DIY, Music
My new turntable

Finally… I made a new turntable plinth!

I’m not sure I’ve got the strength to write this post…

I’ve been working all day on the finishing touches to my new turntable setup and I’m shattered. But I’m listening to it now (even though there’s a new Maron to watch, Nurse Jackie, Louie and Arrow…) and it sounds amazing. I’ve never heard it sound as good.

Considering the turntable is as old as me, that’s quite stunning.

Like my hi-fi rack post, here’s the photos and if you want to read the details (long), they are below!

I bought this turntable, a Thorens TD-150 MKII, about 3 years ago for 50 euros. An absolute bargain. Owned by one man from new. He hadn’t used it for a long time but it was still in great condition.

Apart from needing a new stylus, it worked fine. But having read up on them, there’s lots that can be done to improve them so… I replaced the tonearm wiring, capacitor (maybe a resistor, I forget now – there’s minimal electronics going on inside these amazing turntables), changed the RCA cables to some really great ones from eBay with a separate ground that runs to my tube pre-amp, and bought a rather incredible stylus – handmade in Japan. The difference between what I bought and what I had by this stage was amazing. Ok, it was now at a bit more than 50 euro but … 😉

Still, the weak point, both musically and aesthetically, has always been the plinth (the case), which is the original stock plinth and very dull (well, it has a certain charm but …)

The base is literally just a few mm of chipboard dotted with holes. One of the standard improvements is to replace this with thick plywood or MDF although I never got around to that… until now.

A couple of years ago I saw a plinth a man had designed and built for a similar, but different model, Thorens turntable on an audio forum and loved it. The design, which I’ve based my plinth on, is made of plywood but has the added extra of compartments inside the plinth that hold sand. Compartments? Hmmm… Maybe not the best word but …

I wanted to make one a couple of years ago, but real-life got in the way. It’s only recently that I’ve started doing the woodworking and, after building my hifi rack (see earlier post), I decided to build the plinth.

Basically it’s 15mm plywood, made into a rabbeted box to fit the original plinth size (actually, I made it slightly wider so I can put a wider armboard in – Linn LP12 size – in case I ever want to change the tonearm). Then more plywood is glued out of the sides to make the compartments (I’m SURE there’s a better word…) for the sand. Then the outer plywood is put on to seal it in. Bit of a messy job but had to be done!

This was all cut with a circular saw because at this stage I didn’t have a table saw (more on that in a minute!)

I finished it in raw, unbacked, walnut veneer. It wasn’t as hard to work with as I feared (I decided to use PVA glue, put onto both the plinth and the veneer, left to dry and then ironed on – and so far so good). The only real problem I had, and it is a problem, is with the mitred corners. I cut them perfectly but when I went to apply them, I just couldn’t get a good match in some corners. Maybe because the glue causes the wood to shrink? I’m not sure, I need to practice that again.

But it’s not the end of the world. I cut some of the veneer out, patched it up and with a couple of shades of brown nail varnish in certain places 😉 it doesn’t look too bad. And if I can’t live with it long-term, I can always make another. It’ll be faster next time around having learnt lots making this one.

The base is also 15mm plywood – finally getting rid of the rubbish chipboard.

I made a new armboard to replace the stock plastic Thorens one (I had to, as I’d made the armboard space wider). I used bamboo from a (new) IKEA chopping board. Cut to size, then put in my new thicknesser to take it down from 16mm to the 10mm I needed. Some red solvent dye on it really made it come to life.

Then I waxed both the plinth and the armboard in a clear soft wax, adding some red dye to the wax in the final round of waxing. And I polished and waxed the edges of the platter too. Came up well.

Internally I grounded it better, put some cork damping in, re-wired the tonearm (again), put phono plugs on the end of the wires so I can easily take the tonearm out and change the armboard (I want to try some different materials). And I put phono sockets inside (obviously) which go on to the RCA cables that were previously directly soldered to the tonearm wires.

All in all, it’s taken a couple of weeks or so on and off, but well worth it. Today was my final main day working on it. It’s a suspended turntable which means the platter and armboard sit on three springs to isolate them from external vibrations. They needed adjusting for the new plinth. Bit of a task to get it right, but it needed doing. I’m now listening to Donny Hathaway’s Everything is Everything as I write this, and it’s never sounded so good. Bass is clear and tight, and the stereo has really opened up.

Oh the final touch was some new cones on the base (that actually cost half what I paid for the turntable originally…)

The whole thing weighs an absolute ton (I don’t own scales but going from what I know boxes weigh at work, I’m guessing around 20 to 25kg?). A good test for my wall-mounted turntable shelf. So far it’s holding up!

I’m going to make another plinth, again with a heavy base, but without the sand, just a simple mitred hardwood box basically. And then I can make a comparison between them. But there’s no doubt this is much much better than the stock plinth.

So, I mentioned a table saw…

I’ve been after one for a while. A circular saw isn’t the right tool for precision work. Fine for some jobs but I really did need a table saw if I was going to do proper projects.

I’ve put adverts on Facebook in the local buy/sell groups etc. But everything I’ve seen has been crap. Really cheap rubbish that just isn’t worth buying.

Finally… just when I was about to give in and buy a decent one (at a more than decent price – and live off bread and water for the month) someone replied to one of my posts.

We got talking and it turned out she was helping a friend whose husband had died last year. He was a master woodworker. Most of his equipment was still there and she wanted to sell it.

I only *needed* a table saw, but… I ended up leaving having agreed to buy everything. The lot. Every item. She just wanted the space cleared and the constant reminder of her husband gone. She had a younger male friend there to help her, otherwise I might have felt a bit uneasy about it.

I’ve bought so many items since starting this, and I do need most of what I bought from her, and buying it in bulk like this was far cheaper than buying them separately. Just some of the drill bit sets and small tools alone etc would cost a lot.

So now, on top of the tools I already had, I’ve got a great table saw, a band saw, a scroll saw, a thicknesser, a jointer, a lathe, a good workbench, ooo what else – oh a proper dust extraction system, a biscuit cutter, lots of hand tools, an orbital sander  – oh and lots of other things that I’m too tired to remember at the moment.

I went to collect it with a man and a van the next day and a neighbour of the widow helped us. He then offered me a 1/2″ router (mine is only 1/4″) for 20 euro, a plunge cutter for 20, and a nail gun for 5! So I bought those too. Used all three so far.

I now basically have a fully-kitted out workshop! I won’t say what I paid, but I didn’t negotiate. It wasn’t an unfair price from her point of view – and she suggested it – but it was a great price from my point of view. I’ve probably spent about half that just driving to the shops in Malaga in recent months buying tools bit-by-bit.

She was more keen that it went to someone who would use it. Her husband had taken great care of everything. All the items are in great condition. Original manuals etc.

There’s something special about using well-loved tools. My late cousin was a woodworker and, even though I don’t believe this, it sometimes feels like he’s looking over me as I work. I’m always conscious of what he’d think about what and how I’m doing something. Now I have Mr Cooper to worry about too… 😉

So… that’s me. A woodworker in the mountains of Spain. How did that happen? 😉

I’ve already got a few new projects in mind. Stay tuned!

ps. I’m now on to Bowie’s Aladdin Sane (yes, it did take that long to write this). Wow. Just wow… it sound’s amazing!

pps. the photos were taken before I’d adjusted the springs, so the armboard is sagging a bit in them, that’s now fixed (before I get any complaints from Thorens fanatics!)

ppps. I’m now on to Dark Side of the Moon…

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 hifiracks.co.uk. 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 ÂŁ1,500 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 hifiracks.co.uk 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).

IMG_6155

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!

DIY, Home Cinema

Sometimes you need to go back a bit…

Although I was pleased with my first attempt at veneering, the final finish was too dark.

I’d put an oak tint onto the veneer, which was fine. But then I used another product by the same manufacturer which was an ‘oak-coloured’ wax. But it left the finish far too dark.

So I sanded it down with some steel wool (coarse at first, then 0000), and removed it.

Then I added a few coats of clear wax, buffing in-between, and using 0000 steel wool before the final (for now) buff. I’ll probably coat it again in a few days or a week or so.

I’m much happier with it now.

And yesterday, I bought my first router (woodworking router, not wifi!) and various ‘bits’ and bobs. I’m going to enjoy this new hobby – I’ve got quite a few projects in mind.

Here’s a few photos of the old (darker) finish and the new finish. I’ve also updated the gallery on my last post to show it too.