Monday, 3 December 2001
Over the weekend I managed to complete the cabling of the balustrade and varnish the cabinets in The Great Hall. Tony is due back today to finish the balustrade.
Wednesday, 5 December 2001
After a day spent in the city, I arrived home to find doors swinging on some of the cupboards. The Blum hinges are the concealed sort and incorporate a spring that holds the door shut eliminating the need for a separate door catch. Some time over the weekend, I will be posting a longer description of what has been happening and there will be quite a few photographs.
Saturday, 8 December 2001
We went shopping for close to the lastest things needed for completing The House of Steel: lots of emery paper for polishing the stainless steel balustrade, a wire brush attachment for the drill for the same purpose, the paint for the architraves, two louvre grills for allowing air into The Great Hall and the last of the plumbing bits. When I told the plumbing supplies place that we may never meet again, Adrian said: "Famous last words!" When we arrived back home I realised he's probably correct. I'm not at all sure that what we have is entirely what we need <sigh>.
Yesterday, Val delivered the screws I need to complete the stainless steel and myrtle chairs. The cost was $A12 for a thousand. The local hardware store supplies only in units of 16 in a bubble pack for several dollars. It occurs to me that we need a service for the home handyperson who tires of paying the extortionate rates of hardware stores versus those who supply the tradesmen.
|The outside of The House of Steel is now 99.9% complete! The higher part of the balustrade connects to the wall, stiffening the structure and will later support some kind of removable shade/shelter cloth.|
|Here we see the island bench and the two other
workbenches minus their tops to the rear left and right. The left
workbench will be lit by lights under the cupboards above, the right hand
bench is lit by spotlights attached to the ceiling. The three pendant
lights in the picture are for the kitchen sink and island bench. The Bosky
wood burning cookstove immediately behind the island bench will have its
flue installed shortly.
|The pantry consists of chrome plated steel wire drawers. Right at the bottom we will have a tray to catch the bits and pieces that fall, making it easier to clean. We have seen a similar arrangement where the wire drawers are all attached to a drawfront, so they all pull out at the same time. This made little sense to me -- why haul out 30-40 kg every time you need an item or two.|
|These are the Blum drawer sides awaiting fronts backs and bottoms. It's much easier fitting them before the benchtop is in place. The sides and slides are made from epoxy coated steel and they run on nylon rollers. The drawers pull out for ease of cleaning and when pushed shut, lock in place. Our drawers will have a scoop out of the draw front rather than a handle. The lowest of these drawers will have a higher than normal front and back -- it's Marguerite's file drawer. Note the vertical pieces of pine holding the slides -- these are to ensure the drawers don't foul the cupboard doors. The standard way is to use a double thickness of MDF, but that costs more than pine scantling sliced up and planed smooth.|
|Here we see the Blum cupboard hinges. They are concealed completely by the door and are fully adjustable. A bonus is that a quick pull on the trigger behind the leftmost part enables the door to be removed for finishing, or cleaning. The local hardware store sells a plastic version of this that doesn't enable the door to be removed. The hinges come as a pair for $A15. We paid $3 each for the real thing!|
|This is the bedhead/room divider in the master bedroom. The lower portion will be fitted out with drawers accessible from the other side. The wide portion above will be a bookshelf above the bedhead. The structure will conceal a shelf, below which will be a rail for hanging clothes.|
|Fitting home-made doors is much easier than store-bought. You can install the panels after you have swung and adjusted the door frames!|
|And here are the "bubble and squeak" doors -- so-called because they were made from left-overs. Left-over wall studs and floorboard off-cuts.|
|We made the laundry and bathroom benches from melamine coated chipboard -- quicker and easier than applying a different laminate. These rooms will be enlivened with genuine linoleum rather than vinyl on the floor, so the stark white of melamine isn't an issue.|
|The iron on the bathroom bench is for ironing on the white melamine strip on edges that we cut. The bathtub is out of shot to the left.|
|Tony's cheap substitute for plastic grommets that are sold to yachties -- nylon pressure hose. You'd have to look pretty close to tell the difference, but the cost saving of around 80% was more than welcome. Since the pressure hose runs all the way through, it made feeding the stainless steel cable through much easier!|
|These are the turnbuckles we used to tension the stainless steel cable. Tony economised here too and cut the eye off one end to use for the opposite end of the cables as in the picture below.|
|Here we see the eyes, eyelets and swages used to terminate the cable. The swages are the pieces of soft metal that hold the two strands of cable together. The tool for squeezing them resembles a bolt cutter. My undying gratitude goes to Val for supplying the swages, the eyelets, the use of the swage tool and actually doing 90% of the work attaching the cables!|
Sunday, 9 December 2001
Today I will be setting Thomas to work polishing up the stainless steel balustrade. Yesterday, I purchased a wire brush attachment for cleaning the rough bits around the welds. The bulk of the polishing will be accomplished using 280 grit emery paper with the cheap palm sander.
I will continue attaching the Blum drawer slides, one of those tasks that definitely would be quicker with three hands! A piece of MDF with strips of timber above and below where each slide is to go makes a dandy third hand. The slides have three sets of holes: two of slightly different diameter for different size screws and oval holes for when the slides need to be adjusted after being placed.
Another task today is to commence priming the architraves. During the week, there's far too much dust from Fran's saws flying about! And speaking of dust, that's why we have put our drawers behind cupboard doors. The Bosky wood burning cook stove generates quite a lot of fine dust. A strip of felt around the edges of the cupboard doors will keep most of it out from where it's not wanted.
Monday, 10 December 2001
Fran picked up my bargain basement Chinese "Workmate" clone today. It's a small folding table that clamps the workpiece. Genuine "Workmates" sell for over $A100, but this little number cost only $A30. It's the nature of these cheap Asian imports to bear strange names, and this was no exception -- it's a Pentium! I took the opportunity of finishing cutting the grass before the rain set in again.
What a cold and miserable spring and summer so far! Usually, we would have had several days of temperatures between 25 and 30°C or hotter, but we have managed only a handful of days where the temperature has climbed into the low 20s. Even on relatively cool and overcast days the front deck concentrates the sun's heat and the part of the deck adjacent to the walls is sheltered from the rain, making it a pleasant place to sit. When we finally get proper summer weather, it will be unbearably hot without shade. It occurred to me that adjustable louvres would be better than a shade made of cloth and it appears that these are a commercially available item. However, the budget is unlikely to stretch that far. A friend suggested purchasing a second hand racing yacht sail as they are quite inexpensive. Hmmm! Given the cost of yachtie things, that may well exceed the cost of the louvres.
The afternoon saw me putting most of the draw slides in place. The job went relatively slowly as I made two errors of calculating where the slides were to be placed in the bedroom cabinet! Once I had the template correct, the placement of the slides went quite quickly. The third set of slides are on the opposite side of an 18 mm piece of MDF and the first couple of screws were difficult to drive. Then I realised that I was trying to drive a screw into the screw that had been driven from the other side! Luckily, there are a lot of holes in the slides and I just used a nearby hole instead.
Fran spent most of the day sanding the edges of the cupboard doors he made and swung last week. He also cut plugs from a scrap of MDF to hide screw heads where they were visible. And for the grand finale, started cutting the pieces of wall stud for the benchtops. The first was for the island bench and he took those pieces home to put through the thicknesser.
Tuesday, 11 December 2001
We made a start on the island bench top. Fran had run the timber through the thicknesser so it was all of uniform thickness and smooth on the visible side. Edge planing wasn't required because the pieces were all reasonably straight and we used short pieces either side of where the sink will go, rather than cutting out later. Tony has borrowed two of the longer pipe clamps we would have needed to assemble the whole lot, so we made three sub-assemblies instead. We will join them together later.
To keep the pieces of timber in the same plane, we used the biscuit joiner. This device cuts slots precisely where you want them so you have corresponding slots where the timber butts together. A slim oval of wood (biscuit) is pushed into one set of slots and the other piece of timber pushed on to it so that the biscuits fit into its slots. We used Resorcinol as the adhesive as it's very strong and waterproof. While timber kitchen benches should never be left wet, there's no need to tempt providence.
Next we laid the island bench on its "back", the curved side facing upward. The moment of truth had arrived -- we were going to cut out the cupboard doors. Fran screwed a scrap of wood to the top so that an aluminium straight edge could be clamped on to guide the saw. He used my small Makita power saw as it has a very thin blade and set it to cut almost all the way through. The final cut was made with an antique, brass backed tenon saw. With the two edges free, the large curved piece of MDF Thomas and Fran laminated together three weeks ago was cut in half along the join in the exact centre. We now had the two precisely curved doors for the cabinet. After smoothing the edges of the sawcuts, we manoeuvred the bench to its final location and screwed it down. Not that it's likely to move -- there's the equivalent of nearly eight sheets of 18 mm MDF in the cabinet and a 33 mm timber top going on later!
The shelf that divides the curved front part of the cabinet needed some support as it's over a metre wide. Rather than a vertical support, we put in a timber batten running from side to side. Then Fran cut some wedge shaped pieces to run down the outer edges that will carry the hinges.
Wednesday, 12 December 2001
Fran assembled the benchtops today and finished the cabinet in the master bedroom. I continued painting the architraves, putting plastic sheet on the floor of Thomas's room so that I can work away from the dust created by the power tools in the carport. Thomas used the wire brush attachment on a power drill to clean up Tony's welds on the balustrade. Tony gave me an invoice and the total cost of the balustrade came to somewhat less than $A2,000. Marguerite is restoring an old table we will use in The Great Hall. Dating from the 1920s or 30s, it's made from two types of unidentifiable (by us) pine and looks much nicer as the brown paint comes off. Marguerite is beginning to understand the attraction of power tools now that she has used the belt sander and the palm sander.
And the weather was fine and mild -- almost 21°C.
Saturday, 15 December 2001
When we cut the curved edge of the island bench, we forgot that we had changed the geometry of the original design slightly to avoid purchasing considerably more sheets of the thin MDF we used for the curved side of the bench. The overhang was much less in the middle than the ends. To add insult to injury, the router tore an unsightly chunk out of the edge about a quarter the way along the cut. All was not lost and we recut the edge to create a uniform overhang and we milled a strip of floorboard to make a nice finished edge. Rather than steam the strip to shape, we just put it under tension with straps and clamps so that it almost reaches its final curvature. We will glue and screw it on Monday.
The two shorter benches are awaiting their final sanding and the master bedroom cabinet is complete apart from painting. The MDF we used for that had some surface defects that mitigated against using varnish as we are doing in The Great Hall. The benches are 33 mm thick, somewhat more than an inch and the timber cost around $A100 ($US50). That includes the labour of finishing what was originally framing lumber. Purchasing boards intended for furniture making would cost some four to five times that amount! We didn't even select this timber for the purpose, we used up all but one of the remaining wall studs. The final cost of the benchtops will be $A250-300, considerably less than the $A3,000+ we had hoped to afford for granite!
While I continue painting and varnishing, the next major task is making fronts, backs and bottoms for the drawers -- 40 of them. The fronts will be made from MDF with the top curving downward so that the middle is some 18 mm lower than the sides, echoing the curves of the ceiling and island bench. The bottoms and backs will be made of melamine coated chipboard.
Monday, 17 December 2001
Stan the plumber arrived today and completed most of the plumbing. Only the kitchen sink and toilets left to install, but that won't be until a few days after Christmas. We should be in the house before the New Year.
While I assisted Stan, Fran sanded the doors we made and I commenced varnishing them. Fran and I also glued and screwed the timber edge strip on the island bench. Fran cut a couple of floor boards down and planed them. We will attach these strips on the underside of the gutter at the front of the house. I miss the ribbed look we had before covering the beams with zincalume and the seams between the zincalume sheets are not perfect.
I assembled one of the stainless steel chairs now we have the wood screws I needed. Even though they are the shortest I could get, some of them broke through the other side of the strips of myrtle timber since Tony countersunk the holes in the stainless steel. So now I need washers for the screws. I could presumably purchase thicker myrtle, but the myrtle I have is more than strong enough and having been air-dried for nearly twenty years it's very stable. Another alternative would be to laminate the myrtle to double its thickness, but the thinner strips look very elegant. Thicker strips would look OK, but not as good. It occurs to me I could glue a packing piece of myrtle where the screw penetrates, retaining the look of the thin strips, but that will take time I do not have.
Wednesday, 19 December 2001
I suppose I should be getting used to it by now. The Unique Floors people phoned to say they couldn't install the linoleum today -- the glue was past its use-by date and using it would invalidate the manufacturer's warranty. Complete fuckheads! I should have known they were going to be even less reliable than other tradesmen when the salesman slagged off Richard Fergusson who did our floor sanding and varnishing. He said Richard was too unreliable. Funnily enough, even though Richard inserted a two week delay in the schedule, he was in fact more reliable than any of the other tradies I've hired. He was lax about turning up to put on the last coat of varnish, but every other occasion he said he would be there, he was.
I was warned by other owner-builders right from the start -- watch out for the tradies. I am reminded of The Bastard Salesman from Hell haranguing Fran and myself because we weren't qualified tradesmen and if everybody in the construction industry was required to be a certified tradesman, he'd be back into building like a shot. My experience over the last year is that tradesmen are the most incredibly unreliable people I have ever come across! The unqualified, uncertified, workers have been 100% reliable, or if they couldn't come due to illness, they phoned. I was in fact surprised that Unique Floors bothered to phone today. It's certainly the exception rather than the rule. They want to come the same day I arranged for the plumber to install the toilets. Chances are he won't come until a week or so after that. On the other hand, if he does, I get to pay him to wait around while these fuckheads do their stuff. If I phone the plumber to ask him to delay a day, likely he will take that as a message he can delay for a week or three!
Not to put too fine a point on this, we would have been in the house weeks ago if it weren't for tradesmen. The plumber and electrician we are required by law to hire did nothing we could not have done ourselves. We might have done it a little slower, but it would have cost less and we would be in the house NOW!
Saturday, 22 December 2001
I took the day off yesterday. While I was quietly seething about my problems with tradesmen at my favourite watering hole, The Victoria Tavern, I realised that being among friends is a great antidote to anger. James suggested we take the "past its use-by date" glue and stick all the tradesmen's faces to a power pole in the street. My idea was to start a special service for people hiring tradesmen. In return for a small fee, you contact the tradie and let him know that if he doesn't turn up at the appointed time and place, he gets a thrashing with a pick-axe handle where it really hurts!
Then the unexpected happened. Ross Wilson from Certainteed phoned to thank me for my business. Some suppliers of goods and services know where their income originates. Yer blood's worth bottlin' Ross.
Monday, 24 December 2001
I started the day by making a template for drilling the holes in all but two of the cupboard doors for taking the handles. Another coat of varnish on the doors in the kitchen area of The Great Hall is needed before I put the handles on. The island bench looks superb now it's varnished, except for the curved front. Wherever the white glue dribbled, the MDF doesn't take the varnish even though we wiped the dribbles immediately they occurred! The options are to paint, apply laminate or cover the front with fabric. The latter option occurred to me because the Great Hall is so reverberant, being mostly hard surfaces. Even when there are rugs on the floor and soft furniture installed, I suspect it will be too reverberant for one of my favourite occupations -- listening to high fidelity music. The windows do not need drapes for insulation, but I suspect will be required to curtail some of the echoes.
Apart from taking some time off tomorrow for the obligatory Christmas celebrations, the next week will find me incessantly painting and varnishing. Fran is taking a week off, and when he returns, we will be installing the architraves and skirting boards, making the drawers and installing the flue on the stove. Finally, we will build a large bookcase for The Lesser Hall and an entertainment unit for the corner of The Great Hall. It seems like that should only take a couple of weeks maximum, but then I have seriously underestimated the time it takes to do these things before.
Wednesday, 26 December 2001
Marguerite had a brainwave when we were discussing the reverberation issue in The Great Hall and covering the front of the island bench with fabric. The carrier who delivered the washing machine left the shoddy blanket it was wrapped in and I draped it over the bench to judge the effect of a simple cover. It had a small but noticeable effect on the reverberation.
The space above the kitchen cupboards was to be filled in with plasterboard to the ceiling, rather than allowing dust to accumulate atop the cupboards. The space would be wasted, but making cupboards that far from the floor when we have so many already made little sense to me. Marguerite's brainwave was to make that an acoustic absorber instead of using plasterboard. I grabbed a back of insulation batts and filled the space with them. The effect was quite dramatic, though still insufficient for listening to music. With the island bench treated, our soft chairs and a couple of rugs on the floor, we should come close. We will of course need to hide the batts behind a screen of open-weave, but optically opaque fabric.
For the island bench, I'm thinking of cutting away most of the two side panels and central doors so I can fill the cut-outs with something acoustically absorbent, such as open cell foam. This has decorative possibilities!
After a day off, I spent most of the day once more breathing the volatile organic compounds given off by alkyd enamel paint and polyurethane varnish. I sure will be glad when this stage is over.
Thursday, 27 December 2001
Today the linoleum is supposed to be laid, the phones changed over and the plumbing finished. Of course not one tradesman arrives. I shared my chagrin on a listserv I frequent and received the following email:
I've worked as a brick laborer since I was seven years old and have seen a lot of buildings go up in my time. I've worked on everything from fireplaces to homes to garages to milk barns (after the 2nd day of lifting 70 lb. concrete blocks over my head...I hurt REAL bad). Not once in my 30 some odd years of being associated with the home building industry, have I seen a more thoughtful, well-conceived, beautiful home. This, coming from a purist brick layer. Everytime I look at your home, I see a butterfly with it's wings out-stretched. It seems so light and vibrant. Built to carry you through the sky. Very few buildings evoke that kind of emotion in me. Until now it had to have a few years (at least a hundred or so) to do so.
You're extremely lucky to have such a project given to you. Chin up!
Very humbling. I forwarded the email to the architect who deserves all the credit for the design. Readers who haven't read the early stages of this project may be curious as to why I don't mention him by name. That's because despite his close attention to our needs in nearly every respect, he neglected one of the most important. The budget for our dream home was $A160,000 max. The architect designed us a $A300,000 plus home that would have remained just a dream had it not been for my becoming an owner-builder and making mainly engineering changes. When the project is complete, I will present him with a CD of this website and hopefully he will learn something about his relationship with his clients.
I phoned the electrician to have him do the final wiring: the island bench, bed head in the master bedroom and connecting the hot water cylinder. All none-urgent stuff. He needs the 9 ft stepladder he lent us many months ago, so he's coming on Thursday. That means Fran and I must do the final thing we need that ladder for: installing the flue on the cook stove.
Saturday, 29 December 2001
Yes, Telstra were at it again. This time they were getting ready to transfer the phone services from the cottage to the house. Marguerite had refused to change the date of transfer a second time, so the rush is now going to be on to bring the house to Occupancy Certificate if not Completion Certificate stage.
The first fly in the ointment was that the Tech refused to countenance an aerial connection from the Telstra pole direct to ours. It was against regulations! When I pointed out that approval had already been given by Telstra he said that it hadn't been documented, so I would need to speak to his boss. The boss fellow, when he finally arrived, basically reiterated what the first chap had said. They would put a pole on our side of the road and we would have to dig a trench from that pole to our pole. Unfortunately, that not only runs through Marguerite's long established flower garden, regulations prevent us from using an excavator because it would need to stand on the septic and sullage trenches. Was he suggesting we dig the ditch by hand? I put strong emphasis on the fact that I wasn't blaming them for the débacle, nor was I in the least interested in abusing them. All I wanted was a solution and that all of this was just grist for the mill for the amusement of you, my dear readers.
I pointed out that we had put in our pole in November 2000, 13 months ago, and this was the first we had heard that we wouldn't be allowed to do what we had been repeatedly assured we could do. The electrician had flagged this as a potential problem so we had taken steps to ascertain the feasibility of using aerial, rather then a second trench. Expecting us to wait for several weeks for a new pole and dig a trench because of the shortcomings of others in Telstra was a little over the top. The boss fellow went to the van while he explained that there had to be a certain clearance between the electricity supply cable and the Telstra cable below, and a certain clearance between that cable and the ground. From the van he grabbed a piece of PVC conduit and went along under the electrical cable with it and lo! we squeaked in under the old regulation when aerial cables were still allowed. "We'll give you what you want," he said.
I pointed out that there was still another fly in the ointment. The Tech had said that our pole didn't have the appropriate seal of approval attached. He smiled, slapped the pole and said: "It's sealed!" So, with some bad grace from the Tech, the aerial connection was put in and in the mid-afternoon he came indoors to finish the job. I asked him to remove his boots when walking on our varnished floorboards. He refused, because of course it's against regulations, so I pointed out that walking those boards was against my regulations because cleated boots carry stones that scratch. I pointed to two such scratches that had been caused by someone ignoring my regulation. While he refused to remove his boots, he very carefully inspected the soles of his boots each time he entered the house.
While all this was happening, the linoleum layer, Carl, had arrived and he pointed out that the vinyl, feather-edge skirting he was expected to install would look really ratshit unless we finished the plaster it would be covering. Timber skirting is rigid, but this stuff shows every blemish of what's underneath. It seems that the Unique Floors salesman, Les, should have pointed this out to me when he came to measure and quote. Perhaps he was too busy bagging Richard the floor finisher we used to do the floorboards. Carl said that the delay due to the adhesive having been past its use-by date was down to him. He had been urged to use it, but refused to accept responsibility if anything went wrong as a result. He said that if the job's worth doing, it's worth doing well. A sentiment with which I heartily concur.
Carl's nailer for nailing down the masonite underlay broke, so he couldn't have finished the job anyway. It uses unusual long staples. I offered him the use of some ring-shank underlay nails I had left over from renovating the cottage years ago. He said that they weren't as effective as the staples and he had to return Monday to finish, so he'd put the last few staples in then. Luckily, Stan the plumber failed to arrive to install the toilets, so we likely won't see him before Monday when the linoleum finally gets laid.
Much of today will be occupied moving some desks, computers, printer, scanner, chairs etc, so Thomas and I can set up camp temporarily in his room in The House of Steel. Presumably, if you are reading this, we have succeeded. As I write this, we are both suffering from Internet connection withdrawal symptoms. Luckily, we have some interesting videos to watch. Despite two of my favourite actors being in The Shining, I am too tired to watch past the halfway point.
Sunday, 30 December 2001
Yesterday was quite tiring. Shifting the computer equipment meant making room at the house first. Then cleaning Thomas's room. My desk had been doing duty as a bench in the carport, protected by sheets of construction ply off-cuts, so that needed clearing also. It took about three and a half hours all up between the three of us. She Who Must Be Obeyed claims it took less than two as She was eating breakfast while Thomas and I did the tidy up at the house. Anything She doesn't see happening takes no time at all! The computer Gods were smiling, or the Critical Need Detector in them was broken because everything worked when we powered up. That's three computers, two scanners, a laser printer, modem, hub, digitiser...
Then it was on to plastering the bottom of the walls in the laundry and bathroom so the feather-edge vinyl skirting sits flat. I used top-coat (pre-mixed) for this and as the day was warm, it went off quite quickly. I managed to get away with two loads on the hawk and only a very small amount wasted at the end.
In the afternoon, I finished varnishing the cupboard doors, so first thing this morning saw me putting the cupboard door handles on. Late morning saw the arrival of a colleague in the computer industry with his Krone tool and he attached the sockets on the Cat5e computer cable. We hadn't seen each other in quite a while and a long lunch-break ensued.
Monday, 31 December 2001
I was at the house 5:30 am this morning. The sky was clear and the day gave all the appearances of being a warm one, but of course this was all just an illusion and the clouds and occasional showers returned. The linoleum layer, Carl, returned nice and early with Paul to finish the laundry, toilet and bathroom. Only one minor error, the join needed in the bathroom is just inside the doorway instead of behind the toilet in the far corner. But the linoleum floor covering is beautiful; it has a subdued sheen rather than the extreme gloss of vinyl. It's also extremely comfortable underfoot. The brochure explained that the yellowish tinge when it's freshly laid goes away under the influence of light. This is apparent within hours of it being laid.
As usual when Fran is really enjoying himself, he chortles as he works. On this occasion it's because he is enjoying the elegant simplicity of the Blum drawer system. To speed up production, he needs a pipe clamp, but they are all at home. He pulls a slip clamp apart and attaches the two parts to a stick. This holds the drawer together while he puts in the screws. This is not the first time that Fran has extended the use of a repaired tool to a new function. When The House of Steel is complete, this journal will continue with descriptions of Fran's arsenal of ideas and improvisations.
The drawers look and work really well. I set one rail a little forward, but that can be fixed later. I get busy painting the first topcoat on the last of the architraves. After that I set to polishing up some of the stainless steel balustrade. Also, I leave a message on Stan the plumber's answering service.