I recently got around to repainting the wooden cabin at the end of my garden and chose Cuprinol's Garden Shades in delightful Seagrass colour. I discovered something rather unexpected however, that others would be well advised to heed before they embark on a similar mission!

This paint is dead clever and develops a waxy surface in order to repel rainwater and protect your wood. Unfortunately, being a water-based paint, this means it may also repel your attempts to apply a second coat! As you can see in my picture above, it's like painting on glass and the new paint just beads up into globules as it can't stick to the previous coat.

It distressed me rather when I discovered this phenomenon and a call to Cuprinol followed as soon as I could look up their number. After a bit of a wait a very knowledgable young lady gave me the lowdown on what was going wrong. She recommended I rub the surface down with methylated spirits to break down that waxy layer and I'm glad to say that this did indeed do the trick, though it adds a whole lot of extra faff to the process.

I note that on the can it does say "allow 2-8 hours between coats" and with the benefit of hindsight and the explanation from Cuprinol, I see that this is presumably intended as a range with an upper bound. I had left it for a week, and this allowed that waxy surface to develop, so I should have recoated much sooner. However this text is decidely ambigious and can easily be read as a minimum only, stated as a range due to differing drying times according to conditions. It is especially likely that your average reader will interpret it so, as most paint cans provide just a minimum. Interestingly their website states it a bit differently: "Where a second coat is required, allow up to 8 hours in between coats." It still neglects to explain why this is, the importance of it, and what to do if you are unable to comply.

So be warned that the innocuous statement on the can is actually very important. Sadly this means you have to set aside enough time in one block to coat everything once, allow it to dry sufficiently then recoat. Otherwise you'll have to get the meths out. Either way this adds a major inconvenience and the cynic in me suspects that's why they're reluctant to explain it properly on the can. The nice lady on the phone did say that they get loads of phone calls about this exact problem and are considering how they can improve the instructions. I want to see a very clear explanation of what happens and why, in a big bold box that draws attention. It should also describe the meths workaround. To do anything less is to fail the customer.

FWIW, I'm now very pleased with the results and will use the product again. I would have been so much happier if I hadn't had to go through this saga, which involved holding on their expensive-from-a-mobile phone line for ages, and a major expedition to find somewhere with meths in stock.

BrickPath 2

I have a fair amount of lawn in my garden, which is looking pretty ropey right now, but I'm working on it! However I'm intending to convert a lot of it to more intriguing beds and paths. This project details one little part of that grand plan. In the picture above, I've removed the turf from a corner, which originally had just a narrow bed at the back against the trellis.

BrickPath 3

My plan was to put a curving brick path through this new area, leaving an eye-shaped island that will probably host a small tree and other planting high enough and rumbustious enough to make the path a little voyage of discovery. A very little voyage, but adding much-needed intrigue.

I started by using the garden hose to experiment with the shape of the path, using some bricks to get the width right. What a beautiful shape!

Those bricks, and indeed all the bricks I will use, are from the rear chimney on the house, which was removed in a recent loft conversion (the chimney, not the house). They are a mix of old handmade red clay bricks and nasty moulded modern things, but they have some character, including sooty marks, and I think mixed up they're going to look the part.

I'm not sure how well they will survive the harsh winters that seem to be the new normal. I strongly suspect they will suffer from frost damage and it will be interesting to find out whether it's the old or new that perform better. I have plenty left to repair the damage. For the record, ideally you'd use engineering bricks, but I don't have any and I feel it would lack the charm of a crumbling old brick path.

BrickPath 4

Having established the basic shape and scored a mark in the soil with the edge of a spade along the hosepipe, I dug it out about a brick deep plus a couple of centimetres for the sand. I also added 5cm or so on either side to give room for manoeuvre.

Theoretically I should use pegs in the ground, string and spirit levels to establish a perfectly level, flat path, but that's just not my style, and the two ends are not at the same level anyway. I used a couple of bits of straight wood and my eye to make sure that the soil bed was basically level with no major local bumps or hollows. Again I invoke 'rustic' as an excuse for my slapdashery.

BrickPath 5

Do you know why sharp sand is called sharp sand? Because the individual grains are all knobbly and 'sharp', compared to non-sharp sand which has smooth, rounded grains. This helps them to lock together and form a firm base. I've used four bags of sharp sand and with the aid of a rake and a piece of wood the width of the path dragged over it, I've turned it into a smooth base ready for my bricks. I spent quite a while trying to get this right, as it will be reflected in the final result.

By the way, I bought six bags of sand from Wickes for the grand total of £10.86, and that was my entire spend on this project. The rest is bricks and tools I already had, and my own labour.

BrickPath 1

I figured it was best to lay one whole run the length of the path, to establish and tweak the basic curve. Then of course the subsequent runs are a bit longer each time around the curve, so we need half-bricks here and there to keep a good pattern going.

I used a bolster chisel and club hammer to cut the bricks by hand, which takes a bit of technique, a certain amount of practise and a lot of patience, especially when it's raining and you can't see through your goggles (you don't want brick chips in your eye). I think most people would find this the most challenging part of the project if they haven't done it before. You can get machines to do it nicely and with no effort on your part, which would be worthwhile if doing anything much bigger. A straight path would only require half-bricks at the ends of course.

BrickPath 6

Once I'd got all the bricks down it looked pretty good, but only then did I fork over the beds either side, being very careful not to disturb my new path. I had been agonising over whether to do that first or last. I feared that if I did it first I might loosen the firm bed for my path, compacted nicely as it was under the old lawn. Also, it would have made working around the path and seeing the edges a lot harder, so I'm glad I did it this way around.

BrickPath 7

Finally, I did that digging of the compacted soil, and packed it up to the edge of my bricks, ready to receive plants. Then I brushed more sharp sand into all of the cracks to finish off the path itself. That took a surprisingly long time and a few goes as the bricks settled and new holes opened up. Using very dry sand really helps it to fall down those cracks so I dried mine out in the sun before using it.

I'm very pleased with the result, but time will tell whether it's really any good. Next project is the planting either side of it.

You might have noticed I've been a bit quiet on this blog for most of this year, though I've been doing rather better on my other blog: UK Nature Blog. That's the problem with having kids – suddenly you don't seem to have a lot of time spare. But there are upsides, and just enough time spare to revel in them! I am of course referring to the opportunity for pushing the limits with small childrens' toys! It was necessary to build this on carpet otherwise the two 'feet' would just slide apart.

Living as I do in a 1920s house with solid brick walls (no cavity, no insulation) the recent cold snap made it really clear just what a difference insulation makes. The modern flat I was in previously was bordered on most sides by other flats, and its exterior walls were no doubt well insulated. The heating didn't have to work very hard, but in the new house it had a struggle on its hands and ran nearly continuously through the freezing weather, whilst only very slowly raising the internal temperature. You could almost feel the heat (and the money, and my eco credentials) draining away through those cold solid walls.


I've been on a mission to improve the odds in my favour since I moved in, having done the following.

  • Improve sealing around the front door, which was quite draughty, by adding self-adhesive strips of V-profile sealant tape. Did the same for a draughty window.
  • Improve sealing around the back UPVC doors by adding shims to the closing mechanism and adjusting the locking system to get it to close more tightly and cut out the draught.
  • Put some clear tape (literally just ordinary Sellotape) on the frame of a UPVC window that was allowing a tiny draught. This wasn't the gap between window and frame but an imperceptible gap in the frame itself!
  • Installed secondary double glazing on the few single glazed windows in the house. This is a clear film that you stick up on the inside with double sided tape then shrink smooth with a hairdryer. The air gap that you trap acts just the same as normal double glazing and is not immediately noticeable.
  • Improved loft insulation by adding 150mm space blankets in most of the eaves. These are great – easy to handle because they're wrapped in thin plastic and crazy cheap at most hardware stores because they're heavily subsidised. I had to be careful not to lay them over wires though (they might overheat) which is tricky as most of the rooms below have a light in the middle of them and hence wires going to those lights from the loft. I'd love to know how everyone else solves this wiry problem, given pretty much everyone must have it.
  • Added 50mm slab insulation (glass fibre insulation bought in flat semi-rigid slabs, rather than in rolls) to the backs of the plasterboard walls in the converted loft. This stuff is great as you just cut it with a knife to slightly larger than the size required and jam it into the spaces, where it stays. I got a single pack from Wickes, which covers over 7 square metres and only cost me £15 because the pack was damaged and they gave me a discount. I reckon that's £15 well spent and I hope it will make the loft noticeably warmer. The pictures show this stuff being cut (above) and installed (below) with the left-most bit of wall still to do, showing just the shiny back of the plasterboard – so you can see before and after in one shot.


Our kitchen had one patch of bare wall but nowhere to put cookbooks other than in a pile on a worktop. A perfect opportunity for some bookshelves! I planned a custom construction made from pine, comprising two uprights resting on the floor with four cross pieces (for three shelves and a top) with the whole thing screwed to the wall for rock solidness.


I originally expected to use 18mm thick sawn pine timber, but in B&Q it was clear that these were actually quite warped end to end – the top of a 2.4m plank was about 30 degrees twisted compared to the bottom so that it would have messed up the result something chronic. Instead I bought pine "furniture board" which is engineered from multiple pieces of pine glued together (edge to edge, not ply) which gives a much less lively result with hardly any warp whilst looking quite attractive. It's quite a lot more expensive mind you, and having waited 30 minutes for the timber cutting service to re-open after lunch I was told my 20cm wide boards were not suitable for the machine. At 2.4m long they weren't going to fit in the car so a hasty re-planning was required, resulting in the purchase of a number of smaller 25cm wide pre-cut pieces. I'm glad I went for that width actually as many of the books are 22cm and there's room to accommodate that depth from the wall even though I was worried there wouldn't be.

I had been keen to get all the lengths cut in store for a perfectly square, straight cut with identical lengths for all the shelves. I don't have a table saw so I was going to struggle to do this easily myself, but I was forced to saw the boards down to the right length with a hand saw. It was tough to get a good result here and to get them all the exact same length, but the flex in the uprights accommodated the differences. I simply put two number 8 screws into the end of each shelf to hold it in place, with carefully drilled countersunk screw holes, and that seems to have done the job. The countersink bit I bought recently is a godsend – it really makes the results look so much more professional.

A couple of simple metal angle brackets off the peg from B&Q allowed me to screw the whole ensemble firmly to the wall and it really is very rigid. Also note in the picture (click for bigger version) the 45 degree cut off on the tops of the side pieces and the cut-outs at the bottom to allow it to sit flush against the wall above the skirting.

Overall I'm extremely pleased with the result apart from one thing. I slightly lost track of of the height of my biggest books between start and end of the project, the result being that they don't quite fit on the shelves by a few millimetres. I'm kicking myself about this, but I'm a novice and I'll learn from these mistakes.

05. October 2009 · 8 comments · Categories: DIY

One of the sheds I inherited when I moved into the new house had a bit of a dodgy roof, with the felt rather ragged and exposing the wood around the edges. In the recent strong winds half of the felt actually peeled back and flopped to one side like a bad combover, so with lots of rain forecast for this week I figured I had to act swiftly to keep things dry.

According to their website Homebase don't actually sell roof felt (though they do sell the nails) so it was Wickes that sorted me out: £11 for an 8 metre roll of felt and a couple of quid more for a ridiculous quantity of 'galvanised 13mm extra large head clout nails'. A bargain surely.


It turned out to be surprisingly straightforward to get the old felt off and the new stuff on, even with no access to the side and rear aspects. I was done within just a couple of hours. I had to do most of the work from perching on the roof itself, which was only just robust enough to support me. The special nails are a joy to work with: push them into the felt with a thumb and they stand up on their own, then two whacks with a hammer and they're in. Very satisfying.


The only thing that went wrong was a misdirected hammer blow when leant over the rear, fighting amongst tree branches, which ripped a hole in the felt. I was nearly done at this point so wasn't keen to rip it all off and start again, but luckily the tarry felt could be pudged back together with a thumb in such a way that it's probably sufficiently waterproof. I'll have to keep an eye on that. It was also tough not to damage the felt when climbing all over it, which explains the scuff marks in the photo below.


21. September 2009 · 1 comment · Categories: DIY

It's out with the old and in with the new. This post is categorised as DIY, but actually a nice chap from Amber Heating and Plumbing is doing the work, which is to take out our old boiler, hot water cylinder and hot and cold header tanks, and replace them with a combi boiler. So once it's done, all our hot water and heating will be on-demand and we free up the space the cylinder and tanks were occupying. We also get rid of the incredibly noisy shower pump which terrorises me in the mornings when my wife gets up.


Every few months the scroll ball on my Apple Mighty Mouse starts to get a bit intermittent because of the build up of dirt, fibres and grease in the mechanism, which is very frustrating. For the past few days I've only been able to scroll up, and reading web pages backwards is losing its novelty. There are a million and one web pages out there telling you how best to clean your ball, and I've tried several of them.

Some people suggest taking the mouse apart, but that apparently incurs a high risk of cracking it, requiring gluing back together, and is clearly an all round monumental faff, so I count it as an option of last resort which thankfully I've not had to employ yet.

Running a fine piece of sticky tape under the ball and flossing was a particularly delicate operation but didn't make much difference, so I don't recommend that.

Turning the mouse upside down and simply rolling the ball around on a clean piece of paper has the beauty of immediacy and simplicity and certainly helps a bit, but not if you've got major problems.

Best of all is the application of WD40 (or even vodka as one German YouTuber advocates) then a good roll around with a clean rag. The idea is to get your cleaning fluid all around the ball so it cleans the rollers underneath, dissolving the grease and lifting fibres, so I recommend long circular movements in many directions, trying to get the ball going every which way. A second application may be required. Don't use too much fluid though or it may wreak havoc with the inside of your mouse. WD40 is just viscose enough, and easily sprayed on in a small quantity, so it's controllable. It sorts me out every time.


This old house has lots of old door knobs, but some are a bit worse for wear. I've already repaired a broken spring in one with some cobbled together bits from an old wooden clothes peg, but that's another story. Another was lacking a crucial grub screw that meant the knob on one side just rotated freely, rather than operating the latch. The nice guy at Alban Locksmiths furnished me with an Imperial threaded screw that fits. However I needed a grub screw – one where there is no 'head' so to speak so that it can worm its way right into the hole.

No problem! Just saw the head off the normal screw then saw a notch in the end for the screwdriver. Here's a pictorial essay of my approach, the only trick of any merit being to clamp the screw between two bits of soft wood in the vice, so that it's gripped securely and you can saw it without it slipping or being damaged.

GrubScrew 1  GrubScrew 2

GrubScrew 3  GrubScrew 4

31. July 2009 · 1 comment · Categories: DIY
We've been in the new house for just a week and have done a lot in that time. Here's a quick list of most of the DIY jobs we've done – with a bit of help from the parents and in-laws. Thanks very much to them!

Cleaning – lots thereof.
Fill crack in front door panel, that you could see outside through.
Trim holly and other bushy plant that was half blocking drive.
Remove dead and scrappy bits of Goldenrod and tie back with string (later replaced with green wire).
Brush whole deck with stiff brush to clean it up.
Remove posts and chains from most of deck edge.
Fit new lock to front door (got existing one refurbished and innards replaced).
Fit retaining bar to front door.
Fit coat hook rail to wall in hall.
Put up pan hanger rail in kitchen.
Replace hooks on back of bedroom door for nicer ones.
Figure out why living room door knob isn't working the latch – needs a grub screw.
Put up new curtain rod in master bedroom, reusing existing holes (needed some adaptation).
Fit new keyhole escutcheon with cover (on inside of front door, to get the benefit, without the annoyance).
Put together flat pack metal shelving from Homebase. 56 nuts and bolts! Won't buy that again.
Improve sink in bathroom, raising it on bits of card and screwing it better to the wall, for a flusher fit. Still needs grout and seal.
Adjust patio door hanging to help it close properly.
Adjust cabin door hanging to help it close properly.
Sweep patio around cabin, including leaves and crud at back, that could have caused damp.
Fix shower so it doesn't leak: remove old sealant, chip away years of limescale, clean, regrout and reseal. (Still working on this actually, but it's the biggest job of any of them time-wise.)
Clean UPVC outdoor bits of patio doors using special cleaner.
Fit extra shelf under kitchen sink by cutting out section of original extra shelf to fit round drain pipes etc.
Fit cleat to tree stump and run washing line to apple tree (where held with wide strap round tree).
Fit bird feeder hanger to tree stump.
Saw off and file down ends from over-long bolts protruding from chimney back plate in kitchen.
Fit lock to side window.
Put up IKEA mirror in bathroom, with cunning springy top-clasps.
Assemble IKEA shelves for computery stuff.