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Building Progress ~ March 2011

Category: Barn Conversion Journal April 8th, 2011 by mbc

It’s been mainly outdoor work this month thanks to the pretty good weather.

I completed the flag-stone patio and I’ve concreted a top onto the dry-stone wall that runs along one side of it. I have built my (not-quite-as-deep-as-I-planned) barbeque pit and started to build a flag-stone fronted raised bed at the bottom of the main garden slope.

I’ve not made much progress in the wood with clearing trees to let the sunlight in, having been diverted by cutting and splitting logs that were kindly donated from my neighbours wood-pile. Next winters fuel is hopefully pretty well sorted. An additional benefit is that I’ve managed to get my chainsaw cutting much more efficiently by a combination of sharpening the blade and figuring out the correct tightness for the chain.

Now I’m back on to pointing with just a couple of patches to finish and hopefully no interruptions from the weather. I nearly made a start last weekend, but wasn’t happy with the mortar mix which was too yellowy as I used a new kiln dried sand, so I used that mix to start pointing the garden walls instead.

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Building Progress ~ February 2011

Category: Barn Conversion Journal March 3rd, 2011 by mbc

I completed the retaining great wall at the end of the path at the back of the barn and got on with putting in a mortared masonary wall to the garden side of the path that leads along the back of the barn through the gap in the wall that was one of my first acts of destruction at the barn. I’m also rearranging the rock garden that sits above this wall – it’s quite hard to describe so I’ll post some pictures shortly. This work has started to tidy things up but there’s still plenty to do. I began to lay the flag-stone patio last weekend, but rain-stopped-play as it so often does.

I made a start on clearing some of the trees and branches from the thick hedge that runs along the south facing edge of our little patch of woodland to let more sun-light into the wood and to make a contribution to next winters fuel supply. A blunt chainsaw chain and poor weather put paid to completing this job at the end of the month. A set of chainsaw sharpening files and the cold but dry weather that’s hopefully around the corner should let me crack on in March.

I had a visit from building control that’s given me the need to review my to-do list (coming soon). I had a bit of a concern about safety glass, but thankfully the bedroom hayloft door glass and the glazed arch in the bathroom are safety glass (the little safety glass symbols were obscured when we were looking for them by the masking tape that had been on the windows since last summer). The need to establish if it was safety glass or not made me get on with painting the bedroom hayloft door and the large yard side window (the top of which forms the glazed arch in the bathroom) so that I could remove the masking tap so that’s some painting unexpectedly done.

Inclement weather drove me indoors a couple of times so the main bathroom has had more tiling done to tidy up the joints in the shower cubicle, the walls have had holes filled and a spruce up of the paintwork, I put up a couple of hooks for hanging clothes on with the aid of my new stud finder (for finding wall studs – essential to get a good sound fix to the wall) and all the tiling has been cleaned over again.

I was also visited by a family of fellow barn convertors – good luck to Debbie, John and family; I hope you found some inspiration!

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Pointing with lime mortar ~ Part 2 = Mortar

Category: Starter for 10 December 31st, 2010 by mbc

Lime Pointing Tips

As I near the end of my repointing opus magnum I feel a little more qualified to advise on pointing with lime mortar than on most of the subjects I blather on about on this blog.

So here’s my take on all things lime mortar related – others may have differing guidelines – this is very much my take. This post is this second in the series.

Firstly, I covered the tools of the (pointing) trade now I’ll move onto lime mortar and how to make it.

From Pointing ~ tools

What went before?
When repointing an old building you may want to match the new mortar to the original mortar – a similar mortar mix, with a similar colour and texture. Many lime suppliers will analyse a piece of your original mortar and suggest the best way to achieve a match. Alternatively, you might want to do your own piece of psuedo-science and like me carry out your own lime analysis with a piece of the original mortar and an acid to dissolve the lime.

From your analysis you’ll start to form a picture of the exact mortar mix you’ll be using. You need to stick with the same mix for the whole of the job to ensure consistency of finish so make sure you’ve enough raw materials before you start.

Putty or powder?
One of the first questions you need to answer is what type of lime you’re going to use. There are two main choices – lime putty or powdered hydraulic lime.

Fat lime putty is produced by slaking quicklime with excessive amounts of water, thus forming a lime putty with a high water content. This form of lime does not set unless it comes into contact with air and so is ideal where some degree of flexibility is required – below the surface the lime does not fully set and so if the mortar cracks the newly exposed lime will set and re-establish a sound joint.

Natural hydraulic lime (NHL) dry powder products are similar in appearance and usage to dry powder cement products. Differing strengths of hydraulic lime products are available:

  • Feebly hydraulic lime (known as NHL 1 & 2), is slow setting (taking up to 20 days to set in wet conditions) and is suitable for internal use or external use where the masonry being pointed is very soft.
  • Moderately hydraulic lime (NHL 3.5), faster setting and used for pointing most types of stonework.
  • Eminently hydraulic lime (NHL 5), faster setting again and used for very exposed areas of pointing or floors.

As a rule of thumb you should never use a lime that sets harder than any masonry it’s in contact with.

Personally, I work with and recommend lime putty for pointing masonry walls which is where my experience lies.

Mortar Mixing
Powdered lime mortar can be treated pretty similarly to cement and a mixed by hand or in a cement mixer.

For mixing lime putty there are three main methods, in ascending order of ease and cost:

  1. By hand
  2. Using a drill with mixer attachment.
  3. By mortar mill (a £2000+ option)

I tend to mix small amounts of mortar as I use it – the equivalent of about four shovels-full of mortar lasts me about half a day. I use a drill with a mixer attachment. For most amateurs working on their own that is more than sufficient. Each mix takes 5 or 10 minutes and usually comes as welcome relief from starring at a wall. Originally I mixed by hand, which is a lot more time consuming, but good exercise and I certainly wouldn’t dissuade anyone from starting off in that way.

One advantage of using a putty based mortar is that any left unused can be stored, covered over and kept dry and then knocked up (that is worked briskly with a trowel) the next day or week ready to be used – only the top most layer will go off in contact with the air. Add a little splash of water if it dries out a bit.

Be careful when adding water to lime mortar at any stage – a little goes a long way.

You can also buy premixed mortar in which case no mixing is required. I’ve only come across a premixed mortar when being used by a neighbour – the mortar failed to go off and needed to be replaced so I’d certainly approach premix with caution.

When using a mortar gun you’ll need a smoother and sloppier mix than normal. No stones, pebbles or lumps of mortar or you’ll clog up the gun.

The mix I use, which gives a light coloured finish similar to the original mortar is:

  • 1 part lime putty
  • 2 parts builders sand
  • 1/2 (half) part kiln dried sand (for colour and to dry down the mix a little)
  • 1/2 part sharp sand
  • – this gives me some texture and a some particles than the builders sand alone, when using the mortar gun this can be left out to ensure a smooth mix

You’ll need to derive your own mix that suits your circumstances – then stick with it for the duration of your project.

In Part 3 I go on to discuss pointing technique

Previously… In Part 1 we looked at tools for pointing

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Pointing with lime mortar ~ Part 1 = Tools

Category: Starter for 10 December 23rd, 2010 by mbc

Lime Pointing Tips

As I near the end of my repointing opus magnum I feel a little more qualified to advise on pointing with lime mortar
than on most of the subjects I blather on about on this blog.

So here’s my take on all things lime mortar related – others may have differing guidelines – this is very much my take. This post is this first part of a series of 3 or 4 (I’ll see how I get on).

Firstly, I’ll cover the tools of the (pointing) trade.

From Pointing ~ tools

You need some pretty specialist tools for pointing. Nothing too exotic or hard to find, but I think it’s important to get the correct tools – tools that have the right size, weight and balance for the job. As a generally

For damping down the wall before pointing, you’ll need a good bristled brush and a bucket of water. I favour the ‘flick’ technique – water – bucket – dip brush and flick! Some people advocate the use of a garden water spray but that seems a little too fiddly to me.

From Pointing ~ picks

You’ll need a good hand pick or preferably two to allow for spreading them around your work area and keeping at least one close to hand. Use the pick for hacking out the old mortar to give a repointable joint. The pick will soon blunt and so a tool for resharpening is also recommended.

There are various machinery based options involving drill attachments and angle grinders that can be used for cleaning out old pointing joints, but I avoid them for fear of damaging the stonework.

From Pointing ~ hawk

To hold the mortar whilst pointing you need a hawk. Small pointing hawks rather than larger plasterers hawks are quite hard to come by, try your lime supplier first as they tend to stock them. A small hawk, by that I mean one that can accommodate a good trowel full of mortar and not much more is pretty essential when it comes to slow, delicate repointing work. Too large a hawk with too much mortar on it becomes surprising heavy surprisingly quickly.

From Pointing ~ trowels

I use two different size trowels, a normal sized pointing trowel for initially applying mortar to the joints and a smaller ‘trowel and square tool’ for finishing off – smoothing down the fresh mortar, cleaning off excess and filling small gaps. If you have straight mortar joints or need to work mortar into narrow recesses then a finger trowel may be of use, although mine is rarely used. I must admit to probably over-using the small trowel and encourage you not to do the same. I’m sure I could have worked much more quickly if I’d used a proper sized trowel whenever I could have. I’m trying to remedy that now by working with the larger trowel whenever possible, but I soon lapse back to my old ways if I’m not careful.

From Pointing ~ I’ve pointed
100 sqm+ with this sucker…

From Pointing ~ hammer

You’ll also need a masonary or brick hammer for hammering pinning stones into the original mortar bed to achieve a firm bedding before pointing (there’ll be more on what I mean by this in the technique section).

You’ll also need a wire brush or two (I always favour doubling up on tools that you’re not using all the time – with two around it’s more likely that at least one will be at hand). A hard bristled brush is also handy for cleaning off old lose mortar and misplaced or untidy dried new mortar. Do be careful when using a wire brush and try to keep it away from your nicely pointed joints as it will easily damage them.

From Pointing ~ gun!

I bought a mortar gun way back when I first started pointing. At the time I couldn’t get on with it at all. I’d try using it and usually give up in disgust at the amount of time I was wasting filling it, clogging it up, emptying it and repeating the whole cycle whilst achieving very little in the way of pointing. However, after much trial and error I came to a happy compromise with it and learnt when to try using it and when not to bother. The key is getting the mortar to the correct consistency (much sloppier than you’d mix for normal pointing) and like a good gravy ensure there are no lumps (of stone or lime) in it. Too firm a mix will clog the gun and you’ll end up pressing water out of the mortar rather than mortar out of the gun. Any lumps of stone or lime putty will block the nozzle of the gun and nothing will come out. As you’ll be using a sloppy and smooth mortar mix it’s only really suitable for filling deep or inaccessible holes in the mortar and in relatively dry conditions that will allow the mortar to lose a lot of moisture relatively quickly – I tend to not damp the wall down prior to using this mortar. In practice I only use the gun when I have deep and / or inaccessible joints to repoint. The gun does the bulk working, pumping quantities of mortar into the joints first, I then finish the top layer of pointing in the normal way by hand.

In Part 2 I go on to discuss lime mortar

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Step 9 = walls

Category: Steps along the way March 29th, 2010 by mbc

…for a conversion your hands are usually tied but you’ll need to consider insulation, finishes and any remedial work.

First things first, will the walls remain or do they need to come down? I’m going to assume they will remain as afterall, this is a site about CONVERSION

Some questions to be answered…

Steps along the way...

When I started MyBarnConversion I meant to share some quick and easy yet hopefully valuable tips in a 'Steps along the way' series of short posts.

That series fell by the wayside, but now I've brought it back. Use the link above for a full list of my tips.

Will some areas of the walls need rebuilding? Will you need to underpin some sections of the walls for greater stability? Do you have cracks in the wall that will nessitate restitching or partial rebuilding?

Pointing – (mortar not fingers) will your walls need repointing? If so with what materials? You may need to research the original construction techniques and materials so that you can achieve a sympathetic result.

Insulation. Don’t forget that insulation can be placed both internally and externally in the form of render or cladding. External insulation can be a great way to avoid losing internal space.

Rendering, painting or washing. Is there any reason, cosmetic or practical that you may need to apply a covering to the wall. For example, I had the end wall of the barn rough pointed and whitewashed in a attempt to increase water tightness.

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Autumn 2013

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Flanking manoeuvres and good design…

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Green Deal Launch

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