Every journey…

…starts with the first step. Step scooter, that is!

As you are probably well aware if you have spent more than a fleeting second on this site, I have aspirations to one day build my own scratch-built sports car. In recent years these aspirations have been down-graded from a 300km/h hair-raiser, to a single-seater motorcycle-engine driven urban transport, to a chainsaw-driven street legal go-kart, and finally (my current plan) an electric step/kick scooter for the daily commute.

Have to start somewhere, right?

It’s not all bad news though. Building a car is a journey, and because I don’t possess all the fabrication skills I will need yet, starting off small means I can learn the skills and experiment on something less expensive before tackling the next size up.

The donor scooter is a 16″ wheel steel framed scooter more than capable of holding an adults weight. Rather than spend a lot of time on the power-train I have ordered a 16″ wheel e-bike conversion kit direct from China at a ridiculous price. Instead, my fabrication efforts will go into the aesthetics of the scooter, which is much more interesting to me. I’d like to try my hand at wood bending…

Vespa Daniela

Only as good as his tools

I have a project coming up shortly (a gate across the driveway) that has many mortise and tenon joints.  I don’t fancy doing these all with hand tools, so will need to utilise a router.

I have a 2100w Ryobi plunge router (model: ERT2100VK).  It was a ‘must buy’ purchase 3 years ago.  I’ve never used it.

After finding some great videos on trusty YouTube of some DIY router table projects, I decided this was a job I could do myself.  One of the best projects I saw used two sheets of laminated MDF so that the router was attached through a thin plate, but the rest of the table had a good thickness for strength and stability.  That’s the one I based mine on.  The thin plate means that I don’t lose any cutting depth – in fact, the new plate is the same thickness as the old one, so there is no loss in cutting depth at all.

At a local tool shop I found a drop-saw stand that a customer didn’t want when he purchased the saw, so I got it for $40.  It’s nice and solid and makes a great base for the table. Luckily Father owns a portable sawmill, and so the timber for the frame was already supplied

I haven’t quite finished yet – still need father-in-law (electrician) to help me wire in a proper on/off switch (the built-in one will be ok for now), still need a fence (a clamped piece of timber will suffice for now), and still need a router lift (manual adjustment will do for now).

Router table 1
Table with router before installation. Note the laminated surface with a cutout in the top sheet
The existing base plate is removed. This shows the new one with counter-sunk screw holes ready to go on
The existing base plate is removed. This shows the new one with counter-sunk screw holes ready to go on
Base plate attached to the router, with router ready to drop in place
Base plate attached to the router, with router ready to drop in place
Router in place and ready to roll. Just need a solid piece of timber clamped down for a fence.
Router in place and ready to roll. Just need a solid piece of timber clamped down for a fence.
A view from below showing the bracing structure to add strength and support
A view from below showing the bracing structure to add strength and support

If anybody knows where to get mitre track or T-track from in New Zealand (especially around Palmerston North) I’d love to know! The closest I have seen is simple aluminium track, but it is not ideal.


It has been a long time between updates.  The nursery is complete!

Surprise, surprise – once Wife and I moved Son from our room to his own nursery, we seemed to get a lot more sleep.  I was almost as surprised as Wife when it was done.  It did drag on a bit – Son was already 12 months by the time he got his own room.


Time to close the gate

Wife has left me and Son today for a trip to Europe.  For the next 3 weeks I have sole charge of my Son.  I still haven’t finished the TV cabinet.  Or the sports car.  And now with a toddler to occupy my attention I will have even less time for DIY.

So I decided to start another project.

Wife will be thrilled!

It came to me that I would have more time to finish my projects if Son could roam the backyard with no fear of him toddling out on to the road.  What I need are some gates across the driveway to stop him getting in to trouble.  But of course no ordinary gate will do.  And besides, I have new tools to break in.  So I have decided on double wooden vertical-slat gates on castor wheels with full mortise and tenon joints.

How hard can it be.

Vertical slat gates

But, hang on! Won’t making the gates take time?  And don’t I need more time to finish my current projects?  Sigh.  It’s a bit like buying a wallet with your last cash to keep your cash in…

How to steam punk your baby

I love the steam-punk genre. It’s all dirigibles, flying ships, clunky mechanical robots and Victorian inspired leather clothing.  Of course, I’d look like a plonker dressed up in that stuff, so what better way to live out a childhood dream than to live it out through my (almost) 1 year old son?

I decided to create a replica leather aviator cap (sometimes called a Snoopy hat or flight helmet), complete with flying goggles, for my little boy. I’m sure he’ll love it. CharlesLindbergh would be proud 🙂

1) Search for good images of flight helmets on the internet, and pick one that you like. You’ll need a good front and side view so that you can see how the seams go. I picked the one here because I liked the shape.

2) Paper mâché your baby’s head. Ok, that is not very good advice. Don’t do that. Instead, put a suitable hat on your baby and cover it in strips of masking tape. Enough tape so that when you take the hat off it keeps its shape.

Masking tape to get the head shape

3) Carefully remove the hat from inside the masking tape. It should hold its shape fairly well if you’ve used enough tape. Now add the ear flaps and any other bits and pieces. The inside is still super-sticky, so rip little bits of tissue paper line the inside with the tissue.

Finished model lined with tissue paper

4) Using your reference photographs, draw seam lines on your finished model, and then *gulp* take a pair of scissors and cut it up along the seam lines.  Flatten the pattern pieces out.  All going well, you should have pairs of almost identical patterns.

5) Because each pair of patterns is not exactly identical, lay them one by one on a piece of paper (in the same spot) and trace around them. Then draw a smooth line (using common sense) to get an average of the two pattern pieces. This is the final pattern. Add a seam allowance (about 1 cm or a half-inch).  Here are my final patterns, including originals. If you look closely you can see the pencil lines of the two original patterns:


Note: photocopy the patterns lightly larger if you are going to use a thick lining material, such as fleece for example.

6) Cut out two of each of your patterns. Use a low tac glue (like a cheap glue-stick) and stick them to the back of your leather, then carefully cut out the leather pieces.

Preparing the leather pieces

7) Now for the time consuming part. Place two of the pattern pieces together (triple check to make sure they are correctly placed before you start). Just a couple of stitches at a time, make the holes with a leather awl and then double-stitch using two needles.  I use a cork place mat behind the work, and instead of double stitch I just go all the way one way and then come back again.


8) Unfortunately no photos of much of the rest of the process, sorry!  Continue to stitch the pieces  until the basic cap is ready. It will be inside out with the seams sticking up.

9) Use a good leather cement and glue the seams down flat, splitting them so that each half is glued down on its own side side of the seam. Use a roller (like a wallpaper roller) to flatten the seam nicely if you have one. Trim the ends of the seam if you need to.

10) Replicate steps 6 through 9 with the material you want to use for the lining, but use pins instead of glue when cutting the patterns. I used some relatively thin natural cotton, but you can use a fluffy fleece material if you want to go for that look – just remember to make your pattern a bit bigger so that the lining fits inside with your baby’s head.

11) Turn the lining the right way around and place it over the leather cap (which is still inside out). Using the leather cement, glue the outer edge of the lining to the outer edge of the leather. Now turn it the right side out.

12) Cut a long strip of leather about 35mm wide, and stitch it right the way around the edge of the cap to finish the seam. The leather needs to be folded like the diagram to achieve this. The stitching is difficult because of the multiple layers of leather and fabric, but this trim really helps finish the cap.

Leather trim

13) If you want a peak, incorporate this in the trim. Instead of a straight strip, cut the trim similar to the diagram below.

Cap peak

14) Once the cap was ready, I found that the seams around the front of the cap left marks in my son’s forehead because they were not smooth enough. I cut another strip of leather and glued this into the inside of the cap as a hat band, covering all the seams with the soft part of the leather facing the inside.

15) Add accessories! This cap has a couple of straps and a pair of flying goggles made from an inexpensive pair of tanning booth goggles.

Here is the finished result:

Finished! (1 of 2)

Finished! (2 of 2)


Bend the brakes!

Before you can bond aluminium into any sort of useful structure, you have to cut and shape the sheets. Now – most of us don’t have access to a fully-furnished metal shop, and a $1000 heavy-duty sheet metal brake is probably not that high up on the shopping list. But don’t worry, there is hope for the DIYer.

I came across these comprehensive plans for a home-made sheet metal brake that look fantastic.  The plans are on biplaneforum.com.  The builder of the brake, Dave Clay from Texas, crafted this tool in an afternoon for around US$75. I see another project on the horizon…

DIY brake by Dave Clay

Hold it together, man

One thing that has always intrigued me (ok, perhaps not always, as puddles and sand castles intrigued me more as a kid – but at least since I started thinking about vehicle construction) is how metal can be bonded together and still maintain enough strength for the riguors of driving?

Aluminium in particular: Is aluminum bonding something I can do in my own garage, using basic tools, at low cost? Knowing basically nothing about bonding anything heavier than paper, where do I even start looking for the right adhesives and the correct technique?

It all got just a little easier today when I came across the adhesives toolkit – not only does it contain details of how different adhesives perform under different loads and stresses, but has nifty tools (as questionnaires) to help you find the perfect adhesive for your particular situation.

So what to use for a bonded aluminum chassis? Apparently something called Anaerobic Acrylic. What that is? I have no idea…

Lotus Elise aluminium chassis

The bonded aluminium chassis of the 1995 lotus Elise

Footnote: After some additional googling, TA4300 looks ideal.

Star Trekking

Star trekking across the universe
Only going forward ’cause we can’t find reverse

Scratch-built and kit cars based on motorcycle power-plants have long suffered from this Star Trekking ailment. No reverse gear to be found.

Some vehicles utilise a separate gearbox for reverse, or sometimes an electric motor for that purpose.  Others, such as the Peel 50 and the Isetta, had no reverse gear at all, so you had to have a mate handy to push you out of the garage or parking space.

I recently came across a small motorcycle engine (250cc) that has a reverse gear built directly in to the transmission.  This may seem slightly illogical – you’d have to be some sort of stunt devil to ride a motorcycle backwards – until you discover that the engine is meant for an ATV.  Doing some further research proved that this same manufacturer (Lifan, a large and very well known brand in China) has a score of engines with reverse gears.

In the interest of maintaining a list of motorcycle engines with reverse gears, here is the start of my list:

Suggestions to add to the list welcome!

Cirbin V13R reverse trike

Campagna V13R reverse trike
Harley Davidson powered 1250cc V-twin. With mechanical reverse gearbox 🙂

Bagus Completus

Finally, after several weeks of sporadic needle work, the iPad bag is finally complete.

Well, sort of.  The carry strap is still not quite done, but I want to mark a project ‘complete’ so bad that I’m going to ignore that little discrepancy.

The bag took a little longer than expected, as once the leather straps had been sewn around the outside of the bag I realised that they didn’t line up. This required some expletives, followed by un-stitching and restitching of part of the straps.

I now own a matching set of carry bag and iPad sleeve made from an ex-WWII haversack, and leather offcuts left over from furniture making.  The bag is much smaller and lighter than a laptop bag, but big enough to hold the iPad, charger,cables, dock, livescribe notepad and pen and various other items I require for business travel.

Bag Complete

Matching Set

Sleevus Completus

Following a delivery from Birdsall leather & craft in Australia I was finally able to finish the iPad sleeve.  My wife was gob-smacked that I had actually completed something, which was probably the best part of this project.  I just didn’t tell her that the sleeve was done, but the bag was nowhere near finished yet 🙂

The canvas flap (made from left-over canvas from the ex-WWII haversack) was already hemmed, and the corners sewn over.  The next step was to attach this to the leather sleeve.  Once that was done the final step was to use a leather scrap as the anchor for the harness post to close the bag.

Sleevus Completus!

Flap stitch detail

Flap in progress

Sleeve complete

Detail of completed sleeve