section on the why’s and wherefores of large scale ship modelling, including intriguing references to Zen and Nirvana.

The book is lavishly illustrated with many photographs of works in progress and techniques.  The text is clear and concise.

Although I am entranced by ship models in museums, my own interest in modelling is with stationary steam engines.  I found much of the advice and techniques in the book to be of interest and relevant to my own modelling efforts, particularly the sections on assembly, painting and finishing.

A handsome, useful book, which I am pleased to add to my library.



“parts that don’t fit”. Now that will be useful.


A handy painting technique which had never occurred to me.



A lavish, quality production. £25.




Cover.  Looking down on the modern remains of the Roman camp from the Masada plateau.

MASADA by Phil Carradice

Mass Suicide in the First Jewish-Roman War, c. AD73

This is another title from Pen & Sword in the “History of Terror” series.  128 pages, soft cover.

Masada, in case you are unaware, was a mountain top fortress in Judea, where Jewish men, women and children fought off veteran Roman legions for 2 years.  The traditional story is that facing defeat, the 960 defenders committed mass suicide.

There is only one source for the story, and that was Josephus Flavius, a contemporary Jewish general who was captured by, then joined the Romans.  His information, veracity, motives and biases are therefore suspect; however, some aspects of the story have been validated by modern archeological evidence.

The account of the siege, the defences, the huge ramp which was constructed by the Romans, and the details of the ultimate Roman victory, is compelling, riveting reading. The dissection of the available evidence is thorough, and various alternative possible scenarios are weighed.

Modern use of the Masada story by the nation of Israel is also discussed.

Australia’s worst military defeat (Gallipoli) is our national Remembrance Day. It is telling that Masada, also a defeat, has become the source of national pride for Israel.

An excellent read.

Dr  John Viggers.


Rear cover photo. Modern remains of the Roman ramp.




And just for some perspective of the site, watch this superb video

Free History Books

I received this notice from Pen & Sword Publishers today.  I have not tested the offer, but I can vouch for its authenticity.  So if you are into Napoleonic history, and would like some free books (ebooks actually), then go for it!

Good Morning!
This Sunday marks the anniversary of Napoleons death, to coincide with this anniversary Pen and Sword will be giving away four eBooks for free from Amazon. I wondered if you would be able to share this with your readers, if you are doing a post around this anniversary. It’s not often we give away eBooks for free, so I am keen to spread the word as far as possible! Here’s the four eBooks that will be free on the day and the Amazon link to download the titles.
Have fun on Sunday (UK or US timezone I presume)

A New Hobby for Metalworkers (a book review)

You guys could consider a new hobby, to balance your personalities, and develop the artistic side of your brains.  (can’t remember which side of the brain that is, but here is my suggestion…)


Hard cover, 120pp, from Pen and Sword Publishers.


This book was surprising.

I was expecting wonderful pictures of Islamic art from Bukhara, Tashkent, Samarkand and other central Asian cities of the Silk Road.  And indeed, every second page is a full page colour picture of the amazing tile work, mosaics, ornaments, paintings and fabrics from Uzbekistan.

Every other page is a fine line drawing of the corresponding colour page.  What was most surprising to me, is that this is actually a COLOURING BOOK.   The drawing pages are there to be coloured in.

SWMBO tells me this is a common adult hobby, used for relaxation and stress relief, and making beautiful artistic pictures.  Well I don’t see myself swapping steam engine making for colouring-in exercises, but horses for courses.

Whatever, this is a beautiful, large format book, and will be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys the superb, stylistic, Islamic decorative arts.  If stress relieving colouring-in is your thing, well, so much the better.

Dr  John Viggers.


The right hand page is for colouring-in, probably after scanning to art paper.  (might make interesting patterns to CNC engrave too.)



ps.   No luck finding spare gears for the big lathe, but lots of suggestions from my readers.  Thanks bloggers.  I will let you know what happens.


The Trafalgar Chronicle

Another terrific read from Pen and Sword!  Particularly relevant for me, as I will be visiting “Victory” at Portsmouth, UK, in a few weeks.

TRAFALGAR CHRONICLE edited by Peter Hore

This is the first volume of articles on the subject of the Georgian period navy, ie. The epoch of Trafalgar, Nelson, Napoleon, 1812 war etc.    The volume contains 17 individually authored articles, maps, quality black and white and colour plates, notes and contributors’ biographies.


For this general reader, most of the articles were very interesting, but some contained a level of detail which would be more of interest to researchers.

I particularly enjoyed the articles about  the American in The Royal Navy, Frederic Rolette, and Nelson as a junior officer.   I am certain that “Victory” modelers will find invaluable, the analysis in “What Did HMS Victory Actually Look Like?”

The crucial role of James Cook in the conquest of the French in Quebec was fascinating to this antipodean, who was not previously  aware of this period of Cook’s career.

I look forward to further volumes in this series which are intended to be published annually.  (This review covers Book 1 of the new series.  Since I wrote this review Books 2 and 3 have been published.  I hope to review 2 and 3 soon.)

Dr John Viggers





My readers might be wondering why most of the books which I am reviewing in are “highly recommended”.  The reason is simple.  The books which I read and decide are crap do not get reviewed by me at all.  The ones which you will see in the blog also exclude those which I have decided are just OK.  The ones which you will read about here are those which I have really enjoyed, like “The Trafalgar Chronicle”.


How the world’s greatest navy was defeated by beginners. A book review.



This oddly titled book is a most interesting retelling of the three Punic wars, with an emphasis on the contest for naval supremacy.

Carthage was the naval superpower of the Mediterranean, and Rome had almost no seafaring history or capability.  Yet Rome won the naval contest.  This book explains how.  It also explains how the destruction of Carthage was the single most important event in the forging of the Roman empire, yet also planted the seeds for Rome’s eventual fall.

The author includes fascinating information about the design and construction of  galleys, and the financial and manpower implications of the massive undertaking of building a navy from scratch.

I particularly enjoyed chapter 4 which explained the technology,  capabilities and limitations of galleys, and the implications and risks of various strategies such as ramming.  Rome’s use of the corvus, which permitted the use of its famed infantry in sea battles, provided a technological edge for a few years but was ultimately discontinued, probably due to a resulting reduction in seaworthiness of the galleys caused by the heavy corvus.


The book includes a few maps (too few in my opinion, and not all locations in the text are on the maps) , and diagrams of the likely appearance of the corvus.  It is well written, and appealed to this general reader. It should particularly appeal to students of ancient history, military history, naval history, and ship construction.

Hardback, 253 pages, including notes and references, bibliography, index.  Pen & Sword.

Highly recommended.    Dr  John Viggers.



Early Railways…A Guide for the Modeller (a book review)

When I saw this title from Pen and Sword, I thought “wonderful”.  Anticipating information about the Pen-y-darren railway, for which Richard Trevithick designed the world’s first useable steam locomotive.  I will be staying at Pen-y-darren near Merthyr Tidfil, Wales,  in a few weeks.  I know that little of the coal mine railway remains, but I just want to soak up the ambience of the area.

But to my disappointment, there is no mention of Trevithick or Pen-y-darren in the book.  An astounding oversight IMO.

Otherwise, the book is excellent, although I do feel unqualified to comment about model railways.



It is hard cover, 120 pages, richly illustrated with photos, diagrams, and plans of railway locomotives, carriages, tracks, signals, uniforms, tunnels, stations etc etc from 1830-1880.

The chapters are:   Introduction (which should not be skipped) 1. Mike Sharman – pioneer modeller of early railways, 2. Infrastructure, 3. Locomotives 4. Carriages  5. Waggons  6. Layouts and models  Appendix of sources of supply for modellers, and a brief index.

This book is a quality production.  Carefully and articulately written, and beautifully illustrated.

I have had no previous particular interest in model railways, but after reading this book, I do wonder what I have been missing.

Here are a few pages chosen at random.



The illustrations are profuse, well chosen, high quality and interesting.

This book will be enjoyed by anyone who is interested in railways 1830-80, and especially modellers.

Dr John Viggers










Another Good Read. “The Mongol Art of War”

I will not be in the workshop for a few days, so I will post some more reviews of books which I have really enjoyed.  (you don’t want to hear about the ones which I thought were crap do you?)


Paperback, 211pp, Pen & Sword Military.


In the thirteenth century the Mongol armies, led by Chinggis Khan and his successors, swept out of the depths of central Asia to conquer China, most of Asia, and much of  Eastern Europe to form the largest contiguous empire which has ever existed.

It was probably only the death of the Khan which prevented the Mongols from conquering all of Europe, in their quest to rule the entire world.

The Mongols rarely lost a battle. 

Dr Timothy May is an expert in Mongol history , and in this eminently  readable book he analyses the available evidence to explain how armies of horse archers took walled cities and defeated heavily armored European knights.   Much of the history of the Mongol conquests is described, but the book is more about how and why the Mongol armies were so successful.

As usual with successful warlords, the Mongol characteristics described are intelligent and ruthless leadership, terror, adoption of new technologies, effective organization, and disciplined soldiers. 

There is finally a most interesting description of the legacy of the Mongol “art of war”, including how the tactics and high degree of mobility of the horse archer armies has been studied and copied by more modern armies, including the panzer forces of the Germans in WW2.

As expected in a book written by a respected academic, there is an extensive glossary, and extra notes for each chapter, select bibliography, and index.

This book will appeal to the general reader, as well as students of the era.

Another excellent read from Pen and Sword.  Highly recommended.

Dr JCL Viggers.


Some basic, but quite useful line drawn maps



A Coal Grate. And Monster Emperors of Rome.

Firstly, the book review.  It is short, because I did not enjoy it.  Not that it is badly written, or poorly researched.  But it is really shocking.



From Tiberius to Theodora.  AD 145-548

This book is one of the series published by Pen & Sword on the architects of terror. Other volumes include Al-Qaeda, The Armenian Genocide, Bloody Mary, Einsatzgruppen, to give you an idea of the scope of the series.

Now that I have finished with the book, I am examining my own motives in choosing it.  I have read many books about ancient Rome, and find the era fascinating; the personalities, the reasons for the rise and fall of the empire, why the military was so spectacularly successful etc etc.

But to be truthful, I did not actually finish the book.  I had a similar reaction when I read about the Nazis and the concentration camps.  Just too horrible to contemplate.  And I closed it after reading about half.  And will not reopen it.

Paul Chrystal is a well-respected author who has written many books about ancient Rome. He states an aim to use primary sources, and to balance the horror with the mitigating aspects of the monsters. The book is 127 pages long, and it covers 10 emperors, so there is not a lot of space to give a balanced view. Mostly, despite its aims, the book is about rape, murder, treachery, nasty and insane men and women with absolute power doing whatever they felt like doing.

And to be realistic, even the “good” emperors started wars, executed rivals, instigated massacres and mass maimings.  That was the way things happened in ancient Rome. And twentieth century Germany, China, Cambodia etc etc.

So, if you enjoy seemingly endless descriptions of sadistic torture, rape and mass murders, with many illustrations, this book might be for you.

Not for this this reviewer though.

John V.

Now, back to getting enough heat into the 1:8 Trevithick Dredger Engine.

I have made a grate to place into the firebox, and which will replace the gas burner, which has proved to be inadequate, despite many, many experiments with improving it.  So here is the grate.


Putting a rather unpleasant book to good use.

The holes in the grate are tapered, with the smallest part of the holes uppermost.  The fold at the back is to prevent coal being pushed off.  The taper is to prevent clogging the holes with clinker, and possibly to improve the velocity of air flow through the fire.

And how did I drill so many small holes so neatly?


CNC of course.  Took about 45 minutes.

But after that I had a conversation with Stuart Tankard.  He reckons that I will do no better with coal than I have with propane to date.   Hmmm.   Might give it a go anyway.

Stuart’s suggestion is to try one of these….


It is 50mm diameter, has a large jet (0.81mm diameter) and has a fearsome flame.  Looks more like a silver soldering torch.  If I use it I might get a flame coming out of the chimney.  Hope that it does not melt the silver solder.



Not Another Book Review!


I am still experimenting with the gas burner on the Trevithick, and frankly, totally over it.  So much so that I am considering scrapping the gas burner, and seeing if coal will get better steam pressures.

But nothing to show yet.   So another book review.

This one is another ripper!  I bet that most of you have never heard of Mithridates The Great!  That is because of our Rome-centric ancient history.  Everyone knows a bit about Julius Caesar.  And maybe even heard of Spartacus, Hannibal, and Attila.

But Mithridates has been described as Rome’s deadliest enemy, with good reason.   Here is the book review….




(or GAME OF THRONES minus dragons and nightwalkers).

Why bother with fiction when real history is as dramatic and complex and shocking as this story?

Mithridates the Great was arguably the greatest threat to republican Rome in its pre common era history, even taking into account Hannibal,  Spartacus etc.  That he did not finally succeed was not due to lack of resources, military skill, wealth or intelligence.  He faced the awesome might of the best infantry in the ancient world, and some of the best generals that Rome ever produced.  As the king of Pontus, a small country on the Black Sea between Rome, Parthia (Persia), and the barbarian tribes of central Asia, he fought Rome intermittently for over 50 years.  And, according to this book, he came very close to winning.

Matyszak describes a man of intelligence, imposing stature, commanding personality. Generous and loyal to his friends, utterly ruthless to his enemies, and guilty of treachery, mass murder, fratricide, matricide, filicide and every other “cide” in the dictionary.  He arranged the murder in one day of 80,000 civilian Romans, to bind certain cities to his cause.  He ordered his entire harem to suicide rather than let it fall into the hands of his enemy.

He returned from hopeless situations many times, but as an old man, following treachery by a son, he took his own life, and his kingdom was added to the Roman empire.  The reader knows that it will not end well for Mithridates, but I found myself hoping against hope that it could somehow be different.

This book is a terrific read.  Even though it is only 180 pages long, (plus references, maps, picture section etc), I found it richly rewarding.  It is not quick reading.  It kept me going for almost 2 weeks, where I normally devour a book in 2-3 days.  I often needed to re-read sections, to adequately grasp the details.  The language is mostly precise and articulate, peppered with humorous but appropriate modern jargon.  (e.g. p155 “Mithridates had left several juicy castles stuffed with treasure” )

Incidents which are based on less reliable sources are identified, and the author offers personal interpretations which seem quite believable.   The summing up of the epilogue was particularly useful. 

One aspect, which I found annoying, was the paucity of place names and total absence of scale on any of the maps.  Many places are mentioned in the text which do not appear on the maps.  

The book is intended for the general reader rather than the academic but I suspect that it might be confusing if the reader does not have some familiarity with the history of late republican Rome. Eg. It would be an advantage if the reader knows something of characters such as Sulla, Pompey and Sertorius.  The 13 page introduction is an excellent summary of the situation of the Mediterranean world in the first century BC and should not be skipped over.

J. V.



Good maps, except no scale.


The Battleship Builders (another book review)

This one is just to demonstrate to reader Stan that some of my book reviews are positive.


Hard Cover,

UK £30.00 Seaforth Publishing,  available at Pen and Sword Military.


THE BATTLESHIP BUILDERS  Constructing and Arming British Capital Ships

By Ian Johnston and Ian Buxton

I am writing this review less than 24 hours after opening this book.  It is a gem!  I admit to so far reading only 5 of the 13 chapters, and those almost at random, in preference to a night’s sleep, and I am greatly anticipating devouring the remainder.

The subject is the making of battleships 1863-1945.  320 pages, triple columns, and a cornucopia of photographs, tables, plans, diagrams and maps. 

I like history, engineering awes me, and I appreciate thoroughness and detail.  This book has it all. 

Despite the mass of detail, the writing style is clear and articulate and easy to read.

At this time I have read the chapters on armament, armour, money, and the introduction and conclusions.  I will soon go back to the powering, the facilities, the building, etc.  I was wondering just how they did make, shape, and attach steel armour up to 12 inches thick to the sides of ships*.  And how did they make those huge guns?  It is all there, including detailed descriptions and photographs of the manufacturing processes, the factories, the work forces, the costs, the materials, the physical handling of the huge pieces, the testing.  And the corruption, and the cost to the national economy. 

A fascinating story.   Absolutely, thoroughly recommended.

*spoiler alert!  The armour plates were bolted from the inside, into threaded holes, using bolts 3-4 inches diameter.  The holes were made and threaded before the plates were hardened.  The plates had tongue and groove edges.

After writing this I read the remaining chapters, and I confirm that this is an awesome book.  Well written, plenty of pictures diagrams and tables, and thorough.   So there Stan!




If you have ANY interest in battleships and their construction, buy this one!




M1 ABRAMS TANK (a book review)

One of my interests is history, particularly military history, and I have been writing book reviews for an English Publisher, Pen and Sword Military, for several years.

Activity in my workshop is not particularly photogenic at present, so my posts have become less frequent.   I wonder if my readers might be interested some book reviews to fill the gaps.

So here is a review of a recent read.  I will be interested in any feedback, positive or negative.   Please be assured that my primary interest on this blog remains making and using machines, and any book reviews will only be used to plug gaps.  Might make a change from my obsession with Antarctica?


UK. £14.99    US $24.95   Paperback, with a quality texture.  Glossy paper, 184 pages.

M1 ABRAMS TANK  by Michael Green

As an uninformed but curious reader, I was interested to find out about this, the world’s best known Main Battle Tank (MBT).

 “MBT” is one of the many, many, acronyms used in tank parlance.  Indeed, at times I felt that that the main purpose for the text of the book was to list and explain the meaning of the acronyms.  But that is a bit unfair.   The Abrams tank has been in use for almost 40 years, and is projected to be in use until 2050, so it is not surprising that it has seen multiple versions and revisions, and those do need to be explained.

The history of the development of the tank is well explained.

At the end of the book I found myself unsatisfied however, and felt the need for some perspective.  Of just how the M1 Abrams compares with other modern tanks.  Of how much it costs.  Of how governments finance it.  And how it will be used in future conflicts with increasing use of unmanned weapons. I got answers to those questions from Internet searches.  I suppose that the author is to be congratulated for being the stimulus to such searches, but I feel a little disappointed that the information was not included in the book.  I was also rather disappointed that there was no recounting of battle tales and experiences. Just what was it like to be a tanker, in the desert wars in an Abrams tank?

The 184 pages are crammed with excellent, large, colour photographs, and some diagrams. Perhaps the excellent photographs are the main justification for the book.


So that is the review.  What is your reaction?