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Doing it up

Looking back on 2021

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


January

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

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

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

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

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

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

February

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was that for the block pavers.

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

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

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

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

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

March

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

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

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

With the tiles in place, on went the grout.

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

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

I laid these on the bricks and grouted them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

April

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June

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

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

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

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

July

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October

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

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

November

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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DIY projects Uncategorized

DIY block paver driveway apron

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 dig

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.

Edge restraint

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.

Materials

  • MOT type 1
  • Sharp sand
  • Cement
  • Length of 4×1
  • Concrete edging
  • Block pavers
  • Kiln dried sand

Equipment

  • Shovel
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Hired whacker plate (from Brandon hire)
  • Spirit level of varying length
  • Jigsaw
  • Sledgehammer
  • Rubber mallet
  • Trowel
  • Angle grinder and diamond cutting disc
  • Chalk
  • Soft bristle brush
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Uncategorized

DIY driveway gate

Within about 12 minutes of bringing Basil home (our cocker spaniel pup), it became clear that a wooden plank across the drive wasn’t going to stop him running onto the road. I spent the next couple of nights watching every DIY wood gate build on YouTube and took the best bits of each one to build ours. She still needs a lick of paint (we’re thinking dark grey) but here’s how I put it together.


Planning

I bloody love cracking out a pad to plan things like this. The gap between the side of our house and hedge after accounting for gate posts is around 2.3 metres. I decided to go for one smaller gate for everyday use (90cm) and another larger one in case we needed to get anything chunky through (1.4metres). As for the height, we wanted a bit of privacy without it looking like a prison so 1.75 metres seemed sensible as it would only allow tall men to see over.

After deciding on gate dimensions I worked out what post sizes I’d need, the framework design, what cladding to finish the gate in and the hardware (including hinges) that would suit the gate best. So there was actually a fair amount of planning involved given the gate itself was a relatively quick build.

Gate posts

Good old Google told me that I would need a 75mm x 75mm post for the smaller gate and that 125mm x 125mm would be a safe bet for the big boy. The smaller one would be fixed to the house so I just went for a 1.8metre post but the hedge side would need to be concreted into the ground. I bought a 2.4metre long post so that around 60cm could be concreted into the ground to make sure it was sturdy.

Before securing the posts I had to make sure that they would be positioned so the gate would be perpendicular to the wall. I went old school to work this out and used the 3, 4, 5 method. I cut 3 lengths of scrap wood to 1.5m, 2m and 2.5m (the 3, 4 and 5) and then laid the 1.5m length against the house. The point at which the other two lengths meet gives a perfectly perpendicular line to the wall. Good old GCSE maths.

To secure the wee post to the house I leveled it up and fixed it in place using four 12cm frame fixings. Turns out that our exterior wall is miles off straight up (mildly concerning) so I had to pack out the bottom. At some point I’ll get round to hiding the gap.

The larger post was in a bit of a state so I gave it a good sand and used a chamfer bit on my router to give it a clean edge.

Digging for the big post would have taken hours if it wasn’t for the post auger I borrowed from my Dad. It looks far too silly to be any good but actually it tore up the ground with ease.

Once the hole was ready I plonked in the gate post which I’d soaked the bottom of in creocote to make it last longer. I sat the post on a layer of gravel to aid drainage.

Two or three bags of postmix would have done the job but I had leftover ballast and cement from the garage concrete pad build. So out came my trusty £100 cement mixer and after a couple of mixes the concrete was in.

Whilst the concrete was still wet I attached a couple of stakes and levelled the post up.

I tapered off the concrete at the top to make sure water runs away from the post.

The posts were level across the top and so it was onto making the actual gate.

Framework

I went for a belt and braces approach to the framework to reduce the chance of sagging. It’s made from 45mm x 95mm pressure treated wood and is glued & screwed using a half lap technique so it’s ultra strong and as square as possible.

To create the half lap joints, I used a mitre saw set to cut to the depth of exactly 22.5mm so that when two half laps are combined, they sit flush with the rest of the frame. First, I made several ‘kerf’ cuts spaced 5-10mm apart.

Then I hammered out the remaining wood which left a rough finish.

The final step was to run the wood through the mitre saw again to give a smooth finish.

To allow the mitre saw to cut these half laps to a consistent depth, a piece of sacrificial wood needs to be used as per the below image.

After really carefully measuring, marking and cutting all the half lap joints, the framework slotted together perfectly which was a joyous moment.

If you’ve measured up properly then the added benefit of half lap joints is that the frame should be perfectly square. The last thing you want is a gate frame that’s not square so this needs to be checked and adjusted if required.

After checking for square, I glued and screwed the frame together through the half lap joints. As the front of the gate will be hidden with cladding, I screwed through the front.

After glueing & screwing the outer frame and middle support I moved onto the diagonal braces. Rather than fannying around with measuring these, I placed a length of timber below the frame and marked on where to cut.

Then it was simply a case of cutting, tapping the diagonals into place, lining them up and screwing in place. Ideally I’d have used pocket holes but I ain’t got a pocket hole jig (yet) so just screwed in from an angle.

After doing this process for both gates, I propped up both gate frames in place to check that I’d allowed enough space for them (ideally 1cm to either side and the middle) and all good. Framework done, onto cladding.

Cladding

I should point out that I got a little excited after making the framework and went straight ahead with adding the hinges and other hardware before cladding. This worked out fine but if I did it again I would have clad the gate first, mainly because the added weight of the feather edge can make the gates hang differently. I’ve written the below based on the better method of cladding the gate before adding hardware, but some images will show hardware without cladding.

There are few cladding options including tongue & groove which is very popular. I went for feather edge as I love the look and it’s cheap compared to other cladding options. Plus I’ve clad our garage in feather edge and plan to make a bin store out of leftover feather edge.

I used 125mm wide boards and overlapped them by 25mm so each board covered 100mm. I cut the feather edge lengths to size and did a dry lay on the frame. This is a really important step as otherwise you may end up accidentally getting a repeated pattern of knots on the gate which would look naff.

The drawback of feather edge is that it’s typically made from fairly crap quality timber. Nothing that a quick sand won’t sort, though.

Before fixing the cladding in place, it’s worth doing 2 things to make alignment of the feather edge as accurate and consistent as possible. The first is to screw a piece of scrap wood against the top of the gate to butt the feather edge up to. This ensures perfect vertical alignment.

To get the horizontal alignment spot on you’ll need a spacer so that the overlap is consistently 25mm. I made a spacer by putting 3 screws into a scrap piece of the 95mm x 45mm framework. The screws protruded by 5mm, giving the 100mm that each board would be on show for. The beauty of making a spacer with screws like this is that when I got about 2/3 of the way to end of the gate cladding, I could measure the remaining space and adjust the screws slightly to make sure the feather edge boards ended exactly where I wanted them to.

Onto fixing the boards in place. I opted for 40mm galvanised ring shank nails as screws just don’t look right in feather board. It’s really important to give the nails a tap with a hammer to blunt the end before hammering on you’ll probably split the feather edge boards.

The position of the nails is key as you want them to only go through one board and effectively clamp down the previous board. Some people suggest that each nail should go through 2 boards but most advice online suggests that this can split the wood when it contracts/expands with the weather. I positioned the nails 30mm in from the thick edge, allowing a 5mm space between the thin edge of the board below. These photos makes what I’m on about much more clear.

Before cladding to the end of the large gate I fixed in place a length of wood for the small gate to close against and to hide the gap between the middle of the gates. I gave it a quick chamfer with my router to make it look pretty.

I then added the final boards and voila, cladding done.

Hardware

There are a fair few options when it comes to hardware but the hinges are what you really need to get right. Nobody likes a saggy gate. I opted for hook and pin hinges that span about 1/3 of the gate. Fixing the hook part in place was just a case of marking out the position on the top and bottom parts of the frame and screwing them.

The next step is to get your gates positioned between the posts so you can align and fix your pins to the gate posts. You’ll definitely need a helper for this step as getting the gates level is takes a lot of adjustment. Something that made this adjusting way easier was to use wedges to support the gate. The height that the gate is lifted off the ground can easily be adjusted by moving the wedges closer together or further apart until the alignment and levels is spot on.

With the gates propped in place, I fixes the pin part of the hinges onto the gate posts and hung the gates. This was an exciting moment. The last step was to fix in place the coach bolts that go all the way through the gates frame and cladding. I used a spade bit to create this opening and was careful to drill through both sides to prevent causing a mess.

With the hinges on, I decided to fit the opening/closing mechanism next. I went for a Suffolk thumb latch cos I think they look great and are easier to use than the ring latches that are on most gates. First, I fixed a block in place to mount the inside element of the latch.

Then I stitch drilled an opening for the lever that lifts the bar over the catch (struggling for correct terminology here) and did a little routing to make sure the thumb side of the latch could mount flush to the frame.

Finally, I screwed the thumb latch in place. When it came to cladding this section I used a jigsaw to cut out around the thumb latch and routed the cut edge with a chamfered bit.

The final bits of hardware I added were a monkey tail bolt to anchor the larger gate to the ground and a Brenton bolt so that we can padlock the gates shut. These were simply screwed onto the gate with the opening for the monkey tail bolt fixed into the concrete ground.

Finishing touches

To prevent rain from getting into the cut ends of the feather edge and rotting the wood, I fixed a top cap in place.

The final touch was to screw in some post caps to, again, protect the end grain. I cut these using my mitre saw and finished off the edges with my trusty chamfered router bit.


We’re really chuffed with how the gate turned out. Main thing is that Basilly lad can’t now (easily) escape! Altogether it cost £220 which is a hell of a lot cheaper than getting it made and fitted, and a lot more rewarding. If you fancy giving something similar a go I’ve put the equipment and materials at the bottom of the post.

If you fancy checking out some of the other DIY we’ve got up to, here’s how we built my workshop, how we made our scaffold board dining table, and how we laid our porcelain patio.

Equipment

  • Mitre saw
  • Router
  • Spirit level
  • Post auger
  • Cement mixer
  • Tape measure
  • Combination square
  • Hammer
  • Combi drill
  • Impact driver
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Pencil
  • Clamps
  • Power sander

Materials

  • Gate posts
  • Scrap wood for stakes
  • Frame fixings
  • Galvanised ring shank nails
  • Decking screws
  • Feather edge cladding
  • 95mm x 45mm C16 timber for framework
  • 2 sets of hook and pin hinges
  • Suffolk thumb latch
  • Brenton gate bolt
  • Ballast
  • Cement
  • Gravel
  • Exterior wood glue