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: John

Next Project

The Trevithick dredger engine model is almost finished.  Currently applying some paint.  And getting it ready for the final boiler inspection.  I am guessing about 2 weeks.

I have chosen a spot in the house where it will sit, and will post a photo in due course.

A few people have been asking if I have decided what to make next.  In terms of a major build, the answer is no, I have not decided.  I have considered a few possibilities.  Those possibilities include a model of Stephenson’s “Rocket”, Trevithick’s “Catch Me Who Can” or “Pen-y-darren engine”, a Shand-Mason fire engine, or even another cannon.

What I will do, is to complete several unfinished projects, and if a major project becomes obvious, imperative, then anything is possible.

The unfinished projects include…

  1.  An Arduino controlled rotary table.  The mechanicals are made.  Just need to dive into the electronics.
  2. The Southworth steam powered boiler feed pump for the vertical boiler.
  3. The CNC controlled tool post milling attachment for the Boxford CNC lathe.
  4. Paint the Bolton beam engine.  Lag the cylinder.  Install a cylinder oiler.
  5. Finish the triple expansion model marine engine.  The lagging, the piston rings, the gaskets, the oiler and oil pipework, and painting.

Looking at that list, I really do not need to start another major project.

And sometimes it is nice to sit back, and enjoy the glow and satisfaction of previous projects.  It does sound rather self satisfied, no?  So here is a selection of videos, mostly first runs of newly completed projects.  Most are YouTube links, but one or two will run directly.

This was the first model steam engine which I made about 5-6 years ago.  It is a Bolton 7 single cylinder mill engine, and this was the first occasion I had run it on steam.  It was a very exciting moment, seeing it actually running on steam.

Next came the Bolton 12 Beam Engine.  Still a crowd favourite.  The beard was ordered off by SWMBO not long after this.

Then a couple of Stirling engines.  How they work is still a mystery to me.


Then the problematic, difficult triple expansion engine, which took 3 years and several extended breaks to get to the working stage.  Still not finished completely.  Stuart Tankard’s boiler.  Since then I made a vertical boiler.

And somewhere in there I made this little reversing engine for the club competition.  Alas, it failed in action.

And 3 cannons came out of left field.  They started as a CNC project, but then took on a consuming interest of their own.  About this time I saw the necessity of learning how to put together a video.  Still learning.


The 6″ vertical boiler.

And finally the Trevithick dredger engine.  The historical aspects of this engine, the genius of Trevithick, the fact that the engine works…. has been marvellous.  The engine is looking quite different with some paint applied.  And the propane burner is significantly better than appears in this video.

So, if you are still with me after all of those videos, congratulations on your stamina.  It is  therapeutic to take stock sometimes, and to wonder about where making all of these engines is going.  It was not to any plan.  Still no plan.  Just enjoying the moments, the days.

New Skills in Retirement.

When I retired from my profession almost 4 years ago, I had an aim to become proficient at in CNC machining, and 3D CAD drawing.

I have definitely improved in those areas.  Trouble is, that as usual, the more that you learn, the more you realise that you need to know.

And in making some items, you encounter the need to learn skills entirely unexpected, like bronze brazing.

And all the while, your eyesight is deteriorating, your memory has gone somewhere (I forget where), and by mid-afternoon, all you are thinking of is sitting down with a good red.

One unexpected skill which has surfaced, which I am really enjoying, is cooking.

My wife, who is still working at what she loves,  announced a couple of years ago that since she is now the bread winner, that I could take over the cooking.  That was OK.  In fact it was something which I wanted to do when I was a teenager, but my rather traditional Mum did not think was appropriate.  So except for doing the camping cooking and barbeques, I did not cook until in my late 60’s.

Then I started cooking the evening meals.  And really enjoying it!  And my wife loves the freedom from the chore.

Trouble is that I detest shopping.  So the solution was a box of recipes and ingredients delivered once weekly.  HelloFresh.  It has been superb.

Then recently the cardboard box was not delivered.  Or at least it was not there at 7am on my doorstep, having been delivered at 2am.  A date stamped photograph was proof of delivery.  So it had been delivered, and stolen.  I am suspicious by nature, and having had no thefts here in 40+ years, I wondered about the delivery person.

Hellofresh took no responsibility.  I had no evidence to support my suspicion.  So we ate toast and cereal and take away for a week.  But I was really pissed off.

So I have spent several days installing a surveillance camera system.  I had installed a similar system some years ago in my workshop, so I felt reasonably confident that I could manage it.  Buying the system was straightforward.  Seems that they are commonplace.  4 cameras.  Recording machine with 2 terabytes of hard disk!  And connected to the Internet, so I can see what the cameras are seeing at any time, on my iphone!  And get alerts if the motion plus heat detectors are triggered.  Amazing!

Trouble is that I had to install the system myself.  It seems that the legal system has pushed professional installers to extinction, by making them legally responsible for thefts where systems are in place.

And at 68, I did not enjoy getting up and down ladders installing cameras and cables.  Or scrambling about amongst the spiders and crap under the house.  But at the time of writing the system is in place.  And working.    Another retirement skill.

And the clarity of the 4K pictures is outstanding.

What I will do if the alarm is triggered is another question to be pondered.  This is Oz, not US, so going outside with guns blazing is not an option.  Thank goodness.


Stay with me.  This is about a machine.

For years, maybe decades, SWMBO has been complaining about my snoring, and demanding action.  From her description of the events in our bed, I was experiencing apnoeas (stopping breathing altogether) which lasted up to 20 -30 seconds each time. Sometimes SWMBO wondered if I would actually start breathing again.  Sometimes, she admitted, she wanted to hold a pillow over my head to quieten the snoring.

I have tried nose drops, plastic gadjets to widen my nostrils, elastic straps to support my lower jaw.  I even paid my dentist to make a prosthesis to stop my lower jaw from sagging backwards.  That prosthesis was expensive, and worked a bit.  But it became totally useless after I had some unrelated dental work which changed the fit.

I had heard about CPAP machines being used to treat snoring.  From my work as an obstetrician, I knew about these machines being used to help premature babies with their breathing.  CPAP is an acronym for Continuous Positive Airway Pressure.  It reduces the amount of effort required for each breath of the baby, and has saved many babies’ lives.    At some stage someone found out that CPAP is effective treatment for snoring.

Normally, to obtain a CPAP machine, one has to have sleep studies by spending a night in hospital hooked up to monitors, and be assessed by a medical specialist.

From my wife’s description I had no doubt about my diagnosis, and I decided to self diagnose and treat my condition.   “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client”  also applies to doctors who treat themselves.  And normally I agree with that description.  But in this case I did not relish the thought of a night in hospital, which I was sure, would be pointless because it would be sleepless.

So I discussed my situation with my GP.  And I was pleasantly surprised when he said go ahead with my plan to buy a CPAP machine from overseas, and give it a try.

The CPAP machine cost me $AUD600.  If I had bought it locally it would have cost $AUD 1500-1600.  It arrived about 6 weeks after the order onEbay.  I had no idea what size face mask was required, so I ordered the “medium” size.  Turned out it was  a nose mask, and medium seemed to fit nicely.  The machine itself seemed well made.  All of the plastic bits fitted well.  The electronic screen was clear and lit up quickly on power up.  There was a CD for installation of the software on a Windows computer.  It installed and opened, but would not function.  An enquiry to the seller revealed that the computer time-date setting needed to be in YYYY-MM-DD format, and it all worked well after that.  The program asked for age, height, weight etc.  I was a bit insulted when my BMI of 27 was described as “FAT”.


The CPAP machine and nose mask.   The tubing is much longer than shown.  The perspex tank contains water to humidify the inspired air.


The CPAP machine


I could find no instructions, so I left the machine on the default settings.  Some weeks later I found an instruction booklet in a side pocket of the storage case, but it did not offer any information about settings.  I guess that normally there would be a doctor doing the settings, based on tests.   Fortunately I have a friend who is using a CPAP machine for sleep apnoea, and the default settings of my machine were very close to the ones which were prescribed for him, so I continued with the default settings.

First night.   I was warned by my friend that it takes about a month to become used to the CPAP, so I was not too perterbed by the mask and tubing waking me up every time I moved.  My wife had the best night’s sleep which she has had in years, because I did not snore AT ALL.  The machine makes a low whirring noise, which is barely noticeable.  Being forced to nose breath, because the positive pressure almost totally stops mouth inspiration, is a very odd sensation, but I was very aware that the 10cm of water pressure was profoundly affecting my breathing.  I was totally unable to deliberately snore while awake, and when asleep I was not snoring at all even when flat on my back.

First week.  I fiddled a bit with the pressures, but the default 10cm water pressure (0.14psi) seemed best.  I used the air humidifier.  The air is filtered.  Several times I woke and ripped the mask off, but after a month of use, that happens rarely.

First month.  I got the software working eventually, and I was delighted to see that I have had no snoring events or apnoea events at all.  My duration of sleep has gradually increased from an hour or two each night, to 5-6 hours per night.    My wife is absolutely rapt.   Her only complaint is that I sometimes remove the CPAP in the morning, then go back to sleep for another hour or two, during which time I revert to snoring.

I like to read in bed for an hour or more before I drop off to sleep.  I cannot wear my reading glasses with the CPAP in place.  So I read until I become sleepy, then pull on the mask and turn on the CPAP.  Usually I am asleep within minutes, which is a big improvement on pre-CPAP.

Either that, or I listen to podcasts with earplugs.  But the CPAP tubing and earplug cables do tend to get a bit tangled, so I usually read.  It helps to pin the CPAP tube to the pillow, with a lot of slack to allow for turning in bed.

So, after a month I have noticed that I never nap during the day, compared with most days pre-CPAP.  My tinnitus (ringing in the ears) is much less pronounced now.  I do not feel sleepy when driving.  I would like to say that my energy levels have improved, but that does not seem different.  I am hoping that my borderline high blood pressure will have settled, when next checked.

Overall, this has been a major improvement in my life. IFLT.  (technology, not Trump).



More Scale Stuff


There is the 1464 Turkish bombard (black), 17 tons, 307kg granite ball;  the 1779 long naval gun off USS Constitution or HMS Victory 24lb balls; and a 32lb carronade.  All 1:10 scale.  Interesting to see them together on my kitchen table?



This is my workbench after I had almost finished tidying it.  Really.  


Then I thought about machining the ends of the cross slide ball screw.


So I mounted the collet chuck and checked the runout.   0 to o.01mm.  Then I did a test cut in the ball screw.   Hard hard hard.  But it did cut.  Then I chickened out and decided to finish it another day.

So, looking around the workshop for something else to do, I decided to pretty up the new CNC lathe apron.


Before (milled surface).




And I forgot to take a photo of the after, but it did look nice and smooth and shiny (look at the mirror finish behind the wheel).

Being retired is great!

Workshop Tidy

I sometimes feel a bit ashamed when I have visitors at my workshop.

The reason is that when I am in the middle of a project, I really concentrate my energy on the decisions, the machining, working out how to fix the mistakes…

…. and tidying up as I go, is near the end of the list of must do’s.

Consequently, tools tend to be put aside at the spot where I have been using them.  And off cuts of steel or brass or wood or whatever, lay where they fall.

And as mentioned in a previous post, I have a policy of leaving swarf on the floor, to discourage wildlife from slithering into my workspace.  (see the old post about the tiger snake between the lathe and the milling machine).   And if you are not Australian, look up tiger snakes.   They are just about the most dangerous reptile on the planet.

So my workshop is not the tidy, organised sort of workspace which you might expect from a retired gynaecological surgeon.

But occasionally, the mess becomes so extreme, that I cannot find tools, I trip over stuff on the floor, everything is really dirty, and it is dangerous and embarrassing when visitors call in.  And some of those visitors have workshops where you could eat off the floor.

So yesterday I spent a whole day tidying, sorting, putting away tools, throwing out rubbish, and sweeping the floors.

What about the tiger snakes I sense you asking.

Well, here in the antipodes, we are in the depths of winter, and it is bloody cold.  And all sensible cold blooded reptiles are asleep in their homes. So for a few months it should be safe to sweep up the swarf.   Here’s hoping anyway.

On being a grandparent

Forget steam engines, Teslas, CNC, lathes.

At 65 times around Sol, the best thing in life is being a grandparent.  If you are a grandparent, you will understand.

Currently grandfather to John, my future apprentice, I am soon to become grandparent to a baby girl, whose name I know because little John told me, but I am not yet at liberty to disclose.

And…..   I have permission to disclose…..    also soon to become grandparent to identical twin boys.    More baby Johns!  Maybe with different names..

Identical twins!   I was an obstetrician/gynaecologist in my former life.   Identical twins! Pretty scarey.  But fascinating.  And wonderful.  One of my unfulfilled wishes was to be father to twins.  So I am to be a grandfather to twins.   Be careful what you wish for….   do I hear….  watch this space.  excited +++.



Bendigo is a beautiful city in the middle of Victoria, with a rich history, literally!

The city is in the “golden triangle” of Victoria, named for the huge quantities of gold which were mined from the area in the second half of the nineteenth century.

With that mining-engineering background, it is not too surprising that Bendigo has an enthusiastic and active metalworking, engineering, modelling club, and every two years they host an exhibition, which I attended for the first time last weekend.  And what a terrific event it was.   Well worth the 3 hours each way drive.

Following are some photos of a few of the hundreds of exhibits.  Please forgive me if I don’t remember some of the names and details.  The standard of the work varied from excellent to absolutely bloody unbelievable.

Welcoming visitors at the entrance, was Gerard Dean, with his 1/5 scale Tiger tank, powered by a V12 150cc engine.  Belching smoke, and overcoming any obstacles and visitors in its way.  There are a few of these models around the world, but very very few have a 12 cylinder gasoline engine which looks and sounds the part.  Gerard has taken his model to many countries, including the USA.  He does occasionally strike a hitch at customs, and usually has to prove that it will not fire real ammunition. The country which gave him the hardest time getting it over the border??  You guessed it…   Germany.


The Germans were a bit upset that the engine valve covers are stamped “Made in Australia”.

IMG_2902 IMG_2903


Inside, there were 2 large rooms,  with models, tools, books, kindred spirits who were delighted to have a chat.

Inside, there were 2 large rooms, with models, tools, books, kindred spirits who were delighted to have a chat.  I recognise the beam engine and quorn T&C grinder in the foreground.

Eccentric Engineering had a display of his Diamond Tool holder, but I have already bought 6-7 of these in different sizes.  I did top up my stock of Crobalt cutters.

Eccentric Engineering had a display of his Diamond Tool holder, but I have already bought 6-7 of these in different sizes. I did top up my stock of Crobalt cutters.


Eccentric Engineering was showing his Acute Tool Sharpening System. I was very tempted to buy his kit of parts, but was fearful of my reception from SWMBO, if I returned with yet another tool and cutter grinder.

A very impressive Atkinson engine.   it was running earlier.  Les are you there?

A very impressive Atkinson engine. it was running earlier. Les are you there?

The Eccentric T&C cutter grinder kit.

Of the many outstanding models, this one was superb.  Not totally finished.  But totally appropriate for Bendigo. Of the many superb models on display, this one was outstanding. And totally appropriate for Bendigo, given its mining heritage.


Pictured with the maker. The twin double acting steam engines were running on compressed air for the exhibition. Will look great running on steam!

IMG_2921 IMG_2922 IMG_2923 IMG_2924

Some future model engineers, viewing a very nice, running, triple expansion steam engine.

Some future model engineers, viewing a very nice, running, triple expansion steam engine.

IMG_2931 IMG_2932

A beautifully finished Bolton 12 beam engine

A beautifully finished Bolton 12 beam engine.  Makes mine look a bit drab.

10 cylinder radial aero engine, made from stainless steel.

10 cylinder radial aero engine, made from stainless steel by Bob Bryant.  Hmm, maybe a 9 cylinder.


I particularly likes this working Meccano model of an excavator.  The digging action was particularly realistic.

I particularly likes this working Meccano model of an excavator. The digging action was particularly realistic.

Another beam engine, this one made using Meccano.  Takes me back 55 years!

Another beam engine, this one made using Meccano. Takes me back 55 years!


A particularly beautifully finished oscillating engine, totally made from bar stock.


More Drilling and Reaming of Deep Dark Places

A new tool came into my possession today.  It is a tapered, flexible, 1mm diameter reamer-file, made from nickel titanium.

It is used for reaming-filing cavities, and can go around bends to some degree.

The nickel titanium reamer.  1mm diameter tapering down to 10 microns.

The nickel titanium reamer. 1mm diameter tapering down to 10 microns.

It  operates at around 300rpm, and despite its flexibility, it has been known to break off in the job.

My dentist used it today to clean out a root canal.

He was quite happy to have a customer who was interested in the technology, and not totally focussed on the issue of pain.  As a matter of fact, it was not painful at all.  Yay!!

Apparently, if the tip does break off, and is not retrievable, it forms part of the new canal filling.  Nickel allergy does not seem to be an issue.  (not sure why.)  They cost about $25 each.  My root canal required 6-8 of them.

Just thought that you might be interested.


I wont be without my iPhone, ever again.  (see previous post)

I am still amazed at being able to post a problem on the net and to get solutions from kindred spirits in far off countries within minutes.

I really enjoy shopping on the net, and receiving parcels from the postman.  The waiting and anticipation adds to the pleasure.

And I love podcasts.

In no particular order these are my favourites:

History of Rome by Mike Duncan.  One of the originals, and one of the best.  Approximately 150 episodes of 20-30 minutes each.  I have listened to this entire series 3 times, and I there will probably be a fourth.  As well as being very listenable history, Mike has a lovely understated sense of humour.  And I know that he is a top bloke, having gone on his first History of Rome tour of Rome, southern Italy, and Istanbul.  Mike has renewed his podcasting in another series titled “Revolutions”.  Another great series. It covers the English revolution (cavaliers and roundheads),  the American war of independence, the French revolution, and is ongoing at the time of this writing. Although he is American, Mike takes a refreshingly unbiased stance.

History of Byzantium by Robin Pierson.  A more British style of narration about a too little known but fascinating slab of 1000 years of history, continuing the history of Rome-Byzantium.  Robin Pierson is erudite and measured, but no less fascinating.  His website has really great pictures and maps relating to each episode.  Europe would probably be Islamic, but for Byzantium.

Hardcore History by Dan Carlin.  Do not miss these!  Dan Carlin deals with history topics from many eras.  The first world war being the most recent, 6 episodes of up to 4 hours each.  Sounds like a marathon, but it goes in a flash.  In earlier series he deals with the eastern front of WW2, the Mongol invasions, Geronimo, the American slave trade, and many others.  Although Dan Carlin does not title himself a historian, these are very well researched.  They are free, but he asks for a donation of $1 per episode.  This is the best value spend ever!

Europe From Its Origins by Joe Heggarty.  Which covers the history of Europe from the fall of the western Roman empire, to the fall of Constantinople in 1453.  In a lovely soft Irish (I think) accent, Joe Heggarty gives a scholarly and detailed coverage of the  Europe of late antiquity and the mediaeval eras.  Do watch the visuals as you listen to this one.  The maps and pictures are superb.

I am currently listening to The History of the Papacy, but unless you have a particular interest in religious history I cannot recommend this one.  It is not easy to follow.

I have just started on another history of ancient Rome podcast titled “Emperors of Rome” by Dr Rhiannon Evans.   It is nice for me to listen to Australian accents dealing with this period of history.  Dr Evans is clearly expert, and the sources for the information are frequently referenced.   The style is conversational and an easy listen.  The subject material is fascinating (at least to me).  It is exciting to start listening to another great podcast.

To check out any of these podcasts, Google any of the names listed.  Even if you have no interest in history, you should try Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History.

Colchester Master 2500.

When buying a machine which is about 45 years old, one expects to find problems.  My inspection prior to purchase showed no dings, no broken gear teeth, and quite minimal backlash.  I could see that the leadscrew was a bit worn.  And the graduated dials would not rotate independently of the handles.  And the entire machine was very dirty.

I have been taking a much closer look since getting it onto the shed floor.   It has been cleaned, handles freed up, snd examined.  So far I have been very pleasantly surprised.  No nasty discoveries.  Not yet run under power, actually cutting, so I still have some reservations.

I did note that the Colchester tool post has only one functioning tool station, and there are only 2 tool holders, so I have factored in the purchase of a new quick change tool post and some tool holders.  I also intend to install a digital read out on the 2 axes.

But overall, so far, I am really pleased with its condition.


The Colchester Master 2500.


The plastic labels are crumbling with age.  I am planning to CNC some new labels in aluminium.  If any reader happens to have a spare label, or a scanned image, I would like to hear about it.




I decided to buy another metal lathe.  For a few years I have been using a Chinese heavy duty machine, a GBC,  which was 1000mm between centres and a swing of 400mm.  It is a heavy duty machine, weighs 2 tonnes, and does its job.  For turning large objects, up to 400mm diameter, and taking off large amounts of swarf quickly, it is excellent.  But I must admit to a lack of pride of ownership of this machine.  Particularly after being exposed to British workmanship in my small Boxford.

So I had a look around, and settled on a Colchester Master 2500.  It is less than half the weight, and physically smaller, although the work dimensions are similar to the GBC.  I persuaded SWMBO that if I sold the GBC, the small Taiwanese lathe, and the 2 Smart & Brown lathes which I had restored (see earlier posts), I would just about break even, have more space in my workshop, and there would be less stuff for her to get rid of if I happen to cark it at some inconvenient time.  Also, the Colchester should not be difficult to resell.  It has an excellent, almost legendary, reputation, and as I discovered, commands high second hand prices.

This process was actually jogged by seeing a Colchester on ebay which was of interest.  It was cheapish, no bids, and the photos were awful quality.  So I rang the owner.  He had bought the lathe 3 years earlier, but had never used it because he did not yet have 3 phase power.  The owner before him had used it to make hinges or something similar, as a backyard industry, and before that it had been in a school.  In my experience, school lathes tend to show little wear, but often show evidence of crashes.  The owner sent me photos of the bed, which did show dings from crashes, but nothing terrible.

So, full of optimism, I hooked up the tandem trailer to the old Landcruiser and drove the 250km to the other side of the state.  To cut the story short, the lathe looked OK, but when I removed the gearbox cover, first the oil was old, black, and thick, one gear had a tooth missing, and another was severely worn.  I took the owner at his word that he did not know about this condition (possibly correct), thanked him for his time and went home.  It had been a pleasant drive.

(note added 23 June 2015.  The seller is still advertising his lathe, same price, no mention of the broken and worn gears.  I am inclined to think less charitably about someone who would let a buyer drive 500km and not be honest about the item being sold.)

Next stop was a machinery second hand dealer.  They had 7 Colchesters, from a University workroom closure.  They were much more expensive, had been nicely cleaned up, had all of the chucks, steadies, tool holders, manuals etc.  I did seriously consider one of these, which had a few dings on the bed, but otherwise looked good.  I decided to sleep on the decision.

Next day, I visited two more ebay sellers with Colchesters.  I have racked up about 800km looking at possibilities.  The first was from a factory close down.  It was dirty, old, and had only a 3 jaw chuck.  Despite its industrial past, it showed little visible evidence of wear.  But the reversing handle would not stay engaged.  No big deal according the owner, just a spring to be replaced.  Hmm…..    The price was OK, but not negotiable.  I would think about it.   Quite tempted with that one.

Then a tollway trip to the other side of Melbourne.  My last option.  In case you were wondering, this plethora of Colchester lathes is very unusual.  I have been looking for this model for about 2 years, but have never seen more than one Colchester Master 2500 advertised within striking distance at one time.  So having 7 or 8 to examine has been fantastic and unusual.  Maybe everyone is wanting CNC these days.

The last one was an ex Department of Defence machine.  It was midway in the price range, but negotiable. I could not fault it.  It was tight, no dings at all, had clean oil in the gearbox, gears all intact, and had a full range of chucks, faceplate, tool holders, steadies etc.  No manual.  Needs a repaint.  Probably 25-30 years old.  (note added 23/6..   more like 45 years old!) Being DOD, it would have been fastidiously maintained.  So what was the catch?   I could not find one.   I negotiated a lower price, and shook hands.

Next to pick it up.   Then to sell my existing lathes.

Watch this space.

No Mobile Phone, No Problem???

I was without my iphone for 1 week, after accidentally leaving it at my daughter’s home.  I knew that I would be there 7 days later, so I would pick it up then.  I am retired now, so no-one rings me, so no biggie to be without it for one week.  Yes?

Well, for a start, I did not have my iphone calculator in the workshop, so I did a lot of arithmetic and trigonometry on paper.  A bit slow, and I did not really trust my calculations, but no disasters.

But when I wanted to get a quick 5 degree level, no go…..   My iphone app was 65 km away.

And finding telephone numbers.  Where’s the phone book?   The what??  Where’s my computer?

But Friday night I decided that I would never never never be without my mobile phone again.

I went with 2 friends to a model engineers meeting 70km away.  In a friend’s car.  After a really interesting meeting, we set off home.  We were in my friend’s Ford Territory.  I mentioned that the diesel gauge was near empty, but he was happy because the computer showed that we had 55km left in reserve, and we would stop at the next fuel stop.

Well, a few Km’s later the Ford stopped.  Dead.

We rolled onto the emergency stopping lane, and turned on the hazard lights.   It was about 11pm and the freeway traffic was whizzing by.

OK, what to do?   Probably out of diesel despite the car computer indicating otherwise, but maybe something else.  The car is quite new.

Ring the RACV.  (car breakdown rescue service in Victoria).  I do not have my mobile phone.  The other passenger, did not bring his, so the driver-owner rang the RACV.  Made a connection, established membership, confirmed car rego etc, and tried  to explain the location.  Then the phone died.  Needed a financial recharge.  No-one in the car knew how to do that.  We are all over age 65.  The phone owner gets his daughter or grand-daughter to recharge his phone.  I later discovered that it can be recharged anywhere.

So, no phone, no car, middle of a very cold night, heavy freeway traffic whizzing by, and probably out of diesel.

I volunteered to walk to the petrol station which we knew was a few kilometers down the freeway.  I would buy a can and a few litres of diesel, and get a taxi back.

So I set off, pitch black dark night except for the cars whizzing by.  I put my thumb up to hitch hike, but of course no bastard would stop.  I walked off the tarmac, terrified of being run over, stepping in unseen puddles, and tripping over unseen and unknown detritus.

Then, amazingly, after about 1-2 kilometers, I found an emergency phone.   To cut the story short, the freeway emergency services contacted the RACV, who had a record of the first emergency call.  They sent a truck, which winched the car onto the tray, drove it home, and called a taxi for the three of us.  They would not refuel the diesel vehicle on the freeway.  They would have been happy to refuel it if it was a petrol vehicle.

I arrived home about 2am, expecting SWMBO to be very worried about our 3 hour late return.  But she was fast asleep, and not at all concerned.

I believe that the government intends to remove all freeway emergency telephones, because they are used so seldom, because everyone has a mobile phone.(!?!)

Well, this person will NEVER be without a mobile phone again.

PS.  The car had just run out of diesel.  After a top up from a container, the next day, it just started up.  No other problem, no bleeding of the system required.  So WTF RACV!!!  You prefer to carry a vehicle 50-60km and hire a taxi for the occupants in preference to tipping a couple of dollars worth of diesel in the tank.


I left my iphone at the grandson’s house after baby sitting last Saturday.  No biggie, but I could not photograph machining the steam valves and the steam valve cradles which I did today.  It also meant that there were no annoying interrupting phone calls  while I was doing the machining.  But I also did not have my iphone calculator, iphone angle calculator, or access to internet.    And I was aware that if I had a serious injury, I had no way of contacting help, since my workshop is quite a few kilometers out of town.

So, no photos until after next weekend, unless I crank up the old heavy expensive Nikon SLR.  (unlikely)

One item of interest.  I set up my CNC milling machine to cut MDF.  After seeing the fabulous toys made by my nephew Stuart, of Stue’s Shed, I decided that my grandson had to have some raptors and pterodactyls, so I did some Internet downloads from “MakeCNC” and cut out a raptor and a beetle and a Landrover.    It was fun.   And rather messy.    My grandson was impressed.  Although MDF toys are not very durable.  So I spent some time repairing broken limbs on the raptor and the beetle.   Maybe some photos when I get my iphone back.


Grandson, beetle, instructions. Altogether, quite a fun session. I must have downloaded this one before I came home.

Other People’s Triples

Not sure about the position of the apostrophe.

But if, like me, you enjoy looking at engines, then stop thinking about the apostrophe and watch the videos.

John and John having fun again, on Puffing Billy

Puffing Billy, Belgrave, Victoria

Puffing Billy, Belgrave, Victoria, Australia

Big John and Little John, or Pop John and John John, on Puffing Billy.

Big John and Little John, or Pop John and John John, on Puffing Billy.


I am republishing these photos, which I spotted on the net recently. They show a factory in about 1905 making steam turbines for installation in a ship. The belt driven machinery, and factory scenes I found fascinating.  There are also some pics of triple expansion marine engines.

Double click on a photo to enlarge it.

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Buying Tools and other stuff at a swap meet.

Today I drove with a friend to Ballarat, Victoria, Australia to the biggest swap meet in the Southern hemisphere, maybe the biggest in the known universe.

It is located on an aerodrome in country Victoria.  Approx 2500 stall holders selling stuff from shed cleanouts, factory close downs, farm sales, and some commercial sellers.

A lot of the stuff on sale seems to be total junk, with the vendors sitting around enjoying the sunshine, the conversations, the beer and barbeques.  A lot of them stay in tents and caravans on site.  But there are many gems and bargains, and that is the reason I find myself drawn back to the event, annually for the past 4 years.

The atmosphere and mood is relaxed and pleasant.  A fair bit of good natured haggling and bargaining goes on.

You do have to keep an eye out for kids on bikes whizzing about.  It is supposed to be a car free zone, but I noted far too many vehicles driving about raising dust.  The organisers need to get on top of that issue.

I was also a bit peeved to have to pay $3:50 each for a small plastic bottle of water.  It was a hot day, and several of these were required.  The price was feasible because there were no other visible sources of drinking water.

But I was very happy with my purchases.  Photos following.


Hats, sunscreen, and fluids essential. 34 degrees C.


Amazing eclectic variety of stuff on sale.


I estimate that I walked 10km checking out about 50% of the sites. Too many to see in one day.



A heavy duty, well constructed welding earth clamp for $10.


Some bronze manganese welding rods for $15. I will check their machineability.


A miniature internal threading tool with inserts. Expensive at $130, but good value.


A 1″ m3 step drill (new), and a used but good condition 1.5″ M4 drill bit. $30 total. Great value.


2 cobalt 9/16″ drill bits for $6. Only one size available. Amazing low price.


A pair of razor sharp Japanese wood chisels. Pricey at $70, but the conversation I had with the Japanese cabinet maker who was selling them, was priceless. The handles are rosewood and oak. The steel is laminated, similar to samurai swords. I look forward to trying these.


A Mamod steam tractor. It seems to be in reasonable condition, and complete. I told SWMBO that it is a present for a grandson when he is a bit older (2 years old now), but we will see. I really like it myself. Is 64 too old to be playing with toys? Was said to be in working condition, but I expect that some renovation will required.  Price not for disclosure to SWMBO.


This was the most interesting purchase. 3 “Model Engineer and Amateur Electrician” magazines from Sep to Dec 1900. $5 each. The articles about “using electricity in the workshop” were sobering. It was nice to see articles about lathes apart from Myford discussed. (Drummond most common). Not sure where these magazines will end up. They should be on display, or in a museum.

CNC Mill 11

CNC.  That is what started this post.  Today, I fired up the CNC mill, and made a simple fitting for my Bolton 7, which involved some accurate deep drilling in aluminium.  I LOVE CNC!!  Drilling 3mm diameter holes through 16mm material, automatically, centre drilling, then deep drilling  1mm peck at a time and automatically clearing the chips, with positional accuracy of  0.001mm.  Fantastic!  Cannot wait to get more into this.

IMG_2383 IMG_2384



The next Lake Goldsmith Steam Rally is on November 1-2, near Ballarat, Victoria, Australia.  Google it for information and directions.

As well as the usual cornucopia of all styles and sizes of steam and other antique engines, including the massive 90 ton working steam shovel, and the working steam sawmill (see older posts on this site for videos), the rally is making a feature of CATERPILLAR machines.

I will be there.  Along with many many other machine addicts.


Laurie Braybrook

A well known exhibitor and his eclectic display of steam valves.  A small part of the Model Engineering display is visible at back.

The annual “Royal Geelong Show” was held last weekend.  It has been held for the past 159 years.  Farmers exhibit their best cattle, pigs, sheep, alpacas etc and produce, there are various equestrian events, tractor pulls, Lanz bulldog races, dog breed competitions, and all of the side shows, show bags, and amusement park rides which accompany most agricultural-regional shows.

At the show grounds, Geelong is fortunate to have a well established antique engine display, featuring many steam powered stationary engines, traction engines, steam trucks, tractors, etc etc., many which live there permanently, such as a ships triple expansion steam engine, and many which are brought in just for the show.

There is also a model engineering display, of dozens of working,  steam powered small engines.  It is always a source of fascination to the many visitors.

A competition is held for recently constructed models, and I was very lucky and thrilled to receive the first prize for the Bolton 12 beam engine.  Second prize was for a rebuilt antique pressure gauge, and third for a Stuart twin cylinder “Victoria” stationary engine.



To see the beam engine working, look at the older posts, at the bottom of this page


The rebuilt antique pressure gauge by Stuart .



John & John having more fun.
I did say that there would be no baby photos on this blog, but he is, after all, my future apprentice


I have sold 130 acres of my 135 acre farm.  My 1500 olive trees, which I planted, nurtured, pruned, fertilised, and watered through a 10 year drought are looking magnificent (we have had more normal rainfall for the last 3 years, since signing the sale contracts).  But we succumbed to the lure of the dollar, and sold.  The olives were not profitable.  Our land was too marginal.  In  an average year we get 390mm.  In the drought years we were less than 300mm, officially a desert.  The olives and the eucalypts and the peppercorns were the only trees to survive.

While olive trees are incredibly tolerant of drought, they will not produce decent olives if it is too dry.  Plus, it costs me at least $20 per litre to produce olive oil, and European olive oil is being sold here for $5-10/litre, (?? being dumped again, like in the 60’s).  So it is just not an economical proposition  to continue.  So the birds have been getting our crops for 7-8 years.  But the trees look superb.  I love them.

 So we have sold up, and I had lots of farm stuff to sell.  How to to it?  Have a clearing sale, or list it on ebay?  Clearing sale advantages are getting it over and done with in one day, 15-20% commission,  everything goes, lots to organise, local buyers only.  ebay:   list one thing at a time, Australia wide market.  Pick up only.  10% commission.

So I listed stuff on ebay, including items I considered junk.

I described them honestly.  rust and all.   lots of photos.  pick up only.

And I have to say that I am very impressed with ebay!

Most things have sold.  Some required 2-3 subsequent listings.  Most items I started with a very low price.  And I have had sales from as far away as Canberra (8 hours drive) and Ouyen (7 hours drive).  Some things went rediculously cheap, but that would happen in a clearing sale.  some things achieved quite good prices.

Sale prices have been quite OK.  Ebay’s 10% commission seems high on a $7700 item , but fine on the $10 item.  Overall acceptable.  

Main problem has been travelling to the farm to be present at all of the pickups.

So overall, if doing this again, I would happily use ebay.

ps.  I have retained my shed, including the workshop, for the time being.  Not sad at seeing equipment go, but I know that I will be devastated when the olives are bulldozed.





I have been posting these blogs for a few months now, and have had quite a few viewers and views from many countries.

While blogging has been interesting and fun for me, there has been very little feedback or comments.

Feedback is the pay back for the time and expense of the blogger.

So, please leave some comments about the blogs, positive, negative, good, bad, boring, interesting.

Otherwise I will take my bat and ball and go home.



Or something like that…

Last year, when climbing out of the gorge of the Zambesi River, Zimbabwe, I developed an enlarging black spot in my right eye. The black spot progressively enlarged, and I decided that I had contracted one of those African worms which eats its way into the human central nervous system.  So of course I ignored it, and flew home to Oz.

Over the next few days, the black spot became bigger, blocking out about 1/3 of the vision in my right eye.  So I thought, this is not normal, and I consulted an eye doctor.

One hour later I was having an emergency operation for a detached retina.

The eye doctor sucked the fluid out of my eye, filled it with gas, and lasered the retina back to where it should be.  All under local anaesthetic.  A painless but weird experience.  I was totally blind in my right eye for 2 weeks, then miraculously, my sight returned.   Gradually, from the top down, as the eye refilled with fluid.  It was really odd seeing a water level upside down.   Like seeing the sea above the sky.

At least my left eye was OK, but I really got to appreciate the value of binocular vision.  It really sucks when you pour yourself a nice red, only to miss the glass.   And machining is a challenge.

To cut a long story short, my sight was restored thanks to modern science and first world medicine, for which I am profoundly thankful.  Also to Drs Ben Clark,  Patrick Lockie, both expert and dedicated Australian eye doctors.

One year later, I have had another eye operation, this time to replace the right lens, because I had developed a rapidly deteriorating right cataract.  Again under local anaesthetic, again expertly performed, this time by Dr Mark Whiting.   My vision is a bit blurred, and I need new glasses, but must wait 4 weeks.  Meanwhile, I must not work (as a surgeon), and other activities are hit and miss.  Already I am having withdrawal symptoms from my workshop.   Maybe the electroplating would be OK, if I can persuade SWMBO to drive me to my workshop…..

John in Istanbul

The chain of the Golden Horn.
At least 600 years old. Forged by hand.
ancient or at least medieval, metalworking


Check out the music in “Making the model beam engine” video, under the Bolton 12 Beam Engine category.

It was composed and performed by Lis Viggers.

I asked her for some more music to attach to my blogs, and she directed me to her old web site

I had never seen this site before and it has blown me away. Check it out yourself.

This is how I spend my Saturdays

John and John having fun.