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 outdoor corner benches

These two corner benches make for a cracking weekend project and you don’t need loads of kit to do a good job. You could easily nail it with the gear in the must-have woodworking tools post I wrote and there’s nothing complicated about it – just lots of cutting and screwing! So if you’re thinking about getting into woodwork or have recently started, this is the one for you. Materials and equipment are at the very bottom.


Planning

This is going to be a short section because these benches are almost entirely copied from a very popular YouTube video. I made a table for a local lady who then asked if I could make a set of corner benches so rather than come up with something from scratch, I followed the tried and tested method in the video. The only addition I made was to add a middle support to the back as the lady wanted to make sure the cushions she’s adding didn’t fall away.

Cutting, cutting, and more cutting

After modelling the benches in SketchUp (brilliant free design software) and confirming the dimensions, I ordered no fewer than 27 2.4 metre lengths of pressure treated 2x4s. The benches are made entirely from 2x4s which makes them both very robust and heavy.

Because there’s so much cutting to do, it’s really difficult to work out exactly how many lengths of timber you need. I’ve come across an app called ‘CutList Optimizer’ where you plug in your cut lengths and quantities and it tells you exactly how many lengths you need and how to cut them to minimise waste. So good for keeping costs down and not having to get more wood/having loads left over.

So, with the benches modelled and cut list sorted, out came the mitre saw. You could quite easily make all the cuts with a circular saw butted up against a speed square, but I prefer using a mitre saw when I’ve got a load of repetitive cross cuts to make.

As I had the wood delivered, there were some lengths that were uglier than others. I set these aside to be used for areas that would be less visible like the inside of the frame and the noggins.

It was a bit of a ‘mare keeping track of all the sections so whapping some labels on them is a good idea.

Planed 2x4s are already pretty smooth and have a rounded edge, but a quick tinkle with a sander is still a good idea.

The final stage before assembly was to slap some wood preserver on all the cut ends to prolong the wood’s life.

Frame assembly

You could make these benches with pocket hole screws for a particularly tidy finish but I opted for your bog standard 65mm decking screws. To make these as discreet as possible, I used a combination square to keep the screw positioning consistent.

Rather than using a standard bit to drill the pilot hole and then countersink bit, I used this combo bit which was a massive time saver.

With the pilot holes drilled, I started assembling the side sections. I clamped the 2x4s to my workbench, used a square to check their positioning, and then drove in the decking screws with my impact driver.

Here’s a photo of an almost-finished side section. It’ll make sense shortly, but essentially the bottom cross piece is screwed into the frame of the seat section.

A top piece finishes off the side section. The cut edge needs to be sanded or routed with a round over bit.

Soon enough you’ll have 3 identical side sections. You only need 3 as one of the two benches is left open so it can be butt up against the other bench to make it look like one piece.

Sides done, seat frames next. These are simple rectangles with noggins to add sturdiness and to provide a point to drive the seating into.

The side sections can now be screwed into the seat frame. A couple of clamps and quick check with a square make sure that everything is positioned as it should be.

By this point it’s already a pretty heavy beast and this is way less than half its finished weight!

The final stage before screwing down the seat is to add the back section in. The very top length of 2×4 can’t be screwed in the same way as the rest of the build so I added some pocket holes to the underneath side and then propped it in place before screwing. You don’t need to to do pocket holes – you could just ‘toenail’ screws in by adding a diagonal pilot hole which would do the same job.

I then added a middle support and another just below the top length to help prevent it from sagging.

The other bench is almost identical to the first, the only difference being the one open end.

Seating

I used 6 lengths of 2×4 for the seating of each bench. Again, to keep the screws aligned I measured their position and marked them across each of the seat lengths using a square.

After doing a dry fit, we whapped everything on a trailer and made our way to the customer’s house where I’d add the seat lengths.

The very final stage was to position the 2x4s using packers to ensure consistent gaps and then screw them down into the frame.


We pushed the benches together and that was that.

The lady also bought a matching table with a built-in ice trough which looked great alongside the benches. She was buying these ahead of her daughter’s hen do and will be adding some cushions to the benches.

These benches really are an awesome first wood project. They look great and there’s nothing particularly tricky about putting them together.

At the time I bought the wood it was £9 per 2.4 metre length of treated 2×4 and so the wood came to £243 and there was probably a fiver worth of screws. Unfortunately, wood prices have gone up massively in the last few months and in the 2 weeks since I bought this timber it’s gone up to £11.75 per length!

If you fancy a slightly more challenging seating project, our decking seating might be worth a read.

Materials

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

Equipment

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

10 must-have tools to get into woodwork

A lot the posts I write have a great big long list of equipment required at the bottom. The only reasons that I have accumulated a fair bit of kit since we moved in is that A) it turns out that I love DIY (particularly woodwork) and B) it’s almost always cheaper to buy the kit and DIY than to pay someone else to do it.

The truth is, there’s only a very small amount of kit that you need to complete 95% of woodwork projects so I’ve put together a list of the essential equipment you’ll want to get hold of if you’re keen to get into working with wood. You can get all the gear I’ve linked to for around £250 so you needn’t break the bank and you can make that back in one or two projects.


#1 Circular saw

This is first on the list because there is no bit of kit as versatile as a circular saw. Sure, you can make basic cuts with a plain old hand saw, but it takes ages, is far from accurate and is hard work.

With a circular saw you can make just about any cut, including…

Basic cross cut.

Rip cut.

Mitre cut.

Bevel cut.

Half lap joints.

And probably a huge number of other types of cut I don’t know of!

They do most stuff that you can achieve with a mitre saw or table saw and another big plus is that they’re portable. So yeah, circular saw HAS to be top of the list.

My circular saw gets used almost daily in projects like our fitted wardrobes.

If budget is your absolute priority, this circular saw will get you up and running.

#2 A square

Might seem a bit of a basic thing to be second on the list, but you’ll need some sort of square for every wood project. Without a square, your circular saw cross cuts and mitre cuts will be crap. Plus, when assembling stuff, a square is vital to make sure your assembly is, well, square.

My go-to square is my speed square (also called a rafter square) but a combination square does the same job. I rely on this baby for so many projects, but one example is the gate I made for our driveway.

This combination & speed square set from Screwfix was one of my first DIY purchases and definitely one of the most used.

#3 Measuring tape

You won’t get very far without a measuring tape. My tape is metric only which I find makes it easier to use.

Here’s a super cheap tape that, let’s be honest, does exactly the same job as any other measuring tape.

#4 Combi drill

You’ve now got the gear you need to measure up and make accurate cuts. Next up, you’ll need gear that allows you to actually fix bits of timber together. First in this line-up is the combi drill.

You could probably get away without a combi drill, but I wouldn’t recommend trying. This power tool allows you to pre-drill holes (pilot holes) in wood before driving screws in. In some cases, this isn’t necessary, but it’s usually wise to pre-drill to avoid causing the wood to split.

Combi drills also have lots of other uses in woodwork, including drilling large holes with hole saws/spade bits, countersinking to give screw heads somewhere to sit, and drilling pocket holes.

Obviously, there are also loads of applications outside of woodwork too like drilling holes in your house to put up shelves/mirrors etc., so you get a lot of bang for your buck.

Our decking with built-in storage required at least couple of thousand screws, many of which were near the edge of the wood. Pilot holes are particularly important when screwing close to the edge so I got a shed load of use out of my combi drill on this project.

This Mac Allister combi drill will get you going and is about half the price of the next cheapest drill. While you’re down at your local Screwfix, this set of brad point drill bits will get you going.

#5 Impact driver

With pilot holes drilled, you’re going to want an impact driver to drive screws home. An impact driver is basically a screwdriver on steroids. It does the same job in a fraction of the time.

If you are on a really tight budget, you could probably get away with not buying an impact driver. A combi drill can be used instead if needs be, but it won’t do as good a job as driver and changing out the drill bits every few seconds would be a faff. Alternatively, if you really are a glutton for punishment, you could use a screwdriver.

The workshop that my Dad and I built relied very heavily on my impact driver as pretty much the whole thing is held up by screws.

This Mac Allister impact driver takes the same battery as the combi drill and has equally good reviews. These drill bits are worth picking up too.

#6 Screws

There’s a bewildering choice of screws on the market, many of which I don’t understand the point of. A great starting point is a trade pack of woodscrews with various different lengths and diameters of screw.

If you need screws for outdoor projects, you’ll want to avoid using standard woodscrews as these will rust and potentially stain the wood. To get around this, you can buy decking screws or stainless steel screws.

#7 Wood glue

You can get away with using just screws as fixings in most projects but ‘gluing and screwing’ is the safe bet. That’s because while screwing or nailing are effective methods of connecting two bits of timber together, they actually compromise the structure. Glue, on the other hand, does not do this and a lot of brands actually claim that their glue is stronger than wood itself.

In a lot of projects, the main purpose of nails/screws is actually just to pin wood together while the glue dries (cures if you’re feeling fancy).

Glue comes into it’s own when you’re joining boards together, like I did for our dining table and bench.

To keep things simple, I tend to use an exterior grade glue like this one for all my gluing jobs.

#8 Power sander

Depending on the type of wood you’re working with, it may need sanding. If you’ve ever sanded something by hand you’ll know that it is the most thankless task of all time. So, if you have any amount of sanding to do, please buy a power sander.

My power sander made light work of sanding the feather edge boards that we used to make our pug ugly garage look a handsome shed.

There are a few different varieties you can get, but most sanding jobs can be done with an orbital sander like this one. These sanding discs simply velcro onto the sander pad.

#9 Spirit level

You probably know what a spirit level does. But in case not, it makes sure stuff is level and I’d be lost without mine. For jobs like fitting our wardrobe shelves, there’s no substitute (well, you could get a laser level, but a spirit level is the best place to start).

Spirit levels aren’t just about getting stuff level, though. They’re brilliant for providing a ‘straight edge’ which is often needed when making long cuts. I use my 180cm spirit level along with my circular saw to make long, straight cuts all the time.

Spirit levels come in a massive variety of sizes, from a few cm long to 180cm plus. They all have their own merits, but I’d say the most versatile length is 60cm long like this baby.

#10 Clamps

You won’t get very far without clamps. Whether using them to clamp to a workbench while you’re sanding, or to squeeze two bits of timber together while gluing or screwing them, they’re really, really useful.

I used several clamps to keep the sections of our picture ledge in place while the glue cured.

Similarly to spirit levels, clamps come in loads of different sizes and also styles. I’d recommend getting a couple of these quick-grip clamps as a starting point.

Honourable mentions

To my mind, those 10 are the absolute essentials. You can get so much done with them. However, if you do fancy extending your woodworking kit a bit wider, here are a few bonus bits.

  • Workbench – you don’t need a workbench, but they make life a lot easier. I made one similar to this one really cheaply.
  • Jigsaw – circular saws are great for straight cuts, but if you need to cut any curves then you’ll need a jigsaw. This budget jigsaw will stand up to most jobs.
  • Mitre saw – a circular saw can do almost everything a mitre saw will do, but a mitre saw is required to get truly accurate mitre cuts and if you need to compound cuts like I needed to on our decking seats. Here’s the one that I use.
  • Table saw – similarly, a circular saw will sort you out, but table saws allow you to get really accurate, repeatable cuts done really quickly. Mine is super cheap and does a decent job, but I ain’t going to be doing any fine cabinet-making with it.
  • Router – routers open up a lot more options when it comes to woodwork projects. Whether rounding off the edges of a table, cutting a dado (essentially a recess) to help assemble a cabinet, or even cutting a perfect circle for a stool, routers are awesome. You can get wee palm routers for smaller & more intricate jobs, big ol’ half inch routers for chunky work, or a quarter inch router like mine which is a good compromise.

If you do buy a few of these bits and find yourself enjoying woodwork, the chances are that you’ll get addicted and within a few months you’ll be buying tools that you didn’t know existed!

In case you are just starting out, a couple of really simple and easy projects to kick things off could be a picture ledge or hanging bedside lights.

Categories
DIY projects

DIY workshop / shed / mancave

2020 was a year of pretty intense DIYing. As I bought more tools and made more things, it became obvious that we couldn’t use our garage for both storage and as ‘workshop’. All the woodwork was ridiculously messy and we were running out of space. Plus, the relentless power tool usage right next to our house + neighbours wasn’t ideal.

We’re lucky to have a pretty long garden and so once the idea of building my own workshop in a back corner of it popped into my head there was no going back! We were pretty cash-strapped after the extension so keeping costs down was key.

I’ve kept the details quite thin so if you’re planning on doing something similar and have any questions just shout in the comments box at the bottom.


Prepping for the floor

Once upon a time there must have been a wee shed in the back right corner of our garden as there was a small concrete pad when we moved in. This seemed like the obvious place to build the workshop as it’s far from any neighbours and not visible from our house.

The first job was to mark out the exact position. Being a farmer, my Dad was keen to build a barn-sized structure but we settled on 2.4 x 4.8 metres. These are standard sizes for timber so the idea behind this size was minimal cutting and waste.

I nabbed some paving stones for free off a neighbour and laid them on top of a fairly dry grit sand and cement mix to keep them steady.

Getting them all level was a faff but I didn’t fancy a wonky floor.

Half way through this job I realised that I’d definitely used more paving stones than was needed but I guess that’s better than too few. If you plan on doing something similar, you could probably leave out the middle section of paving stones as long as the floor joists are chunky.

Timber floor

Luckily for me, my Pa had some big ol’ joists hanging around as well as some 25mm ply sheets so that was the timber for the floor sorted. After cutting the joists to size, I added joist hangers and used 100mm screws to fix the outer frame to them. Then I used some offcuts as noggins along the middle. Don’t be a fool like me – put weed membrane down BEFORE the floor structure is fixed together.

I spent a while getting the frame square so there wasn’t too much fannying around to get the ply floor positioned properly. I fixed this to the joists with 60mm decking screws.

I left the final joist and ply sheet loose until the wall went up to make sure everything was perfectly flush.

Wall frames

Then, lockdown 2.0 arrived. Luckily, my Dad had planned on building the wall frames on the farm anyway. He made a jig out of steel so that the studwork walls would all be exactly the same dimensions while speeding up the process.

Then it was just a case of piling up the wall sections and waiting for lockdown to end.

As soon as Boris gave us the thumbs up, my Dad arrived with the walls and roof trusses in tow.

I couldn’t believe how quick the walls went up.

After 3 hours the walls were fixed in place, with bolts joining the studs and 100mm screws fixing the frames into the ply floor and joists.

The good progress allowed for a chips and gravy lunch. Yes, those are lagers #lads.

Post-grub, the roof trusses went in – another J. Leaf Snr. creation. The two middle roof trusses are made out of angle iron to add rigidity and the purlins that support the roof sheets are simply lengths of the same studwork used to build the walls. We were careful when planning this baby to keep the overall height to below 2.5 metres to avoid needing planning permission.

The next day was pretty stressful as we rushed to get the roof on before crap weather arrived. This led to a hurried and not particularly good job. Fortunately, only birds will see it. The roof is made mainly out of corrugated bitumen roof sheets with a couple of clear polycarbonate sheets to let in more light. I would not recommend using either of these – more on this later in the post…

We also fitted the windows that I’d found for free on FB marketplace.

To temporarily waterproof her, we tacked some membrane in place. Is it just me or from this point on does it start looking a bit cross-eyed?

Cladding

I liked how the cladding turned out on our garage so decided to use feather edge for the workshop too. After fixing the trim in place, I roped in some more support crew for this so while I cut the boards to length, Will and my Dad nailed them in place. The wee jig you can see in the below photo made getting the spacing even really quick and easy.

The cross-eyed look didn’t get any better! Thankfully you’d need to be at the very back of the garden to witness this deformed face.

After that it was just a case of cladding the other three sides, including adding some 150 x 25mm boards and a wee diamondy thing to finish things off. I dipped all freshly cut ends in wood preserver.

Doors

I used the same half-lap method that I used on our driveway gate for the workshop doors, allowing a 5mm gap all around the frame.

I clad the doors, being careful to align this with the cladding that was already on the front walls. Feather edge isn’t ideal to fix hinges and other hardware to due to the fact that it’s angled, so I switched out the feather edge with some 100 x 25mm timber where the hinges are mounted.

For extra security, I added some long bolts to some of the hinge mounting holes so that the hinges can’t be unscrewed from the outside. After this, it was a case of adding hardware including bolts to the inside and a hasp and staple on the front.

Roof dramas

At this point, I couldn’t ignore the fact that the roof sheets were dripping water all over the floor any longer…

The problem was particularly bad in the morning when it had been really cold the night before. The humid and warmer air in the workshop would rise and hit the cold roof sheets, leading to condensation which ran down the roof sheets, onto the purlins and then onto the ground.

This was really frustrating and annoying because I couldn’t move in until the problem was sorted. ‘Roofing Megastore’, who sold me the roof sheets, said that the condensation was ‘an environmental factor’ and so not an issue with the sheets themselves. I suggested that the point of a roof is to deal with ‘environmental factors’ but surprisingly, my sarcasm got me nowhere.

ANYWAY, after some research I decided to insulate the roof, hoping that this would separate the warmer, humid air from the cold roof sheets. I cut up some second-hand polystyrene and pushed it up into the gaps between the purlins. I left a small gap between the roof sheets and insulation to help ventilation.

I sealed up all the joins with aluminium tape.

The last step was to fix 9mm OSB to the underside of the purlins which looked neat and added an extra layer of insulating material.

Touch wood, I’ve had no condensation issues since doing this.

I put down some second-hand laminate flooring to help protect the floor. This would also help stop damp rising up through the floor and into the workshop.

Ramp

Up until this point, I’d been using a crate as a step. Not really a long-term solution, and in the summer I may want to wheel my workbench outside. I dug out an area in front of the door to build a ramp into.

The whole thing is made out of scaffold boards. First, I cut out identical joists and a header. I fixed the joists into the header and then the header into the workshop front joist. I sat the bottom of the joists on some paving flags to help spread the load.

Next, I added some noggins from scrap wood.

Then it was just a case of cutting the top scaffold boards to length and screwing them in place. This ramp won’t last forever as it’s not pressure treated, but I did give all the wood 2 coats of preserver.

Inside

With the outside done, I turned my attention inside. The first job was to make a new workbench. There are a 967 videos on YouTube of DIY workbenches so I watched them all, twice, and decided that this was the best one.

Apparently you’re supposed to be able to make it in under an hour. It took me 6… A bit of a Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals situation, if you know what I mean.

But still, 6 hours is pretty good for a really sturdy workbench that will hopefully last decades. I put some locking castors on the bottom so I can wheel it around which has already proven super handy.

I’ve started moving my french cleat tool wall from the garage into the workshop.

Too many jobs on the to-do list at the moment so I’ll have to finish off the french cleats and sheathing the rest of the workshop walls at a later date. The only other jobs still to do are paint the outside & put in a permanent electric supply as I’m currently making do with a humongous extension lead.


It’s fair to say that I am in love with my new workshop/shed/mancave. Having a dedicated space to make stuff is absolutely dreamy. I get the workshop, Haz gets the house, everyone’s happy!

Cost-wise, the build came to around £1,200. It would have been a lot more if the joists, floor, windows and laminate weren’t free. As per most of these projects, it cost more than I was expecting. This one I justify with the dozens of hours I spend in there every week!

Categories
Uncategorized

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.