Category Archives: Gear

Adding a QCTP to a 9×20 Lathe

It took me a while to find much information on this, so I’m paying it forward to hopefully make it more likely that the information finds its way to someone who needs it! If you’re fairly new to machining, I’m going to discuss toolposts in general a little bit. If you just want to see the 9×20 process, feel free to skip below!

What is a QCTP?

A QCTP, or Quick Change Tool Post, is a type of toolpost for a machine lathe which, as the name implies, allows for much faster tool changes than traditional lantern or turret type toolposts.

Four way turret toolpost
Four way turret toolpost boring out the stainless NN-14 barrel

It’s a pretty standard upgrade for most lathes which are used in any kind of production capacity, since the ability to move through a rapid sequence of tooling allows for efficient machining of multiple identical parts.

There are two main types of QCTP that tend to be used: two position “Aloris”, and 40 position “Swiss-type” or “Multifix” styles. The US tends to use the two position, and Europe the 40-position, though that’s not an absolute. They all use a lever that cam-locks a variety of toolholders in position against a post which dictates the angle they’re at.

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Revamping The Shop!

So I don’t know how well it may have come across on video, I generally tried to frame somewhat carefully, but the shop as it existed from around the middle of 2015 onwards was a nightmare. Stuff- tools, materials, trash…- strewn across every available flat surface, including the floor, piled up against benches and walls, some bench tools on the floor… Working in it was like playing Jenga in a hurricane.

So, this summer I made good on my threats to actually do something about it, and put a good couple weeks’ of effort into really turning the space into something useable. It’s a huge amount of work, and really has to be broken down into two phases, but the first phase (create more workspace, clear most of the floor, give all the tools a permanent home) is now more or less complete.

I did what was supposed to be a quick video giving something vaguely resembling a tour:

Here are a few pics of where it currently stands:


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Creating Abstract, Textured Studio Backdrops

While I love my seamless, sometimes I wish there were another option in the studio than flat colour. Sometimes I feel like a subject, particularly one simply lit, would have a little more depth if the background had some texture to it, something for the light to “catch” on and “anchor” the image in something real.

Usually this is achieved by shooting on location, particularly with a shallow depth of field. It can be achieved by lighting the background through a gobo, throwing patterned light on the background. But none of this quite achieves either the right level of reality, or the right level of texture uniformity and colour/tone control required for the shots I envisage. While they both have their uses, there just isn’t anything like a proper backdrop to blend “real” and “fake” in the right quantities.

So, how to create the right backdrop? Be warned: I go into detail… This is 2800 words of research and experimentation. You might wanna skim from section to section.

Painted Backdrops

Enter the painted backdrop. More specifically, fine-art painted backdrops; those painted according to very specific criteria with some degree of skill for a fairly specific spectrum of purpose. These can include scenery, skies, abstract or even full-blown Hollywood matte paintings. Not those generic printed school-portrait backgrounds!

The real deal. Gorgeous? Yes. Worth the cost? If you can afford it, totally. I now know first hand how much work goes into this.
The real deal. Gorgeous? Yes. Worth the cost? If you can afford it, totally. I now know first hand how much work goes into this.

My inspiration here is, perhaps entirely unsurprisingly to some, Oliphant Backdrops, a small company producing fine art backdrops for high end clients from Hollywood studios to Vogue that are consistently beautiful and inspiring. I Googled the prices on these, and found a couple of forum discussions between previous clients placing custom work in the low four-figure range and rentals in mid-three-figures. Firmly out of my budget levels for the near future.

Naturally, my immediate instinct is to DIY instead. So what’s required to set about that? I spent a month working on that very question, so I could show you…

Getting Started

To clarify, I don’t have a fine art degree or anything along those lines, so I’m not approaching it with any significantly greater degree of skill with a physical paintbrush than anyone else. Given this fact, nothing I produce will likely ever be as good as an Oliphant without years of regular practice. On the other hand, I have a decent idea of how paint works, and I have some muscle memory from digital painting, so it shouldn’t be impossible. I’m aiming for it to be achievable by anyone with a modicum of artistic inclination like me, so my lack of experience is important. Anyone can follow along!

If you saw my blog a little while back, you'll know I just dusted these 2012 paintings off after some time in an old backup archive.
If you saw my blog recently, you’ll know I just dusted these 2012 paintings off after some time in an old backup archive.

First you have to figure out what you’re looking to create. Personally I’m not looking for anything too extravagant, my favourites are the abstract ones which vary between “cloud-like” and “shoddily-painted decaying plaster”. They strike the exact right balance between block-tone uniformity and reality-grounding detail for my aesthetic taste, so that’s the style I’m specifically looking at for this project.

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Painted Studio Backdrop Mk. I WIP Sequence!

After completing the how-to article for Phototuts, I still have a number of images and sequences to show from the month-long project. I wanted to show my most recent completion as a sort of how-to sequence, showing how I worked it and how the paint builds up over the layers.

It’s not yet perfect, but I’m pretty happy with it and it’s definitely a positive direction.

Photo Apr 30, 14 45 03
The couple layers brushed in, just like I did on a test piece which worked out well.

Continue reading Painted Studio Backdrop Mk. I WIP Sequence!