Categories
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…

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
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Extension post #11 – how much did it cost?

Whilst talking about money doesn’t come naturally to us British folk, it seems daft to write loads of posts about our extension without covering the reality of how much it all cost. Before we decided to have work done, I found very little helpful content online about the cost of extensions other than “between £1,000 and £3,000 per square metre” which is useless. So if y’all are thinking of having similar work done, or are simply nosey (as I would be), read on for a breakdown of how much our extension cost.


Pre-building work

There were a few costs before the builders arrived. These included architect fees (£775), planning application (£84) and structural engineer calculations (£714) which meant we’d spent £1,573 before anything actually changed. We could have saved money by not using an architect and just going with the builder’s interpretation of what we wanted, but we felt this was too risky.

Building work

If you’ve been following my extension posts, you’ll have a good idea of what the work included. As well as a 3 x 6 metre single pitch roof extension, we had a loo put in under the stairs and our side door moved to allow access straight into the new utility. You can see more details in the post I wrote about our plans.

Our builder project managed the work and we agreed a fixed price contract before the build began. This contract included doing all the work except for supplying/fitting the kitchen, laying the flooring and decorating. So electrics, plumbing and plastering, steels etc. were all included in the price.

The total cost of the planned building work was £37,700. I’ve written a bit more about the quotes we had in this post about choosing our architect and builder.

Any deviations from the contract meant we’d either have to pay more/less than the figure we’d agreed. As you might expect, we added more bits than we removed. This included adding another Velux, lighting above/below kitchen units, upgrading to column radiators and quite a few extra electric and plumbing bits. The extra Velux cost £365, extra electrics £775, and extra plumbing £540. We knew that we’d inevitably want to add a few bits here and there so thankfully had 10% extra planned into the budget.

So, all-in-all, all the building work plus extra bits came to £39,380. We were very lucky to have no unexpected costs during the build – I reckon that’s very rare!

Kitchen & utility

This was our next biggest cost. The kitchen & utility units came to £4,247 which for 20 units plus all the trim is crazy good. That’s because we ordered from DIY Kitchens who are significantly cheaper than elsewhere. I sounds like I’m being paid to write this but I am not (although if anyone from DIY Kitchens is reading this, gizza bell). This post is about how we planned and ordered our units.

We ordered our laminate worktops and upstands separately – these came to £617. I didn’t trust myself to fit the worktops so we paid a chap £145 to do these.

On top of that, knobs and cups for the units cost £138 which seems a ridiculous amount to spend on this but trust me, it adds up.

The sink cost £160 and tap came in at an offensively cheap £28 (let’s see how long it lasts…)

We’ve bought the tiles for our kitchen splashback but I ain’t put them up yet. These cost £125.

Then there were various other, smaller costs including pendants & bulbs for the island as well as all the other fixings I bought to use whilst fitting the kitchen/utility which came to £230 in total.

SO, absolutely all of these bits came to £5,690 which I think is quite good for a decent-sized kitchen and utility. Fitting the units ourselves probably saved us between £2,000 and £3,000, although we did have a quote of almost £4K.

Appliances

When it came to choosing our appliances, it was a bit overwhelming to begin with. We soon decided to just buy whatever Which? recommended, providing it was sensibly priced. Appliances came to £2,504 in total, broken down as follows:

  • Stoves range & extractor hood – £988
  • Hisense integrated fridge freezer – £307
  • Bosch washing machine – £400
  • Bosch tumble dryer – £500
  • Integrated Hisense dishwasher – £309

Flooring

We’ve had Karndean LVT flooring fitted to the extension, dining area and utility. This came to around 35sq. metres and cost £2,045, including fitting. This felt like a lot to pay for flooring but it should last a lot longer than any other alternative and so will hopefully be worth it in the long run.

W/C

The building contract didn’t include the loo vanity unit & tap or supply/fitting of tiles. These costs came to £368.

Decorating

Haz saved us a load of cash by doing all the decorating (she has now painted every square inch of the house). So we only had to pay for paint, paintbrushes etc. which came to £164. I think it would have been £1,000+ if we’d used a decorator.

Sundry

Who doesn’t love a sundry category? The place where you put stuff that you didn’t budget for. This included pendant cables for the island lights, door knobs & dipping the doors we bought from FB marketplace. Cost = £92.

The numbers are in…

In case you’re not phenomenally good at mental arithmetic, the total cost of the extension + other bits came to £51,274 (give or take a couple of quid). The original budget we set was £55K, including a small contingency, so we’re glad to have come in under that figure.

Whilst it feels good to imagine that we’ve added more value than that to the house, it shouldn’t matter too much as we plan on living here for a looong time.

It’s worth mentioning that these figures don’t include furniture, the patio that I laid outside the extension, or any of various bits we’ve bought to make the new space look pretty. As you might expect, these add up, so I’d definitely recommend budgeting for this stuff.


It feels a little odd being so transparent about what we spent on the extension but I hope that it’ll prove really useful to some of you guys when budgeting for your own work. We’re based in Yorkshire so probably worth lobbing an extra chunk of cash to your budget if you’re in London/South East.

I’ve said it before but DEFINITELY get multiple quotes for the work. We got 5 quotes and they varied by £17K… So unless you’ve got a spare 17 grand knocking around, it’s worth getting in touch with a few builders.

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Fitting our ‘DIY Kitchens’ kitchen

As a true Yorkshireman, I love a bargain. So saving money by fitting the kitchen myself was very appealing. When we had our first fitting quote back of almost £4K that sealed the deal. I could buy a load of awesome new tools, fit the kitchen myself and still be a few grand better off?! Sure, a bit of DIY/woodwork experience helps, but it’s largely a case of getting stuff level and fixing it in place. This is a relatively short summary of how it went. I may, one day, get round to doing a a few in depth posts on the process.

In case you’re interested in how we went about planning & ordering our DIY Kitchens kitchen & utility, have a peek at this post.


Setting out

Like so many DIY jobs, spending some time looking at what you’re working with is key. This involved measuring up, checking variations in floor level, irregularities in walls, different wall types that would need to be fixed to etc.

We were pretty lucky in that the plasterers did an awesome job of getting the walls level and plumb. For the most part, the floor was level, but there were some dodgy areas. Nothing that the adjustable unit feet couldn’t sort out.

I used a laser level to mark the top position of all floor units on the walls.

This baby is definitely a must for a job like this and only cost £30. I got an irrational amount of satisfaction from seeing the laser light up dust on top of the units.

The last thing to do before fixing units in place was to make any adjustments. The back of the sink unit needed cutting out.

I also needed to make some pretty major changes to the units that sat against the kitchen pillar. The wall units took bloody ages and almost led to a nervous breakdown.

Onto the next stage.

Fixing the units in place

With all the levels set and units adjusted, it was onto fixing the units in place. I started with the wall units so that the the base units weren’t in the way. The laser level worked a treat, but having a 6ft spirit level was also really helpful.

I used Corefix dot & dab fixings for the wall units. They’re pricey for what they are but having confidence that our wall units won’t fall down in the middle of the night is priceless.

With the wall units in place, I lined the base units up with them to keep things symmetrical.

The corner where base units met was a bit tricky to get right but after cutting a corner post to size it looked smart.

I used L brackets and wall plugs to fix the base units and tall units against the wall.

The kitchen came with wee screws to tighten the units against each other.

Before whapping the doors back on, I fixed all the cups and knobs in place. I spent ages on this ‘cos one wrongly drilled hole would lead to a great deal of sadness.

Trim

With the units fixed in place, I moved onto adding trim, starting with the pelmets that sit on the underside of the wall units.

Having brand new, high tooth count blades for cutting these bits is key to get sharp cuts and avoid tear out.

For the pelmet/cornice I used mitre adhesive to join the sections before screwing onto the units with fixit blocks/screws.

Once the floor was laid, I added the plinths. These babies just clip onto the unit legs.

Where there were gaps between units and the wall, I added filler panels. If I was a proper person I would have scribed these and used a jigsaw to cut them out. But, the walls were very close to plumb and my £25 jigsaw wasn’t up to the task. A circular saw ended up doing a good job.

For the end panels, I either cut them down using my table saw or circular saw, depending on the end panel size. I then screwed them in place from the inside of the unit.

Worktops

We hired a man to do most of the worktop work because I wasn’t confident doing the 90 degree join where the laminate changes direction. I did cut the island and utility worktops, which involved roughly cutting them to size with a jigsaw and then using a 1/2 inch router against a spirit level to give a clean cut.

After cutting the upstands to length, I fixed them to the wall with some adhesive and added some clear sealant at the bottom.


This was the first time I’ve ever done anything like this so it was pretty stressful and slow going. However, it’s not that complicated a process and I’d actually really like to do another! The key to doing a good job is definitely in the planning and taking time to set out properly.

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Extension post #9 – week 10

It’s fair to say that last week was pretty mental. At one point on Thursday we had no fewer than SIX tradesmen working away (is this allowed?!) so there’s been a huge amount of progress and even some mildly premature bubbly.


Worktops

I decided against fitting the worktops myself and I’m so glad I did as the chap we had to in to it did a far better job than I could. We’ve gone for wood finish laminate worktops because we didn’t fancy the upkeep of real wood.

We’re really pleased with how the worktops look but there’s some damage on the island that we only noticed after it had been fitted. Thankfully the place we got it from have agreed to replace it and we’re hoping they’re going to pay for it to be re-fitted.

Look at how overjoyed Haz was whilst cleaning her island for the first time.

WE HAVE MOD CONS!

All our appliances have gone in this week and tbh it’s all a bit overwhelming. From having to go upstairs for running water to having a kitchen sink, fridge/freezer, washing machine, tumble dryer, range cooker AND dishwasher in the space of a few days has made us quite emotional.

We dithered about whether to get a black tap for the sink but are so glad we did.

It looks great alongside the range and we’re going to get black toaster/kettle/bin.

You may wonder what the first thing we cooked on the range was. Perhaps a roast, or maybe something a tad more special such as a beef wellington? Na, instant noodles. Although we did do a roast last night 🙂

The integrated fridge freezer was horrible to fit but she’s in and as a priority, stubbies were the first thing to go in.

Utility fun

I’ve still not finished fitting the utility because of the interesting extractor fan positioning chosen by the electrician. You can see on the photo below how the hole has been moved right as otherwise the fan would have been in the way of the wall unit.

So it’s been moved across, but still not far enough to fit the wall unit door on. fml. That’ll need to get sorted next week.

Under stairs loo

Some more interesting choices were made in the downstairs w/c. It’s a hilariously small loo and so making the most of the space is key. However, if I, as an average height male, can’t comfortably have a stand up wee/treat myself to a sit down wee without hitting my head on the ceiling then clearly the loo is too far back. I don’t think the plumber/builder share this logic (although to be fair they are on the small side) as the waste pipe positioning would have meant only a Borrower could have enjoyed the space.

Anyway, after a fairly amusing discussion which involved simulating what you do in the loo, Gavin (builder) accepted the loo was going to be too far back and brought the stud wall behind the loo forward. There certainly won’t be able cat swinging going on in there, but at least people below 6ft won’t have to crouch.

I gone and tiled the floor over the weekend. Haz convinced me to go for these crazy-looking things and I’m glad she did as I’m now a fan.

Lighting

The electrician has almost finished all his stuff now. The outdoor lights have gone up which is making taking Basil for a wee a lot less treacherous.

The extension spotlights are in and we’ve added some cheeky below & above cabinet lighting. Well chuffed with that, it looks great.

With a bit of luck the electrician will finish up this week which will include fitting our pendants lights above the island.


We’ve still got a load of stuff to get done on the house before we can fully enjoy it but being able to do small things like run a load of washing and fill up the kettle without having to go upstairs feels amazing. Life is good!

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Extension post #7 – weeks 6 & 7

Not entirely sure where to start on this one as about 6,911 things have happened since my last post. There are only a couple more weeks of the builder/electrician/plumber being around so the focus is now moving to us for stuff like fitting the kitchen, decorating, getting the flooring laid etc. so it’s time to roll our sleeves up.


Crack, crack, crack city

Week 6 started with a worrying discovery. After living away from home for a few days whilst the back wall was knocked through and steels were added, we found that some pretty confident looking cracks had appeared in the two upstairs walls that sat on the 2 walls that had been knocked through.

We’d read about it being common for small cracks to appear as the walls settle between being supported by acrows and sitting on the steel joists. But our cracks aren’t exactly hairline and at their worst are 3mm wide. Needless to say, we were pretty worried about this so had a natter with the builder. He seemed very casual about them and said that they’d just need to be skimmed over.

We were still worried so I shared images of the cracks on a forum to get a second opinion and the consensus was that the cracks are larger than should be expected and that they’d need to be properly assessed. This could have brought the build to a standstill and ended up costing a lot of money. However, fortunately, Jim from building control came round early this week and after having a look said that it’s not a major concern, phew. For a belt and braces approach, he’s recommended that metals straps are inserted into the cracks and fixed in place with resin before being plastered over. It was such a relief to hear this!

Progress

With crack-gate out of the way, I can focus on all the awesome things that have happened in the last 2 weeks. First up, the floor of the extension has now been built up to the level of the existing floor so there’s no longer a massive drop when we walk into the extension.

First fix plumbing and electrics are sorted ahead of plastering. We spent a good half hour with the electrician, working out where to put spot lights, sockets and the kitchen pendants. We may have gone a bit overboard with sockets but it’s far better to have too many than too few, as we found when we moved into this place which only had one double socket per room.

The most exciting day was probably bi-fold day. Being the old man that I am, I’ve wanted to live somewhere with bi-fold doors out into the garden for quite a while so it was pretty great when they went in.

On the side of the house, the old back door has been blocked up and a new door fitted to the right of it, where the kitchen window was, which will lead into out mini utility.

To fill in the door left by taking the back door out, the builders used bricks they saved from knocking out the back wall. The blocked in door blends in really well so we’re chuffed with the job they’ve done on that. It’s a shame to lose the wee arched porch but to get a decent sized kitchen in it’s something we had to do.

ALSO, the stud wall that separates the utility from the kitchen has been put up, and the door opening has been prepared for a door that we picked up on FB marketplace for £20 which ties in perfectly with our other interior doors.

Soon after the guys had started in the stud wall, I took them a brew and it’s a good job I did. I suggested that we check the positioning of it and after measuring the space, there was too little space left for the kitchen units so they had to start again. Far better that way than having to rip it out once it was plastered or having to lose a kitchen unit!

The last couple of days of this week have totally transformed the space. On Thursday, all the plasterboard went up and on Friday, the walls were plastered. Quite an impressive operation with 5 blokes here on both days just cracking on with it.

If ever there was a time for an image slider, it’s now. The before photo was taken on Wednesday and the after on Friday! Mental.

Extension life

It seems only right to mention the joys of life with only one downstairs room in action. Food-wise, we’ve been making the most of the slow cooker and microwave which has required some innovative thinking. We’ve been using paper plates wherever possible, but inevitably there’s still a fair amount of stuff to wash up so our bathroom is now washing up HQ.

On top of the house being a mess, despite Haz’ best efforts to put dust sheets up theres still brick dust and general dirt covering every surface. Outside, our front garden is an absolute state and the back garden is worse. Stopping Basil from trapsing dirt throughout the house and picking up things in his mouth that he shouldn’t is currently our main past time activity.

Some good, however, has come from all of this. Our downstairs doors haven’t closed properly since we moved in so to help prevent Basil running wild I planed the doors last weekend so they’d close properly. The hallway to dining room door also needed a new door knob so I made what I think is quite a fetching industrial-chic door knob out of wood but Haz isn’t a fan. We’ll see who gets the last word.


So all-in-all, a bloody decent couple of weeks. The extension is unrecognisable vs just a few days together end the end is in sight. Next week, our kitchen is due to arrive so I’ve got some time off work to get it fitted which I’m really looking forward to. Once the plaster is dry we can also start painting so we really are moving towards having an actual functioning space – this is how excited we are.

Maybe a bit more deranged-looking than excited, but you get the idea.

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How to strip woodwork

The chances are that if you’re buying a house that’s in need of TLC, there’ll be a fair amount of grubby woodwork to revitalise. We’ve spent countless hours stripping back architraves, skirting, windowsills and bannisters so have learnt a thing or two about how best to go about it.

The first thing to be aware of is that there are a number of ways to strip woodwork and the most effective method will depend on the condition of the wood. It’s often impossible to tell which technique will work best until you pull your sleeves up and crack on.

In some cases, it may be quicker to rip it all out and replace, but if you want to save some cash and preserve original woodwork, here are your different stripping options.


Heat gun

The heat gun is our go-to tool for stripping and we’ve used it on all our skirting and windowsills. You can get one for under £30 and they’re very effective at stripping multiple layers of paint off most wood. There’s definitely a knack to slowly running a stripping knife behind the heat gun which, once nailed, is actually quite rewarding.

You’ve got to be bloody careful with it, as I found out after burning my hand quite badly. It’s a pretty brutal tool and will melt anything in its path, including PVC windowframes (not that we’ve done that…)

Wearing a proper face mask is really important when using this method as you may unknowingly be stripping & inhaling old lead paint which can make you very ill.

Chemical stripper

When a heat gun just won’t do it, we turn to chemical stripper. We try to avoid this stuff as it’s pretty grim and you certainly don’t want to be spilling it anywhere.

Generally speaking we just use this for stripping metal, but it can be really useful for stripping paint from hard-to-reach areas of wood like spindles or under a radiator. It’s simply a case of slapping it on with an old brush then waiting until it’s had time to bubble away (typically 30mins – 2hrs) and scrape away with stripping knife.

When we sanded our floorboards there were loads of awkward-to-reach areas that even our corner sander couldn’t get to and hand sanding would have taken years. For small areas like in the below photo, we found that chemical stripper worked really well.

Door dipping

Some wood will be so caked with paint & varnish that neither heat gunning or chemical stripper will work. We tried both techniques with our interior doors to get them back to their original glory and were fighting a losing battle.

We try to save cash wherever poss by doing these sorts of jobs ourselves but we were defeated by our doors. After a Googling sesh, we found a local firm that dips doors in tanks of caustic soda which strips EVERYTHING from the wood. It only cost £220 for 12 doors which included collection and delivery – absolute bargain. So if you’ve got something removable like doors that you need stripping, this could be your best option.

We’re well-chuffed with how our doors came out but bear in mind that you’ll need to sand the doors when they come back as the caustic solution they’re dipped in makes them ‘furry’.

Sanding

If for whatever reason the above options aren’t options and you have a really thin layer of paint or varnish to get rid of, you could sand it down. Sandpaper gets gunked up with paint/varnish pretty quick so this will be a pain to do if you’re trying to get rid of a thick layer. Don’t bother doing this by hand, unless you enjoy spending all your free time sanding – a cheap power sander will be far quicker.

Start with a coarse grit sandpaper, around 40, to begin with and then move up to 60/80 and 120 to finish. This is exactly the technique that’s used to sand floorboards except with floorboards, you really need to use industrial sanders to get the job done in decent time.

Regardless of which method you use to strip wood, you’ll always need to sand afterwards to get a smooth, even finish.

Stripping tools

If you do decide to heat gun or use chemical stripper, you’ll need some scraping devices. Three’s the magic number – you’re going to want a wide blade stripping knife (6cm or so for large areas), a narrow blade stripping knife (around 3cm) and a combination shave hook. If you’ve got no idea what a combination shave hook is, have a read about our favourite DIY products. These lads will set you right for pretty much any stripping job.


There are more interesting things to read about than stripping wood. BUT, if you do have a load of wood to strip then this post will hopefully make your experience a lot quicker and potentially even very mildly enjoyable.

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Our biggest DIY cock-ups (so far)

Most posts on this blog paint the picture of a fairly serene and error-free refurb experience. Sadly, this is far from the the truth and I just can’t lie anymore. This is the first time we’ve done a house up so there’s no shortage of mistakes/injuries to tell you about. Here are some key learnings from our experience to date.


#1 | Don’t use a heat gun on your body

One Thursday evening, I set about stripping the grimy paint from our landing skirting with a heat gun. I’d stripped my fair share of skirting by this point so I was waving this fire-breathing device around like a toddler with a water pistol. Inevitably, at one point my free hand wandered in front of the heat gun and it hurt, a lot.

Moral of the story: don’t get cocky with a heat gun.

#2 | Don’t do DIY too late

I really enjoyed building our fitted wardrobe which meant that I spent every spare minute working on it. I often lost track of time and rather than using a clock to indicate when I should stop I’d wait until I started doing stupid stuff.

A classic example was putting up the shelf supports. I was making impressive progress which was largely because I kept forgetting to check levels which led to the below result. Time for bed.

#3 | Don’t crack on until you’ve finished planning

It’s incredibly tempting to start a job before having thought it through properly. We’ve done this plenty of times before and, realistically, will do it many more times. If you’ve got the discipline to plan properly then you’re a far superior human to me.

My most idiotic example so far is that a few days after moving in, I started breaking up the concrete on the drive in preparation for the gravel driveway that we’re going to put in. A pretty sensible thing to do, until I realised that the driveway project was going to have to wait until after the extension has been built. So rather than having a relatively ugly concrete drive, we now have a relatively ugly concrete drive which a very ugly hole in it and it’ll be that way for months. What a dick.

#4 | Don’t forget to wear safety gear

We’ve got safety gear for every occasion but we don’t always use it. This is baffling as we’d have avoided a lot of pain had we’d put the proper equipment on.

For example, when a can of expanding foam semi-exploded, Haz would have been fine if she’d been wear gloves. Instead, she had foam stuck to her hands which she had to soak in olive oil (didn’t have any cheaper oil, gutted) for a good half an hour before it could be scraped off.

Other classic examples include stepping onto carpet grips in bare feet, forgetting to wear face masks for wood stripping (#leadpoisoning) and not wearing gloves for sanding which leads to horrendously chewed up hands.

#5 | Don’t forget to properly seal a room off before sanding

If you speak to anyone about sanding a floor they’ll tell you to prepare for the mess. Having now sanded 4 floors, I can confirm that it is not possible to prepare yourself for said mess.

We thought we’d properly sealed off every nook and cranny but the wood that sanding throws up is so fine that it will make its way around your house. My advice would be to stick up as many dust sheets as you can buy from Wilkos and be prepared for a mega cleaning session post-sand. Godspeed.


So there you have it, approximately 4% of the stuff we’ve done wrong so far. Stay tuned for more cock-ups soon.

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8 DIY products we couldn’t live without

That saying about a good workman never blaming his tools is utter bs. Even the best workman in the World would slate some of the crap products that we’ve wasted our time with. Amongst the useless stuff there have been a few gems that we, very sadly, spend a large amount of time raving about. These are the products that make a DIY refurb SO much easier.


Power sanders

I reckon 99.9% of home refurbs involve hours and hours of sanding. Whilst nobody can claim to have ever enjoyed this job, there are at least a range of power sanders to make it much easier. For around £30 a piece, we’ve got an orbital sander and corner sander that get used most days. We’ve also borrowed a finishing sander that gets used equally much (note to self: return finishing sander). With these three babies we can pretty much totally avoid hand sanding which is not what life is about.

Polyfilla Deep Gap

I didn’t think it was possible to get excited about a filling product until I first used this bad boy. If you’ve got a fairly sizeable hole/crack to fill in a wall up to 2cm big, this stuff is brilliant. We’ve used it mainly for holes left under newly installed electric sockets or large cracks in walls. It’s easy to apply with a scraper and sands perfectly so can simply paint over and you’d never know it’s not original plaster. If you have a gap of larger than 2cm you can apply in stages, allowing it to dry between applications. Seriously, this stuff is as sexy as filler products get.

Combination shave hook

You may well be asking yourself wtf a ‘combination shave hook’ is. Well, it’s the answer to your DIY dreams.

This baby is essentially a scraper but with loads of different angles to help get to tricky areas. We’ve used it for loads of stuff from stripping fireplaces, architraves, and radiators but there are loads of other uses for it. I don’t know what we’d do without it ❤

Flexovit Yellow Sandpaper Roll

Shelling out for decent quality sandpaper is worth it. There’s no point saving a couple of quid if a job is going to take twice as long and infuriate you. We’ve tried several brands and yellow Flexovit rolls are by far the best. They keeps chugging away when other sandpapers just give up, saving loads of time and doing a way better job.

Heat gun

The woodwork in our crib was in a pretty shocking state when we moved in. One of our first purchases was a heat gun which has worked wonders on our skirting, windowsills and bannister. From scuffed, flaky and yellowing to perfectly stripped wood – an undeniably rewarding job.

If you’re really cool you can even challenge yourself to see how long a strip of paint you can remove in one go #fridaynightsduringlockdown.

Ronseal Diamond Hard Floor Varnish (Matt Clear)

If you have any floorboards to varnish and want to preserve the pre-varnished look, this stuff is brilliant. A lot of varnishes leave a shiny look and can, with pine floorboards, make them look orange. This varnish did neither of these and protects our floors really well. It slightly brings out the grain of the wood but otherwise you couldn’t tell our floors are varnished.

Sets of wall plugs and screws

Whether you’re putting up a mirror, building some shelves or mounting a door, the chances are you’re going to get through a fair few screws. If you’re mounting stuff into solid walls, you’ll be reaching for wall plugs just as often.

If this sounds like your life, get down to Screwfix (other DIY stores are available) and treat yourself to a mixed set of screws and wall plugs. These will make you very happy for a long time.

Milwaukee combi drill

I’m hardly a big spender but when it came to getting my first drill I went wild. It’s used daily and I reckon it will last years so I treated myself to a Milwaukee M18 Fuel combi drill. There are definitely cheaper options that will do a good job, but this thing is an absolute beast. I’ve borrowed drills before and in comparison they’re like puny children’s toys. If you’re going to be doing a lot of drilling I couldn’t recommend this machine more.


There are plenty of other bits of kit that we think are great, but these are the best. If your life, like ours, is dominated by doing up your home, let us know what products you’d recommend!

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DIY picture hanger

Struggling to find stuff to do at the moment? This is a ridiculously easy project that costs less than a tenner and doesn’t require any fancy equipment. The wood and cord can be ordered online so there’s no need to leave the confines of your home. It also works pretty well as a card-hanging device so if you want to give it a go, read on.


Planning

Okay so there’s probs no need to spend hours planning this out as it’s pretty simple but sketching out the dimensions at least will help you work out how much wood you need. I wanted to make the whole thing out of one 2.4 metre length so went for 60cm long and 40cm wide, with a wood support across the back.

To hang photos/cards off, I bought some real cheap cord from eBay and worked out that it would work best to have 3 cords across the frame to hang from.

Cutting

As there are only 5 cuts to make, a handsaw’s all you need. If you want to use the same dimensions as I did, cut 2 x lengths of 600mm (left and right sides) and 3 x lengths of 364mm (top, bottom and middle support) using a couple of clamps to secure the wood in place. If you don’t have any clamps you could probably just get someone to sit on the other end of the wood. Once you’ve made the cuts, use a fine grit sandpaper to smooth over the edges.

Drilling holes for cord

It’s worth drilling the holes that the cord is going to pass through before assembling the structure. I left a 17cm gap from one cord down to the next to allow for cards to fit so this meant 3 holes for the cord on either side. The cord is held in place just by tying a knot at the top and bottom so drilling a countersink into these holes will allow the knot to sit in.

Assembling

Once you’re all cut and pre-drilled, the frame can be screwed together. I went for a simple ‘butt joint’ so it was just a case of drilling some pilot holes and then putting a couple of screws in at each joint. It’s important to make sure that the joints are secured at a right angle and the best thing to use for this would be a set square but anything with a right angle that you can butt up against the wood will do the trick.

You could stop here if you like but the frame ideally needs some more structural support. This is where the 3rd short length comes in – screw it into the back of the frame, half way down to make it more rigid.


Adding cord

Once the structure is finished you can thread the cord through the pre-drilled holes, tie knots at the end and you’re done! I’m going to leave the frame naked but it would look great with a wood stain or painted.

Hanging

I’ve not got round to hanging this properly yet but I’d recommend drilling a couple of holes into a wall, about 4cm from the edge of the frame and pop in some wall plugs and screws. Then drill some slightly larger holes into the back of the frame and simply hang the frame onto the screws.


There’s not a great deal that can go wrong making this thing. And the beauty is, even if you do cock-up it’s so cheap that it would make great firewood.


Materials

Equipment

  • Handsaw
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Measuring tape
  • Set square
  • Drill with bits including countersink bit
  • Screwdriver
  • Clamps
  • Fine grit sandpaper
  • Scissors