26 December 2015

One man's handy man work

Ross and Kerryn's home after alterations
A few weeks ago my sisters, Felicity and Toni, asked me to do some alterations for Felicity's son and daughter in law to make life a bit more bearable for them. They had been living in a small room off house for a couple of years but it was time to give them a bit of space to grow. What this would entail would be cutting a doorway through the back wall into the garage, cutting a window into the exterior wall to allow light and air into the new room and building a dry wall to divide the garage and then installing a ceiling with insulation and lighting.
Since this was a family funded project I was going to have to do the alterations myself with only two inexperienced assistants to do the heavy lifting where required. That meant all the cutting, planning and actual finishing work. Houses in this country are built from brick and not timber as they are in the U.S.A. Very dusty work indeed.
I started by dividing the garage down the middle and then installing the dry wall. This was important because of the dust that would be generated once cutting the walls began, I didn't want the dust getting into all the stuff that was now stored in the remaining half of the garage.
Studs, tracks and boards installed
This didn't take that long and by the end of the first day the divide had been installed. Next was the cutting out of the window opening. This entailed marking out where the cutting was to take place, drilling through the double brick wall to align the cuts and then getting to it. Goggles, and dust mask were donned and the worst part of the process began. I could only cut about a meter at a time because of the dust, I couldn't see nor breathe after just a short while. I must tell you that this was all done while the air temperature was in the upper thirties, wow very hot. Once I had cut the inside of the wall it was time to cut the outside, a little more ventilation but still in full sunshine. After that my two assistants knocked out the bricks and cleaned up the mess. Next was the doorway.
Cutting the window out had shown me just how dusty this doorway cutting was going to be. There was no ventilation in their old room and by using a stand fan I was able to move the air just enough to once again cut for about a meter at a time. I would cut with and angle grinder fitted with a masonry cutting disk and when I could no longer see what I was doing would rush outside, strip off my safety gear, breathe and wait for the dust to clear. Back again for the next meter of cutting. This doorway entailed about 10 meters of cutting before I could temporarily put the grinder aside and clean up the rubble. The cutting of the walls took about two days in total but there was still the plastering to happen.  
Window installed with double lintels above

Doorway cut with lintels installed
As with all brick buildings it is necessary to fit lintel (pre stressed concrete strips) above any opening in the wall to support the brickwork above the opening. In the case of the window I had to cut the opening according to the size of the window allowing just a few millimeters gap. This was because this particular window had been used in a movie set previously so the wings at the top and bottom rails had been cut off so as to be able to be installed in a wall flat. The plaster all round the window frame is what will have to hold the frame in place, that's all right. I made the plaster strong with extra cement and built it up to a little over 20 millimeters. The door opening wasn't getting a frame but was cut so that should a door be needed in the future there would be enough space to fit a frame too.
Plastering, I must tell you, is an art not just a skill. To get everything lined up and straight both inside and outside the window took quite a bit of patience and frustration. I'm not a wet work builder, I do carpentry so this took quite a while and lots of redoing where things went wrong, before the plaster set of course. The doorway was considerably easier to accomplish. What I did was to clamp a straight edge on either side of the remaining bricks, plumb and align them correctly and then fill in the space between the straight edges. Once the plaster had set to the point where it could be scraped off with another straight edge I could use a wooden float to smooth off the resulting plaster work. After this I removed the straight edges and scraped off the excess plaster to get it to be flush with the walls. By this time it was now dark outside and about eight thirty in the evening. Advice, with plaster work start early and don't let things go on for too long. The following morning is too late to be able to do any alterations, it would have set by then. Still to come was the ceiling, lighting and fitting the glass to the window. There was of course the skimming of the dry wall, skimming of the new plaster work, fixing up the step where the levels of the floors were not the same and then the painting which wasn't my problem, Ross and Kerryn were keen to try their hands at paint work using a technique they had decided on.
Ready to fit the ceiling and finish off.
There is a reason I'm posting this process as a work project. The one post I have had the most hits on has been one showing how I made connectors from fence post tops for geodesic  dome construction. So in order to be of use to other handy men around the world I thought I'd go through the process in a bit of detail. I unfortunately didn't start taking pictures until the whole process was almost complete but that is all I can offer at the moment. Any questions will be dealt with in the comment section. My next post will be about the rest of the work not covered in this post.
God bless all the handy men in the world, you are valued.

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