We start early the following day… There is that sense of being able to finish the whole project if we focus – and if we are prepared to be a bit brutal. There’s a certain recklessness about this attitude, but it’s born of an image of something to come that has great potency…
The first thing is to pick off the easy tasks, especially those that will make a big difference…
A couple of posts ago, I mentioned there were two USOs – Unidentified Structural Objects. The first we used as the basis for the ‘Detail Workbench’, photo below.
The second is a much bigger affair, stretching from the cobbled floor of Salty Pete to the base of the loft, ten feet or so above – square 19 in our Lucky Bag diagram, above.
The previous evening, I had spotted that the rectangular holes in the bricks exactly matched the cross-section of two lengths of old timber lying at the back of the wood store. The restored mitre saw makes short work of the lengths. A hand saw and the drills cut and fix the shelves in place. In less than thirty minutes we have an extremely solid wall unit that takes the main woodworking power tools: circular saw, electric plane, jigsaw and power sander… not forgetting the fearsome chainsaw lurking at the bottom!
Our success propels us forward. Moving across into the ‘red zone’:squares 13, 5 and 16, there is a partial solution waiting to be made whole…
In square 13 sits a rudimentary bench, knocked together one morning by the local contractor who restored the Saltpetre’s roof. It was the place he used to do detailed work. He’d spotted my father’s old bench vise, said it was a gem, and asked if he could incorporate it for the job. As far as I knew, it was broken, but I was happy for him to try to get it going, again.
The problem was that the ‘clutch’ that frees the main moving arm was broken, meaning the vise couldn’t be tightened. After an hour of trying, he had it working. I didn’t ask how. At the time I was just happy to have it back in good order.
After he had finished the roof, I asked the tradesman to leave the makeshift vise-bench in place. Now, checking if was still securely bolted into the wood, I foolishly flick the ‘clutch lever’. The vise ‘clunks’, ominiously, and refuses to tighten. The big lever just spins, uselessly!.
So much for our momentum… But the victory with the restored mitre saw has given me (probably unjustified) confidence. I dig out a socket set and ratchet loose the three large bolts securing the vise to the bench. It’s very heavy and, using two hands, I turn it over – gingerly. I can see the problem, straight away, a missing ‘stop’. But it would take a metal-worker to fix it… But then I realise that our roofer had been this way before me… and got it working. Using a large screwdriver to hold up what the clutch lever should be supporting, I manage to get the main screw to re-engage the vise’s sliding arm.
As long as I don’t touch the clutch lever, I’m confident it will continue to work.
No-one’s ever bettered these old bench vices, and I’m delighted to have Dad’s back working… “Just don’t touch that blasted lever.” I mutter to myself a dozen times as I tighten the now-working vise the slow way. The double victory – vise and mitre saw – brings a strong sense of Dad’s presence into this once-forlorn building… He came into here shortly before he died, in 2011. He patted me on the shoulder and muttered, “Lot of work…”.
Now, he’s willing us to that finish line… I can feel it.
With vise enabled, I turn and stare at the two remaining big problems. There are three objects in the otherwise-cleared centre of Salty Pete. One is an old and very ugly wooden table that has lived most of the past decade pushed up against the back wall. The other two are bright green: the Viking mower and the Viking scarifier. They are only used twice a year, but they are essential to the health of the lawn. The ‘scarifier day’ is a big and exhausting event with such a large area of lawn…
I really want them out of the way, but they are too heavy to store in the loft. I did consider buying and fitting a hobby hoist, but it’s overkill – a good boy’s toy, but over the top… and would cost money.
Instead, I want to think laterally and put them ‘up’; but not as ‘up’ as I plan for the bicycles… That will make sense, shortly.
Next to the roofer’s bench and vise are several bits of what was my ‘organic’ office desk – made for me by a friend who retired from IT and became a cabinet maker – a real woodworker! I cherished the desk, which comprised a long curve for my Macintosh computer, a bespoke set of drawers of variable height, and a small circular table – at which I would hold serious one-on-one meetings…
I loved the bespoke desk and re-used many of its parts in the new house, but the curved unit didn’t really fit and was too small for a main table in the study. So, here it is, in this far and dusty corner corner of Salty Pete, abandoned and out of place. I look at it and decide that some brutality would at least bring it back to usefulness. Measuring carefully and wincing, I slice it with the circular saw and jam the result into its new home. There will be no going back… It’s not at all pretty, but it will do the job and gives me somewhere ‘up’ to store the green machines.
Much sweating and cursing later, the two green machines are finally off the floor and housed somewhere better… The corner unit has enough space for vise, green machines, mitre saw and the second portable workbox.
Bernie appears from her gardening and asks if want a sandwich at the patio table or in here. She smiles when I opt for the latter – she knows me well and recognises my obsessive gene at work.
She brings a lot of kitchen roll, a bowl of hot, soapy water, the sandwich and a flask of coffee. She’s smiling, but says little… Hopefully, we’ll be celebrating with a G&T at the end of the day…
Fifteen minutes later, I’m back at work; the coffee is put to one side for real-time sips of inspiration.
The reason I’m so confident we can finish, today, is that half of the right hand side of Salty Pete is already done… At the start of the project, I moved a set of old wooden shelves from one of the dark corners to be centre-stage down the right-hand wall: Squares 16, 12, 17. There is a collection of objects waiting to go on them… which is the work of a matter of minutes.
One of the ‘fittings’ of the new shelves is an old wine rack, gifted to us by a friend when we spotted they were throwing it away. I’d already worked out that it could form a useful ‘pigeon-hole’ system for smaller tools: screwdrivers, pliers, that sort of thing. I just needed to work out how the tools were going to be ‘shuttled’ into place… and not fall through the gaps.
The answer came as I was washing out a plastic milk bottle. Examining it for size and shape, I ran out to Salty Pete. The fit was perfect. As you can see, we are building up our collection. It’s cheap and nasty, but free – and it works…
It’s a good feeling to have so much new and organised storage. But my excitement is not for this, it’s for what I can finally do with the middle of Salty Pete – something that I’ve been waiting to do for the past decade…
I’ve always wanted a woodworking bench. At school, I was good at woodwork, but was moved on by the teachers to concentrate on sciences. Now, finally, I had a chance to return to some of those basic skills and have fun developing them without time or career pressures.
I had two things with which to finish the whole project: the ugly but sturdy table that was now the only thing in the middle of Salty Pete’s floor, and the left-over planking from the new garden fence. The process was going to be crude and incomplete, but it would give me a dedicated, large bench to get things started. I could refine it, later. For now I wanted to reclaim the middle of this long-abused and ancient space.
First I have to cut the sturdy planks to fit the width of the table’s top. The planks are long and unwieldy. They are also very heavy. I’m caught in a kind of Catch-22. I need to workbench to accurately cut the lengths, but the planks are too big to use the indoor table. Instead, I have to cut them outside, resting them on a trio of folding steps. The circular saw cuts well, but the planks are sliding around and the accuracy is poor. It’s better than nothing. There will be time for refinement, later, and, as a flexible concept, the planks are hard to beat.
I bring the trimmed planks into Salty Pete and assemble them for fit. Months ago, we bought an inexpensive table saw from the local Aldi. I’ve never used it because it needs to rest securely within some kind of ‘cradle’. I don’t want to take any risks with that naked spinning blade…
I drill and screw the first plank onto the edge of the old table top, then sit the table saw behind it, fitting another plank behind that. The gap created is larger than two planks, but not by much. I can leave two planks loose to fill the gap for now. For most jobs, it won’t matter. I continue until I’ve covered the table with the sturdy planking. I’ve been saving the sawn-off top of an old bookshelf (the rest sits under my desk in the study) for the final part, which, as the photo above shows, forms a kind of sliding ‘jig’ on which I can keep the tools in current use.
The project is nearly complete. The final action is to fix four sets of hooks to the rafters of the loft. These take the bikes, hung, upside down from their wheels. They can be detached in seconds and rolled out of the shed. You can’t win them all… At least they aren’t taking up floor space.
It’s finished. That’s the story of how the Saltpetre – Salty Pete to the project team – became a proper man cave. I can’t say I enjoyed every minute, but I enjoyed most of it. I’ve never seen Roddy the rat since that first sighting. Maybe he’s still around sniggering at me.
I’ve had some lovely comments and enjoyed your company along the way. Thanks for being part of the journey… And the final cost? Why, nothing but time and energy! Not a single penny was spent doing it; and that brings a smile.
Now, where’s that G&T?
Other parts of the Locked Down and Armed series:
©Copyright Stephen Tanham
©Stephen Tanham 2020
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.
The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.