These two corner benches make for a cracking weekend project and you don’t need loads of kit to do a good job. You could easily nail it with the gear in the must-have woodworking tools post I wrote and there’s nothing complicated about it – just lots of cutting and screwing! So if you’re thinking about getting into woodwork or have recently started, this is the one for you. Materials and equipment are at the very bottom.
This is going to be a short section because these benches are almost entirely copied from a very popular YouTube video. I made a table for a local lady who then asked if I could make a set of corner benches so rather than come up with something from scratch, I followed the tried and tested method in the video. The only addition I made was to add a middle support to the back as the lady wanted to make sure the cushions she’s adding didn’t fall away.
Cutting, cutting, and more cutting
After modelling the benches in SketchUp (brilliant free design software) and confirming the dimensions, I ordered no fewer than 27 2.4 metre lengths of pressure treated 2x4s. The benches are made entirely from 2x4s which makes them both very robust and heavy.
Because there’s so much cutting to do, it’s really difficult to work out exactly how many lengths of timber you need. I’ve come across an app called ‘CutList Optimizer’ where you plug in your cut lengths and quantities and it tells you exactly how many lengths you need and how to cut them to minimise waste. So good for keeping costs down and not having to get more wood/having loads left over.
So, with the benches modelled and cut list sorted, out came the mitre saw. You could quite easily make all the cuts with a circular saw butted up against a speed square, but I prefer using a mitre saw when I’ve got a load of repetitive cross cuts to make.
As I had the wood delivered, there were some lengths that were uglier than others. I set these aside to be used for areas that would be less visible like the inside of the frame and the noggins.
It was a bit of a ‘mare keeping track of all the sections so whapping some labels on them is a good idea.
Planed 2x4s are already pretty smooth and have a rounded edge, but a quick tinkle with a sander is still a good idea.
The final stage before assembly was to slap some wood preserver on all the cut ends to prolong the wood’s life.
You could make these benches with pocket hole screws for a particularly tidy finish but I opted for your bog standard 65mm decking screws. To make these as discreet as possible, I used a combination square to keep the screw positioning consistent.
Rather than using a standard bit to drill the pilot hole and then countersink bit, I used this combo bit which was a massive time saver.
With the pilot holes drilled, I started assembling the side sections. I clamped the 2x4s to my workbench, used a square to check their positioning, and then drove in the decking screws with my impact driver.
Here’s a photo of an almost-finished side section. It’ll make sense shortly, but essentially the bottom cross piece is screwed into the frame of the seat section.
A top piece finishes off the side section. The cut edge needs to be sanded or routed with a round over bit.
Soon enough you’ll have 3 identical side sections. You only need 3 as one of the two benches is left open so it can be butt up against the other bench to make it look like one piece.
Sides done, seat frames next. These are simple rectangles with noggins to add sturdiness and to provide a point to drive the seating into.
The side sections can now be screwed into the seat frame. A couple of clamps and quick check with a square make sure that everything is positioned as it should be.
By this point it’s already a pretty heavy beast and this is way less than half its finished weight!
The final stage before screwing down the seat is to add the back section in. The very top length of 2×4 can’t be screwed in the same way as the rest of the build so I added some pocket holes to the underneath side and then propped it in place before screwing. You don’t need to to do pocket holes – you could just ‘toenail’ screws in by adding a diagonal pilot hole which would do the same job.
I then added a middle support and another just below the top length to help prevent it from sagging.
The other bench is almost identical to the first, the only difference being the one open end.
I used 6 lengths of 2×4 for the seating of each bench. Again, to keep the screws aligned I measured their position and marked them across each of the seat lengths using a square.
After doing a dry fit, we whapped everything on a trailer and made our way to the customer’s house where I’d add the seat lengths.
The very final stage was to position the 2x4s using packers to ensure consistent gaps and then screw them down into the frame.
We pushed the benches together and that was that.
The lady also bought a matching table with a built-in ice trough which looked great alongside the benches. She was buying these ahead of her daughter’s hen do and will be adding some cushions to the benches.
These benches really are an awesome first wood project. They look great and there’s nothing particularly tricky about putting them together.
At the time I bought the wood it was £9 per 2.4 metre length of treated 2×4 and so the wood came to £243 and there was probably a fiver worth of screws. Unfortunately, wood prices have gone up massively in the last few months and in the 2 weeks since I bought this timber it’s gone up to £11.75 per length!
If you fancy a slightly more challenging seating project, our decking seating might be worth a read.
Pressure treated 2x4s
65mm decking screws
Mitre saw or circular saw
Combi drill with countersink 3mm drill bit
Orbital sander with discs or sandpaper if doing by hand
The walk from our decking to the fridge is about 20 metres and a genuinely serious first world problem. To tackle this pressing issue, I’ve made a table that has an ice trough built into it.
It’s not particularly tricky and perfect for boozy BBQs, so if you fancy having a go here are the steps. Materials and equipment are at the bottom of the post.
Before planning the build, I shopped around for a trough. The two key features I was looking for were for there to be a lip all the way round the top (so it can be supported) and for a material that wouldn’t rust. This trough from Garden Trading is perfect.
To avoid having to awkwardly lift up a trough full of ice water once it’s all melted, I wanted to add a tap to the bottom of the trough. I borrowed my Pa’s drill press and cut an inch hole.
I then whapped on a water butt tap and that was job done. Here’s a photo of the tap when the table was finished. The table is only coffee table height (45cm) so the tap isn’t visible unless you’re far away or very short.
This was the first project I’ve used pocket hole screws on and I’m officially in love. The whole thing could be built with normal screwing, but pocket holes allow all the screws to be concealed, leaving a really tidy finish. In case pocket holes are new to you too, here’s a very quick summary of how they work.
Essentially, you use a pocket hole jig and a special drill bit to create a diagonal ‘pocket’ into the wood.
The below photo shows a piece of the table’s framework with pocket holes pre-drilled in preparation for screwing the table top in place.
Pocket hole screws are slightly different from a standard woodscrew in that they have a large, round pan head. This allows the head to squeeze against the shoulder pocket hole (created by the pocket hole drill bit) and so pull the two bits of timber together.
They’re also self-tapping, which means they create their own pilot hole.
The final difference is that they are tightened with square drive bits. Pretty sure this is just a brand thing to tie you in.
With the two bits of timber that you intend on joining positioned, you then screw into the pocket hole and voila.
I wanted the table to look pretty chunky so all the framework is made out of pressure treated 2x4s. After cutting all the timber to length with my mitre saw, cut ends were generously doused with end grain preserver.
The first stage of the build was to make the frame that sits around the ice trough. There are two key measurements for this stage. The first is that you want the trough to only just fit in this space, with just a mm or two to spare all the way round. The second is that if you’re covering the trough when not in use, the width of the boards you use will need to tidily cover the hole and sit on the frame. This will be more clear later on.
You can see some of the pocket holes that I pre-drilled in the below photo. It’s worth spending some time planning out exactly where you’ll need pocket holes before you start fixing things in place. I used them for all the framework as well as to fix the table top in place.
Here’s the trough sat in the frame.
Next, I screwed some battens inside the trough frame, being careful to ensure they were positioned low enough so the trough sits just below the top of the frame.
With the central section done, I fixed 2 ends of the outer frame in place.
The legs (3×3 treated posts) could then be fixed to the outer frame using, you guessed it, pocket hole screws. I was careful to make sure the legs were square before screwing.
I then added the second two lengths of outer frame.
I fixed a couple of noggins in place to add some strength but their main purpose is to provide fixing points for the table top.
The table top is made out of rough sawn, pressure treated 4x1s. I designed the table to be 118cm long so that I could halve 2.4m boards with my mitre saw, leaving a little allowance for damaged ends.
These don’t look too pretty when you get them, but a tickle with the sander and a round over of the edges with a router makes a massive difference. It took me a while to get all through all 10 lengths but it was time well-spent.
With the boards cut, sanded and routed, I laid them out on the table frame so I could select the more handsome sides to face upwards. I also spent some time working out the table overhang and the spacing between each board. I’d planned this all in SketchUp (brilliant free design software that I use for most projects now) but each board varying in width by just 1mm from the 100mm I’d planned for would affect positioning quite significantly. Nobody wants a wonky table, particularly as I’ve made two of these and one is for sale.
3mm spacers worked well. It’s important to leave gaps between the boards to allow for expansion and for water to run off, just as you would with decking.
The boards are screwed down through the pocket holes which I pre-drilled into the framework. For the two outer boards, I also slapped on some glue to add extra strength for when the table is being lifted (it’s pretty heavy).
Here’s what the table looks like from underneath.
With all the full length boards in place, I turned my attention to the middle boards.
The two central boards were cut to the same overall length as the other boards but then I cut off small sections at either end. My mitre saw blade is 3mm and so the material removed by the blade (also called the kerf) worked out to be consistent with the gaps between the boards that had already been screwed down.
Before joining the two boards that made the lid, I used a jigsaw and then router to cut out a hand hole. This was pretty fiddly and required a good sand afterwards to remove the burns caused by my blunt router bit. BUT, I think it looks much better than just cutting out a finger hole.
With the hand hole cut out, I screwed some treated lengths of batten into to bottom of the lids to keep the two sections together. Again, a quick sand and sesh with the router made these look pretty.
And that was that!
I’m really chuffed with how this table turned out and hope to get to use it loads over the summer. Now just need to buy an outdoor projector to watch England crash out of the Euros on!
The total cost for this project was just over £100, including the trough, which I thought was quite good given the price of wood at the moment.
Pressure treated 2x4s (framework)
Pressure treated 3×3 posts (legs)
Pressure treated rough sawn 4x1s (table top)
Pressure treated 22x38mm batten (for trough lid supports and re-sawn in half to support the trough)
A lot the posts I write have a great big long list of equipment required at the bottom. The only reasons that I have accumulated a fair bit of kit since we moved in is that A) it turns out that I love DIY (particularly woodwork) and B) it’s almost always cheaper to buy the kit and DIY than to pay someone else to do it.
The truth is, there’s only a very small amount of kit that you need to complete 95% of woodwork projects so I’ve put together a list of the essential equipment you’ll want to get hold of if you’re keen to get into working with wood. You can get all the gear I’ve linked to for around £250 so you needn’t break the bank and you can make that back in one or two projects.
#1 Circular saw
This is first on the list because there is no bit of kit as versatile as a circular saw. Sure, you can make basic cuts with a plain old hand saw, but it takes ages, is far from accurate and is hard work.
With a circular saw you can make just about any cut, including…
Basic cross cut.
Half lap joints.
And probably a huge number of other types of cut I don’t know of!
They do most stuff that you can achieve with a mitre saw or table saw and another big plus is that they’re portable. So yeah, circular saw HAS to be top of the list.
Might seem a bit of a basic thing to be second on the list, but you’ll need some sort of square for every wood project. Without a square, your circular saw cross cuts and mitre cuts will be crap. Plus, when assembling stuff, a square is vital to make sure your assembly is, well, square.
My go-to square is my speed square (also called a rafter square) but a combination square does the same job. I rely on this baby for so many projects, but one example is the gate I made for our driveway.
You won’t get very far without a measuring tape. My tape is metric only which I find makes it easier to use.
Here’s a super cheap tape that, let’s be honest, does exactly the same job as any other measuring tape.
#4 Combi drill
You’ve now got the gear you need to measure up and make accurate cuts. Next up, you’ll need gear that allows you to actually fix bits of timber together. First in this line-up is the combi drill.
You could probably get away without a combi drill, but I wouldn’t recommend trying. This power tool allows you to pre-drill holes (pilot holes) in wood before driving screws in. In some cases, this isn’t necessary, but it’s usually wise to pre-drill to avoid causing the wood to split.
Combi drills also have lots of other uses in woodwork, including drilling large holes with hole saws/spade bits, countersinking to give screw heads somewhere to sit, and drilling pocket holes.
Obviously, there are also loads of applications outside of woodwork too like drilling holes in your house to put up shelves/mirrors etc., so you get a lot of bang for your buck.
Our decking with built-in storage required at least couple of thousand screws, many of which were near the edge of the wood. Pilot holes are particularly important when screwing close to the edge so I got a shed load of use out of my combi drill on this project.
With pilot holes drilled, you’re going to want an impact driver to drive screws home. An impact driver is basically a screwdriver on steroids. It does the same job in a fraction of the time.
If you are on a really tight budget, you could probably get away with not buying an impact driver. A combi drill can be used instead if needs be, but it won’t do as good a job as driver and changing out the drill bits every few seconds would be a faff. Alternatively, if you really are a glutton for punishment, you could use a screwdriver.
The workshop that my Dad and I built relied very heavily on my impact driver as pretty much the whole thing is held up by screws.
There’s a bewildering choice of screws on the market, many of which I don’t understand the point of. A great starting point is a trade pack of woodscrews with various different lengths and diameters of screw.
If you need screws for outdoor projects, you’ll want to avoid using standard woodscrews as these will rust and potentially stain the wood. To get around this, you can buy decking screws or stainless steel screws.
#7 Wood glue
You can get away with using just screws as fixings in most projects but ‘gluing and screwing’ is the safe bet. That’s because while screwing or nailing are effective methods of connecting two bits of timber together, they actually compromise the structure. Glue, on the other hand, does not do this and a lot of brands actually claim that their glue is stronger than wood itself.
In a lot of projects, the main purpose of nails/screws is actually just to pin wood together while the glue dries (cures if you’re feeling fancy).
Depending on the type of wood you’re working with, it may need sanding. If you’ve ever sanded something by hand you’ll know that it is the most thankless task of all time. So, if you have any amount of sanding to do, please buy a power sander.
There are a few different varieties you can get, but most sanding jobs can be done with an orbital sander like this one. These sanding discs simply velcro onto the sander pad.
#9 Spirit level
You probably know what a spirit level does. But in case not, it makes sure stuff is level and I’d be lost without mine. For jobs like fitting our wardrobe shelves, there’s no substitute (well, you could get a laser level, but a spirit level is the best place to start).
Spirit levels aren’t just about getting stuff level, though. They’re brilliant for providing a ‘straight edge’ which is often needed when making long cuts. I use my 180cm spirit level along with my circular saw to make long, straight cuts all the time.
Spirit levels come in a massive variety of sizes, from a few cm long to 180cm plus. They all have their own merits, but I’d say the most versatile length is 60cm long like this baby.
You won’t get very far without clamps. Whether using them to clamp to a workbench while you’re sanding, or to squeeze two bits of timber together while gluing or screwing them, they’re really, really useful.
I used several clamps to keep the sections of our picture ledge in place while the glue cured.
Similarly to spirit levels, clamps come in loads of different sizes and also styles. I’d recommend getting a couple of these quick-grip clamps as a starting point.
To my mind, those 10 are the absolute essentials. You can get so much done with them. However, if you do fancy extending your woodworking kit a bit wider, here are a few bonus bits.
Workbench – you don’t need a workbench, but they make life a lot easier. I made one similar to this one really cheaply.
Jigsaw – circular saws are great for straight cuts, but if you need to cut any curves then you’ll need a jigsaw. This budget jigsaw will stand up to most jobs.
Mitre saw – a circular saw can do almost everything a mitre saw will do, but a mitre saw is required to get truly accurate mitre cuts and if you need to compound cuts like I needed to on our decking seats. Here’s the one that I use.
Table saw – similarly, a circular saw will sort you out, but table saws allow you to get really accurate, repeatable cuts done really quickly. Mine is super cheap and does a decent job, but I ain’t going to be doing any fine cabinet-making with it.
Router – routers open up a lot more options when it comes to woodwork projects. Whether rounding off the edges of a table, cutting a dado (essentially a recess) to help assemble a cabinet, or even cutting a perfect circle for a stool, routers are awesome. You can get wee palm routers for smaller & more intricate jobs, big ol’ half inch routers for chunky work, or a quarter inch router like mine which is a good compromise.
If you do buy a few of these bits and find yourself enjoying woodwork, the chances are that you’ll get addicted and within a few months you’ll be buying tools that you didn’t know existed!
Finding a property that you fall in love with is incredibly exciting. However, the feeling is short-lived when you realise the serious business of actually making an offer looms. Working out exactly how much to offer is really tricky, particularly at the moment where factors like the stamp duty holiday and reintroduction of 95% LTV mortgages are fuelling a really frantic market. According to Nationwide, house price growth hit a 17 year high in April 2021 so the market really is very hot.
When you do come across a place that you want to make yours, this post will help you decide how much to offer and increase your chance of being successful.
I’ll caveat that I’m not qualified to advise on financial and mortgage matters, so this post is just a summary of how I’d go about the process of working out how much to offer. When it comes to making mortgage-related decisions, speak to a qualified mortgage adviser or broker.
How much can I borrow?
It’s a really good idea to address this before anything else. Otherwise, the risk is you’ll spend loads of time on Rightmove gushing over dreamy houses, maybe even do some viewings, only to later find out that you can’t get a mortgage anywhere near big enough to buy these homes. Finding out how big a mortgage you can get is incredibly quick and easy.
As a general rule, banks and building societies will offer a mortgage of up to around 4.5 times your gross annual pay. This will vary depending on the lender and your circumstances, but it’s a good indication. So, for example, if you’re earning £30K a year, you’ll probably be able to get a mortgage for around £135K. If you had a £15K deposit, your rough budget would be £150K. Of course, if you’re buying with somebody else who’s in work, these figures quickly multiply out.
While these estimates are helpful, the best thing you can do is get an approval in principle (sometimes called decision in principle or mortgage in principle or AIP or DIP!) This is basically an informal indication of how much a bank is willing to lend you, based on a few quick income & expenditure questions.
While this isn’t a binding agreement to give you a mortgage, it’s usually pretty close to the amount that you could borrow if you went through a full mortgage application. The main differences are that it’s super quick and easy to get an AIP and there’s no hard credit search so your credit rating won’t be impacted.
You can get an AIP by going direct onto a lender’s website or by speaking with a broker. You’ll then normally get the AIP in the form of an email which outlines how much you’ll be able to borrow based on how you’ve answered the questions. It’s a good idea to get multiple AIPs to see if there’s any variance between lenders as criteria and policies vary from bank to bank.
When budgeting, it’s reeeally important to factor in all the extra costs involved in buying a house and the fact that once you’ve moved in, you’ll probably want some cash leftover to make it your own. For this reason, it’s a good idea to set aside some cash and reflect this in the max house price you can afford.
Once you’ve worked out your final budget, you shouldn’t necessarily use this as the max house price figure to use when searching for properties online. That’s because, as in our case, you may be able to nab a house for less than the asking price and so opening up your search for houses that are listed for a few grand over your budget may be wise.
At this point, you should have a really good idea of what the maximum amount you’ll be able able borrow is. By adding this to your deposit, that’s your max house budget. A really important caveat here is that just because you can borrow that amount doesn’t mean you should borrow that amount. If you can fulfil your needs with a property that costs less than your max budget, this may be your best bet but it’s entirely down to personal preference.
What are the risks of paying more for a property than it’s worth?
Objectively working out how much a property is worth is tricky, but crucial. Here’s why.
Let’s imagine you’ve got an AIP and have done a few viewings which have been fine but unexciting. And then, it happens, you come across your dream home in your favourite area and it’s within budget – HALLELUJAH. You’ve fallen in love and the idea of another person setting foot in your home makes you physically sick. I know this feeling.
At this point, it’s tempting to just think that you’re happy to spend up to your max budget to make sure you get it. There are a few reasons why this is rarely a good idea.
Most obviously, the more you buy the house for the more your mortgage payments will be and/or the longer you’ll have a mortgage for. This can be easy to overlook as it’s ultimately ‘future you’ that has to deal with this, but do you really want to saddle yourself with extra debt that may mean working later in life? Is the worry about making ends meet at the end of the month worth it? Not questions I can answer, but certainly things that you should be considering.
Less obvious is the fact that if your offer gets accepted and then at a later date the survey you need to get a mortgage finds it’s not worth what you’re paying, this puts you in all sorts of bother. The mortgage lender is likely to reduce the amount they’re willing to lend to you, and so offering over the odds could screw your chances of getting your name on the deeds.
Another consideration is that if you put down a small deposit eg: 5% and property values slump after you move in, it may be that your home is worth less than the size of your mortgage. This is called ‘negative equity’ and effectively means that you won’t be able to sell your home until values come back up again. This could take years, as we saw after the 2008 financial crash. The market really would have to crash hard for this to happen again, but anything’s possible and the sharp rice in house prices over the last few months makes it more likely.
This has hopefully painted a picture of how important it is that you have a good idea of how much the property you’re considering offering on is worth before making a move.
How can I work out how much a property is worth?
‘Asking’ prices ain’t much use in helping assess how much a house is worth because they’re exactly what they suggest – the price that is being asked for. While estate agents give sellers their view of how much to list their house for, it’s ultimately down to the sellers to set the asking price. For the purpose of objectively valuing a property, you need to ignore this figure and spend some time in Rightmove and Zoopla’s ‘sold prices’ section of the websites.
Alternatively, on Rightmove there’s a ‘Market Information’ section towards the bottom of each listing which shows you various bits of insight, including how much houses nearby have recently sold for which is super helpful. The goal is to work out how much the property you’re interested in is objectively worth, based on how much similar places have recently sold for.
You’re looking for properties as similar as possible to the one you’re assessing ie: same road, number of bedrooms, condition, square footage, garden etc. If you’re in luck, there’ll be multiple very similar houses on the same street that have sold in the last 6 or so months. However, it’s likely that it won’t be as clear cut as this, so you may have to consider nearby streets, slightly different properties (eg: with another bedroom, in worse condition), and looking back a little further in time.
It can seem a little overwhelming at first, but you’ll soon find yourself thinking ‘ahh okay, this one’s got a much bigger garden and so is probably worth around £20K more’. As you’ll have gathered, this isn’t an exact science, but it really is the best way to work out how much a property is worth and therefore the max you should aim to spend on a specific property.
How much should I offer?
By this point, you should know A) how much you can afford (mortgage + deposit) and B) roughly how much the property you’re interested in is actually worth. Simply put, your offer shouldn’t be more than either what you can afford or what it’s worth.
The one caveat I’d add here is that when demand is greater than supply, as we’re seeing at the moment, ‘bidding wars’ are fairly common and can lead to houses going for well over what they’re really worth. If you’re prepared to go down this route then do be aware of the risks I mentioned earlier.
If you’ve ever watched an episode of Location, Location, Location you’ll know that it’s very rare for a first offer to be expected – there’s usually some back and forth. This is why it’s often a good idea to go in with an initial offer that’s slightly below the max that you’d be prepared to pay. Bear in mind that putting in an offer much lower than the asking price is not likely to go down well and so unless you have a solid justification for this (eg: you know there’s significant structural work required), it’s best avoided.
One good tip is to put yourself in the shoes of the seller. If you’d listed your house for £200K and some anonymous human puts forward an offer of £175K, chances are you’re going to pretty miffed at the cheek of them and annoyed that they’re wasting your time. However, if you received this same offer of £175K along with some justification of why it’s £25K lower than the asking price, you’d probably view it in a different light. This approach doesn’t guarantee you getting a steal, but it does set the scene for a negotiation in which the seller is more likely to come down from their asking price.
How do I actually make an offer?
When it comes to making an offer, you’ll go through the estate agent. The simplest and easiest thing to do is to give them a quick call with your offer and see what happens. There’s nothing wrong with this and I’m sure it’s the most common way to make an offer. However, to my mind, there’s a far better way of approaching this that will increase your chances of being successful.
I won’t go into detail on the stuff I’ve written about in a post about how to make your offer irresistible, but it’s all about selling yourself and building rapport. So when you get in touch with the estate agent, make sure to reinforce why you’re a dream buyer eg: first time buyer so no property to sell, already have mortgage AIP in place, flexible date-wise. As mentioned above, if your offer is below the asking price, make sure you justify why this is.
Follow-up the phone call with an email to reiterate the key points of your offer and situation – this serves as a helpful reminder to the estate agent when they pass your offer onto the seller. It also means you’ll come across as a serious buyer which the estate agent will notice.
The only other thing I’d mention is that if you’re able to visit the estate agent in person to make the offer, do it. It may sound a little formal and old-fashioned, but any opportunity to make a good impression should be taken and there’s no substitute to speaking with people face-to-face.
What happens next?
The period of silence after you make an offer can be quite unnerving. It could be minutes, hours or days until you hear back from the estate agent and there’s nothing you can do but wait.
We were very fortunate in that our first offer was accepted. I’m convinced that this was largely down to the tips I mentioned above, especially as we got the house for £20K less than we were prepared to pay and well below the asking price. However, there will have been some luck in there too, and to have a first offer accepted is quite rare.
I’ve never been involved in a negotiation process so I don’t think I’m best-placed to give tips on how to deal with this. What I will say, however, is that you should stick to your guns and not go over either your max budget or how much you think the property is worth.
You may get the first place you offer on, you may get the 20th place you offer on, so there really is a decent chunk of luck involved. Once you do get that incredibly exciting call to say your offer has been accepted, the process of actually buying the house begins. To give you an idea of what this looks like, here’s a post about our house buying journey.
The trickiest part of our driveway project was the block paver apron which separates the gravel drive from the footpath. It would have been easier to just gravel all the way up to the footpath, but because we wanted to widen the entrance that wasn’t really an option as it would look rubbish. It took some time and patience, but we got there in the end.
The photo below shows the front of our house when we moved in. The wee garden to the right looked nice but having such a narrow drive wasn’t ideal. Plus, the broken concrete look wasn’t great. To widen the entrance, we knocked down part of the wall and dug out some of the grass verge that sat in front of it.
We then dug out a generously deep channel where the pavers were going to sit. The width of the opening is around 4.5 metres and the total paver area is 3 square metres.
I used concrete edging as an edge restraint all around the paved area to keep the pavers in place. I dug out to 30cm where these edgings would sit, allowing 10cm for MOT type 1 (sub-base), 5cm for a mortar bed and 15cm for the concrete edging.
For the area below the pavers, I dug out to 25cm, allowing for a generous 15cm sub-base, 5cm mortar bed plus the 5cm thick pavers. With those levels dug to, I laid some permeable membrane down and whackered the sub-base until it sat 20cm below the finished paver level.
The below picture gives a better idea of the fairly awkward shape and levels of the apron area.
For the mortar bed that the edging sits on, I mixed 1 part cement to 4 parts sharp sand (or what should have been sharp sand, I got sent building sand…) I kept it as a fairly dry mix so that it would just about stay in a ball when squeezed.
I used the bottom of a sledgehammer to compact the bed down before positioning the edging and then added a 45 degree haunch to the front and back to keep the edging in position.
Where possible, I butted the edging up against the footpath as a guide. A rubber mallet is the perfect tool to help bed the edging down to into the mortar to the right level.
Hopefully if you’re doing something similar you’ll have a fairly simple shape and no differing slopes to contend with – this made the job a lot slower for me. I’ve never used a spirit level so many times.
For the rectangular area, I cut a couple of sections of wood to 482mm to use as spacers to make sure that the front and back of the edge restraints sat parallel and wide enough to accommodate 3 courses of pavers. The pavers we went for are Drivesett Tegula in charcoal which are 160mm wide. So 3 courses of 160mm plus an extra mm allowance around the edge equals 482mm. That was a little tight, I should a have allowed closer to 485mm.
As I didn’t add a drainage channel, I included a 1 in 60 fall to allow water to drain off the pavers and into the gravel.
To make the cuts I used an angle grinder. I started by using a stone cutting disc but it was taking forever. I switched it out for a diamond cutting disc which was about 792 times faster.
Eventually, the moat was complete. God knows what the postman thought when he arrived to this scene.
Laying the pavers
With the edging in place, I brought the MOT up to its final level, whackering every now and then. I cut out this wee jig to make it very easy to see when the MOT was 9cm from the top of the edging. This assumed that the 5cm sand and cement bed for the pavers would compact by around 1cm.
Block pavers are usually laid directly on a bed of sand. I decided that due to the beating that the apron was going to get and its fairly modest size that I should add some cement to this mix to really set them in place.
Before laying the mortar bed and the pavers, I did a test run to see how much the pavers would compact after running the whacker plate over them. This is a really important step because otherwise you’d be totally guessing how high to lay the pavers above the edging. I found that the pavers compact by around 1cm, so this meant that the bed would need to be 4cm from the top of the edging. Here’s what the test area looked like after I whackered it.
I started laying the mortar bed, using a piece of timber to screed it to 4cm below the edging.
Then the exciting bit – paver laying. I used 3 different sized pavers that were 24, 16 and 12cm wide. I used a ratio of around 4:4:1 which sounds odd, but based on looking at pics of pavers online this seemed to be a fairly standard sort of ratio. To be honest, the whole point is that they look randomly selected so I guess any ratio would work fine!
It was at this point that I got a bit nervous about the whacker plate compacting the pavers to the right level, which I shouldn’t have as I’d done a test. Instead of waiting for the whacker stage, I started tapping the pavers down into place with a rubber mallet. This did nothing more than give me a bit of confidence that I was laying the mortar bed at the right height so absolutely is not a necessary step.
The rectangular area of the apron was quick and easy – things got more challenging when I got into the triangular bit. This was mainly because of how the footpath that leads down to our drive is quite steep and so effectively there are two gradients meeting. The other difficulty was that I couldn’t use the screeding jig to get the bed to the right levels because of the triangular shape. People usually set poles into the sand to screed along but this wasn’t an option due to the varying levels. So my solution was just to go slow and keep checking levels relentlessly, using a trowel to spread the mortar and already laid pavers for reference. I was very dubious that this would work but fortunately it did.
After a good while, there was no longer space for full blocks and so the cutting began.
First, I positioned a full paver over the area that it needed to fill. I then used chalk and a spirit level to mark where I needed to make the cut.
There are lots of options for how to cut pavers, but I found that using the same diamond cutting disc as I used for the edging was really quick and easy. So much so that I now use the phrase ‘like a diamond cutting disc through a block paver’ instead of ‘like a hot knife through butter’.
I’d managed to avoid having to cut tiny pieces until the very last paver which needed to be hilariously small (see below pic). However, it was incredibly satisfying to tap that baby down into the bed to complete the puzzle.
The cutting didn’t actually take as long as expected.
Kiln dried sand
Like most DIY jobs, the last step is the most satisfying, and this could not be more true than it is with block pavers. The final stage was to spread kiln dried sand in between the gaps and watch it trickle down to fill every nook and cranny. Also called silica sand, this stuff is incredibly fine and by filling up every void it effectively sets the pavers in their final position, giving them zero room to shift around.
Very hard to explain how great this job is without sounding like an oddball, but trust me, it’s bloody great. Haz and I were fighting over who got to do it.
Once the sand had stopped dissipating down the cracks, the whacker plate came out again to help work the sand into the gaps and jiggle the pavers into their final position. Most normal people would use a neoprene mat attached to the whacker to protect the pavers, but we didn’t have this and so used some old underlay.
With the final whacking completed, we were done. This definitely has to be one of the most rewarding DIY jobs I’ve done so far. Sure, there’s a few bits of gear required, but there really aren’t any complicated tasks. If you’re driveway is in need of a revamp, this could be a good place to start.
All in, it cost just shy of £300 for 3 square metres. £200 of that was the pavers plus concrete edging. On top of this, the whacker plate cost £80 to hire to 10 days but I used this for the whole driveway and patio too.
Now that our extension is finished, our old furniture is looking pretty past it. Our second-hand dining table that I picked up from a mate 6 years ago being a prime example. As much as we’d love to go out and splurge on loads of cool stuff, we’re not exactly swimming in cash at the moment. There’s no shortage of homemade scaffold board tables doing the rounds on Pinterest/Instagram so we thought we’d give it a go and are dead chuffed with the result.
I should say from the outset that this method requires a few bits of kit that you may not have unless you’re a pretty keen DIYer. A similar table and bench can be achieved by using really simple techniques and gear which I’ve highlighted where poss.
The first decision was whether we should use reclaimed scaffold boards or fresh ones. As we were after something that looked a bit worn in, it would seem to make sense to buy reclaimed. However, getting old boards into a fit state before they can be used as a dining table top would involve a ruthless amount of planing and sanding which just ends up removing most, or all, of the character. It was easier to just pop down to B&Q and buy some new boards and add some character, so that’s what we did.
I can’t stress enough how important it is that you pick the boards that aren’t twisted, cupped or bowed in any way. Basically, if it’s wonky, it’s no good, so spend some time looking down the length of a few boards before you select the ones that are good enough to make the cut. To achieve a consistently flat table top with seamless joins the wood you use needs to be in excellent condition and so if you need to look through 30 boards to find the 4 best ones, that’s time well spent.
The photo above shows a length of scaffold board that’s straight along its edge which is key to achieving a good glue joint. However, the photo below is of a board that is badly cupped and so no good for a dining table, unless you have fancy kit and don’t mind reducing the thickness of the wood. Having said this, I ended up using cupped boards for the dining bench which was a pain – more deets later on about how I dealt with these.
Along with checking the boards are true, testing how dry they are is also really important. I bought a moisture meter (£25 off Amazon) especially for this project as buying wood that is too wet would A) require drying out inside for weeks/months and B) likely lead to warping during the drying process. So the goal was to find boards that were under 10% moisture on both sides.
Here’s a good example of what can happen to scaffold board tabletops that aren’t properly dried out. Sure, it looks like a friendly, smiley face, but not ideal when your drink is leaning over and plate is wobbling all over the place. You can see that some strips of wood have been screwed into the bottom to keep the wood stable but if the wood’s not dry when you assemble, it will not stay flat.
Once I’d got the boards home, I chose which sides I wanted to be on show and marked them. Basil kindly added some pawprints to make sure I didn’t forget. Scaffold boards are 225mm in width so 4 together = 900mm which just happens to be about the perfect dining table width. They’re 38mm thick which, again, is spot on for a chunky looking table top.
Some people say that it’s important to alternate the direction of the grain from board to board to reduce the likelihood of cupping. Others say it doesn’t matter. I played it safe and alternated them which you can just about see in the end grain on this photo.
The next job was to reduce the chance of the boards leaking resin. Some boards may not need this, but ours had a fair few spots where resin was leaking. I hovered a heat gun over these areas and mopped up as much of the bubbling resin as possible.
Before making this table, biscuits meant only one thing to me. But it turns out that biscuits are also wee oval-shaped bits of wood that are used to join two larger pieces of wood. You don’t need to use biscuits – you could use dowels, or even just join the boards from the underneath with a long section of timber and screws. However, from the research I did, using biscuits offers the best combo of strength and alignment.
After lining the scaffold boards up in their final position, I marked the position where the biscuits would be. I used 5 biscuits along each length. I then separated the boards and used my router with a biscuit-cutting bit to cut the slots for the biscuits to sit in.
Here’s what the slot looks like.
Then I did a dry fit with the biscuits to make sure everything lined up and the boards were meeting properly.
It all looked good, so I gave the scaffold board edges a quick sand to round them over.
Now for the exciting/stressful bit – gluing the boards together. It was too cold outside for the glue to cure properly so I did this inside. If you decide to go down the route of screwing a couple of lengths of wood up into boards from the bottom, you won’t need to do this step. However, making sure the boards have properly dried out is particularly crucial if using this method as otherwise you’ll find that over time gaps develop between the boards and they may even start to crack.
This project gave me an excuse for a trip to Screwfix to pick up some reeeeeally long sash clamps. I used 5 long clamps in total, but ideally you’d have more. I did another dry fit, this time with clamps, as a trial run. You can see some small gaps under the first clamp where light is showing through and so the table top wasn’t perfectly flat, but this was definitely within tolerance for my skill level.
After running through the process in my head 37 times, I started slapping glue on, making sure to get lots in the slots as glue makes biscuits expand to snuggly fill the slot.
With the glue slathered on, I lined up all the boards and clamped them together. The biscuits came into their own here as it made it impossible to get the positioning and alignment of the boards wrong. Spacing the clamps evenly and with a firm but not overly tight pressure is key to achieving a good glue up. The clamps at the end of the table that are clamping two lengths of wood are called cauls and help with alignment if the boards are trying to get away from each other at the end where biscuits aren’t present.
Make sure that anything making contact with the wood during the glue up can’t become inadvertently glued to the table top! I covered the cauls with foil tape I had hanging around.
The below photo illustrates what I mean when I keep harping on about alignment. The boards are close to perfectly flat, and that’s because the biscuits are all cut at the same depth into the wood so when you come to clamp up they want to be aligned.
I probably didn’t put enough glue in between the boards I used for the table as there wasn’t a great deal of glue squeezing out when I tightened the clamps. Glue squeeze is good, so I lobbed more glue onto the boards when making the bench,
I found the best way to get rid of the excess glue was to wait for it to semi-dry (around 2-3 hours) and then gently scrape off with a chisel.
I then let it dry for a day and tentatively removed the clamps. To my joy, it held together.
Cutting & sanding
Back in the workshop, I cut the table to it’s final length, 180cm. I used a speed square to mark the cut line and used a circular saw against a spirit level. To keep things more simple, you could ask the place you buy your boards from to cut them to their final length for you (which also may help getting them in the car). Most places will do this, including B&Q.
I used an almost new, 40 tooth blade to get a clean cut.
I checked both diagonals were the same to confirm that the cuts were square.
Then it was onto my old friend, sanding. I started a 60 grit sanding disk and moved up to 80 and then 120 to leave a smooth finish.
I gave all the edges and corners a light sand with 120 grit to round them off. I thought about using my router for this but opted for sanding as it’s a pretty rustic table and so perfectly consistent rounded edges wouldn’t look right.
A few hours later, the sanding was finally finished so I gave the table a good wipe down. I handed over to my glamorous assistant, Haz, to apply the finishing touches and take all the glory.
After trying various treatments including stains, oils, and even burning techniques on sections of scrap, we couldn’t find a finish we were happy with. This was well annoying. After some Googling, we came across this blog post which suggested rubbing soil into the boards to give them an aged look. Sure enough, smearing some compost into a test piece came out great!
With the table back inside, Haz started rubbing compost onto the table top.
It was a bit odd to see dirt being thrown all over the thing that I’d spent a fair few hours putting together…
After some trial and error, we found the best method was smear compost in and then to brush/hoover away the excess. Haz repeated the process a 3 times, by which point there was no blotchiness left but the colour wasn’t overly dark.
We decided to go with Osmo TopOil in clear matt to give a really subtle finish.
There’s a few ways you can apply this stuff, but we just opted to thinly apply it with a paintbrush. 2 coats, with 10 hours drying in between, seemed to do the trick.
We’re so chuffed with how it came out!
One last thing on applying the oil: it’s important to apply the same number of coats to the bottom as the top. This may seem like waste of time/oil, but if you don’t do this then the table will be more likely to warp over time. I’m not going to claim I fully understand the science behind this, but enough credible sources say that this is important so I did as I was told!
Making the bench was a very similar process to the table, although there were 2 key differences.
Firstly, 2 scaffold boards would be 45cm deep which is too much, and 1 would be way too small. I rip cut 70mm off one of the scaffold boards so that the total depth would be 38cm, just about right for the average bum. If you’re trying to keep things simple, you could either just use two full width boards or ask the place you’re buying the boards to cut them down.
Secondly, the boards I used to make the bench were both badly cupped. I already had these boards so rather than shell out on new boards I thought I’d have a go at sorting these out.
In an ideal world, I’d have a fancy planer/thicknesser that would make flattening these boards a doddle. However, I had to make do with an electric planer. I marked on the areas that I’d have to remove to get the boards flat. This included the edges, that turned upwards and bottom, which curved outwards in the middle
I got to work with removing the marked areas, running loads of shallow passes with the planer.
After roughly removing the majority of the material with the planer, I moved onto low grit sanding discs with the orbital sander to even things up. Soon enough, the boards were looking a lot flatter and thinner than before.
After this prep work, we gave the bench the old compost treatment and oiled it as we did with the table top.
Fixing the legs
There are loads of different styles of legs you can buy online. Our favourite is the trapezium-style, but rather than buying them we took advantage of my Dad’s metalwork skills. The main advantage of this was that we could make them to the exact size that we wanted but cost-wise I don’t think it worked out cheaper than buying them ready-made.
Our bench legs are 42cm high to leave a final height of 45cm once the scaffold boards had been planed and sanded back to around 3cm. The table legs are 71cm high, with the final height close to 75cm with the 38mm boards on top.
Before attaching the legs, I routed out the bottom of the table top and bench where the legs sit to a shall depth. This is an unnecessary step, but it helps make the fixing bolts more discreet and also helps disguise any variation in the bottom of the boards as it recesses the fixing plate.
First up, I marked the position of the legs, making sure they were square. For the table top, I made sure that the leg positioning would allow for the bench to sit under the table so it can be tucked underneath when we’re not using it.
I used a spirit level as a straight edge to guide the router around the edges of where the plates would sit.
Once the outer line of the area to be routed was established, I routed out all the material in the middle until the bottom of the table looked like this and was ready to have the legs attached.
The easiest way to attach the legs to the boards is to simply screw through the holes in the plate. That’s fine but doesn’t allow you to easily take apart and reassemble the table if you need to move or transport it as you can’t use the same screw holes multiple times. Another benefit of this is that one day I’d love to make and sell some of these tables and so being able to take it apart & reassemble easily is a big plus. So, instead of screwing, I used threaded inserts and bolts. This is the first project I’ve used these babies on and they’re bloody wonderful.
With the legs sat in their final position, I marked the position of the plate holes onto the table.
Next, I drilled holes at a diameter of slightly less than the outer thread of the inserts. I then gave the inserts a wee tap into the hole to start them off, and then used my impact driver with a hex bit to drive them down into the hole.
This provided a very secure threaded opening to bolt the bottom of the table top into.
Plopping the legs back into position, I then drove M6 bolts through the plate and into the threaded inserts as a trial fit. I found that unless the holes were perfectly centred over the threaded inserts, the bolts weren’t keen on the idea of being tightened into place. The solution to this is to drill the plate holes out to 8mm with an HSS bit to give a little more leeway.
It was then over to Haz, the painting queen, to spray the legs with a matt black paint.
The very last step was to refit the freshly painted legs.
And we were done!
We’ve been looking forward to this project for months but it kept getting pushed down the priority list. We’re really pleased how it’s turned out and are now counting down the days until we can have people round to enjoy it with us #lockdown3.0. We’re on the hunt for some chairs to go round the other side which will allow the table to comfortably seat 6 people, or 8 if they have particularly narrow shoulders
All-in, the table and bench cost £175 to make. This is probably a couple of hundred quid cheaper than how much you could buy it for, but this project wasn’t just about saving cash. We wanted to make something that was the exact size and finish that we were after, and it was great to get my Dad’s and Haz’ help. By making it ourselves, we’ve also been able to spend a good chunk of time on it, making sure it’s really robust and so should last us many years.
Once the extension was done, the outside of the house was a complete mess. Stepping out of our new bi-fold doors into a sea of mud wasn’t ideal, especially with Basil coming in and out all day. So after fitting the kitchen, the next job on the list was the patio.
Why porcelain tiles?
There are a few options when it comes to patios and we spent a long while considering each. We ended up opting for porcelain because they’re man-made and so come in a massive range of colours and styles. They’re also easier to maintain than natural stone options as they’re non-porous. They won’t go all green and grim-looking like other options and they wipe clean just like indoor tiles. The last thing we prefer about them is that they’re quite contemporary-looking without being too modern.
The obvious negative is that they cost more than natural stone alternatives. Having said that, we paid £28 a square metre which isn’t crazily expensive, and our patio is only 19sq metres (6.3×3). Check out Prices Paving if you’re after some sensibly priced patio tiles/stones.
First up, everyone’s favourite job: digging.
I planned for the patio to meet the house at about 18cm below the damp proof course (2 blue bricks down on our house) and to fall 1cm every 60cm away from the house to encourage water off the patio. I used wooden stakes to mark the finished height of the patio and dug down to around 16cm. This allowed for 10cm of sub-base, a minimum of 4cm mortar and the 2cm thick porcelain tiles.
To build a 1 in 60 fall into the peg height, I spaced the pegs by just under 1.8 metres and used my 1.8 metre spirit level with a 3cm chunk of wood sat on top of the peg furthest from the house. That way, when the 180cm spirit level showed as level with a 3cm spacer at the lower end, I knew the lower peg was 1 in 60 fall from the higher peg (180/3 = 60).
Using a mattock is a massive time saver when digging by hand. Soon enough, the area was dug out to depth, allowing an extra 15cm or so around the sides.
The best sub-base to use for a patio is MOT type 1 which you can get in 850kg bulk bags for around £40 each. There are loads of calculators online to help work out how much you need. If you need around 7 or 8 bags plus, it’s probably worth buying a loose load rather than bagged which works out much cheaper.
I wheelbarrowed the sub-base onto a permeable membrane which stops the sub-base mixing with the earth.
After spreading about 5cm of sub-base, I gave it a good old whacker with a hired compactor plate. This was fun. Pretty sure I went overboard with the whacking.
I repeated this, regularly checking the gap from the top of the pegs to the sub-base. When this got to 6-7cm (4-5cm mortar + 2cm tiles), it was ready.
With all the whackering done, I cut off the top of the pegs and got ready to lay the patio.
I wanted to keep things as simple as possible but there was a little cutting to do around drains. I also cut a couple of tiles in half so that the tiles could be laid in a brick pattern.
A lot of stuff online says that you need fancy gear to cut porcelain tiles because they’re incredibly hard so cutting blades get red hot. After a loads of research, I came across this diamond blade for a 4.5 inch angle grinder that’s specially designed for cutting outdoor porcelain tiles. It worked a treat.
Laying the patio
With the tiles cut, the time came to actually lay the things. There are a few different jobs that you ideally need to be cracking on with at the same time so this is definitely a 2 man job. I tried a day on this by myself and got hardly anything done plus knackered my back as the 90x60cm tiles are heavy and awkward.
First things first, get the cement mixer going. You could mix by hand in a wheelbarrow, but this is a pretty bleak job if you’ve got a decent-sized patio. We bought this one but you can hire them pretty cheap. I used a mix of 1 part cement to 4 parts sharp sand, keeping it quite dry. In hindsight, I should have made the mixture a little more wet as it’d have been more workable and easier to tap the tiles down to their final level.
Before plonking the tiles down, there’s a crucial extra step that needs to be taken for porcelain tiles. Because they’re non-porous, they won’t properly adhere to a normal mortar mix so you need to apply a generous amount of slurry primer to the back of each tile before laying. You can buy the primer ready-made but it’s cheaper to make your own which is just SBR bond mixed with cement to a thick consistency.
I then slapped it on the tiles with a wallpaper paste brush. I say slapped, this stuff is seriously messy so needs to be handled carefully. If you get it on the top face of the tile it needs to be wiped off straight away with a damp sponge or it can permanently mark. It’s worth doing this job a fair distance away from the other tiles to reduce to chance of them getting splashed.
The first tile you lay is the most important as it sets the direction and level of every other tile. Needless to say, it’s worth spending time on it.
Once I’d mixed roughly enough mortar, I laid a tile on top and checked the levels were about right. You’re best off testing the levels with an un-primed tile because if you use a primed one to check the levels and have to add/remove mortar, the mortar will stick to the underside of the tile and reduce the primer’s effectiveness.
I was aiming to have them being perfectly level from left to right, and at a 1 in 60 fall away from the house using a 60cm level and 1cm spacer to get this right.
It may take a couple of goes to readjust the mortar bed with a trowel until the tile sits at the right levels, tapping the tile down into the bed with a rubber mallet. As well as getting the levels spot on, it’s really important that the tile makes good contact with the bed. I’ve read that it needs to be 70% as a minimum, but the safe bet is to aim for 100%.
Once the first tile is down you get into a bit of a flow. The previous tiles dictate the positioning and levels of subsequent tiles which is a big help. A top tip for helping work out what level to lay the bed to is to spread a long spirit level between two tiles you’ve already laid. You want around 15mm to be showing under the spirit level as this will compress slightly when you tap down the 20mm tile. I read about this tip on this blog post which was massively helpful.
One you’ve got a roughly 15mm gap between the spirit level and mortar bed, place an un-primed tile down to see how proud it sits of tiles around it. The more tiles you lay, the better you get at gauging how much the tile will drop down once tapped down with a rubber mallet. As ever, make sure you’re checking the levels as you go.
We went for 5mm spacers between our tiles. Making sure the spacers fit snugly into the gaps is really important as any error here would affect subsequent tiles. If you find the gap opens up while tapping to tile down, you can tap the tiles from the side to shift them back into position.
As great as porcelain tiles look, they are really unforgiving if you don’t take the time to get the levels consistent. They’re very flat and are spaced so close that any deviation from one tile to the next is very obvious.
If, like me, you’re laying porcelain tiles for the first time, I’d really strongly recommend not rushing things. Even with two us on this job, we were laying around 2 tiles an hour which sounds horrendously slow but if we’d gone any quicker we’d have had to compromise the accuracy. Not only would any errors look rubbish, they could also lead to water pooling on the patio which with impermeable porcelain tiles would be a big problem.
After many hours, the first 2/3 of the patio was laid. I actually left the the last 1/3 until a few months later as there used to be a pond there which I wanted to allow to settle over winter before laying the patio over it.
After a couple of days, the mortar had cured and the patio was ready to be grouted. There’s a baffling number of options to grout patios but we decided to use Marshalls exterior jointing grout because of how quick the process is. The product comes in a powder form so you mix it in a bucket as per the instructions. But before doing this, there are couple of things you need to do first.
The mix is surprisingly wet and thin, and so it’ll seep out of any gaps around the outside of the patio if you don’t plug them. I pushed some damp sand up against the gaps which did the trick.
The other job pre-grout mixing is to lightly spray the tiles with water. This is a really important step as the grout can stain if it’s left to dry on the tiles. By moistening the surface, the grout is less likely to adhere to the face of the tiles.
Next it’s time to mix. I used around 20kg (it comes in 25kg buckets) of the powder for our 19sq metre patio (90x60cm tiles, 5mm gaps) and used a paddle on my combi drill to mix it up. The mix seems very wet at this point but that’s how it should be. If you decide to use the same product, here’s a really helpful video.
After mixing thoroughly, the countdown is on as you only get 20 or so minutes until the grout stops being workable. Roughly dribbling it out onto the gaps saves some time.
The best thing to spread the mixture around is a long squeegee, working the grout over the cracks from multiple directions to make sure the product finds its way into the gaps and fills them up. I only had a tiny shower squeegee and was too tight to buy a long one just for this job but it did the trick. If I had 15sq metres+ to grout in one go I’d either have used a long squeegee or got help from someone else with another miniature squeegee.
After filling the gaps and looking over them again to check they were full, the patio looked like this.
At this point, I found that giving the area a very light spray with the pressure washer was a good idea as it reduced the chance of the grout curing on the tile face. I then whapped out my hilariously small squeegee again to scrape most of the excess off. There’s a slight texture to our tiles and so there was a thin film of grout sat on top after squeegeeing.
Then, I waited… As per the instructions, you’re supposed to wait a minimum of 30mins before spraying away the excess. It was a fairly cold day so after around 40 mins, I fired up the pressure washer. This step is really satisfying as it’s the first time you see how the grouted tiles look.
I was very careful not to directly spray the grout to avoid it being pushed up and out of the gaps. Soon enough, all the excess was washed away and that was that.
As the patio sits almost 20cm below the top of the bi-fold threshold, we decided to add a step. Luckily for us, the place we bought our tiles from supplied treads and risers as well as the standard tiles.
There’s a 13cm gap between the bottom of the bi-fold lip and the patio, so I was aiming for a roughly 12cm high step. This would be made up of 15-20mm mortar, 65mm brick, 15-20mm mortar and finally the 20mm thick tile tread.
I started with a dry lay so that I could mark the position of the bricks on the walls and tiles. This also helped me work that there would be no need for any bricks to be cut. I used a speed square to make sure that the tiles would be positioned square to the house.
From then on, the process was very similar to laying the tiles. I slapped down some primer and then trowelled on some mortar before laying the bricks and tapping them down with a rubber mallet.
I wasn’t overly precious about the levels of the bricks as slight adjustments could be made when laying the mortar bed that would sit below the tiles.
When it came to laying the second row, I used a combination square to make sure they were consistently 27cm from the house. As the treads are 33cm deep, this would allow for 2cm mortar, 2cm riser and then a 2cm overhang.
I was very careful to remove any mortar & primer that spilled out with a wet sponge to avoid any staining. You can see on the below photo what the primer looks like if you accidentally splash it on the tiles. It sets ridiculously quickly and is almost impossible to remove so have that sponge at the ready.
That was the first stage complete, so I left the mortar to cure until the next day.
I started by laying the treads on top of the bricks. After spreading mortar, I primed the back of the tile and plopped it on top and used spirit levels to check it was level from left to right, and allowed a 1 in 60 drop from back to front.
I’d laid the mortar bed below the bricks too thin which meant having to make up the height with a fairly whopping layer on top of the bricks.
Because of the small gap between the two rows, every 30cm or so I added a small pile of mortar to reduce the area of the tile that would be unsupported.
Onto the risers. I had to cut these so I measured the gap from the patio to the underside of the step and whapped out the angle grinder.
I transferred the measurements onto the riser, removing 5mm to allow a gap the same size of the spacers, and very carefully followed the line.
I should warn you that cutting porcelain tiles creates a humongous amount of fine dust so PPE is really important. Regardless, it’ll still add about 20 years.
I squashed some mortar up against the front brick, primed the riser and tapped it into position. I kept the mortar really dry to help keep it in place.
And then, finally, just the side of the steps were left to do. Fortunately, I had a spare tile that I used to cut these out of.
After fixing the sides in place, the step was left to cure before grouting.
Grouting the step
The only difference between grouting the tiles and the step was that the grout needed to be mixed a lot thicker for the step. This is because gravity would have dragged a wet grout mix out of the vertical gaps so I kept it pretty dry and pushed it into the gaps by hand. I then sponged away the excess and used a finger to shape the grout, just as you would with sealant or caulk. Once partially cured, I pressure washed the excess away and finally, the patio was complete.
I’d probably say that this project was one of the trickier ones that we’ve done. As I mentioned before, these tiles are incredibly unforgiving because of how closely they’re positioned and the fact that any dodgy levels can lead to water pooling. Certainly not a job that can be rushed, but we’re really happy with how they look and glad we went for porcelain as they’re so easy to clean.
I still need add a gravel channel at the front of the patio which will separate the lawn from the tiles.
Cost-wise, the whole thing came to just short of £1K, with the tiles accounting for around half of that. I’m not sure how much it’d cost to get a professional in to do this job, but I’d guess it’d be over £2K.
2020 was a year of pretty intense DIYing. As I bought more tools and made more things, it became obvious that we couldn’t use our garage for both storage and as ‘workshop’. All the woodwork was ridiculously messy and we were running out of space. Plus, the relentless power tool usage right next to our house + neighbours wasn’t ideal.
We’re lucky to have a pretty long garden and so once the idea of building my own workshop in a back corner of it popped into my head there was no going back! We were pretty cash-strapped after the extension so keeping costs down was key.
I’ve kept the details quite thin so if you’re planning on doing something similar and have any questions just shout in the comments box at the bottom.
Prepping for the floor
Once upon a time there must have been a wee shed in the back right corner of our garden as there was a small concrete pad when we moved in. This seemed like the obvious place to build the workshop as it’s far from any neighbours and not visible from our house.
The first job was to mark out the exact position. Being a farmer, my Dad was keen to build a barn-sized structure but we settled on 2.4 x 4.8 metres. These are standard sizes for timber so the idea behind this size was minimal cutting and waste.
I nabbed some paving stones for free off a neighbour and laid them on top of a fairly dry grit sand and cement mix to keep them steady.
Getting them all level was a faff but I didn’t fancy a wonky floor.
Half way through this job I realised that I’d definitely used more paving stones than was needed but I guess that’s better than too few. If you plan on doing something similar, you could probably leave out the middle section of paving stones as long as the floor joists are chunky.
Luckily for me, my Pa had some big ol’ joists hanging around as well as some 25mm ply sheets so that was the timber for the floor sorted. After cutting the joists to size, I added joist hangers and used 100mm screws to fix the outer frame to them. Then I used some offcuts as noggins along the middle. Don’t be a fool like me – put weed membrane down BEFORE the floor structure is fixed together.
I spent a while getting the frame square so there wasn’t too much fannying around to get the ply floor positioned properly. I fixed this to the joists with 60mm decking screws.
I left the final joist and ply sheet loose until the wall went up to make sure everything was perfectly flush.
Then, lockdown 2.0 arrived. Luckily, my Dad had planned on building the wall frames on the farm anyway. He made a jig out of steel so that the studwork walls would all be exactly the same dimensions while speeding up the process.
Then it was just a case of piling up the wall sections and waiting for lockdown to end.
As soon as Boris gave us the thumbs up, my Dad arrived with the walls and roof trusses in tow.
I couldn’t believe how quick the walls went up.
After 3 hours the walls were fixed in place, with bolts joining the studs and 100mm screws fixing the frames into the ply floor and joists.
The good progress allowed for a chips and gravy lunch. Yes, those are lagers #lads.
Post-grub, the roof trusses went in – another J. Leaf Snr. creation. The two middle roof trusses are made out of angle iron to add rigidity and the purlins that support the roof sheets are simply lengths of the same studwork used to build the walls. We were careful when planning this baby to keep the overall height to below 2.5 metres to avoid needing planning permission.
The next day was pretty stressful as we rushed to get the roof on before crap weather arrived. This led to a hurried and not particularly good job. Fortunately, only birds will see it. The roof is made mainly out of corrugated bitumen roof sheets with a couple of clear polycarbonate sheets to let in more light. I would not recommend using either of these – more on this later in the post…
We also fitted the windows that I’d found for free on FB marketplace.
To temporarily waterproof her, we tacked some membrane in place. Is it just me or from this point on does it start looking a bit cross-eyed?
I liked how the cladding turned out on our garage so decided to use feather edge for the workshop too. After fixing the trim in place, I roped in some more support crew for this so while I cut the boards to length, Will and my Dad nailed them in place. The wee jig you can see in the below photo made getting the spacing even really quick and easy.
The cross-eyed look didn’t get any better! Thankfully you’d need to be at the very back of the garden to witness this deformed face.
After that it was just a case of cladding the other three sides, including adding some 150 x 25mm boards and a wee diamondy thing to finish things off. I dipped all freshly cut ends in wood preserver.
I used the same half-lap method that I used on our driveway gate for the workshop doors, allowing a 5mm gap all around the frame.
I clad the doors, being careful to align this with the cladding that was already on the front walls. Feather edge isn’t ideal to fix hinges and other hardware to due to the fact that it’s angled, so I switched out the feather edge with some 100 x 25mm timber where the hinges are mounted.
For extra security, I added some long bolts to some of the hinge mounting holes so that the hinges can’t be unscrewed from the outside. After this, it was a case of adding hardware including bolts to the inside and a hasp and staple on the front.
At this point, I couldn’t ignore the fact that the roof sheets were dripping water all over the floor any longer…
The problem was particularly bad in the morning when it had been really cold the night before. The humid and warmer air in the workshop would rise and hit the cold roof sheets, leading to condensation which ran down the roof sheets, onto the purlins and then onto the ground.
This was really frustrating and annoying because I couldn’t move in until the problem was sorted. ‘Roofing Megastore’, who sold me the roof sheets, said that the condensation was ‘an environmental factor’ and so not an issue with the sheets themselves. I suggested that the point of a roof is to deal with ‘environmental factors’ but surprisingly, my sarcasm got me nowhere.
ANYWAY, after some research I decided to insulate the roof, hoping that this would separate the warmer, humid air from the cold roof sheets. I cut up some second-hand polystyrene and pushed it up into the gaps between the purlins. I left a small gap between the roof sheets and insulation to help ventilation.
I sealed up all the joins with aluminium tape.
The last step was to fix 9mm OSB to the underside of the purlins which looked neat and added an extra layer of insulating material.
Touch wood, I’ve had no condensation issues since doing this.
I put down some second-hand laminate flooring to help protect the floor. This would also help stop damp rising up through the floor and into the workshop.
Up until this point, I’d been using a crate as a step. Not really a long-term solution, and in the summer I may want to wheel my workbench outside. I dug out an area in front of the door to build a ramp into.
The whole thing is made out of scaffold boards. First, I cut out identical joists and a header. I fixed the joists into the header and then the header into the workshop front joist. I sat the bottom of the joists on some paving flags to help spread the load.
Next, I added some noggins from scrap wood.
Then it was just a case of cutting the top scaffold boards to length and screwing them in place. This ramp won’t last forever as it’s not pressure treated, but I did give all the wood 2 coats of preserver.
With the outside done, I turned my attention inside. The first job was to make a new workbench. There are a 967 videos on YouTube of DIY workbenches so I watched them all, twice, and decided that this was the best one.
Apparently you’re supposed to be able to make it in under an hour. It took me 6… A bit of a Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals situation, if you know what I mean.
But still, 6 hours is pretty good for a really sturdy workbench that will hopefully last decades. I put some locking castors on the bottom so I can wheel it around which has already proven super handy.
I’ve started moving my french cleat tool wall from the garage into the workshop.
Too many jobs on the to-do list at the moment so I’ll have to finish off the french cleats and sheathing the rest of the workshop walls at a later date. The only other jobs still to do are paint the outside & put in a permanent electric supply as I’m currently making do with a humongous extension lead.
It’s fair to say that I am in love with my new workshop/shed/mancave. Having a dedicated space to make stuff is absolutely dreamy. I get the workshop, Haz gets the house, everyone’s happy!
Cost-wise, the build came to around £1,200. It would have been a lot more if the joists, floor, windows and laminate weren’t free. As per most of these projects, it cost more than I was expecting. This one I justify with the dozens of hours I spend in there every week!
2020 was perhaps not the ideal year to build a big deck for all the friends and family to enjoy… This project took me a lot longer than expected but was really enjoyable and we’re chuffed with the (almost) finished result. It’s a great space to have a BBQ or toast some marshmallows on the fire pit, and the integrated storage seats come in handy.
If people are interested in making their own I’ll do a few posts with step-by-step instructions but here’s a (relatively) snappy summary of how I built it. I’ve added materials and equipment to the bottom of the post, as well as how much it cost.
After spending a looong time planning out the whole thing, I grabbed a mattock and shovel and dug out the area to a fairly shallow depth.
There are a few ways to approach the foundations for decking and I went for the cheapest & easiest. The decking frame sits on some big paving stones & breeze blocks that I nabbed from my Dad. The only prep was to dig out slightly deeper in the locations of the pavers, then fill with hardcore and compact before plopping the pavers/breeze blocks on top and covering the area with weed membrane.
To help water run off the decking, I built in a fall of 1 in 60. A handy tip for getting this right is to use a 600mm spirit level with a 10mm spacer sat under the end that you want to be lower – when the joists are showing as level, you’ve got your 1 in 60 fall.
With the foundations set, I started work on the decking frame. I used standard timber dimensions of 3.8 x 2.4 metres so there was zero cutting required. After fixing the outer frame together using 100mm screws, I begun positioning the 150x50mm joists 400mm apart. A couple of screws through either end and joist hangers held the frame securely together.
I slapped some end grain preserver onto the exposed ends of the joists to give them an extra layer of protection.
Noggins across the middle of the frame added rigidity.
Keeping everything REALLY square here was key as otherwise there would be untold consequences later on so a decent sized speed square/combination square is key. The old trick of making sure diagonal measurements are exactly the same is a good final check.
The gaps between joists provided a great opportunity to get rid of some of the 67 tonnes of rubble that I dug up in preparation for moving the garage.
I then cracked on with screwing the decking boards in place. Using screws for the spacing helped make this a really quick job.
I chose to use the decking with the flat side facing up as I much prefer the look and it actually makes them easier to clean. Apparently, this side is no less grippy and I’m yet to slip on my arse.
You may think from the above photo that I missed a spot… That’s because there are seats on 3 sides and so I figured there’s no need to spend money on decking when it’ll have seats over the top. In hindsight, I’d have decked the whole thing as the seats would have been easier to build.
The basic structure is two rectangles sat on top of 2×2 (47 x 47mm) pressure treated timber that’s screwed into the joists. I must have used a couple of thousand screws on this project and was too tight to buy super long decking screws to fix the frame together. Instead, I countersunk 60mm decking screws which worked well.
Once established a bit of a system, it was a case of making repeated cuts and working my way around all 3 sides.
I angled the back of the seats at 10 degrees to make them more comfortable.
There were some tricky angles in the corners but after a bit of trial and error I got there. I wouldn’t bother attempting this project without a mitre saw as getting the angles spot on is crucial.
Taking the time to get everything level, square and aligned was worth spending the time on.
Eventually, all 3 sides were finished so I turned my attention to the seats.
To free up some garage space, I figured it’d be worth adding some hinges to the seats so that stuff can be stored in them. It was a bit of a faff but well worth it as we’ve now got loads of extra storage, albeit only for stuff that can get wet.
The seats are made out of 100 x 22mm rough sawn treated timber. I gave each board a quick sand at 80 grit before cutting them to length. I used my circular saw and a guide to rip cut some of the lengths of wood down to stagger the widths and make things a bit prettier. A table saw would have made this process a hell of a lot quicker but I didn’t have one at the time.
I then clamped up the boards and screwed supports (made from off cuts of the seat wood) from the bottom, being careful to make sure they wouldn’t clash with the seat frame when opening/closing. Again, screws worked as great spacers.
The back of the hinges are screwed into a thin section of wood that’s fixed to the seat frame, while the front parts are screwed directly into the seat section. The hinges are on show and it may look like this means you could sit on them, but unless you have a particularly triangular-shaped arse there’s no risk of this.
I wasn’t certain that the hinges would be able to take the weight of opening the seats but they worked a dream. The first opening was an emotional moment. I repeated the same process for all 3 sides.
Finishing off other panels
In between making the hinged seats, I fixed all the other sections in place. This was a lot quicker than making the hinged seats as it was just a case of cutting and then screwing in place. Having said that, there were some tricky compound angles to work out where the angled seat backs met at 90 degrees.
One thing I definitely hadn’t anticipated was just how much wood this project would need. I had to re-order, twice!
I was careful to make sure that the boards that met horizontally were exactly the same width and met at the same height.
I used some scrap wood for the bottom sections of the storage areas to keep costs down.
Before cutting and fixing the top and front sections in place, I fixed some 75 x 75mm treated posts against the frame to support some festoon lights and a sail shade. I used my jigsaw and router to neatly cut out around the posts.
I left the back of one of the sides open for wood storage. It’s really handy for the fire pit, looks pretty cool and prevented me from having to re-order wood for a 3rd time…
Haz reckons there’s a bit of a Love Island vibe going on what with the sail shade and festoon lights – this was absolutely not my intention.
I sneakily led the guttering from the shed behind the seating and into a water butt that’s hidden behind the seats. I didn’t want a big ugly butt sat in front of the decking.
I added a wee slate channel around the perimeter to finish things off and that was pretty much it.
Fingers crossed we’ll get a shed load of use out of our decking seats in summer 2021. We did have a few evenings on it in 2020 but socially distanced nights by the firepit aren’t quite the same.
I’ve still got to oil it all so that it lasts as long as poss, but as I keep saying about all the things on my to-do list, that’s a spring job.
In terms of cost, the whole thing came to around £900 of materials. This was a fair chunk more than I was expecting, mainly because I underestimated how much wood this baby would get through. It would seat 10 people fairly comfortably so making a smaller version could easily save a couple of hundred quid. I guess it’s also worth taking into account that paying someone to make something like this would probably cost a fair few grand as there’s a lot of labour.
Whilst talking about money doesn’t come naturally to us British folk, it seems daft to write loads of posts about our extension without covering the reality of how much it all cost. Before we decided to have work done, I found very little helpful content online about the cost of extensions other than “between £1,000 and £3,000 per square metre” which is useless. So if y’all are thinking of having similar work done, or are simply nosey (as I would be), read on for a breakdown of how much our extension cost.
There were a few costs before the builders arrived. These included architect fees (£775), planning application (£84) and structural engineer calculations (£714) which meant we’d spent £1,573 before anything actually changed. We could have saved money by not using an architect and just going with the builder’s interpretation of what we wanted, but we felt this was too risky.
If you’ve been following my extension posts, you’ll have a good idea of what the work included. As well as a 3 x 6 metre single pitch roof extension, we had a loo put in under the stairs and our side door moved to allow access straight into the new utility. You can see more details in the post I wrote about our plans.
Our builder project managed the work and we agreed a fixed price contract before the build began. This contract included doing all the work except for supplying/fitting the kitchen, laying the flooring and decorating. So electrics, plumbing and plastering, steels etc. were all included in the price.
The total cost of the planned building work was £37,700. I’ve written a bit more about the quotes we had in this post about choosing our architect and builder.
Any deviations from the contract meant we’d either have to pay more/less than the figure we’d agreed. As you might expect, we added more bits than we removed. This included adding another Velux, lighting above/below kitchen units, upgrading to column radiators and quite a few extra electric and plumbing bits. The extra Velux cost £365, extra electrics £775, and extra plumbing £540. We knew that we’d inevitably want to add a few bits here and there so thankfully had 10% extra planned into the budget.
So, all-in-all, all the building work plus extra bits came to £39,380. We were very lucky to have no unexpected costs during the build – I reckon that’s very rare!
Kitchen & utility
This was our next biggest cost. The kitchen & utility units came to £4,247 which for 20 units plus all the trim is crazy good. That’s because we ordered from DIY Kitchens who are significantly cheaper than elsewhere. I sounds like I’m being paid to write this but I am not (although if anyone from DIY Kitchens is reading this, gizza bell). This post is about how we planned and ordered our units.
We ordered our laminate worktops and upstands separately – these came to £617. I didn’t trust myself to fit the worktops so we paid a chap £145 to do these.
On top of that, knobs and cups for the units cost £138 which seems a ridiculous amount to spend on this but trust me, it adds up.
The sink cost £160 and tap came in at an offensively cheap £28 (let’s see how long it lasts…)
We’ve bought the tiles for our kitchen splashback but I ain’t put them up yet. These cost £125.
Then there were various other, smaller costs including pendants & bulbs for the island as well as all the other fixings I bought to use whilst fitting the kitchen/utility which came to £230 in total.
SO, absolutely all of these bits came to £5,690 which I think is quite good for a decent-sized kitchen and utility. Fitting the units ourselves probably saved us between £2,000 and £3,000, although we did have a quote of almost £4K.
When it came to choosing our appliances, it was a bit overwhelming to begin with. We soon decided to just buy whatever Which? recommended, providing it was sensibly priced. Appliances came to £2,504 in total, broken down as follows:
Stoves range & extractor hood – £988
Hisense integrated fridge freezer – £307
Bosch washing machine – £400
Bosch tumble dryer – £500
Integrated Hisense dishwasher – £309
We’ve had Karndean LVT flooring fitted to the extension, dining area and utility. This came to around 35sq. metres and cost £2,045, including fitting. This felt like a lot to pay for flooring but it should last a lot longer than any other alternative and so will hopefully be worth it in the long run.
The building contract didn’t include the loo vanity unit & tap or supply/fitting of tiles. These costs came to £368.
Haz saved us a load of cash by doing all the decorating (she has now painted every square inch of the house). So we only had to pay for paint, paintbrushes etc. which came to £164. I think it would have been £1,000+ if we’d used a decorator.
Who doesn’t love a sundry category? The place where you put stuff that you didn’t budget for. This included pendant cables for the island lights, door knobs & dipping the doors we bought from FB marketplace. Cost = £92.
The numbers are in…
In case you’re not phenomenally good at mental arithmetic, the total cost of the extension + other bits came to £51,274 (give or take a couple of quid). The original budget we set was £55K, including a small contingency, so we’re glad to have come in under that figure.
Whilst it feels good to imagine that we’ve added more value than that to the house, it shouldn’t matter too much as we plan on living here for a looong time.
It’s worth mentioning that these figures don’t include furniture, the patio that I laid outside the extension, or any of various bits we’ve bought to make the new space look pretty. As you might expect, these add up, so I’d definitely recommend budgeting for this stuff.
It feels a little odd being so transparent about what we spent on the extension but I hope that it’ll prove really useful to some of you guys when budgeting for your own work. We’re based in Yorkshire so probably worth lobbing an extra chunk of cash to your budget if you’re in London/South East.
I’ve said it before but DEFINITELY get multiple quotes for the work. We got 5 quotes and they varied by £17K… So unless you’ve got a spare 17 grand knocking around, it’s worth getting in touch with a few builders.