Thursday, December 3, 2015

Walkway go time!

Back in one of my first posts of the spring, I highlighted our walkway as something I really wanted to get done this summer. Things were looking grim getting it done this year when we still hadn't made any progress well into the fall.

But, like other years, we've decided to race winter, and see if we can sneak one more project in before snow flies.  Like we don't have enough stress :D

One of the big issues I had trying to get this project going was having time to plan.  Pregnant + work + homeschooling + finishing Eve's room = NO TIME. 

Buy, funny enough, having our baby girl actually gave me a lot more time to plan this thing out.  People kept saying how busy I'd be after the baby was born, but thanks to maternity leave, and an ample amount of time nursing, I've been able to squeak in some computer time.  (Mind you, doing anything that involved walking around was a challenge for a while.)

Let me tell you, there was a lot of planning on this project.  First off, we needed to rent tools and equipment.  Second, we needed materials delivered.  Third we needed to know how much materials to order almost exactly, as landscaping companies return policies are bad. 

That, and I had no idea how to make steps.  Or anything landscaping, in general.  It's hard to plan if you don't even have an end goal in mind, so I really had to learn a lot on this one. I'm gonna be a contractor by the time I get done with this house.  I'm learning all there is to know.

We did some [creepy] driving around local neighborhoods, and it seemed like the most common way to make steps with pavers around here was using granite blocks.  Still not satisfied, I googled, and googled and tried to fine anything I liked and thought we could DIY.

First off, I found that retaining wall blocks may be the inexpensive step option we wanted, as they looked okay and would be easy enough for us to move around.  But those would require some sort of tread, which would potentially raise the price up.

Here's a few pictures of what I came up with as options.  

Solid Granite steps:
Image via
Solid Bluestone/poured concrete treads:
Image via
 Wood / Railroad ties
Image via

To move through these options...  granite has a great New England style I could enjoy, but they seemed like an unlikely option for us.  They're pricey ($130 x 11 = $1300),  heavy (hard to move DIY style), and wouldn't work as freestanding stairs.  Plus, I do see a lot of heaved granite steps around our area, and I'm hoping to avoid heaving issues.

Pouring concrete slabs in place was another option, but so similar to what we have.  Aesthetically, we were wanted something that would add a little more value to the house, and doesn't scream "this is the first time we've pour concrete!"  Still, a good fallback if we just couldn't find anything we liked that we could afford.

And wood would pretty much what we have now.  While we could do a better job, and fix the spacing issue, it really wouldn't make me feel confident that our new walkway wouldn't settle like the old one did.  One option we considered was to just throw some stone in the sinking part of the steps, which would be very doable... but maintenance would be hard (our kids love to play in rocks!).  And I really don't like to walk on rocks much.

So, all those options were out.  Here's the next batch of options I was considering.

 Retaining wall caps:
Image via
  Natural Stone pieces:

 Paver Treads
Image via

My favorite of these three would be natural stone.  However, I was finding it to be pricey, hard to plan for and I was a little worried they would become too slippery when wet.  Plus, we had already gotten the Holland pavers for the walkway part, and I wasn't sure how well the look would tie together with natural stone steps.

Which leaves us with two options, retaining wall caps and pavers.  I found the style okay, but it was our best option. So I dug into researching my options for retaining walls, wall caps and pavers.  And what I found surprised me.  I really didn't like almost all of the paver steps I saw, until I saw this picture in a retaining wall block book (Sorry for the poor quality, I scanned it in)

 Paired with my ideal walkway look, I could see us making it work.

So after a lot of back and forth talking to a local landscape materials dealer, looking through books, deciding which blocks to use and how much we're going to be paying..... we had our plan. 

We couldn't find any border stone (also called a solider course) around here that really matched the image above, but we decided to go with the closest cost effect solution we could find locally - Genest Acadia blocks.

All this plan depended on retaining wall blocks, and funny enough, I really don't like the look of typical retaining wall blocks.  They seem so uniform and lack character.  However I found a mix of 3" and 6" highland stone to be really nice and natural looking.  We were hoping that we'd do a little more retaining wall work in the future as well, so we thought it'd be nice to have both match.  So we used those...

sort of...

They were fairly expensive, so we actually bought a lot of filler blocks from home depot to keep costs down.  You wouldn't really see any stagger in the steps up the walkway, so we didn't really need to have the expensive blocks.  It saved us several hundred dollars, and we're hoping it doesn't effect the look too much.  We actually made a several money saving decisions with the retaining wall blocks, as I'm sure I'll step through in a later post.

You can see why the home depot is about $7 cheaper.  If this were holding back a wall of death, I think I'd go for the nice thick name brand block.  For a 6" step, I think home-cheapo will do.

Once we had a plan, I calculated materials and we started gathering them up. We used our minivan to pick up blocks from a few different places locally, one being the actual Genest company, since it was close enough.

We ordered 7 cu yards of hard pack (also called road base or 3/4" pack) to fill our steps and as a base material for the walkway, and we were all super excited to watch it get delivered.

Nothing like creeping out a delivery guy!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Eve's Not-So-Simple Bookshelf

So, as I mentioned before, we wanted to surprise Eve with a couple pieces of furniture, and decorate her recently finished room.  Before our updates, her room was very dark and lacking so much personality.  I really wanted to bring it to life and make it feel hers.  We had a total budget of $200-$250 for the updates.

Her room before
The next thing that Eve had mentioned wanted quite a lot, was a bookshelf in her room.  Like the desk, I tried to find a cheap bookshelf.  I needed one what wasn't too tall, so it could fit near the window as a backup location.  So the basic walmart ones were out.  These were what I came up with.
  1. Altra Mia Kids 4-shelf Bookcase - $120 
  2. Ana White's Banker Bookcase
  3. Guidecraft 6-ShelfBookcase, Natural - $270
  4. Graduated Tall Bookcase - $399

Had the reviews for the 1st one not been awful, I would have just bought and been happy.  But, alas, they were not.  The next two options that looked good were above the budget for the entire room improvement. 

So.  You know the story.  Like normal, we decided to make one.

Well, a little different than normal, in that we = mostly Jon.  I could manage the desk, but the amount of circular saw work for a bookshelf was way too much for a 8 month pregnant lady.  So when I drew up plans, I went extra extra detailed with them.  That way I wouldn't make it up as I go and sit there and dictate every step.  Cause, well... no one likes that :)

Ana white's plan was a decent starting point, and I took it from there.  I didn't to use mdf, like her plan calls for, so I opted to veneer all the raw edges.

So, like I said before there is a lot of circlar saw/table saw cutting, which my awesome hubby did all of.  He also picked up the wood, which was a nice $40 sheet of birch plywood, I think.
Yes Mom, Eli had to be on the stairs when he was cutting.

One the pieces were cut, it was time to shape the contour.  I made up a template for Jon, and he jigsaw-ed it out. 

While Jon was taking care of the big pieces, I worked on the small ones.   We used my go-to for painted wood - poplar.

These boards got a good sanding, and pocket hole on each end.  The shelves also got two pocket holes on each side.

 This board is the top board, which I routered a channel out of to hide the backerboard.  It takes a little extra work (and a router), but hiding the backerboard edges is a really easy way to make your piece look way cleaner.

And with that, I don't have anymore pictures.  We were in a rush to get the shelf pieces to my Mom so she could paint them for us.  We thought it would be easier for her to paint them as pieces, instead of all assembled.  I think that was a good call... sort of.

I veneered the front of the shelves, and that took a while.  Funny enough, each of the kids, including Eve, came down while I was veneering and took a turn with the iron.  Eli asked what we were doing, so I showed him the plans, and he kept quiet.  Eve, however... didn't even ask.  Odd, but I'll take it.

I used the finish nailgun and glue to attach the supporting rails to the newly veneered shelves.  That was all I needed to do for the shelves before assembly, and those got set aside for my mom to paint.

The front basket board, I decided to do simply (not jigsawing the plywood) and just used some stock wood.

Once the back support were attached to the base, the base was ready to paint.

Finally, the last step before assembly (after painting) was to put a veneer on the sides, and router out the back groove for the backer board.

After it was painted, we got it back and assembled it... which was actually pretty tough.  My Mom didn't realize that she shouldn't have painted the shelves ends, and the clearcoat was still tacky... so they were SUPER hard to position.

Plus, the nice beadboard we bought for the back was so hard, the nailgun was blowing nails out the sides.  Long story short, what finally did work was pre-drilling the backerboard, and hammering finish nails through that.

I'll get to more of the timecrunch in a later post, but just wait to see this bookshelf! It's gonna look awesome!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Eve's Simple Desk

In the last post I mentioned that we finished up Eve's room. Yet, instead of moving her in with what little she had, we wanted to surprise her with some furniture and decorations.  Of course she wanted to move in right away, but we told her that we were waiting until the inspector gave us a certificate to move her furniture in, which was true.  But.... we actually purposefully delayed calling the inspector for a couple days, so we had time gather up stuff for her surprise.

When we are finishing up Eve's room I knew there is one piece of furniture that we really want to get in there - a desk.  The kids play table downstairs was getting way too small for her, and she really could use a quiet place to do schoolwork or draw.

The problem was we didn't want to spend a whole lot of money on her room and the money we didn't want to spend had to go a long way.   We we hoping to spend less than $200 (absolute max of $250) for the whole update. The price of the cheaper desks that would fit well were about $100.  And that would eat up about half of the entire room budget.

But, given that we had to get all of everything within a week and that I was 36 weeks pregnant (and moved about as fast as a dead snail)..... we still decided to built it.   :: sighs ::

To keep my time goal realistic I looked at designs only for super simple desks, and still went even simplier.  One of the biggest simplifications was to creating a shelf instead of a drawer.  The Target desk on the left was the best option to copy for her room, since I could use the leg orientation to my advantage to account for the heater. Also, to help us finish quickly, I took up my moms offer to help and had her on board to paint it when I finished.

So here's the really simple build of the desk.  First thing was to cut the have Jon cut me a little slice of plywood.  We had some maple hardwood leftover from our computer table, so I used that.  Then I squared up the ends and cut them down to size.   Since it's going in the kids room I wanted rounded corners.  I thought using one continuous piece of veneer on the front would prevent peel-ups and rounded edges would prevent bad bumps.  I free handed with the jigsaw and expectrd a lot of sanding, but it turned out way better than I expected. 

Once the veneer was set then I worked on the shelf.  I cut two 1x4" boards to length and then put in some pocket holes to attach to the top.

Between the two side supports were two long shelf supports. i routered the long supports so that the shelf would be flush just below the front, and no edges could be seen.  The picture below is actually a different board with rounded edges, but similar enough to get the idea.

After I attached those support boards in, I cut some luan to size to act as the shelf and fit it in.

The shelf was bowing enough that you could see some of it under the bottom. It made me think that it might need a little more support to keep it from sagging in the future.  So I added really light supports to the side with a little wood glue. They're the width of the routered size of the front supports, so they're fairly thin.

After the top was finished, it was time to add the legs.  Using a 13° angle I cut the legs to length and just screwed them in from the inside.  Sorry, I didn't take any pictures!

And once that was done, it was [secretly] off to my Mom's house for painting.  To get it there, we told Eve were picking up some special zucchini from my Mom's house.  Of course, we really did pick up zucchini, but it was a little funny that no one seemed to say anything when we already had TONS of zucchini from our CSA.

I can't wait to show you the final desk, it looks great!  Plus, it was such a fast build, it actually only took me two evenings to finish.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

It's time to dye!

I've been knitting baby Autumn a winter hat with some grey Patton's wool I picked up at Joann's.  I was hoping to have some nice pink stripes in it as well, but the closest Joann's is small and they didn't have any pink wool in stock.

No big deal though - if it's a Koolaid color I can just dye it!   I've done it before when dying yarn for Isaac's wool longies and Eve's playsilks.
...but given it's been a few years since then, I had to go read my notes on it from last time.  I had documented the process with playsilks well, but for wool yarn, my notes were scarce.... so I'm filling them in!

To start, you need just a few things - vinegar, Koolaid, cream/white wool yarn and water.  Since we're using the microwave method, we'll also need two microwave safe bowls and... a microwave.

I checked out this website before picking up the colors at the store.   I referenced the colors on my kindle while dying, to see if I wanted to adjust the intensity. 
I'm using strawberry (fist one top left) and pink lemonade (third one, top left).
First step, put the sweet baby in the mei tai.  You'll might want two hands :)

Soak the yarn in a mixture of vinegar and lukewarm water.  You don't need much vinegar, about a table spoon.

Mix the koolaid and a tablespoon of vinegar in lukewarm water.  The size of the container doesn't matter much.  It just needs to be able to hold enough liquid to cover the yarn.

Now we start microwaving.  Heat in two minutes at a time, with about a 3-5 minute break in between.  When the water goes clear/white, all the dye is absorbed, and you'll all done microwaving.
Before microwaving
After 2 minutes

After 4 minutes
 I could have gone another round, as there was a little pink left in the bowl, but I was happy with the color I got.  Place it in a another bowl and set that aside, to cool it a bit (and so you can work on the other colors).

Here's my strawberry with about half a packet of pink lemonade mixed in.  I probably should have done half a package of strawberry and a whole pack of pink lemonade to get the color I wanted.  Still, it turned out nice.

Here's the progression of this color -
Before Microwaving
After 2 minutes
After 4 minutes
I pulled this one out early as well.  I could have gotten a lot darker of a color if I wanted. 

Once the yarn has cooled, it's time to run it under the faucet until the water runs clear.  Be mindful not to "shock" the wool with big temperature changes.  I kept the white bowl under there so I could be sure the water was actually clear. 

A trick to get the yarn (or anything you have to handwash) to dry quicker is to wrap it up in a dry towel/washcloth.  The colors in the photo below are fairly close to real life.

Once it's rolled up. Squeeze.  Re-roll and press again.

 Leave it to dry and go relax and have some tea do laundry.  Who am I kidding, if you have kids, dying wool is the relaxing part of the day :)
Note, the colors are off