Categories
DIY projects

DIY outdoor corner benches

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.


Planning

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.

Frame assembly

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.

Seating

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.

Materials

  • Pressure treated 2x4s
  • 65mm decking screws
  • Wood preserver

Equipment

  • Mitre saw or circular saw
  • Combination square
  • Combi drill with countersink 3mm drill bit
  • Impact driver
  • Clamps
  • Packers
  • Orbital sander with discs or sandpaper if doing by hand
  • Router with round over bit or just use sandpaper
  • Pocket hole kit or just toenail screws in
Categories
DIY projects

DIY porcelain patio

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.

Sub-base

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.

Tile cutting

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.

Grouting

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.

Patio steps

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.

Materials

  • Permeable membrane
  • MOT type 1 (sub-base)
  • Sharp sand
  • Cement
  • SBR bond primer
  • Outdoor porcelain tiles
  • Exterior jointing compound (grout)

Equipment

  • Mattock
  • Shovel
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Wooden pegs
  • Hammer
  • String line
  • 180cm spirit level
  • 60cm spirit level
  • Whacker plate
  • Angle grinder with diamond blade
  • Cement mixer
  • Mixing bucket
  • Combi drill with mixing paddle
  • Wallpaper brush
  • Trowel
  • 1cm spacer
  • Rubber mallet
  • 5mm tile spacers
  • Pressure washer
  • Squeegee
Categories
DIY projects

DIY decking with integrated storage seats

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.


Decking base

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.

Seat frames

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.

Storage 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.

Finishing bits

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.

You might enjoy having a read of some of my other posts, including how much our extension cost or how I made our fitted wardrobes.

Materials

  • Patio slabs
  • Weed membrane
  • End grain preserver
  • Joist hangers
  • 40mm galvanised sheradised square twist nails (for joist hangers)
  • 150 x 50mm pressure treated decking joists
  • 100mm joist screws
  • 120mm x 28mm pressure treated decking
  • 60mm decking screws
  • 47 x 47mm rough sawn pressure treated timber (for seat frames)
  • 100 x 22mm rough sawn pressure treated timber (for seats and panelling)
  • 40mm decking screws
  • Stainless steel twin ball bearing hinges (for seat storage)
  • Corrosion-resistant 25mm screws
  • 75 x 75mm pressure treated posts (for festoon lights/shade sail)
  • Decking oil

Equipment

  • Mattock
  • Shovel
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Speed square/combination square
  • Measuring tape
  • Mitre saw
  • 600mm spirit level
  • Plastic shims/spacers
  • Table saw (can use circular saw with guide)
  • Combi drill
  • Impact driver
  • Orbital sander
  • 1/4 inch router
  • Jigsaw (if need to cut around anything)