Archive for the ‘DIY’ Tag

This week I have been mostly making….Concrete   Leave a comment

Shuttering for the concrete kiln base. The uneven stable floor meant there were gaps at the bottom of the shuttering in some places.

Shuttering for the concrete kiln base. The uneven stable floor meant there were gaps at the bottom of the shuttering in some places.

The wood fired kiln build has started. The first thing needed is a good level foundation. The design I’m basing my kiln on had a 4 inch (10cm) thick concrete slab. I happened to have some 14cm wide plywood strips which I exchanged with the lady who rents our paddock for a weeks rental of the paddock so my foundation was going to be 14cm deep. I created a 2 metre by 1.5 metre rectangle using the plywood as shuttering  and filled it about one third full with the hardcore which we find in the flower and vegetable beds. (The local soil is very stony and the house has been here for over 400 years and during that time it seems anything unwanted or broken was dumped somewhere in the garden.) The top edges of the shuttering were adjusted, using a spirit level, to make sure the concrete slab would be perfectly level.

After the first concreting session the gaps between the shuttering and the stable floor are sealed.

After the first concreting session the gaps between the shuttering and the stable floor are sealed.

The location of the stable means it is not feasible to get a concrete lorry to it so I had to mix my own concrete having wheel-barrowed the sand and cement from the road at the front of the house. I did it in two stages. The first session I mixed the concrete quite stiff and concentrated on filling the gaps between the bottom of the shuttering and the ground. The second session the mix was much wetter which allows the concrete to be levelled easily using a plank resting on the top edge of the shuttering.

The shuttering is full of concrete and the mixer is taking a rest

The shuttering is full of concrete and the mixer is taking a rest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

small round lumps which appeared overnight in patches on the surface of the foundation slab

small round lumps which appeared overnight in patches on the surface of the foundation slab

Its a rule of DIY that nothing ever goes 100 percent to plan. When I came to look at the set concrete the following morning there were a few patches where the surface was lumpy. It certainly wasn’t lumpy when I left it the day before. On close examination it occurred to me that the lumps were all about the same size and shape. I wondered if bubbles had somehow formed in the wet cement, but a bit of prodding with a knife indicated they were solid. Fortunately concrete hardens slowly over a few days and I was able to investigate further by digging some of the lumps out. They were all approximately spherical and of very low density although quite hard and clearly mineral (rather than organic). I have no idea what they are but presume they were some sort of contaminant in the ballast I used to make the concrete with. Clearly they were light enough to float to the top of the liquid cement and protrude a couple of millimetres above the surface before the concrete began to set. Lumps on the surface are the last thing you need if you are going to lay bricks without mortar, which was the plan, so I investigated ways of removing the lumps.

Although not what you would call a smooth surface, the concrete was either a the right level or indented which meant my bricks would sit stably and levelly on it and not wobble

Although not what you would call a smooth surface, the concrete was either a the right level or indented which meant my bricks would sit stably and levelly on it and not wobble

Digging them out one by one was too slow and tedious but a trip to the tool shed reminded me I had a plasterer’s float that was designed for making large areas perfectly flat. It wasn’t intended to be used in the way I was going to use it, but since I last attempted to use it 30 years ago (unsuccessfully – plastering large areas is best left to the professionals unless you want a very rustic look) I felt it wouldn’t matter if it got a bit roughed up. It worked surprisingly well. As I moved it across the surface from a completely flat area to one of the bumpy areas its sharp metal edge would either knock the little spheres right out of the surface or it would cut them off level with the surface. It also levelled any raised areas around the sets of cat and bird footprints which too had appeared overnight. An hour later I had a foundation on which I could build the kiln – although it needed to harden for a few more days.

 

This YEAR I have been mostly making …. Home Improvements   Leave a comment

A view from what is now the utility room past where a shower room and a WC had been to the guest bedroom and where the back hallway had been.

A view from what is now the utility room past where a shower room and a WC had been to the guest bedroom and where the back hallway had been.

This time last year the house was in chaos. Building work had started at the beginning of September and was scheduled to last 12 weeks. As is often the case with old houses, things cropped up which required additional work and expenditure and in this case the work over-ran by 25% and the expenditure over-ran by 30%. The builders finally left in mid December. We had allowed 10% in the budget for over-run so all our remaining savings were cleared out leaving no funds for painting and decorating, paving and landscaping or building my wood-fired kiln. It was time to put our DIY outfits on and work our way through to the end of the building project. First came tiling, painting and varnishing in the kitchen in an attempt to make it a suitable work space for hosting Christmas. We managed to get the tiles on behind the worktops and the new oak door varnished, the windowsills painted and some of the walls painted particularly in areas where food splashes and fat spits  might permanently stain the bare plaster.  Once the festivities were over tiling, painting and varnishing spread to the utility room and guest bedroom. I also put up shelves and coat hooks in the utility room and pantry/boiler room, roller blinds and curtain rails generally and mirrors and toilet roll holders in the downstairs loo and new upstairs bathroom. The painting went on for weeks as there were 4 large rooms, a small loo and a pantry and a stairwell, staircase and landing all of which needed laborious preparation with filler, sandpaper and knotting solution and at least 3 coats of paint.

 

 

Paving panel with quartz pebble and kitchen tile offcuts standing on edge

Paving panel with quartz pebble and kitchen tile offcuts standing on edge

Outside it rained and rained and rained – the wettest winter in living memory. The paths around the house either turned to mud or became dangerously slippery – the local stone is porous but fine grained which allows a thin film of slippy  algae to grow but has little grip. One path was even completely flooded where it dipped close to the old well the water in the latter rising above ground level during the heaviest downpours. It became clear some new and/or replacement paving was needed. As all our spare income was being spent on paint and tiles and carpets and vinyl flooring and curtains and a dozen other decorating necessities it was clear the paths would have to become another DIY project.

Paving panel with round pebble and broken roof tiles standing on edge

Paving panel with round pebble and broken roof tiles standing on edge

The incessant rain also highlighted the fact that not all the roofing and rendering were totally waterproof and that practically all outside paintwork had remained neglected for a decade or more. So as winter turned to spring and the internal decorations neared completion my attention and effort turned to matters outside. My wife had taken a full time job so was less involved in the out-door works concentrating her efforts mainly on the garden. I clambered about on ladders and roof ladders, filled gaps with mortar and caulking, painted neglected woodwork and applied bitumen to roofs, mortar flashings and timber framing, re-painted rendering, repositioned and re-secured roof tiles, pulled up paths and laid new ones all on a minimal budget and at the same time trying to keep on top of the garden and to ‘tame’ new areas of it.

 

Paving panel with half-brick surrounded by pebbles

Paving panel with half-brick surrounded by pebbles

For the paths I mainly used materials I had to hand – bricks from the walls taken down by the builders, stones from the veg. and flower beds, slabs from the pre-existing paths and bits of old sandstone roof tile which litter the garden all held in place with concrete which provides good grip underfoot.

 

 

 

The house with its new timber framed porch and kitchen wall

The house with its new timber framed porch and kitchen wall

By early Autumn the house was looking good both inside and out and attracted nice comments from neighbours and passers-by (we are on the route of the Wye Valley Way), there were only a few bits of paving which needed ‘seeing to’  and the garden, all of it, was more or less under control. However one more thing had started to irk me. The summerhouse in the garden had been pressed into service for a variety of purposes when we first moved in. Bike shed, night time accommodation for our 3 cats, pottery store for the stock I had brought with me  from Cambridge, kindling prep and storage area (for our wood-stove) and glaze making ingredients and kiln building materials store. After I had converted the garage into my pottery studio, although the glaze ingredients moved out, my workbench, trestles and table, DIY and decorating tools, ladders and timber, paint and other materials, and sack barrow were all moved in. Floor space was a precious commodity and all available shelf space was full. We bought a Barbecue, the chaps from Calor Gas who came to move the gas tank left me 3 bags of cement, the builders had over ordered the (non-returnable) floor tiles so we had two boxes of those, our bumper crops of onions and shallots and garlic needed to be stored somewhere, the boxes which the previous owners had used for storing apples and pears needed a new home rather than the loft space the builders had converted into a bathroom. The summerhouse was full to bursting and if you wanted to get something out you had to move several other items to get to it and several more to get the desired item to the door. What we needed was another shed.

New shed with split roof. The rear is strong so that it can be stood on for house maintenance, the front is clear plastic for internal light.

New shed with split roof. The rear is strong so that it can be stood on for house maintenance, the front is clear plastic for internal light.

It would be my DIY workshop. There was an obvious place to site it, out of view from the house and most of the garden, but close enough to both pottery and house  to quickly grab that vital tool. After looking at commercially available sheds of the size I wanted I decided I could get something closer to my needs for significantly less money if I built it myself. In my mind the saving equated to well over 100 lightweight thermal insulation bricks. It took me around 3 man days (spread over two weeks due to bad weather and other interruptions) to build the shed … time well spent.

Initially, at the beginning of this DIY marathon I had tried to continue potting but  I lacked focus and drive as my thoughts kept wandering to the long list of DIY  jobs that still needed doing. I also wasn’t getting into the studio every day so things got forgotten. I lost count of the number of pots I had to throw away (recycle) because they had dried out too much before I got back to them. It was very disheartening. It also wasn’t getting me any closer to the wood-fired salt-glaze dream and it soon became clear to me that I would be happier if I stopped trying to be both potter and painter/decorator/builder and concentrated on getting the DIY out of the way. Its taken longer than I thought it would, and the DIY to-do list still exists but I can see that the time when I will be able to get into the studio every day is now in sight; so much so that I recently searched  out the CD which holds the details of the wood-burning kiln I am going to build and had a good look at what is in store for me next.

 

 

Posted November 25, 2014 by damiankeefe in Uncategorized

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