Category Archives: Irish cottage

Window sills – using scrap wood









My two favourite pieces of scrap wood finally being used

So lots of off -cuts from planks made from our meagre selection of trees that were felled and cut up into pieces primarily for use as beams to carry curtain poles – I never would burn good wood and so after sitting around for 8 years I decided to make window sills that will match with the curtain beams for the 6 upstairs windows.

However it took a few steps to get there as wood was different thickness – so I pack-out with thin ply or scrap wood. Next step was to use dowels to somehow knit planks together – tricky at start but not difficult –  I used the tool below on right

so these dowels I put in to cut down on warping and keep different thickness planks together but it is heavy wood and more dowels would be needed plus glue and clamping which isn’t realistic if you don’t have perfectly created flat sides so next step was

screws to secure now dowelled woods together39142794290_8f99cea1f4_o

But a sill needs to be a sound base as it will have someone either sitting on it or standing on it so the final step once packed out with filler wood is to secure 3/4 inch ply to the underbase


The wood is still very rough – I intend to get the same finish as the beams that match it overhead so one day I will take out the woodplaner and beltsander but the hardest bit is done.

Cost of growing trees used for house project – nil

cost of getting trees cut up   – 80 euros – scraps were about half of total so 40 euros

cost of scrap ply and few screws  – 20 euros tops

cost of labour – that’s arguable as it depends on what else you could be doing

cost if you were to buy 1 sill – many multiples of total sills made cost to me




This was used to keep the  outer chimney bricks from collapsing – maybe installed at a later date. Could be made from old cart spring


Another chimney support rescued from demolished chimney is part of an old cart axle – used now as support for stones used in smoking chamber – that now is part of stairwell ceiling


Hand made mud bricks –  these were put in under some branches used to prop up roof at a later date.  Made of sun-dried marle subsoil – did the job but dissolve quickly.  Mud cottages would not have been strange then and many are still lived in – nearly everything would have been at hand – branches for roof, mud for walls and straw for a roof.


Hand forged bolts and fireplace anchors in background – the last  local forge closed only in the last 10 years and perhaps his predecessors even made these items. In fore-ground is modern steel bracket used to hold wood plank which will carry curtain-rails; I had it made in the local engineering works. See  bracket used  over window in picture below.

2016-10-29-11-06-13 If you look at cut out shape in front of window you will see how I made the template using plasterboard to arrive at finished wood that goes from window under the lintel to the curtain plank. A very tedious job as each shape is different due to the walls construction.

2016-10-29-11-05-46so each window had its own shape to be done – no shortcuts with this job 2016-10-29-11-06-50



Doors where panels  were either rotten from sitting in a damp ruin for so many years or where the woodworm had their wicked ways. I routed out around the edge of the panel – the retaining door frame itself so releasing the rotten panel – only done on one side of course – great care has to be taken not to go through the panel  as you will have to fix a small quadrant on other side to hold the new panel. 3 ply is easily and cheaply bought.


This door below had so many layers of paint that I had to be careful to do it outside and keep removing the burnt off paint flakes as they were igniting the other fallen paint strips lying on the ground – it is a slow and painful process but had to be done as the paint was blistering and cracking.2017-02-03-12-30-051.jpg


view of stone soffit

As can be seen the stone soffit I wanted to retain, however, normally the slate comes to the edge of this and falls down too close for my liking to the walls of the house – there is enough damp already without more splashing from the roof.  So I got the local engineering company to make these supports that both carry the external roof wood and the facing soffit. Fitting again was fiddly as I was putting in 6 inches plus of 3/4 inch threaded bars (2 for each bracket) –  spacing was dependent on getting gaps in the mortar in the right place – variable as 2 holes to fit the bars – that is why the brackets are haphazardly put in.


close up of brackets

I tried to keep the outer soffit relatively straight so coachbolts have been used to fix on 6X2 wood – packing out each one to counter the in and out contour of the roof lip.

Also to stop birds and insects accessing the roof space I put in chicken wire and mortar at regular intervals – and a mesh for smaller crawlies. Also you need good airflow getting into the roof space – that it has.

Part Three -redoing jobs already done and talking about lime mortar

Look before you leap – or duck before you end up in a heap- low door ways

When initially tackling the problem of replacing existing lintels I got stuck in the mind that I am just renewing what is there; that is speak for not thinking things out and leading myself into places I would prefer not to be really; such as mismatching door heights in the entrance.

Well it started with putting the supporting wall in where the chimney used to be, RSJs were put in to carry the floor above, a block wall with steel was the quickest and cheapest and most practical – so yes cement was used where needed. This lead on to having a lower doorway into the parlour room which is picture one; these lintels I had put in at the same time as the window lintels as I was becoming very quick(?) at it and was replacing everything in its original position – mistake. So when the RSJ was put in it gave higher head clearance not to knock your head against every time you walked into the room (sounds a good idea) and coupled with my find at the Traditional Lime Co. store  in Tullow  Co. Carlow of antique matching original pine doors so I just had to take the lintels out.

Practical building tips

However when you look at a wall that has a mix of brick and stone and how everything knits or had knitted together prior to my removing the chimney wall I had my reservations about the stability of the wall under the new lintel. So great care was taken in not disturbing the wall too much, a very important note for anyone working on old stone buildings such as this – DO NOT USE A PNEUMATIC DRILL. Vibration will or could unsettle the surrounding wall and cause it to collapse; the lime mortar is like dust and undisturbed will last hundreds of years but once disturbed it can be catastrophic.

Lime Mortar

Again I use 3.5 NHL in a mix of graded sand  2.5 : 1 lime mortar. I use a small cement mixer, put in a small bit of water and add the 2 shovels of lime to get a slurry mix going and then gradually add the 5 shovels of gravel as they call it in these parts, bit by bit. It is important that not too much water is added as too much leads to excessive cracking; it is ideally a stiffer mix not a typical cement mortar consistency.  Also the mix needs a lot of turning and to aid that I throw in a few fist size cobbles to pound it, typically I would mix for 20 minutes plus.

I admit to being slow at what I am doing – I am not paid by the hour – I would be a millionaire if that is the case! but to prevent the mix which is now in the wheelbarrow from drying out I cover it with plastic and keep it out of direct sunlit. Sometimes if I am being too precious with my skills I have to add a tiny bit of water to get it pliable again – called knocking up –  with a heavy hand but generally in our climate that is rare. If you are working outside and there is a strong combination of sun and wind your mix could dry out too quickly and to counter this spray with water and a cover to avoid excessive shrinkage.

Of course when filling into walls or such I use a good bit of water to dampen the surrounding material, nothing too strong just a pump handsprayer this prevents your mortar from drying out too quickly.

Lime mortar was used sparingly, it was expensive (still is) and was not layered or shoveled on the way cement is now in building a stone wall, so always have a bucket of smaller flatter stones for filling those gaps that occur between stones – the stability of a stone wall is based on stones not on the mortar. So a lump hammer and chisel will eventually produce that searched for stone you could spend an age looking for and cuts down on the amount of mortar you use.

Do not use in wet conditions or if have to cover immediately.

For pointing and dashing drying out too quickly is a problem so cover with hessian or tarp; it has been recommended to me 15 to 25 days considering the conditions but I only have done repointing and roughcast on the exterior walls in late spring and summer – longest I had it up was 7 days as we get very windy weather where we are and it was soon ripped off.

For new exterior it was also recommended to keep dashing layers thin and good drying out times between. My first layer has been on 10 years now — reckon that should be long enough.

Cold weather – setting time is long  through carbonation – (see Pat McAfees best selling book –  Irish Stone Walls for reference – ) and you do not want frost on it – in fact once temperatures drop I never used it outside – a constant temperature is ideal once well into spring  for me – unless working inside with mortar I wait to do work.

Where I was taking out lintels and putting in smaller thinner concrete ones sometimes I had huge gaps around and behind them so once you establish your desired level for your lintel fill in, around and behind them.  Dont leave unsupported stones behind your new beautiful wall front – pack in and use long or big stones to add stability to the wall and so spreading the wall load more evenly.


Standard assortment of small shovels, trowels, shovels X2 one for gravel and one for bagged mortar.

Cement mixer

Wheelbarrow and buckets for carrying up ladders or for working from on small job to avoid air exposure of main mix and thus causing it to set more quickly

soft brush for clearing out dust and old mortar to leave a clean solid base for new mortar

hard flat specialised brush for tapping in your finished work where pointing on wall surface

low pressure sprayer for water in damping work and surrounding wall – creates greater adhesion to surrounding stone or brick work.

To get mortar in deeper and more compressed use a thin trowel, I use 1/3  and 1/2 inch wide with 6inch long blade, especially if I am putting in mortar to difficult spaces – they are very cheap and save your fingers from all that rubbing and pushing in.

Of course use gloves at all times as the lime is bad for your skin, don’t leave it on you long as it can be painful; wear steel cap boots, eye protection and long sleeves etc etc.

Another good blogsite is cottage restoration – – a finished project – done by professionals – excellent example of full job done in quick time

also see blogsite by old builders company – a goldmine of pictures on a huge range of buildings

Keeping standards reasonable

This is my first ever blog or whatever medium this is considered; for me its a record of what I have achieved along the way with stopping an old house from being a pile of stone only suitable for use as a new wall or filling for a new road.  When I consider how few pictures I have taken and how many old computers have died taking with them pictorial memories of my step by step {baby ones}  attempt to conserve four walls and a tin roof. I think that its about time I put it out there what a total amateur can do given the free rein to ignore all sensible advice and just get stuck in.

I have a scanner to attach to get the oldest pics loaded up and will try to get it, the project, as sequential as possible, but for others I hope even one tip would be of benefit because I have learnt at some cost to my ego that not heeding finer details can mean redoing a job – which is very hard to keep quiet from certain people who you dont wish to appear anything other then being purely an expert amateur. So with that I will undertake to upload early pics and hope they are clear enough to see, standards are relatively low here but hopefully realistic . Watch this space