The Rollogator, for Turning Wetted Newspapers Into Woodburner 'logs'

Introduction: The Rollogator, for Turning Wetted Newspapers Into Woodburner 'logs'

“The Rollogator”

The “Rollogator” by Richard Lakin-Inzunza

Having recently removed my gas fires and bought a potbelly stove, because I can’t afford gas any more, and it was something I’d been planning on for years and finally got round to, after throwing myself in at the deep end and having my gas fires disconnected first, at the beginning of winter!!

I had already bought a press for making the paper bricquettes, but found the operation to be rather clumsy and unnecessarily complex, having to separate the news sheets, soak them, stuff them into the box, place the lid on and then press.
Also the press was a bit flimsy, I found it bent out of shape with the pressure my massive frame can exert, and I had to considerably modify it and strengthen parts with welded bars etc.
My first idea was based on the simple concept, that the whole newspaper comes already quite compressed, and in a shape ready to be turned with one simple action into a ‘log’. I had thought of a fairly complex machine like a mangle, that rolled the paper into a cylinder, then used a piston to shoot it out the bottom, and I spent a while working out how to do this, before realising the actual solution needs to be as simple as possible, something the average DIY-er can knock up, or a small business can manufacture with the minimum of tooling**.
In the end, it came in a flash of inspiration, (I’m a trained chef, and when rolling out pastry, it occurred to me to reverse the idea)!

A friend asked me, "What are the advantages over simply rolling wet newspapers by hand and taping them with the brown tape?"

Good question, and there are quite a few. For one, the rolls come out with a hole in the centre, which speeds drying and aids combustion.

And it's fast! You can knock out rolled logs very quickly once you're set up, doing a few every time you take a bath in the summer will soon amass you a huge pile for winter!

Secondly, it rolls a tight compressed log, which comes out nicely even, doing it by hand makes a squishy mangled ugly thing!

Also, if you try doing this, you'll soon find your hands become very blistered and sore, and wrinkly due to too much water contact.

Finally, it sets a specific area to work in, otherwise you'd have to set up with draining areas, piles of ruined soaked tape, which, though it's cheap enough when used properly, will soon become impossible to use if the whole roll became wet and dried out thus.

And I find it quite relaxing, and most satisfying, and fulfills part of your desire to be helping the environment, and getting your heating by and large free!

So, using a piece of 12 mm fencing bar I had left over from a job repairing railing to a church recently, I cut the main part, the roller centre, out of the steel stock, 12 mm ∅ X 480 mm, or just wider than a tabloid paper, before the handles were fitted. Aluminium, plastics, etc, would probably work much better, this is just the prototype!

I cut two large handles, from a piece of mop stale, and using a simple holesaw, cut four discs out of a piece of pine, two with 12mm centre holes, two with 22m holes, corresponding to the diameter of the handles., and glued together as in the photos. I drilled a 10mm hole centrally in the right-handed* mop handle piece, then threaded it internally with a M12 x 1.5 thread, then cut the same thread into the end of the metal bar. (You can buy a basic set of taps and dies for under a tenner which will cope with all this, and many other jobs!), but it takes a fair bit of strength to start and continue the thread, and I’m no tich! Use plenty of oil, and only do a quarter turn before reversing to clear the swarf. Alternately, just roughen the end and using an epoxy resin glue, glue the metal into the wood.
The other end was ground on a grinding machine to a fairly rounded bullet-shaped end, which located in the corresponding left handle. In actual fact, I cut a thread in both, then ground it smooth on the metal to make it a very tight push fit, but I don’t think, on reflection, it’s all that necessary!

I selected a very thick wire coat hanger, (thicker than the drycleaner type), about 3 mm, and straightened it, then with one end protruding about two inches out of the vice, bent it with pliers into a triangular handle. After measuring it to make sure it just protruded through the hole in the other side, I ground that end into a similar but smaller bullet shape to assist passing through the roller ‘wheels’, for which I had drilled two appropriately sized holes.

...Then, the paper is rolled tightly in one simple action, two short lengths of brown paper packaging tape are wetted and applied, the roller removed and the ‘log’ can be stacked for drying... (Pull the tape from the dispenser* (See later), and wet it by wiping it over the rolled paper)

The Rack

I decided to make a rack, which fits over the bath, (where I have left the water from a recent bath, just to add to the verdance* of the idea).

There is no particular reason for this exact design, other than it is made from old bed laths I found whilst out scavenging with my bike and trailer.

(I may well make one from aluminium scrap once I've mastered TIG welding with the machine I just bought!)

Design the stops/cutaways underneath it to be about a centimetre narrower than the inside of your bathtub, or whatever other container you may use, e.g, rain butt, or barrel, or, even in your pond on a nice summer day! (try not to use fresh tap water, this planet is running out of potable supplies, so the less you can train yourself to use, the more for drinking, and exporting to needier places by pipeline, (another project I’m planning on!!)

You can face the edges with rubber or something soft if you're worried about damaging the tub, e.g, pieces of used inner tube glued on.

I made the front end lower than the back, (The end that faces away from you in use), so I am rolling ‘downhill’, away from me, this is ergonomically easier, and helps water to drain away.

I intend to make a simpler version from square section recycled timber, held together in the same shape by lengths of pitch pine dowelling¶ , simply drilled through with a flat bit, spaced and glued or hot glued and a tack inserted to hold in place. (I have two nail guns and a compressor, which makes construction very swift, even if only using to ‘tack’ together the work while glue dries).

I find the hot glue gun is only useful at holding work while screws are inserted, it doesn’t have much use as a permanent adhesive where stress will be applied. It is good however, at filling spaces, mine has a fine nozzle which can be used to force hot glue into spaces, ensuring a tight fit on joints where the carpentry skills or tools used aren’t top quality! (I’m generally too hassled or in too much of a rush to work with the skills I am capable of, as taught at school by a very good teacher, unless it is my finest work for show and strength!) I always “belt and braces” using glued joints and screws too. The nail gun is brilliant too for fast rigging up, and can be used to ‘dovetail’ nail to improve strength. Jet clamps speed up fast work, but if you really want a fine finish and long-term durability, always use proper sash and ‘G’ clamps.

* Verdance, “Greenity” (sic!)

¶ ( Pitch Pine rather than Ramin, which is a rainforest product and not to be encouraged)

I’ll probably bevel the edges of the spars which will help to drain off as much water as possible. Another thing that would help would be a series of broad saw cuts along the spars, to grip and squeeze out as much water as possible, aiding the drying time. In addition, as opposed to the bricquettes, these dry faster, not only because there is more surface area per unit mass, but the central hole allows air to pass inside.

Ideally, they should be stacked under cover, at 45º to the prevailing wind, if outdoors, three in one direction, and the next layer being at 90º and so on, which will maximise the circulation of air in and around the logs.

The Brown Tape Dispenser

After my initial trials, with the rack across the bath, I found that my wet hands were slowly soaking the roll of tape, and I remember from previous experience, with a roll I had for stretching watercolour paper onto a board, once it dries, the whole roll can be ruined. At about a fiver a roll, (200 metres), you don’t want to waste it! So, finding a conveniently sized tub from my prescription of 2 kg Epsom Salts for me poor aching joints, (!!), I found this would accommodate one or two rolls and keep them quite dry. The lid has a roll-back lip, which seals it quite nicely. I think the 2KG (Bright Yellow) vegetable Ghee containers you see around would probably do just as nicely..

I cut a slot to allow the two tapes to pass, (keep the edges smooth or they will cut the tape, later, I may refine the slot with some ‘lips’ or needle rollers), then hot glued a piece of wood in front underneath, and onto this, as far away from the slot as possible, (or you’ll find it very diffcult to thread the tape once a piece has been cut. Next time, I’ll make a metal bar that sticks out about three or four inches away), I put a piece of small angled aluminium which I had put saw cuts in and then ground them to a blade with my rotary modelling tool, and this acted as a cutter to snap the tape down on and cut it like a sellotape dispenser.

Mind you, later on after some practice, I found it easy enough to simply tear the tape to the required lengths.

I then cut and fixed two pieces of scrap staff bead from an old sash window, (Use anything convenient!), and located them on the back to hold the tape dispenser in the two spars of wood on the rack, stopping it from rotating. Obviously, I couldn't screw the holder to the spar as it needs to come away for refilling.

I used four small brass screws (round-headed screws to minimise anything catching on the paper rolls), inside to hold them after gluing. (Incidentally, the inner screw was quite hard to turn at this stage, until I found my longer screwdriver and poked it through the central 22 mm hole!

The tape is available from any packaging company, starting at about a fiver a 200m roll, the more you buy, the cheaper it gets! But one roll will last ages anyway. It must be kept dry. Don’t confuse it with the newer plastic sticky packaging tape, that costs way more, and wouldn’t work with wet paper anyway! Don’t get it wet too long before using, as it tends to lose the glue in the water and becomes useless.

As soon as I had it assembled, I tested it, and it works better than my best hopes! I shall further refine it, to make it simpler for re-manufacture. Use waterproof (external) wood glue, as it is likely to get very wet during usage. Pitch pine is recommended for the same reason, which won’t shrink or crack like the cheaper kiln-dried rubbish used for general construction.

I find old window parts and other scrap from skips outside re-furbished Victorian and Edwardian housing is better than anything cheap and new, provide you take care to remove all nails, and any rotten areas, or any wood with obvious infestations, usually woodworm is clearly visible by a series of small round holes.

And wear a mask if burning off old paint, as this often contains quantities of lead. Give the finished piece a good coat of exterior or yacht varnish, or paint it using acrylics as I have here, although I will finish with oil-based exterior varnish.

The length of the roller I got dead right first time, it allows a tabloid to be rolled with ease, or a broadsheet turned sideways. You can soak and intersperse other paper and card products, inside the rolls, I intend not to have to ever re-cycle any paper again, turning it all into logs, any excess I can give away or sell.

I’m sure you can get as original and experimental as you want, folding in leaves, sawdust, vegetable matter, whatever, so long as it dries before it rots!

I would be more than happy for anyone to use this idea without royalties or copyright to set up to manufacture and sell versions, and will be happy to discuss further modifications. Perhaps collectives could set up to collect paper, turn into fuel and employ people who would otherwise be without work? Delivering the product by bicycle and trailer to the customer?

Share and Enjoy!!
(Douglas Adamses’ motto in his most famous novel series), and one we should all be using now that capitalism is coming to it’s inevitable doom!

Print-yourself labels, see last photo, copy and print 4 to an A4 sheet!

Added notes!

After continued trials with the Mk.1. the next version will be with more slats across, or with a piece of expanded aluminium across the existing slats. (Cover sharp ends with strips of plastic or material to avoid sharp edges, (or rout a groove and glue it into this), which hurt much more on cold wet hands!).

Don’t put all your paper to soak straightaway, as it becomes too difficult to manage when soaked too well.

If you do, as I do, roll some logs after a bath, it’s much pleasanter and easier if the water’s still warm, especially if you have to do it in winter! Of course this means the paper takes less time to over-soak, so, a little at a time.

I further adapted it by cutting the tape slot to about three inches wide, scoring it on the back, and briefly heating it with a catering blowtorch and folding it back on itself to make a smooth lip. Now it works much better, I also heated the sides to soften and then round them off wearing thick gloves.

I cut the lid or the base off another container, removing any vertical sides, to make an appropriately sized disc to fit in between the tape rolls to stop the tapes crossing over, as it did without.

As you go along, you’ll find ergonomical methods evolve with practice, always bear this in mind and experiment! For example, I find if you always keep the ridge or fold of the paper to your right, and the non-fixed handle to my left. it saves time effort and frustrations.

A slight twist in the opposite direction you rolled will enable extraction of the tool with less effort. I might even look into spray-on Teflon coating for the steel centre!
I sprayed it with automotive primer and gold aerosol paint, which has a very smooth finish anyway, and stops it rusting, which should never be allowed.

Don’t be afraid to modify, and pass the ideas on to others, ( and back to me!).

I’ve been rolling thicker and thicker logs with things like flattened cereal and cat biscuit boxes in the middle. it’s all working very well!

Another addition I will make will be side brackets to hold the two parts of the roller handle, as they get in the way when doing other parts of the job, or fall into the water and become a nuisance.

I’m sure the logs, when dried, will be very easy to cut with a breadknife, if you don’t want to go to the touble of sawing them conventionally. For my little Clarke Standard potbelly, the whole logs are a shade too long, so I will definitely have to do this.

I’ll report back later on burn times, I would imagine them to be a little longer than the bricquettes, as the paper logs seem to come out more compact. The bricqettes used to burn for up to an hour and a quarter, varying with density etc. There is only a very light residue of ash, and I would imagine the chimney flue remains quite clean as there will be less tarry deposits opposed to wood and coal etc. (Try to never burn coal, it’s totally inefficient at this scale, makes a lot of undesirable smoke and is most likely banned in urban areas, causes dirty flue problems and can cause much greater danger of a chimney fire. A lot of stoves aren’t built for it anyway, best to simply rule it out completely! Industrially, it’s generally pulverised and therefore burns fastly and efficiently, but don’t even think of trying to burn it in this form in a domestic environment, it can cause explosions!

Any and all feedback, positive or negative is welcomed!

Don’t forget to observe (UK) HMG Building Regs, 2000 with the 2010 addendum, (Solid Fuel appliances and Fuel Storage Systems), and get all work on stoves, flue and air intakes and CO detectors* HETAS certificated. Other countries will have their own versions.

*A BS Standard Carbon Monoxide detector, Approved to EN50291:2001 and kitemarked, is a must, and a legal requirement, remember, Carbon Monoxide is odourless, colourless and can and does kill!

I strongly recommend the Honeywell SF450EN, which is used by most social housing groups, landlords etc, (and if they want to send me some sweeties for saying so, they can!!). It can be bought on Ebay a lot cheaper than some of the other suppliers I’ve seen, (between £20-£30), as opposed to about £40 at most flue suppliers.

Chimney flues must be swept yearly as a minimum, and access doors must be built in to your system at any bends, to allow this, especially if you do a lot of prolonged slow burns.

Burn, babies burn!!

p.s, I designed a wee label you can print and print, 4 to an A4 sheet, if you want!!

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    Dominic Bender

    Great idea! I think this would work great when used in conjunction with, i.e. the center hole from using a dowel and (possibly) hammering the paper first. I made two such bricks recently, but since I do not currently own anything where I could burn them in I gave them to a friend who has yet to get back to me on them.

    Ricardo da Vinci
    Ricardo da Vinci

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Hi, yes, I have made a second version using a 22mm dowel, and, because I sanded it well and applied several coats of varnish, flatting in between, it turned out shiny and smooth, so there was no danger of the paper getting stuck. I took photos and stuff, but simply have not had time to publish it, I will as soon as I get some time! It has several modifications, based on experience with the Mk1.

    In line with the 'be nice' policy, I would like to take this opportunity of suggesting what a handsome gentleperson you are, coming from a family of true gentility and refinement!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    nice idea, but this instructable should really be broken up as a step by step. that would make it a lot easier to read!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    great idea.. if i lived up north i would def give this a try..


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    You can still use it-to fuel a wood-burning stove with a back-boiler!