Thursday, 31 October 2013

Handy Gadgets — Swiss Army Knife Pin & Key Fob Magnet

Here's a couple of useful tips that will make your fishing life a little easier.

Now I presume every man alive possesses a Victorinox Swiss Army knife and that it's the classic one with two blades, can and bottle opener cum screwdrivers, corkscrew, a pair of useless tweezers too weak to be capable of extracting a splinter and a toothpick at hand for when a piece of sunday lunch lamb gets lodged between molars.

What most owners of this indispensable key fob tool don't know is that it's capable of carrying another really useful tool that will do the job the tweezers can't and in a secure place where few would expect it.

There's a little hole in the sideplate in the corkscrew housing that will accept a ball-headed pin and keep it captive once the corkscrew is closed. Amazing that the Swiss Army never thought of using it for the purpose (what is its purpose?) but having a sharp pin about the person is a useful thing for all kinds of jobs.

For fishing I use it to unravel that most annoying curse of the fine tackle angler — the wind knot.

Nothing else will do the job as well as a very sharp pin does.

The second tip is to let one of those rare earth neodymium magnets live on your key collection. Tiny little inconsequential looking things — they have an attraction to ferrous metals way beyond their size. Just get one and drop it onto the keys, fobs and rings, and it will exist there faithfully, never ever leave you, and be ever ready whenever its considerable powers are required.

Mine has never once dropped off. It just can't do that. Its power is such that it needs no attachment device of any kind, and one small magnet will hang the whole bunch from an iron door handle...

For angling its primary use it that of tying rigs and keeping and finding swivels and hooks. Take one from the packet, attach it to the magnet, and it will be there forever should you forget about it. Lose one in the grass, run the keys over its approximate position, and it will find the magnet by jumping out of its hidden lair like a flea finds its dog.

Just don't let it near the trays in the tackle box or you'll have all your lures attached!

.... actually, that suggests a further use.

With nothing more elaborate than a single blob of glue, I'm now considering sticking them on the butts of all my rods that don't possess whipped-on wire hook-keepers...

Now there's a neat and tidy idea!

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Canal Zander — A Lot and Not a Jot

James Denison came up to Coventry on Thursday. Not for a chance at a monster specimen but for the chance of setting a new personal best for zander above that of his one and only lifetime catch of the species at 2lb 8oz. Now that's dedication in my book, and considering James lives an hour or so from Bury Hill where he could go straight out and catch a 'double' for the price of a day ticket but without having to undergo the pain of learning things the hard way, I think, admirable.

I really didn't think he would have to learn things the hard way here with me on the Coventry Canal.

Three years ago I'd thrashed out my way with these seemingly impossible creatures. Run after run, missed, hooked and bumped, with twelve takes per hour during the most furious sessions resulting in perhaps a single fish banked, three lost but the rest never even pricked. That was how it was. Really tough, infuriating, and all of of the time, bamboozling.

As with all things, though, once enough mistakes are made and trials are no longer such great errors, an answer is imminent and when it finally arrived was not only astonishingly simple, but stupefyingly obvious...

'Zander aren't pike!'

And once that was established I started fishing for zander as if they weren't pike just as I'd fish for roach as if they weren't chub.

James arrives at Coventry

From our meet at the train station we set off straight to Lanes tackle shop to stock up on bait and then across the city centre to the canal basin where we'd begin our day long, five mile jaunt to my manor in the North — Longford.

Within a half-mile and a few exploratory casts in likely looking places it was obvious that sunny bright weather over the clear water conditions found near the city were not exactly ideal, so I suggested a straight line hop up the Foleshill Road, cutting out a two mile loop, and then rejoining the canal at the old Courtaulds factory site where I knew the water would be coloured by increased boat traffic.

The long straight at Courtaulds

It was, but still we watched motionless floats and it didn't seem they'd move all day long should we stick around that place, and so I then suggested we walk straight to Longford Junction just a minute's walk from my home and fish where I could guarantee James the positive chance of a run or two from our chosen fish.

I chose a moored boat casting two small slices of roach tight against the hull, both anchored to the floor with half an ounce of weight, both on large single hooks, and with the line sunken to stop tow pulling the bait so much as an inch out of its own scent trail. My long experience of this local water and its zander populations said this approach would work just as well now as it always had before....

James allowed his whole sprat baits mounted on paired treble hooks to drift about into open water suspended off bottom a few inches over the shelf but as much as three feet when over the boat track. Without any successful experience of using sea fish as bait, whole fish as bait, or allowing any bait to drift (but plenty of headbanging failures due to mounting bait on treble hooks to my credit) I hadn't a clue if his strategy would work... was pretty sure it couldn't... but was very interested to see if it might!

Ah, diddums!

After an hour of us lolling about on the towpath in the surprising warmth of the autumn sun, at last my float twitched, lurched and then rode steadily toward the darkness beneath the boat. A zander, but about as small a specimen as can be caught on even the small sized slice of roach I typically use.

I cast straight back to the exact spot. And I mean the exact spot to within a foot, no more.

Five minutes later the float was off again.

The better to see you with...

Not surprisingly, with two runs within a few minutes to one rod after hours of absolute inactivity to all four, James altered his approach accordingly, fining down to slim pencil floats, using a pair of my pattern of single hook and small pieces of sliced roach hung off them by a sliver of skin. Our rigs were to all intents and purposes, identical now.

Moving along to another moored boat and casting tight to it, within no time his float was toodling off too...

But the strike failed to hook up. Damnit!

If there's a splash on the side of the hull, then it's close enough

Bites did not return at Longford and so for a last chance I suggested yet another move and to one of my very best banker swims on the local canals. A place almost guaranteed to produce runs whatever the conditions, day or night, I was certain that if James would have any luck today then it had to be there.

Amazingly, despite deploying the same rigs and baits and without any crucial difference either of us could fathom, it wasn't to be. Puzzlingly, James' baits went utterly ignored.

Meanwhile I had a very short dropped run, immediately cast straight back to the same square yard where it was picked up again, dropped again, cast back again, and finally picked up good and proper resulting in the hooking of a very good fish indeed. Shame it got off the hook, as they tend to do!

Shame about that big oily boil of water too. Only a very big fish could have produced that...

And then the other rod was off but in came a fish at the opposite extreme of scale and identical to the baby caught earlier on.

I'd had my fun. I'd far rather things had been the other way around, though. James with all the action, myself the onlooker.

What do I care if I don't catch zander today? Living so close by I'll come fish at precisely twenty two minutes and thirty nine seconds past three on Halloween morning. Should I choose. I'll bring along a china mugful of steaming tea, a bacon sarnie on a plate and consume them red hot whilst I watch my floats. If I like.

Blimey, I'll up sticks, go home for an extra sugar and a dollop of seasoning, bung the rods fully made up in the front yard, stir the tea, spread the mustard, then return to resume fishing with the snack still piping (and I have done before!) but James travels all this way, has to take what comes at some expense and then must return home exhausted at the end of a very long day, but with nothing but the experience of watching someone else catch what he came for, to show for it.

I don't know how these things work. We were fishing every which way the same by half way through the day. Maybe the only difference in the end was it mattering a lot and not a jot.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

A Shed for All Seasons — Scrapper's Delight

As mentioned previously, the retrieval from other peoples rubbish piles of useful stuffs begged the question of what to do with that which was clearly of value but not directly to the toolery project and its immediate material requirements.

There were skips where the householder may just as well have pinned a tenner to the topmost thing in the dusty pile and had done with it...

The junction, the union, the chromed mixer tap,
The lock and its handle, the door hinge and latch,
The fingerplate, knocker and letterbox flapping
Of no use to me, but tot for the scrapping.

'Where's there's muck there's brass,' so they used to say when money was worth its own weight.

And today when a penny is plated steel and worth a fraction of face value?

Wherever there's skips there's fixtures cast in brass that can turn an honest one.

'Mixed brass' because it has other metals in it
Large and weighty stuff in the form of wet room fitments and door furniture, and at £2.55 per kilo current rate for 'Mixed Brass' up Milver Metals, it soon totted up to a handsome profit for the small effort in removing from the host objects.

But, wherever elements or elemental forces of nature are required to flow,

That's where the oysters are found containing the skip diver's pearl...

The transformer, the solenoid, the lock actuator,
The socket, the switch and the circuit breaker.
The pump and exchanger, the boiler and piping,
The flex and the cable, the earth with its striping.
The de-guassing coil and the yoke round the telly,
The hoover? The motor with coils in its belly.
These are the sources of scrap metal 'proper,'
In the wrecking apart for their No1 copper.

Hard work though, is copper.

None of that easy work of brass — all in the one heavy piece. A screw here or a bolt to turn there and what won't budge the wrecking driver prises.

Unless lucky enough to find a half coil of annealed tubing some fool DIY'er chucked out as surplus to requirements, with copper it's all hidden inside things or either it's joined to stuff. Very rarely is it gotten without effort.

The pearl. No 1 bright copper

It pays the best return of all, though, with 'No 1 Bright' weighing in at £4.30 a kilo and on a good day with strong market demand, more still. However, hardly any is No1 as comes out the skip.

Some is 'No 2,' some 'Clean Heavy,' some 'Braziery.' That from transformers, yokes and motors with its varnish coat, 'Burnt Wire.'

No doubt there's yet more grades of copper I'm to discover the name of on tomorrow's chits...

Burnt wire. And though none is burnt as such, that's the grade for tinned or varnished copper wire unless it's cleaned up bright and shiny pink. No easy task

All categories are priced in a descending scale down to measly amounts for unstripped X-mas lights and cabling, though all are as 99.9% pure as the driven snow without their contaminants, patinas, dirts, stains, paints, wrappings, base metal attachments and leaden solders, because anything less is an alloy and goes in the mixed brass bucket.

So, the first task of the canny scrapper, once a pile of various types of copper containing objects are amassed, is to sort, sift and grade and then remove as much plastic and tarnish and/or other metals as possible — taking that work from the middleman's hands — and thereby transforming as much as can be improved into the most valuable grades.

This is 'mixed brass' at best unless a great deal of work is spent separating the copper from it

Within a month, what with all the lead, brass and copper and a big pile of aluminium weighed in for their poundage in raw worth and just about everything else got for free, the toolery was not just costing as little as humanly possible, it was costing much less than nothing. In fact it was in business to the tune of £213.03 and with scrap reserves in stock.

The trouble is...

Every now and then something glints and gleams and catches my magpie shed builder's eye.

A pile of not-for-the-scrapyard baubles accumulates and before long there's bits and bobs of brass and copper laying about the yard waiting for some fancied future usage.

There's this great big length of hexagonal brass from a fancy cistern handle mechanism that I just plain like in the bar for its aesthetic appeal alone.

Too nice for the crucible, I'm afraid...

Then there's a dirty and paint encrusted ten-foot length of heavy-walled inch and half copper piping sourced from a friendly 'vendor' outside his big Georgian house in our 'village' along with another thirty quids worth of unwanted copper and lead.

Well, I thought I'd keep it by... weighed four kilos alone and would net £17 that very day with a buff and shine to No1 standard...

Nevertheless. Either future use or ornament, I wasn't entirely sure for which. But I just had to have it about the place just in case one or the other occurred to me later. As you do.

Enter cluttered yard, our missus...

Conversation follows.

"My, my, what a thick dirty plonker you have!"

"Such a filthy great stonker derives from a lav..."

"You're bound to the scrappy this moment then, honey?"

"I'm afraid this a copper of purpose, not money..."

"But whatever use can it serve, dear and fair?
Will you plumb, stoke a fire, take a bath en plein air?"

"Well, I would for the fun. Just the once. By moonlight...
but this pipe is reserved, I shall use it alright."

"Oh, I don't doubt you will, as the pole for your jack,
a novelty trombone or musket, perhaps?"

"I'll wait and I'll see what design is suggested,
a question for answer when I'm good and I'm rested."

But, what on earth 'other' tune can a pipe perform but what the piper blows down it? Unless it's a pole then a pipe is a pipe and it does what it designs. Its form is its function. There is no other for it.

Unless, that is, its formal singularity comes unravelled...

During one of those moments of bibulous clarity (clarety?) when admiring the sinuous curve created by a chance conjunction between window frames and an old carved oak headboard cut down for a door top, but all the while looking up at the unfixed, unfurnished, roof, and there taking stock of the job it must soon perform come Autumn — that important one of taking water away and down a convenient drain via a system of cheap and nasty plastic stuff hung from it...

It struck me that here in this length of filthy braziery lay the truly bling answer to both the functional and the aesthetic necessaries...


I thought to myself,

'I split this 'ere copper pipe right down the middle and open it out — it will provide me a copper sheet.

The sheet thus provided can be formed to the shape required.

The shape required will be a semi-circle.

This 'ere pipe has a bore of an inch and a half...

C = π x d... (hero bounces upstairs to computer, calculates, then clatters back down again) and so this tube will provide me a sheet of copper...

 4.71 inches wide by ten feet long... and that is just about right."

Cutting a piece off the end, I cut a lengthwise slit, annealed the piece on the camping stove, opened it out between fingers and thumbs and shaped it semi-circular like...

Viola! The gutter!

I set to work immediately

A tape line was fixed down the entire length along which a saw cut would be made. 
The slot was levered apart as I went to provide access for the saw frame. 

This process would continue the entire length and for as long as it took to complete, which was clearly going to be many, many hours when I'd only a foot of gutter but nine of pipe remaining in two.

Nevertheless, the process worked well and it looked both good and functional offered up against the facia board.

Of course. Being a frugal angler with a great annual cost in the way of lost weights, I didn't weigh in an ounce of the lead either...

40lb of lead = 640 one ounce arsley bombs, or, 6 metres of flashing

Methinks, "lead makes roof flashing. If I can make a gutter from an obdurate pipe I can make a plumb palace from a metal that melts in a pan on a kitchen stove. I shall boil it down and cast my own when a roll of the same retails £90 down B&Q. Less cost to the bad is more profit to the good, and after all, how difficult a thing can it be to do?"

Quite tricky indeed was the answer...

And then, just as I had three quarters the thinking but a tenth the work done of fixing the roof to my own satisfaction, it began to rain and looked as if it wouldn't stop for days.

Friday, 4 October 2013

A Shed for All Seasons — Let The Toolery Begin

Saw sings, "work... work... work... work... work..."

Two bits, too short, 4b2.

Hammer blows, "duh... duh... duh... duh... done"

Jointed, made up, long and true.

Trimmed and offered up to what I judge by eye to be right height, pilot drilled through at two-thirds length. Fine masonry bit plunges through wood, pebbledash, render, biting into brick beneath. Large masonry bit chucked, hole drilled, hole plugged, length screwed in place at a dangle.

Second pilot two-thirds t'other way brought to level. Bubble checked, process repeated. Bubble checked — near as dammit. Ready for fixing proper.

Spewing wood, spitting brick.

Drill screams, "eeeeeeeeeeeeasy..."

Clockwise, driver, twist, twist, twist.

Ten plugs in and the wall plate fixed.


Sit a long, long while to contemplate this.

Bottle of nose-bluingly cheap but effectively sobering where thought about quantity of materials needed and where to secure said is concerned, Spanish plonk later...

I have ~

In stock.
  1. Couple of hundred bricks with attached paint and lime mortar. Handmade. Late 18th Century. Sourced last year from skip across Longford Road. One of three shops sold on to neighbour surplus to requirements — dividing wall between Stone Pizza and Charnley Memorials demolished. Hence bricks. Fast food joint now has sit down parlour where Charnley's parlour once was but retains extant mason's funereal signage above what is now their main entrance — diners unaware of the glaring incongruity and the irony.
  2. Pair of 18th Century plank & ledge doors with peeling paint & original furniture — rusty Suffolk latches and penny-end T-hinges. Sourced long ago from derelict doctor's house behind our yard wall. Doctors house now fully 'restored' by asian taxi driver — palatial vestibule complete with rearing elephants its welcoming glory.
  3. Length of hearty English oak retrieved from River Sowe, thickness of garden door post. No rot. Somewhat wormed pine door jamb with some paint. Garden door, ledged and braced, pine, painted, good condition. 
  4. Boxes of screws and nails and bolts of various types.
Out of stock.
  1.  Everything else.

Undeterred by shortfall in necessary materials and readies to buy said in, set to work next day on mission to source and acquire entire deficient requirement by 'alternative' means.

Within no time have a pile of lumbers of various length and scantling gotten from skips parked around the village of Longford. Looks enough for job.

Permanent skip used by a local window fitter provides three almost undamaged panes of early 1990's vintage tudor, but made with proper soft lead came as the Elizabethans would have and with individual diamond lights set in.

Sag across pane makes for trippy kaleidoscopic reflections of surrounding skyline.

Fit for purpose.

Rest of 10 similar windows in same skip beyond repair. Wrecked apart, the came goes in the scrap bucket. 40lb's of lead = 18 kilos. Lead weighs in around about a quid per kilo most days so I'm into profit...

Offer up bricks, windows, doors and timber. Fit is nigh perfect with just an inch of leeway to take care of the left side wall out of both plumb and line by up to four inches with rainfall neatly draining away to the right and down drain a couple of inches from where the three course brick base and back wall meet, just so.

Find a load of corrugated bitumen roofing in another skip. Lucky that!

Take five full sheets for use and a half sheet scrap bit for beating about. Retails at £18 per sheet as new. Few small holes in it, but also have a whole tin of bitumen repair mastic from skip too. No problem foreseen then excepting how to flash the stuff.

Time to think about that later. It's dry in the sky and remains so.

Earlier on. First job.

Wooden fence between rotted in five years because of damp winter conditions so brick wall dividing our yard from the next, the necessary first step. Pains me that I can't find good bags of cement when plenty piles of free sand are seen loitering about. Found alright — water damaged all. Therefore mortar first cost of the project which robs lead scrap profit and when more than first bargained for is soon required, bites deep into pocket. 

Never laid a brick in my life — though process seems easy enough. Problem is these bricks are handmade items, therefore (somewhat!) irregular, so, bricklaying career commences in at the deep end with the most difficult easy task in the trade — laying bricks end to end and atop one another but with no two in the entire pile the exact same size and hardly one amongst the lot with a flush face. 

Because this is to be a 'half-brick' wall only one brick thick, this means creating a wall with two faces — the public and the private. Public face where bricks are laid in a nice clean, and as far as possible, smooth plane with nicely pointed mortar joints. Private face where differences in brick thickness show dramatically and pointing beyond nicety. 

Doesn't matter. Entire environment round Longford way made in same fashion. Congruous no matter what!

Hang garden door off house wall first as sight line and plumb line. Judy's son, Ben, helps out. Complete quickly and efficiently, both learn the art of bricklaying along the way. Of course, first course laid straight atop the concrete slab...

Foundation not dug......

Learn later of frost heave.............!

(It was such good fun though that I'd demolish and start over with pleasure should it crack apart come February time.)

Next job. Third job. Roof support.

In an hour it's taking shape and within three almost finished.

Enter loved one.

"It's up and it's true, your job looks a good 'un,

Seems so correct and so deft in the wooden,

I like it so much but forgive me, I wonder...

Try make me suspect that there's nowhere a blunder?"

Meself. Blithely sure.

Suspection? No worries, (nor Queen's English either!)

I'd rather correction than caught by the neither,

Cast your eye over and task me thereafter,

I'll rip it back down again, plate, beam and rafter."

Exit loved one, convinced. Hero picks up where he left off.

Well after that, just as the saw sang on her very first cut, it was work, work, work, work.  The frame hung together quickly and the windows and doors fitted snugly as imagined. In a week or so it was looking just as good as could be expected. Though there wasn't a straight line to be seen anywhere, it was perfectly in tune with the wonky old walls that kept it aloft, so it looked upright enough and began to stand proudly as a thing in its own rights.

Small is what it was, though. Very small indeed!

But small enough to be a shed of consequence?

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

A Shed for all Seasons — Nutcracking

My yard is square and sixteen square of 'em. A penny black. In need of franking.

Surrounded on three sides by high walls and with a northern aspect. Shady and cool in summer, dark and dank in winter. Because mould grows from the ground up from November through March and by Spring the off-white pebbledash turns mildew green at eye level. Because wet nets fester but never dry and tackle stored is subject to the light fingered. Because of this and that and one thing and another, to an angler it's neither use nor ornament.

My house is years old and 200 of 'em. Four stories high on thirty yards square. Small but tall and in need of repair.

Bedroom windows are rotten. Sawdust and linen do not good bedfellows make and my efforts to fix the one but avoid soiling the other are thwarted by the demands of domestic bliss. Because nothing dulls a man's cutting edge quite so quickly as a feather duster does. Because the accumulated stuff of his lifetime must be stashed and stored where womenfolk with their oil and grease banishing detergents fear to tread. Something needs to be done about this yard and its house, and while summer lasts, be done at a good march and long before next.

Ergo, shed.

Domestic conversation, moment well chosen.

"I'll build a shed." Confident. "And it'll be a good un' too..."

"Explain yourself my love..." Says she. Less so.

"For foul nets to dry in and maggots, my dear. Pupation through flyhood without wailing or crying, it's quite an idea!"

But also thinking...

Backyard retreat fettling rod, reel and gear, escapes the Ire of Demestos with tin of cold beer.

"And what about me? " From the side of her mouth.

... A tough nut this. Where does the almighty 'She' fit into my plan?

A pause for thought, because up till now I hadn't, and...

"Well, you'll see the back of me more often than the front of me..."

"Hmmm.... you have such a lot of front to see the back of, darling dear, that that might be a very good thing."

Crack appears in nutshell. 

"It'll be no Tom's folly, I will get it finished. By end of September (... or October at least!) an end to my hammering and 'our' problem diminished." 

"Good, I'll have windows, shall expect them delivered. The first installment on the debt of my favour, you might say." 

Shell splits open, out falls the kernel. Chew off half. Offer hers.

"You won't ever be sorry, I promise, my lover"

"But what shall you call it? It must have a name..."

"I was thinking 'Jeff's Foolery' or this or the other." 

"It's 'Hatt's Toolery,' and you're stuck with it. Go sharpen your plane..."