Lego Table

I built this Lego table for the kids after stepping on Lego on the floor one to many times! On one side it has a set of drawers with dividers that I bought cheap at Bunnings, and on the other side it has a large bin where they kids can quickly scoop their Lego away, or can put larger models they don’t want to break up.

There’s a rail around the top edge on three sides (not on the bin side) to stop pieces accidentally falling off.

The top is 9 Lego plates — they’re lightly stuck down with spray adhesive so they can be rearranged or replaced.

Components

I made the table out of sheets of 12mm MDF — for a project like this it’s easy to work with and strong. At most joints I cut a 6mm trench/rebate so that the glue up would snap together easily. I didn’t use any nails or screws to hold the main part of the table together — just glue and clamps — which is possible because of the trenches & rebates. (Trenches and rebates shown in the component list below.)

The images below show the dimensions I used — there are a few critical dimensions that you can change based on what you’re building:

  1. 767mm is the width of 3 Lego plates side-by-side (the finished table has a 3×3 grid of plates, so 767mm in two dimensions. Note that the plates can’t be butted up tight against each other, otherwise the blocks can’t be placed across them — there needs to be a small gap.
  2. 360mm is the depth of the plastic drawers I bought to go on the drawer side
  3. 100mm is the height of the drawers.
    The railing around the top edge (to stop pieces falling off ) is 40x19mm DAR pine, and the wheel supports on the bottom are 60×19 DAR pine. The wheel supports are there to provide enough depth for the screws attaching the castors without the screws going through into the drawers.


Assembly

This cutaway view shows the overview of how it’s assembled — drawers on one side, and a big bin on the other with a sloping bottom. The sloping bottom is there so that the Lego in the big bin slides to the front where it’s easier to reach.

Step 1

Glue and clamp one side and the middle divider to the base.

Step 2

Glue and clamp the other side and the front edge of the bin.

Step 3

Glue and insert the drawer shelf, and the sloping bin shelf. The width of the sloping shelf depends upon what angle you want it to slope, and you should cut the edges at the same angle (I did it using a tilted blade on my table saw, but you could do it with a jig saw or circular saw). Cut it a bit wide and then get a good fit. I didn’t end up gluing the sloping shelf in place — it was a snug fit and didn’t need any glue.

Step 4

Glue and clamp the top.

Step 5

Screw the wheel supports to the base, and attach the castors to the wheel supports. Make sure any screws you use aren’t too long so that they don’t poke through into the drawers.

Step 6

Glue and clamp the side and end rails around the top edge. I added some nails to hold the rails firmly in place. After attaching the rails I went around all of the edges with a roundover bit on my router to make sure there are no sharp corners.

Step 7

Sande everything smooth (I went up to 240 grit) and then paint it how you wish. I spent a bit of time painting different parts in red, blue, yellow and green. Note that MDF can’t be painted directly with a water-based paint: I used an oil-based white undercoat, and on top of that I could then apply the water-based coloured top coats.

Lastly I put the drawers in and used some spray adhesive to stick some Lego plates to the top . All done!

 

Cubby

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to build a fantastic cubby house for my kids. You can buy some pretty big cubbies, but the ones I’ve looked at are a bit flimsy for the amount they charge (easily over $3000 when delivered and installed). If they were cheaper and sturdier I would’ve considered buying one in the interests of time, but instead I ended up building one myself, and I’m really glad. Continue reading “Cubby”

Animated Photorealistic Graphics

povrayWhen I was at uni we did an animated graphics project. The idea was to write some C code that would output a series of PoVray scene files, and then render the files into a series of images and stitch them together into an mpeg video.

The video I ended up creative evolved in a very stream-of-conscious way: I started with animating a bouncing ball, and then kept asking myself, “what could happen next?” In the end the ball ended up bouncing through a scene and knocking a bunch of things over and then disappearing into a pond. Sadly that video is lost to a hard drive that died long ago.

I loved doing that project, I think because it was a chance to do something creative (rather than just implementing another sorting algorithm). I’ve been thinking about doing something similar off-and-on again ever since.

So once I finish my MBA I’ll make good on that and come up with another stream-of-consciousness video. There are some really good examples of what I’m talking about on youtube:

There’s a lot of satisfaction in building the environment and developing the physics, and then even more looking at the finished product.

Old Front Garden

When we moved into our old house the front garden was fairly typical: an expanse of lawn with a bit of garden around the outside. It also had some big prickly date palms, which I promptly removed after pricking myself on them a few times. I was also keen to get rid of the expanse of lawn because it was a hassle to mow and used up a lot of water.

01

I put together a plan for a big garden full of natives and drought-tolerant plants, and got to work.

01b

Step 1 was to kill off the old lawn and prepare the site: I sprayed the old lawn with herbicide, and then brought in a hand-tiller to turn it all over. The tilling was hot and hard work, even with the help of the machine.

02

Next I landscaped the soil into the shapes we wanted (rather than just being flat). I also put down the main lines for the reticulation to feed each area of the garden.

02b

This is a close-up of the under-surface reticulation – this type of retic delivers water very efficiently to the plants (no evaporation) and is really good for low-water gardens. It’s porous so the water bleeds through it slowly and soaks the plant roots.

03

Next, with the help of lovely wife we brought in a bunch of heavy moss rocks from the local garden supplies place to edge all the gardens. We tried to position them so there were some big flat spots to sit in the shade and at the edge of the new pond.

04

We then brought in lots of good-quality soil to build the garden beds up and to landscape further into interesting mounds and paths. I laid reticulation on top of this mounded soil, and then we heavily mulched – it was layer about 6” deep.

05

After heavy mulching, the fun part of planting everything out began. We then brought in and planted big groups of plants that are good for low-water gardens: lavendar, native rosemary, hebes, kangaroo paws, etc. They did very well in the new garden.

06

I paved the front verge (aka nature strip) (foreground) so we had somewhere to put the rubbish bins on collection day.

07

This is a before shot of the driveway – it was a bit narrow, and it needed a retaining wall to stop the garden tumbling on to the driveway.

08

Here is the after shot with the driveway widened, and the brick retaining wall built. Brick laying is hard and I’m not very good at it, so I always render over the top.

09

I attached strips of wood to the bricks and rendered between them so that I could use a screed with an end on each piece of wood to get a nice flat surface. When the render had dried I removed the wood (at which point this photo was taken) and then rendered the gaps where the wood had been.

09b

Rendering finally finished – this is tough work. At least it covers up my dodgy bricklaying. It’s really hard and frustrating getting the render to stick to the bricks.

We planted a big line of plumbago down the side of the driveway on top of the rendered wall – it hedges really well and has a beautiful blue/white display in the spring.

10

In the middle of the garden I dug out a big koi pond – here it is marked out before digging.

11

Here’s the completed pond with water feature, and the beginngings of a bridge. There is a pump submerged in the bottom of the pond which feeds through a large bio- and mechanical-filter and back directly into the pond (over some rocks) and also fills up the large bowl.

We bought some koi and put them in the pond, and when we filled in the pond a year later (we moved house) the koi had already had babies! While we had the pond I spent plenty of relaxing time sitting on the bridge and feeding the koi.

12

A view of the pond from the bridge – the plants had grown in by this stage. The steps are covered in merbausawdust that we got from a friend’s furniture factory. Sawdust is good for paths because it suppresses weeds and compresses nice and firm, though you can’t walk down the path in socks.

13

On the side closest to the front door I built a set of steps at the end of the path. The steps were framed out using treated pine sleepers and posts (similar to the vegetable garden edges.)

14

The steps were filled in with bluemetal fines. I really like using bluemetal because it compresses really well and when it dries it becomes very hard.

15

Here’s the garden on the day we moved out after selling the house and moving to Melbourne. The koi pond has been filled in because we rented the place out and didn’t want the hassle of being landlords on a house with a pond – I just filled it with dirt and then mulched it and put some creeping daisy on top.

Overall I’m really happy with the way this worked out in terms of water conservation – the new garden only needed about 15 mins/week of water through the retic system during the heat of summer, which is a lot less than the lawn required to stay green.

Pantry

An essential element for me in any house is a nice big pantry to keep all the food, preferably a walk-in if possible. The first house we bought only had a tiny little cupboard, so I decided to build a big pantry.

01b

 

The spot we chose was pretty much wasted space, and had the added bonus of a skylight, so the pantry was very well lit during the day. I started by planning out how the pantry would look using Sketchup …

01

.. and then measuring out the plan in tape on the floor to get a feel for size.
02

Starting to build the frames for the pantry walls. I love it when people take candid, unexpected photos of me.

03

Checking that the door is the right size.04

In the middle of plastering the new walls.

05

After plastering up the walls (inside and out) and adding cornice, lovely wife painted everything for me (I hate painting). These are some of the colours we considered.

05a

Next task was to fill the pantry with shelves. Shelves that are below waist- height for me are a bit of a waste because I can’t bend down far enough to reach the back of the shelf. To alleviate that I built two sets of drawers instead (a total of 20 drawers) in differing heights – the top ones were shallow for small items like utensils, and the bottom ones were deeper (good for potato storage).

Above waist height I built shelving all the way around in white melamine board, including over the top of the door. The total storage space of the pantry was enormous – we didn’t have enough stuff to fill it, which was perfect.

05b

I started the shelving by installing battens for each shelf.

06

Shelving completed inside, the spaces down the bottom will hold drawers.

07

A view from the outside with the shelving complete.

07b

I built all of the drawers from scratch by hand.

08

Painting each custom drawer. Never again!

09

The finished pantry with all our stuff loaded up!

The mistake that I made with this project was that I custom built the shelving and drawers into the space, i.e.: I built the frame for the drawer cupboard directly against the walls, and then measured and custom-built each drawer. As a result it was very fiddly, since everything was not quite square or not quite long enough – it took me a really long time and was very frustrating. Also, because everything was custom and different, the fit of the drawers weren’t consistent. Some were a good fit, some a bit loose and some a bit tight.

A much better strategy would have been to build a free standing set of drawers in a standard size (like a tallboy) and then mount the tallboy in the pantry, covering up the gaps around the edges as required. That way the drawers could have all been standard sizes (I could have bought pre-made ones off-the-shelf) and the project would have been completed much quicker with much less frustration. I know for next time!

 

 

First Chicken Hutch

At one of our previous houses we decided to get chickens, so I built a chicken hutch out of old materials I had lying around. My main design goals were:

  • It had to be roomy enough to house 4-6 hens
  • It had to be easy to maintain: specifically the chook manure shouldn’t be difficult to clear out so that I could compost it easily.
  • The laying boxes had to be easily accessible so that toddlers could check for eggs and easily reach in and grab them.

I ended up with the design you can see below: the bottom of the hutch is steel reinforcing mesh, which means that the chook manure falls through to the ground. The front of the hutch under the legs opens up so the chook manure can be easily raked up and mixed in with the compost.

The doors to the layer boxes are right at toddler head-height, and the doors open sideways so they won’t fall open or slam shut on little fingers. Above the layer boxes I built in a set of shelving accesible from the outside to store garden tools.

The roof is made up of some old roof tiles I had lying around, and the cladding on the outside is some old floorboards and offcuts from other projects. Inside the hutch I put a couple of thick branches (about 3-4cm thick) for the hens to perch on overnight. There are a couple of small hen- size doorways in the sides, and on the far side I built a set of steps for the hens to climb up from a pile of spare bricks.

The whole thing worked out quite well, and quite cheap because I recycled most of the materials. It was still there when we sold the house, I hope the new owners got some use out of it!

01

This is the initial construction – setting four poles in concrete. I just used whatever timber I had lying about to build this chicken hutch, and I salvaged some more from rubbish were people throwing out. For example, the cladding on the outside of the hutch is some old flooring that somebody had ripped up and put out for bulk rubbish collection.

02

Starting to build the frame – the blue tubs are the nesting boxes. Using tubs means they’re easy to remove and clean if necessary, and with a few old rags in the bottom they’re quite a cosy place to lay an egg. (Not speaking from experience.)

03

Framing for the roof complete, ready for roof tiles and cladding. The roof tiles were spares from the construction of our house.

04

Cladding complete – I added shelving above the nesting boxes with doors for the garden tools. Below that shelving is the two nesting boxes, and the two small doors are for access to the nesting boxes to check for eggs.

05

Lovely wife with the doors to the shelving (top) and nesting boxes (bottom) open.

06

I built the nesting boxes just tall enough so that little hands could reach in and grab the eggs. The doors open sideways so that they won’t slam on little fingers.

07

We bought four ISA Brown hens to enjoy the new hutch. They’re very good layers, and fairly low maintenance.

08

Our cat Bugalugs didn’t seem particularly interested in the hens. They never really trusted him.

09

They didn’t seem particularly interested in me. If you handle chickens regularly they become very docile around people and easy to pick up, but maybe the kissing was a step too far.

10

Our first egg! 50g is a really good size.

First Vegetable Garden

At one of our previous houses I built a big vegetable garden in an unused corner of the garden in front of the shed. (Later I built the chicken hutch next to it.)

Overall it was a really sturdy and effective design that worked out really well. It was still going when we sold the house – I hope it’s working out well for the new owners.

01

This is the site for the garden before I’d done any work – just bare WA black sand and a sad hibiscus. The tree next to the shed on the right is an apricot (also quite neglected).

02

I cleared everything out and built some level brick foundations for the walls, here I’m measuring up the treated pine sleepers for the edges. The corners used treated pine posts that were buried in the ground by about 30cm so that it wouldn’t move around too much.

The design was fairly simple: edges from 2 layers of 200mm treated pine sleepers (total height 400mm) bolted together with galvanised bolts. I shaped each bed in a U-shape that was only about a metre wide so that it would be easy to reach in to the garden from any side – that way we could garden/harvest without having to climb into the garden.

03

After the sleepers were cut and bolted together I brought in a lot of special vege garden mix from my local soil shop. I couldn’t get my car & trailer around the back of the house, so all of it was transferred by wheelbarrow. That was a long hot day.

04

In between the garden beds I put down a bed of yellow bricky’s sand and used some old pavers I had lying around to make a nice path. I wouldn’t want to be a full-time paver, but small jobs like this are quite satisfying.

05

The finished garden, including reticulation and first plantings.

06

To reticulate I ran polypipe around the edge of the garden and put sprayers. The reticulation was linked to our automatic system so the vege garden was watered automatically every second day over summer just before dawn.

The intention behind that was so that I wouldn’t risk damaging the retic while digging in the garden. In retrospect it was a bit over-engineered, and a couple of well-placed butterfly sprinklers on metal poles around the garden would be just as effective and less expensive.

07

Here’s our cat Bugalugs admiring some cabbage and enjoying the sun. I think he is displeased there’s no catnip.

09

After a few weeks it’s looking good – corn is tall and strong. I’ve added some trellises for the tomatoes and cucumbers.

10

A few weeks more and everything is growing really well – it’s a bit of jungle! 11

Here’s some corn and lettuce we got off the first crop. It was super tasty!

Garden Retaining Wall

I built a low garden-edging retaining wall next to the vegetable garden and chicken hutch around some orange trees growing in the back yard. I like to have a low wall separating lawn from a garden, since it makes it much easier to keep the lawn out of the garden.

The base of the wall is hand-mixed and poured concrete – I broke up some old kerbing and placed it in the footer trench to save myself having to pour so much concrete. The plastic pots you can see in the photo below were there to make holes in the concrete so that water could go through to the soil below.

Next I laid all the brickwork on top of the footing – I made two step-like sections that were actually little mini garden beds (the holes from the plastic pots were beneath these to allow drainage.)

Lastly I rendered the whole thing (I’m pretty sick of rendering, it’s hard work to get it right) and then painted the final surface. All done and I think it looks pretty good!

01

Setting and pouring the footers. I used up some rubble from some garden-edge curbing that I’d pulled up as some bulk in the footings. The plastic pots are so that there’s holes through the footing for drainage.

02

Completing the brickwork. This is where I learned that I’m not very good at laying bricks and that it’s really hard work. The end result wasn’t too bad, but I’m glad there were only 3 courses.

03

Rendered and painted – final product. The mulch around the orange trees also tidies it up and makes it look a lot better.

04

Feature Wall

In our home in Perth we added a feature wall with some lit recesses for displaying some artwork. This is one of my favourite projects – I was very happy with the result.

01

We wanted to have two lit recesses in this wall in which we could display some artwork. Rather than make holes in the existing wall, I decided to build another wall in front of that one (making it twice as thick) with the recesses being ‘windows’ in the new wall.

02

I framed up the new wall in place around the new feature recesses. The gap in the lintel above each recess is to allow space for the downlight. In this shot I’ve already attached the first sheet of plastboard on top of the new frame.

04

Patient wife sanding all the plastering. The dark spot is a paint colour we tested for the wall that we elected not to go with (clearly too dark).

05

Plastering complete, ready for paint. Around the door are sample paint colours for the non-feature wall.

06

Painted, lights installed and trying out with sample objects. The paint we used on the wall was a textured painted which dried with a velvet/felt like finish. It was really nice and we were both very happy with the result.

07

The final objet d’arts that we bought for the recesses: a tall thin statue of a geisha, and flat thin vase full of imitation apple blossoms.

Close-up of the geisha’s face.
Close-up of the geisha’s face
Close-up of the hand-painted vase
Close-up of the hand-painted vase
Close-up of the faux blossoms
Close-up of the faux blossoms

 

Folding Farm

For a while I got quite interested in the Folding@Home project, where you use home computers to figure out the way certain proteins are folded in order to aid medical research. It’s a way for medical researchers to utilise all the untapped computing power in people’s desktop computers all over the world.

I took it a step further by collecting old computers and networking them in to a mini-datacentre in my shed (though “datacentre” is overselling it a bit). I tried to install a different operating system on each one (different flavours of Linux, FreeBSD and Windows) so that I would have a bit of experience with each one and better understand the different environments. I ended up with 22 hosts in total, busily folding away at proteins. It became a bit of a challenge to see if I could pick up some decent hardware for less than $50 through the used-PC classifieds.

I wrote some monitoring software to keep track of all the machines: which protein they were working on, their current status and how long they’d been running. It was quite satisfying to think of all that work being done 24/7 in my shed.

In the end I decommissioned the farm and chucked out all the machines for a few reasons:

  • standard computing power crept forward so that my farm was really behind the curve – I was no longer getting enough computing power for the running costs relative to what everyone was able to achieve (my contribution was getting relatively smaller and smaller each day)
  • I wanted to use my shed for other things!

I encourage you to use your computers to do some folding though, you don’t need a big cluster to be useful. You can use your computer’s spare cycles tohelp find cures for diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

The shelves full of servers in my shed
The shelves full of servers in my shed
A screenshot of the monitoring software
A screenshot of the monitoring software (click to embiggen)