Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Repairing a Kerosene Blow Torch

This kerosene or paraffin blowtorch belonging to my grandfather hadn't been used for years, simply because a  propane/butane torch is much more convenient. A kerosene torch however is a lot more economical to run, and a litre of kerosene would probably provide well over an hour of run time for less than a "dollar". For those of you who have never come across this "ancient technology", a kerosene blow torch or blow lamp has a hand operated pump (like a bicycle pump) to pressurise the fuel in the tank.  This forces fuel up out of the tank through a brass tube and coil surrounding the burner. On its way through the coil, it is heated by the flame and vaporised to gas which emerges from the jet and is burned. On initial startup you have to burn some methylated spirits in a bowl section at the top of the tank. This preheats the oil in the coils and turns it into vapour so that pumping can start. A screw valve is used to release pressure in the tank and extinguish the torch. These torches can be somewhat dangerous if you are not careful! If you pump prematurely before the heat exchanger coil is sufficiently heated up, the torch becomes a flame thrower, so it is better to start them up outside. In the US, gasoline (petrol) torches were available which didn't require pre-heating, but were potentially more dangerous because of the volatile nature of petrol. Several oil appliances used this system including Tilley lamps for lighting and Primus stoves for heating. The kerosene vapour burned more thoroughly with a cleaner hotter flame than that produced by a wick system used in earlier kerosene appliances (which could be smoky if not trimmed properly).

If the nut holding the main pipe leaks oil, the nut may be loose or possibly the ring on the pipe and seat on the threaded section which it tightens against may not be mating properly. It's worth trying to clean the surfaces with a plastic scouring pad or rough cloth to see if that improves the situation. Abrasives should probably be avoided to avoid damaging the surfaces. Possibly Evo-Stik  Plumbers Mait or similar would help to seal the threads.
The leather washer on the pump had dried and worn out so it needed a replacement. Finding parts for a blow torch such as this was out of the question so I decided to make one.  I tend to be a hoarder and lots of stuff gets sorted and stored which should be thrown out! However the parts do become useful when something needs to be repaired, and it saves money. Leather is a very tough, durable material and can be used for making washers and gaskets. It's not totally waterproof (think of how water soaks through your shoes) but does stand up to high temperatures and doesn't melt. I used a piece of leather from a shoe to make a part for the pump. It needed to be reasonably thick so that it bulged out during the downward pump stroke and relaxed during the upward stroke.

Monday, 1 December 2014

New Jaws for the Vice

This old record No. 6 vice belonged to my grandfather. Over the years, the jaws had become cracked. I have lots of old files and had a brainwave that these would be ideal for making replacement jaws. Files are made from hardened and tempered steel, and have slanted, ridged teeth which I reckoned would  be excellent for gripping stuff in a vice. I cut out rectangular sections of the correct dimensions using an angle grinder. The steel was too hard to drill, so I had to anneal it by heating to a red heat with a blow torch in the vicinity of the mounting holes and allowed it to cool slowly. Once the holes were drilled, they were countersinked.

My Side Gate

I designed this gate in Autocad several years ago. Autocad comes in very handy because if you draw curves, it tells you the length of the curve. This is very useful because it allows you to estimate the length of a straight piece of iron pre-bending. All the scrolls were cold bent around old pulleys and round bars of various diameters held in a vice. Rather than cutting the iron for each section, I used the leverage of a long length to aid bending and then cut off the waste. I used a long bar with a slot welded onto the end for additional bending operations. Some heating was probably necessary to heat and match up the scrolls which were identical on both sides.
I used 2 x 1 box for the perimeter of the gate. I decided to make a polygon for the top, which gave the appearance of a semi-circle. I divided up the straight length of box into equal sections, cut slots in three of the four sides between each section and bent the box into a curved shape. I tried to make the slots v-shaped to so that the slots would close up ok. Then I welded everything closed and ground everything smooth.
Total build time was about 80 hours.

Battling slugs!

If you live in a damp climate like I do, you know how slugs and snails can have a devestating effect on young plants. Usually the buggers don't eat weeds, only your newly planted annuals! If you grow plants from seeds in pots, don't transplant them into the ground while they are small . Instead wait until they have developed sufficient foliage and are beginning to become pot bound and struggling before planting. If they are attacked by slugs at this stage, they can afford to lose some leaves. Also don't forget to keep your pots where they can't be attacked during the night. If the pots are grouped together sprinkle a trail of slug pellets around the pots to act as a barrier.

Protect Your Feet!

Safety shoes are a good idea when working in the garden. The steel toe caps protect your toes from dropped pots, stones etc and if you choose a type with a steel sole, this gives protection from walking on nails, glass or other nasty stuff which might be hiding in the recesses of your garden!

Oriental Poppies

My oriental poppies finally bloomed! I collected the seeds of these the year before last and sowed them last year. Poppy seeds are small so they should be sprinkled on the surface of moistened seed compost in a tray and not covered with compost. Cover the tray with aluminium foil, a magazine or whatever and place in a warm are until germination. After about a week, check the tray each day and once germination occurs, uncover the tray immediately to prevent straggling of the seedlings. Keep the compost moist but don't over water. Seedlings can be transplanted into pots after they acquire about 3 pairs of leaves. And watch out for slugs!! Don't transplant into the ground until the plants have become so large that they can survive being partially eaten by these pests.

Leylandii Blues!

These trees could almost be called a garden pest! Leylandii or Leyland Cypress is a fast growing tree and can reach 50 feet in 60 years. You will be familiar with Leylandii as the green/ yellowish evergreen trees, ubiquitously used to form hedges which can soon become unmanageable if not tamed by diligent gardeners. In some residential areas they have been banned because of their rapid growth, and many disputes have arisen between neighbours because of the nature of the trees to go out of control, block light and protrude into adjacent gardens.
Anyway, I have a back garden with a short Leylandii hedge spanning the gap between a side gate and driveway gate. The hedge was planted in the eighties, and in those days I trimmed it with a hand shears, which of course has limited ability to cut branches thicker than about 1/4 inch. Every year the trees put on new growth, becoming wider in the process as the shears could only trim back soft growth. By the time the trees had become 15 years old, they had reached a width of about 4 feet. I had bought a hedge trimmer by then, however I also discovered a serious disadvantage of many conifers, unlike deciduous trees, they can't be heavily trimmed back to old growth as they don't resprout. So the Leylandii have now reached  a width of about 7 feet and are practically hollow inside!
My plan is to hollow the trees out more on the inside. Yesterday I cut out as much top growth as possible which was overhanging the hollow interior of the trees. Dead branches were removed also. By opening up the inside, this lets more light in and my plan is to plant lots of holly and laurel which can grow in lower light conditions, inside this space. Eventually the holly and laurel will take over and emerge from the inside of the trees (Sort of like a gardening version of Alien!) at which point I will remove the host Leylandii.