the wood show – great success!

The Gabriola Woodworkers Guild inaugural exhibit at the Gabriola Arts and Heritage Centre was a great success.  We probably had over 1000 visitors had  over the two days and the members who were selling work did very well.

We had everything from kayaks to knives on display, which meant there was something of interest for almost everyone who visited.   I showed my new portable lamps, and the portable Bluetooth speakers that I have been working on for the past year.   At the last minute, I decided not to put them on sale – still a bit worried about the stability of the electronics for both the lamps and the speakers.   I’ve got a month to tweak things before the Thanksgiving Studio Tour!

The Gabriola Woodworkers Guild

Having some kind of organization for woodworkers on Gabriola has been in the talking stages for several years – “we really should have a woodworkers group on Gabriola”.  “We used to have a group years ago, but it died out…”.  “I know several people who would be interested”.  “Let’s have a meeting about it some time”. 

Last summer (2017) a few of us finally did have that meeting and decided to form the Gabriola Woodworkers Guild.   Nowadays a woodworkers guild is basically a club for woodworkers, but the name harkens back to the medieval guilds that were associations of artisans or merchants who oversaw the practice of their craft/trade in a particular area.   There are already several active woodworkers guilds in BC, including two on Vancouver Island.   The Vancouver Island Woodworkers Guild, which is centred in Victoria, has about 150 members and has a very active program.

Our little Gabriola Guild isn’t at that level of membership or activity yet, but we do have about 20 members and we do try to meet once a month in a member’s shop for a show and tell or just a discussion about woodworking.  

Loudspeakers for Cool Audio Consoles

The loudspeakers are a significant portion of the design effort for an integrated audio system, they can be a significant portion of the material cost, and they are probably the most significant factor in how good the system sounds.  Some options

  • Design from scratch.   Design software and test equipment on-hand.  Requisite design skills – ???  OK, I’m not too old to learn!
  • Use an existing DIY design.  Lots of options on the Web.
  • Integrate existing loudspeakers.  Thrift shops are full of used loudspeakers, and, among the dross, there are some classics at bargain prices.

Here are some ideas

  • Dynaco A25. 20″ x 11.5″ x 10″

I have one set of these 1970’s Danish classics, which would be ideal for a Scandinavian Stereo Console.  Need some TLC on the veneer and probably new grille cloth.  It would be nice to find something like the original linen.

  •  Paradigm Atoms. 10.5″ x 6.5″ x 8″

I have two pairs of these 1980’s Canadian classics.  Compact and sound great.

  •  Koss M80. 12.75″ x 5.25″ x 5.5″

I have one set of these 1980’s speakers.  Nice teak finish.

  •  IKEA bowl speakers

If I’m going to do an homage to the Clairtone Project G,  I need spherical speakers.   There has been a minor Maker movement building spherical speakers with Ikea Blanda Bowls.    Typically these use small full-range drivers.  The ones in the picture above use Mark Audio CHR 70’s.  USD36 each.  I have enough of the 12″ bowls to make one set.

Compact DIY speaker design with good reviews.  Just a bit smaller than the Atoms.  Parts cost for a pair probably under USD100.

Boomerboxes???

Well, I formally call them ”artisan Bluetooth speakers”, but they’re still Boomerboxes to me.  Boomboxes for the baby boomers.   Portable, stylish speakers that you can use at the beach but will also fit into your living room.

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They were conceived to satisfy my own baby-boomer desire to have something cool to play my music around the house, on the deck, and down on the beach.   I’ve listened to enough high quality speakers to not settle for the real “boombox” sound or the compressed and processed sound from most modern Bluetooth speakers.  But I am a pragmatic engineer, not an audiophile purist, so I’ll settle for good sound in a convenient package, rather than pursue elusive (or illusory) perfection.

My Boomerboxes have been in the works for over a year.  I showed a number of prototype enclosures during the 2017 Studio Tour and auditioned a working version of the electronics.  But I needed to get the electronics on to printed circuit boards (they were on stripboards ) to make assembly easier and more reliable.  It’s been many  years since I designed a printed circuit board, so some rusty skills needed to be sharpened up and I had to learn some new software tools.  But it’s all worked out.  I will be showing, and offering for sale, working versions at the Gabriola Woodworkers Guild “The Wood Show” on August 25/26 2018 and in the Gabriola Gadgets workshop on the 2018 Thanksgiving Studio Tour (we are #56 in the Studio Tour Guide).

More info on what these are and what’s inside in future posts.

Cool Audio Consoles

My current efforts in audio systems are  directed towards smallish, portable systems – “boomer boxes”.  But I am also thinking about more substantial, furniture-like pieces for the longer term.   The console stereo systems of the 50’s and 60’s fell out of fashion as the trend in audio went to separate components and the cool thing was to have a stack of electronic boxes on a shelf and separate loudspeakers on the shelf or on the floor.   But I think there is an appeal to audio furniture that hides the gadgetry when it’s not in use and that can stand on its own as an attractive or distinctive piece of design.  I’m not interested in building a “stereo” cabinet which simply acts as a dedicated container for a bunch of standard audio components.  Rather, I’m interested in reviving and updating some of the modernist stereo console designs from the 60’s.   Audio has gone into a retro phase in the past few years – tube amps, vinyl records, etc.  Time for cool consoles to come back as well!

Here’s some sources of inspiration.

 
 One of the coolest 60’s consoles was Canadian!  The Clairtone Project G  series,  Sexy spherical speakers cantilevered on a metal stand with the electronic components in a sleek Scandinavian-style enclosure.  Tambour doors hid the electronics on some models, acrylic covers showed them off on others.  These were the ultimate bachelor pad stereos for the mid-60’s.  Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Hugh Hefner had Project G’s and they were featured in several Hollywood films, including the famous house party in the The Graduate.

Electrohome, another Canadian company, joined the party with the 701.  A bit less radical, but still a classic mid-century modern piece of furniture.

If you were really avant garde, you bought an Italian Brionvega RR126.  David Bowie owned one!   Designed by noted Italian industrial designers Achilles and Pier Castiglioni, it reflects both the positives and negatives of Italian design.

A laudatory description from the Cooper Hewitt Museum says “The Castiglionis have turned a piece of audiovisual equipment into a playful, adaptable, sculptural arrangement that is both decorative and user-friendly. The radio controls on the center section are easy to read and cleverly arranged in conjunction with the speaker perforations so to resemble a human face. On castors, this movable, transformable stereo could operate in three positions: first with the speakers stacked on top to form a cube, second with the speakers open out to the sides to reveal a phonograph, and third with the speakers independent of the central unit and placed elsewhere. The Castiglioni brothers designed radios, televisions, and record players for Brionvega and this RR-126 is one of their most ambitious designs for the audiovisual sector.”

But a look at the photos shows that the phonograph was not well integrated. The speakers could not be stacked on top if the phonograph was included.  Nevertheless, this console was a design classic and was reissued in 2008 with the addition of a CD player.  The turntable was still a problem…

Now for a Scandinavian/German approach – the Wega 3300 HiFi Stereobar.

Designed for the German firm Wega, by the Danish designer/architect Verner Panton, this is a classic of Northern European minimalist design.  Steve Jobs would have liked this (except for the knobs!).  Loudspeakers were separate and apparently not designed as part of the system.

Finally, here is a recent, very expensive, revival of the 60’s console  – the Symbol Audio Modern Record Console.
 
Design elements that I like from these consoles include
  • Small footprint bases with casters for mobility and ability to swivel the console.
  • Loudspeakers separate but able to attach to the base or to the console.
  • Integrated design of speakers and electronic console
  • Ability to hide the electronics when not in use.

It’s been 50 years since the original consoles were designed, so it’s worth thinking about what has changed and how retro I really want the design to be.

  • The original consoles devoted considerable space and design effort to radio tuners.  I think that function has now been largely supplanted by music streaming and Internet radio.
  • I’m not a big fan of tube amplifiers.  I like my electronics compact and solid-state.
  • I’m also not a fan of turntables and vinyl.  However I do have a working turntable that needs a home.  I could build one unit with a turntable to sell to vinyl loving hipsters.
  • 60’s electronics had a lot of knobs, buttons, switches, and lights.  There is a tactile pleasure to turning a knob or flicking a switch. However there is an undeniable convenience factor to a good remote control, and modern user interface devices, such as rotary encoders, touch controls,  graphic displays, and multicolor LED bulbs, open up new possibilities for control panels.
  • 60’s televisions were too big to integrate into the cool consoles I am using for inspiration.  However a modern flat-panel screen could be integrated and would be more useful than a radio tuner, or even a turntable, in my opinion.
Building one or more of these would be a substantial project, so time saving alternatives need to be considered.  Recycling bases from other furniture (e.g. swivel office chairs) is one possibility.  Integrating existing (classic) loudspeakers is another.

Graybeards Dealing with the Robot

OK, I made the plunge.  A Black Friday deal in November 2017 on free shipping (big deal to Canada), and a small discount, enticed me to order an Inventables X-Carve CNC  router.  It’s an assemble-it-yourself kit, and bits and pieces arrived via Canada Post from December 2017 to March 2018.   I spent April putting it together ( an hour or so a day – good on-line instructions), and May figuring out how to use it.  Here are my graybeard buddies from the Gabriola Woodworkers Guild watching the CNC in action and thinking about what it means for woodworkers…

Actually, I think it will be quite useful for me.  I have lots of ideas for projects that require multiple identical pieces to be cut out.  Ideal for a robot!

Lots of Lamps!

Who says Gabriola has no industries?  I have been quite industrious making lamps for 2017 Studio Tour visitors who were sad that I was sold out.  It was fun making these and I enjoyed the challenge of a “production run”.  But I am thinking about getting a CNC machine….

Thanksgiving Studio Tour

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The shop all cleaned up and ready for visitors!

This was Gabriola Gadgets’ first Studio tour in its own workshop and, even though it seemed unlikely at times, the workshop was cleaned up and turned into a presentable exhibit space in time for the Tour.    We had something for everyone – lamps, Bluetooth speakers, tools and displays, a great view, and snacks!  And lots of visitors came – over 570 during the three days of the Tour.  We sold out of almost everything on the first day and had visitors signing up with requests for more pieces.