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Doing it up

Looking back on 2021

Another year of glorious DIY!

At the end of 2020 I did a round-up of all the DIY we got up to in the year. Despite it turning into more of a novel than a blog post, it’s one of our most viewed bits of content and it was fun to write. It took a while but I’m writing this 2021 version on honeymoon so time is on my side! So here you go – a summary of what we got up to in 2021 that I have genuinely tried to make concise…


January

Y’all will remember that 2021 started pretty grimly with another 3 months of lockdown. The only positive was the huge amount of spare time to crack on with DIY.

Jan was all about finishing off my workshop. Condensation was dripping from the crappy bitumen roof sheets that I used so the first job was to insulate with polystyrene. This did the trick but sawing polystyrene to shape was not a fun job. You know that noise/feeling when you take polystyrene out of a cardboard box? Imagine that but 10 times worse and for a full day. It’s making me squirm just thinking about it.

I then screwed some 9mm chipboard under the purlins for a quick ceiling and used some leftover laminate my Dad had from a job to spruce up the floor.

After sheathing the walls with 6mm ply and adding some french cleats to the wall (a really quick way of adding flexible storage), I made a workbench then moved my gear in. I won’t touch electrics so my Dad very kindly kitted the space out with hundreds of sockets and lighting.

There were a few bits of trim to finish off outside and a ramp to build, but after a lick of black paint (that I applied a few months later), she was complete.

As cold and dingy and dusty as my workshop is, I absolutely love it. And Haz is quite a big fan of it too as she gets the house to herself.

February

As much as I wanted to live in my workshop, next on the agenda was the driveway, and that was a biggie. We were going to leave it until spring so it was warmer but lockdown was the perfect opportunity to crack on. What I hadn’t anticipated was A) how much work it would be and B) how bleak it is to work outside by yourself in the February rain.

The plan was to gravel the 80 square metres of space to the front and down the side of the house as well as adding a small block paver apron between the pavement and driveway. The concrete drive extended all the way down the side of the house. To avoid having to bring this all up, we sat gravel grids on top – all will become clear.

As for the area in front of the house, this was a combo of leftover hardcore that I’d dumped a few months earlier and dense jungle.

I started by knocking pegs into the ground to help work out what levels the hardcore and gravel needed to be at to allow for the 15cm gradient between our front step and the pavement. With those levels set, I removed the jungle and dug out to a depth that would allow for around 12cm of hardcore (we used MOT type 1). I then spread out some membrane to help stop the hardcore mixing with mud.

Next up, we spread out about 10 tonnes of hardcore (I lost count because we had to keep reordering). We hired a whacker for a week which I had a lot of fun with. That baby helped bind the hardcore together, creating a solid base for cars to sit on.

We also hired a breaker to smash up the concrete pad that was sat under the garage before we moved it 5 metres back to allow for the extension. To my delight, I found that there was actually one concrete pad on top of another so we ended up having to break up 15 square metres of concrete at a depth of 25cm – not fun!

Haz did approx 14 seconds of breaking and decided it wasn’t for her but this action shot is too good to leave out.

After breaking up the concrete, we wheelbarrowed it to the road and onto my Dad’s trailer – I think we did something like 8 trailer loads. That was a really tough weekend. The Dominos we had on Sunday night was better than any I’ve tasted before.

Back to the front of the house, I dug a big ol’ hole for where the block paver apron was going.

This got filled with hardcore and I added some concrete edging as haunching to keep the block pavers in place. I found this pretty tricky as there were a few competing angles and levels to deal with but got there in the end.

Using our trusty old cement mixer, we mixed up some grit sand and cement to lay the pavers on top of them, sitting around 2cm proud of the edging as the pavers would be knocked down by the whacker.

I thought that laying the pavers would be stressful but it was actually well fun. It was the first rewarding job of the whole driveway project.

With the pavers all cut and in place, it was time for more whackering. Not sure if professionals use old underlay to protect the pavers when doing this job but it worked for us. As well as bedding the pavers into the sand & cement, this process helps work the silica sand that you spread on top of the pavers into the gaps between them. This forms a really tight and robust set of pavers that can withstand heavy traffic.

That was that for the block pavers.

I cut some sleepers to size and pinned them to the ground to form a raised bed around the edge of the drive.

Knocking dowels down into the sleepers to join them was Haz’s favourite job.

Finally, gravel day arrived. Basil was very confused that between setting out on his morning walk and returning, 6.5 tonnes of gravel had been plopped on our drive.

Just before the gravel arrived, we slotted together some gravel grids to help make the gravel sturdy and to make dragging bins/prams etc. over the gravel easier. Then it was just a case of wheelbarrowing the gravel into place.

This one was a bit of a back breaker, but doing it ourselves must have saved us a few grand and we had nothing better to do at the time so it was well worth it.

March

March was lots of smaller jobs which came as a pleasant relief. Although the first job was to finish off the patio so more strain on the old back. We left a third of the patio undone the previous autumn because there had been a pond there and we wanted to give the earth that we filled it in with time to settle over winter.

As with the driveway, we started by laying down hardcore and whackering it.

We laid a bed of sand & cement before slapping the tiles on top.

With the tiles in place, on went the grout.

To build the step from the bi-fold to patio, I laid some bricks. The dance Haz is doing in the below photo was to celebrate the first day of the year that we were able to open our bi-fold doors. This has become an annual tradition but we’re not weird, promise.

I then cut the tiles for the step to size and in the process aged about 35 years.

I laid these on the bricks and grouted them.

About 6 months after starting the patio, it was finished.

After this I was finally able to spend some quality time in my new workshop ❤

Our 700 year old dining table was starting to look pretty sad in the fresh extension and we like the scaffold board look so decided to make a new table and bench. The first jobs were to sand, cut and glue up the scaffold boards. It was too cold for glue to cure outside so in she came.

We used new scaffold boards and wanted to distress them. After trying loads of techniques, rubbing compost into the surface looked the best.

The last jobs were to slap on a couple of layers of Osmo oil, spray paint the legs that my master welder Dad made, and then fix the legs onto the table top and bench.

March was also the month that I finally got round to adding some fencing at the back of the garden. For the first 18 months of living here, our back garden went straight onto the neighbours!

April

After 3 months of not seeing any other humans, the sun came out and we could start seeing people outside again – hallelujah. This also meant that I returned to my usual routine of doing lots of very random, little jobs in the spare time I had.

The relentless DIY of Jan-March meant everything inside/outside the house had been neglected. Take the garage, which had become dumping ground HQ. I know that tidying a garage isn’t DIY, but I can’t resist a good before and after.

The grass in front of the patio had undergone some serious abuse as part of the workshop build and patio construction.

I dug it over, levelled the ground, sowed some grass seeds and waited…

As we were starting to run out of jobs, I began thinking about what excuses I could use to feed my DIY addiction. I thought that I might be able to make a few bits to sell so I made a wee coffee table but didn’t like it so ended up keeping it which is a pretty twisted logic.

I also started playing around with plywood end grain as I’d seen some really cool stuff that people had made out of it on YouTube. I made a really small key holder that took about a half a day to make. I actually quite liked it so decided to keep that as well! At this point I was thinking that maybe the entrepreneurial life was not for me…

The apple tree at the bottom of our garden was fairly out of hand when we arrived, so by this point (18 months after moving in) it was basically the whomping willow. I spent a day cutting it back and after removing a serious number of branches it barely looked any different. Apparently you’re not supposed to go too hard in one go so I guess this’ll be an annual job.

May

BBQ weather was approaching and we needed a table for the decking. I decided to go a bit rogue and build one that an ice trough for drinks could be slotted into.

I used leftover 2×4 treated timber from our gate to build the frame, leaving a recess in the middle to slot a galvanised trough into.

I used pocket holes in the framework to screw down the top so there’s no screws on show. Then it was just a case of making a lid with a hand slot, adding a tap to the bottom of the trough so it can be easily emptied and then filling it with ice and beer.

For what we thought would be a bit of novelty we actually got loads of use out of it last summer, including for our triumph over Germany in the Euros. That was a good day.

Another scrap wood project was our spare room bedside table/stools. We couldn’t find any bedside tables that we liked online at a decent price and thought stools could look good. I found this plan and nabbed it. This was the first time I’d cut circles in wood with a router which worked surprisingly well with a very basic jig.

The wood had taken a beating from whatever it had been used for in its previous life (I think I took this stuff from a skip!) so it took a while to sand it to an acceptable standard.

With the wood cut and sanded, I drilled pocket holes and assembled with glue before applying a clear varnish.

June

By the end of June we’d finally painted the driveway sleepers, gate, workshop, fence and garage black. If you ever have a massive amount of wood to paint I’d definitely recommend getting a sprayer – it must have saved us a couple of days.

You can see in the below pic that the grass had started growing nicely.

I decided to dip my toe into selling things again and found that the boozy outdoor table was a hit. I sold a massive one for a lady in Cornwall through etsy (packing that up for the courier was not fun) and another for someone local.

I made little tweaks to improve the design. If you’re interested to see the stages involved in making one of these there’s a summary on our Insta highlights.

July

There were a few roasting days in July, so we decided Bas needed a paddling pool. I clobbered one together out of pallet wood and some membrane and he was a very happy pup. I do love making the occasional thing purely for utility where it doesn’t need to look good – it’s so much quicker!

The local lady who bought one of the boozy tables asked if I could make a matching corner bench. I copied a build from YouTube and made a few adjustments. If you fancy dipping a toe into woodwork, this would be a great first project as all you’re doing is measuring, cutting and screwing. Having said that, there was A LOT of cutting and labelling to do.

The benches looked great with the table and I had a very happy customer.

Other than the benches, July was pretty quiet as the world opened up again. I did squeeze in another bit of plywood end grain experimenting.

This time I made a serving board. Like with the key holder, it took aaaages as there’s a lot of cutting, glueing and sanding involved in creating the chevron pattern.

Eventually it was ready for a couple of coats of Osmo oil.

It doesn’t go with anything in our house but oh well, it’s pretty!

August

My stag do was at the start of August which was, as it should be, horrible. After getting over this, I was back in the workshop cracking on with another corner bench commission. This one was for a slightly different style as it was finished with decking boards and featured a wee table in the corner. Although it looked different to previous one I’d made, the framework and process were very similar.

I did actually do some DIY jobs for our own home in August. One I’d been looking forward to was fixing some battens up against the neighbour’s extension to give a slatted look as the bricks were a bit of an eyesore from our patio.

The first job was to ask the neighbours. The next was to fix some uprights to the wall with wall plugs.

I then tacked some black membrane in place so you can’t see the wall through the gaps and started nailing the battens in place. It was hot so I was eating approx. 3 ice lollies per hour.

The wood used was really cheap, treated 38x25mm timber that was rough as hell, had ink printed on one side and was soaking. In hindsight, buying cheap wood for this job was daft as I had to dry it out for quite a few days and I must have spent a day sanding all sixty of the 4.8metre lengths.

I used an air nail gun to fix the battens in place which was well fun and once I got into a rhythm it didn’t take too long.

Luckily, we just about had enough battens leftover to make a planter.

We plopped a climbing rose in it which one day, hopefully, will be humongous.

After that enjoyable job, I was back on grassing duty. To the right of our garden there was a massive flowerbed. It looked lovely when we arrived but we aren’t massive gardeners so weren’t excited about the prospect of weeding it.

Plus, Bas was partial to a sit in it which trampled the flowers and left loads of seeds in his fur.

So Haz and I set about removing all the plants, keeping the ones that we liked for the raised beds at the front of the house, and dumping the rest. We tillered the ground and painstakingly removed all the weeds and roots before raking it over with some grass seed. This was another job that we totally underestimated!

I also made my sis a wee coat rack for her birthday but have zero good photos of it.

September

There was a big ol’ pile of earth and concrete at the back of the garden from where I’d dug out for the workshop. This had become home to one of the most varied selection of weeds in the British Isles and looked horrible. I’d been putting off sorting it for months but finally the time came. My Dad spread weed killer and I waited a couple of weeks for it to do its thing.

Then it was onto the very familiar and horrible job of carting all the earth and concrete to the front of the house and into a trailer. I borrowed a petrol tiller from a neighbour which made breaking up the soil much quicker.

I was reacquainted with a family of frogs while doing this job that I’ve now moved on 3 times as part of different projects in the garden. The poor buggers despise me but I managed to relocate them without squashing any.

If you’ve read this far you know what happens next – I got it level, sowed some grass seed and put up a Basil-proof fence.

By this point, the grass that I’d sown towards the front of the garden was doing great. I’m embarrassed to say that at the tender age of 30 I have become the sort of person who enjoys mowing the grass every week. What am I going to be like when I’m 65??

One of my last outdoor jobs of the year was slapping a couple of coats of oil onto our decking.

Then I moved inside with the intention of laying laminate in our hallway and living room. We’d spent a long time sanding these floorboards when we first arrived but we never liked how they looked and were so soft that they dented at the drop of a feather. The last owner said they’re only about 15 years old so there were no worries about covering up some glorious, original floorboards.

However, my plan to just slap some laminate on top came unstuck when I lifted up a floorboard for a nosey. Even though it was only September, as soon as I lifted the board up there was loads of cold air coming in. I guess this is normal for a suspended timber floor, but what with the old energy price increase and the fact we plan on sticking around in this house for a long while, we decided it’d be wise to insulate.

This was another job where I was blissfully ignorant before starting about how long it’d take or how messy it’d be. I made a start by running my circular saw over the joints to remove the tongue and make the boards easier to pull up.

My multi-tool helped get into awkward areas. This is Basil’s least favourite power tool.

To lever the boards up, I borrowed what my neighbour called his homemade ‘floorboard lifter’. This length of scaffold with angle iron welded on the end saved me hours.

Soon enough the floorboards were up. I enjoyed having a nosey underneath them but was a bit baffled by how wobbly and unlevel some of the joists were. I checked their moisture levels and that was okay at least so a bit of bodging to sure things up and it was onto the insulating.

To suspend the insulation between the joists I tacked some breathable membrane to the bottom of the joists. I then stuffed loft insulation into the gaps and kept repeating this process.

With all the insulation in and floorboards screwed back down, it was onto the job I’d actually planned. I put down the underlayment, set up a workbench outside and started cutting the laminate. Anyone who who’s done this before will know how rewarding it is. Once you get on a roll it’s a really quick job.

However, tricky bits like scribing the laminate to slide under architraves takes a good while. Despite our hallway being small there are 5 doors that come off it so I got A LOT of scribing practice in.

With the help of music, podcasts and 5 Live, I eventually got there. I think we probably went a bit too dark but it looks a hell of a lot better than the yellowy pine floorboards that lay beneath. The jury’s out on whether the insulation has made a difference but I’m going to pretend to myself that it definitely did.

October

I got barely any DIY done in October, although Haz spent a bit of time in the workshop which she seemed pretty delighted about.

We had more important things going on so I thought it’d only be fair to let Haz enjoy a tidy house for a few weeks before the big day.

November

We spent a few days in the Lakes after our wedding which was glorious. Haz was partial to a late afternoon snooze after a day of exploring which was the perfect opportunity for me to plan the next project which I’d been looking forward to more than any other. The spaces at either side of the fireplace by our dining table had been asking for some alcove units which was the perfect excuse for me to crack on with some proper woodwork.

I used SketchUp (awesome free design software) to plan out the build and watched every video on this channel 38 times so that I could follow the methods that proper people use.

Once we were back home, I made a start on the cabinets using 18mm MDF.

Once the cabinets were glued and screwed, I made the doors. Like with the wardrobe build, I used the super simple method of glueing 6mm strips of MDF to a 12mm backer to create the look of a shaker door. This worked fine but I’ve made more doors since using the loose tenon method which is definitely favourable if you’ve got the gear.

I’d noticed that IKEA sell furniture with wireless charging integrated and that sounded too fun not to try. I rebated a wireless charger under the left countertop, leaving just 2mm of MDF above it. It works well, although we decided not to mark the ideal spot on the worktop so it does take a bit of shimmying to get your phone to start charging.

The next stages were to add the countertop, plinth and side profiles. A couple of knobs and a lick of paint and it started to look like a proper thing.

As ever, Haz was chief painter on this job. The finish she got using a foam roller was unbelievably good – the units look as close to spray painted as I think you can get by hand.

Basil, as ever, was a big help throughout this project.

I moved my focus to the top boxes. To make sure the shelves remain sturdy, I rebated them into the back panel and added a lip at the front made of pine which should reduce the chance of sagging.

Lifting them in place was a bit of a struggle with my twig arms but here’s an action shot which doesn’t show the strain on my face.

Testing the voice controlled lights was a joyous moment, although you have to say ‘alcove on’ in a very weird accent for them to work.

Once the top boxes were screwed in place, the last job was to scribe the side profiles and stick them on, as well as the picture rail top profile.

This was without doubt my favourite DIY project yet. I enjoy most of the other stuff we get up to, but woodwork is what I love doing.

December

I managed to squeeze in one last job before 2022. It was a console table for the hall which ended up being a bit of a ‘mare because we couldn’t find a stain that we liked. I wanted to use white oak but wood prices were/are mental so opted for B&Q’s finest quality softwood aka the crappest quality timber in all of the land.

I glued up a couple of boards to make a panel and added drawers.

My Dad and I made the frame out of some square steel tube which we welded together and painted black.

After genuinely around 15 stain samples, we settled on one we didn’t hate. It’s a bit patchy but I’d sanded it back to bare wood so many times that I just wanted to get this one done.

Then it was tools down and time for some chilling featuring Monopoly and pigs in blankets.


Well if you’ve got this far I’m impressed and I hope you enjoyed reading. As with the 2020 post, it’s been great to reflect on all the stuff we got done because at the time it often feels like things are taking forever and that we’re making no progress.

2022 will be a very different year as there’s barely anything left to do in the house but I’m pretty sure I’ll find something to occupy myself with…

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