New Year Brick Cutting – 2256 down, 1644 to go!

Well done to those who braved some chilly and damp weather to join in the New Year Brick Cutting Party at Didcot Railway Centre!

The Civil Engineering Group met every day from 31 December to 4 January, joined by Swindon Panel members on 1 and 3 January.

The bricks for the new building were delivered to DRC some while ago and are stacked up near the Wantage Road bus garage. The new building will be built of bricks in an English Bond pattern, which requires a large proportion of half-bricks. So over the new year period the working groups set to work with a brick guillotine, and started nibbling away at the pallets of bricks.

Harrison demonstrates the brick-cutting machine

We found the ideal number of people to work with the machine was three or four, in order to get a good production line, but without getting in each others way. One person inserting bricks into the machine and removing the halves, one person operating the machine handle, and one or two people stacking the half-bricks. The half-bricks produced create quite a volume, so efficient stacking onto pallets is important, as the pallets will be lifted by the steam crane to the building site, so it’s no good if they all fall off as soon as the pallet is lifted!

One of seven pallets of cut-up bricks.

The required size of brick is slightly less than half, so each brick required at least two cuts, the narrow middle portion being rejected (although these will later be used in other building works as hard-core). Some bricks required an extra cut as a ‘trim’, if one of the first cuts wasn’t straight.

The guillotine is a clever machine that exerts about three feet of mechanical advantage in the handle into a movement of the ‘blade’ of about 1/4 inch. The blade doesn’t cut all the way through the brick, it just cracks it from the top. This, combined with the specially-shaped plate on which the brick rests gives very good results, and by the end of the sessions we had a frequency of about one brick every 5 seconds.

The morning of New Year’s Day was quite wet, and progress was hard during that time. The team fashioned a roof over their area out of corrugated sheeting! The afternoon was dry and cool, which was ideal weather for the work we were doing. We soon built up speed (and sweat), and were so enthused that we carried on well after dark (the normal natural stopping time), until about 5.30. We set ourselves several targets (end of this pallet, etc), but each time we reached the target we still wanted to carry on!

The late team at work! [Richard Antliff]

The days were very enjoyable indeed. The work isn’t massively hard, and doesn’t require much in the way of technical skill, it is just jobs like brick-cutting that need to be done, and we can achieve as volunteers, to minimise the overall cost of the building.

We cut 2256 bricks into 4512 halves. Just over 7800 halves are required, so about another 1250 bricks to cut, which we hope to complete in the CE Day on Saturday 17 January and the Swindon Panel Day on Sunday 18 January. Please do come and give us a hand if you can! (If you are planning to join us please let us know in advance if you can, as if there are sufficient helpers we may be able to secure a second guillotine.)

More photos of the New Year Period: 1st January | 3rd January