Monday, November 28, 2011

Well travelled

It is now a well travelled kitchen, having been broken into 6 components, loaded onto the trailer and driven several hundred kilometres to the farm on the weekend.  Did it fit in the trailer?  I’m glad you asked….and the answer is “almost”.  It all packed pretty well except for the long part of the bench top.  I could have pressed the point I suppose, but after so much work I decided to be patient and wait for next trip.

What with the tiling done, kitchen bench installation started and the stairs well on the way to completion - soon I won’t know what to do with myself.  Mind you I still havn’t tackled the plumbing, gyprocking, stair rail, bathroom ceiling, back veranda floor, upstairs’ floor sanding, linen press, slow combustion fire… get the idea.

All in all a great trip, especially so because my son-in-law came along to lend a hand.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Meals on wheels

After around 120 hours the kitchen cabinet is ready to install. This is a matter for great rejoicing for two reasons. Firstly, Pemberley will start to look more like a home than a workshop. Secondly, my workshop will look less like a granny flat.

The obvious question though is how do you move a 3.2 metre long cabinet? Well for once I planned ahead and built the bench as three components, the drawers, the sink section and the right hand cupboard. I’ll join these permanently once I’ve trundled it down to the farm on the trailer. The bench top is also made in three sections, the back third, which runs the full length, the front two thirds over the drawers and the section above the cupboard. I’ll glue it together on site and also oil what is just raw timber at the moment.

Will it all fit on the trailer or will I need to make two trips? I’ll let you know after the weekend.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

But is it art?

The staircase design allowed for a light on top of the landing newel.  The challenge though was to find something that was sympathetic with the recycled feel of the stairs and didn't cost an arm and a leg. There are some great lights around, but the ones we liked were either really expensive or shouted "I'm brand new" (or both).
So, I had a rummage through the useful box and assembled my newel light from the following components:
  • dome interior light from a 1960's car,
  • Copper and brass window sliders, circa 1940's,
  • Timber offcuts from our LVLs (basically really thick plywood), and
  • Scrap glass.
The result is about 11 inches tall and will bolt straight onto the top of the newel.  I think it has a certain, TARDIS meets steampunk feel to it - but is it art?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Right tool for the job

The more I do on the house or in the workshop the more I realise that having the right tool for the job is absolutely essential.  Hence, everytime I go to the croft I take umpteen tool boxes with pretty well every tool I own.

But last weekend, when I had to take Nette's little corolla instead of my beaut ute, I was forced to downsize the tool department - considerably.  To be honest it wasn't that hard because there were only two jobs on the "to do" list: finishing the floor using the nail gun and compressor that were already onsite; and cleaning up in preparation for the tiling.

I dutifully did the Santa thing and made a list and checked it twice, but despite my best efforts I found myself caught without a very vital piece of equipment that no carpenter should ever be without...tweezers.

So, when I got an enourmous splinter I had to resort to a rusty safety pin I found in the bottom of one of my tool boxes and a pair of pointy nose pliers.  I'm not sure which hurt the most, the splinter going in or me getting it out.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Building in memories

From the very start we have wanted to build people and memories into what will one day become our home.  The front veranda, for example, will always remind me of Dad and I mixing concrete by hand for the footings.  The upstairs light switches were painted by Mum, with Mathew 5:16 written on them and ...well you get the idea.

This weekend I started a new project, a large linen press for the landing.  The first step is stripping years of paint from four cedar french doors I found on the rubbish tip at Grenfell, our home town.  Between my hot air gun and Junior's sander the paint didn't stand a chance - though it's only after four or so hours that the first door is starting to emerge.  I'm looking forward to being able to put things in the finished cupboard and think of how we worked on it together.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Staple diet

To secret nail a floor you need a nail gun specifically designed for that type of work.  In fact, it’s not a nail gun at all, but an air powered stapler (that must be why they call it a nail gun?) that fires a 45mm staple into hardwood at a 45 degree angle.  You hook the device up to a compressor and whack a white button on the top of the tool with a rubber mallet – pulling the boards together and firing off the staple at 100psi.  In fact, these tools are so good there's little need to clamp the boards, the sheer impact of the staple closes most gaps.

Floor nailer in action

So, the big question – whether to buy, hire or borrow a nail gun that does one thing and one thing only.  In case you’re wondering, no, they will not fire any other type of nail at any other angle – they just “do” staples at 45 degrees.
It would seem that the tool of choice is a Paslode – at around $600 – a big hit for one floor.  Option two was to hire, at around $290 for a week – but what if I didn’t get it done in one week?  Further, I’d have to hire it in Canberra as the local hire shop doesn’t have any on their books.

The third option was to buy a cheap one, which appear on EBay and the like for under $200.  I emailed a couple of EBay vendors asking about warranty and the like but had no reply.  So that cruelled that option for me.

Then I came across a forth alternative – buy a fully reconditioned unit from MS Tools for under $300.  With a 12 month, trade use warranty, Sydney support and friendly, responsive service I figured I had little to loose and went ahead.

So, how did it perform….well I’m glad you asked.  I fired around 2,000 45mm staples into hardwood flooring over 6 days.  During that time there were two hiccoughs.  The first was when I missed the tool with the mallet and hit my shin, dropped the hammer and nearly fell through the floor (2 weeks later I still have the bruise).  The second was when the nailer fired two staples instead of one.  This was easily rectified by tightening a couple of bolts around the frog – no drama, just routine maintenance.

So, with 20 square metres to go I’m glad I purchased the MS Tools nail gun.  I’m not sure what I’ll do with it when I’m finished – perhaps sell it and recoup some of the money (let me know if you’re interested J)


Since joining our family Tom the cockatoo picked up a bunch of phrases, including "what ya doing", "get back to work" and "stop that"  - often said with comic timing.  Never happier than in the workshop with me - the more noise and dust the better - she did have an annoying habit of picking up my chisels and dropping them off the bench when I wasn't watching.  She would often come with me onsite when Nette couldn't - loving the chance to sit in the passenger seat as I drove.

Tom's background is a mystery as we got her from a couple who had rescued her from the RSPCA.  Thinking she was a boy they called her Tom.  She could dance, shake hands and even sit on my arm - preferring to fall off rather than use her claws for grip.  She loved being scratched, inclining her head whenever she saw Nette because she obviously was the best scratcher in the flock. Her favourite food was ANZAC biscuits, though at a pinch Scotch Fingers were OK.  When given an icing biscuit she would carefully pick out the icing first, before eating the rest.

Tom could even say my name, Simon, which she did every now and then when she could hear me but not see me.

Sadly, Tom died on Saturday - we'll miss her.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


A week on site meant progress - and more than double the progress with both Nette and I doing 8 to 5 every day.  The goal for the week was to lay 80 square metres of floor boards upstairs.  We didn't quite make the target, but we did get 60 metres laid in addition to planting and fencing 50 walnut trees that Nette had grown from seed.

Nette measuring up
The tongue and groove flooring from North Eden Timber was excellent.  The boards, random length mixed blondes, were outstanding quality with only 3 or 4 needing a couple of inches removed due to minor flaws, like a split tongue.

The nail gun - which is actually an air powered stapler - performed without a hitch.  I'll write a report on it later. 

During the week Nette must have done a million miles, measuring what was needed, then sifting through the pile downstairs to find the closest board, then carrying it outside to the drop saw, cutting it to length before bringing it back up stairs for me to glue and staple down.   I got off easy really - but what a team.

We'll head back in a couple of weeks to finish the job and plant some more trees.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A second flash

While winter days in Canberra are often sunny they are usually cold.  In contrast, this weekend on site it was jeans and T-shirt weather.  Installing the flashing on the northern veranda was the ideal job for this time of year and it went perfectly and in half the time it took to do the same job at the back.

So, now the front veranda is officially finished.   It has guttering, lights, flashing, paving and some hoof prints where a cow has walked across it.

Next job on the list is installing the upstairs flooring.  85 square meters of tongue and groove eucalypt floorboards, glued and secret nailed.   The big question now is whether to buy a cheap nailer or hirer a good one - the price is about the same.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Opera defeats workshop

An entire weekend away from the workshop - now that's just not normal.  But I had a higher calling as our daughter, Georgii, was dancing at the Sydney Opera House.  How could tools, shavings and sawdust compete with that?  Mind you it did give me a chance to go back over my notes and plans for the kitchen bench I'm currently working on.

At roughly 3 metres long and 700mm deep it has 10 drawers and 5 cupboard doors.  The benchtop is 25mm laminated tallow wood, left over from the stairs.  All visible timber is Tassie Oak, to match the windows, or recycled flooring like the stairs.  Behind the scenes cabinet work is garden variety framing pine.  Drawers are solid dressed pine with rebated MDF bases.

Even using second hand materials the cost, including the butler's sink, is $1,400 and 100 hours, with 20 hours still to go.  If I had paid new price for the recycled timber it would have added another $400 or so - but probably saved some 10 hours or so spent denailing, machining and generally trying to make things fit.

I'm pleased with some of the recycling I've done, including:
  • A Metter's slow combustion stove door picked up in Sydney for $20.
  • Solid polished brass hinges, circa 1880, from Glasgow.  A bargain at $20 for the lot.
  • 4 singer sewing machine drawers, $5 each.  One was missing its fancy front so I carved a copy.
  • Floorboard offcuts from my Dad's sawmill, $0. (Dad sold the mill 25 years ago, so these have been kicking around for a while).
  • Butler's sink, handmade in India, $400 from eBay.
If nothing else it will be a unique kitchen - you have to love recycling.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

That takes the biscuit

I’ve been beavering away at the kitchen bench for a few weekends now and I think it’s coming together pretty well.  In fact, some friends popped by on Sunday and admired the “lovely sideboard” I was making – I was chuffed as I think that sounds much more upmarket than “kitchen bench”.
On the weekend I ran across a snag when I started to assemble the cupboard doors.  As with most of my construction the plan was to use size “20” biscuits on each joint.  Well, after cutting the first slot I realised a “20” was too wide and would show.  The smaller size 10 was a good fit, but of course I didn’t have enough for the four doors. (I have thousands of size 20 – but only the two size tens that came with the biscuit cutter when I bought it 10 years ago.)  So, decision time, a trip to the hardware shop, elapsed time 60 minutes, or......why not trim down a few size 20’s on the bandsaw, elapsed time 5 minutes.
OK, I have to admit that cutting biscuits on a bandsaw is pretty inefficient, but when the alternative is a trip to the shop and the loss of focus that brings, it seemed a reasonable approach – and it worked.
Next challenge – laminating the bench top using the leftover floorboards from the staircase.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Pretty flash eh?

It took some time, but the flashing on the back veranda is done.  No longer (hopefully) will the rain be able to drop between the veranda roof and house wall because it's now covered with some u-beaut flashing bent up by Steeline in Pambula.  The flashing comes up the wall about a foot to give a visual effect reminiscent of the lead flashing on 19C shearers' cottages.  As in the 1800's there's a practical aspect to this as the coverage will protect the wall from splash back from the roof above it. 

The aim is to avoid gutters and downpipes on the main roof (because it would be a pain to clean them).  But for this to work we need to protect the walls below, hence the flashing - which I'm sure was the very reason they have such wide flashing on old houses as well.

As today's building code doesn't permit lead flashing on roofs that harvest drinking water (which is just a fancy way of saying that the water runs into a tank) we opted for the modern alternative - folded zincalume.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Lights, Camera, Copper

The moment of truth came Friday afternoon when the electrician flicked the switch worked! 

I had run all the cables through the Timbercrete walls during construction and now, over two years later, the electrician had come to connect the power points, lights and switches.  Whilst I had checked, double checked, triple checked and labelled all my work a couple of weeks ago, it was still nerve racking watching as the trained professionals had to figure out how to actually make it work - which they did whilst maintaining a good sense of humour. 

Though, I have to say, he was a little unsure at first about my plan to run some of the wiring through exposed copper conduit.  We like it, it gives the idea of an old  house that was built before electricity and has subsequently been electrified.  I have no real excuse for the tap - except that it's cool.

We're really pleased with the bakelite style switches which we purchased from Pales in Style.  Dan provided faultless service and attention to detail - I'd recommend his company to anyone.

Our electrician, Greg Eastman, and his team Brad and Chris were great to work with and very patient and accommodating of my ideas.  If you need an electrician on the South Coast, you would be hard pressed to do better than Greg, Chris and Brad.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Harry Potter suite is now open

If I was paid by the hour the Potter suite would need to charge Hilton rates!

Swinging the old cedar door from Grenfell took a couple of hours and reminded me just how much harder it is to rebate hinges into hardwood door frames.  The cedar door was like butter whereas the tallowwood took an age doing it the old fashioned way with a mallet and sharp chisel.

One hiccough I encountered was self inflicted - I had over sized the door by 22mm.  No big deal, except to maximise onsite time I’d mortised the old lock into the door while it was in the workshop.  To resize the door I had to deepen the mortise to accommodate the narrower stile.  

The weekend onsite was also an opportunity to check the kitchen bench measurements - no 22mm over sizing there -  they seem to be bang on. This is a good thing as I’ve already starting building the cabinets in the workshop.  Next week will be a slow week - I’m off to hang out with my Dad for a couple of days - but I’m sure the unfinished kitchen bench will still be waiting for me when I get back.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lock, stock and barrel

The door to the Harry Potter suite is officially ready to install.  I’ve cut it to size, installed the lock, added the hinges and attached an old safe manufacturer’s brass plate (as you do).  

Fortunately I had a bit of a brain wave before I cut it to its final size (see the start of the journey here).   Over a cuppa it occurred to me, why not make the opening wider instead of the door narrower?  I checked it out and, sure enough, by changing the door frame I only needed to trim 25mm off the door’s width - sheer genius.  (Pretty darn obvious really.) 

The rest of the weekend was spent putting together a kids’ talk for church about wisdom - kind of ironic really.

Monday, February 7, 2011

New wine, old skin

The battered old door I’m resurrecting for the Harry Potter suite has a few issues, not the least being severe damage from being kicked in and some large gaps between stiles and rails where the antique cedar timber has shrunk. 

As I mentioned earlier, I needed to shorten the door by some 8 inches in order for it to fit the opening - so the question arises, what standard of fit am I aiming for when I rejoin the shortened style to the rail?

My antique conservation teacher, Anselm Fraser, maintained that such work should be to the same quality as the rest of the piece.  He’s right, because a perfect join between a style and rail on a repaired corner will stand out like a sore thumb when the other joints have large gaps. 

Further, Anselm would argue against dismantling and rebuilding an entire piece just to improve some gaps.  He contended that overtly “improving” a piece often detracted from its aged look and, indeed, its value.  Of course, if the whole thing is falling apart then one has no option but to improve.

The Bible reminds us that we shouldn’t put new wine into old skins, otherwise the wine will burst the skins (Matt 9:14-17) ruining them.  The analogy works just as well with antique conservation, a brand new repair on an old cedar door will only ruin the original piece.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Harry Potter Suite

This weekend I've been working on a door for the sizeable space under the landing, aptly named the “Harry Potter Suite”.  I picked up a stripped cedar door a couple of years ago from Grenfell for $20.  According to the bloke I bought it off, it came from one of the early buildings in the Main St, which would potentially date it from the late 1800's.  It's had a hard life especially where the lock was fitted, with the timber split right through.   Perhaps the door had been kicked in at some stage, maybe during an armed robbery by some bushranger like Ben Hall (or maybe the owner just forgot their keys - equally plausible but not nearly as exciting).

I’ve reduced the height of the door by about 8 inches by removing the bottom rail (otherwise known as the horizontal bit) and taking 8 inches from the side and centre stiles (the bits that run from top to bottom).  I then reassembled the door and, to be honest, you wouldn’t know that it’s been cut and shut.

I also need to make the door narrower by about 4 inches.  Ordinarily, I would take a third off each of the three stiles to keep it symmetrical.  But given the damage around the lock I’ve decided to take 2 inches from the outside stiles and leave the central one as is.  I’ll add a couple of across grain keys on the inside of the door for strength.  This would have been a common repair method when the door was made.

One nice aspect of this job has been the opportunity to use a hand plane from my Grandfather Woolner’s toolbox.  It took a little time to sharpen and tune, but it’s great to use.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Upwardly mobile

At last it is possible to get to the upstairs' rooms without climbing a ladder. This is real progress.  Not that the stairs are finished, there are still handrails, panelling, a door to the Harry Potter suite, moulding, skirting boards and non-slip strips.  All of which will require a few more days' effort, but the lion's share is done and they work.

As with the other steps and winders I've rounded the front edge of each tread on the second flight using my trusty Stanley hand plane.  I really think hand planes have a lot to offer when it comes to small jobs, they are quick to set up, make no noise and create minimal dust.  Plus, from my perspective, they give the slightly imperfect, hand made finish that I like.

During coffee breaks I measured up for the kitchen bench.  The plan is to build the kitchen in Canberra using some of the second hand timber I've picked up over the last couple of years and move it down when completed.  I'll put the drawing up when it's done.