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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!

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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.