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Mortgages 101

You may not be surprised to hear that the word mortgage comes from the old French for ‘death pledge’. It’s hardly everyone’s favourite dinner table topic, but it’s worth knowing the fundamentals as, barring a yacht, it’s by far the biggest cost you’re ever likely to have. Here’s an attempt at describing the key things to consider when it comes to getting a mortgage without putting you to sleep (no guarantees).

I should add a cheeky disclaimer to say that I’m not qualified to advise on mortgages and am simply aiming to help answer some common questions about mortgages. When it comes to making mortgage-related decisions, speak to a qualified mortgage adviser or broker.


What is a mortgage…?

In case you have no idea what a mortgage is, it’s essentially a humongous loan which banks and building societies* will give you towards buying a property. Very few people are in a position to buy their first place in cash given that the average house price in UK is over £200,000, so a mortgage makes up the balance after you’ve paid a deposit.

Because mortgages are such large loans, they’re typically paid back over many years but a fairly standard mortgage term for a first time buyer would be between 25 and 35 years. In addition to repaying the money you’ve borrowed, there’ll be an interest rate charged on top. The lower the interest rate, the lower your monthly repayments.

There’s a lot of mortgage jargon but one term you definitely need to be aware of is ‘loan-to-value’ or ‘LTV’. All this means is the percentage of the property that you’re borrowing money for. So, if you were buying a £100,000 home with a 5% deposit of £5,000, your LTV would be 95% and your mortgage would be £95,000.

*From a mortgage point-of-view, it really doesn’t make a difference whether you borrow from a bank or building society. The key difference is that banks have external shareholders whereas building societies do not – whether this affects your decision is up to you.

How can I prepare for getting a mortgage?

Banks won’t just lob mortgages out willy nilly. Lenders have a responsibility to minimise the chance of you struggling to repay your mortgage (and of them not getting their money back) and so your ‘financial wellbeing’ will undergo a pretty thorough examination. As such, the best thing you can do to prepare for a mortgage application is minimise other borrowing (it’s sensible to maintain a small amount of credit to prove you can reliably repay it) and to make sure that you repay any loans on time and in full. This is important not only for your credit score (which needs to be as high as possible to boost you chances of getting a mortgage), but also because both your income and outgoings are taken into account when calculating how much you can borrow.

Your bank statements from the last 3 months are likely to be looked at so cut out standing orders to bookies and politely ask your friends to refrain from using hilarious references to pay you back for takeaways.

What’s the difference between going directly through a bank/building society vs a mortgage broker?

Your circumstances will determine which is best for you. As a general rule, if your personal finances are relatively standard (eg: employed, reliable income) and you feel comfortable comparing different lenders’ mortgage products online, going direct to a bank/building society is an option to consider. Bear in mind that if you go down this route you’ll be speaking to mortgage advisers** within specific banks/building societies who obviously won’t be comparing their products vs other lenders’ so the responsibility of checking this would be on yours.

If your finances are a bit more complex (eg: self-employed, poor credit history) or you’re buying a property with a non-standard construction then a mortgage broker may be your best bet as they’ll be able to search the whole market for a product to suit your specific needs. That’s not to say brokers should only be considered if you’re circumstances are a bit niche – brokers are ideal if you don’t feel comfortable comparing mortgage products between lenders as they’ll do this for you.

In terms of the rates you can get, you may think that brokers will always win as they have a wide view of the market. However, that’s not always the case once you’ve factored in the broker’s fee which you may have to pay. If the broker doesn’t charge you a fee, they’ll be getting commission from the mortgage lender which can mean the rate isn’t as attractive as if you went direct to a bank or building society. So the short answer is that neither route is guaranteed to get you the best deal. If you want to be really thorough, make an appointment with a broker AND a couple of mortgage advisers.

It’s sensible to arrange a meeting with a mortgage adviser from your chosen bank/building society or your mortgage broker before you’ve found a house that you want to make an offer on. This will allow you to learn more about how much you could borrow and which mortgage products might be best-suited to you. At this stage you will be able to get an approval in principle (AIP) which is an informal agreement of how much you can borrow. A meeting early on like this would also mean that when you do find the house of your dreams, it’s a much quicker process to get the mortgage application sorted as most of the paperwork is already done.

If this all sounds complicated and very adult-like, remember that you won’t be the first first time buyer that mortgage advisers/brokers have dealt with and it’s their job to advise you properly.

**’Mortgage adviser’ is usually used to refer to a person who works for a bank/building society who can discuss their own mortgage products with you whereas a ‘mortgage broker’ has a broad view of the market and has visibility over various lenders’ products. Both will aim to recommend the most appropriate mortgage product given your needs and will help you through the process.

How big a deposit should I put down?

As a minimum you’ll usually need to put a 5% deposit down (the current economic climate means this is likely to be more). How much you put down beyond this should be dictated by how much cash you have spare and whether you have any plans for it or not.

If the absolute max deposit you can afford is 5% then that’s fine. However, interest rates at 95 LTV (ie: with a deposit of just 5%) are a lot higher than for lower LTVs. If you’re able to put a 10% deposit down or more it may be a good idea as the interest rate you’ll pay will be much lower. As you move down the LTV bands the rate will drop down further but the most dramatic drop is from 95 LTV to 90 LTV.

When deciding what deposit to put down, don’t forget that there are several other costs of buying a house to consider and that once you’ve moved in you’ll probably want some cash in the bank otherwise you’ll be sitting on the floor until you can afford a sofa.

What mortgage term should I take?

As house prices and the age at which people buy their first home have increased, the maximum mortgage term has gone up to accommodate this. Most lenders will now offer mortgage terms of 40 years which is great from an affordability point-of-view (lower monthly payments than if you went with a shorter term meaning you can get a larger mortgage), but not ideal when 74 year old you is still working 9-5 to pay off the mortgage.

Longer mortgage terms are, overall, a good thing because they provide flexibility. Just because you’ve taken out a longer term mortgage doesn’t mean you’re committed to a mortgage for this whole period – a lot can happen in 40 years! You’ll hopefully be in a position at some point to overpay the mortgage to reduce the term.

If you’re disciplined with your money, taking out a 30+ year mortgage could be a good idea as you’ll have a lower committed monthly payment but will have the option to overpay to reduce your term if you’re in a position to do so. If you take out a 25 year mortgage and you’re stretching yourself to meet the payments there’s no flexibility as you’ve committed to paying this amount monthly as a minimum. As with all these decisions, it’s a matter of personal preference which your mortgage adviser or broker will be able to guide you through.

What does the mortgage process look like?

Whilst the process of getting a mortgage can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months (years in extreme cases), the average time from applying to getting the money and moving in is between 2 and 3 months. This may sound like quite a while and that’s because A) there a lot of steps involved and B) there a lot of humans involved and many humans = many delays. Here are the key steps that take place between applying for a mortgage and moving into your crib and if you want to know about our experience, have a gander here.

#1 | Mortgage application

Once you’ve had an offer accepted, the size of your mortgage is known so you can make a formal mortgage application either through your lender or your broker. This involves providing a load of paperwork and details of the property you’re buying so that your application can be thoroughly assessed.

#2 | Mortgage offer

You’ll receive a mortgage offer once your lender is happy that A) you’ll be able to afford your mortgage repayments and B) the property you’re buying is worth the amount you’re paying for it. To check the latter, your lender will likely require a surveyor to value the place you’re buying which is something that may be included for free with your mortgage, or may be an additional cost. Getting your mortgage offer is a big moment as theoretically it means that there’s nothing from your side that’s stopping you from making the property yours. However, there are often multiple buyers/sellers involved in a ‘property chain’ and so unfortunately you’re likely to be heavily reliant on other property sales.

#3 | Exchange

After you receive your mortgage offer there’ll typically be a period of several weeks’ paperwork and toing/froing between solicitors. Towards the end of this period, your solicitor will confirm an ‘exchange’ date with you which is ultimately the date from which you’re legally-bound to buy the property. There’ll be BIG financial penalties if you or the seller pull out at this stage. You can confidently pop open a bottle of bubbly on exchange day because you’ve effectively bought your first house 🙂

#4 | Completion

Completion day is keys day! This is a very surreal day as it involves waiting around for a call from the estate agent to say that you can pick up the keys to your new home. It’s the day that the humongous loan you’ve taken is actually released by your mortgage lender but you don’t need to worry about this – your solicitor will make sure it gets to the owner. For us, there were only 2 days between our exchange and completion dates but this period is typically longer to help people get organised eg: booking a removal firm.

Waiting for the call

What features of a mortgage are there?

There are various features to mortgages that are designed to cater to your needs and circumstances – these different features combine to create individual mortgage products. Your mortgage adviser or broker will be great at explaining these details but if you want to go in clued up, here are the key features that distinguish mortgage products.

Interest rate – this defines what your monthly mortgage payment will be. The higher the % interest rate, the higher your monthly payment.

Product fee/completion fee – some mortgages have a fee included (typically between £200 and £1,500) which you can choose to either pay up front or roll into you mortgage. We opted to roll our £495 fee into the mortgage as we could do without this cost at the time but this will end up costing more in the long run as interest will be charged on top.

Incentives – there are loads of ways that lenders try to attract your business with stuff like cashback or a free valuation.

Product type ie: fix vs tracker – the majority of people choose mortgage products which fix their mortgage payments for a period of time, but this hasn’t always been the case.

The less popular ‘tracker’ products have variable interest rates which move with the base rate that is set by the Bank of England or the lender’s standard variable rate (SVR) which is decided by mortgage lenders and typically moves up and down alongside the Bank of England base rate.

If you want to comfort of a constant payment for a certain period of time, a fixed product is likely to be right for you. If you’re happy to take the risk of interest rates rising with the hope that they’ll decrease, a variable product may be worth considering.

Product term – not to be confused with your mortgage term, product term is the period over which you’re committing to a certain mortgage product. Most people opt for a period of 2 or 5 years but longer mortgage terms are increasingly popular. After this, you can decide to take out another product with the same lender or remortgage elsewhere if you find a better deal.

Mortgage term – simply the total period of your mortgage. You can take anything up to a 40 year term.

Early repayment charges (ERCs) – if for some reason you need to back out of your mortgage before the end of the product term that you’ve committed to, you’ll likely have to pay early repayment charges as a penalty unless there are exceptional circumstances. ERCs are charged as a percentage of your outstanding loan and typically decrease for each year of the mortgage product term that you’ve committed to. For example, if you owe £100,000 on your mortgage and have to pay the 3% ERC charge for coming out of your mortgage early, you’ll be penalised £3,000.

Loan-to-value (LTV) – as mentioned above, this is the percentage of the property you’ll be borrowing. The higher your LTV, the higher the interest rate you’ll pay because you’ll be deemed a greater risk to the lender.

Overpayment allowance – most mortgage products will allow you to make overpayments on your mortgage to allow you to either reduce the mortgage term or decrease your future repayments. This allowance is typically 10% per year, meaning that on top of your monthly payments you could contribute up to 10% of the outstanding mortgage balance.

Offset mortgages – offset mortgages are useful for people who have a decent chunk of savings that they don’t want to be tied up in their home. These savings can be put into an offset savings account which reduces the interest to be paid on the mortgage.

For example, if you were in the very fortunate position of having £50K sat in the bank that you didn’t want to put into your deposit, this could be put into an offset savings account linked to your mortgage which would effectively reduce the mortgage balance that you pay interest on by £50K. The downsides are that you typically wouldn’t earn interest in the savings account and the interest rate of the offset mortgage product is likely to be higher than a standard non-offset account.


If you’ve arrived here then fair play – there are many more exciting things that you could have been doing with your time! Hopefully this has helped answer a lot of questions about mortgages and has demonstrated that they’re really not that complicated. There’s no need to worry if it doesn’t all make sense as that’s what mortgage advisers and brokers are for.

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Lockdown: preparing to buy your first home

At the time of writing (26th April 2020), coronavirus has effectively shut down the housing market. If you were hoping to buy a home this spring/summer, it looks likely that you’ll have to wait a while longer than you’d hoped. BUT, there’s plenty you can do to make sure you’re in a strong position which is particularly important as there’ll inevitably be a huge amount of pent up demand when we come out the other side. Plus, government initiatives designed to get people into their first home may well be reviewed in the coming months, so being prepared to act quickly could save you a few grand.


Get an approval in principle/decision in principle

Whilst you may struggle to find a bank or building society willing to give you a mortgage at the moment, you can certainly find out how much you’re likely to be able to borrow. An AIP (sometimes called DIP) is an informal confirmation from a mortgage lender that indicates how big a mortgage that you’ll be able to get.

It’s really simple to get hold of – you just input a few details including income and outgoings and the max amount that you’re likely to be able to get a mortgage for is calculated. This is helpful for providing A) an understanding what you can afford and B) proof to an estate agent that you can afford what you’re offering (not useful right now, but will be once the market reopens).

AIPs can be gotten hold of either directly from banks/building societies or through a broker – a quick Google will bring up loads of options. They’re not a commitment at all and you can get multiple AIPs through different mortgage lenders if you want to compare how much you can borrow. Most will involve a soft credit check which won’t leave a mark on your credit history so there’s nothing to lose.

The validity period of an AIP will vary but it’s typically between 30 and 90 days so with a bit of luck, your AIP may still be valid when the housing market reopens. And if not, an AIP can very easily be extended.

For now, the main benefit of getting an AIP is so that you can start putting a realistic filter on your Rightmove searches rather than spending your time noseying at the mansions in your local area. Here are some tips on how to decide what you need from your first home.

Get your money in order

It’s so easy to put your head in the sand with this stuff but sorting out your finances may not only save you a wad of cash, but it could also be the difference between waiting 6 months and 3 years before you’re in a position to buy. Here are a few pointers to get you started.

  • ‘Pay yourself first’ – something that massively helped me save for a deposit was to have a standing order from my current account into my savings account on payday. If you give this a go, you’ll find that after a few months you’ve accidentally saved a big ol’ chunk of cash towards your deposit and probably have bought a lot less stuff that you don’t need. Setting yourself a monthly savings goal is really helpful too.
  • Make your savings go further – interest rates are rock bottom at the moment so you’ll likely be earning diddly squat in your bog standard current or savings account. One way to boost your savings towards buying your first place is to open a lifetime ISA (LISA). It’s won’t be for everyone so make sure you do your research but by saving in our LISAs we got a £6,300 bonus towards our deposit which obviously made a huge difference.
  • Reduce your borrowing – if you’ve borrowed money it’s a good idea to reduce this where possible, particularly if you’re paying a high rate of interest on it eg: payday loan, rent-to-own products, credit cards with big APRs. The more money you owe, the smaller mortgage that you’ll be able to get as your existing borrowing will be seen as a commitment.
  • Keep an eye on your credit score – if your credit score is crap then you’ll have a very limited choice of mortgages and will likely be required to pay a premium. Download one of the thousands of apps that allows you to check your credit score and if it comes out poor, take the measures that it suggests to ramp it back up.
  • Prepare for other costs – when the time comes to buy, your deposit will be your biggest cost. However, there are several other costs involved in buying a house that it’s important to be aware of as they can add a few grand. You can read about these costs here.

Educate yourself!

There’s no need to spend years studying what buying a house involves; however, it’s well worth at least familiarising yourself with the process. The main benefits of this are to avoid any nasty surprises and give yourself the best possible chance of securing the house you want. Here are some ideas as a starting point.

  • The stages of buying a house – from viewings all the way through to moving in day. You can read about the process of buying our house here.
  • Direct through bank/building society or mortgage broker – you can arrange a mortgage through a high street bank/building society or through a broker. Which is more appropriate for you will depend on your financial circumstances and how confident you are with searching for mortgages yourself.
  • Basic mortgage principles – a lot of people seem to think mortgages are scary but they’re really not. Realistically, you’re likely to have a mortgage for around half of your life so spending an hour or two understanding what they are and how they work is worth it!
  • Read the first time buyer advice on this blog 🙂

Keep an eye on what’s available

Just because you can’t buy right now doesn’t mean you can’t window shop. Having a big ol’ browse of what’s available on Rightmove is not only a fantastic hobby, it will also help you work out what’s available in your preferred area and what you’re able to afford. We came across our place through a Rightmove alert so whilst you won’t get many alerts at the mo, it’s worth setting-up alerts now so that when the market does come back you’ll be (one of) the first to know.

Remember that the listing prices on Rightmove are purely what the seller thinks their house is worth and not what it’s actually worth. To build a picture of what houses in your preferred area are objectively worth, the Zoopla ‘sold prices’ feature allows you to see, well, sold prices, for pretty much every house in the UK going back years. If nothing else, it’s a great way to be nosey.

If you’re still not sure where you want to live, you might want to read this post to help narrow down your favourite areas.


Nobody knows when the housing market will return to relative normality, but all of these tips are valid regardless. If you are hoping to get your first house soon then bear in mind that there’ll be a shed loads of people wanting to buy at the same time so make sure you’re on it!

When it does come to buying your first place, here are my top 10 tips for giving yourself the best chance of making your dream home yours.

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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
Categories
DIY projects

#6 Fitted wardrobe finishing touches

If you’ve arrived here you’re just a few small jobs away from wardrobe utopia.


#1 | Moulding around framework

If there are sizable gaps where your wardrobe meets the floor/wall/ceiling, quadrant moulding is ideal to conceal this whilst looking smart. Like with the beading, simply cut the moulding to the right length and mitre cut where necessary. Apply grab adhesive (cheap stuff from Wilkos does the trick) to the moulding and apply pressure until the moulding has properly bonded. Remove any excess that has sneaked out and Bob’s your uncle, gaps hidden. For a really smart finish, apply some caulk to hide tiny gaps between the moulding and framework/wall

#2 | Painting

Before slapping on the final colour, use a special MDF primer paint on all the woodwork including the frame. This will avoid the final paint job from being blotchy. I’d recommend using a mini-roller with gloss sleeve for an even finish which should be applied sparingly otherwise you may get the dreaded drippage which will leave paint bumps all over.

On the doors and framework, I did one coat of MDF primer and 2 coats of emulsion (the same paint as walls) which did the job nicely. As for the interior walls, one coat of MDF primer and 2 coats of brilliant white emulsion worked well as it means the inside of the wardrobe is as light as poss.

Festive paint stations

#3 | Rails and knobs

Once all the painting is done, you can put up a rail and do the inaugural hang – a special moment. Another quick step is the door knobs, which you can drill through the back of the wardrobe for. Measure this really carefully as drilling a hole in the wrong place of your finished door would be a traumatic experience.

#4 | Make yourself a brew and admire your masterpiece

At times, it felt like I would never finish this project but the time and mild stress was well worth it. Saving well over a grand was obviously a massive plus but the main pro of doing it yourself is how good it feels once it’s done. Before building this wardrobe I genuinely struggled to put up a curtain rail, so if you’re doubting your ability, remember this. It’s all about patience.

If you decide to give it a go, I’m happy to answer any questions and don’t forget to send me a photo!

Equipment

  • Caulk with gun
  • Mitre saw or mitre box with wood saw
  • Paint roller with gloss sleeve
  • Paint brush
  • Paint tray
  • Impact driver or screwdriver with bits

Materials

  • Quadrant moulding
  • Grab adhesive
  • MDF primer
  • Final paint
  • Rail and supports
  • Knobs
Categories
DIY projects

#5 Fitted wardrobe hinges

Before I started this wardrobe I would have said there are few topics in the World less interesting than hinges. Having finished the wardrobe, I can confirm that this is correct. However, they’re an integral part of a wardrobe so getting it wrong could turn an otherwise handsome creation into a pile of crap.


#1 | Choosing hinges

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I went for concealed hinges because they’re hidden, allow for adjustment after installation and can include a soft close function. They also allow for doors to be mounted and removed v. quickly and easily. There’s no doubt they cost more than a standard flush hinge (I spent £75 on 18 hinges) but I think they’re well worth it. ‘Blum’ is probably the best-known concealed hinge brand so that’s who I went with. CharlieDIYTE has put together this video about choosing Blum hinges and how to fit them which is well worth a watch.

For our wardrobe doors, I wanted a 95 degree opening angle and knew that I’d have to get the special ‘thick door’ hinges as our doors are 24mm thick. Soft close was also important.

As for how the doors open relative to the frame, this dictates whether you go for overlay or inset hinges. It’s tricky to explain but basically, inset hinges are for when the door sits within the frame ie: the front of the frame is flush with the front of the door. Overlay hinges, on the other hand, are for when the door ‘overlays’ the frame ie: the doors sits in front of the frame.

Top hinge is inset, bottom hinge is overlay

Once you know all this stuff you can use the Blum catalogue to pick out the hinges that suit you and work out how many you’ll need. For me, I used a combination of the soft close thick door inset hinge (71B9750) and soft close thick door overlay hinge (71B9550) which I bought as a bundle with mounting plates included at Trade Hinges. I used 4 hinges on each of the big doors and 2 on each of the wee ones.

#2 | Practice run

Before you start tearing holes into your doors it’s a good idea to do a mock set-up. This will allow you to make sure your measurements are correct and will highlight any problems that might crop up. For example, it’s only when I did a mock-up that I realised the inset hinge mounting plate would need to sit deeper than the framework. That’s why on the images above and below you’ll see two sections of framework joined by a bracket. This was a fairly big issue that I’ll cover later.

Hinge practice

To create your practice set-ups, make a couple of mock doors with MDF off-cuts and grab some framework off-cuts too. After consulting your Blum catalogue for positioning details, drill 35mm holes into the MDF with a hinge drill bit and screw in your hinge. Fix the mounting plate at the corresponding position on the framework. At this point you’ll find yourself with a hilariously small and totally useless mock door. However, it could well save you some big headaches down the line.

#3 | Preparing the door for hinges

After the practice run, you should now be able to drill the hinge holes into your door with confidence. Remember to avoid drilling where the panel pins are or you’ll damage the drill bit. Once your holes are drilled, create pilot holes and screw in the hinges in place.

Seriously messy job

#4 | Mounting the mounting plates

Again, based on your practice, fix the mounting plates to your framework. There is an amount of adjustment possible after you’ve screwed the mounting plates in place so there’s no need to break down if they’re a nanometre too low/high. As ever, remember to drill pilot holes into the framework before screwing the mounting plates in place.

The big mistake I mentioned earlier was that I didn’t check the positioning of the mounting plates before buying the CLS framework. This meant that thanks to the law of sod, when it came to screwing the mounting plates for the inset hinges into the framework, the ideal screw positioning would be right on the edge of the framework and so the mounting plates couldn’t be mounted securely. This meant I had to make wood blocks that sat perfectly flush with the framework to support the mounting plates which took ages so please don’t do the same. This can be avoided by going for the CLS that is 89mm wide rather than the 63mm wide stuff I went for.

If only I’d gone for the wider CLS…

And now, the moment of truth – you should be able to offer the door up to the mounting plates and click the hinges into place. That first door close and open is a similar feeling to your first… Nandos – bloody wonderful. Although it’s worth caveating that the first close/open will probably catch against the frame and this is where concealed hinges come into their own as there are 3 planes of movement that the hinges/mounting plate can be adjusted in. So tweak away, and soon you’ll have a functioning door which you’ll be redundantly proud of.

At this point you’ll have a fully- functioning wardrobe that just needs a bit of sprucing up

Moulding and knobs covered in the next post

Equipment

  • 35mm hinge drill bit
  • Combi drill
  • Impact drill driver or screwdriver with bits
  • Measuring tape
  • Metal ruler
  • Pencil
  • Gimlet

Materials

  • Concealed hinges & mounting plates
  • MDF and framework offcuts
Categories
DIY projects

#4 Fitted wardrobe doors

Making the doors was almost the end of me. It took me bloody ages but it was worth spending the time to get them just right as the doors are what you see 99% of the time. I’d advise doing one door at a time all the way through to sorting out the hinges before moving onto the next door. Be prepared for a serious amount of mess and noise.

#1 | Cutting MDF

Our doors are made out of a 12mm MDF backing, with 12mm MDF panels on the front to match the style of our existing 1930s doors. You can create just about any look by gluing MDF together so even if your design looks very different to what we went for, this technique will likely work well.

As with the shelving, Zach at B&Q was a bloody lifesaver as he cut all the doors and panels to size which was around 40 different sections. DEFINITELY have some sort of coding system for the cuts as it’ll save so much time when you’re assembling the doors. Unlike the shelf cuts, I got doors cut with a 2mm additional buffer to each dimension for some buffer. Whether or not you get your wood cut with a buffer is totally down to you.

Code the sections as soon as they’re cut

Once you’ve got the wood home, put the door backs into the space they’ll be filling to check they fit squarely into the space. After propping the door up in place, you can use a metal ruler to mark on the amount of material that needs to be removed.

With the door back clamped onto a work surface, grab a planer and begin steadily adjusting the door to fit the space, allowing 3-5mm around each door to allow for opening and closing. Repeat this process until you’re happy that the door back fits neatly into the space. BEWARE: this is an incredibly messy process and requires a lot of trial and error.

#2 | Assembling the doors

When joining the panels to the door backs, it’s really important that you are using a perfectly flat work surface or you risk creating crooked doors. You’re now ready to glue the panels in place so get a pencil and combination square at the ready so you can mark on exactly where the panels need to be glued. The combination square is a key tool as the inside of angle of where panels meet needs to be 90 degrees or the door will look wonky. If this means that the panel overlaps the door back slightly don’t worry as this can be planed/sanded off once the glue has set.

Mark the positioning of the panels onto the backing

Grab some wood glue and apply liberally. Use a scraper to spread the glue, then secure the panel in place with a load of clamps. Be careful to check that the clamps haven’t moved the panel when they’ve been tightening.

Use more glue than this. This is not enough glue.
If you don’t have enough clamps, probably don’t just use heavy things like I did

Once the glue is dry, knock a few panel pins in to make sure the panels are securely fused to the door back. The tiny holes left can be easily hidden with wood filler and then sanded with a fine grit paper. Gaps between panels can also be filled with wood filler.

Wood filler hides the panel pins and gaps between panels

Don’t be a dick like me and knock the panel pins in where the hinges are going to be positioned – this can be avoided by planning your hinge positioning before adding pins which as a general rule should be as widely spaced as possible.

#3 | Final door adjustments

With the panels fixed in place, you can get the planer out again to shave off any excess panel overhang. As a final step, use a finishing sander with 120 grit paper to give the door edges a smooth finish.

The angle that the edges of the door are planed/sanded at is important as if you remove too much material from the front edge you may find the doors graze each other when opening/closing and the gap between doors will appear large. Therefore, leave a very slight angle to the edges so that the front edge protrudes further than the back edge.

After a fair amount of trial and error, you’ll eventually have doors which sit nicely in the space with a small allowance for opening and closing. If you have top and bottom doors, making sure the gaps between doors line up is key as otherwise your wardrobe is gonna look butters.

Very exciting to get the doors in place for the first time (these photos were post-hinge fixing)

One really important piece of advice I’d give is to take into account that painting the doors will add thickness so doors that close perfectly unpainted may butt against each other when painted. To avoid this, take 1mm or so more than you think you need to off each door edge.

#4 | Adding beading inside door panels

I actually put the hinges in before this stage but in hindsight it would have been wise to complete the doors before this.

This may be a step you wish to miss but it tied our wardrobe in nicely with our interior doors. It’s super quick as it’s just a case of mitre cutting the beading to size and then gluing in place with wood glue before removing any excess. There’s a range of different styles of beading at B&Q so pop in for a browse (I am not being paid to write this).


Believe it or not, this post could have been 4 times longer. There’s a load of tips and tricks that can save you a lot of time during this process so if you’ve got any questions do leave a comment.

Equipment

  • Planer
  • Finishing sander
  • Hammer
  • Combination square
  • Measuring tape
  • Metal ruler
  • Clamps
  • Pencil
  • Scraper
  • Mitre saw or mitre box with wood saw

Materials

  • 12mm thick MDF sheets
  • Wood glue
  • Panel pins
  • Beading
  • Wood filler
Categories
DIY projects

#3 Fitted wardrobe shelving

Adding shelving is the quickest step and makes the space look like an actual wardrobe. You could buy exposed wood and treat it if you like, but I opted for melamine covered white chipboard as it’s made for the job.

#1 | Shelf supports

There’s a couple of ways the shelves can be supported – you can either use wood battens or small metal shelf supports. I went for wood battens just because I wanted an excuse for some more woodwork but the metal shelf supports would work just as well and save some time.  If you go for wood battens, cut them to a length slightly less than the shelf depth and at an angle at the end so that they’re discreet and screw them into the wall/wardrobe side. As ever, whap out your spirit level to make sure your shelves don’t slant.

Hidden shelf supports

If any of the shelves are going to spread across a long distance, add shelf supports to the back wall to make sure it’s sturdy. You can also support long shelves across the front by cutting a rabbet (basically a small recess) into a cross-section piece of framework and sit the shelf into this. I borrowed my neighbours table saw to do this. It makes the shelves ultra-strong and looks pretty sexy, if that’s your kind of thing.

#2 | Cutting shelves

To save yourself a load of time and stress, you can get the shelves cut to size at B&Q. I got my pal Zach (he had a name badge) to cut the melamine sheets to 4mm less wide than the space that the shelves were sitting in which by chance worked really well with no need for adjustment. If you do need to make small adjustments, I’d suggest using a finishing sander with a medium grit paper to gradually remove material without damaging the melamine.

Cutting the shelves can lead to the melamine getting damaged

If bigger adjustments are required (I had to to reduce the depth of one shelf), you can reduce damage to the melamine covering by taping on a couple of layers of masking tape. This won’t leave a perfect finish but it’ll be far better than cutting without the tape.

Made do with a jigsaw and length of MDF as a guide

Because the shelves were a fairly snug fit and weighed a decent amount, there was no need to fix them in place so that’s it, shelves done! I was feeling pretty smug after sorting the shelves out relatively quickly but was brought swiftly back down to earth once I realised how long the doors were going to take me…

Equipment

  • Mitre saw or woodsaw
  • Table saw/circular saw if you need to make accurate long cuts
  • Measuring tape
  • Spirit level
  • Wood screws
  • Frame fixers
  • Combi drill
  • Impact driver or screwdriver with bits
  • Finshing sander medium grit sandpaper
  • Pencil
  • Gimlet

Materials

  • Wood battens
  • Melamine covered chipboard – I used 500mm width