Sunday, April 22, 2018

Old is new again

I had another wood-working project in the pipeline, but it's more a restoration project, than one, built from scratch. It's a piece of furniture, which has become a family heirloom. First purchased for my sister and I to share - when she moved out, it temporarily became mine. That is, until my younger brother was born. And so it has been juggled around the siblings, to cater for the different clothes, we constantly grew out of.

My mother kept it, after all her kids moved out. Generously, it came into my possession again, when our daughter was born. You can do that with old furniture though. It takes a lot of beating! Nevertheless, my cabinet was destined to meet it's match, with a pair of cockatiel parrots. Their cage took up residence, on top of the cabinet, because it still resided in my daughter's room.


I swear...I didn't do it


Being the generous owner she is, they were allowed outside their cage, after school. Parrot beaks are designed to gnaw on wood and seeds with hard shells. Given the cage took up all the space on the cabinet, we figured they wouldn't be able to get at it. Not so! Clever, nimble, birds, found a way.


Not entirely me


They also managed to peel off a chink of wood, caused from normal, wear and tear. Not satisfied, they proceeded to enlarge it! On many an afternoon stroll, on the carpet, they gradually chipped away at the wooden scar. Of course, I was oblivious - I'm sure my daughter had an idea though *wink*.


Definitely NOT me!


Then there were...the droppings! When let out, the birds would perch on top of their cage. Naturally, the cabinet caught the brunt of it. Enough was enough. Time to rescue our family heirloom. So we organised an early birthday present for our daughter, and purchased a large cage on wheels. We moved the cabinet of drawers, out, and the birdcage, could take it's place in her room.


Okay...that was me


Our poor, abused, family heirloom, had no permanent home. So it resided in the middle of a small hallway, between some bedrooms, and a bathroom. Thankfully, I had a plan though! It's prospects would turn around, soon.


Guilty too


See all this stuff, hidden behind the cabinet? They were leftovers, from another house re-shuffle. My fabric stash for sewing, and some of my husband's hat collection, were evicted from various places, because I needed the furniture for other tasks. You know how it goes!

So the fabric stash was destined to love the new cabinet, and the new cabinet was destined for that naked wall. It just needed a bit of fixing, is all.


Undecided


I'm sure this is jut normal wear and tear, but it's possible the cockatiels helped it along. If I was going to repaint the cabinet, I would have to patch-up, a lot of holes.


Who's responsible?


Oh, this was definitely us kids!! Someone threw a hissy-fit. I can't remember who it was, or what it was over - but the poor cabinet wore the brunt of it. The sides were made of ply, (or thin, silky oak, my mum believes) which gave way. All these years (at least 15, it's been in my possession) I've been meaning to fix it.

So eventually, the day came, I would...


Done


Wood filler. Fantastic stuff! Cheap (in the powdered form) and great at hiding a multiple sins. You'd never know by the outside of the cabinet, what took place. The inside, however, kept the truth immortalised...


The wolverine was here


It never did affect the drawers opening and closing, so there it can stay. I like a bit of history, in wooden furniture. There were many things I chose to keep, simply because I didn't want a new piece of furniture. I wanted the story to be immortalised, forever.

On the other hand, there were just some things, which had to go!


A relief to remove


Green florals from the 80's, I don't mind. It's the fact it was contact, and would catch dust in the corners, it didn't quite reach. I wanted a less permanent option. Something I could remove for cleaning, and allow the wood to breath.


 Keeping the green theme


Unfortunately, I couldn't find paper drawer liners - my first option. I did come across some tablecloth vinyl instead. Removable and wipeable. I quite liked the pattern, too. It would suit the final finish, I was hoping to achieve.


Almost naked, drawers


The main body of the cabinet would be painted, because it needed a lot of wood filler. But the drawers, would be roughly stripped, and not painted. Since my mum told me the drawers were made of silky-oak, many years ago, I've always wondered what silky-oak, looked like.

Well, now I have revealed the wonderful wood, and even kept some of the blue paint, and white undercoat too. I couldn't do away with all those memories. Especially since my mum's original paint job, has withstood 3 of her children, 1 grandchild (to date) and 2 parrots!


Looks weird in this position


This is the cabinet, with most of it's blue paint removed. Upside down, too, because it was going to be easier to paint that way. Before I covered it over, I wanted a picture of all that lovely, silky-oak, wood.


Before (matt) and after (shiny)


I am coming to the end of this story soon, but first, the area I was going to leave exposed, included the cabinet top. I could have sanded it smooth, but why? 

At some point I'll get some furniture wax, but chose to treat it with a mixture of ingredients I had at home. Apple cider vinegar, mixed with raw linseed oil, lemon and eucalyptus oil. It smelled divine, and the wood felt so silky to touch, afterwards - even without sanding.


 A sneak-peek


Afterwards, I was reminded of the smell of wooden furniture in my Nan's house. It was like having a felled tree in your home. I never knew what I was smelling, back then. Now I do, because we work with a lot of trees in our backyard. Felled wood is raw, refreshing and I'm surprised after all these years, it still retains some of that original scent of silky-oak.


Loving it's new home


My finished set of drawers are not perfect, but they were never intended to be. I wanted to fix some damage, put hard-wearing paint on the main body, and let a bit of history show through. I even kept the back, original (see pic with junk behind cabinet). No stripping, sanding or painting the entire back section. Just to maintain that original, blue and white prosperity - telling of childrens' clothes, unfortunate hissy-fits and (in the scheme of things) sharing based on need.

A set of blue drawers, gets a new lease on life. But I know...I still haven't found a new home for all those hats! Another time.


Friday, April 13, 2018

Lego play

It's nearly the end of Easter holidays, but there's still time for some last minute, imaginative play. Peter loves lego, and received several play-sets from relatives, last Christmas. The plain, 600 piece, block-set has been the one he plays with the most. Because he can make all sorts of things out of them!

Right now he's going through a gaming phase....


Pac-man hunts down ~
3 ghosts, a strawberry and 2 cherries


He doesn't really play games on a console, but he loves to watch them on Youtube. First, it was Mario. Now, Pac-Man. He tried to recreate them with his lego blocks, recently. Proving to be rather challenging, he decided to ask for help. So a collaboration was formed, between him and his two folks.

Because Pac-Man was our introduction to console games. Arcade games were the only option our generation had, back then. Heck, the personal computer wasn't even rolled out, until we were in high school!

Enough nostalgia though. Except maybe for Lego blocks. Fun to play with, but never walk barefoot around them. Or you'll be cursing up a storm! Man, do those things hurt. But kept contained, they're great play on the holidays.  


What the...?


And that was supposed to be the end of it! I was ready to hit "publish", when Peter mumbled something about ghosts, behind me. When I turned around, I saw this imaginative stack. That boy, sure loves his lego!

It's the one plastic toy, I don't mind having in the house. He has a box full of toys, but lego would have to be, what he plays with the most. He still plays with the mega-blocks (larger version of lego) we gave him as a toddler. I wonder what Peter will think of making next?

Is there a favourite toy you enjoyed as a child - or perhaps your children, or grandchildren, love? My favourite imaginative play, as a child, was building cubby houses!


Sunday, April 8, 2018

Finished

I didn't mean to wait so long, before writing this post. It's the finished project I spoke about painting, recently. With Easter holidays, traveling for relatives' birthday's, starting a week long art challenge via Instagram, and work in general, this is the soonest, I could commit to blogging.

So, what did I end up making....


Click to enlarge
 

It's a bench seat, with built-in shoe storage. I told you it was going to be simple. It's a necessary piece of furniture nonetheless, as I was having a shoe storage problem (read: explosion!) near the front door.


Real life


Even with a shoe cull, last year, the shoes were beginning to pile up everywhere. Especially since our youngest, needed more shoes to wear, as well. There's actually more shoe mess, not shown in the above picture, but I'm dealing with the shoe storage problem, one area at a time.


Problem solved


Specifically, there was a lack of space for boots! They were stored under a hallway table, adjacent to this area. With boots being so tall too, I could never find a shoe rack I could purchase, that would allow me to store shoes above them. Hence, why I decided to make my own bench seat, shoe rack.


Practical and functional


This furniture, solved several more problems, than shoe storage though. My husband was using a nearby coffee table, to pull his work shoes on. A table, our son always had covered with lego! So it was a matter of moving lego, to find a suitable place to sit down. Not any more though.

It also dealt with the school bag problem, emerging after our son started school this year. Our eldest, packs her own bag, so it lives in her room. We still had to pack his bag though, so it tended to live on the couch, nearest the kitchen. This bench seat, however, is in a better position, and it frees up the couch again!

There are several more, woodworking projects I have to design, that deal specifically with niche, storage areas. They're such simple projects too, but high in real estate value. Meaning, I get more storage per the same locale. All in good time though.



Sunday, April 1, 2018

Long weekend fun

Happy Easter, to all who celebrate it - and to those who don't, I hope you're having a lovely weekend too. The extra public holidays, ensure ample time for whatever takes your fancy! For me, it's traditionally DIY time.


Pine wood grain


I've embarked on a little work-working project. It's very simple by design. I like simple when it comes to wood-work, because maths is not my forte. Numbers are what determine the cuts. I muddle along regardless, measuring and measuring again.

I'm finishing the last coat of paint today, so decided to squeeze in a blog post. Not about the project itself (I'll reveal that another day) rather, the tools it takes to put something together. Do you go the manual or electric route? There are so many decisions to make!


A saw point


Normally, I go the manual tools route. It's always cheaper to buy, and cheaper to maintain. Because electric tools have more power, so the bits that cut or sand, need replacing more often. My former, cheap hand-saws (above) had done their dash. It's not the rust so much, as the metal's ability to keep a sharp edge. Cheap metal, means you lose the blade edge, quickly.

So I went looking for an electric, table saw, and found one, for about $180. Pretty reasonable for what it could do! I'd use it for this project, and another, bigger one - turning, Middle Ridge chicken coop, into a tool shed.


 January 2009
~ soon to be, tool shed ~


That table saw was looking more, and more attractive, for the bigger projects. When I went to look at it however, I noticed how large it was. That's a lot of space, I didn't have. Short-term, it would have to live on the verandah. But even longer term, it would take up a lot of space, in my small (future) tool shed.

So I considered how I was able to build that chicken coop, with nothing but a hand-saw, in the first place. I also considered how easy it was to store, said tool on a hook, on a wall. Yes, that table-saw was a mighty fine tool, but it wasn't the tool for me, it seems.


 Super saw


A handsaw, is person powered - making any accidents, minor. Being light weight, it's easy to get out of storage too. So I inspected the handsaw section, and decided to buy, a top of the range one, made in Sweden.

It's advertised as the ProCut, and it's spot on! I couldn't tell the difference between my cut edge, and the machine edge from the store. Actually, I think mine, looked even better.


 Fine edge


Not only did I look for a quality saw, but I also looked for a "fine" graded cut. Meaning, I won't lose a lot of wood as I cut through. It's light-weight and half the size of the bigger handsaws, so minimal muscle fatigue. Which becomes an issue when you're cutting through harder woods. Wow, I really think about tools a lot, don't I?

I guess I do...but in the scheme of things, quality tools aren't cheap, so you want to ensure you're buying something you can actually use. This BAHCO handsaw, set me back $50. If it's anything like my Stanley handsaw, however, it will last many, many years.


Tried and true


I already had a Stanley mitre saw, which I still use. It's about the same age, as my other (cheap) handsaws. I tried using it for this project, and it still cuts beautifully!! See how quality steel, makes all the difference? Unfortunately, the wood I was cutting, was too wide for it. Mitre saws, can only cut, to the top of the metal bar (on top).

So that's why I invested in another handsaw. The quality steel, has proven it's worth over the years. Still dependable, when I need it. By investing in a quality handsaw, that WILL cut straight through, regardless how wide the wood is - should serve many more projects. Even building a tool shed, for my tools.

I was FAR happier with this purchase, than I would have been, with the bulky, table saw, cluttering up the verandah. Plus, I saved about $130!


Brand: CraftRight


With the extra money I was saving, I decided, to purchase a few more, manual, hand tools. Not for the sake of spending money, but because I've contemplated these particular tools, for a while now. I've worked on projects in the past, and wished I had these tools, to help with the final finish.

I purchased a hand planer (above) which came in handy, with this particular project. One of the pine boards were bowed, which showed, when attached to another board. My hand planer, shaved off the overlap, to give a crisp, straight edge.


 Right tools for the right job


My existing, electric sander, made short work, of sanding the entire project, after it was completed. But that bowed board, was proving to be more of an obstacle. I went through two pieces of sand paper, and barley made a dent in that bow. The hand-planer, however, had it done much quicker. Plus, I enjoyed the tactile connection and sound, way more than the electric sander!I

So I do use electric tools. It just makes sense to use the right tool, for the right job. And not ALL jobs, have an electric solution, as the best one.


 Discrete joinery


There's another tool I invested in, which I LOVE! I've wanted this, for such a long time. It's a drill jig, which drills into a board, on an angle. I can join boards, which may not allow normal screw access, from the top. It also makes it easier to hide screw heads.

I didn't actually have the right screws (above) but if I did, I could have filled the hole with wood filler, afterwards, and it becomes invisible.


Simple, but effective


The drill jig, is the simple orange piece, which holds the drill at a consistent angle. The kit, includes the uniquely shaped, drill bit. I've seen much fancier kits for sale, online, but I REALLY like the simplicity of this one. Especially, when I'd never used one before.

I already had the electric drill, but I did have to purchase a suitable clamp. It's important the jig (and wood) doesn't move, as you're drilling. So a sturdy clamp, keeping it together, is imperative.


Not all clamps, are made equal


I eventually settled on this quick-release, clamp, above. Notice how the part which touches the jig, is straight. It doesn't move, when you're pushing with the drill, in other words. The first clamp, I purchased however, was not so good at this job!


 This one, failed


I actually purchased this clamp, based on the picture on the back of the jig package. It said, any clamps like this one, was suitable. What I found however, was the tips, that were designed to move, would shift, as I put pressure on the drill.

I could have returned the above clamp, but decided, I'm always running out of clamps, when building with wood. It's suitable for working with a set of clamps, together, for holding projects together.


My lucky charm


So I'm on the last leg of my present project - being the painting part. I couldn't wrap this post up, without mentioning this wonderful tool, above.

What? A stick!

Yeah, I know. Ordinary. But there's a bit of history behind that stick. The first project I built as an adult, after flying the coop, was a bird aviary. Sorry for the pun. But that stick, was an off-cut, from my first project.

Don't ask me how, but that stick has survived five moves, since. If you're ever going to adopt DIY, my advice is to adopt a painting stick. Use the same one, all the time. Why? Because it's a lot easier to move through the paint, when there's already a layer of paint on it. Raw wood, tends to absorb the paint and act like brakes. I've just realised, I've been stirring paint for nearly two decades!


Circa 1999


I found my original photo (you know, back when film was developed) of my first carpentry project. The paint stick, originated from here. I was 20-something, then, and I'm 40-something, now.

Golly. Gee! I don't feel old, I just feel lucky to have lived this long, to develop something I feel so passionate about. I didn't realise I would. I guess that's what time teaches you, though. So if you're in it for the long haul, make all those tool choices, count. Let them last you a good while, and be easy to store.

Is there a tool you've been wanting for a while - either for the shed, office, garden or kitchen?



Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The catch 22

What I'm about to write about our property, is a potentially controversial subject. It's a species of tree which showed up, on the edge of our front verge. Which is not uncommon, for this particular tree. As it has a weed status in Queensland, and is known for populating waterways and roadways.


Front slope


It went unnoticed for a while, but after conducting research into permaculture, support species trees, I discovered the tree growing near our front verge, was indeed, Leucaena leucocephala. It's appreciated in permaculture circles for it's nitrogen fixing qualities, quick growth and hardiness. Which makes it perfect for chop and drop material. It also doubles as fodder for ruminants.

Being listed as one of the most invasive species, in the world, it's therefore a controversial plant to have growing on one's property. I've been watching it's capacity to spread, and can vouch for said reputation. Yet, for our property at least, it's become a valuable resource too. Because it can live off our rainfall, without additional water, and provide an endless supply of carbon to utilise.

What's more, where the original tree grew, prevents soil erosion. THE number one reason, it was allowed to stay in place.


 16 December 2010
~ lead up to January floods, 2011


Run-off from our neighbour's driveway (see the top of the picture, above) crosses the street, in torrential downpours. It subsequently, runs down our front slope. The roots of the leucaena tree, however, helps keep the soil in place. The thicket of saplings which have sprung up, near the original tree (as a result) also act, to slow the flow of water, down the slope.


 New saplings emerging under older ones


Invasive? Yes. Absolutely But it's nonetheless, doing it's job, where no other native has managed to occupy that space, as well. We have acacias (black wattle) growing on the slope too, but they die quickly, and tend to get knocked over, after the wet and windy weather, arrives.

So as much as I'd love to support native species, they're not performing in that particular location, to prevent land from eroding downhill.


 Dying, black wattle ~ fell over in wind, 2016


Let's be clear, my job as land steward on slopes, is to keep my land in place. It's just as environmentally destructive, to ignore soil erosion, entering waterways. I'm in a catch 22 situation. Well, I would be, if I didn't have a third option.

If leucaena was to stay (as I decided they would) to benefit my land, I had to keep it's spread under control. I would be as industrious with this tree, as it was industrious, in it's production. Leucaena would deplete, before I ran out of uses!


 Cover the bare soil


The number one reason it's so useful, is for rapidly producing, chop and drop material. I use it to regularly mulch my fruit trees. The foliage is high in nitrogen, and the thicker branches, take several years to break down.

My mandarin tree (presently in fruit) got the royal treatment, recently too.


 Lovely, thick layer of mulch ~
produced from our landscape


It got a bunch of pulled grass, weeds and pumpkin vines, followed by the luecana foliage. Large branches first, followed by the finer, foliage on top.

This will serve a good year or two, but more than likely, I will add more mulch, when it's in plentiful supply.


 Same slope


Another use for the leucaena, is attempting to establish other natives on the same slope. Above, is a Grevillea She-oak sapling, and further back (barely noticeable) is a flowering ironbark.

Being a north-facing slope, it cops a lot of sun, all year round! Consequently, it has dry, depleted soils. The wattle branches I put around it several seasons ago, has since broken down - mostly. It was time for a new mulching treatment.


Support structure, in place


Only this time, I cut the leucaena into pegs, hammered them into the ground, and placed the rest of the branches and trunks, as a kind of retaining wall. It's all biodegradable, so designed to be absorbed into the soil, over time.

Yet it will adequately serve it's purpose, of retaining the rest of the mulch, laid on top...


Ready for another season, or two


As with the fruit trees, I like to lay the larger branches in contact with the soil, first, followed by the finer leafs and twigs, last of all. It shades the soil, retains moisture and helps this tree-grevillea, establish a little better.

My goal is to plant out the slope with non-invasive plants, to eventually make the leucaena redundant. For the moment however, it's hardiness and ability to produce carbon for our soils, on minimal rainfall, is imperative.


Trusty tools


The wood is very easy to work with, I only need a few manual tools: a large axe, a hatchet, pruning saw and hand pruners. The hatchet, aids in carving the pegs, to make them easier to hammer into the ground. The rest, help break-up the various thicknesses of branches and trunks.


Cut low to the ground


I am coppicing these, so they may well grow back with new foliage, to chop, at a later date. That's the goal of keeping them, anyway. To get as much free mulch as I can, to feed the plants I want to grow - eventually making leucaena, redundant. At least in this area.

If I get goats (on the wish list) I would deliberately cultivate these as food. The goal of course, is to continually harvest the foliage, so it doesn't get a chance to set seed.


Separated into branches, twigs and foliage


While leucaena may be a controversial tree species, I have to credit them for filling a gaping hole, on our property (literally) being the capacity to reduce soil erosion. I know there are those with an aversion to exotic plants, especially ones with a reputation for spreading. Normally, I would agree. On paper, I would agree.

Out here, in the field however, when choosing between watching your land roll down the hill, or working with a species that retains it - the answer is simple. I choose to keep my land. As you can see (above) I like to be ruthless with leucaena anyway. So it's high productivity, suits my quest for acquiring plentiful, soil improvements.

If leucaena shows up on your property, my advice is to use it (animal fodder, mulch, and preventing soil erosion) otherwise, remove it completely. Because what good is it to your land, if it takes over? And it will, if left unchecked. It's just one of those plants, which are really good, at self-replication.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Organic reshuffle

I shut down my vegetable patch, during the worst of the heat: but with the cool of autumn recently (sweet mercy!) it drew me back into the garden again. All to see what I could achieve, with what survived. I call it pottering around the garden, with no set agenda.


 Hugelkultur bed (1)


After much lallygagging, I noticed some failed experiments, could easily be reconstituted with the resources left behind. The stack of sugarcane mulch I piled around my potatoes, for example. It wasn't doing much, since harvesting the meager crop. Somewhat like another failed potato experiment, below...


What to do?


This terracotta pot, was filled to the brim with sugarcane mulch too. But it wasn't growing any potatoes now - just breaking down into a soggy mess. I had plans for all that mulch, to avoid purchasing more.


Barren


Another resource, I noticed was going to waste, was the old compost in the wicking boxes. They were shelved for taking down, and replacing with another hugelkultur bed - as they seem to do marginally better.

All these misplaced resources, were going to help address some shortfalls, in another hugelkultur bed.


Repaired, for an autumn garden
~ early March 


Hugelkultur bed (3) was only built last winter, so it had some settling to do over the growing season. As I pottered around that particular bed, recently, I noticed a few sunken pockets of soil. They could easily be filled with the old compost, from the failed wicking boxes.

Then I re-mulched, with the spent sugarcane from the potato experiments. Above, is what it looked like, in early March. This is what it looks like now, at the end of the same month...


Late March


The herbs I cut-back, regrew quickly. I also transplanted some herbs, that weren't doing so well, in other hugelkultur beds. Then I planted some pumpkin seeds, saved from a mini pumpkin, purchased at the farmer's market. The fact they're so small, should see me harvest something before the cool of winter arrives, in earnest. Fingers crossed.

I also planted other seeds saved, rather than have them go to waste in the cupboard. I haven't spent any extra money. See what lallygagging in the garden, gets you?

Then there was the terracotta pot...I had plans to make-over, as well.


Seeds


I planted some Lacy Lady peas, in the newly filled pot. I also cut down some long, thornless, banksia rose, canes - intruding on a walkway. They would make suitable posts, to support the peas as they grow.


 Bringing it all together


I tied the canes together, with some old bale, twine. Then several weeks later, this happened...


Germinated


Some peas emerged, to embellish the bottom of the tepee. I don't know how successful my organic reshuffle, will be. All I know is, I reused some resources that weren't doing much else. Failed experiments, are nature's own organic reshuffle too. All with the intended purpose, of growing new things.

I'd like to think, my pottering around the garden, will lead to some edible food. Maybe I did some good? I don't know. Time will tell. That's what prevailing conditions will decide, ultimately. I have to throw my hat into the ring, however, to find out.

I won't be growing anything, next summer, however. It seems to be the season of barbecued greens! Even under the shade.