Saturday, May 30, 2009

Building a Brick Barbecue: Implementation

The barbecue is built. In the end, I reckon the actual building took less time than the planning and the acquisition of the materials. I am not 100% satisified with the job, but since they're the first bricks I've laid in about two decades, I'm not badly unhappy with it either.

Having cleared off some of the flagstones in the back yard - which are laid on a deep bed of sand - I laid out the bricks, checked again that the grills would fit, and generally got things going. You can see a big pile of bricks in the background - there were 140 in total. 

A few courses up, things looked like this:

And by the time I took a break for lunch, some seven courses were laid in, reasonably level and reasonably square - all done by eye, since I don't own a spirit level, or any large square.

The flagstones that form the hearth went on after another two courses, and the next layer of bricks. The grill is on to make sure everything is still lined up:

The two flagstones are one aspect I'm not too happy with - I would have prefered one slab the whole way across, but the single item B&Q had that was big enough was also thick enough that I couldn't lift it. I'll look for some slate for v2.0, I think, in a piece big enough to go right across. There's an old slate quarry near my homeplace; it might be worth looking around there a bit.

As we get toward the top of the structure, things look very Lego-ish. I decided to stop one course short of where I was originally intending - I'll get some nicer bricks, ones that are solid through, to finish things off.

Here's the finished item - or at least, finished until I get that final set of bricks, and also some tiles to cover the area of bare bricks in front of the hearth.

The whole thing will get its inaugural run tomorrow. We spent the rest of the day outside as well, enjoying the glorious weather. The Fat Cat is also, unsurprisingly, a fan of the sunshine:

Friday, May 29, 2009

Building a Brick Barbecue: Plans

I've been wanting to build a brick barbecue for a very long time now. This year, I'm making that a reality. This will, strictly, be Barbecue v1.0, which will at some future date, after an extension is built, be replaced by Barbecue v2.0. However, for the next few years, v1 will be where it's at.

So my idea is pretty simple. I'm going to build three small walls in a U-shape, with the mouth of the U facing either the house, or the eastern fence. Supported by these walls, about 50-60cm from the ground, will be some sort of flat surface. I reckon at the moment that this will be a paving slab of some kind, but depending on available materials, it may be a brick-paved surface over a rubble core. This will be where ashes and spent coals fall - a hearth, in other words.

Protruding onto this surface from the walls, which will continue up, will be four bricks, on which will rest the coal grill. This will be about 6cm higher than the hearth surface, that being roughly the height of one brick. Above this - given room for the coal grill by the thickness of mortar - will be another four protruding bricks, preferably offset from those below so as to avoid issues where the coal grill gets stuck between bricks. On these will rest the cooking grill, giving another 6cm between the coal grill and the food. Now, I'm looking at that, going "6 cm is really not much space!", so it may have to be more like 13cm, or two bricks and some mortar, and I might have to leave a similar gap between the hearth and the coal grill. It would avoid the grill-getting-stuck-between-bricks possibility as well. I'll need to look at the materials.

And then, the walls will continue up another 2 courses of bricks or so, in order to shelter the food grill a bit. There are some "warming grills" in the grill package I'm using, so I may go so far as to put in some pins to rest them on - they don't rate full brick support, and I might not include accommodation for them at all.

So... some rough maths says I need about 105 red bricks, assuming they're near the standard size of 215mm x 102mm x 65mm. I think I'll get about 140, to be on the safe side. I'll also need that paving slab, if I can get one big enough - it can protude on two sides and make a neat shelf, if it's too big - or enough bricks to make a small front wall and pave the "hearth" if the slab option doesn't work out. I'll need some kind of masonry chisel in order to produce half-bricks for wall-ends, unless B&Q are ahead of me and provide them as well. And for the mortar, cement, sand and some plasticiser if I can find it. And a trowel. And a jointer, or at least a short piece of hosepipe, as I've seen used on building sites. And something to make the mortar in, or on... the local election posters look tempting.

That's quite a list, but I reckon it'll come out, pricewise, a good measure cheaper than a shop-bought charcoal barbecue, and last considerably longer. Not to mention that it will be terribly satisfying.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Strawberries, Willow Cones, and Potatoes

Over the last few weeks, we've been very active in the garden. These pictures are all from this evening - I have a few from the potato planting process as well, but I'm saving those for a whole post about nothing but spuds when we get the first ones dug up. The grass, you'll see, is nicely cut, and this is due to our fine new Black & Decker electric lawnmower, which made short work of the three weeks of grass since the last use of the manual mower bought from Lidl last year as a stop-gap device. It's already been claimed via Freecycle, so someone else can benefit from it for a bit.

Here's our strawberry bed. This has been double-dug, composted, ridged, and planted with strawberry plants we got from B&Q - Elsanta and Loran, according to my notes, although I have to admit I'm not 100% certain which is which. I think the bigger ones on the left are the Lorans.

Below, you see the very nice willow cones, and the runner beans and peas that are intended to grow up them. This bed was also double dug back last autumn, and had some overwintering lettuce and peas. The lettuce had some survivos, which we ate, but the peas never quite made it. To their right are some thyme and an aubergine plant - under a glass cover because of wind in the last few days which was giving it a bit of a battering. I don't reckon the extra heat will do it any harm either. In at the back of those you can see the onions, and the last of the mizuna - soon to come out and be replaced by (hopefully) lettuces and a couple of pumpkins.
Here's a brief glimpse of the potatoes - that's mayflower petals all over the bed, not some strange fertiliser! They're in need of some earthing up, which will probably happen at the weekend. They're in where the ill-fated greenhouse was last summer.

This is a rose from my wife's homeplace in Finland, brought over as tiny plants last autumn by my mother-in-law, and carefully planted here. There are four or five actual plants, but this is the only one flowering so far. We intend to let them grow into a combined bush, and the scent from even one flower is something else, so a number of them are going to be fantastic.

Here you see a juvenile gooseberry bush - already with plenty of spikes. The canes we planted have almost all failed to show, with only one growing at all. I think it's a blackberry, but it's so tiny that unless it does a lot of growing between now and September, there won't be anything from it this year.

These apparently empty pots contain the planted lettuces and pumpkins that are to go into the end of the long bed when they're big enough. They're outside, near the house, ready to be hauled in should there be a cold night.
And here, attended by the Small Cat, are two Siberian tomatoes, last year's surviving pepper (for certain values of surviving) and in beside it, a pot of supermarket basil that has not died, and indeed, seems to be thriving. It's also up for transplant to a larger pot, or maybe even into the bed beside the thyme, at the weekend.

More pictures as they appear!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Wallpaper Stripping and Painting

We had tested a few strips of wallpaper in the kitchen; they came off pretty easily. This was a good thing, because the most recent layer of paper was a kind of salmon-pink with a smudgy, feathery pattern in vague, faint green and maybe some half-hearted blue. It was every bit as bad as that sounds, and the accents of a strip around the room at waist height - dark green in a sort of paisley pattern - didn't help. That came off easily, as we thought. But under it was a far more tenacious stuff; white with little blue flower-things in an offset geometric pattern. In larger patches, it gave me odd visual effects - I don't want to imagine what it looked like over the whole room. It had to go, but having been pasted directly onto the plasterboard, it was well stuck.

Eventually, we hired a steamer. Man, those things are genius. They're basically a big kettle with a hose attached, and on the end of the hose is a device that shoots out some steam and traps it against the wall. The wallpaper just peels right off, or at least can be scraped with relative ease - but you have to do it immediately, while it's still warm. So it's pretty much a one-man job, which was especially fun up above the kitchen cupboards, where the escaping steam gathered, and made my hair curl so much it got crunchy. That's a strange feeling. When we re-do the kitchen, we're putting in cupboards right to the ceiling there - the gap at the top is a waste of space, and I reckon it makes the ceiling seem lower, too. And we won't have to scramble up after that to paint the wall there, either.

So after all the paper was down, the room looked pretty awful. We promptly put on two coats of paint in a colour called 'Antique White', and things were vastly improved. Having done some rearranging of furniture, and pinned some game maps back to the wall, things looked considerably better in the same corner:

The real change, however, is in the light levels in the room. Even on a dull day, I now forget to put on the light, whereas before, it was necessary on a sunny day. 

The guy in the shop where we hired the steamer reckons we could get a second-hand one for about €120, so we'll be taking him up on that when we next go to remove wallpaper. We'll then have it for the other four or five rooms that need doing here, and can sell it on, or keep it to lend to people, and have it work out a lot better than renting at €25 a day - not that that's a bad rate.

We've still to do the painting on the woodwork there, and the old dresser you can partially see in the top photo is going to be painted as well. We're looking for a kind of eggshell blue for that - just on the blue side of light grey, I think. Pictures of the process will be posted!