About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Tackling the fireplace

You remember I said that I'd fix up the fireplace properly after Christmas? If you've been here a while and you have an exceptionally good memory, you might remember. Well, I didn't say which Christmas, did I?

It's one of those jobs that generates other jobs on the way. I did mortar the arch bricks in place - it's not a brilliant job, but it looks OK - and stuffed some stones into the gap above. I also fixed the mantelpiece to the wall. That job suffered a setback when the gimlet handle broke as I was trying to get it out of the wood. That's a pretty solid old bit of wood, evidently! Then there was an even longer delay while I thought about the position of our speakers.

Hitherto, they'd been either side of the sofa, on the floor, which I didn't think was a very good place for them. I thought they'd be better the other side of the room, facing the sofa. Since we plug the computer into the stereo when we watch telly, and that sits on the coffee table by the sofa, that would mean getting a wire from one side of the room to the other. Ian didn't think it was a good idea, so I could expect no help from him. One day when he was out, I moved furniture (that would have been so much easier with two of us!), moved the stereo and speakers, and ran a wire around the doorway and fireplace. Ian now thinks the sound is much better, but would like me to fix the connection where I didn't insulate it adequately and it's short-circuiting. Urgh.

Anyway, I now have a wire running round the fireplace, ready to be buried in the plaster when I get to doing that bit. I did buy some all-purpose plaster, but when I looked at the little bag I'd bought, and looked at the thickness of the plaster I needed to match, I realised I didn't have anywhere near enough. I could do with something to get some bulk on the wall, under a top layer.

Since then, I've built little brick pillars for the solar panels, and have a great deal of lime and a little sand left over. I've heard that lime mortar is made by just mixing these two, with a little water, so today I did that. I remember the ratio was 3:1, but I think that was dry weight, and the sand's been sitting outside in the rain, so I have no way of knowing what it would weigh dry. Also, I'd rather not introduce either of these to my kitchen scales. I just added lime to sand until it looked about right. The sand was already wet enough that I didn't need water, but there was one other ingredient. Traditionally, hair was added to lime mortar to strengthen it, and the bathroom bin was full of hair, so I cut some up and mixed that in, too. Oh, and there was some moss in there that had grown in the sand.

Somewhat to my surprise, it was very easy to work, and stuck to the wall at least as well as any similar gloopy stuff I've tried to stick to walls in the past. I've only done a bit of it, but here's how it looks so far.

Mortar has been applied mostly at the top and left

I'm not sure how well you can see it, but the next picture is a close up showing how thick the old plaster is, and so how much bulk I'm having to make up to match it. Also the wire. I should probably fix and protect that before I go any further.

This could be a long job. Even after I've covered the wall to a reasonable depth - probably at least two coats - it'll take ages before it's dry enough to put the top coat on. At least I think you have to let the bottom coat dry before you put the top coat on, I don't really know. I'll have to look that up.


  1. Wow... I'm impressed by your willingness to take on such big jobs. I think that sort of thing would scare me - having never worked with mortar of any sort.

    I've also never heard of burying a wire in plaster like that. I think I've only seen it run through some sort of conduit or something like that, so that you can pull a different wire through or something if you need to later.

    Anyhow, you got me again in the vocabulary department... "gimlet"? Google says it's some sort of a cocktail made with gin and lime juice, but I'm assuming it has some different meaning here! :-)

    1. OK, Cat, not only are you and I closet weathergeeks, but we are also closet vocab geeks--I was wondering the same thing! There is a line in the Kevin Sullivan version of Anne of Green Gables in which Anne says "Besides, she looks exactly like a gimlet!" and I've always wondered what that meant--from the context, I'm sure it's not a compliment.

      Rachel, I love old fireplaces--but I'd rather snuggle up with a cup of tea around them than do all the hard work you are doing!

    2. I first encountered 'gimlet' used metaphorically, too. I think someone was described as 'gimlet-eyed'. A gimlet is a sharp tool used for making holes in things, so gimlet eyes bore through you. I'm not sure quite what a whole person resembling a gimlet would look like, but I'm sure Anne knew what she meant!

      A gimlet is a small hand tool, with the 'bit' and the handle forming a T shape. The bit has two parts, a screw thread at the tip and a cutting drill bit behind. It's much easier to get a hole in the right place with a gimlet than a power drill.

      I'm not sure I should be burying the wire directly in the plaster, either. I should probably put some kind of conduit over it for protection. At least, my sister thought I should - she was worried it might get hot. I say it's only a data cable and it'll be fine, but she's probably right. She usually is.

    3. OK... the gimlet thing makes sense now. I wouldn't worry about the wire getting hot - I mean it's not like the plaster or rocks are gonna catch fire! I'd be more concerned about it breaking or getting a bad connection, or if you need to upgrade it to a different sort of wire or something, and then there would be no way to replace it. Of course, it's not like it's something that is hugely important, and I'm sure burying it will look nicer than having conduit running everywhere.


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