Four Letter DIY Moments

Ah weekends, once the refuge of the handyman, the gardener and the food preserver. Nowadays, it is just another working day where we try to cram in the shopping beside the housework, in between being stuck in traffic and get sworn at by red faced men in jeeps who think coming up here is off roading because it's a B road. It comes as no surprise that DIY is on the decline, the age of Barry Bucknell buggering up your home is gone; we all have someone who can do those jobs for us. Then there is the other end of the argument where none of us can afford to do it ourselves or pay for someone else to fret about it. We sit in houses, saving up money, for jobs that may never be done because no one has ever shown us how to do it and every film on You Tube shouts at us in technical language that makes us wish for four letter words after something drops on them. We have had plenty of those in this house, from the bathroom to the kitchen, to the exploding boxed in soot bomb in the family room, we have been covered, cut, crushed, bruised and broken by things falling on fingers, feet and heads. We have learnt over time that no matter how small the job is, it's best to wear a mask, steel toe capped boots, gloves, goggles and armour. For example, this week we decided to start clearing the last bit of plaster from the wall in our office. We will point this, D thinks we spend the entire day just pointing at the wall whilst he's at school and then we go to the chippy for lunch just to spite him; we catch him pointing at the wall in the evening wishing for fish and chips. This corner of the house has been drying out after our roof replacement a few years ago. This room suffered the most from damp and mould and the removal of the wall, opening it up to the corridor has sped up the drying out process ready for the plasterer in a couple of weeks. However, a downside of all that drying out was when we had the heating fitted, the exterior wall plaster fell off in sheets; feature wall! Indeed. The wall was stripped quickly back and the radiator went on and then what remained of the plaster was left.  


life on pig row, horse hair plaster

We start to clear off this seven foot section of plaster, careful not to bring down the ceiling as we use our chisels and hammers to chip away the horse hair plaster; we look like we have just arrived at a chemical spill in our garb or in an early Prodigy video. Our chisels seem to be finding lots of holes, and as the first bits of horse hair crumble away we see only blackness - this is not us channeling our inner goths, or being existential - this is a repeat of the bathroom problem, there is stone on the outside skin of the house but on the inside there is nothing but birds nests and soot. The next door neighbour sees us as bring rubble out and says we look like pirates, it's only when we look in the mirror that we realise what she means, soot cakes our teeth, even with masks, so every odd tooth looks like it's missing. Arrrgh! Which is like the inside stonework in the house, missing. The good thing about being gardeners is that as we have built our garden and we have found loads of stone - so there is no real excuse for those eighteenth century builders who decided to stop short of the ceiling. It's a matter of raking out all the joints first and making them secure with new mortar before adding more stone. The problem is that outside it's 28 degrees and inside it's creeping higher still. We fling open windows, rake out joints to find we can get our fists in some of the cavities, we have to go carefully, packing the larger holes with stone from the garden, we have several piles of stone, graded into Tom, Dick and Harry. This is what we call these piles in the garden. Harry though became a wall a few years back and Dick is rather short now and Tom has been moved to somewhere in the garden that is hard to get to.

Stone wall

We slot in some new stone to see if it fits, you can see the photo above how this new stone is sitting precariously just below the ceiling. We still need to pack another line of stone above this. After raking out all the joints and one large stone falling out the wall and narrowly missing our feet because we catch it we start to point; a mix of 1:1:3. That's one cement, one lime, three sand and water; you want the consistency of thick porridge so you can see the bottom of your bucket when you stir it and it doesn't settle back down to cover the bottom of the bucket. We have a lovely tool, which is a pointing trowel and an old screwdriver. The idea here is to pack in as much mortar into these cavernous joints as we can, less is not more in structural work. We then leave it 24 hours before tackling the missing stonework. We have a bucket of water and brush at the ready to, this is to go over the joints until the mortar has set, this stops cracking which happens with stone and which definitely happens in hot weather. It also knocks off excess mortar. It's then a game of finding the right piece of stone to go in the right hole, it's best to pack it in first and then add the mortar but this job is tight, messy and you can't do it with gloves on because you need to be able to feel. The result though is impressive.

Feature stone wall

Interior ideas for exposed walls

However, our hands aren't because the ceiling edge cuts our fingers, the mortar dries out our skin and the stone nips at our skin. By the end of the job our hands are in a sorry mess but the missing stone work has been reinstated. All the joints are full and the wall is stable once more, and somewhat of a feature if we ignore flecks of our own blood and swear words on the stone.

Stone wall

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