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!


Monday, 16 February 2015


If we are to judge a week in terms of the number of long term aspirations finally achieved, this one was pretty spectacular. I'll rewind about five years to take up the tale...

Ever since I developed a fascination for homesteading (my catch-all Americanism for a self reliant lifestyle on a bit of land - growing stuff, building things and generally going against the grain of modern life) I've hankered after a tractor. Why? Just think of the jobs you could do with one! Mowing, lifting heavy things, pulling logs out of the woods, splitting those logs with the hydraulics, towing trailers, scraping earth in about a dozen different ways, dragging things - I could go on. I really wanted a tractor.

However, the realities of living in a small terraced house in Berkshire meant that, had I bought even the teeniest of teeny tractors, I wouldn't even have been able to get it into our postage-stamp sized garden.

Fast forward to our current (and amazing) home. Loads of space (and jobs) for a tractor. For reasons that I'm yet to quite fathom, a proper tractor seemed to slip out of my mind - perhaps the excitement of moving pushed it down my list of dreams! I bought a great little John Deere ride-on mower which has more than paid for itself - our land is mostly grass for now - but it was a bit of a one trick pony. It could mow, and tow a small trailer, but not much else. Plus, it used a lot of fuel in it's 18HP petrol engine.

So thoughts turned to a tractor again. The catalyst was having the last order of oak for the Barn - those beams are HEAVY - moving and lifting them was possible, but only just. A strained back at this stage would pretty much cancel our wedding this summer (no back equals no barn building equals no wedding venue) - so I decided to act.

After a number of months of searching (and a poor attempt by somebody to scam me out of two month's wages on eBay...) I found the perfect little tractor at a dealership in the Midlands.

She is a Kubota BX2200 - a little 22HP three cylinder diesel, but a proper tractor nonetheless. It has hydraulic transmission, a mid-mount mower deck, three separate hydraulic circuits, a rear linkage that will lift half a ton, mid and rear PTOs and is ready to be road registered. It only has 500-ish hours on the clock - barely run in for a Kubota.

The first attachment I've bought is a set of folding pallet forks - primarily for oak beams but also to be used for logs. Here she is earning her keep - moving a big pallet of freshly split ash logs down to the house.

I've also used the tractor to move the oak beams about on the slab - it's great being able to pick up three beams at once and lift them straight onto the saw horses for processing.

The barn is racing along - helped by a bit of process management advise! All the working drawings are on my Macbook, so whenever I needed a dimension I had to walk from the slab to the house and check on the drawings. Why I didn't think to print some working drawings sooner I'll never know! Anyway, I've now got a load of laminated and dimensioned plans like these to refer to;

This was the bit I finished this weekend - the covered storage are accessed from the garage. With another couple of dry days forecast next weekend, I should be able to finish about half of the uprights for the building... watch this space!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

From Forest to Fence

Thanks to my future brother-in-law Luke for the title to this blog entry - seeing as he helped with the manual effort I think he has earned naming rights!

In our apparently never-ending quest to make our boundary dog proof, we needed to sort out the cleft rail fence close to where we park the cars. This lovely new fence had replaced a horrid old half-round effort that we inherited from the previous occupants; although it was much prettier, dogs could still jump through from both directions.

Spurred on by the success of the resaw jig I'd make for the bandsaw, another trip into our permissive woods was in order. The chainsaw started first time after a couple of months of inactivity, and five minutes later we had these Ash logs - both about a foot round and three feet long.

Onto the resaw jig, and through the bandsaw they go...

...before they are planked into 10mm thick boards.

The quality control is still somewhat lacking - it is quite hard to keep the log upright and against the fence - the natural drift of the bandsaw will try and push things out of kilter. Anyway, this was perfectly good enough for some three-inch wide boards for the fence.

Every third board was left a few inches longer, and they were fixed with stainless steel screws - the fence looks marvellous, but most importantly it is dog proof! An added bonus was the off-cuts, which burned beautifully and kept the house heated for the evening. Not a bad day's work!

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

A Timber Re-saw Jig for the Bandsaw

This is such a great bit of workshop kit - I can't remember the last time I was so chuffed with a few bits of plywood!

Last summer I bought a Bandsaw - I needed one to cut the gentle curves in the braces for the Barn, as making all 28 by hand would have taken me years.  The bandsaw has already paid for itself - you can buy curved braces off the shelf, but at £50 each it would have got expensive very quickly; far more expensive than buying a machine and making them myself. As ever, I decided to buy a slightly bigger and better model than was strictly necessary - my mantra of 'buy cheap, buy twice' won out, and actually made the bandsaw purchase even more versatile and better value, since I could do more with a larger model.

Something I'd always wanted to try was cutting my own planks from logs. Wood isn't cheap - if I could scavenge some decent lengths of oak and ash, cut them into boards and plane them to shape the bandsaw would save even me a good chunk over buying wood from a merchant.

To plank a log, you need to be able to cut two flat, straight edges at 90 degrees to each other. This will allow the log to sit flat on the table of the saw and against the guide fence at the same time, ensuring consistent boards. You can then resaw the log to any thickness you need.

To make these flat faces, I had to make a jig. There are loads of plans on Pinterest - most were quite comprehensive, with sliding clamp sections and T Slot profiles to fit the bandsaw. Beautiful bits of work, but perhaps a bit more complicated than strictly necessary. I decided to deliberately go as simple and low-tech as possible, using up some bits of scrap plywood from the shed, a bit of glue, some decking screws and a handful of pocket hole screws.

Here is the (free) jig;

This is set up for a very short log - I nicked a bit of cherry from the log pile just to try it out. The clamp on the right is fixed; the one on the left can be moved to fit the length of the log. The clamps can be set about four feet from each other - but there really is no limit to how long they could be. The log is held in place by the decking screws on either clamp.

Here she is in action;

The log is held by two decking screws per end - they only need to be driven in enough to stop the log moving. Once you've cut one square face, the log is rotated 90 degrees (newly cut face down) to cut the second face.

Now you've got two square edges, the guide fence is set to whichever thickness you fancy, and the log can be planked...

This was just a quick-and-dirty trial, but I'm going to head into our 'permission' tomorrow to recover some fallen ash logs to plank and turn into fencing staves.

Like I said, a very satisfying use of some old bits of plywood!

Monday, 2 February 2015

Final Oak Delivery

So, the last delivery of green oak arrived this morning - containing everything I need to finish the timber frame for the barn. I found the whole process extremely easy, mostly because I was at work and missed all the excitement! Kristy was a champion, directing LGV drivers, telehandlers and generally being a great site foreman. I stopped short of criticising her for lack of safety boots, helmet or high-vis jacket - she took some great pictures which made up for her Health-and-Safety shortfall.

This was a picture of our drive at 0745hrs this morning - the telehandler and driver were provided at very short notice by Dickie, the chap who did our groundworks.

Some well-deserved advertising and a link for the fabulous Venables Oak - they have been SO helpful throughout, tolerating my repeated phone calls and panicked changes to my order. They fitted delivery around us - even changing the driver's schedule so that we were home. Great people to deal with!

Here is part of our order - a pack containing 55 square meters of oak cladding for the barn - there is just shy of £1000 of cladding on the telehandler's forks!

And here it is - one flat-pack 85 square meter barn in kit-form. Upright posts on the left, facing rafters and wall plates in the middle, internal-garage-storage-bit and doorframes on the right.

To save working space, our amazing neighbour Brooksy let me borrow a bit of space in his farmyard for the oak cladding...

...and the tie beams. These are real monsters - over 7 meters long, 7 inches square and weighing a quarter of a ton each.

Kristy's brother Luke is coming to stay for a few days this week, and the plan will be to stack the cladding with timber stringers to let it air, before we start making some more sawdust - and building the barn! I'm hoping we can also start making the apparatus I'll use to move the monster beams about - a clever devise called a Logging Arch, not dissimilar to this;

...which can then be used to bring home logs from our local permissive woods. 

Too many projects on the go!