Thursday, August 27, 2015

Lots of details

There are so many little details to go into this project!  Dale does the big, major things (like building walls!) and I do all the smaller, precise things, like making trim that fits around the door:
To do this, I used 1/4" plywood, since the trim I cut elsewhere was about 3/8" (cut down from 1 x 3s), and I only had it 1.5" wide.  This way, I could get the nice curve on top without having to piece it from a number of boards.

I also made a door:

I used regular dimensional lumber here. First, I built the window out of channels I cut from 1 x 2s with stained glass cut to fit.  Then I built the rest of the door around it.

I also built up the window frames by adding trim to the outside, then using bondo to fill any gaps, sanding down so it's smooth. This will make a nice solid window frame.

I also added trim to the four corners and along the bottom edge.

You can also see the mollycroft (or trolley, or skylight) in this angle. It still needs a roof, but we'll get there.  I also added the ceiling along the back rafters.  I had to trim the front rafters, they've been bothering me because I felt they were too long, so I took them down a bit.

Today, I cut the curves on the final rafters, the decorative ones that will go on each side, but I need to get those sanded before I attach them.

Oh,and finally, I added the center panel to the bow window.  But I still haven't got a fastener on the inside, so it's being held in place with a little wedge, which will disappear when I get the handle/hooks installed on the inside. 

We also chose a color scheme -- which looks rather mundane, but there is going to be a LOT of decorative painting, so having a fairly subdued background will help.  Green for the body, brown/black for the trim and cream for the ceiling and roof. 

Now, I'm back at school so I can't work on it as much as I want, but we'll still make progress!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Vardo coming along

So we've been working slowly but steadily on our little vardo camper.  Last time I posted, we had just begun getting the two end panels on.  Well, we've made a lot of progress since then:
We got both sides framed and added the rafters.  These are notched into the tongue and groove ends for stability.  We also got the sides skinned with beadboard paneling:

And I got the door and window on the back end cut.  The "back end" is actually the front, but it's the end away from the trailer hitch. 

I added a little detail around the window while Dale was doing the plywood attaching on the sides.  For this window, I used the last remaining stained glass panel and had to cut/reassemble it -- here's what I had left:
Just a long skinny half.  I cut that in half - you can see where I drew a line with sharpie above -- and then I cut the lead with a utility knife. Lead is super soft and cuts easily.  Then I snapped it in half.

 I cut off some of the extra lead, and then cleaned off the cement that is used to weather proof it. 

I removed the center rectangles from one piece, cleaned out the channel, then slid the two halves together.

Then all I had to do was further clean up the lead, solder the joints and cement the new joins.  Then it was all ready to go!

So now I have a window for the door end of our little vardo!  I didn't show it here, but I also cut down that wide outer edge of lead channel, so I didn't have so much to hide in the window frame.

The other thing I did this week is get the bow window for the other end (mostly) finished.  I still need to put the last window in, but I needed to run out last night and pick up some hinges.  We still are working on ways to get it to prop open, but those are just little details to work on later.  Here's what it looks like so far:

I think I will make some kind of sloping roof for it -- it looks a little flat across the top.  A sloping roof will probably also make it a little aerodynamic, since this is the "leading edge" when we are towing it.  The window will be hinged at the top and open out from the bottom.  We'll also have to make shutters for this window so that the glass is protected while we haul it.  We're thinking something like this:

that, by the way is from a blog post here:
There are a lot of great internet resources, including the blog above, instructables, other people's generous build journals and a wonderful site called Teardrops and Tiny Travel Trailers, which has a ton of resources on building methods.  We've gotten a lot of useful information there.

Finally, I also made frames for my two stained glass panels for the side windows:

These are ready to hang as well in their own window spaces, but I need to get the framing done around the holes before we hang them. 

We picked up the materials for the roof, so that's our next job in this project!

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Progress on the vardo

I thoroughly enjoyed teaching a workshop in Tennessee at the Tennessee Arts Academy - a first class job that was exciting and exhausting.  When I finished up my week there, I rented a car and drove from Nashville to Indianapolis to teach at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and also to spend some time with my grandson Parker.  We made lasagna:

He's such a lot of fun!

We got the basic box built for the vardo, and already we're altering our plans. Originally the ledge was going to be 12" -- but that looked large so we made it 10."  We also had put up some basic wedges to hold the ledge in place, but decided to cut out some curved wedges. 
We got the box built and also the back deck.  This platform will help make a transition to entering, and also serve as a place to put our camp stove and any other equipment.  We'll have to move the lights and license plate later.
We set it up on jacks so it's level and stable while we're climbing all over it.  We are going to probably add some jacks welded on later but for now, these work fine.

After we got the basic box and ledge done we started on the back wall.  This was exciting and kind of anxiety inducing -- all of a sudden, it seemed really huge!  Luckily, one of the online forums I joined to learn more about building these was super helpful, and it turns out we're right on track.  Right now the box and the one bar across the door are stabilizing until we get the sides put up.  We have the back end up -- or at least 75% of it - it got dark before we could finish.  It's cut, just need to get it attached.

 We have a couple of things we want to splurge on, even as we try to keep costs/weight down. I bought two stained glass panels on for our side windows:

These were about $115 each, and I will build frames around them for our side windows. I also have a piece of leaded glass in the garage that I got off craigslist awhile back for about 10 dollars, and that will be the center of the bay window.  I'll see what I can do for the front door and I think I want to add a small window next to the door as well.

So we're having fun -- but we're not in any rush. I'll get the stained glass this week and then we'll know what size holes to leave for windows.  We're also rethinking some of the other parts -- maybe redesign the mollycroft so it blends more into the roof -- it's so tall, I don't want to have too much wind resistance!  I ran across this plan and I think we can do this instead:

On top of all that, I had gallbladder surgery yesterday == ouch, but I'm glad that thing is gone!  it was no fun dealing with that the past few months.  Easy laproscopic surgery but I'll be sore a few days.  We'll get back to business in no time, though!

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Our new project - a vardo!

We really loved visiting Yosemite. Hard to believe some place that beautiful and breathtaking is so close to the busy city we live in - we're so fortunate! Every curve in the road gave us a new view of something incredibly stunning:

The hard part for us was driving back to our hotel each evening -- it's quite pricey to stay in the park hotels, and any hotels nearby are also really expensive, although we wish we had been able to get a room close!  As it was, we stayed in a city about 1.5 hours away, so although the drive was nice enough, it meant we had to leave earlier than we would have liked to, and by the time we got back to our room, we were beat.

We want to go back, but next time, we'd like to be able to spend more time wandering and exploring, and with Dale's medical problems, he can't go for long periods of time - it would have been great to take a break part way through the day to stop and relax, before going back out to explore more.  We talked about getting a travel trailer - I've loved the idea of campy, gypsy-style trailers and we helped my daughter work on hers (although it's not done, yet!).  So we thought we'd look for a fixer, since we like a good project, and we're kind of picky about how we want things done.  I wanted one small enough for just the two of us, but something we could pull with our truck and leave at a campsite.  We started checking craigslist, but only found "fixers" for about $3000 -- we wanted to spend around $500 since we knew we'd be doing lots of modifications and changes.  Dale had mentioned earlier that we should just build one (or more to the point, why don't we buy a junk one, tear it down and then just build it all over again?) -- so one morning a few weeks ago, I got looking at "home-made gypsy trailers" - and ran across a whole bunch of amazing photos and instructionals and tutorials, and oh dear, that did it!

The two main kind we liked were bow-top caravans like this:

 (I love the over-the-top painting on this one!  We plan on doing things like this for ours.)

and wagon-style vardos like this:

We decided to do something like this, but along the lines of a "ledge" style wagon -- it starts off with a small footprint, then has a ledge to expand the size --

This is from an amazing project - the frame is welded 1x1 square tubing, which is beyond what we want to do - but the basic shape is what we like.

We also like the cupola on the top, or what gypsy wagons call a "mollycroft roof."  It's a place to add some windows to brighten up the interior, which looks a little dark because of the small windows. In the picture to the right, the large opening is going to have a bay window inserted, which makes the opening appear much smaller when it's finished ---

These are built on a utility trailer.  We started looking for one of those on Craigslist, and new they run around $1200 -- we still wanted to stick with our $500 starting price, knowing we'd be throwing all kinds of money at it in wood and other materials.  So we looked at Harbor Freight trailers, read up on the pros and cons, and decided to go for it.  The trailer was on sale at Harbor Freight for $369, and we had a 20% off coupon, so for under $300 we had our start.

We began by assembling the trailer -- which took us a couple of evenings.  Crawling around on the floor is not so fun and neither one of us can do that well, but we got it put together.

 A zillion bolts, wires, nuts and bars - it weighs about 250 pounds now that it's done.  We are shooting for keeping it under 1500 lbs, the closer to 1000 the better.

I sprayed the frame black, so it won't have that Harbor Freight red/orange look.  I didn't spray the center bars, since they'll be under the vardo and it would be pointless, but I got all the showing parts black. 

This week, we worked on building a platform. We decided we'd extend the back side a little to add a 2' long deck, mostly for being able to get into it, and to set things on in camp.  The bed of the trailer as it comes is 4 x 8, which is the size of a sheet of plywood, which seems really little when you think about putting a bed, a kitchen and a dinette in it!  But it will grow fast enough.

I made a mock up cardboard model so we could talk about some of the features and have an idea on how to proceed:

I want a rounded top to the door, Dale wants the mollycroft, and you can see how small the deck will be.  The outside will be covered with tongue and groove boards, and the inside will have smooth walls.  Insulation is a necessary beast - both for keeping the camper warm in the winter, but also to keep it cool in the summer.  so we insulated the platform before building on top of it:

We're using two layers of foil-backed styrofoam sheets, with one side facing up and one foil side facing down.  the uninsulated part is what will be a deck.

Keeping in mind that all materials are adding weight, we're working our best to keep both costs and weight down. 

We would love to get the basic box built this week, although I am leaving to teach in Tennessee on Friday, and then I'm off to Indiana for a week, so Dale will be on his own. I don't know if he'll be able to make any progress without a helper to hand him stuff and hold things in place, so we may not make much progress until the end of July when I return, but we're not in a big rush.  It's fun to think of all the things we have to figure out -- the floor plan, the colors, the process -- we do love a good project.  Hopefully, we'll make good progress!

Sunday, June 14, 2015


We are getting ready to go on a short trip to Sequoia National Park and Yosemite, and one of the things we'll be packing is Dale's hiking stick.  We got this last year when we were on our cross country national park tour with our friends Eric and Herbert.  Dale is struggling with some back issues and found that it was easier to hike with a walking stick - we picked this one up at Grand Canyon in the tourist shops, it was plain pine with Grand Canyon burnt into it.  Not the most thrilling thing.  But I knew I'd bring it home and make it a little more fun later.

I finally got to it over the winter, I used acrylic paints and painted bands of patterns up and down the entire stick.  After I got it done, it looked a little too colorful, so I brought it out to the garage and toned it down with a coat of stain, which did the trick.  Afterwards, I gave it a nice coat of poly so the colors wouldn't get rubbed off too easily.

In most of the parks we visited last year, we picked up a small metal emblem that is made to  hammer onto a walking stick.  Somehow we managed to misplace a couple (yellowstone?  where are you?), but they'll turn up eventually.  The ones we do have are:

Death Valley.  Dale and I went there over the winter when the weather was somewhat reasonable.  Still hot, but not bad. 

Arches National Park - this park was beautiful, but we ended up on a hike that was a little over our heads!  It was super hot that day, but we eventually got back to the car and drank down all our water!

Antelope Island - this is in the Great Salt Lake in Utah, we saw bison and antelopes and went swimming in the lake, which was absolutely hilarious.

Bryce Canyon. Dale and I visited Bryce Canyon on our way home from Indiana this past Christmas.  We only spent a day at the park, it was snow covered, we didn't want to go hiking in the snow, but we did enjoy doing sightseeing.  We'll have to go back sometime!

Mount Rushmore -- this emblem's pretty fancy schmancy, but we did enjoy this historic site, too. We spent a full day there, doing the hikes and learning about the historical aspects. 

So we'll add a couple of emblems to his walking stick this summer, and now he's got soemthing that's a little person and a lot more stylish!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Yard comparison - 2 years later

This summer will be the second year our front yard has been growing -- and growing!  We were doing some succulent trimming the other day - giving away starts and agave pups on CL Free -- and I knew I had pictures that showed how much some of the plants had grown.  The agaves in particular. So I looked through the pictures so I could do some side-by-side comparisons.

This is the view from the driveway.  You can see how full all the plants have gotten, especially the agaves. 

This is the view from the front steps:
Again, the agave has gone nuts.  The mexican feather grass gets cut back a couple times a year, but it grows fast!  It's hard to tell here, but we only have one of the 3 palms left. We planted a couple of small ones to replace the ones we had to remove, but I still have a large sago palm I may put out there as well.

I need to take some pictures of the front parking strip as well - that section of the yard does not get any water at all, and still the plants out there are doing great!  I also need a picture from the other side of the yard, I'll get that later!

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Roses get a new home

A couple of years ago, we bought a climbing rose, with the intention of building an awesome trellis over the garage door.  Well, we never got around to that.  And our rose got neglected a little, and died back somewhat, but revived itself over the winter and set out new shoots. But it wasn't until a year later that we realized the new shoots were actually from the root stock, and not from the grafted canes - so they bloomed with kind of average looking red blooms rather than the gorgeous pale pink ones that we had before.  Nevertheless, we strung some wire (far cry from that cute trellis we planned on!)  And the sad little red rose dutifully climbed up.

You can see it hanging out in the background here, in a pot with it's skinny little canes growing upwards.

One of the problems, though, was that we really intended to build it a nicer box - jackhammering away the useless sidewalk and building some kind of box/bed for it.  Well -- that part we finally did this week!

First, Dale had to use the impact drill to drill a series of holes so we could punch through the sidewalk.  Of course, we decided to do it on the hottest day we've had this spring.  But that didn't take too long, then we had to whale away on it with a sledge hammer. I tried doing that part, but unfortunately, I can only use the smaller sledge hammer, so he had to smash it a couple of times with the larger one and it broke up nicely.  Then I used the crowbar to pry all the concrete chunks out, and then dug a little tunnel under to the dirt in front so I could run the irrigation up into the box.

Then I laid out a pattern of bricks to see how many we'd need.

We finally got the last of the bricks pulled up from the hell strip, and although I tried giving them away on CL Free,  I had a bunch of no-shows and one person who came and only took half.  So I had plenty.

So we brought them to the back and tried out a nice sized rectangle.  Then we had to wait for evening because by now it was really hot!

So around 6:30ish, we went out, mixed up a batch of cement (we were out of mortar, but since this is not going to be a perfect bricklaying effort, we just went with it).

I didn't take any in-progress pictures, because the cement dried pretty darn fast.  We were just lucky to get it all somewhat nicely done.  We certainly aren't going to get any jobs laying brick.

But it's tidy enough, and ready to go - it only took about an hour or so, and it had all night to set up.  So this morning I got up and gave it a coat of paint. I had painted the bricks in the front of the house, and it looked so much nicer, so I knew I was going to do that here, too - especially since I had no delusions that it was going to look great without the paint!

After we spent so much effort getting this box built and all, we should go ahead and buy a new rose (we'll plant the other one somewhere else in the yard), since I really want white roses.

So this morning, after painting, I ran out to get some nice soil for the planter box and see if I could find an iceberg white climbing rose (I looked through Pinterest to see if I could find some good leads on what I wanted -- and the Iceberg is the one that fits the list).  And I actually found one - -not at the same place I bought the rose we previously had, although that's where I went first -- but I got a really gorgeous, healthy white Iceberg climber at Home Depot.  Hmmm....

So here it all is, planted and tethered loosely to the wires.  I underplanted it with some miniature iceplant that looks nice hanging down and has tiny pink flowers, and a lantana that I might move out later, after we see how well the rose blooms down low.  I read up on how to train the long canes to encourage blooms, so we've got a plan, but climbers often get leggy and do well to have a bushy plant at the base to hide the skinny legs.

This year, this rose will spend most of its time growing long canes up the wires, all we have to do is make sure they criss-cross and stay healthy!

So - another project and this one actually kept up on!  Maybe I'll get back in the blogging habit after all...

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