Spring Clean

I happened upon a post the other day, that showed what the shed looked like 2 years ago.  Quite impressive, given it was just some formwork at that stage, waiting for the slab to be poured.

While that was interesting in its own right (and bringing back memories of finally having some space to move into after having the shed contents packed in a garage for a year), it reminded me that I hadn’t in fact managed to fully move out of the garage into the shed.

So that was Saturday’s job – with a big cleanup of the garage, and move anything around to the shed that should have been in there.

In the meantime, the CNC was churning away, cutting some Xmas decorations out ready for another market next Sunday.

The job today was to try to maintain the momentum, and get the shed in some sort of order.  What I find after every project (particularly when it is for a magazine article), is that the shed quickly gets very messy as good practices follow shrinking deadlines out the door.  And the shed hadn’t had a decent cleanup for almost 3 projects, on top of the sudden influx from the garage.

All I can say at this point, is I am so relieved that I went with the mezzanine floor, and with the powered hoist!  It is all in and up, and the shed floor has a passing resemblance to something clean.

Still more to go, even after all that.  The TWC has been a junk magnet for about a year, and that is still the case at the moment.  Plus there are some machines & tools in the shop that have a variety of needs.

Some need to be tuned up – getting them accurate.

Some need to be sold – they are surplus to requirements.

Some are not performing to the level that I now need, and these need to be sold and replaced.

I am still of two minds in some instances.

For example, the 6″ Jet longbed planer.  As a machine, it is perfectly fine, and a quality Jet machine.  But I am finding that 6″ is too limiting, and I have to modify my stock to match the capacity of the machine.

The 15″ Carbatec thicknesser. It has had no problem milling the stock that I have thrown its way.  I’m sure the blades need some TLC, but the question is whether to stay with separate machines (and upgrade the thicknesser with a spiral head), or to go with a combo machine.  What I am thinking about at the moment is whether something like the Minimax C30 would be an interesting way to go.

It has 12″ capacity on the jointer, and also the thicknesser (being a combo), is a saw (although that isn’t relevant in my case), has a spindle moulder (very interested), and a horizontal mortiser.

Downgrading from a 15″ thicknesser to 12″ is one question – although it would be fair to say that I haven’t used that sort of width for a very long time.  Going from stand-alone machines to a combo is another, although given shed space is worth its weight in gold, that may be a huge offset benefit.

Lots to do and work on.  Spindle sander, drum sander, disc sander and drill press are all up for consideration.

While all this was going on, the CNC was plodding along in the background, and worked well all day – working continuously for 8 1/2 hours (and that is actual machining time, not counting the pauses in between!) It did well :)

Getting the Festool Lowdown

Went along to a Festool evening recently at Total Tools, to see what the latest offerings from Festool were all about.

The C18 driver was shown, although I already have the T18, so they seemed pretty similar.

What was particularly interesting was the new circular saw.  This isn’t a plunge saw as is the norm for Festool, but a much more stock standard CS design.  Of course there are still the typical mods that Festool are known for.  It is driven by an 18V battery for one.

It is the HKC55 160mm cordless circular saw.

Photo 15-10-2015 17 25 43A quick flick of one latch, and the saw still works as a plunge saw.

What really seemed to set this saw apart though is the guide rail.  This is not your grandmother’s guide rail.

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 1.53.46 amThis one locks to the bottom of the HKC55, and effectively becomes a part of the saw.  A ‘bungee cord’ mechanism engages with the saw and returns the saw to the start of the rail after a cut.

Photo 15-10-2015 17 17 49

An easy-to-use angle-setting system on the side of the rail makes it very easy to set up for angled cuts, and by angling the saw over, it effectively becomes a portable SCMS, with a long travel distance.

Photo 15-10-2015 17 18 01

Bit hard to show with a few photos. Found this video on Festool UK.  Probably better watched with the sound muted!

So an interesting evening, getting to look at a couple of the new products from Festool.  Interesting too, seeing it with people in the trades, who are quite vocal in expressing what they need to see, and what they don’t in a demo.  If it is not a tool they specifically need to use for their job, they have no interest whatsoever, and are quite prepared to express that fact.

Came away with a showbag which is always a bit of fun.  Sadly, I didn’t find a HKC 55 in the bag, but I did get a few Festool-branded items – cap, travel mug, stubby holder, carpenter’s pencil, and a Festool carpenter’s rule.  Seeing as that normally sells for $15, I’m not complaining :)

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 2.51.20 am

Collaboration 1

Got a spare $59400?


The cabinet is made from Sassafras, with black heart Sassafras inlays on the front doors and wenge/ebony trims, and was created by Phoebe Everill from “School of Wood”

The squares and marking gauges are a complete set of ebony tools from Colen Clenton tools, and includes a couple of “one off” tools.

There is also a full set of 50 ebony tools (primarily planes) from HNT Gordon, and includes the first ever HNT Gordon moving fillister plane.

That is one stunning collection!  Viewable at Sturt Wood Gallery.

And if you really do happen to have a spare $59400, contact them at planemaker@hntgordon.com.au

Mr Triton

George Lewin, the ’99 – ’15 years – the whole enchilada

(Original introduction here)

George was quite inspired by the feedback from his first installment, so has gone the whole hog and finished off the story, at least so far!  There is more to the story as you’ll see in the PS at the end, and I’d encourage the feedback because these stories would also be very interesting to read.

I’ve repeated the initial installment here so this is the complete text, so for those who have read that portion, you can skip ahead.  From my perspective, there is definitely a book in this story – the whole Triton story from inception, to the heights of the Triton years, and the current story – both where Triton is, and the direction George has gone.

Greetings fellow Triton-lovers (and anyone else who happens to read this)

This is being written from Phuket Island, on the south-west coast of Thailand, where I’ve been living for almost two years.

Stuart kindly invited me to write a sort of blog to bring you up to date on what’s happened in my life in the sixteen years (Cripes! Is it that long????) since I sold Triton. So here goes….

Up until the mid-90’s, the thought of selling Triton had never entered my mind. Triton had been my life’s work, my magnum opus.

It had been nurtured from an idea that took root in my head one fine day when I was a 25 year-old TV journalist for ABC-TV News, struggling build a dining table. With incredible twists and turns and with the help of some wonderful people, that idea grew into a multi-award winning business that ended up employing hundreds of people, and which sold about $300 million worth of products around the world over the ensuing 25 years.

A common utterance was that selling Triton would be like cutting off my right arm. It was my “baby” and arguably my obsession, and I loved it. People used to call me Mr. Triton. They said I was married to the company, and shared my bed with a saw bench. (Not true.)

However on flying back to Oz in early 1995 after marathon negotiations over the previous 18 months with Black & Decker (Europe), a pensive mood kicked in.

In London, we had just signed the Heads of Agreement of a huge deal. B&D wanted to take Triton Superjaws as an Elu product, and they also wanted the Workcentre range to market throughout Europe.

Elu was considered the “Rolls-Royce” of power tools at the time, and B&D wanted to lift their brand image in Europe, so had bought them out. (Shades of GMC/Triton, but more on that later.)

This was the biggest deal I was ever likely to make…$35m worth of product to be supplied over the first five years of the contracts, possible global manufacture under license after five years, and all with the imprimatur of one of the world’s best power tool brands.

So why wasn’t I jumping out of my skin with excitement? The answer soon dawned on me. There was not much to aspire to any more. The monicker people had given me – Mr. Triton – had become my reality and George Lewin had sort of disappeared through the cracks. Fame and fortune tasted fine, but they still didn’t fill the void inside.

(True Confessions time. Despite several fine relationships over the years, I’ve always yearned to meet the real Love of my Life…the sort of woman who can give her total love and receive mine…truly, madly and deeply. And, so the fantasy goes. When we finally meet we’l both know it. Neither of us will blow it, and we’ll live together happily ever after. The End. Sigh.)

By the time we were landing at Tulla, the conviction had gelled that I’d invented enough machines – it was time to re-invent myself, and make room for Her.


The first step was to tackle my chronic workaholism. A wonderful mentor by the name of John Cameron, former CEO of Ajax Nettlefolds, offered to help me re-structure some of the systems and the the key managerial roles in Triton, which at that stage directly employed about 120 people, plus many part-timers such as in-store demonstrators, sales agents and merchandisers.

There were six line managers, all very good hand-picked people, but I had largely been disempowering them – unconsciously and unwittingly – with my ‘uber-hands-on’ style. No-one ever did a final draft or version of anything, knowing the boss would pick it to pieces trying to improve it.

With John’s help, the managers started becoming much more independent and effective, and I was able to start extricating myself from the day-to-day running of the business. All departments heard less and less from me, apart from R&D which was always my first love.

Hating Melbourne’s winters, it was time to plan a geographic move…and it had to be far enough away from the factories so that there wouldn’t be a temptation to ride in on my white charger at every sign of trouble – as had been the case for so long.

Bought a lovely house at Montecollum, near Byron Bay in northern New South Wales in 1995, and started creating a new life for myself. Having been so intimately involved in every detail of the business for so long, the transition was best done gradually, both for my sake and for the company.

It took all of five years to complete that process, commuting between Tulla and the Gold Coast every couple of weeks initially and gradually increasing the frequency and duration of my trips north.

By the late 90’s, my managers were managing beautifully, ambitious targets were being met, the Series 2000 Workcentre had been bedded down and was selling well, and our first few container-loads of power saws and routers had arrived from Taiwan. They were being snapped up in the stores, and getting rave reviews from delighted customers.

We were heading for our first $20m sales year, and I was finally emotionally and professionally ready to sell.


The decision to actually put Triton on the market was prompted by an approach from (you won’t believe this) GMC, the humbly named Global Machinery Corporation. But after a couple of meeting with the two principals, who offered me ludicrously large amounts of money, I concluded that my “baby” was not for sale to them.

In my view, their values sucked. They were just box movers, with no passion for woodwork, just for money. They wanted to improve their brand image by buying a much-loved and respected brand. Nope! Not for sale to GMC, at any price.

But their approach prompted me to search out a business broker, and he got to work on a short-list of possible candidates. Hills Industries from South Australia – who had supplied Triton with millions of dollars worth of steel tubing over the previous 15 years – were up near the top of the list.

The broker went to Adelaide and started doing his elaborate routine of describing the company to them in very broad terms, without naming it, to see if they were interested in signing non-disclosure agreements to find out more. They asked “It’s not Triton, is it?” As it turned out, Hills were on a pretty ambitious expansion-by-acquisition program, and fortuitously, Triton was up near the top of their list!

Before long, I’d had meetings with all their top executives, and the fit seemed good. Both were successful Aussie companies, both were founded on backyard innovations, both had similar technological capabilities, we espoused similar values, and most of all, Hills at the time had an MD who read me like a book.

David Simmonds said at our second or third meeting. “George, I think I know what’s troubling you about this prospective sale. Let me assure you that Hills have acquired 26 companies over the last few decades. Some were dogs, and still are. Others were dogs and we’ve turned them around. Others were good companies and we brought them down. Some were good, and now are even better. What we’ve learnt from all of this is that ‘If it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it.'”

“I can assure you, that if this sale goes ahead, we won’t turn up on a Monday morning and start firing your people and telling you how to run the company. We’ll take our size 14 boots off at the door, and respectfully ask you to show us how you do things so well.”

I could have kissed him. (Erk!) But he had nailed the main issue that was troubling me. After a lot of tough negotiations, mostly handled expertly by my co-Director Peter Szanto (also my best friend since schooldays, my life-long lawyer and minority Triton shareholder) we finally signed about a thousand documents in September 1999, and our baby was sold – lock, stock and barrel.

To help keep them honest, the contract of sale prevented Hills from firing any of the staff for at least 12 months, and committed them to long-term leases on the two factories in Moorabbin and Cheltenham.

While it was important to retain ‘the team’ – who were sort of like my family – and to keep the manufacturing in Australia, I didn’t want to retain any share ownership of the business – knowing that we would probably disagree on almost everything. I also didn’t want a general consultancy role, but agreed to an ongoing role in R&D, which was never really taken up.

Sadly, despite Hills’ many efforts, the business went downhill pretty much from the time they bought it, and an ex-employee told me that only about 70 of the former excellent staff were left after about two years. The best ones were probably the first to leave.

And my baby was hardly thriving…in fact, it had started losing money and market share, a process that continued until Hills finally decided to offload it to GMC around 2007, who were still trying to improve their reputation by buying Triton. Sheesh!

The direction Triton was heading after the sale was deeply troubling, but I was too busy with the Triton Foundation to pay all that much attention.

Editor’s note: It is now history, but even GMC didn’t survive, and almost took Triton down with it. I was demonstrating Triton the night that GMC folded, which was a bitter-sweet experience.


The Triton Foundation was something I dreamed up and researched during the five year period of commuting between the factory and my new home in Montecollum, as we weaned ourselves off each other.

There was plenty of time to contemplate life beyond Triton on my daily walks through the beautiful hills around my home. When the sale went through, I’d have a lot of cash, and would still only be 50 and in great health. Hmmm. What to do?

Slowly a picture built of what could be done to help other inventors overcome and survive the many hurdles and roadblocks I encountered, especially in the first 10 years or so. The concept of the Triton Foundation was born.

The Foundation was to be a national not-for-profit organisation that would recruit, screen and mentor selected inventors, and get them ready with patent protection, prototypes, testing and approvals, capital raising and business structures. When they were deemed ready, their inventions would be presented, in depth, on a national TV show.

The TV show – The Clever Country- was to be highly interactive, and have means via SMS, telephone polling, and website forms for viewers to pass on their comments, preferences and suggestions. And to register their contact details to obtain the featured product when it becomes available. There would also be options for investors, manufacturers, or fellow-inventors to make contact.

The judges were to be highly intelligent, experienced people from the inventions field, and they would have had the product on test before the show, and so could make meaningful comments to the inventors. The program would be like a brainier version of the original ‘The Inventors’ which ran between 1970 and 1982 on ABC-TV.

The Clever Country TV series would be watched avidly by many Australians, who would learn, through the judges’ insightful comments, a lot about the issues that needed to be addressed in bringing a good idea successfully to market. The inventions themselves would have the best possible chance of success, due to the mentoring of the Foundation and due to the publicity it generated.

[It was the original ‘The Inventors’ that propelled Triton into the market place in July 1976 while I was still working as a journalist.

For those who don’t know that story, I’d been unable to interest any companies in the hardware or power tool field in buying my patent, and started making that first trial batch of 100 workbenches on my lounge room carpet, more in hope and desperation than with any real confidence. The all-important question of how, or indeed whether, I could sell them hadn’t been seriously addressed.

But that five minutes of national TV exposure changed everything. It catapulted Triton into existence. My phone suddenly began ringing its head off, and I had over 1,000 machines on order the day after the show. Retailers and end-users nationwide were clamouring for them.
Cheques poured in from hundreds of consumers who sent in the amount I had mooted on the TV show.

Appearing on the Grand Final ‘Invention of the Year’ in November 1976, was the icing on the cake. The order book was full for the first five years!

My only problem was how to make them well enough, and quickly enough. I quit journalism that day, and because I still didn’t have the confidence to rent a factory, decided to keep working from home. Over the next 9 months or so Triton parts, manufacturing jigs and equipment completely took over every room of my suburban house, garage, back shed and even the huge rumpus room I urgently had built onto the back of the house. The constant noise (often going all night) and semi-trailers squeezing down our narrow dead-end street caused great chagrin to my neighbours. They breathed great sighs of relief when I finally moved the business into a proper factory.

If you’re interested in the amazing twists and turns of that period, please respond to the PS at the end of this blog.]

The Triton Foundation was launched at the National Innovation Summit in February 2000, in front of 600 of Australia’s innovation “cream”. Even though – with lots of hard lobbying – I’d only managed to get a 3 minute speaking berth at one of the ‘break-out’ sessions later in the summit, I cheekily grabbed the microphone at the end of question time in the opening plenary session.

Explaining that I didn’t have a question as such, but rather a proposal to put to the Summit, I managed to deliver an 8 or 9 minute pitch to a hushed audience, who rose to their feet at the end of it, wildly applauding. They especially loved that I was the only program proponent there who was not asking for Government money, but was prepared to fund it all himself.

The concept grabbed lots of headlines and TV and radio appearances. The Minister for Industry, Science and Resources hastily had his lunch-time speech re-written to accommodate my vision, and every break over the three days of the Summit saw dozens of delegates queuing up to talk to me. I ended up with a stack of business cards a mile high from highly-credentialed people who wanted to be on the Board.

I could write a book about what happened next, and perhaps will one day, but suffice it to say, it almost killed me.

After two years as Chairman (and default CEO for most of that time). a good friend – who was also my GP at the time – decided I looked crook and needed a check-up. He almost dropped his stethoscope when checking my blood pressure: it was a catastrophic 235/120.

He said I was a stroke waiting to happen, a ‘dead man walking’, and threatened to call an ambulance to take me to hospital immediately if I didn’t pick up his phone right then and there, resign from the Foundation, and then go away for a long, long medical convalescence.

Dealing with politicians, bureaucrats, academics and worst of all, television network executives, had done my head in. Thousands of inventors had registered with us after the huge post-Summit publicity, and were all clamouring for help, so the pressure was on.

The thirteen very prominent people who joined me on the inaugural Board were mostly fine people, but extremely busy with their various careers and projects, so almost all of the work fell to me. As well as dealing with the TV networks, I did all the front of house as well, and delivered 51 speeches during 2000, criss-crossing the country every few day. It also fell to me to design all the systems for inventor registration, assessment and assistance. My workaholism was back, with a vengeance!

I could possibly have withstood it, but for the TV executives who drove me mad. They were so obsessed with the so called ‘reality TV’ shows like, Survivor, Big Brother, The Weakest Link etc that they couldn’t get their heads around a real reality TV show. They constantly looked for ways to turn it into a a ‘Game Show’, with winners and losers and the humiliation of the losers.

After more than two years of dealing with these wretched creatures, the best I could salvage was the concept of ‘The New Inventors’ which came onto the ABC in 2003, with the help of the Triton Foundation. It survived on air until 2008. It was a pale copy of the original ‘The Inventors’ but at least gave hundreds of Aussie inventors some precious airtime,

It was about this time (2008) that the Triton Foundation also came to an end, after the Victorian and Queensland Government funding that we’d organised ran out. My personal funding of it had come to an end years earlier, after my doctor’s ultimatum to quit and go away for a long break.

And while it didn’t make Australia ‘The Clever Country’ per se it did register and assist more than four thousand inventors and helped many with commercialising their ideas.


But back to 2003…The convalescence overseas lasted about five months. Returned to Australia early that year, feeling pretty broken and alone. Not surprisingly, I was missing my baby, which had created most of my self-esteem during that incredible 25 years of ownership.

It was also depressing me that the Triton Foundation was going pear-shaped under its visionless new management. Every time The New Inventors came on, I forced myself to watch it, but almost puked at the inanity of it all.

My GP friend prescribed anti-depressants, and luckily they worked and ended up being discontinued in less than six months.

Slowly, slowly, my joie d’ vivre began returning. Still having far too much money for my own good, I set up the George Lewin Foundation to act as a philanthropic vehicle.

I didn’t want to burn out again with another worthwhile project of my own, and preferred to give money to worthwhile organisations of my choosing. To this day, the GLF supports up to sixty different charities and causes in Australia and overseas.

Also in 2004, I was lucky enough to land a spot in the famous woodworking masterclasses conducted by Geoff Hannah, a Living National Treasure who lives in nearby Lismore and who teaches advanced woodwork three days a week. What a pleasure to sit at the feet of a Master, and learn. And there was a lot to learn. My woodworking skills were sadly deficient, considering I’d made my fortune inventing and then manufacturing and marketing woodwork machines.

[For those who don’t know the full story, I started mucking around with the idea of a saw bench in 1975 while struggling to build a dining room table. It was my first-ever woodwork project since school days. The next-door neighbour, who’d promised me the use of his big old cast iron saw bench and his radial arm saw, had abruptly moved out, leaving me without any machinery to do the job properly.

In developing my first prototype saw bench to harness the 9 1/4″ power saw I’d bought, my attention drifted from the dining table to the saw bench. And stayed there. And grew into my obsession. In the ensuing 25 years, I hardly built anything significant, beyond making thousands of sample cuts and joints while demonstrating the machines in hardware stores everywhere.]

Now, at last, I had the time, money and opportunity to develop some real woodworking skills, and under Geoff’s tutelage, built some (ahem) very impressive pieces over the next 9 years. Geoff taught me marquetry as well. He’s a legend in that art – arguably the best in Australia. (Google Geoff Hannah, and check out The Hannah Cabinet….an amazing item which he started in 2002, and which I watched being built between 2004 and completion in 2008.)


In 2007, I dodged a huge bullet. About one third of my wealth was tied up in the stock market, and I had had huge butterflies in my gut for some months about the way the market kept going up and up…knowing it would someday reverse direction.

Watching TV one night, Four Corners devoted the program to the impending US sub-prime mortgage crisis, and I watched intently. Next morning, I rang the stockbroker and said “Sell everything”. He was dumbfounded and argued with me saying “Ahhhh. That’s only gonna affect America. It won’t happen here. Do you realise how much money you’re making?”

“I don’t care”, I replied. “Sell everything.”

And so he did, emailing me three days later that I no longer owned any shares. The ASX index was around 6,700. Three days later, the market dropped precipitously, and kept dropping as the GFC hit, ending up around 4,200. Everyone thought I was a financial genius to get out when I did. (Nah. Just an avid TV watcher. I still can’t read a Balance Sheet properly.)

Editor’s note – here is the Sydney Morning Herald article on George Lewin, and his GFC dodging insight.

Also in 2007 the travel bug got me again, and so went travelling. While in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, I met a lovely woman and we ended up having almost six very happy years together, living in Chiang Mai and at my home in Australia, and travelling quite a bit as well to New Zealand, India, Cambodia and Europe. Sadly, the relationship reached a logical conclusion in 2012, and we ended it, but have remained friends for life.

2013 was a fairly bleak year personally, with several friends deeply disappointing me in different ways. And then in September of that year, Toady Rabid became the Prime Minister, and as a dyed-in-the-wool Leftie, I was appalled at the landslide victory Australians gave him.

Deciding to bugger off again, headed back to Thailand because that was the last country in which I’d experienced happiness, and it was the foreign country I knew better than any other, having visited here many times. And I much prefer Asian women and Asian food to our home-grown variety.


Not wanting to get under the feet of my ex in Chiang Mai, I headed for the South of the country, and ended up in Phuket, famous for its superb beaches. Big mistake. While the beaches are indeed lovely, Phuket is a shallow, highly materialistic and relatively very corrupt part of Thailand.

A lot of the Buddhistic values that originally attracted me to this country have been eroded over the years, doubtless because of the corrupting influence of lots of us foreigners flooding here in search of cheap, and not so cheap, thrills.

But being a new kid in town, I didn’t realise these problems until later. In the meantime, under the influence of my first friend here – a young tyro of a real estate agent from South Africa – I signed up to buy a villa, off the plan, in Kamala Beach. So effective was he as an agent, that he persuaded me to order two villas in the same project, to get a even better deal, saying “You’ll be able to sell the investment villa for a nice profit even before it’s built.”

Wrong. The market began nose-diving as soon as my signatures were on the contracts, and has continued heading south ever since, worsening now as thousands of new villas come onto the market. My villas took 21 months to complete. They were supposed to be finished in 6 months. The construction was a nightmarish exercise, with constant acrimony between myself and the Developer, and to a lesser extent with the contractors.

The only redeeming facet of this ill-fated real estate misadventure is that I have a lovely 8m x 6m sound-proofed workshop in the villa that I’m living in with my Thai girlfriend, and spend much of my time designing and building one-off pieces of furniture.

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The main material I use here is delightful Teak, some of it re-cycled. It’s a wonderful, weather-proof, termite-proof, highly stable material that polishes to a beautiful lustre…but unfortunately all the mature trees in Thailand and Burma have been logged. Teak is now an incredibly controlled resource and huge penalties exist for selling and even transporting it.

For some bewildering reason, known only to the bewildering Thai authorities, they allow limited sale of thin and narrow profiles – even if they come from mature trees.

So I have to buy my teak as 2.5m lengths of 100×12 or 100x8mm (4″x 1/2″ and 4″x 5/16″) and have become quite adept at using it to build furniture that has a strength core of marine ply (or AA quality regular ply) but which is then fully enveloped in the thin Teak boards. Almost like applying veneer, except that it’s 8-12mm thick and adds great strength, rather than 0.6mm thick veneer, which is purely cosmetic.

If say 45×45 (2″x2″) wood is needed for table legs, I’ll make hollow legs, by ripping four strips of the 100×12 to the desired width, with 45 degree bevels on all long edge. Then with a lowered blade, I cut spline grooves along the bevels, and glue the four lengths together using the ply splines for location and tight rubber bands for applying uniform gluing force. They’re incredibly strong, light-weight, use less of the precious teak, and look and feel exactly like solid legs.

Deco coffee table made of Wenge, Tasmanian Myrtle, and Makore Mahogany veneer

Deco coffee table made of Wenge, Tasmanian Myrtle, and Makore Mahogany veneer

So I sort of puddle through my days now, and spend up to two hours a day staying fit – treadmill, stretches, and the 9-letter word puzzle in the Sydney Morning Herald to keep my brain juicy.

I give thanks for my workshop, my man-cave, and for the hours of joy – and frustration – it affords. Although it needs to be said that my girl is always welcome there. She is a dab hand in the workshop, always handing me exactly the right tool before I even know I need it, often coming up with ideas on how to do things better. And if I haven’t got a proper job for her, she cheerfully sweeps up the sawdust and shavings, and organises my tools.

She’s a highly skilled masseuse and gives me the most superb massages any time I like, and helps keep my increasingly creaky bod going. She’s also a fabulous cook, and in fact the smells of superb Thai cooking are starting to waft under me nose right now, so I’ll love you and leave you for now. Hopefully I’ll update this blog one day…in less than 16 years this time.

Cheers, and make sure you always work safely,


PS I briefly alluded above [the bits in square brackets] to some of the other periods of the first 25 years of Triton. And doing this blog – which I’ve enjoyed – has reminded me that I really should write up those years as well, because that story is inspirational and still informative and useful today to other start-ups. And also because if I don’t write it soon, there’s a danger it’ll turn to mush in me ‘ead.

So if you think that is a good idea – and could perhaps form the basis for a future book – then please let me know by posting a comment on Stu’s Shed as a way of encouraging me to do it.

Deep throat revisited

It is actually called a Big Gulp, but got your attention!


I got this hood back in 2008, with the idea of using it on the lathe.  I never really was able to get it working well enough for me – just not enough draw from the dust extractor.

Think I might have just solved that problem.

This is the dust extractor I have just purchased, from Timbecon

557867-DC-2900_1Looks small in the picture, but it is quite the monster.  3HP, 2900cfm, 22.5″H2O static pressure.  8″ inlet, 400L of dust collection capacity. $900.

I was watching a timelapse I made of a process on the CNC, and I’d occasionally come in with a shot of compressed air to keep the working area clean.  Occurred to me that this would be right where the big gulp would come into its own – firstly sitting behind the CNC, drawing air and therefore any airborne particles away from the cutter, the workshop, and me.  And secondly, to catch any and all dust that gets sprayed back when I do use the compressed air.

You may wonder why I don’t have collection right at the cutter –  two reasons.  Firstly, I don’t want to pull the small parts up and out from where they are cut during nesting operations (particularly when they are only held down by the vacuum table), and secondly, it gets in the way of the camera!  I still have a lot of refinement to go, but these sorts of things are popping into my head now the issue of dust extractor power has been taken care of.

Given I also now have capacity spare in the dust extractor (as mentioned, it can take 1×8″ (200mm) in, which is the same cross section as 4×4″ tubes simultaneously.  Using anything less than 4 is only restricting flow, it doesn’t mean that the one or two being used are suddenly given a huge power boost (sadly)), I can plan to do some simultaneous collecting – such as one collecting on, or near the tool and one down at floor level where shaving accumulate/can be swept (or kicked) towards etc.  If I don’t close the blast gates to every tool other than the one being used, that won’t cause a real problem either.  It is going to take a bit of planning to reroute the dust extraction system to maximise the flowrate, even if that means running a much larger trunk line, or dual smaller lines across the workshop.  Who would have thought a 4″ (100mm) pipe would be regarded as a smaller line?!

One thing I am going to work on, is positioning the dust extractor in one of the storage areas I have alongside the main shed, so I don’t loose any valuable floorspace in the main shed, and minimise noise (not that the unit is particularly noisy).  The unit is 2600mm high (mostly those bags), so I will have to work out how to make it work with a lot less head-room.  The main workshop has no trouble with that height, and even a lower roof would be ok (the bags could just press against the roof – it would decrease overall airflow, but not massively).  However, where I have to put it, this may prove a real test.  What I will need to do is come up with a way to allow that much air to pass through something that has a lot less overall height.  Pleated filters may work (increased surface area because of the pleats means less overall height required), but I want to see what else I can come up with.  Ballooning bags perhaps?  (same surface area, larger diameter, and therefore less height).

The other ‘issue’ I see, is drawing that much air out of a workshop draws the same amount of air in from outside.  Where it could be really hot (summer) or cold (winter) – neither of which is desirable.  So instead, my thought is to place a filtered vent from the area the extractor is stored back into the main workshop.  That way the shop air is recirculated, not lost.  So long as I am not then pumping micron-sized particles back into the workshop (which is what filters are for), I don’t see this would be a particular problem.

Watching the timelapse, I see a huge amount of sawdust on the floor of the workshop (bad collection practices).  I think that will become more and more an issue of the past.


Maximising Yield – the Vacuum Table Story

For months I have been bantering around the idea of a vacuum table for the CNC router, but each time decided that screws or pins were easy enough, and the whole issue stayed in the too-hard basket.

As I have been doing quite a bit of nesting work recently, it gave me pause to thought – for a one-off, a few screws are all very well, but the combination of that, and the significant time wasting of using tabs to restrain the cut components (both drawing them, and then physically having to cut and remove them) was proving an incredible time waster.

So I finally was pushed into addressing the whole material hold-down issue.

I started doing a bit of research online, but the results were less than helpful, and I felt as a whole, a lot more complicated than necessary.  So instead, I decided to build an idea I had, and just see if it worked.

I did use the CNC for the following steps, but that is certainly not necessary, and secondly, while I am using this on the CNC router, there is absolutely no reason this cannot now be applied to other areas of woodworking.  Nor do I expect I have come up with anything novel, but in going back to first principles, hopefully I have significantly simplified the solution.

So to start, I took a thick piece of MDF (22mm or so, which I had to hand.  I would have used thicker, but the 32mm MDF I bought last time from Bunnies was only some of their promotional stock.  Not sure what they were promoting, because they don’t stock it otherwise).  With a 1/2″ ball nose router bit, I cut a matrix of tracks, 5mm deep, and about 20mm apart, both horizontally and vertically, stopping about 10mm from the edge.

Next, the edges of this board were sealed.  I know people use some edge tape, or shellac for this, but I thought PVA glue would suffice!

This board was then screwed down to the bed of the CNC machine, and a hole just big enough for the end of a vacuum hose was drilled, all the way down and right through the table.  The hose of the vacuum (connected up to a cyclone separator) was jammed into this hole from underneath.

A second thick board of MDF was laid on top of this bed, and the vacuum switched on.

Test one – does it suck? Yes it can! The first proof of concept is a winner.

Into this second board I cut the same matrix of slots.  By then flipping this board over, each of the passageways is doubled in size (adding together the bottom and top halves), and also exposes a significant area of the soft, porous core of the MDF.  Each passage is now 10mm diameter, so that gives significant passageways for the air to pass through.

The vacuum was switched on again, and the top surface of this second board (the sacrificial board) was machined away with a surfacing bit (otherwise called a spoilboard bit).  And that is what this upper board actually is – a spoilboard.  When it gets too badly cut up, it can be flattened again, and this repeated until it is too thin, when it is then thrown away and a new board takes over.  By planing away 0.5mm of the upper surface of the spoilboard, the hard, compressed (and more non-porous) upper surface is removed.

Now I have seen a number of vacuum tables, and spoilboards with a large matrix of holes drilled though it.  Don’t need it.  The core of the MDF is so porous, that the vacuum can draw air directly through the MDF.  And that in a nutshell, is my vacuum table!

Upper board (spoilboard) from underneath, and the upper surface of the lower portion of the vacuum table

Upper board (spoilboard) from underneath, and the upper surface of the lower portion of the vacuum table


Detail of vacuum table

Vacuum connection

Vacuum connection

I’m using a basic Shopvac for this, so I do have a bit of a concern that this will shorten the life of the vac.  I possibly need a vacuum pump, but this will do in the meantime.  The cyclone separator is to try to keep as much MDF away from the vacuum, to try to stop it being killed even more prematurely.

The proof is in the trial.

With a sheet of 3mm MDF laid on top, the vacuum switched on, and voila – it sucked big time, right through the MDF.  The board to be cut was held firmly, enough to run a trail nesting job.

Without tabs.

It was a complete success.  Other than the noise of the vacuum cleaner, I could not fault the process.  The vacuum will soon find itself in the shed next to the workshop, and switched on and off with the remote power switch I happen to have in there (the actual switch is right near the CNC as it happens).

Test job, no tabs

Test job, no tabs

I cut out about 5 patterns in total, and each time it worked perfectly.

Next, I tried another idea.  If the only reason for the material between each piece is to support the piece as it is being cut, it is really necessary if the piece is supported by the vac?

So I ran a large job with a full sheet, no tabs, and only 2mm between each piece (or more precisely, between each path the CNC was trying to follow).  And 5mm from the edge.

The result?



Pretty much nothing left, what is gone is the project, leaving this sad skeleton.

So there you have it – my poor mans successful attempt at making a vacuum table.

Beam Pump

The beam pump is one of those really simple mechanisms that have been around for donkey’s years.  They are in heavy use in the American South.sxo0redqpl_oil_and_gas 5a9b9-wideopenoil

The beam pump (like the beam engine) takes the rotary motion from the prime mover, and transfers it into a linear motion.

mediumThinking about it, a piston in a combustion engine is just a beam engine in reverse.

In the goldfields, a beam pump is one way that was used to pump water out of the mines (one of the disadvantages for mining below the water table).  A steam engine makes a good prime mover, and a counterweighted beam pump can have a significant stroke to draw water up from the deep.

At Sovereign Hill there is a working beam pump which you could almost miss, given how big it is!

SH-47 SH-64

Should have gotten some video of the beam pump itself in operation – slowly shunting back and forth.  I did have a closer look at the prime mover.  The comparatively small size of the engine just goes to show how powerful steam engines can be.

SH-50 SH-51 SH-52


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