Working on it

Welding Woes

Fenchurch's MOT runs out on Monday. I was too busy to get the test done in Wales last week and I'm currently in Burnley doing some work for my parents, so the original plan had been to borrow Juliet's van for the trip to Burnley and get Fenchurch MOTed when I got back to Wales. Unfortunately as I was about to pack the van I spotted he had developed a fault that I couldn't fix without ordering a replacement part, so I decided to take Fenchurch instead and get her MOTed here at a garage I used to use years ago.
An extra complicating factor is that some of the work I'm doing for my parents is at their house and some is at their static caravan about an hour's drive away near Blackpool. The MOT garage is near Burnley. With all the to-ing and fro-ing I keep finding that I have left something important (like my phone charger, or a change of clothes) at whichever place I'm not.
It seems that since I last used that garage, the owner's son has taken over the MOT testing. The new chap, presumably fresh out of MOT Testing School, seemed rather confused by many aspects of how a classic car works, and worse luck (for me), carried out the most thorough test I have ever witnessed, taking twice as long as usual and finding several rust patches in the sills by painstakingly tapping every square inch of them with his pointy rust-testing hammer. To be fair, he did find some genuine rust patches that I was unaware of (because they were hidden under the paint) and that I suspect my usual MOT tester wouldn't have noticed. He also spotted another minor issue that is technically a failure (steering rack gaiter just starting to split), which happens to be one of my least favourite jobs because they seem to fail every two or three years and changing them is always a bit of a struggle.
Unfortunately for me, my MIG welder and other welding tools were 130 miles away at Juliet's house. So that afternoon I drove there and back to collect them, via Blackpool on the way back to get some clothes and other stuff I'd left at the caravan. At some point on the journey one of her exhaust brackets came loose and started rattling, I suspect because of the MOT tester tapping it with his rust hammer.
Yesterday I tackled the trickiest part of the welding, the bottom of one of the B posts. On a Traveller the B post is made up of a metal panel screwed to a wooden frame and there's no way to separate the two without completely dismantling the back of the vehicle, so I had to keep stopping every few seconds to douse the area with water lest the wood catch fire. The metal part is a complicated shape and rust had made it wafer thin so the welder kept blowing holes through it, and to cap it off my auto-darkening welding helmet has died (it's gone sort of permanently slightly dim and doesn't get any darker when you strike up the arc).
I managed to complete the B post repair using an old passive face shield, but as a fairly mediocre amateur welder who is used to the luxury of an automatic helmet, the face shield isn't much better than welding with my eyes closed because I can't precisely control where the weld begins and can barely see anything even when the arc is lit. The results weren't up to my usual standard, even after a lot of grinding back and re-welding dodgy bits. Hence my first task this morning will be to try to find a replacement automatic helmet locally without completely breaking the bank.
Hijinks Ensue

Loncon 3 Con Report

A couple of weeks ago I attended this year's Worldcon, Loncon 3, at the Excel Centre in London. After a couple of false starts on this report I've ruthlessly cut it down to a list of things that I enjoyed at the convention, in roughly chronological order. Not everything went right and not all the items I went to interested me, but then what large event ever is perfect? On the whole there were far more positive things about Loncon 3 than negatives. Collapse )
Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria and Highland Soldier Marionettes à la Planchette

I was recently commissioned by a Punch and Judy professor to make a pair of marionettes à la planchette depicting an elderly Queen Victoria and a contemporary Black Watch Highland soldier. It proved to be a huge amount of work, but I am very happy with how they turned out.

Marionettes à la planchette are designed to dance to music like jig dolls; the most important difference being that they are operated by a string tied to the performer's leg, which allows the performer to stand up and play a musical instrument (or two) at the same time. Their feet make a tapping sound when they dance, providing an additional percussive element to the performance (with practice it's possible to vary the strength of the taps to emphasise the beat of the music). There are drawings dating back centuries showing street entertainers performing with this type of puppet, often featuring two puppets on one string. Apparently they are commonplace to this day in parts of mainland Europe. See the Pipe and Tabor Compedium for some nice historic illustrations. Also this lovely engraving from 1821. Collapse )

I am willing to consider commissions to make more marionettes à la planchette, however you should be aware that many hours of work go into crafting puppets with this level of detail (particularly if they require an intricate costume like Queen Victoria's). I can also make simpler, less realistic puppets and jig dolls. If you are interested, please drop me an email (alex at alexholden dot net).
Bigger hammer

Punch and Judy Puppets

A couple of years ago a client commissioned me to carve some wooden puppets for a Punch and Judy show. Not the two stars of the show: understandably, as I had no prior experience at puppet making, he had those made by a top Punch and Judy puppet maker with many years of experience, and he let me loose on several of the 'extra' characters. Also I was only to do the wood carving, not the painting or costuming. I found this lack of control rather nerve-wracking, particularly the painting part, because a botched paint job can ruin even the best carving work. Something that made the task much trickier for me was that the pro was making his two puppets in parallel to mine so I didn't get to see them until it was too late to modify mine to match the scale or style of his puppets. Luckily the scale worked out fine, and the style is probably near enough that most people wouldn't notice the difference.

For reasons too boring to go into, I haven't had the opportunity until now to photograph the completed puppets. Collapse )

Lachenal Cranked Lever Syndrome

The flattened rod and slotted pivot actions in Lachenal concertinas are quite ingenious and mostly work pretty well and reliably, but they do suffer from one potential weakness. Sometimes when a lever is cranked around an outer button to reach an inner button, it is subject to a twisting force every time the button is pressed. After decades of use this can lead to the slot and lever wearing in a way that allows the lever to partially rotate in the slot. This causes the affected button to feel sloppy and 'lumpy' and can cause the pad to not seal properly. Three of the buttons on my concertina were affected by this problem to varying degrees (interestingly there are several other cranked levers in the instrument that don't have the problem). There are various ways to solve the problem, including replacing the affected lever and pivot with new ones to the same design (I believe Steve Dickinson still makes them), or fitting a riveted action salvaged from a different brand of instrument. I decided to repair and improve mine as follows. Collapse )