Welcome to my blog, where a 30-something couple from the UK renovate and extend an old cottage, build some outbuildings, raise some hens and grow firewood trees and vegetables on our Acre in Hampshire. It's a bit like a smallholding but without too many animals, so we call it a homestead - living within our means, relying on ourselves and having a wonderful life!


Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The Wildmoor Wedding

The day was finally here - our wedding day!

We wanted to have a real 'friends and family' feel to the event - and in the days preceding the Big Day we were snowed under with helpers, advisers, visitors, supper and overnight guests. We had SUCH fun and it was exactly the leadup to the day we were hoping for.

A typical helper's supper the night before;

The decorations were wonderful, and the barn looked amazing;

My mother Karen was responsible for all the flowers - these huge hanging balls in the barn were spectacular.

And then the deed was done - it went so quickly! Monty was even allowed to take part - he and I wore matching bow ties...

Our wedding car was a wonderful Series 1 Land Rover, which had been kept a complete surprise from both Kristy and I. It was the most fitting vehicle possible, and really made the day.

We had a load of wonderful photos taken - this is our favorite;

Before it was back to our home for the most amazing garden party / wedding reception EVER!

...and what would be a more fitting start to married life than a cup of tea with my wonderful Grandmother!

The Barn was full to bursting with friends and family for our wedding supper;

What they say is quite true - it goes in the blink of an eye! All our wonderful friends and family, loads of amazing things to see and do, wonderful wedding presents, a hog roast - but before we knew, it was 2am and the last of our guests were leaving.

Easily the best day of my life!

Sunday, 6 September 2015

The Barn - Cladding and Glazing

I don't seem to have many pics of this stage for some reason...

Here was a bit of test-fitting of the oak cladding - I attached a softwood frame to the oak beams, and then screwed the cladding to these softwood studs. Stainless screws throughout to prevent corrosion.

Fast forward a bit...

Progress was slower than a commercial job - every piece of cladding had to be cut with my ropey old mitre saw, before the screw holes were marked (all the same height thanks to my OCD) and pre-drilled and countersunk. Screws had to be greased to ease them into the holes - the stainless screws are quite soft so the heads would round off without much provocation.

I didn't quite order enough cladding - about 5 metres short - so I decided to leave the other eave uncovered.

The glazers also came to pop the glass in the end. I was very glad they measured and fitted the glass - the job was perfect, and we were finally ready for a wedding!

Simon's Stag Do

While the dwarf walls were being built, I decided to pop off for a weekend away.

I'd briefed my Best Man (my chum JB) with very specific parameters - no strip clubs, no big groups of blokes, no awful drunkenness, no being-tied-naked-to-lampposts; in fact, nothing associated with a normal Stag Do.

We settled on a simple formula - five chaps, in three pokey sports cars, some great roads, a bit of industrial heritage and a nice evening in a good pub. Simple!

We headed off to Devon early on Saturday morning and spend the day blatting around the place. There were originally four of us - Self, JB (best man), and my friends Neil and Tom. Jimmer was a last minute addition - I'd met him a few times but he got wind of our trip and had just bought a fast car, so he tagged along.

Above; Author, Neil, Tom, JB and Jimmer

The cars - my 2 litre Mazda MX5, Jimmer's Mercedes C63 AMG and JB's Porsche Cayman. About 800 BHP in total!

A good bit of blatting was involved surrounded by glorious scenery and great company.

Some industrial heritage - this was a proving mortar at an old gunpowder factory. A measured amount of powder would fire a calibrated ball, and thus the strength of the powder could be adjusted to the required potency.

And a wonderful pub for great beer, lovely grub and a comfy bed. Result!

Garden Room - Dwarf Walls

With something like a fortnight to go before our Wedding (and DIY in-the-garden-and-Barn reception) we contracted the building of the dwarf walls that we'd need for the building of our side extension Garden Room.

Yes, it was a bit last minute - but the nature of the foundations meant that there was a foot-deep hole running around the perimeter of the foundation. We'd already lost one small child's leg down the hole, and didn't want a repeat performance at the wedding.

We really landed on our feet with Nathan, our brickie. He had visited before to lay the blocks for the barn, and turned out to be a real craftsman. He planned to finish the job over a two-day weekend - and visited on the friday evening to prepare and move materials into place. We used hand-thrown (or whatever verb they use...) bricks which match the house really well.

This first pic was first thing in the morning - they had to cut in the bricks to match the pattern in the house.

The outside skin went up really quickly - and the finish they have achieved is wonderful. There is not a speck of mortar on the brickwork, and the pointing is to a really high standard. 

The job was finished by lunchtime on Sunday - with both skins tied together, insulated and a tidy site. Great work fellas - we'll use you again!

And a quick reminder about what we hope to achieve with the Garden Room - an oak framed orangery (far too upmarket a word for our house, but that's the proper name - a conservatory with a solid roof!) with bi-fold doors and windows all the way round. We plan to use it as a large family dining room with a small sitting-room bit at one end.

Laying the Terrace

In the middle of all this barn-building chaos, we decided that having a large terrace would be really nice for our wedding. We were hoping for fine weather, and would have 100-plus people milling about in the garden all evening - we needed something good underfoot!

We priced up the job and calculated the need for 55 square metres of terracing. This would give us a big area outside the back door for a table and chairs, a path to the barn, a smaller area outside the barn for another small table, a paved area by the log store on the barn plus a long sinuous path between the parking spaces and the front door. The paving we chose would cost about £2,000 - but the labour for installation was over £4,000. Yikes!

As ever, we decided to DIY. This saved a lot of money, but it was really hard work.

Our tame groundworker Dickie came in and finished all the excavation and laying of membrane and hardcore in a single day - this also marked the last of our hateful concrete paths. Hooray!

In hindsight, the level of the hardcore was a bit low - this necessitated a thick layer of lean mix (dry sand and cement) which was more work for us.

This was the approximate area that we had to fill - plus a bit more in front of the barn that is out of shot. The path can be seen on the right.

The job progressed quite well - the terrace had to slope away from the house to drain water, and the house wasn't very square which meant that compensation had to be factored into the laying of the stone flags. It looked marvellous very quickly!

The job was quite hard work - even though the flags were of a calibrated thickness it was difficult to got the levels to a satisfactory standard - and then they had to have the correct drainage slope and sit flat on the sand bed without rocking!

Sadly we were running out of time towards the end - we left the path and bought a tonne of gravel instead. A bit of turf to tidy up, and the garden as ready for the wedding!

Barn Roof

This was an interesting part of the build - the rafters and battens were pretty fun and rewarding, whereas the shingles were easily the worst part of the whole barn.

I started by building a ridge for the tops of the rafters to sit on. This is a slightly unconventional technique - normally a ridge beam is held up by 'cripples' which support the rafters while they are built; the cripples are then removed, and the rafters support the ridge beam without any assistance.

I decided to do things slightly differently - having a permanent and supported ridge beam seemed like a better structural solution to my (untrained) eye, it would allow the incorporation of oak braces in the roof which would provide some lateral stability, and the braces would look pretty from inside as well!

This was the first section of ridge beam and braces in place. The ridge itself is structurally graded softwood - this provided Roy, our Structural Engineer, with a known quantity for his calculations. Oak is less homogeneous than graded softwood, and therefore easier to calculate (even though it's probably weaker!) The uprights and braces are oak, as they will be visible from inside.

The rest of the ridge raced up, and then it was time for the rafters. The longer lengths had three birdsmouths - at the ridge, the main wallplate and the catslide wallplate. I read a lot of theory about calculating rafter cuts, but I wasn't confident in my abilities to get the cuts accurate.

Sadly I didn't photograph my solution, as I'm quite pleased with it's simplicity and effectiveness! In short, I cut a spare rafter into a template, leaving 2/3 of the original depth for a foot either side of the birdsmouth. I then cut a scrap piece of plywood with a 90 degree notch. I placed the template rafter in position at 600mm centres, and then screwed the plywood onto the rafter template, ensuring it was tight to the wallplate. The template rafter was then removed, and I could trace the position of the bridsmouth onto the real rafter before making the cut.

The result was really good - surprisingly so. All the birdsmouth cuts are tight and accurate - a really pleasing outcome which was very satisfying.

Batten was next - this raced up with help from my father Martyn. All were screwed in place - I have a complete aversion to nails...

The cedar shingles arrived soon afterwards - the best part of a tonne I'd imagine, as the tractor couldn't lift the pallets until they were about 1/3 unloaded. We used the second-best grade of shingles - Number 2 Red Label shingles. We had about 5,500 delivered.

Each needed two fixings per shingle, in stainless steel to prevent corrosion (cedar has a high tannin content, which is corrosive to ferrous metals). I decided to use 28mm stainless staples, fired from a pneumatic staple gun, which saved a huge amount of time over nailing. I could reach the first eight or ten rows from my Youngman boards and ladders, before it was time to hire some more kit.

The job itself was fairly hateful, due mostly to the weather. We had gusty wind for most of the week that I was doing the roof, and loads of the shingles blew off the platform I rigged on the cherry picker. It rained a fair amount as well, making the roof slippery to work on and caused the cherry picker to start sinking into the soft grass.

A regular motto of mine is 'Time Spent Making a Jig is Rarely Wasted'. This is the shingle fixing jig I made - the top hooks onto a row of batten, allowing shingles to be hung on the lower edge - all in a straight line and at the correct height. There are also two string lines across the jig which show where the staples will penetrate the shingle and hit the batten below.

I finished the shingles after a 14 hour shift, trying to meet the hire deadline. We had the inevitable 'topping out' ceremony with a bottle of beer to celebrate the end of a physically demanding part of the build.

The shingles do look fabulous - they really change colour as they weather - they are quite a light grey now, but shift to a really deep orange and red when they are wet. You can also see the two Velux windows and chimney flashing in this picture.

Are you still Blogging...?

I've been asked this question a few times recently. Five months with no updates? What is going on?

In my defense, I have had a wedding reception venue to finish, a wedding to host and three mini-honeymoons to plan and attend, a 55 square metre terrace to lay, as well as a new car to buy and a change of posting and job role to cope with. Pretty thin list of excuses I know, but there we are.

Here follows a quick fire catch-up of everything we've been up to. I'll keep everything in separate posts for ease of searching.