Thursday, 28 April 2016

Restoring a grand old table, part 1

We have inherited the most beautiful picnic table you've ever seen.

It's huge, it's so heavy that four of us can't move it, and it's top is made out of a single complete slice of a very large, very mature tree. You can see the growth rings so clearly, marking every year that this giant stood and watched over the earth.  Sadly, now that it is a table, it has had very little love and care over the last few years, and the top is cracking badly, the edges of the table are crumbling away and there is mould and lichen and rot building up in the crevices.

With all the work that W has been doing with wood, he's been falling more and more in love with the beauty of wood when it's loved and cared for - and this restoration has been high on his priorities. With spring here, and summer barbeques coming, we both really want this baby back at its full beauty.

We spent a lot of time researching how to best rescue it and had advice from many different sources. Many people suggested powerwashing it - but the surface is so broken, we are both quite worried that power washing will degrade it further. It also won't address the way that the surface is flaking in a consistent and gentle way.

We decided to start by sanding it sufficiently to remove the rotten and broken layers, and I will be spending a lot of time clearing out the crevices with a dental pick and a craft knife. W started  on the side that was most rotten and you can see just how much difference it's made already.

After a day of hard work we now have  the top and sides rough sanded. Here it is, halfway through. We still need to do the legs and the base, and I have to get to work clearing out all the crevices .I've started work on it, and I think I will need to use my trusty crafting dremel on some of the larger ones but many are so narrow and deep that we probably won't be able to do much beyond removing surface material. I really want the table to have a chance to dry out before we treat it with oils & wax to stop the rain from damaging it further. We are toying with a plan to put a frame around the table with waterproof covers so that the table can breath and dry out a little before we move  - or maybe we will just pitch a large tent over it. Either way it needs to be easily removable so that it doesn't add to the problem by creating an even moister environment that it sits in over extended periods, and it can be easily shifted on sunny days.

Here she is sanded roughly at the day's end - can't wait to continue! If any of you have done a project of this sort, - restoring old timber like this -  do let us know in the comments of what you think would be the best approach. I want this beauty to last another few decades yet - or longer!

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Spring weeding

Spring has definitely arrived in Holland - and the weeds & nettles are growing like crazy. We have a massive infestation of crabgrass and buttercups are running rampant. Keeping up with the weeding seems to be an impossible task!

Last year we spread out a *lot* of bark chips - about 4 inches deep - across the main flower beds. We didn't do any great amount of weeding and I expected to be having to do lots and lots and lots this year. Surprisingly, it's actually not been bad - and even nettles seem to have died back. I am wondering if this is going to be the magic organic solution I've been looking - using mulch layers to kill off the large amounts of weeds  we are still tackling. With 5 cubic square metres of bark chips, I might just make it around 2/3rds of the garden again. Definitely will make it onto the to-do plan. Sadly it didn't work on the buttercups - they have just come back ever more enthusiastically than before.

Today, I had a go at shifting the buttercups and crabgrass in the main beds - 6 loads of weeds out, 15 loads of bark chips in and things are starting to look quite pretty! I will need to add a lot more layers, but I don't think I can push any more wheelbarrow loads without collapsing in a heap today.  Trying to get every single buttercup root bulbs is remarkably hard with gloves but hopefully there's been a high hit rate and we won't have such a flourishing colony later in the year.

Luca had a wonderful day chasing the frisbee around the garden, in between weeding stints. He hasn't quite got the hang of 'give' but he definitely worked out 'fetch'!

Friday, 22 April 2016

Earthday & Gratitude

Today is Earth Day.

It's a time for reflection about the amazing planet that we live on and share with so many other living creatures as well as a time for action - to make sure that it will still be this way for our children, our children's children, and their descendants.

Like everyone, I've had tough times - I've spent far too much of my adult life fighting depression and life hasn't always taken the path I would have liked it to take. Like most women in highly visible career paths, I've fought against a lack of self confidence and sense of being the impostor in the room at times. You take your knocks and you get up and get going again - and I find the energy to do this just by walking out the door and seeing the miracle that is this Earth. Each flower, ant, leaf and person. It's been a constant North Star of happiness to see the Earth and Nature - humanity included - in so many different forms.

I'm grateful that I've been fortunate enough to travel and see places that many people will now never see : I've seen Asia before it was covered with plastic and concrete, African jungles filled with the squeaks and rustles and barks of wild animals, coral reefs that were vibrantly colored and had shoals of wonderful fish darting through and the Mediterranean, still shining an azure oil-free blue.

I'm grateful that I can watch a leaf grow and unfurl on a springtime tree and a flower burst into blossom.

I'm grateful that my parents took the time to show me paradise in a grain of sand and I'm grateful for the Being or accident of chemistry that caused this world to be.

I hope we learn to tread lightly on this Earth - she's the only one we have - and that our children's children can see the same beauty that we can now. Or even better, the Earth with her industrial veil lifted.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Making a workbench for a mitre saw

This winter has definitely been laying the groundwork for the heavy lifting we will need to do next year when we take on the new levels in the house. Tools have been at the heart of everything - whether they are garden tools or woodworking and DIY tools. W has spent hours poring over reviews on the interweb before deciding on each and every purchase. The tools aren't enough, though - you really need work benchs for tools to be able to work at their optimum level.

As a result, W has been busy making up a workbench to run the mitre (or miter, if you are american!) saw on. We've had it sat on an old tumble dryer as a stop gap, but it's not really safe and secure, so getting it onto a long term home was quite important.

For doing a lot of this sort of foundational work, W has been using a cheap and cheerful white deal plank that we buy in bulk from our favourite wood merchant. The first task was to work out the measurements - we used an online design as the base pattern , but needed to adjust the height to fit the specifics of the Makita mitre saw that we have, and wanted to make it 4 meters 40 cm  wide, and 60 cm  deep to accommodate European wood sizes. Once that was done, it was chopping time - cutting all the required lengths of planking to size. Then on to using a kreg jig to make the recessed screw holes to fit the 90 degree joins together.

Once everything was ready to assemble, time to get busy with the wood glue and screws. W has made a template to make sure that the corners are at 90 degrees true when being screwed together and you can see it in use here, with clamps holding it in place.

Once the main frame was assembled it's time to move onto the top surfaces. You can see that the sides are both higher than the central dipped area : the dip is where the mitre saw sits as it's got quite a high base. This means that you can support long planks on both sides of the workbench  on the flat surfaceand not have to juggle madly whilst cutting. Definitely a safety advantage! The main surface is a cheap composite board, that can be easily replaced if it gets damaged.

Last but not least, to make sure that we can move the workbench reasonably easily, W added roller wheels at the base. It looks gorgeous and hopefully it's going to be worth it's weight in gold soon!

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Refurbishing a garden table & chair set - and a little more....

 We have a patio in front of the kitchen which is a suntrap in the spring and in the summer. It's lovely to grab coffee and breakfast whilst sitting in the sun watching the ducks and swans gliding around in the canal.  

Last year, we used a very ancient Ikea table, bench and two chairs which have sat out in the garden for the best part of 3 years - and it was pretty clear that they probably wouldn't make it through another winter if we didn't get some maintenance on them.  I bought them when I moved to the Netherlands and had a tiny garden which I kitted out with a cheap and cheerful set of garden furniture. At the time, I really didn't want to spend a lot of money on the garden, and I wasnt thinking for the longer term, so I bought the simplest furniture I could, and decided that if it needed throwing away in handful of years, I'd still have had value from them. The furniture is looking quite shabby now - the majority of the stain has peeled away, a main slat on the bench has broken away, and there is lichen growing all over them. 

With W itching to play with his new Festool sander, and a beautiful sunny spring day, it seemed like fate! First task was to sand down all the surfaces to make sure that there was no loose material that would discolor or disrupt the new coating. Most of the sanding was done with a fairly coarse grain pad - a 60 grit for the majority of the frames, and the table surface was given an extra smooth finish with a graduated sanding up to 120 grit.

A. had previously found some old wood that was a close match to the broken slat,trimmed it to size and attached it in the gap. W sanded the new bar back to make it fit in as much as possible with the original. Then over to me to wield paint brush and wood stain to get everything painted a cheerful rich green - including Luca who developed green zebra stripes due to incautious inquisitiveness. We ran out of paint half way through, so we had to do a quick run to the DIY store to get a top up.

A few hours drying in the sun and we have once again a lovely table & chairs set on the patio outside the kitchen to have breakfast in the sun. Here they are, ready to sit at and watch the world go by.

Looking forwards to the next weekend!

This weekend, though, I got into a bit of overdrive mode and decided to keep going with the sanding and painting. The side window in the stables has peeling paint - and the wooden frame is getting exposed to the elements. The new sander zipped through the task in no time at all, and I spent the dying light hour of the evening getting the first coat of paint over the newly prepared surface.

 I still need to do another coat so I haven't got a done photo yet, I'll update this page when complete.