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!


Saturday, 20 December 2014

Oak Framing - Soleplates

Since the last update a fortnight ago, I have made more sawdust than in the rest of my life put together. Quite literally wheelie-bins full of the stuff.

Remember that big pile of oak that was due to be soleplates?

Mostly done!

The weather has been really good for December - I've only lost a day or two this month to rain. The original plan was to spend most of the winter in the workshop and emerge in the spring to do all this work, but the looming deadline of our late June wedding has encouraged me to press on.

The oak is a wonderful material to work with - I'm learning loads and have only made one small 25mm error which I should be able to rectify (or hide). I realise now how much I learned on the Oak Framing Course I attended in the late spring - there is no way I would have attempted this project otherwise...

There are some fairly complex joints (for an amateur anyway!) like this corner tie joint.

There will be an upright post sitting in a mortice on top of this joint, with an oak peg holding the whole lot together.

I bought a huge handheld planer, which cleans the saw marks perfectly and skims away any slight stains which the oak has picked up. It really shows the beauty of the wood as well.

I've done five complete bridle scarf joints as well - these took a lot of head scratching and double checking before I found the courage to cut the first one. Now I have some live models I can rattle them out in about an hour. I think I'm being a bit fussy about the finish and standard of the joints - but it is really satisfying when they close up tightly.

This is yet to be planed - which will clear up all the marks, stains and pencil lines, as well as improving the fit of the joint. These will also be draw pegged together. 

There is a big pile of braces which have been marked out with shoulders cut - but I'm saving these for when the winter weather inevitably arrives.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Oak Framing - The First Day

A really significant day this week - the first delivery of green oak* arrived from Venables Brothers, a sawmill in Shropshire.

A sight recap for new readers - we are building an oak framed barn of about 80 square meters in our garden, in which we are planning to host our wedding reception this coming June. After the wedding, it will be converted into a double garage, workshop and garden room. I'm building the whole thing - how many people get to build their own wedding reception venue?

I deliberately scheduled the delivery to arrive when I was at home - but Sod's Law kicked in and the wagon arrived before I was home. Kristy did a great job helping the driver offload everything...

That little pile doesn't look like much, but it this stuff is HEAVY. Green oak weighs approximately 1 ton per cubic metre, so even the very shortest lengths in this picture are about 35kg each. In all, I ordered 1.3 tonnes of oak, but the sawmill will oversupply if there is any doubt about the structural qualities of the timber - meaning we have more like two tonnes of oak here... For the next delivery I'll be hiring a fork lift truck - that order will contain five lengths that will weigh 300kg each!

A quick check of the order, and it was stacked in piles dependant on use - I have ordered enough to do all the soleplates (the oak that sits on the small brick walls at the building's perimeter), all the curved windbraces (or knees if you are a boatbuilder - to stop the structure racking under wind load) and the log store that will be closest to the house. They are stacked with air gaps all around to prevent fungal growth as the oak is stored.

These are the braces - cutting and shaping these will probably be the most labour-intensive part of the build...

These are all the soleplates - when I have cut the end joints and mortices ready to accept uprights, they will be fixed to the brick dwarf wall with stainless steel studs epoxyed into the concrete slab, with a damp proof membrane under them.

I also finished my sawhorses this week - I need to buy a bit more timber to make a fourth small horse, and I have two much taller horses which are the same height as my Superjaws clamping sawhorse.

The next post will contain some really exciting things - mostly sawing, mortising, cutting joints and making sawdust!

*not green in colour, but green as in unseasoned. The oak is sawn to size soon after the tree is cut, which has three effects - it is cheaper to buy than dried oak, it is MUCH easier to work, and it is still full of water and therefore HEAVY!

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Make some Sloe Gin today!

Sloe Gin is a wonderful drink...

Sloe Gin is simply lovely. I was first introduced to it in the back of a gun bus while shooting one season with my father, and I've been hooked ever since. There is no other 'warmer' that comes close - I often have a nip or two at six o'clock - and it's even more marvellous (and warming) when it's hot.

It is simple stuff - mix some good gin with some Sloes and leave it in the cupboard for as long as you can bear. Sure, you can buy a bottle of commercial Sloe Gin from the supermarket, but making your own is great fun - and it makes a super present.

Firstly, a health warning - I am no expert, having only made three or four batches. I have found good and comprehensive instructions courtesy of The SipSmith here...

Here follows instructions for how I make Sloe Gin...

1. Collect some Sloes.

Sloes are the fruit of the Blackthorn (or Sloe) bush, Prunus Spinosa. Read all about them c/o Wikipedia here... To save your tired fingers an extra click, here's a stock picture of the fruit that you are after;

Sloes really can’t be mistaken for anything else, which is good for a foraging amateur (into which camp I firmly fall…) You'll find these bushes in most countryside hedges - be sure to check both sides in case one side has been picked bare. You can't walk a mile round here without seeing sloes.

This may sound like a cop-out, but pick as many as you need. I’m filling a demijohn (1 gallon or so) so picked enough sloes to half fill the demijohn. If you are starting with a 75cl bottle, you’ll need fewer sloes.

Interesting demijohn trivia - the Romanian for Demijohn is…..wait for it…..Demijohn! What else would it be?

2. Rinse your Sloes

Here is our haul...

...wack them in the sink and agitate them a bit - spiders and bits of husk will float away...

...then pop them in a colander and rinse under the tap, before you let them drip dry for a bit.

3. Get their juices flowing!

Three schools of thought exist here; 1) wait for the first frost 2) forget the first frost and cheat by freezing them 3) prick each sloe with a needle to burst them. Let's discount No.3 as we're all busy people with lives to lead. Maybe when we retire I'll enjoy the industry of a tedious and repetitive job, but not now. We'd had a bit of frost recently but froze them just in case.

The purpose of the exercise is to burst the cell walls so then the sloe juice can mix with the gin, maximising the taste.

Pop them into a freezer bag...

...and then next morning, retrieve.

4. Bottling your Sloes

This bit can be tricky if you've chosen a vessel with a small neck. A large Kilner-type jar would be easiest. Here is my glamorous assistant (who conveniently is my fiancee) pouring the sloes from a jug, down the side of the demijohn and onto the kitchen floor. Latterly (when I took over) some found their way inside.

5. Pour in your Gin

The temptation is to buy cheap gin, hoping the taste of the sloes will mask any hint of kerosene you may detect in Asda Soak's Gin. Quite a false economy - the good stuff is often reduced, and your taste buds (and friends) will thank you. This Gordons was three pence per litre cheaper than the screenwash-grade stuff in Tesco. 

6. Ongoing Actions Pertaining to the Development of Sloe Gin

That is the back of the job broken. All that remains is to slosh the bottle about whenever you remember it - once a day is plenty. After six months (or a year - it doesn't really matter...) you need to drain the now-maroon gin into another container, and add a strong sugar syrup mixture (just sugar dissolved in warm water) to taste. Some prefer it sweeter than others, which is why a prescribed amount of sugar is somewhat meaningless. Then re-bottle, label with something pretty-looking (and the date!!!) and stick the bottles in the drinks cabinet / larder / cupboard under the sink as appropriate. The longer you leave it from here, the better it'll taste!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Autumn Consolidation

Life seems to race by sometimes - and the last month has been one of those periods where it flashes past in a blur. We've been working lots, spent some great times with my sister and hopefully-future-brother-in-law in Suffolk and even managed to squeeze in some work at home. What I haven't had much time to do is write the Blog.

As this site develops, I am learning that it's maintenance is a real commitment. However, any inconvenience and time spent is greatly rewarded when I read some of my old posts; to see the changes we have made to this wonderful old place is a great boost for morale - often, we can't believe how much has been achieved since last summer. What started out as a diary for friends and family is really taking off - the site has had nearly 5,000 page views in the last year - and I can't wait to see how many people take the time to read the Blog in the next year.

Anyway, enough musing and introspection - show some damn pictures, wouldya?

Fencing - DONE! The garden is finally dog-proof, which means Monty can be turfed out into the main garden and run about - something he hasn't been able to do since early summer when the groundworks started. The slight caveat is that the hens also have free reign - until we remember to clip their wings, they can fly straight out of their enclosure, and Monty loves nothing more than chasing hens.

This is the fence that separates the drive from the front garden - soon, a path will run from the gate to the front door. The 'bare' stock fence in the foreground is a temporary measure to secure the garden until the Barn is built next spring.

The post and rail at the side of the garden is also finished. We actually own the track on the left, but our neighbours have right of access over it. You'll see that I've put a gate in next to the Barn slab - this will allow me to get the tractor out of the garden without having to drive through our neighbour's farmyard.

Work has been going on inside the house as well - the carpet has been fitted to the sitting room, and we have 'moved in' for the first time in well over a year. This room was our store room while we renovated the rest of the house, and was rammed to the ceiling for most of the last year. To have use of another room is a revelation - it's almost like having an extension built, so used had we got to living in the kitchen. The Clearview in this room is marvellous - it was brand new when we installed it, and it is so fabulously efficient and air-tight that it heats the room beautifully.

Do check back in a few days - I am going to try a few 'tutorials' to show some fun aspects of our life. Topics I have planned for the next week include home-made bread making, Sloe Gin (nothing like it when warming up after a day outside!) and building a Holz Hausen - you'll have to wait for an explanation of that last one!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

More fencing - almost all done!

A hard day today.

I was determined to get the cleft fencing finished this morning - as you can see from the picture, quite a lot of the rails needed cutting down to size (nine of the twelve rails were shortened...). To get the taper on the end meant using the bandsaw to rough out the cuts - and the bandsaw is buried behind the bikes and the tractor mower, and I didn't want to leave everything out in the (forecasted) rain if I could avoid it.

Typically, just as I was finishing the cleft fence a delivery of MORE fencing supplies arrived - these were the square posts and rails to fence around the curve of the track which leads to our neighbour's farm. The rain was threatening - I thought 'Oh, I'll just knock a few posts in before the weather breaks'. Posts finished and no rain - 'Better stick a few rails up to give an idea of the finished fence' - and still no rain! Still, great to have the job mostly done - even if it means racing through at quite a pace. My back is certainly feeling it now - I'm self medicating with Sloe Gin...

This is the cleft fence which I started yesterday. The posts are a bit 'rustic' and not quite straight, but the mortise and tenon joints are incredibly strong and don't allow the posts to sit quite straight. As the sweet chestnut rails dry out they will shrink slightly, allowing the posts to be pulled upright.

A view of the curved post and rail around the corner of the track. It definitely gives a great feeling of ownership and enclosure - even though the track is within our boundary, it felt quite 'public' without the fence. The bottom rail will be added as soon as I've strung the stock fencing.

Tomorrow's jobs are stock fencing on the square post and rail, hanging the two gates and adding the second rail - and that'll be the job finished!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Building a fence in day-long drizzle

A fairly typical Autumn day I suppose - it was drizzling ALL DAY today. The worst thing was that it was just light enough to make you think that a jacket was unnecessary, but just heavy enough to soak you to the skin! It was also warm - so a waterproof would just cook you from the inside out.

Enough metrological moaning - let's build something!

Today's job was to start fencing between what will be the corner of the log store on the east wall of the Barn, and the end of the hedge which separates our garden from the paddock. This will be the main divide between the house and the car parking area, so we need a gate as well.

The result of the day's work isn't very impressive - but there is lots you can't see! I cut mortises in six fence posts using the chain mortiser, and tapered these three rails (they are twice as long when delivered) on the bandsaw, before they were finished with my drawknife - which gives a much nicer surface.

The patch of gravel is just temporary mud-management - it's where I'll hang the gate tomorrow. The left hand post will eventually butt up to the oak post at the very corner of the Barn.

Must dash - we are making home-made pizza tonight using the newly-delivered bread machine!

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Steam Trains, Fence Posts and Hens

Another catching-up-on-the-last-fortnight post I'm afraid; I really must try harder to Blog a bit more frequently.

My neighbour Graham and I like beer. We really like beer. Actual beer. Ale. Real Ale.

Two of our great beer-related discoveries in the last few months have been the Village Beer Festival and the Real Ale Train. We both volunteered to work at the Beer Festival, which gives unlimited access to 'refreshment' from the barrels as one is pouring pints for the visitors. Tremendous!

The Real Ale Train is a marvellous thing indeed, combining three of my interests - beer, trains and Victorian engineering! It runs along the Watercress Line between Alton and Arlesford in Hampshire, which gets it's name from a previous function of the line - to transport produce from the watercress beds of the upper Test Valley towards London. The idea is simple - buy a ticket, ride the steam train and drink cheap beer. Splendid!

Tickets are so popular that we had to wait some months for a space - being quite late in the year meant it was dark for much of our journey. Still, we arrived early enough to have a good look at the engine.

Anyway, let's have some beer! Here is Graham in the bar carriage. Everything is preserved beautifully - even the stations are done very well, with period signs, adverts and equipment. 

Arriving in Arlesford, we had a good opportunity to see the engine shunting as it reversed on the line. Despite the darkness, and thanks to my amazing new Fuji X100S, I managed to pull off a couple of lovely shots of the Fireman lit by the firebox.

A great evening out - we are already planning a return journey, but this time in high summer so that we can enjoy the view as we travel.

Anyway, enough beer - back to work!

I ordered a load of fencing in order to provide a perimeter for our terrier Monty. We had stripped the old fence out when the ground workers came, and the garden has been insecure for a few months now. Dear old Monty has a bit of a habit of running away - so a fence is a real necessity. To make the job a bit easier (we had about 40 holes to dig, what with the fence and some trees we had bought) we hired a big hydraulic auger. It turned out that this was fine when the soil was good - but ALL the fence post holes were on very stony ground. It was very hard work, even with the auger. Eventually, we discovered that digging as far as possible with the machine, followed by a bucket of water in the hole, would soften the earth enough to allow the larger stones to be dug out with the auger and a digging bar to shift the bigger lumps.

My parents were kind enough to visit for the day to help - here is my Father having a go with the auger, digging a hole for a tree up by our top shed.

By the end of the weekend we had dug all the post holes for about 40 metres of post and rail fencing and planted 15 trees and large shrubs. This is a view of the longest run of post and rail, which will be behind the Barn when it is built. The gate means I'll be able to get the tractor out to mow the front paddock without driving through our neighbour's farmyard.

Finally, I woke this afternoon after a night shift to find that Kristy had bought more hens! We are due to return Mummy (actually called Indigo, as it turns out...) to her rightful owner, which would have left Isla (possibly a Barnevelder, who we raised from an egg) on her own. Two new Black Star hens have now moved in - one is to be named Florence, but we are stuck for a third name.  We now have a flock of three - a perfect number for us!

Here are the Egg Squad - Isla is on the left, and the two new girls are on the right.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Our Lives Ruled by Carpets

Firstly, an apology - it's been awfully quiet on AnAcreInHampshire for the last few weeks. This is in complete contrast to what life has been like here - we have been crazy busy!

Our efforts have been almost exclusively spent achieving one goal - CARPETS. We have been living in fairly basic style for the last year-and-a-bit, with the vast majority of our furniture, books and precious things packed away in our sitting room. Upstairs we had a bed, a set of drawers and LOADS OF TOOLS - I even had the luxury of an indoor workshop for most of the last year. Having finished the majority of the indoor building work, the time had come to move the tools out and the furniture in.

Knowing that we both work well to a deadline, we bought some carpet online and booked a carpet fitter, leaving about three weeks to transform three bedrooms and a landing from near-chaos to completely empty, decorated and ready to carpet.

There was a LOT of work to do - the small bedroom and the landing needed lining in 6mm plywood owing to uneven floorboards, I needed to fit extra sockets into the ring main and there was a set of central heating pipes which had to be moved - when the carpets were down, there would be no access under the floor in the whole upstairs of the house. Add to that the need to redecorate one and a half bedrooms, fit a load of skirting, repair a leaky radiator and touch up everything else - we had our work cut out!

I'll let the pictures do the talking...

Here is Kristy hard at the decorating - that odd little alcove was created when I built the wall that is to her right for the bathroom - one day, we'll have a built-in wardrobe in this space. Kristy was amazing during the re-decoration phase, pulling a 14 hour day to get the rooms ready...

My contribution was more building-related - here is some of the ply lining going down in the small bedroom. I wanted to be VERY sure we had a good base under the carpet - the 8 x 4 sheets had about 80 screws per sheet holding them down.

This was almost our last view of the old floorboards. We had to completely empty all the rooms before Paul the Carpet Fitter came, so everything had to be carried downstairs the night before.

Here is Paul adding the final touch to our landing... He has done a lovely job, and even though he wasn't cheap we were very pleased with the quality of his work. He even installed oak thresholds between the rooms, and along the edge on the stairs - much better than brass, and more fitting for the house.

...And a final After Shot - a wide angle pic taken from our bedroom, looking over the landing and into the bathroom and bedrooms.

Now the fun bit can start - actually moving in! We are having all sorts of fun, unpacking things we last saw in May and June 2013. Paul is booked in to return at the end of the month to carpet the sitting room - between now and then, we have to completely empty THAT room - and decorate it!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Global politics, wet concrete and a £300 egg....

It has been quite a fortnight - LOTS of time at work and a good deal of time spent recovering afterwards. The NATO conference in Newport was held last week - I had volunteered to work some months ago - and it was a fascinating, exhausting and very lucrative week, with five consecutive 16 hour days. Plenty of helicopter spotting, a fair amount of golf-cart driving, some Prime Minister meeting and (for once) fabulous food went some way to making for six hour's sleep for a week. Loads of great memories though (I cried with laughter every single day...) and some strong friendships forged and rekindled. Good times...

Here is Yours Truly in the dashing yellow jacket, trying to look serious and business-like as Mr Poroshenko announces the Ukraine ceasefire to the world's media...

The concrete slab was poured while I was away. To be honest the finish wasn't what I expected, which is a real disappointment after the rest of the job had gone so well. I was insistent that I wanted a power floated finish, but the contractor was confident that a speciality concrete would give an equal finish. The ground worker is coming back on Sunday to tidy up, and we will inevitably need to have a frank discussion about the standard. I suspect he will suggest a further latex screed - my preference is for a reduction in the bill to pay for a professional concrete polishing contractor. Let's see what we negotiate!

The hens are settled in - there was some trepidation when they moved in, as the Chick had never slept in a raised house or on a perch before. That hasn't stopped her though - tonight we discovered that she has climbed up the perch 'ladder' and is right up in the rafters of the hen house! Monty goes bananas around their enclosure - not helped by the Chick, who can fly out of the enclosure despite clipped wings. We had a near-miss the other evening, and I'm sure it won't be the last...

This is the Chick settling in - they love the log pile as all sorts of critters live under the wood...

And here is the result of all the hard work - a £300 hen's egg! Despite the fact that the coop was home-made, by the time we had bought fencing, feed, feed bins, feeders, drinkers and a gate, this is one very expensive egg! 

The chick is still to small to lay, so Mummy is maintaining production for now.

Some sad news to report - my faithful companion has passed away. I have used this Leatherman Wave almost daily for many years - it was a real shock when it finally gave way. Fortunately, Leathermans (leathermen?) come with a lifetime guarantee, so a replacement should be incoming next week.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

More gucci Bosch kit arrives...

It's pretty fair to say that I drive a LOT of screws into stuff. Nearly all of them hold things together - aside from the odd one that misses...

I have relied on Ryobi kit for at least six years - and possibly more. I have two separate 'screwdriver-type' tools - a combination drill / driver / hammer drill (which only gets used for drilling holes) because I also own a Ryobi impact driver. These have been great - they use a common battery which are fairly cheap to replace - but they have a few faults. They are pretty heavy, the chuck on the drill is complete rubbish and needs a real crank to grip a drill bit, and they are quite long - I couldn't get them into a tight spot if I needed to.

Combine these shortcomings with the imminent start of the Barn build (where a second set of tools would allow two people to work at once) and the seed was sown - I could really use a second set of tools.

Using my mantra of 'buy cheap, buy twice'...

"Buying a cheap but inferior product is a false economy since it will need replacement"

...I decided to get some really good equipment - and as you know, I love Bosch Professional tools.

I really only meant to replace my drill / driver - but you know how these things are! I scoured the usual haunts and found a Bosch Professional GDR impact driver for £30 - the only drawback was that it needed a battery and a charger. I priced these up to about £50 - so imagine my delight when a perfectly-timed Screwfix email announced a promo for a Bosch GSR Drill Driver with battery and charger on offer at £50. Effectively a free drill - winner! 

Here is the GSR - the GDR is in safekeeping with Kristy's parents (they collected it as the seller was close to them...)

No serious testing has occurred yet - initial impressions are that it is a bit slower than the Ryobi, but about half the size and two-thirds the weight. It also has a task light on the front that illuminates before you start drilling (unlike the Ryobi...) and the chuck only needs one hand to tighten - a real improvement. No hammer drill function - so the old faithful Ryobi will need to stay in the workshop for a while yet...

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

My manliest power tools yet...?

The construction of the Barn is going to be quite simple - great big bits of Oak with square ends will fit into square holes, and an oak peg will fit through a hole drilled through both parts. Easy enough - but how to actually MAKE these deep, square holes?

On my Oak Framing course, we tried both methods - you could drill a series of holes of a suitable depth (100mm, about 4 inches)...

...and then chisel out the waste...

All well and good - this is how oak buildings were made hundreds of years ago, after all. However, this would take about an hour for two holes - and I have 60 square holes to make just for my diagonal braces! I think we need a manly power tool...

After scouring eBay for months, this little beauty popped up - it's a Chain Mortiser, named because it uses a special chainsaw chain to cut a deep and wide mortise (a square hole, basically...) The only current manufacturer of a chain mortiser is Makita - and because they are the only player in the market, they can charge whatever they see fit - a new Makita costs over £1000.

Needless to say, when this Ryobi (who stopped making their machine some years ago) popped up on eBay for less than a third of the price of a new Makita, I jumped at it. As you can see from the plug, it is 110v - which meant I had to buy a transformer as well... still, lots of industrial tools are 110v - I won't be scared of buying tools with a yellow plug now.

Also on the shopping list was a large circular saw - to make the tenons (the square pegs which fit into the mortises) a series of cuts is made across the width of the oak post, and the tabs are then chiseled away - as seen here on a curved brace...

I needed at least a 60mm depth of cut - and my little Bosch circular saw would only cut to 50mm. More Man Shopping required! Another eBay bargain - this time a Bosch Professional 235mm saw, which will cut to 85mm. My main posts are 175mm oak - in case I need to shorten them, I'll saw around the perimeter and only be left with a 10mm square in the middle to cut by hand.

I really rate Bosch tools - they are very reliable in my experience, and the spare parts availability is excellent - a far cry from Ryobi (reliable, but poor spares). As such, any new tool purchases I make from now on will be Bosch unless I have no option.

On that subject, more Exciting Bosch Power Tool News coming to AnAcreInHampshire soon!

The AcreInHampshire Sinkhole...

We have our very own tip in the garden!

After our old Cess Pit was disconnected, we had a quandary - what to do with a 30 cubic metre underground bunker with 40 years of excrement soaked into the walls? A rash conversation with the sewage man had me pondering a storm shelter / doomsday bunker / wine cellar / man cave - a secret hatch in the lawn, with a ladder down - it would have been amazing! However, a bit of reading on the internet put paid to that - would you EVER be happy that it was clean? Really clean?

Anyway, to kill two birds with one stone, I asked Dickie (Groundworker Extrodinaire) to knock the top in with his Kubota, and to crack the waterproof bottom of the cess pit to ensure drainage. This would allow us to fill it with the tonnes and tonnes of hardcore and waste we would otherwise have paid to have trucked away - and would prevent the 'bunker' idea ever reforming in my mind!

Here it is - it was emptied and limed before being opened up. The planks were from the original formwork around which the concrete cap was cast.


A Pox on this House...

Where to start? We have had the most manic fortnight - which somewhat accounts for the lack of updates. Last weekend was the Reading Festival - and for us at work, it's a really big deal - pretty much the biggest event we have to work every year. Kristy and I were both working very long hours - I had to work 12 hour night shifts (five in a  row...) out of a set of eight days at work. Combine this with a bout of coughs and colds, and it has been a pretty slow start to our days off.

Fear not though, there has still been plenty of progress - this house / barn / homestead won't build itself!

Last week saw a HUGE delivery of all things concrete - loads of blocks and some bespoke-ordered pre-stressed concrete beams. A bit of a problem when the truck arrived - Dickie the Groundworker asked the driver "Where's the hi-ab crane I asked for?" to which the driver replied "Where's the fork-lift I was told you had?" Everything had to be offloaded by hand - which meant that the guys were half-dead before they had laid a single block.

The construction method is quite simple - the beams span between the rows of engineering bricks (themselves sitting on the trench fill foundations), and the blocks fill in the holes in between the beams. Whenever you order these beams, the suppliers provide engineering-spec load calculations to prove that they are correctly specified. I had changed the size of the groundworks by a fraction - which meant that everything had to be re-ordered and re-calculated. Never mind - do it once, do it properly is the motto!

Here are the beams in place, and the blocks going in. The electricity panel is poking through the blocks on the left...

The final row being added to the Garden Room, as photographed and Tweeted by a passing chaffinch...

The Garden Room as it stands now - a very runny mortar mix was brushed over the blocks to fill in the cracks. This adds a huge amount of strength - before this was added, you could 'bounce' the beam and block floor. Now, it's rock solid - and there will be more to come when it's insulated and a screed floor is poured.

The current view of the Barn looking south - all the soil has been roughly landscaped, but it needs a good raking to get rid of a lot of stones and debris before we dare scatter grass seed.

Loads more instalments to come this week - mostly about my new manly power tools! Watch this space...