Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Small physics demonstration

In the '28 manual, there's an instruction to construct a Newton's disc. The small apparatus with a colour wheel should demonstrate that the primary colours (or colours of the rainbow) fade into white when mixed by spinning the disc rapidly.

So to build one. Built from period parts with some modifications and improvements. It seems to have been the purpose of the instruction manual to show constructions that have a lot of scope for improving. Two strips for some bracing were well within the parts-list of a number 2 outfit. Likewise some improved bearings with a bush-wheel and a two-stage x4 gearing.

The instruction manual image suggests it being hand-held, the design also works well as a free-standing little apparatus (with a set of newly printed rubber feet).

Quite surprisingly it actually works; reality conforming to theory! Hard to capture as the shutter of the camera is faster than the human eye. The centre ring still shows colour at ~300 rpm in a picture, but shows completely monochrome, light grey to the human eye. Amaze the kids ;-)

With Meccano being a construction system, then everything of course taken apart again for a next little build.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Most dangerous substance in the house (and a use thereof)

There are a lot of hazardous substances in the house, not least things like bleach and drain cleaner. The small bottle of cyanoacrylate glue might actually be candidate for being the most dangerous substance in the house. A bit similar to how the 'Dremel' might be the most dangerous tool in the shed. A 'Dremel' looks fairly harmless, yet will do serious damage in an instant when you're not paying full attention.

The cyanoacrylate glue also looks fairly harmless - it's a small bottle of glue. But unlike the regular 'hobby' glue, you need to keep paying attention or it'll inflict damage that may require some medical attention. This glue polymerises (hardens) in seconds and sticks very well to just about anything - fingers, tables, eyelids...

That great adhesion does make it ideal to repair metal parts that have become loose or broken. One such instance is the brass boss in some Meccano parts. The bosses in older spoked wheels (19a) seem to have worked loose often. Also in this example 2" pulley, the boss is loose and can rotate in the wheel.

The key thing then is to get a small amount of cyanoacrylate glue in the gap between the boss and the pulley and not get it anywhere else. I.e. especially not touch the glue at any time - don't get it anywhere near yourself.

To do this, a toothpick is given a drop of the glue on its tip. Then this tip is pressed into the gap, letting the glue be pulled into the gap by capillary action. Resist any urge to guide or rub things with fingers...

The glue polymerises in seconds, triggered by water (moisture in the air). Giving it a minute to be sure, the boss is again fixed firmly on the pulley wheel.

A dangerous substance to have in the house - but very good for fixing loose mechanical parts (or perhaps cracked frames and castings).

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Somebody just had to already have tried this

When something can be imagined, then there is bound to be somebody that has actually tried it.

And so it is with the suggestion that a typewriter could perhaps be constructed from Meccano. This fine example is shown here on a blurry scan from the 1932 book of prize winning models.

Meccano could actually be very good to show and experiment with various methods of creating a typewriter linkage from keypress to swinging typebar. The machine constructed by Mr Pantanella does go much further however.

Almost like creating a model of the Notre Dame from matches - definitely taking it to another level...

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Colourful covers of Meccano literature

The very early Meccano parts were 'monochrome' in nickel and brass, the literature did come with colourful covers. The instruction books with models, but certainly the magazine covers of the late twenties come with colourful illustrations of the mechanical wonders of the age. 

Included in the instruction book are already a few pages with general engineering mechanisms. Instruction book is actually a bit of a misnomer; these booklets are rather a collection of pictures of models without any instruction on how to build them. Finding out how to construct these models is explicitly left to the ingenuity of the builder, to foster and promote his mechanical prowess.

Included in the larger outfits and also available separately was a booklet containing 'standard mechanisms'. A booklet complete with a wide variety of mechanical functions and how these may be achieved with Meccano parts. Explicitly advertising it as proper mechanical engineering in miniature.

These more complex mechanisms in this booklet fortunately do have descriptions of their workings and some hints on how to construct these.

To offer more inspiration and provide a steady stream of mechanical engineering input, the Meccano company published a monthly magazine. This copy of the March '25 issue has a report on the assembling of a large floating crane, also shown on the front cover.

And e.g. an article on copper. This does have me wondering how riveting this would have been to the intended readership, even then...

Today old issues of the Meccano Magazine are offered for sale online fairly regularly, if wanting to browse an actual paper magazine. To browse and get a feel for the content (with period advertisements); all copies of the Meccano Magazine are available at The Archive. All scanned at very high resolution and freely readable or downloadable as a PDF document.

Just for viewing the colourful covers - well worth a browse :-)

Friday, November 11, 2016

Manufacturing firm footing for Meccano models

The tinkering with the small screws of the Meccano has grown a bit - so has the collection of parts. Even though there is a wide variety of parts to build many different types of models and mechanisms, there was one part lacking that I would have expected. Maybe it is an expectation from working with the older typewriters; the Meccano system did not have rubber feet.

All nice and well when building on a workbench, but having rubber feet would be nice to prevent a small model from marring a tabletop. And as with typewriters, prevent models from skidding all over the table. A pulley fitted with a rubber tire could be used of course, but wanted something more compact - like a collar or bushing.

So we got some made.

With the easy availability of 3D modelling software and easy access to very affordable 3D printing in rubber, getting custom feet manufactured is not only doable - it's probably even less hassle than finding the right part in the hardware store. A quick design was made in Sketchup for a half-inch round by a quarter-inch high foot and a set of these printed locally via 3DHubs in black Ninjaflex at 100 micron layer-height.

These simple rubber feet can be bolted onto a plate or to the angle bracket that Meccano often show as 'foot' of a machine model. Using a longer bolt, adjustable feet are possible too.

The model, trivial as it is, can be downloaded from Thingiverse here.

(The barrier to replacing broken or missing rubber feet on machines is getting lower and lower :-)

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Monochrome Meccano

Before there was colour, there was monochrome. Same with Meccano. Before 1926 or '27 the parts were not painted, but nickel-plated.

Clean and shiny, these date to around 1920 and would have come with this instruction book.

Localised in Dutch, also sold separately - quite expensive too at Hfl. 1,25. (An English-language version of the 1919 edition of this manual can be found here at the very extensive site of the New Zealand Meccano Club.)

The Meccano system was seriously protected by patents, both utility and design patents. Unlike English, Dutch has evolved quite a bit over the past decades and this manual really illustrates this. Its phrasing and spelling looks very quaint to modern eyes ('ye olde'). Notably odd spelling of Britain in the title page.

Before being published as a separate book of standard mechanisms, the instruction book included a section with some basic standard mechanisms. (Also some odd printing errors in the text; printed in England, a Dutch-speaking printer would have caught word-contractions and similar mistakes.)

The range of parts was already extensive (and about to expand a lot more during the twenties and thirties). Some parts were only available as separate spare-parts and not included in any outfit. The given prices again illustrate this was not cheap.

Despite the high price, or perhaps because of it, the reader is cautioned against considering buying anything that is not the genuine article. On the back cover of the booklet is explained that Meccano is more than a mere toy! It is true mechanical engineering in miniature. Any imitation is not following sound engineering principles and thus would be bad for the development of the child. (Oh dear.)

To be fair it actually was the technology of its day in miniature, arguably the Arduino of its time.

Still it is an enjoyable toy, still :-)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Sightings of beige machines

Sightings from a very small 'safari'; a browse at the jumble sale of a local church. Had been wondering if there'd be any shellac records or gramophones or other interesting vintage technology. There actually were two typewriters, however these were of a fairly recent vintage - the 'beige period'.

The Olympia manual typewriter could have done with a wipe from a damp cloth to clean it a bit, otherwise probably fine. Regular keyboard, but with the 'ij' key.

The one other machine was equally beige and, as an electric, edging even closer to the impending PC-age.

This Torpedo Electronic 700 typewriter has a fairly extensive keyboard with a neat assortment of mathematics or engineering symbols.

Even though the asking prices at the event overall were very modest, passed on both. 
(Instead from the tools-section picked up an old screwdriver and folding rule :-)