Jun 18

Throwing Down the Gauntlet


I went to show a friend some beekeeping equipment and materials this weekend and discovered this!





This is what happens when you don’t clean your homemade leather and cloth gauntlets properly and the local mice get a bit hungry.


I had never seen this before and it’s no wonder the cats were so interested in the box where the gauntlets were stored.

The really annoying thing about this is that they were homemade gauntlets with soft leather riggers gloves that were easy to use and gave great feel and control while providing good protection.

It looks like I will have to make another set. The silver lining in all this is that I will be able to make a few improvements to the next set based on my experience with the first pair.

What’s the craziest thing mice have eaten at your place?


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Dec 23

The Internet of Chickens -Teaser

Back at the end of August another fox got in and killed two chickens before I scared it off. Grrrrrr!!

“That’s it”, I thought, “I wont let this happen again, I’ll build an automatic door for the chicken coop and that will (hopefully) solve the problem”.

I looked around to see if there were examples of automatic doors and, not surprisingly, I found quite a diverse range of ideas, DIY and commercial devices. After looking around and deciding on a design style there was nothing left to do except build it. Easy!

Well three months later,      I finally finished it.

Why did it take so long? Well, that will be the subject of another post (probably several really) detailing the construction, the false starts, the changes along the way and the programming (!) of, what is the start of,

The Internet of Chickens

For now, here is a short video showing the door opening in the morning to let out the chickens. And it was very nice to know that the chickens were being locked in at 9:00pm while I was out.


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Sep 26

Printing a Pepper Mill

With a firm twist, it shattered. The plastic body had finally had enough and, as it slipped onto the bench in pieces, I realised that the reliable old pepper-mill had ground it’s last peppercorn








“Well, that’s that then”, I thought. But as I examined the pieces and saw that only the case had broken, I started to wonder whether it would be possible to fix it. Perhaps I could I glue it back together. Was there another possibility, would it be worth the effort or would it simply be easier to buy a replacement. The recycler and maker within, recoiled in loathing and insisted that I examine the problem in more detail.

I laid out all the pieces out to see if anything could be done.


As I examined the anatomy of the pepper-mill it was clear that the body was probably beyond repair but the rest of the mill appeared to be in good working condition. It might be possible to fashion a replacement body and repair the mill. However, there was another piece missing. A small retainer clip was lost that holds the spring mechanism together. This allows the tension to be adjusted to change the fineness of the ground pepper. If I was going to repair the mill properly, I would need to replace the clip or fashion and alternative means of holding the spring mechanism in place.

So, how to fashion a new body. Numerous possibilities floated through my head.

  • I could turn it down from wood or metal; I have access to a metal lathe but not a wood lathe.
  • I could make a mould from the original and cast a replacment; it would require the purchase of some moulding and casting materials and some modifications to the mould itself.
  • I could fall back to the original idea of gluing it back together; that could work but the original was quite badly damaged
  • I could 3D print a replacement; I have access to a suitable 3D printer and there is free design software available on-line.

In the end, I decided to try the 3D printer as it was the easiest option for me to make and, if it didn’t work out, I could try option two and try and turn down a replacement on the lathe. I also decided to try to keep as much of the original design intact with the multiple curves and bulges.

Armed with a ruler and a a vernier, I started taking internal and external measurements of the body and making some modifications to the internal structure to incorporate a means of retaining the internal spring mechanism.

I used a free on-line design program called Tinkercad that provides a quick and easy to use interface to assemble shapes into complex 3D objects. I probably spent far too long playing with the design and tweaking things but it was fun getting the body just the way I wanted it.


pepperMill04 pepperMill05










Once the design was done it was simply a matter of printing on the 3D printer. This was quite a large print and I was concerned that there may be some distortion of the base and other areas but the print worked really well.



pepperMill08There was some roughness on the bottom surfaces from the scaffolding used to hold the melted plastic in place and stop it sagging. However, a quick clean with a file and sandpaper after breaking off the scaffolding solved that issue.

The lip near the base of the mill is the redesigned retaining device for the spring mechanism. There are also two pilot holes printed in place to increase the amount of solid plastic wall available for the self tapping screws to ensure a solid attachment.

The print took about three and a half hours but it was largely unsupervised and the printer just plodded along in the background.




All the parts were collected and checked to make sure everything fitted together properly. A few touches here and there with a file and some sandpaper made sure of a snug fit.






It was then just a matter of assembling the pepper-mill with a screwdriver, filling with pepper and trying it out.





The pepper-mill works even better than before, no doubt due to the new retaining mechanism, and the the movement is smooth and consistent.

The grinding adjustment works really well and does not drift.

The plastic is ABS (same as Lego) and considered food safe. The amount of plastic likely to break away and mix with the pepper is too small to worry about so I am happy that there is no problem with using this material in this way.

I wasn’t sure about the bright yellow colour at first. I picked it partly because it was already loaded into the machine and partly because I couldn’t decide if I liked any of the other colours better. However, it was a hit with everybody else in the house and it has grown on me as well.

It used less than $4 of plastic, based on what we pay for a roll of the plastic thread. It took many hours of my time but I enjoyed the challenge of creating the new part and modifying the design.



It took a lot longer to complete the project than I anticipated but the end result was fabulous! All in all, I am very happy with the result and that I was able to repair, rather than throw away and replace. If it turns out that the plastic does not last long term then I always have the option to try another on the lathe, based on the same design.

What about you. What have you been able to repair rather than replace?

There are a number of “maker-spaces” cropping up all over the world where people can access tools and expertise to help them make or repair things. Would you consider joining to one of these places to getaccess to tools including 3D printers to help repair or create items for around the house?


PS: If you are interested in looking in more detail about how I did the 3D design have a look at the link below. It will allow you to look around the model, using the mouse to move and rotate it. Try using all the mouse buttons to see how it can be moved.

You can also go into the design program and edit a copy of the design yourself. If you do, let me know how you went and send me a link to your version.


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Aug 19

3D Design and Printing Fun

I have finally got around to posting again after returning from Timor Leste a few weeks ago. I think I was a bit flat after the trip and took a while to shake off a persistent cold. Ah well, it is the time of year for such things. Anyway, the cold has gone and my enthusiasm has returned – Yay!

As a bit of a change, I thought I might post a quick couple of bits about some 3D design and printing I have been doing (partly work related). You may remember that I have an interest in 3D printing and design, and other fabrication activities, and I posted a bit about it here.


I am lucky enough to have access to a 3D printer and some other fabrication equipment at work and it has been a bit of fun and a little bit of hard slog, to learn how to get a design from concept, into a 3D design, then 3D printed, and finally to have the completed piece in place doing the task. OK, it’s been a lot of slog but heaps of fun 😉

The main thing I wanted to make was a bracket to hold a computer fan on a box for a project we are building for a virtual reality display, as part of science week. I thought it would be appropriate to quickly design and print the bracket rather than modifying an existing bracket. It ended up harder than I expected, took much longer than I had anticipated, and became a very good learning experience.

I decided to use a very simple free online program called Tinkercad (www.tinkercad.com)

tinkercad-screenIt does have some limitations but it is easy to use with a simple drag and drop technique. It takes a little getting used to, like any 3D program, but it is surprising how quickly you can get the hand of it. The picture shows the 3D model I made of the computer fan along with an early prototype of the bracket I designed.

There were a couple of problems with the bracket and I ended up changing the design to the one shown below.

bracket-imageOf course I needed two of them, so I uploaded the file into the 3D printer, printed one to make sure everything was OK and then printed the second one.

brackets with fanThey worked a treat and I am very happy with the final result.

This kind of manufacturing and construction is on the increase and promises much. It will be interesting to see how it is used as the prices keep dropping and the technology makes it’s way into the home, office and small business.

Just for a bit of fun, after the brackets were completed, I very quickly threw together a few fun parts to make this creation, I call baby chicken (after all, there had to be a permaculture theme somewhere in this post  🙂   ).

It’s interactive so press the 3D button and have a look 😀

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