Keeping it up.

Strange effects courtesy of the scanner.

Prompted by my lovely niece Rose, who’s currently away in Germany on a working year for her language degree, todays post has some drawings in it. She quite rightly let me know that all the bike building stuff is all very well but, where are all the sketches etc that filled the blog when it started? I suppose I had got a bit engrossed in the bike build so, for Rose and all other fans of them here are a couple of drawings.

You will remember from previous posts that I was having trouble deciding on backgrounds for some of the images, I still am, it’s definitely becoming a work in progress though my inner self wishes I would just get on and resolve it once and for all. The reasons I’m posting this sketch are two-fold. Firstly I wanted to see how one of the drawings would turn out if I employed an old technique that I haven’t used for ages. Namely inking in the sketch with a very fine tipped felt pen and then gently “washing” over selected areas with a damp brush to create the shading I wanted. I was working just on some thin layout paper as this was a bit of an experiment. I had a feeling that the paper would warp with the moisture from the brush, but I ignored it. Then I put it in the scanner and this is the result, a kind of sunburst pattern around the drawing. I understand that it’s the result of how the light from the scanner falls and moves across the paper, but it’s a pleasant surprise that it creates this effect around the drawing but not across it. Interesting. Backgrounds by mistake, perhaps there is something in this, leaving things to a kind of creative serendipity.

This other drawing is one that I did a little while ago. Again, my sharing this one with you is to do with background again. here I tried to follow up on the idea that I create a partial background using a distinct part of the drawing, namely the smoke billowing out around the rear tyre. I’m not sure that it works that well as I don’t think I rendered the smoke particularly competently. It’s an idea I want to try again. I think I overdid the level of detail in the puffiness of the smoke, perhaps a simpler approach would work better. I do like however the way you can leave holes in the smog through which one can see parts of the bike and wheel. The only drawback to this is that it’s a lot of work to create a drawing that in the end doesn’t work. But that’s half the fun is it not, and we have to do these things in order to learn and move things forward.

So if we believe that we should try and learn something new every day, then today I’ve learned not to leave such big gaps between my sketch posts and that my funny old scanner has the capacity for unexpected creativity. Who would have thought it?

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Card shark.

In the previous post I said I’d say a few short things about card, or cardboard, and how it can help during a bike build. A lot of what follows may very well be obvious to some of you but it’s worth saying as there are bound to be some for whom this will be very useful stuff. There are of course a thousand and one things that you can do with card and I’m not going to attempt to cover them all here but, some are really relevant to us when making parts for assemblies when we don’t have full technical drawings to hand or we want to try out ideas quickly without the hassle of wasting precious resources like our stocks of metal sheet etc.

I use card a great deal in my professional life, for both proving ideas and for making complete models of various projects for clients. Some of the resulting constructions are deadly simple and others much more complex. In fact some of the work I’ve been doing over the past year has involved making whole rooms from card as a first step to proving out designs for aircraft interiors, in full size. Extreme card modelmaking in a sense. In order to try and make sense of what can easily turn out to be a quite complicated subject I’ll they and keep the following simple by looking at the two extremes of what mocking things up in card means to me.

Firstly card comes in two basic forms, rigid and flexible, all card being pliable to some degree. Rigid covers everything from foam core, see below, to the grey stuff you find as the backing on a good quality sketch pad. Flexible card is invariably much thinner, only about 0,5mm thick, and usually white. The kind of stuff you can buy at your local art shop. We call it ticket card and it’s much easier to bend, though like all sheet materials it will only bend in one plane. Of course there are many other varieties available but frankly I tend to steer clear of other types for what I consider to be good reason. Here are a couple of examples. Grey or light brown cards that you find on the back of a sketch pad or sold as basic mounting card look attractive because they are thin, about 1- 2mm thick. They look useful enough but have their own problems. Often made of layers of rolled or compressed pulp they can be hard work to cut neatly with a craft knife requiring several passes and a bugger if you’re trying to make fine details, no end of furry edges and corners. They also have a nasty habit of delaminating just when you don’t want them to or cracking, especially when you’ve done your best to score a line in readiness for a neat bend or crease. They other card that I steer clear of is common or garden box card or corrugated cardboard. It’s great for boxes to hold our shoes but useless for virtually everything else. It compresses when you apply the slightest pressure to it, makes your blade wander when cutting and worst of all it has a propensity to bend and crease at exactly the point and time when you least want it to, reducing your carefully prepared mock up into a floppy mess.

Here's one I made earlier.

The picture above, and it’s an old project so probably safe to post without causing any issues, is of a full size proof of concept model for a new business class aircraft seat. This model is made using foam core which is essentially two sheets of thin card with a foam centre, forming a kind of light weight and fairly rigid sandwich. It comes in varying thicknesses up to 10mm thick and is great stuff for creating large pieces quickly and cleanly. This is kind of Rolls-Royce card and is invariably accompanied by details created in more conventional card which is a lot thinner and much more flexible. The point I want to make in showing you this model is that foam card, although a fantastic material when used in flat pieces, is not naturally disposed to going around corners and needs to be encouraged to do so by relieving the stresses on the inside of bends. The striped areas on the model are where you cut through the card layer on the inside of the bend only and any compression in the bend is taken up by the foam core. Of course this technique requires patience in cutting out the strips and has its limits as the card will snap if you haven’t removed enough material from the inside face. Sometimes you have to cut the foam out too in strips just to get the stuff to hold the curve you want. Yes it’s time consuming but the results speak for themselves and one ends up with good sturdy models that retain their shape. This is the kind of stuff I’d use if fleshing out the form for a petrol tank. It’s great for creating all the internal ribbing and support structure which I would then “skin” with something thinner.

The parts that I mocked up in card for the bike build used thin ticket card, and are at the other end of the spectrum to foam core models. It might look bloody simple but again, there are very good reasons for using this material. Its thickness, or lack of it, makes it perfect for marking out and cutting quickly and accurately. A single pass with a sharp blade is usually sufficient. Being thin makes it much easier to cut out fine details and curves, either freehand or using a template. It bends predictably and when gently scored enables very fine bends and creases. Finally, because it’s not that much thinner than thin sheet metal it’s great for making almost facsimile parts which can then be flattened out and used as an accurate template for the final part. Oh, and you can cut it with scissors which is a mighty handy attribute.

Wow, this is turning into a long one. Not much more to go.

When I used to teach at a design school many of the students would say that the above is all very well but how do you glue things together because paper glues all seem to take an age to set. In some instances you can use good old fashioned wood glue or PVA adhesive but generally you don’t want to use even that much time. The secret lies in three small words: Hot Glue Gun. What a fantastic invention. I’ve used various makes and models over the years. Some are no more use than a chocolate tea pot, others much better. In the end I bought my own, it’s a constant companion made by an american company called Arrow if I remember rightly, and it’s the best I’ve ever used and must be over ten years old now. Like all good tool purchases it’s certainly worth buying good quality for a price rather than going cheap only to have to replace it soon after. Hot glue is perfect for mocking up in card believe me.

Finally here’s a couple of pics of some of the tools I use when making things in card. A selection of circle and curve templates, some set squares, a decent steel ruler and a small selection of French Curves. Like my glue gun these travel with me everywhere and though they cost a bit to buy initially they repay you in spades, just be careful if using them as cutting guides. The ruler is a narrow, thin and bendy one, great for measuring around curves, saves on all that trigonometry we were supposed to have learned at school!

All of the above is great for creating mock ups and templates for our various bike parts but none of them are much good if we don’t have to hand the most important tool of all, a craft knife, or scalpel, with a fresh sharp blade in it.

Support your local fender.

Contrasting profiles.

Following my slight diversion to talk about that stunning Moto Guzzi, here we are back again to get started on the metalwork that’s going to hold my rear fender in place. Revisiting my brief again and looking at where I’d got to so far I could see that I was looking to make at least two pieces that would hold the fender on the one hand and then help to tidy up the back end on the other. So the first thing was to turn the piece I’d sketched in my notebook into 3D and see where I stood. I had the mounting plate I’d put onto the frame rails as one fixing point and I had the cross piece formed by the seat support as another, so I reckoned my next bit would join these two and reach back to support the fender behind the seat mount. You’ll see also from the picture above that I had a mis-match between the curvature of my rolled section and that of the inner plastic guard which sat in front of the rear tyre. I’d need something to deal with that too but for now I wanted to get on with the fender support.

Crisp thin card, lovely stuff.

It’s an age old adage, and you’ll here it from many a craftsman/maker, that it’s always best to measure twice and cut once. This simple advice has saved my bacon on many an occasion. In situations such as this where I’m working without any kind of formal technical drawing of a part I bring a second safety net into play and that is to make pieces in card first, change and modify things until I’m happy and then carefully replicate what I end up with in metal or whatever material I happen to be working in. Again you’ll hear it from all quarters that knocking things up in card is a great way to avoid time consuming, and sometimes expensive mistakes. I’ll say a bit more about card in the following post.

Holes added for visual lightness.

Happy that my card creation was what I wanted I marked out the resultant shape in flat form on my sheet of steel, making any final adjustments to dimensions¬† and hole positions. I did most of the metal cutting for this build with a jigsaw fitted with a fine toothed blade for metals. Working slowly and methodically it proved to be the best way to cut out flat parts that required the minimum of hand finishing by file. Cut out and finished, I bent the piece to shape in a large bench vice and positioned it to allow me to mark the hole centres for fixing it to my frame plate and the fender, which by this stage I’d shortened to close to the final length.

Tie bars in place.

I then riveted it in place on the plate and put a small bolt through the hole to secure it to the fender. This really went some way to eliminating the flexing I was worried about, particularly in the vertical plane but there was still quite a bit of movement in the horizontal. I decided that I needed to create some side supports and elected to put two thin tie bars between the seat support mounts and the sides of the fender part. I had some scraps of stainless tubing to hand and these worked perfectly after I’d flattened the ends of my lengths, drilled mounting holes, put a radius at each end and bolted them in place. Fixing things in this way, with nuts and bolts, meant that I would always be in a position to take it all apart should I ever need to mend, modify, replace or repaint anything in the future. At the same time I chose to make everything even more sturdy by drilling two more M6 bolt holes through the seat support cross member and the new fender support piece. At this point in the game everything was rock solid and I was more than happy.

Next up, finding a home for all the stuff that was going to be mounted on the fender itself.

Every once in a while.

Today I was going to post about the next phase of metal bashing for the 250 build but, I’ve changed my mind following a visit to the Ace Cafe yesterday. It was another sunny Sunday in a chain of bright spring weather we’re having here in London, and a short spin up the road was called for. As it happened it was Italian Bike Day at the Ace and I decided to drop in on my way to nowhere in particular and back. I’m glad I did as there is almost always something to be seen up at the cafe that stirs the soul.

I’ve always tried to avoid the temptation, and will continue to resist it, to turn the blog into an endless catalogue of images of stuff that interests me without much comment. There are plenty of those around already for our delectation. But yesterday I was prompted to think that on occasion, when I come across something on my travels that catches my eye I’ll reach for the camera and share it with my readers. So here’s the first one.

First things first, this is a Moto Guzzi that belongs to a sculptor called Ed who lives in south London. Ed put the bike together himself over a number of years and in my mind you can assuredly say that it was built for a purpose by a man with a vision. I love it. It’s a fantastic combination of old and not so old, all wrapped in a patina that one can virtually smell.

It was initially parked quietly on the edge of the “display area”, not attracting much attention unlike the collection of shiny and immaculately turned out exotica that invariably fill the car park on a day like Sunday. It was only when he wheeled it out to centre stage that peoples attention was alerted and a small group of admirers gathered to fire questions at its happy owner. I wandered over, liked what I saw and reached for the camera. For some reason only known to my subconscious it wasn’t important to know the size of the engine, it was big, nuff said, or where all the various parts had come from. It was just a great bike to look at, a true “bitsa” in the best interpretation of the word and displayed an unashamedly honest approach to its engineering and finish. There was nothing flashy about it but Ed’s sense of, and attention to, detail was a breath of fresh air after nearly an hour of shining Ducati specials armed with expensive aftermarket components, and concours standard Laverdas.

It seemed obvious that this Moto Guzzi was built to do the three main things in a bikes armoury well: go, stop, and carve round corners. As I said, I didn’t ask many questions but from the look of the front end, taken from a Ducati Monster perhaps(?), equipped with two huge discs and a pair of Billet 6 callipers it was a serious tool. The front wheel was capped in a wonderfully curvaceous carbon fibre mudguard, it was virtually the only shiny bit on view, though you could still admire the carbon weave below the lacquered surface. Its high tech origins a fine counterpoint to the headlight mounts fashioned from aluminium angle and the double seat which seemed perched atop the frame rails. The whole bike is covered in lovely touches. From the repeated pattern of cut outs on the cylinder head protectors and the battery support plate under the seat, to the small adjustable tie bars that secure the carb tops to the rocker box covers. I can only assume these are to stop the carbs rattling themselves to death. From the modern radial master cylinders for clutch and front brake to the discrete little oil pressure gauge atop the left clip-on by the tachometer. I liked the fact that the fluid reservoirs didn’t match and that the rear tyre didn’t need to be the size of Sussex to look utterly purposeful.

Time and again my eye returned to the frame. I don’t know the history of it but the colour is what I remember most, a lovely kind of duck egg green. Such an unusual colour and it had something aeronautical about it. It reminded me of trips to the RAF museum at Hendon in north London where peering into open undercarriage and bomb bay doors one gets a eyeful of the inner structure of some of the planes, their very skeletons, and they are invariably covered in a coat of greenish paint. So in a way very apt for a big bike frame.

The whole bike though was dominated by the engine and the enormous polished fuel tank. One doesn’t appreciate how big a big Guzzi engine is until you’re up close and personal like this. It’s a fantastic thing, a true statement of engineering purpose and when equipped with two huge carbs and a pair of the most extreme bell-mouths I’ve ever clapped eyes on, one that intends to make the very earth shake.

I could go on. Needless to say I had to go before hearing the beast fire up but, I’m sure this won’t be the last time I see this bike. I’ll be looking out and listening out for it. It was great to meet Ed and learn a little about his fabulous motorcycle, a true testament to the values of creativity and individualism that many of us admire. He says he’s thinking of another project and if it turns out anything like this one it’ll be a cracker. Good luck with that Ed.