Thursday, 31 October 2013

Enter the world of 3D printing

      Imagine you want to make a plastic gnome or plastic whistle, no, lets start again; imagine you want to make a replacement part for a tool or machine, perhaps a threaded bolt, large flexible washer or toothed belt drive that you can no longer get or takes weeks to arrive in the post, or just want to have some fun making a coffee cup with two handles for your loved one. With 3D printing you can create virtually anything in the known universe in an increasing variety of materials from thermoplastic ABS or bio-degradable PLA to imitation wood, resin, and even titanium or chocolate! All at a cost of course as you can spend a million pounds on  a printer or as little as £300 for a DIY kit that rests on your desktop. I'm intrigued, confused and impatient as it all seems to be happening now as PC World and Maplins announce their first consumer products which by default have to be 'point and squirt'. 


Maplins Velleman K2800 3D printer kit for £690 takes three days to
assemble but at least you will know how it works.

     Basically there are several technologies in 'rapid prototyping' or 'additive manufacture' ranging from layered heated filaments (a  kind of robotic hotmelt gluegun) to laser resin and powder forming. I am focusing mainly on the cheapest technology here called FDM (filament deposition manufacturing) found in printers up to about £2,500. They do of course all use computer software and the two elements are the initial design software such as 'Ketchup' and the delivery-to-printer software such as 'Cura', '123D Make', 'Cubify Sculpt' etc. Some printers print remotely from a memory card.

       Now, obviously I've never used CAD in all my years as a furniture designer maker (as I refer to 'Ketchup') but my 3D roots do stretch back to grammar school when I was in class 3D, a reflection perhaps that creativity and academia were (are?) on a different axis! So, this blog really is a total beginners' guide with an attempt to bring together a lot of snippets of information I have picked up and I think my use of the word 'Ketchup' is apt in the importance of attention to detail when making a purchasing choice.

         The burning questions for me are quality, ease of use, variety of print materials, running costs (consumables and energy consumption), reliability and support. The initial cost of machine is secondary as it will pay for itself if these fundamental boxes are ticked. This is where the forums are a very good place to go if you can get a handle on the technical jargon used and of course You Tube helps enormously so my choice of videos here is carefully considered and they are of course mostly brief. But I wish they would use a macro lens on the camcorder!

    I'm going to condense a lot of ideas and snippets of information racing around my head as a result of some prolonged internet research. Needless to say I am still having difficulty actually getting my hands on a 3D printed sample and neither Maplins nor PC World carry printers in stock!!

     We are told the 'Makerbot Replicator 2' is the market leader but is not Open Source which confuses me as it has free shared download designs from a site called Thingiverse. 'Ultimaker 2' (recently released) is Open Source (accessible shared free online design files) and achieves 20 microns accuracy as opposed to the R2's 100 microns (still very good) so these are possibly two of the top contenders. The PC World 'Cubify' achieves passable print resolution at .2mm (200 microns) and does not have a heated bed which is needed for the stronger ABS which in any case is only 30% as strong as injection moulded ABS. 

     The 'Formlabs 1' printer uses a stereolithography resin laser process and achieves 16 microns which is best resolution under £2.5k but you have to dip each component in a cleaning solution and as far as I can see it cannot create rubberised objects that the Ultimaker 2 does. However, I expect that will all change. But it looks a bit laboratory like to me and the resin isn't cheap.  


Formlabs stereolithography resin printer for around £2,000
 claims the best print resolution at 16 microns  

A recent 'Kickstarter' funding legal battle might cause a bit of caution although I have read somewhere it is a tactic used by Apple to kill off competition even if they lose. 

      Elsewhere on the internet the current 'Top ten reviews' is a bit like 'What's the question but whose asking' as deeper research does not always deem these reviews reliable or meet your particular needs. Interestingly in his 2013 3D printer Guide (,news-17651.html) Tom likens the assembly of some 3D printers to putting up IKEA bookshelves - yeah, for some that task takes all of three days! The review is a good read about 3D printing technology.

     So what have I got to add? Well, the deeper I get into this my priorities are quality, ease of print and versatility of materials that can be used.     Speed is a consideration because even if you go off and do something else, if you print ABS it has a smell that will linger for hours. A chess piece as demonstrated in the PC World 'Cubify' printer can take about half an hour. Quietness also counts if you don't want to be driven insane by Darlek sounding noises throughout the night. In this respect the 'Ultimaker 2' operates at under 49 decibels. Size of printed object varies from a coffee cup (typically the Cubify) to a basketball (UM2) and I'm happy with that as I have no plans just yet to print out my next house which of course is already achievable.

The Cubify at around £1,100 is a basic point and squirt 3D printer using PLA filament
and able to create small objects, but not to any great detail. The filament is not cheap. 


Ultimaker 2, a significant improvement on the original and boasting best print definition,
speed and reliability from the small Dutch company

       Here are two videos, slightly longer, that caught my attention as being really interesting. One shows a simple USB and memory stick holder made from an open source design which allows you to tweak it and the other shows flexible belts being produced that have impressive detail and strength. Both use the 'Ultimaker' printer:

Thumb drive holder using rigid PLA filament on the 'Ultimaker' 
from a 'Thingiverse' customisable design

Flexible filament used on the 'Ultimaker Original' 
(3D printer kit) for creating toothed belts.

      The Makerbot Felix 2 is a new printer that boasts impressive accuracy at 50 microns and at ( can handle a flexible 1.75mm filament called 'Arnitel Flexible Rubber' and this printer has really taken my fancy as it combines accuracy with a modest price. 

      Now, of all the confusing aspects of 3D printing the '1.75mm versus 3mm' filament debate is the most time consuming. All I can do is pass on what is my observation of the current consensus. 1.75mm diameter filament appears to have the edge by requiring less extrusion force, offering more immediate flow, quicker cooling, lighter nozzle head hence faster speed, but costs more! My guess is that shopping around (eg Amazon) and buying in the right quantities filament costs will come down.

     I was all sold on the Ultimaker 2 but am still awaiting replies from emails about delivery not that Makerbot are much better but at least as I write, I received an automatic email stating I should hear within a few days. Nobody seems to use the dog and bone (telephone) any more these day, so it is all a bit of a gamble.


Makerbot Replicator 2X optimised for ABS uses Thingiverse 
and offers up to 100 micron resolution at £2595 

  Before I wrap all this up, on the subject of finish there is a method, somewhat dubious, called acetone vapour smoothing which at least is worth taking a look at:

Acetone vapour smoothing on ABS which is a petro-chemical based plastic

     Well, apart from the health and fire risks of this method I would be inclined to avoid the extra equipment and time involved in this rather hit or miss smoothing process and invest in the best quality resolution printer. It seems there is already a lot of hit and miss in the technology, a lot of tweaking, such as getting the print bed perfectly aligned with the nozzle, getting speed and temperature settings just right for the model, creating support structures which different softwares go for.

In conclusion, I started out really liking the Ultimaker 2 but the Makerbot Felix 2 also looks promising to me, trading off not quite the print quality but a more confidence boosting service (currently?) for a minimal looking machine (that always grabs my eye). And the bonus of the 'awesome' Makerbot Digitiser scanner, ideal for someone like me before I learn how to use Ketchup. One small observation is that the shorter feedin tube on the Felix for the filament looks as though it won't cause as much friction as some of the other models when using a rubberised filament. I can't see a built- in digital controller, so there will always be plenty of questions and some of the answers only clear after you have taken it your printer out of the box.   

Makerbot Felix version 2 which deliver up to 50 microns in 1.75mm filament at £1440

And what did I say about printing plastic gnomes:

The Makerbot Digitizer Scanner available from Reprap Central for £1295

Some further reference material below but in the meantime don't take any of my ramblings as gospel as the technology will all have changed by tomorrow.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Wooden catamaran that fits into a Smart car

    Well, before you laugh at a guy who drives a Smart car that is less than three metres long, consider it is the only vehicle that will fit on my congested road outside my house and fills the gap other cars can't get into! What is impressive about the car is its deceptively large interior and with the seat folded down I took my digital touchscreen jukebox over to Ireland in 2005 for a major exhibition there.


Digital Touchscreen Jukebox that won The Professional Woodworker of the Year Award 2005

    Being good at woodwork, despite being labelled a dunce at school turns out to be a wonderful transferrable skill and a fantastic recent tonic for me has been to get away from the rich bespoke and increasingly precious hand-made furniture market that I can no longer relate to (my order book confirms this!) and use the same range of skills and experience to make a boat, well a micro catamaran that fits into the back of my Smart car. Suddenly the isolation of working alone in a cramped workshop transforms into a sociable interaction allowing friends and passers by to try out the boat on my local canal. 

     I had observed at the beginning and zenith of my furniture design career that innovation was welcomed and innovation is what I did and was known for - new solutions to old problems, new structures, new forms and new functions. But at recent furniture exhibitions where I showed chairs that were uniquely constructed combining a sculptural form, my work went by totally un-noticed and one of life's big lessons is dealing with a degree of 'celebrity' status in your field that suddenly disappears and you become a nobody! The very people who elevate you - the crafts media, choose to forget you and I'm thinking well I'm not finished yet by a long chalk. Admittedly a long illness around 2002 lasting several years robbed my energy and put me out in the wilderness whilst new kids on the block inevitably stole the limelight. One should not complain as 'every dog has its day' but I got a sense that innovation is a tired buzzword and does not really count, but expense and status does and so the field I once helped pioneer in the 70's became an alien wilderness for me in the second decade of the new century. 

The Brickrock chair in ash using a technique not familiar in chair design - 2010

     Messing about on the river and especially the river Avon near Chippenham and Bradford on Avon was a chunk of my childhood when I built a canoe that was fluorescent yellow and grey PVC covered in white trimmed spruce. My aim has been to float a craft of similar colour scheme down the same river and re visit my youth, gliding past moorhens, swans and over schools of minoes and perch. 

Brilliant woodwork teacher Howard Orme helps Jeremy Broun make a canoe in 1961

     All my innovative technical and visual skills have been employed in this project and a quiet confirmation to myself that I am different to those guys who pursue absolute perfection in fine hand-made furniture using micrometers and magnifying glasses and can't do anything else, when yes I can do all that but the fun is to build a boat using an epoxy resin glue filled with colloidal silica and have 3mm gaps between the joints that the resin fills. I once worked on a boat that I think was the flagship for the 1986 America's cup in Sydney - a replica wooden schooner and we used epoxy resin with 6mmm gaps filled by the glue. The guys had never built a boat before! 

The 'Ena' - Sydney 1986

    That's normal in boatbuilding and I'm beginning to become more comfortable with 'normal' which is also more sociable than all those prestigious major exhibitions in the 70's, 80's and 90's showing my furniture alongside the Royal College of Art gang, and they hardly ever said hello to me! The reader will note a twinge of angst, but the truth is complacency never fuels creativity, indeed as Glenn Close once said 'Great art comes from a sense of outrage'. Father thought I was a dunce and banned me from using his workshop as a boy so over his dead body (he died when I was 17) I said 'I'll show you'. You have to believe in yourself ultimately and not listen to those who unwittingly infer 'you can't do it'. I remember those days when to be good with your hands was a serious impairment - an indication there was nothing upstairs! Today the landscape is very different amongst successful conventional professionals who take up furniture making for a career. 

      But what about the kids of today, who like me, enjoy messing about on the river? Will they have the opportunity and skill base to make a canoe? If my work inspires just a few as indeed I was inspired by a brilliant woodwork teacher at Abbotsholme school (Howard Orme) who helped me build my first canoe, then what I do holds some chance of continuity. Here is my micro catamaran made from just 2mm aircraft plywood and standard softwood battening.     

The micro catamaran designed and made by Jeremy Broun  -July 2013

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Fudgers Junction

I was talking with somebody the other day and we got onto the subject of trainspotting in our youth. I was encouraged to try it out when I was about ten and survived a few days ticking off the train identification numbers in an 'I spy' book when they passed through Chippenham station.  I subsequently preferred identifying cars. However, in conversation with this bloke he mentioned the term 'Fudgers Junction' which I thought would make a catchy title for one of my You Tube (Woodomain) videos. It means a trainspotter who makes a false claim about a train such as the Flying Scotsman having been spotted in say - Redruth, Cornwall when in fact it never ventured down there (so I'm told). 

It crossed my mind whether the term might apply to woodworking - for instance a secret mitred dovetail is a highly complicated joint to achieve and a real sign of masterly craftsmanship but all you see actually is a mitre from the outside, so who knows - could this be a case of Fudgers Junction? 

And then what about all those designer makers who don't actually make the designs that come under their name (on the price tag) at the auction houses? Even Chippendale might have been a Fudgers Junction kind of guy. I think there are quite a lot around and if over the many years of woodworking and furniture that I have made with my own bare hands, and creations that are entirely mine and not derivations of others'  ideas, the only epitaph I deserve in my contribution to the world of woodworking, is 'the guy who introduced Fudgers Junction to woodworking', then, all I ask is that you don't confuse me with a 'bodger' or a more commonly used term that seems to resemble fudger!

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Ebook Of Age

    Ebooks have been around for a few years and I've been keeping a watchful eye on progress with a view to publishing my own woodworking titles online.  With the recent launch of the Amazon Kindle Fire I think its true to say that ebooks have now come of age - well thats if you think the age of being capable of voting is sixteen! 
    The ebook age is also an age of uncertainty as there are no guarantees the ebooks you can view today will be viewable in five or ten years time. Many of the formats listed on Wikipedia are now obsolete and even when you think all the boxes have been ticked, its a bit like a radio station - it only needs to be slightly out of tune and you miss out completely on the message. Not only are there several different ebook formats out there but they require different readers and are exclusive to the major distributors/platforms such as Kobo, Kindle and iPad. The one that keeps on coming up is E-pub and when I enthusiastically contacted The British Library with a view to loan out my e-books was informed this is the only format accepted by their supplier. 
    It is a can of worms as I have spent the past month or two experimenting with some multi-media e-publications (including video embedding) that are the perfect platform for my intended market, except it use the old-fashioned 'Flash' protocol that has got many slick websites into trouble in recent years. Well I have been doing some research, reading forums, listening to what Adobe has to say about flash and HTML5 and they are not about to dump it. This heartening as you only need to look at the frantic launch of ever increasing social networking sites to throw the dice and reckon what will still be around in five years time. 
    Now, I'm fortunately in a market that is not primarily dictated to by fashion and the thrill of change. Lets face it some of my customers for videos (on average over 55 years old) are still using VCR's and although we have been told that DVD is obselete it will run on and so too is the consensus regarding Flash. Almost 99% of computers have flash installed and the FlippingBook software I am trying out currently is also HTML5 enabled so it loads on mobile devices. 
   I like this particular ebook format because it allows virtually instant access o sample books on my website, unlike most other formats I have tried that involve passwords and lengthy download waits. a particularly useful tool is the word search especially for lengthy technical books and the embedded video just brings it all together as great learning platform.  Well, see what you think:

a sample Ebook by Jeremy Broun

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Creativity spoiled by money

      I have just been watching the tail end of an interesting TV documentary about creativity and advertising and it focused on stand-up comedians (Gags to Riches) and how doing TV commercials is considered stooping amongst many of their peers. Some would also reasonably say that earning vast fortunes by doing an advert pays for the more creative work as even well known actors can fall on hard times and this is true across the creative spectrum in Britain. 
     Certainly as a furniture designer I have been too fuelled by a desire to innovate new ideas to fall into the trap of letting clients dominate my output but have relied on building wardrobes, fitted kitchens and even site carpentry for bread and butter survival (which I've also enjoyed doing). 
      In the programme John Cleese said about creativity 'Wherever you look now money spoiled it'Ironically one of his well known creative achievements was in his series of business training videos (late 70's I think) using humour as a potent learning tool - to improve a business which generally means to make more money! However, I find his statement does ring true in my own observation of the field of bespoke designer maker furniture that I have seen develop from its infancy.
    There has undoubtedly been a Golden Age of British Craftsmanship and design (that I have enjoyed documenting) but it may have passed its zenith, not because there is a recession to potentially stop it in its tracks and furniture really is a luxury, but because increasingly high prices and associated exclusivity have dominated the field which translated means the client has more of a say in what is created and that can lead to creative compromise. Well, thats my view and also my observation in my own field that a high degree of clever persuasion is involved in getting your own way and possibly the people at the top of their field have more swing to do just that!   
     Many would argue that designing, as a problem solving activity, includes the client brief and this does challenge definitions such as the old well worn question 'is it art, is it craft, is it design?' So in wearing my hat as fundamentally a furniture 'artist' the buzz for me in searching for exciting new ways to make things is essentially a selfish quest where the hope is someone will like it enough to buy it and put bread on the table. For most of my working life it has been more a case of the butter on the bread as I had the good fortune (and interest) to be able to teach also as a supplement to my income.
    The true creativity I believe connects with a curious breed of people called early adopters and in the world of mass-produced items they will pay a little over the odds (e.g. in the days of Hi-Fi) and I do believe some other mysterious forces are at work in bringing the creative individual in touch with the early adopter just before the former is about to go bankrupt! That is not to say early adopters are rich but that they recognise the uniqueness of an idea well before possibly it (or the creator) has become a brand. Not all early adopters are looking for an investment as I believe many are simply connecting on this other level with the creator!
   These are just rambled thoughts in response to the statement John Cleese made that stuck in my mind and the point I believe he (and others) was making was that if you want creativity, don't interfere with it and see what comes out of process as even the creator will not know. It cannot be prescribed.    


Thursday, 3 January 2013

Acoustic box

     It was whilst at school studying for A level woodwork I made my first acoustic guitar. It was made in a weekend - that is, I started on Friday afternoon and worked through Friday and Saturday night to complete the instrument by tea time sunday afternoon. Normally it takes about two weeks to build a guitar. The school workshop had run out of shellac so I used boot polish. It was probably at Abbotsholme (progressive) school that my desire to innovate and break with tradition began although at that time my training was to be in a strictly traditional groove. Howard Orme was my woodwork master and I followed in his footsteps and went on to train at Shoreditch College. He landed yup teaching at Eton where I met yup with him a few years later.


Woodwork master Howard Orme later meets up with
his first A level student Jeremy Broun.

       Howard was quite eccentric and a brilliant teacher. I was his star pupil and the first to gain an A level pass in just two terms instead of two years. Put that down to an inspirational teacher, no less. Once we were in the workshop firing crossbows we had made at a poster of Edward Barnsley at the end of the workshop and the headmaster walked in showing around some prospective parents. Imagine that happening today - well it wouldn't because there are hardly any school workshops for kids to make things in wood!

     My father had died in that year and I was somewhat lost regarding the dreaded word career other than the guidance of Howard who helped open the lock to my creativity. I recall thinking then, shall I become a guitar maker and realised I would become bored quickly as guitar making was steeped in tradition. So, almost fifty years and twenty guitars later I decided to spend more time making innovative acoustic guitars with the pledge to make one a year. Of course I never commanded big bucks for my guitars as I was an unknown and guitar making in Britain is probably far more exclusive than bespoke furniture making. I did sell an acoustic 'jumbo' guitar in 1970 for £200 that was a pretty good price.


Jumbo guitar (no 12) with braided strings. 1970

      More recently I have made a Selmer style guitar as played by gypsy jazz guitarists. There is a better market there for making custom built guitars but of course Chinese imports have seriously dominated the market and some very fine guitars too.

Selmer style guitar using local walnut with innovative
 sawkerf rib construction by Jeremy Broun

     Modern electronics adds another dimension to guitar making and I even have a busking guitar case amplifier with wireless sound transmission that I went to Paris with a few years ago.
 A current project still at the design sketching stage is a very small travelling electro acoustic guitar that delivers a formidable sound combining micro electronics and the best acoustic wood materials such as Balkan spruce for the top and mahogany for the neck. An acoustic guitar embraces many woodworking techniques exploiting the character of a range of timbers. 

An experimental travelling electro acoustic guitar using a Hofner Shorty        

 One of the joys of working an incredible material like wood is exploring its versatility. Often people are confused when you say you design modern furniture and also make guitars as it is easier and maybe perceived as more professional to say you focus on just one thing and this puts everything into a neat box. But this goes against creativity and the adventure with wood can take you along fascinating diverse paths. Perhaps they all link up somewhere.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

All a bit batty

     Anyone who is familiar with the picturesque Wiltshire town of Bradford On Avon and who was a local artist in the 80's will recall the Brewery in Wine Street. My late half-sister Barbara, an accomplished Trompe 'oeil painter, rented a studio there for £1 a week and went on to create fabulous works of Art for Pop superstars and even a Hollywood film producer. I recall she had painted the old beams and walls in her studio in this semi-derelict building. There were holes gaping in the roof and bits of corrugated iron placed below to channel the rain water. It was a beehive of creative activity, housing stained glass artists, potters,  woodworkers et al. 

Egyptian Porphyry chess board and pieces designed and made by Jeremy Broun
and painted by Barbara Broun 1981.

      Circa 1985 I rented a studio below Barbara's at £5 a week for a short period.  I used it primarily for storage as I had sold my house in Bath and was thinking of emigrating to Australia out of rust ration that modern furniture was not appreciated in Britain. What I do recall was that bats inhabited the Brewery and whilst property speculators closed in on all quarters there was a conservation order on the building to protect the bats and that basically kept the rents low for a artist craftsman to struggle to make a living.
     Today I was invited to a New Year breakfast at a friend's house near Bradford on Avon and one of the guests, an elderly man, resides in a flat at The Brewery. The developers eventually got their way, but interestingly when I mentioned the bats back in the early 80's he said ' oh they are still there and there is a hole in the roof for them'!
      One of the reasons I was able to focus my own furniture on innovation and go against the grain was because I kept my overheads low and this studio similar to the converted cattle shed I rented initially in Bath at £3 per week was vital to that creative survival. The artist craftsmen who resided in Bradford on Avon largely left as property developers moved in and were fragmented around the county or simply had to grin and bear increasing high rents. The conservation of a few bats may seem more important than the patronage of artist craftsmen and little wonder the field I was a pioneer in has become a very expensive playground - possibly now excluding the truly innovative?
     I welcome the New year in holding hope that change will occur. The news that Viscount Linley (who once asked me to make his furniture) is no longer trading in his furniture business has implications for this luxury craft and I guess we can go two ways, either become even more expensive or pitch it within the grasp of ordinary people, but then not enough ordinary people are excited enough to live with fabulously modern furniture that lasts so that it can be made on a rational basis (batch production) so the dye is set or at least for a while longer.
     In this New Year I'm not quite sure where to go and age isn't exactly on one's side but then I was never certain, just passionate about making new things in wood. All a bit batty really and perhaps one should hang upside down in the dark for inspiration!