The One Where John Confesses To Being Really Stupid

I’ve just discovered how to open a tin of corned beef. You know, the ones with the keys? I’ve always thought it was a really stupid design. Turns out it was me being really stupid all these decades… I used to try to turn the key as it was which, of course, didn’t work as it can’t rotate against the tin. So it would inevitably break. Then I’d resort to trying a tin opener (hard on those shaped tins), then normally end up with a knife and maybe a hammer…

Today, aged 43, I had a ‘brainwave’. Take the key off, turn it around so it overlaps the tin and it runs freely and, guess what, it works! Dead easy. Just opens the tin. Who knew? What a brilliant design.

I posted this on Facebook and a friend goaded me into revealing some more stupidity of mine. I do have quite a list of stupid things over the years including:

  • Being about 22 before I realised you could thread a belt through jean loops without having to force the BUCKLE through each loop… Yep, really.
  • A year or so later – after using a backpack for over a year and being totally frustrated by having to tie a knot in the string to close it (and untie it to open it), my girlfriend pointed out the blatantly obvious toggle that you just pressed and slid up and down to close and open it… Still, only a year or so of utter frustration – quite short lived that one…
  • ONLY LAST YEAR – seeing a TED talk on how to tie your shoelaces properly. I was amazed. It was completely different from how I’ve always done it and it worked so much better. And it was a TED talk so surely I couldn’t be the only one? But EVERY SINGLE PERSON I’ve told this to – initially with great excitement, now with trepidation – already ties them this way and thinks I’m crazy for not knowing this. Is it really just me and the man making the talk? Here it is –

I have more on my list of stupid things I’ve done incorrectly over the years but I think I’ve shared enough. Just remember, I’m not as clever as I look (hmm, ok, maybe I am as clever as I look … shit).

Hey, I made a hi-fi rack

This post will be very boring for most people so here’s the money-shot.

I built myself a hi-fi rack and wall-mounted turntable shelf. It’s my first ever real woodworking project, apart from veneering the sub-woofer recently but that hardly counts.

This is it.

My hifi rack

My hi-fi rack

Nice isn’t it? You can move on now unless you are really bored.

Really? Ok, don’t say I didn’t warn you…

I’ve been meaning to build this for 2 years but just haven’t had the space/time to do it. My new house has a lovely big empty and clean garage (well, it was empty and clean…) so I’ve finally got the space.

The design is unashamedly ‘inspired’ by the wonderful products at I’ve never seen one of them in real life but the reviews are very good and I really like the minimalist look. I’d certainly recommend them if you don’t want to spend a long time (and money) making your own. The rack and wall-mounted turntable shelf I made would cost about £1,500 had I bought it.

God knows what mine has cost. I couldn’t work it out if I wanted to, and I don’t want to! Wood wise, a lot less. I bought the thicker oak a couple of years ago. The oak for the isolation shelves was a bargain (65 euro for 2400mm x 600mm x 26mm – I ended up getting another and using some for a a/v shelf for my TV equipment). Then add in spikes and feet, which soon build up, especially the thicker bottom ones – and all the other gubbins needed.

Most of my expense though has been on two things. Firstly, equipment. I’m new to woodworking so bit-by-bit I’ve bought the tools I need. But as I’ll use these again for other projects, it’s unfair to add them to the cost of the project. The other cost is petrol… I live in the countryside miles from any of the DIY sheds and the more local hardware stores don’t always carry everything I need. So petrol really is probably the biggest cost of the project (of course, had I planed properly one or two trips would have done it but life, mine at least, never works out like that…)

Although the outer design is inspired by the look of the Podium stands, I have no idea how they join pieces etc so I made that up myself. My measurements are slightly different from theirs too as I had to work with the wood I had. Their legs are 44mm square, mine are 38mm because that is the thickness of the oak worktop I was using.

Which brings me on to what I love about this hobby.

It’s not just about learning how to work with the wood (although clearly important and something that takes practice).

It’s about working out HOW to do things.

I could have bought more oak for the legs so they were 44mm, but I had some spare offcuts from the worktop I used for the shelves. It seemed silly not to use that. The oak worktop is made up of staves. There’s just no way to separate them cleanly (I did try). So in the end I used a circular saw to cut them into lengths, and then a mitre saw to cut them into the correct height (each shelf has legs to fit the component on them, so each set is different).

The problem with making the legs from the oak staves though is the cuts weren’t perfectly clean and square. The height of the oak is 38mm, but the stave width is 46mm and of course the cuts from a circular saw are not going to be useable without some work.

If I had better equipment, there are easy ways to smooth and square the legs. But I had to work with what I had (or, rather, what I have bought so far). Next item on my list is a table saw. That would have made making the legs easier (a jointer or a thicknesser would be perfect but that’s not going to happen any time soon, and I’ll get more use from a table saw).

But, as I said, part of the fun is working out ways to do things. So to make the legs square and smooth, I turned to my router and made a jig (see pic below).


This let me put in the crappy wood and by running the router over it smooth it out and make them the right size.

Yes, there are easier ways to do it if I had better equipment, but it worked and it was a pretty good feeling thinking of it, making the jig and it actually working!

Under the shelves I have t-nuts hammered in, and then I carefully drilled holes into the centre of each leg (both ends – thicker for the double-headed screws going into the t-nuts, and thinner at the bottom for the small spikes which go into feet drilled into each shelf below). After i decided measuring and marking the centre of each one was silly (I had 16 legs to do) I made a template from a small piece of 2mm plywood with the hole in the middle and used that on top of each leg.

Originally I didn’t have enough wood to make the isolation plinths for each main shelf and in all honestly, they probably aren’t needed. My hi-fi equipment is very much mid-range (low mid?) and I’m not overly knowledgeable or geeky about these sort of things. A quick glance at audio forums show no one really agrees on it anyway. It’s a world I can, and do, sometimes let myself get dragged in to but I try not to stay there too long. It’s dangerous!

I can see how they can help on a cd-player, and the tube pre-amp maybe – but on a solid state amp and a DAC? I don’t know. But in the end I decided to get another piece of the 26mm oak and make isolation shelves for each main shelf (I was missing one) because the wood was so cheap and the unit looks better and more balanced if each shelf has one – whether or not they have any acoustic benefit. And I used the rest of the wood on the a/v shelf etc

The turntable wall-mounted plinth was my biggest worry. I was expecting to make it later on after a break, but as soon as I’d finished the rack, I was straight on to it. I was enjoying myself so much and just in the mood.

This is made out of one piece of oak worktop as a bracket mounted to the wall with 8 x 115mm long, 10mm wide, expanding bolts. And it needs to be… It’s holding a piece of solid oak (500mm x 455mm x 38mm) and another piece of 26mm oak on top of that. And then the turntable (although that doesn’t weigh too much).

The shelf is inset into the bracket half-way for added support, and then I have three steel rods running behind the bracket into the wall, bolted into the bracket, and then through into the shelf itself.

All-in-all it’s rock solid. Hopefully. If not, my tube pre-amp underneath is going to get a shock one of these days!

I could (actually, I can, I tried) jump up and down right next to the hifi system and it doesn’t affect the turntable at all.

The only thing I don’t like about it is the cable management (or lack of). So there are two cables dangling down from the turntable to the pre-amp below. I might look at doing something about that at some point, but I’m going to make a new plinth (case) for the turntable next, so I’ll look at it again.

I finished the oak in several coats of clear wax (Thanks to Pete Clark – @creativeblock _ on twitter – for the advice on that).

How does it sound? In a word, wonderful. I had a stack of vinyl I’ve not opened and I went through some old favourites and some of the new records last night and I’ve been playing it all night tonight too.

Last night I was about to go to bed when I remembered I had a new 180g pressing of Dark Side of the Moon… I had to open it and play it before bed.

I have DSotM on SACD. That’s an incredible recording. And this wasn’t a direct comparison – I can do that another time. But I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed listening to DSotM as much as I did on this system (well, not since I was younger and … well… you know what I mean).

Today I ‘crowned’ the system with a print I had done of Chet Baker. I collected it from the print shop today but I hate the frame it’s in at the moment (it was my choice but I didn’t realise until I opened it). It’s glossy reflective plastic and the ‘glass’ is reflective too. So I’ll get a better wooden one with anti-glare glass later this week when I next go into Malaga. But I love the photo of Chet – certainly better than how he looked later in life! (Google him if you don’t know and are prepared for heart-break). After I put it on the wall I played Chet Baker Sings. Wonderful!

Chet Baker

Chet Baker

I now need to tidy the cables up and paint over the wall where the markings are – generally just clean it up. But I’m shattered to be honest – I’ve been working on this like Hannibal & Co used to do in the A-Team when they were up-against-the-clock – so I’m just chilling listening to some vinyl for a day or two.

As I’ve said, the next stage is a new case for the turntable. The current one doesn’t weigh much but I’m going to make a heavier plywood one and sand-fill it so it will be a fair bit heavier. I’m really looking forward to making it. Again, I’ve been planning it for a couple of years so I’m hoping it will be fairly straight-forward. The hardest decision will be what veneer to use (and actually veneering it well). I want something to contrast with all the oak but not anything too dark.

Anyway, if you’ve read this far, well done – you must be either my mother or really bored (at least by now, if you weren’t when you started). Have a big thank you from me and go do something fun to reward yourself 😉

And be thankful I’ve saved you the story of wall-mounting my TV, making a centre speaker shelf, and a main shelf for the a/v equipment but I may mention that in another post.

Thanks for reading!


A C90 blast from the past

Ok, so I’ve been carrying a mix-tape around for around 25 years without playing it (when I say carrying it around, I don’t mean constantly with me – but from house to house…).

One side was the debut Stone Roses album, the other was just titled ‘Various 2’… I knew a few of the songs on it – REM for instance – but what would the others be?…

I finally got hold of a tape recorder today and played it. The sound quality was dreadful but the music and the memories…

Here’s the track listing written live as I listened.

First up…

Guns and Roses – Sweet Child of Mine. I’d totally forgotten that was on the tape. Sadly ironic, and a bit bizarre – it’s my last girlfriend’s favourite song and her phone ringtone… Although she was about 9 when it came out!

The Doors – LA Woman. Also ironic as it was one of the favourite songs of the woman I was madly in love with when I made this tape…

REM – Orange Crush (I KNEW this was next, but there was a huge tantalising gap before it started! Shoddy editing 😉 )

Stone Roses – “I told Sally I was never happy…” – Yep, it’s Sally Cinnamon

Fleetwood Mac – Shake Your Moneymaker (The *real* Fleetwood Mac of course – not that I don’t adore some of their later work – especially Rumours)

Rolling Stones – Sympathy for the Devil – now this takes me back to Monday night at The Ritz. What was it? A pound in and a free bottle? Could have a good night out for a fiver if you walked home. Which I did. Often. Oh God, and I’ve just had a memory of a drunken roll around the car park next to the Ritz (now flats) with a stranger on my 18th birthday. No idea who she was. But she was obviously as pissed as I was!

T-Rex – Get It On. Combine the riff of this with the influence of the Stone Roses and hey, look, a few years later its Oasis with Cigarettes and Alcohol 😉 Of course back when this tape was made Noel was probably still lugging amps around for The Inspiral Carpets. I wonder if the Inspirals are going to pop up on this mix soon…

The Stranglers – No More Heroes. Getting a bit more up to date (only just over 10 years old when I made the tape!)

The Beatles – Whoops, slipped back to the 60s. Magical Mystery Tour. Odd choice, I don’t really ever remember this being a favourite of mine but I guess it was. Good song though but I’d have picked something else now. I thought Hello, Goodbye might be on it (a certain someone knows why!)

Ooo, I don’t recognise the start of this… Hendrix?… Hmm… taking its time… Oh no, the drums sound more modern. Like the Roses again but … Ah yes, it is – Elephant Stone!

Aha, Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side, this has to be the final track on the tape. For a start it’s a C90 and there’s been a fair few songs so far (The Stone Roses album cut off on the other side!). But also this was a song that me and an old friend used to request as the last song on Friday night’s at Lazy Lil’s/De Villes (I forget which side of the venue was which, the one without the bucking broncho). So if you used to go there around this time and hated the fact that the DJ played this to end the night a lot, it was my fault – sorry!

And yep, within 3 seconds of the end of the song, the tape stopped! Good timing at last!

Ok, so what does that tape say about the 18-year-old me? Well… a good mix of songs (60s, 70s, 80s). Theres no song on there that embarrasses me, so that’s good. I should have a few other compilations somewhere but not with me. Maybe at my mum’s?

Actually, speaking of Lazy Lil’s and De Villes… There’s a Facebook group about it. A few years ago I found this picture posted by Sally Anne Hill (thanks Sally)… Oh God. I’m 99% sure that’s me. In the purple (paisley I think?) shirt. beads, a terrible attempt at a goatee and a black cap that had done the rounds between a few people! Stood at the bar, waiting to get served (where else would I be?) 😉

To quote Richard Hawley "The clothes in my younger days were so wild"...

To quote Richard Hawley “The clothes in my younger days were so wild”…

I said I’d be honest in this blog, but posting this picture is stretching it … Ah well… 😉

Well, I really enjoyed that – a wonderful blast from the past! Do you have any old mix tapes lying around? Dig them out and get them on!