Monday, October 15, 2012

A red letter day

It was truly a red letter day.  A day that will be recorded in the family annals and celebrated at each and every anniversary until He returns.  A fixed point in time that cannot be altered and from which all other events will now be referenced.  From here forward history will fall into one of two categories: pre-ISL and post-ISL.
Yes, it's true.  We have joined the hoi polloi of the hamlet.  After 6 years of portaloos and lemon trees we can finally revel in the luxury of an inside loo (ISL)!  Phil the plumber has connect the water closet to our worm powered treatment plant resulting in a flushing indoor lav.  There is just one remaining wrinkle to iron out - we don't have running water.  So "the flush" is bucket powered - but flush it does all the same.
We're particularly pleased with the loo light.  Perhaps a little OTT for some (aren't all ceiling lights?) it is somewhat of a memorial to my childhood home where it hung over the kitchen table for decades.  We had plans to put the family's Austrian crystal chandelier there, but Mum reckons she's still using it.  Oh well.

Monday, October 8, 2012

It's a grind

Tidying up Dad's shed unearthed some odd scraps of timber,  bits Dad had kept even though to most folk they were too short to be useful.  He was the typical depression baby - never throw anything away just in case it could be useful.  (Mind you, I'm not sure what he thought anyone would use those 37 old shock absorbers for.)
Well, not wanting to disappoint, I took on the challenge of putting these odds and sods together into something useful to me.   As a sawmiller, Dad had spent his working life sharpening saws, so for me the fitting use was a bench for my sharpening equipment.  It took some juggling, but I finally came up with something that provided a shelf for the high speed grinder, another for the baby Tormek and one for my glass grinder.
It's not fine furniture and it's not art - but it is a nice reminder of Dad.  If you'd like the plans I have a SketchUp version I can send to you. 
I really should get back to building the house.

Monday, September 3, 2012

My Dad was a sawmiller

Mum and Dad - July 2012
My Dad, Ken Bolton, owned a sawmill.  A place he worked in from the age of 14 until his 60’s.  I worked there during some uni breaks and I know a little of how hard and hot the work was.  
The mill consisted of a big shed, with no walls, no heating, no cooling and only pretty basic dust extraction.  It was cold as ice in winter and hot as all else in summer.  In winter everyone would huddle around a single oil burning heater during smoko.  To beat the heat in summer they would start at 5:30am.  Mind you this was the routine only after the donkey engine burnt the place down and they subsequently rebuilt with electrical motors and flouro lighting.  Before that 1960’s rebuild Dad was up at 4:00am to fire up the steam engine so it was ready to go when everyone else rolled up a couple of hours later. 
Before the steam era, for the first 15 years of Dad’s career, the mill was located 14 miles out of town in the middle of a forest.  Accommodation then consisting of a tin cottage with a dirt floor.
Dad liked a routine - morning tea was at 9:15am, lunch at 12:00 and afternoon tea at 3:15pm.  Those times changed only once a year – on Melbourne cup day afternoon smoko was at race time.  The shed floor was a combination of dirt and oil from the log skids and the only chairs were a couple of seats out of an old Morris car. 
Even though Dad was the owner he was also one of the men who physically pushed and shoved logs around until they became something useful like a wall stud, a floor board, a noggin or a fancy cabin profile weatherboard.  Each evening he’d come home, reeking of cypress sawdust, with bits of timber under his arm – each with an order he’d written down during the day.  After dinner he’d do the paperwork in his office, have a port and go to bed around 9:30.  
Dad finally sold the mill in his 60’s after it had been on the market for some years.  He then took up a job as a school bus driver, clocking nearly a 1,000 kilometres a week on a long country run.  He loved it - the kids, the parents, the driving and finally being able to fulfil one of his wishes – to be a mechanic.  Something he’d been pulled away from by his family when he was 14 and the mill needed an extra set of hands during the war.
He retired from bus driving when he felt that his reactions were no longer as sharp as they used to be.  Handing his licence in voluntarily because he didn’t want to be the cause of an accident. 
I got my love of making things out of timber from Dad.  For him, any construction or design problem could be solved with a 4 x 2 piece of cypress and some 3 inch nails.  Dad’s design genre is probably best described as a cross between early industrial, steam punk and “just get it done with what we’ve got”.  Not always pretty – but it never fell down.
But most importantly, I’ve got Dad to thank for my love of God.  After all it was his good mate who told me about Jesus when I was 13 and Dad who showed me what serving Him looked like by how he cared for others.
Dad was the classic “chopping wood for widows” type of bloke. A bit of a rough diamond - he hated wearing a tie but loved flannelette shirts, towelling hats and t-boots – he had a loving heart.  I could wax on for ages, but maybe some other time.
Jeanette and I had the honour of being with Dad when he passed away on Sunday.  He was nearly 84.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Finished (sort of)

The guiding design principle all the way has been to create a building that appears to have its roots firmly in the 1900s.  Given that, there was no way a high gloss, super smooth plastic looking floor was going to be for us.  Besides, we've laid real floor boards not laminate or vinyl. 
When it comes to timber floors there seems to be two broad approaches to finishing.  Either you go for a finish that sits on the timber, a polyurethane for example, or something that soaks into the timber, like a tung oil.  Both approaches have their ups and downs.   We went with a tung oil as we liked that it results in a satin finish which is easily repaired and doesn't stick the boards together (called edge bonding).  There are also tung oil brands around that have far less nasty chemicals in them than most of the polyurethanes.

So, our couple of days finishing went like this:
  1. Sand with 60 grit paper.
  2. Followed by 80 grit.
  3. Hand rub on a coat of tung oil.
  4. Hand rub the tung oil off after 15 minutes.
  5. Leave for a day, then repeat steps 3 and 4.
  6. Do all this with lots of ventilation and don't walk on it for another day.
If it still looks good in 12 months I'll let you know the brand of oil we used.  In the meantime - we're really happy with it.

PS-the light project turned out pretty well too.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Two perspectives

Any owner builder will tell you that long weekends are sacrosanct - their sole purpose is to move DIYer's building schedules along by more than a normal two day weekend permits.

Our plan for this June long weekend had been developed weeks ago:
  • complete sanding the floor,
  • get at least one coat of oil on the boards, 
  • caulk the downstair's wall plates, and
  • replace some of the dead walnut saplings in the tree plot.
Three days instead of two meant the opportunity to come back 150% more worn out than usual and we had both been looking forward to it since out last trip a couple of weeks ago. 

But things don't always go to plan.  10 minutes from our home the ute gracefully ground to a stop and refused to be revived.  Everything looked fine, in fact I had just picked it up from a service the evening before and filled the tank 15 minutes ago.  An hour later the tow truck turned up and that was the end of the trip.

One view the weekend is as an utter waste of one of the owner builder's prized possessions - a long weekend.

The other perspective is to see it as yet another example of how well God cares for us.  Consider this:
  • We broke down beside a grassy verge which was safely off the busy road and perfect for tow truck access. 
  • We hadn't left the previous night after work (like 10,000 plus other people had) - which would have meant a long dark wait in sub zero temperatures.
  • Our roadside assistance package provides for 20km free towing - exactly the distance the tow truck travelled to our mechanic's workshop.
  • The tow truck's next job took him within a 15 minute walk of our place - no need to "phone a friend".
  • Saturday night Nette suddenly became very unwell - it would have been much harder to care for her in a cold, unfinished house with no running water and an outside loo.
You know, even from an owner builder's perspective it wasn't a total loss as I spent the unplanned time tiling our ensuite.  A job I'd been putting off for yonks in preference to the house project.

Conclusion - God is good.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Beating the enemy - dust

The Rolls Royce of sanders
I had long concluded that when it came to sanding there was always going to be dust on the hanky when I blew my nose at the end of the day - even with the brilliant Dust-Be-Gone dust mask.

But all that changed on the weekend when I sanded the hardwood flooring in one of the upstairs' bedrooms with my Festool RS100CQ sander connected to the Festool CT26E dust extractor (which is a euphemism for "vacuum cleaner").

After a day of sanding, the hanky was clean - not a speck.  Now that's impressive.

You may ask: why sand an entire floor with a 1/3 sheet sander?  Well, two reasons:
  1. We don't want every imperfection eradicated, if that were the case we'd use laminate flooring over a chipboard floor. No, we want a floor that has some character but no splinters.
  2. For the cost of hiring a floor sander I purchased the the RS100CQ second hand. And as sanders go - it is the Rolls Royce.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


The shed - almost open for business
It's taken a few weekends but the shed is done.  Well, almost - I still need to get the roll-a-door to go up and down before we can cut the ribbon. 

The shed was originally in Canberra and was given to us by friends from church who were upgrading their car accommodation.  So we pulled it down, labelled everything and trailered it to Pemberley.  Putting it up two years later has been a bit of a test of our memories (why did we write that on this piece?) and a real team effort with our son-in-law lending his tall genes at just the right moment.

Unfortunately the local wombat has discovered the shed and started digging up one of the footings already.  I'm not sure what God was thinking when He made wombats so annoying - I hope I remember to ask Him.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Showering praise

Finally, after 5 years of building we can have a proper shower at the end of the day.  We started out with a solar shower - an upmarket name for a black plastic bag with a small shower head attached.  On the first day we hung it on the side of the tank and had a cold shower.  The second night the same bag moved into a discrete corner of the shed and was filled from the electric jug - and that's the way it's been for the last 5 years. (Mind you, when you're only around for a weekend at a time it is surprising what you can put up with.)

So, it was with much joy that we christened the greatly improved shower this Easter and ushered in a whole new era of comfort.  Yes, it may look just like a red plastic bucket with a tap and a shower head- but when suspended from a rafter in the shed it actually has enough pressure to wash your hair. 

A huge step forward in shower technology
PS-Imagine the joy we will experience when we install the inside shower with actual plumbing!

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Oiling the benchtop
After a lot of fiddling and fine tuning I can finally announce that we are the proud parents of my first kitchen bench.  Joining the 3 benchtop components went better than expected as did levelling them - which I did using Dad's ancient Ryobi electric planer (it was actually made in Japan!).  But the most rewarding moment came while oiling the top.  It's probably the first time since the timber was milled over 100 years ago that the natural grain is again the star.

Next job - building a shed.