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Looking back on 2020

Ahh 2020, what a year. Haz and I had expected that our free time would be dominated by the refurb this year, but we didn’t expect to have quite so much free time. Looking back on what we’ve achieved, I’m actually really chuffed and feel very lucky to have had so much stuff to crack on with whilst stuck at home. There’s still a fair amount to get sorted, but we’re 90% of the way there. Here’s what 2020 looked like for project number nine.


January

January was mainly about finishing touches in our bedroom. The fitted wardrobe was finished, floor varnished and walls painted, so it was a case of filling the space. I made a picture ledge to go above the bed and some ‘smart’ hanging bedside lights

The wall where a fireplace once stood looked pretty sad so Haz found a lovely cast iron fireplace surround on Facebook to install. We weren’t bothered about having fire in the bedroom so it was just for show.

After breaking out the wall, I tiled the hearth with some fetching crackle glaze tiles.

Then it was a case of fixing the fireplace up against the wall and voila. Quite an improvement vs the white plastic grate that was sat there before.

By the end of January, our bedroom was finished.

February

February was all about the spare room. The ceiling and walls were in a state so it was a fairly bleak month of stripping, filling and sanding. Here’s Haz demonstrating how such grim jobs can be achieved whilst remaining glamorous.

We had to sand every inch of the walls and ceiling. I do not miss this job.

Looking back on Feb, I’m not sure how we stayed motivated. Another bleak job was stripping the fireplace that took between 12 and 15 coats of stripper to remove the multiple layers of paint.

Once all the prep work was done, we slapped some paint on the walls and that was all we could do until the carpets got fitted, which was supposed to be in April…

February was the month when we finalised our extension plans after much dithering. We also settled on a builder, with a planned start date of June.

With the architect’s drawings in hand, we started kitchen planning. We actually ended up ordering our kitchen and utility units in late February to beat a price increase which was pretty risky given that the measurements were only theoretical… But we were lucky and it all worked out.

March

March begun with more hearth tiling, this time in the spare bedroom.

Haz began painstakingly stripping the stair banister and spindles before sanding and repainting them.

Then it was onto the final bedroom, our box room. This actually felt like a treat as it’s so much smaller than the other rooms. The walls had dents all over them as you can see from the filling that Haz did. They looked like a spotty teenager.

After stripping the ceiling wallpaper, there was a load of adhesive that we couldn’t get off. We ended up sticking some thick lining paper up which worked a treat.

It was just about at this point that we went into lockdown. I picked up some essentials from Wilkos, thinking they’d last until it was all over… I was wrong.

The priorities became getting a couple of home-working set-ups sorted. Haz shotgunned the dining room table, a smart choice.

In my infinite wisdom, I cobbled together a desk for myself from scrap wood. No need for anything special, ey? Unbelievably, this monstrosity of a creation is still going strong.

Warmer weather and later nights meant that I could crack on with outside work. To allow for the extension, the garage had to move back 5 metres so I dug out for a concrete pad to sit it on.

April

April began in the same way as most months: stripping and sanding, this time on the stairs themselves.

And some wallpaper stripping…

And some radiator/windowsill stripping…

I ‘accidentally’ burnt my hand with the heat gun which was good fun. Little did I know that this would pale in comparison to the injury that I would sustain just a month later…

Anyway, this meant Haz became chief garden digger which I wasn’t sad about.

With the area for the garage concrete pad dug out, I laid the sub-base and set out the shuttering in preparation for concreting.

And then the day came – mixing 1.5 cubic metres of concrete in a £110 cement mixer similar in size to a blender. Somewhat inevitably, it ended up taking 2 days.

Our enthusiasm was short-lived.

In hindsight, it’d have been cheaper and 400 times quicker to get ready-mixed concrete delivered but at least we learnt a new skill, I guess…

With one load of digging behind me, I moved onto the next. This time for decking.

I love working with wood so once the digging was done, this was a pretty joyous task.

By the end of April, the decking base was down and ready for me to build the seating.

Look at the state of our drive at this point #neighboursoftheyear.

May

What a month May was. Primarily because of the arrival of this little man, Basil.

Needles to say, the rate of DIY took a hit from this point onwards. How can you bring yourself to sand walls when this little creature is flopping around?

We did get a few bits done. My Pa brought the big boys round to help clear our drive of several tonnes of earth. We must have saved a small fortune by not having to get skips, bless him.

The decking seats started to come along nicely.

With the framework in place, I began fixing the panels.

With some cheeky under-seat storage.

May also saw the start of project ‘dismantle and remantle the garage’, starting with removing the roof.

Before I got chance to take the walls apart, quite a bad thing happened. Long story short, I sat on a steak knife which impaled my left bum cheek up to the handle. In case you think I’m lying, here’s the knife and below it is a photo of my shorts post-knife-sit (WARNING: graphic content).

Yeah so that wasn’t ideal but I’m often reminded how ‘lucky’ I was that the knife didn’t hit an artery or ‘tear me a new bumhole’ – the sympathy was limited. 3 stitches, a large amount of drugs, and 2 weeks later, I was back at it.

June

Sorry for more Basil spam, promise it’s the last one. This is B-dog on Haz’ birthday.

With the little man on the scene, we couldn’t really afford to have an open drive anymore so I made a gate.

This was probably my favourite project of the year, I’d love to make another.

It’s not perfect, but it keeps the pooch in and unscrupulous people out.

With a fully healed buttock, I was able to return my focus to moving the garage. The walls are made out of 2 foot wide reinforced concrete panels so shifting them wasn’t fun. BUT, it was pretty cool to see the space open up ready for the extension.

July

With the ugly ducking garage moved, the time came to clad it.

This took a while as drilling into the panels to fit the battens was a nightmare but we’re chuffed with how it turned out. One day I’ll get round to painting it.

I made a little more progress on the decking in-between other jobs.

It such a nice space to use on a summer evening. Shame that 2020 was the worst year ever for socialising.

July marked the start of the extension build. I won’t lie, it didn’t start great. I’ve always fancied a moat around the house, but one filled with neighbours’ excrement wasn’t what I’d hoped for.

Once this was sorted, we were informed that the concrete foundations had been laid in the wrong place. These things happened within 3 days of the guys starting the work so needless to say, we were not filled with confidence. To be fair, from this point on there were only small mistakes that you’d expect with any building project.

Once the walls started going up, we could get a proper feel for the space.

By the end of July, the roof was on.

August

August was all about trying to minimise stress caused by the building work. Covid meant that we couldn’t stay anywhere during the wall knock through which was pretty bleak. At least it wasn’t winter, that would have been horrendous.

Seeing the space open up was great, although keeping a pup occupied during the disruption was a bit of a ‘mare. I have no idea how people with kids have building work done.

Bi-fold day was an exciting day.

Work started to shift the side door and separate the utility from the kitchen.

The little DIY I did get done in August was a french cleat tool wall for the garage – well fun and such a good way to organise stuff.

September

The transformation in September was awesome. We started with this hideous shell and ended with a fully functioning kitchen.

The plastering took 5 guys two days – ridiculously impressive operation.

Soon after the plastering was done, our kitchen arrived. Haz nattered away with the delivery guys whilst the builders and I lugged all the units round the back of the house.

The race was on to get the extension painted before the kitchen could be fitted.

Haz took a week off work and spent 8 days straight painting… What an effort. Some family support was much appreciated.

Haz painted the fireplace and wall behind it which is such a huge improvement on what it looked like before.

With the kitchen area painted, I made a start on fitting the kitchen. Having not done anything like this before, YouTube was my friend.

Slowly but surely, it started to take shape, despite a couple of meltdowns along the way.

This is the face of somebody who is incredibly excited to clean their island for the first time.

Once the kitchen & utility units were fixed in place, around 32 men slotted the range in place and second fix electrics and plumbing began.

The first ‘proper’ meal we cooked on the range was pizza, potato waffles and peas… What a couple of children.

Whilst we were painting/fitting the kitchen, the builders were working on the under stairs loo. Previously, this was a coal house with a door outside.

I whapped some funky tiles down. Another scenario where initially I wasn’t convinced but Haz was right. Hope she doesn’t read this.

The builders also blocked up what used to be the door to the kitchen.

The guys filled in the old doorway and switched the window out for a door that would lead into the utility.

I managed to spend some more time on the decking, finishing off the seats and adding a slate channel around the edge. There’s still a few more bits to do but let’s just assume I’ve finished it!

October

October was all about the patio. First, of course, more digging.

I hired a whacker for a weekend to compact the sub-base down which was well fun.

With the sub-base compacted, I started laying the porcelain tiles. I was a bit anxious about this job as I probably should have left it to people who knew what they were doing.

It took me bloody ages to lay just these 20 tiles and I’m pretty sure I did myself some long-term back damage in the process. BUT, it went well and saved a few grand by DIYing it. I’m leaving the last third of the patio until spring, by which point the pond that we filled in should hopefully have fully settled.

Whilst I was patio-ing, the builders and co. were checking off a few last bits. Basil was very confused about how a loo appeared out of nowhere.

November

It would probably have been cost-effective to have bought a mini-digger given the amount of earth I’ve shovelled this year. The garage isn’t big enough for storage + space for me making/breaking things so we’re building a small workshop/mancave at the back of the garden. Both Haz and I are delighted as she gets the house and I get my own shed.

I laid a load of flags, built the timber frame, and then fixed ply on top.

This project has been very much a father-son effort. My Dad built all the wall frames and roof trusses on the farm. Lockdown then delayed us as my Dad couldn’t bring the wall frames round.

Moving inside, the carpet fitting we had booked for April was finally rearranged for the end of Nov. Ahead of this, Haz painted the stairs ready for the runner and I spent some time ridding our floorboards of their ridiculous squeaks.

Then the carpet man came to do his thing. This carpet is fitted to 2 bedrooms as well as the landing and stairs.

Downstairs, the floor fitter cracked on with laying the Karndean.

Once the floor was down, I could finish off the last kitchen bits including end panels and plinths. And FINALLY, the extension was done!

And the utility too.

Our new sofa arrived on my bday which was exciting.

December

Wahooo tier 2! My Dad came round with the pre-made walls and trusses for the workshop. After a few hours, the walls and roof structure were up. I tell you, the man’s a genius.

The next day we raced against the clock to get the roof sheets on before it poured down.

After I added a few bits of trim, my Dad and a pal came round to start cladding.

With those two cladding and me cutting & pre-nailing the boards, we had one side done in no time. The fact that more people doing a job leads to it getting done quicker was a revelation for me. If anyone fancies helping out with stuff in 2021 let me know – you’d be paid in the currency of chips/bacon butties.

The outside is now 95% done, just got to add some trim at the top and make a ramp.

Once we’ve sheathed the inside of the walls and put some second-hand laminate flooring down, I’ll be officially moving in.


So there you have it, 12 months of fairly relentless refurbing and DIY. I have no idea what we did with our spare time when we lived in a 2 bed London flat…

There’s no way we’d have done so much if we hadn’t been stuck at home on evenings and weekends. Fingers crossed that 2021 will be a better balance of doing stuff and actually getting the chance to appreciate it.

Thanks to all who have followed our refurb journey this year, I hope you’ve enjoyed it!

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Doing it up

Top 10 refurb tips

Before moving into our place we were complete DIY novices. My DIY experience consisted of failing to put a blind up and making a shoe rack that is permanently in storage… So basically, we’ve had to learn a hell of a lot. Based on our experience so far, here are our best bits of advice.


#1 | Fork out for good sandpaper

As grim a job as it is, if you’re doing up a house you’re going to do an insanely large amount of sanding. As we’re trying to keep costs down, we used really cheap sandpaper for the first few sanding jobs. This is the falsest economy of all time because shit sandpaper just disintegrates and is utterly useless + infuriating. It will end up costing you more and taking longer so go for decent quality sandpaper.

Also worth saying that sanding by hand is a mug’s game. Buy a power sander (we have an orbital and corner sander) as they too will save you a hell of a lot of time and cost around £30 for a basic model.

#2 | Have a plan

Something else that we soon learnt was that doing random jobs here and there is a terrible idea. Not only does it mean you do jobs in the wrong order, but it’s also less rewarding because you feel as if you’re achieving nothing.

We now tackle one room at a time and write out all the jobs that need doing before making a start. Then we look down the list and roughly plan the order, paying attention to where one job needs to be done before another eg: don’t paint the skirting before sanding the floor as the sanders will mark the paint. The list is then stuck on the wall of the room so we can tick jobs off as they get done.

#3 | Find the best way to do a job as early as possible

There are dozens of ways that a job can be done but only one way that will be the most efficient. Finding this best method sooner rather than later should be your goal as it’s incredibly easy to waste hours doing a job ineffectively. For example, we used a heat gun to strip the skirting paint in our bedroom. The first metre must have taken me 2 hours but by the end I was probably doing 4 metres an hour after tweaking the method and using slightly different scrapers. Vary your methods of doing things until you find the best way and then stick to it.

#4 | Don’t dive in without doing your research

Certain jobs have to be done a certain way or you may end up doing more damage than good. Stripping paint from a fireplace, for example, needs to be done with with paint stripper rather than a heat gun as the intense heat can crack iron. Another example is painting MDF – you need to use a special MDF primer paint before emulsion coats as the finish will look blotchy otherwise.

These are tips that you only find out from research so spend the time looking into this stuff before cracking on with a job. At the end of the day, if you feel really uncomfortable about doing the job yourself you should probably be paying someone else to do it.

#5 | Borrow kit where possible

The DIY approach no doubt saves a lot of money. It does, however, require a lot of tools and bits of equipment that add up. The chances are you’ll have family/friends/neighbours/colleagues that have most of the equipment you need sitting in their sheds gathering dust. Borrowing and lending equipment is a great way to keep costs down and avoid having bits of equipment that you only use once.

#6 | Seek help

About 15% of jobs to refurb a house are rewarding. The rest are largely monotonous, repetitive tasks that take yonks. With these tasks, if possible, it’s great to have someone helping you with to not only speed things up, but also to keep you sane. Whilst sanding our floors I went on holiday for a couple of days, leaving Haz to fend for herself. I returned home to a broken woman as sanding a floor is definitely not a task you want to do alone. Get help from family and friends – the best ones will be happy to help.

#7 | Use paint rollers over brushes

You will get a far better finish using a roller to apply paint than a brush. Brushes are good for tricky areas and cutting in but that’s about it.

#8 | Shop around

Unless money is no object, shop around for all DIY-related goods just as you would for anything else. Prices vary massively and you can’t always rely on one place to be the cheapest. As a general rule, we use Wilkos as a first port of call for most stuff as it’s usually the best value. However, Screwfix is often a good shout and Toolstation is worth considering. B&Q is very rarely the cheapest but has just about everything. And then you have the likes of Gumtree, FB Marketplace and eBay which are perfect for certain kit.

#9 | Before starting a job, ask yourself if it’s worth it

When we first moved in we were adamant that we’d strip back every single square inch of woodwork and repaint it. 5 hours into stripping the caked-on paint of our bedroom door architrave, we realised our plan was overly-ambitious.

Some jobs simply aren’t worth spending the time and money on and being able to identify that is key. Unless you plan on doing DIY every day of your life until arthritis prevents you, be pedantic about the jobs that are and aren’t worth doing. Nobody will ever pay as much attention to the finish of a job than you will whilst you’re doing it.

# 10 | Have a Kitkat

Haz and I both work 9-5 office jobs and, believe it or not, have hobbies other than DIY. We try to spend as much free time as possible on the house but ultimately, if we’re really not in the mood or are knackered, we’ll pour ourselves a G&T/stubbie and flop on the sofa.

There have been periods when we’ve been doing housework flat out for days in a row and we always end up burning out and ultimately being unhappy. Unless you’re one of those types that will not stop until something is done, find time to chill or you’ll end up resenting the seemingly endless job list and maybe even your home.


Most of these tips are more around attitude and approach rather than the act of DIY. I suppose that’s because pretty much anyone can pick up a paintbrush (or roller) and slap it on a wall but having the right approach is what will lead to you doing the best job and having fun at the same time.

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Doing it up

Our home when we moved in

The sensation of walking over the threshold into your first home is one of joy and terror. Sure, it feels amazing to have something to show for the years of saving, but the idea of having to improve and maintain a building is fairly horrifying. Just 3 months earlier we were living in a London flat where if so much as a lightbulb stopped working we’d ‘call the man’.

To be fair, there are plenty of houses that are in a worse state than ours when we moved in. The best way to describe it is probably ‘unloved’. Here’s what our house was like when we arrived in August 2019.


Downstairs

The downstairs is a pretty classic set-up for 1930s 3-bed semi. The front door opens into the hallway with stairs to the left, galley kitchen straight forward and 2 reception rooms to the right which share a wall with our neighbours.

Hallway
Dining room

The living and dining rooms are pretty much the same size and, like the hallway, have pine floorboards that are covered in a thick, dark varnish that’s badly scuffed and looks pretty grim. In the living room there’s a large original fireplace and big window out onto the back garden which is south-east facing. The dining room has had the fireplace boarded up, but there’s a lovely bay window that floods the room with light. The wall between the living and dining room has been semi opened up so it feels pretty open plan.

Living room through to dining room

The kitchen is definitely our least favourite room in the house because it’s small, outdated and only one of the gas hobs work! It’s also ridiculously cold. AND there’s no dishwasher which is surely one of the worst first world problems.

Kitchen

Upstairs

The bathroom and master bedroom face the back garden whilst the other double room and box room are at the front of the house. All 3 bedrooms are in need of some serious TLC – the carpets are knackered, walls are dented, wallpaper is coming off etc etc…

Within an hour of moving in I’d pulled up the master bedroom carpet and found some glorious original floorboards so they’ll be staying. There used to be a fireplace in this room but some maniac sacked it off so we’re going to have to do something about that too.

Master bedroom

The spare room is in need of some serious attention. It looks like a kid put several thousand posters up so the walls and ceiling are grim. As with all the other rooms, the woodwork is badly painted and damaged. The original fireplace is still in place but painted light blue for some reason.

Spare room

The box room has also seen better days but as it’s so small we’re hoping won’t take too long. There’s some weird stuff going on in this room eg: a dangling light switch in the far corner of the room which can be used for the main light…

Box room

The bathroom is just fine. It’s not exactly how we’d do it, but it’ll do for now as there’s way more pressing stuff to be done.

Bathroom

One day many years from now we might need a 4th bedroom. If so, we’ll probably follow the lead of most of our neighbours and do a loft conversion. For now, it’ll just be used for Xmas decorations.

Features

There’s a few quirky features to the house including the diagonal doors that come off the hall and landing. We really like them as they make the hallway/landing spacious and light, plus it’s a bit different which adds to the house’s character.

Funky diagonal door set-up

There are original picture rails running throughout the house which make the ceilings feel high and provide a nice way to break up the wall. We’re planning on getting some picture rail hanging equipment to use these back like they would be 90 years ago.

The doors are also original and thankfully haven’t been panelled over like so many doors from that era are. They are, however, caked in loads of layers of paint which doesn’t look great.

Interior door

A big selling point for us was the amount of natural light throughout the house. The windows are humongous and because of the layout, light travels from room-to-room really well. We viewed similar houses with less light and they felt so gloomy compared.

Outside

The apple tree ❤

The back garden is probably what turned this place from a maybe into our first choice. The previous owner was a keen gardener so it’s been well looked after and has a lovely old apple tree at the end. I’ve not lived anywhere with a garden for 10 years so to have our own outdoor space is dreamy. One not-so-dreamy part of the back garden is the pre-fab pebbledash garage which is really useful space but bleak to look at. It’ll either come down or get a makeover.

Back garden from master bedroom

There’s a long, narrow drive down the side of the house which leads to the front garden and main road. There’s only practical space for one car so one day we’re going to do what the neighbours have done and take up the small patch of front garden to gravel it so we can get a couple of cars parked.

Front garden

And that’s about it. We could easily make do with the house as it is but it’s that classic cliché of wanting to ‘put your own stamp on it’. Plus, as it is, the house isn’t particularly future-proof. So with that in mind, we have a fairly big ol’ list of things to change.

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Doing it up

Before & after | Bedroom #1

The work on our bedroom started on move in day. After carrying Haz over the threshold, I legged it upstairs to rip up the carpet and begun prodding around. From a distance it looked in decent condition, but close-up it was really tired and unloved. Pretty much everything needed stripping bare before we could make it our own.

Anyway, you’re probably not here for all these words so without further ado, here’s what we did with it.

Before

After


The middle bit

We’re bloody well-chuffed with how it turned out after what felt like a bit of a slog. We spent all free evenings and weekends on it for 4 months which I guess isn’t that bad but the first 3 months were the shitty prep jobs – the last month was great! Here’s the main bits of work that we did.

Stripping, sanding, stripping, sanding, sanding, stripping… And more sanding.

Under the grimey carpet we found original pine floorboards and a hearth where the fireplace used to be. To get the floorboards back into shape we had to use industrial sanders which wasn’t overly fun but as with pretty much all this stuff, it was worth it in the end.

Pre-sanded floor

On top of floor sanding, we stripped the paint off the skirting, windowsill and door architrave then sanded and painted these. The radiator needed stripping and repainting too.


Finishing floorboards

Before we could varnish the floor, there were some humongous gaps between floorboards that had to be filled. To do this we glued some pine slivers in place and then chiselled & sanded them down to be flush with the floorboards.

After this it was just a case of lobbing 3 coats of varnish on and voila, floor finished.


Door dipping

One job that we couldn’t DIY was stripping the paint off the doors. It was so thick and stuck on that even with Wilkos paint/varnish stripper and a go on the heat gun we couldn’t get it off.

We got all our interior and cupboard doors picked up and dipped by a local firm. This was actually really good value and we’re so pleased with our stripped, zebra-esque doors.

Fitted wardrobe

Planning and building the wardrobe was definitely my favourite job. Don’t get me wrong, it was insanely frustrating at times but felt awesome to have made it myself and saved probably over a grand in the process.


Fireplace

We weren’t bothered about having a working fireplace in the bedroom, but the old hearth was asking for a mock cast iron fireplace to be put back in. We found one on Facebook marketplace which fit the bill. After re-tiling the hearth, we knocked back the bricked up fireplace and put her in place

Painting

The last stage before filling the room with our stuff was to give the walls, ceiling and wardrobe a lick of paint.

Finishing touches

Finally came the fun part – filling the room with stuff, including ‘smart’ hanging bedside lights and a picture ledge which you can read about and make yourself if you fancy.

Next up on the list is spare room #1 – more to follow.

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Doing it up

Varnishing & finishing floorboards

If you’re reading this you may well have successfully sanded a floor. If so, congratulations. It’s one of the proudest achievements of my life and features fairly high on my CV. Compared with sanding, finishing the floor is a doddle. There’s various ways you can treat the wood but we opted to varnish our pine floorboards as it offers the best combination of finish and durability.


Prep

If you have gaps between your floorboards, get a flat-head screwdriver or stripping knife and scrape out all the gunk. This was a gross but undeniably rewarding job. A bit like squeezing a spot.

Decades of grim stuff

Once the room to be varnished is totally clear of dust and you’re ready to varnish, grab a bottle of white spirit and a clean rag and give the floor a good wipe down. This will remove any remaining dust and grime, ready for varnishing. The white spirit should have dried after a couple of hours, at which point you’re ready to varnish.

Varnishing

There’s not much to varnishing, just slap it on with a varnish brush as if you were painting a wall. Our varnish advised 3 layers and we left 24hrs between recoating which was plenty. Remember to varnish the floorboards by the door last or you’ll varnish yourself in.

After a fresh coat

Pine floorboards have a tendency to turn orange when varnished and we wanted to avoid this so opted for Ronseal clear matt floorboard varnish which gave a lovely, natural finish and seems to have protected fairly well so far.

Upstairs finished product
Downstairs before and after

Covering floor to skirting gap

Depending on the size of this gap and your preference, you could choose to leave this gap. However, our gaps were uneven and up to 11mm wide so we popped down to B&Q to buy some primed scotia moulding.

Before fixing in place, Haz painted the moulding with the same paint we used for skirting boards. The next step was to cut the lengths to size and press down into place with some grab adhesive applied to the bottom and back of the moulding. It’s worth getting somebody to help out with applying pressure to long lengths of moulding to make sure they’re evenly glued down.

When you arrive at a corner, fret not. It’s easy to make a smart join by cutting the moulding at 45 degrees with a mitre box and hacksaw. A mitre box basically holds the wood in place as you make the diagonal cut and costs as little as a fiver.

Once the adhesive has dried, you may find there are small gaps between the wall and moulding. Haz, AKA the caulk queen, applied a thin bead of caulk to conceal the gap. It took 10 mins and left a really neat finish so it’s worth doing.


And that’s it – time to sit back and admire your glorious floor. If there’s one key tip I’d give it’d be to varnish the floor as soon as possible after sanding as they’ll damage very easily with no protection, particularly if they’re a soft wood.

Equipment

  • Clean rag
  • Varnish brush
  • Flat-head screwdriver/stripping knife
  • Kneepads
  • Hacksaw
  • Small paintbrush
  • Applicator gun
  • Mitre box

Materials

  • White spirit
  • Clear, matt varnish
  • Paint for moulding
  • Moulding – we chose scotia-style
  • Grab adhesive
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Doing it up

Sanding floorboards

“Avoid it at all costs”, they said. With hindsight, this advice was sound. But, if like us you want to save a few hundred quid by sanding your floorboards to return them to their original glory, read on.


A few days after getting the keys to our place, we agreed that the dark brown, scuffed varnish downstairs had to come up and that we wanted to reinstate the original pine floorboards in our bedroom that were carpeted. After large amounts of Googling/YouTubing, it transpired that plenty of people hire industrial sanding machines as it costs a shed load to get it done professionally.

Downstairs
Bedroom

Hammering down nails

If your floors are anything like ours there’ll be a fair amount of prep work before the sanding can begin. Firstly, all nails need to be hammered down by at least 3mm, ideally 5mm, below the floorboard surface with a hammer and nail punch. This may seem like a lot, but the sanding process takes up a fair amount of wood so before you know it the nails will be flush with the surface again. The consequence of not hammering down nails is multiple torn sanding sheets which will cost a lot and the risk of damaging the sander. We learnt our lesson after we sadly lost 2 sanding sheets to raised nails RIP (excuse the pun.)

Filling holes & gaps

If your floorboards are old they’ll likely feature some sizeable gaps. Our upstairs floorboards are from the 1930s and so some gaps were as big as 7mm. We decided to fill these gaps by inserting some pine slivers to cover the gaps and stop potential draught. After buying a pack of pine slivers of various widths from eBay, I got to work matching the slivers to gaps and cutting them down to size with a hacksaw. After that, I dabbed some PVA onto either side of the sliver and tapped them into place. Not an issue if there’s a decent chunk of sliver protruding – once the PVA has dried, you can use a chisel to take off the excess without having to worry about it being perfect as the sanding process will sort this.

For more awkward gaps & holes, we used some Ronseal natural-coloured wood filler. This worked pretty well although it’s worth being aware that if you use a clear varnish like we did, this wood filler is likely to stand out.

Other prep stuff

Before any sanding, seal the room off with dust sheets. Honestly, you are not going to believe the mess this job causes so it’s worth being forensic with how you put these up (we were not and 3 months later are still finding dust in rooms we didn’t sand…)

Bloody filthy

The last piece of advice is entirely optional but strongly advised. Unless you live half a mile from your nearest neighbour, give them a heads up that you’re going to be making A LOT of noise. We did this and after the week was up bought them a bottle of wine as it must have been horrendous.

Sander hire

We decided to hire both a floor sander (for main sections of floor) and an edging sander (to get as close to skirting boards as poss). There’s a fair few hire places to choose from but we opted to go through National Tool Hire as they had decent reviews and were competitively priced. They were okay overall but initially gave us the wrong sanding sheets which meant a bloke had to drive round with the correct sheets so definitely check what they’ve given you before taking your sanders home!

The lads

What/how much sanding paper?

We sanded around 50 sq. metres of floor, most of which had a thick dark varnish on that was a bugger to get off. We started off in every room with 40 grit paper (the most coarse), then 80 grit, and finally finished with 120 grit to give a smooth finish. It’ll depend on the condition of your floor, but on the floor sander we used 7 x 40 grit, 6 x 80 grit and 3 x 120 grit. It’s definitely worth switching the paper out regularly as you’re wasting your time if you try to get too much out of one sheet.

Before we had boiler suits which have changed our lives

As for the edging sander, we had a ‘mare with it. Whatever we did, the sander just burnt holes into floorboards and had a mind of its own. After multiple attempts and even getting a guy out to check it it was working correctly (he too struggled), we ended up not using it. This was frustrating but fortunately we had a finishing sander and corner sander (around £30 each from B&Q) which did a good, if very slow job of sending edges and corners. I reckon the edging sander we had wasn’t working correctly so probably still worth hiring one yourself, but just be aware of this potential issue.

Despite this smile, sanding corners & edges of a varnished floor is the least enjoyable DIY job of all time

We hired 5 dust bags for each sander but you can actually reuse them so if I did it again I’d probs just hire a couple.

Process

As far as the actual job of sanding goes, it’s pretty simple:

  • start with the most coarse grit (likely 40) and work up to finer grits
  • ALWAYS sand in the direction of the floorboards, even if it’s tempting to sand across them as you’ll leave horrible marks if you go against the grain
  • move the sander smoothly and consistently to avoid sanding dips or marks into the floor
  • if you’re sanding a floor that’s already been varnished, be prepared to get through a lot of the coarse grit (40) sanding sheets as the varnish will make them gammy in no time
  • Before you spend hours sanding right up to the skirting board, bear in mind that if you’re adding moulding to cover the gap between floorboards and skirting board, this area will be covered so no need to sand (we added a 12mm pine scotia moulding)
Be prepared to empty your hoover 5 times a day

Time

As we had 4 rooms to sand we hired the equipment for a week and took some days off work and it’s a good job we did as between us the 4 rooms took us 4 full days. It doesn’t need to be 2 man job but it’s certainly helpful from a sanity POV to have someone sharing the experience with you. Plus the sanders are well heavy.

Cost

Hiring both sanders, a shed load of sanding sheets and several dust bags cost £268 for the week BUT as with most hire places, you get refunded for any sheets and bags that you don’t use. I’d recommend ordering a lot more than you think you’ll need. We ended up getting £122 back so the total hire cost came to £146 which is really pretty good. On top of this, we used a humongous amount of electricity as these are serious machines and we ran them for hours. I can’t say exactly what the electricity cost was but I would estimate £100 – £150 so bear this in mind.

The finished product

Eventually you’ll be left with a beautiful looking, smooth floor and can feel pretty smug about having saved yourself a decent wad of cash. However, you don’t want to be leaving those floorboards naked for long because they’re very sensitive beings and will damage easily, particularly if they’re pine like our floors. So, next step is to treat the floor – we opted to varnish ours.

For more info, here’s a great article by Little House on the Corner with more info about DIY floor sanding.

Equipment

  • Dust sheets
  • Floor sander with coarse, medium and fine sanding sheets
  • Edging sander with coarse, medium and fine sanding sheets
  • Corner sander with coarse, medium and fine sanding sheets
  • Ear plugs
  • Goggles
  • Gloves
  • Face mask
  • Knee pads
  • Hammer
  • Nail punch
  • Hoover
  • If filling gaps:
    • Wood slivers
    • PVA
    • Chisel
    • Hacksaw
    • Wood filler
Categories
Doing it up

Plans for our crib

If you’ve read the post about the condition of our house when we moved in you’ve probably got the impression that there’s a decent chunk of stuff to do. A lot of the work to be done is your bog standard decorating, but we’ve also got a few mini and not-so-mini projects in mind that we’re hoping will make a big difference to our home.


Full house redecoration

On the Rightmove listing photos, the house looked like it was finished to a pretty decent standard. It’s only when we viewed that we realised that every room is in need of some TLC. It’s a case of lots of little things adding up eg: most of the woodwork needs stripping & repainting/varnishing, there are holes & gaps everywhere that need filling, and wallpaper is peeling off in various places. Along with this, every room needs a lick of paint which will help highlight the picture rails and we’re going to put up wooden blinds in most windows. This is all going to take a while so we’re going to tackle one room at a time as I have the focus of a 2 year old and will jump from room-to-room otherwise.

Fitted wardrobes, shelving, other DIY projects etc.

The house we ended up buying is in a really lovely area. This meant stretching ourselves a little on the mortgage which means that we don’t have cash to splash. Pretty much anything we can do ourselves, we will do ourselves. I’ve got a load of ideas in mind which hopefully I’ll get chance to pick off inbetween all the other house jobs!

Flooring

Every downstairs room except the kitchen has relatively recent pine floorboards with a dark, badly scuffed varnish. This needs to get sorted out because it looks a mess. In the short-term we’ll be sanding and re-varnishing these with a clear varnish to show off their real colour.

All the bedrooms and landing need re-carpeting, except for the master bedroom where we’re going to pull up the carpet to show off the original pine floorboards that will look lovely once sanded and varnished.

Extension

This is the one that’s going to risk bankrupting us. Our four closest neighbours have all added single storey rear extensions, probably because the gardens are long so lend themselves to this. Our kitchen is pokey and we’d love to have an open plan area where we can cook/eat/drink/chill so we’re going to add around 3 metres to the back of the house. This space should also allow us to add a small utility room and as part of the work we’re going to sneak a loo under the stairs.

Extending Driveway

Something else that all our neighbours have done is knocked most of the front garden wall down and extended the driveway across the house so 2 cars can comfortably fit. This is something I’m keen to crack on with because it’s a middleclass-problems ball ache having to squeeze one car onto the drive and the other on the road.

The Shed ❤

Before the extension goes up the butters garage is going to have to go as it’s in the way. To replace this, me and J Leaf Snr are going to build a shed and we’re very excited to get cracking. It’s going to be used for storage and also as a workshop for me to potter about in. Haz is equally as excited about having a shed as it’ll mean she’ll have the house to herself most of the time.

Decking/BBQ zone

At some point we’ll get round to setting-up part of the garden for BBQs and general summer chilling. I’m thinking decking with a fire pit and a wooden frame over the top to hang festoon lights. This is another project I’m really looking forward to but it’s a luxury so other stuff needs to get done first.

Future stuff

Hopefully most of the things above will be done by the end of 2020, but everything seems to take longer than we think so let’s see. In the next few years, there are a few other things that we may end up doing. One is a loft conversion so we can add a 4th bedroom. There’s no need for this in the near future, but if Haz ends up getting the 8 children she wants then we’re definitely going need more bedrooms. Of course, we could move instead, but we love this location so much that I think a loft conversion would be a good shout.

My Dad has recently built a shepherd’s hut for my parent’s garden (give it a Goog if you’ve never heard of one) which is a beautiful thing. If I get time/can find the cash, I’d love to build a shepherd’s hut to put at the end of our garden under the apple tree. It’d be a cool place for family/friends to stay and we could put it on Airbnb to generate a few pounds.

Another garden project that may or may not happen is building a treehouse. Given that we don’t have kids, I probably don’t have an excuse to do this for a good few years yet. BUT, it’s definitely something I’d be keen to do and the apple tree is the perfect shape for a wee treehouse.


Reading that back is slightly alarming as it’s a lot of work and is gonna take a good year or two. But actually, I love having a project on and all this DIY stuff is pretty rewarding so bring it on.