Surface Plate On A Budget

I was recently marking out a part to be machined using my version of a surface plate namely an old piece of plate glass. I have had this for ages and it normally sits unused in a dusty corner of the workshop (actually all the corners are probably dusty and some with added cobwebs). I was having particular difficulty seeing the the surface due to reflected light and the transparency and once I had finished decided to look at buying a new surface plate. I was surprised to find that small granite surface plates can be obtained at quite reasonable prices. For example Axminster provide a 300mm x 200mm granite plate for about £40.00. If however you want a real precision job a Mitutoyo plate the same size can be had for £234.00.

However as this would probably end up sitting in the same corner of the workshop and only be used on rare occasions I decided to investigate alternatives. I have read in a few places that bits of granite kitchen worktop can be used to good effect and also that Tesco, Argos and the like, sell small granite worktop savers at reasonable prices.

Surface Plate from Argos
Granite Surface Plate

As I happened to be passing Argos I went in and found a 400mm x 300mm granite worktop saver for £8.00. At that price it had to be worth a go and if nothing else would be big enough to tape a sheet of abrasive paper to for flatening plane irons and similar jobs. Once home and unpacked I cleaned it up and checked it with a couple of straight edges. There appear to be no obvious highs or lows and the surface appears evenly ground and polished. I think with my limited ability to test for flatness it will suit my skill level and sufice until I need something more accurate. The only minor downside is that it is very shiny, I think a matt finish is normal on surface plate. I may be able to cut the glare with some abrasive cleaner but that could make it less flat.

Fighting Apache

Not I hasten to add a passing Native American but the server software that empowers a good deal of the interweb. Well the new site has been up for a couple of weeks with no major problems detected. I have however had some trouble trying to implement some of the Google Page Insight suggestions to improve the site speed and efficiency. This is mainly aimed at getting the site in a suitable state to use Google Adsense. As you can see I have put ads on the site and the main hope is that these will generate enough income to pay for the hosting. I don’t anticipate much in the way of posh cars or exotic hoidays!

Cache Control

One of the things suggested is to “Leverage Caching”, what they mean is turn caching on. A bit of reading explains that pages cached locally by your browser make for quicker loading times. Unless told otherwise a browser like Firefox or Chrome will download the page and it’s content fresh every time you want to view it. If you set a few commands in your Apache .htaccess file you can tell browsers to save things locally and use them on subsequent visits to the page. There are a couple of different commands to do this one being Mod_Expires, which basically tells the browser how long to keep a file before downloading a fresh copy The other being Mod_Headers which does a similar job but with more options. I am a complete novice in this area and had to read a lot before I got a rough idea what to do. I think I have things set up with some fairly short term cache directives at the moment until I have finished playing with the site.

Whilst setting directives with the .htaccess file is OK for static files – images, css, script files and the like, it will not work for the php files which are of course generated dynamically. To affect caching for these files I discovered that you need to put a header directive at the top of each file that looks something like < ?php header('Cache-Control: max-age=604800'); ?> which must be the very first line on the page. This tells Apache to send HTML headers that allow caching for up to 7 days. In case you were wondering HTML headers are nothing to do with the page that appears in your browser window, they are rather part of the interchange that goes on transparently between your browser and the server (something else I learnt).

Editing .htaccess in Notepad++

Having got caching sorted the next thing Google suggested was compressing pages using GZIP. Apparently all modern browsers are set up to ask for compressed pages, it’s in those HTML headers. The browser asks the server to send a page and says oh if you have it Gzipped I am quite happy to accept that, thankyou. Apache dutifully replies and if it can, squeezes the page before it goes, thus reducing the amount of data flying over the interweb. By this time I am an expert on rewriting the .htaccess file and duly add some Mod_Deflate instructions that are the standard way of telling Apache to GZIP everything it outputs. A quick test and… Nothing and definitely not ZIP. More reading and it transpires that my hosting company, 1 and 1, do not enable Mod_Deflate on their servers. Scratch head and send e-mail to Tech Support who reply quickly and apologetically saying I can use Zlib. Lots more reading.

Zlib is part of PHP and has, in my view, very poor documentation. Eventually I found out how to enable it using a php.ini file and switched it on. A quick check with Firefox Element Inspector showed that it was working. A more detailed look showed that it was working but the caching headers seemed to have switched themselves off. Now I am confused (it doesn’t take much), looking at Google Page Insights also showed I was getting 404 (page not found) errors, now I am really confused. Turn compression (Zlib) off and everything is working again. I did a few tests just to make sure I wasn’t seeing things but with Zlib on pages, except the home page, were still being served OK but with a 404 response and with the wrong HTML headers. I turned Zlib off and e-mailed Tech Support again, this time they seem to have headed for the hills! A couple of days reading, most of which was way over my head, I found one comment in the PHP documentation that suggested there was some vague bug where if you called Zlib with its standard zlib.output_compression = on it could corrupt headers but if you enabled zlib with a buffer size zlib.output_compression = 4096 it would work. I tried this without much hope but to my surprise it seems to have worked. I now have HTML headers with cache control set, Gzipped output for PHP and no 404 errors. Result!. I still need to sort out compressing CSS and JS but these files are already minified so they are not going to get much smaller.


Whilst fighting Apache’s .htaccess I thought it would be a good idea to add some of the WordPress recommended security fixes. This meant playing with Mod_Rewrite. Now I have used this before and never understood it. as far as I can see Mod_Rewrite uses a language that is entirely written in punctuation marks and makes no sense whatsoever. I therefore resort to the time honoured method of finding something similar on the interweb and tweaking it until it works or explodes completely. This isn’t the best approach as Mod_Rewrite is very powerful and a slight error could have a myriad of unseen consequences. At this moment in time I seem fortuitously to have hit the right buttons. There are many articles regarding WordPress security so I wont go into detail save suggesting An article in Smashing Magazine and the WordPress Codex.

There is still a slight problem with Google having some spurious links recorded but I think these came about when I was in the process of changing the domain name and I had three seperate domain names all pointing at the same site. Not a good idea, hopefully the duff links will drop off soon. I have no doubt that there are still some gremlins lurking in the works somewhere but they will eventually be tamed as per the Apache.

New Look for Journeyman’s Workshop

The New Look Front Page
The New Look Front Page

If you have visited before, you will have noticed that the website has undergone a bit of a radical redesign. The old and addresses have been relegated and the new address is working for the whole site. No information has been lost during the changeover, well at least I don’t think I’ve lost anything and all the original pages and articles still exist. I have no doubt that there are some errors here and there with the CSS but I will track them down eventually. It is a bit tricky as the CSS is shared by both the static bit of the site and the WordPress bit.

The theme for WordPress is all my own work, alright I admit to using the Underscores starter theme but the rest is all mine! It has taken quite a few weeks to get everything working fairly smoothly, even though I am not using any of the complicated bits of WordPress. Knitting a static site and a blog together is not easy when the little grey cells are not used to thinking code.

The new layout is responsive and should work on phone, tablet, laptop or big screen desktop. Unfortunately to get the old pages to work they needed a bit of tweaking which took quite some time but all is now complete. Some of the original images look a bit small but changing those will take much longer! I have also made a switch from standard HTML pages to PHP which made the integration with WordPress a little easier.

Enjoy the new.

WM250 Oil Change

Inside the gearbox
Leadscrew Gearbox

The leadscrew gearbox was getting a bit low on oil and as the oil was still the original I decided an oil change was in order. Nothing too complicated but it led on to another small mod to the lathe which I wrote up for anyone who needs new oil.

WM250 Maintenance

Midlands Model Engineering Exhibition

I made the effort at the weekend to drive the 80 odd miles to Leamington Spa to attend the Midlands Model Engineering exhibition. There were a good number of trade stands there and my wallet was a bit lighter on the way home. I did take a few photos but I only had my phone with me and the quality of most shots was fairly poor.  It is also difficult to line up good shots, when like most exhibitions, the stands are fairly crowded although it seemed to thin out a bit in the afternoon.

tractiion engine
Burrell Traction Engine

Got a reasonable shot of a Burrell traction engine and also of it’s smaller sibling a 3″ scale model, being one of the good turnout provided by the National Traction Engine Trust who were visiting the show for the first time.

3" Scale Burrell Traction Engine
3″ Scale Burrell Traction Engine

Model Engineering clubs were well represented there being some 40  club stands showing a fine selection of work. One that caught my eye was the Knightcote Model Boat Club who had an excellent display which the photo does not do justice.

model stand
Knightcote Model Boat Cub

All in all a good day and well worth a visit, definitely on the calendar for next year.

2014 Show Guide

Maurice’s Mods

engraved scale
Engraved Topslide Clamp Plate

Maurice Duckworth contacted me from Cumbria with an interesting modification to the four bolt clamp plate for the WM250 lathe. The main benefit of which is an easily readable protractor scale for setting over the topslide. Maurice engraved the scale on the lathe without using a rotary table or dividing plate and his method could readily be used in the production of any type of dial or scale.

Also included in Maurice’s e-mail was an ingenious method to disengage and thereby silence the leadscrew change gear train. Included in this project was a description of how to make professional looking labels.

Without further ado I contacted Maurice and he sent me the necessary photos,  text and permission to publish .

Maurice’s Mods.