Locked-down and Armed: one man’s struggle with entropy (8) – End

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.

(Above: the first USO – the mysterious and free-standing brick wall – was successfully incorporated into the small ‘Detail Workbench’)

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.

(Above: the second USO is a much bigger object)

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!

(Above: a fortunate fit of timber produces a set of strong shelves for the other power tools – square 19)

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…

(Above: my father’s bench vice. A very special memory – and wonderfully useful…)

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.

(Above: finally a home for the two green monsters that are vital, but took up too much floor space…)

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.

(Above: the old wine rack, plus the cut-up carcasses of old plastic milk bottles, makes an effective (and free) storage system for frequently accessed small tools)

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.

(Above: the spare planking left over from the the new fence was about to become something very special..)

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.

(Above: upside-down bikes. It keeps them off the floor and they can be easily moved out of the way)

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.

(Above: Most of the interior of Salty Pete in its finished form)

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?

The End…

Other parts of the Locked Down and Armed series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, this is Part Eight, the final instalment.

©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.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Locked-down and Armed: one man’s struggle with entropy (7) – Hanging Gardens

It’s an important day… definitely make or break. You arrive early and we have a toasted sandwich washed down with tea. The sun is climbing over the trees, but it’s cool in Salty Pete, and we sense that this will be a very positive period of reconstruction.

We need something upbeat to get us started, so here’s a bit of Abba to set the tone…

We have a big challenge today: to end the constant movement of shed-stuff out from Salty Pete at the start of the day and returning it from the lawn at the end of the day. Despite the recycling corner now containing seventeen large black bags of rubbish, we are still spending at least thirty minutes at the start and end of each day getting enough space to work in.

Our ‘Lucky Bag’ map of the interior is beginning to look very different, though… We are making real progress, and it’s lifting our spirits. The completion of the left wall (squares 1-6) has provided a drill station, the new illuminated workbench for detailed things and given us storage for a host of mid-sized objects like folding chairs and a portable workbench on which I can now cut logs for next winter’s wood for the log-burner. The garden tools storage is mainly complete. I’d say we were about 60% of the way through the whole project.

The big problem we have is the amount of shed-stuff we need to store – even after sorting it. We’ve discussed this and come up with a plan. Salty Pete is a tall structure and it’s high time we used some of the ‘up’.

Its obvious, really… But I don’t know about you, I usually feel decidedly unsafe at the top of a ladder…

The other issue is the bicycles. There are six of them. Two are folding Bromptons, and easy to store. The other four are full-size and take up a lot of room. Finding a solution for them is not going to be trivial. Once again, I looked up for inspiration…

There is a substantial loft space in Salty Pete. We had it built along with the new roof. It’s badly in need of a sort-out, but was constructed to take a lot of weight and, for now, we can make more space up there to solve our problem down here.

The issue is accessing it, safely. At present it needs the skills of a mountaineer to shimmy up the thin steel ladder that came with the property. The ladder – we inherited it – is ugly, thin and bright pink… I’ve never understood why. Bernie hates it with a passion, but it’s strong and doesn’t get in the way… and I have a certain respect for it.

Only part of our problem is up in the air; the other half is how you fix a ladder to a cobbled floor. It could slide away at any moment, or it might jam itself in a gap so that nothing can move it… But we don’t want to gamble on the latter…. And falling onto that stone wouldn’t be trivial.

If we are to stay true to our resolve to spend zero money on the project, we need something that has a miraculous fit to the pink steel ladder. Something that will allow itself to be anchored in a safe part of the ‘up there’.

When we bought The Wharf, I went looking for an unusual chair to complete the fittings in the study. There is a furniture shop in Lytham, (on the Lancashire coast) that specialises in ’used but unusual’ pieces. We often looked in the window. Just before we moved into the new home, we had a run out to walk Tess on the seashore and have a pub lunch. Passing the shop window, I spotted an oversized, overstuffed, American style armchair. It was a wine red and I liked it. I walked around it for a while, then made an emotional decision and bought it.

It looked terrible when we got it home… and wasn’t comfortable, either. Fast forward several years and I managed to get it down and into a skip. As I was manhandling it, one of the steel feet came loose. The feet, themselves, were sturdy (see pic) and I decided to unscrew all four and keep them for possible use. At the time, I had a nagging feeling that I’d just end up throwing them away at the next major sort-out.

But no… The elusive god of ‘told you that would come in handy’ was on my side, for once…

(Above: One of the polished steel feet of the scrapped ‘American’ chair. They live to fight another day – but will the plan work?)

Now, I had an idea that would vindicate their retention…

The problem with using the loft space was safe access. It wasn’t the difficulty of getting shed-stuff up the ladder. The minimalist pink ladder had smooth sides, and it was quite easy to push an object ahead of you, as long as it wasn’t too heavy. If the plan worked, a single session of moving things up there would eliminate the recurring problem… at least for now.

My idea lacked engineering finesse. It was a ‘shoe-in’, but I knew it would work. I would need to locate the fittings carefully, and I would need both drills, working together… I would also need your help in holding the pink ladder very steady while I worked…because it wouldn’t be safe until the end.

The giant timber cross-member, to which I had attached the strip light, is about save the day, again. We move all the shed-stuff in the central squares of 7, 8, 2 and 15 out onto the lawn for what would hopefully be the last return trip. We stand the pink ladder in a variety of locations so that its top rests on the wooden beam. Eventually, two positions stand out as the least likely to obstruct the flow of likely movement: squares 2 and 15.

Fastening my leather tool-belt in place, and sliding the twin drills into their holsters, I climb slowly, skywards… Woof!

You pass me the first of the steel feet from the scrapped chair. They are pre-drilled – to fit the chair, and the holes can be re-used for our project – something critical, given they’re the kind of high tensile steel we’d find difficult to drill through. From my belt I take a pencil and mark the line of the pink ladder’s highest rung. Clinging with one hand, I switch between the two drills to pilot the holes, then secure the re-purposed chair foot so that the ladder top will rest in its ‘U’ shape, keeping me safe up there…

It’s hot work, hanging from a ladder and drilling like that… But, minutes later, I descend and we re-fit the pink ladder into its new (working) home. It rests well. I twist it, savagely – I’d rather find out now that it’s not fit for purpose than when I’m hanging on for dear life, pushing a heavy box upwards. It doesn’t budge. I’m looking smug, again…

(Locked solid by the upcycled steel foot, the infamous pink steel ladder has a secure future…)

Three mugs of steaming tea arrive… with some biscuits. Bernie’s been gardening, and is just as tired as we are. But she’s pleased. She’s impressed with the ‘up there’ approach and agrees to pardon the pink ladder… Result!

After tea, the whole operation with the ladder brackets is repeated on the left side. That goes smoothly and I realise how much this has just solved. For the next half hour, we bring in all the shed-stuff that was on the lawn. This time, anything not needed for our project can go up and stay up there... We will need a second stage of the project to clear out the loft, but that can wait for next year.

Looking upwards at the ladder supports, I smile. Generally, we think in terms of supporting a ladder at the base. But, in terms of it slipping, the top is much more secure – if you have the opportunity. The spirit of spending zero money has driven us to create a solution that is now going to save us an hour each working day.

There’s a lot you can do with an hour…

I remove the pardoned pink ladder to check that it can be put away along the left wall when not needed. It fits. It can.

Our day has gone well. It’s late and you need to head home. I continue for a while to complete an easy stage of the previous day’s work.

In square 19, there is a happy accident waiting to be finished…

(Above: An old set of shelves get a new lease of life)

The ‘long power tools’ – strimmers, hedge trimmers and various others, are of a length that rests nicely along the vertical face of what was one of Peter’s radio shacks. It feels like a long time ago that we took that sledgehammer to them…

For several years, I’ve been collecting ‘hooks’. The label on the large, plastic box says so. In my system, ‘hooks’ are anything from which other things can be hung, once they are fitted to something solid. Hooks come in many forms. The strongest are capable of holding the weight of a bicycle or greater.

I’ve already attached several such bicycle hooks to the top shelf from the old radio shack in square 19. With the exception of the most powerful tool – the Stihl strimmer – they hang beautifully, still allowing the storage shelves behind to be used for related items, such as two-stroke oil in its measuring bottles.

The Stihl strimmer is heavy; but luckily its ‘handlebar’ will rest on the remains of a lower batten – as long as the heavy bit – the engine – is secured above – by its shaft. It’s a curvy item, and tapered, and won’t fit flush to the shelf… but the curve only wants to take it out an inch or so. Thinking laterally, I saw out an enclosure and use a chisel to remove the waste block. I use another, smaller piece of waste, plus a screw, to create a hinged closure for the lateral ingress. The Stihl strimmer slides into place as though made for it. It’s a good feeling.

A quick slap of North Californian Shabby Chic emulsion on the new bits and it’s a tidy job…

(Above: the two Stihl long-handled power tools now hang vertically, – one by its handle; the other by its shaft, releasing more precious floor-space for unfettered movement)

Walking back towards Salty Pete’s door, I realise I am still wearing the holster and the two drills, plus bits. In the far corner, by the door, is a part-assembled shoe rack storage system. The cubes in this plastic and metal unit link together to form large pigeon-holes in which anything that fits and is not too heavy can be stored.

(Above: the ‘shoe-rack’ storage system in action)

We’ve used so many in the house, I could assemble them in my sleep. It’s the work of a few minutes to complete the array – a unit I know will fit into the now-white carcass of the largest of Peter’s radio shacks and rest on the base shelf. What I need to do is to figure out how to lock what is a rather fragile unit into place. Reluctantly, I conclude that long screws and a degree of butchering are the only way.

(Above: the large shelving system created by fitting a modular shoe-rack into the carcass of a former shelf in Peter’s radio shack)

The drills are ready, I’m fired up from the success of the day. Soon, the shoe-racks are in place, and held as best they can be. I’m down five long screws, but the unit is secure and complete… as is the whole wall.. I place the drills into their new working ‘pods’ made from the halved green petrol cans.

(Above: the final addition to the ‘detail work bench’: a pair of ‘pods’ to hold the drills close during active use. The bits rest through the spouts of the old and halved plastic petrol cans. Note the other halves of the petrol cans have been deployed as brush-holders)

It’s a good feeling. The wall is complete. We can step back and look at the full length.

(Above: the full length of the left wall. The garden tools are to the left of where the photo was taken)

The left wall now comprises: garden tools, large and small; liquid storage; vertical storage cubes; detail workbench, floor storage for folding chairs and ladder; drill station and vertical storage for long gardening power tools.

(Above: the far left corner (squares 10, 6 and 19) is now neat and functional. Most importantly, you can walk to it!)

Looking along the walls length and smiling, I note that there is still a lot of ‘up’ we’ve not exploited. Hmm…

To be continued…

Other parts of the Locked Down and Armed series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, This is Part Seven

©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.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.