Birdbath 2.0 Plus Kitchen Wood Procured

This past two-weeks have been mostly a flurry of tiny, unphotogenic tasks, and I am often ticking off several orphan items per day. Touch up this paint, install this small piece of trim, grout this small area of tile, fabricate a foot-rail at the breakfast bar, install some kitchen ceiling trim, put plastic gliders the dining room chair legs, and on and on.

But two items stand out from the crowd.

First, our two garden globes and three homemade birdbaths, as nice as they are, were each sitting on top of a few round, rough concrete blocks. Cynthia and I decided to have Armando sculpt the stands to represent tree stumps with vines wrapping around them. I gave Armando very little direction, told him to be an artist and to have fun with it. We think he did a pretty good job. Here are some photos:

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Where’s Armando?

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Armando posing with his space alien friend. Cynthia calls it Bubble Brain.

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Bananas are almost ready to harvest. A volunteer papaya tree is growing in the foreground.

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Last Saturday, I decided to head out to find wood for the kitchen cabinets. As you drive down the mountain, there are several roadside woodworkers who make chairs and tables from local wood. Most of the furniture is very rustic and not to our taste. But I stopped at them anyway and asked where I could purchase wood. They all sent me to the woodworker in Coronado near the El Machetazo store. My order was for too much wood for him to sell me from his supply, but he gave me the name of a man, Marco, in Penonome’ who sells wood.

I called Marco and he suggested that we text via WhatsApp, which we did. He also suggested that he visit us on Sunday so that he could show us some samples. I thought that was above and beyond the call as it is about an hour-and-a-half to Penonome’. He arrived right on time, bringing his wife and daughter along for the ride. After a cup of tea, we talked and settled on Caoba wood (African Mahogany) as he promised easy working (like butter he said), and a rich, deep red finish with several coats of clear polyurethane. It would go well with our wood-grain ceramic floor tiles.

Marco said that he could deliver the wood on Wednesday or Thursday. I took his word with a grain of salt as he didn’t say which Wednesday or Thursday; he had a fair amount of work ahead of him. I told him that I would give him a nice tip if he came when he promised.

I was amazed when he drove up to the house on Wednesday morning! I told him to back his truck into the driveway, but he wagged his index finger back and forth (the Panamanian word for no, no, no). He drove straight in.

We unloaded what looked like the right amount of wood. I started to pay him, but he directed me to the “Secretary and Treasurer” (his wife) and I paid her the $3 per board foot that he had quoted me. (I got independent estimates of $2 to $3 per foot; I thought the $3 was at the high end, but he did make two trips here and delivered as promised.) I joked that damn, he came when he promised and now I would have to give a nice tip! The Secretary and Treasurer smiled and gave me a thumbs-up; Cynthia and I suspect that she is also the Project Manager in their family.

We said our goodbyes, and then Armando and I pushed him out of the driveway as his reverse gear had been broken for years! The wood is rough sawn and I will need to plane it to the thickness that I want. I can’t wait to start working with it. My thickness planer had rusted from lack of use and I have ordered a new thickness-adjusting-gear from the States. It should arrive just about the time that the wood is ready to size.

Here are some photos of the wood, starting with the photo that Marco sent to me via WhatsApp:

Caoba Logs From Marco

Marco arrives with the wood:

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Smells good!

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Marco said that he used to be a policeman, but now he is retired and cuts wood.

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Here is the wood freshly cut from the logs. As it dries, it turns a deep red color. Marco suggested that I let the wood set for about ten days before I cut it to the finished sizes.

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Can you see the dovetailed drawers hiding in this stack of wood?

P1030030-001In other news, here are a couple of bonus photos:

I finally painted my shop door!

P1030045-001A while back we planted four of these plants/trees. The humming birds will love them:

P1030044-001Here’s a photo of the path to the back yard (taken from the gardener’s gate):

P1030043-001Jabo on the stairs at night:

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I wouldn’t want to walk past him in a dark alley…

And Jabo solarizing on the front steps:

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I took Jabo to the vet the other day. His toenails were long and he click, click, clicked when he walked across the tile floor. Three bucks. He was the perfect patient.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Essentially Electrifying

We’ve spent the past week or two essentially electrifying the rest of the house. With very few exceptions, the electrical phase (pun intended for you electrical engineers out there) is now all done.

The work involved several days of me under the house and Cynthia inside the house, the two of us fishing, running, and pulling about 500-feet of wire. After all that wire was placed, I spent the better part of a week wiring all the plugs, switches, and lights, and installing the switch-plate covers. The results are illuminating and it feels very good to be able to walk through the house and turn on any light we want. Cyn is thrilled to no longer have to trip over extension cords.

I may have mentioned this before, but many years ago when I was in my early twenties, I helped an older electrician by pulling wires and crawling under houses, doing the work for him that he could no longer do because of his failing health. In the process he taught me a lot, including the principle of “a path of light” through the house. So now, thanks to Ernie, we can walk from room to room to room, switching off one light switch and turning on another without ever being in the dark.

Following are some photos that show the completed electrical work:

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The lights over the sinks in the master bathroom are working.

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A switch on the wall as you enter the bathroom turns this light on by the toilet.

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At this point in construction even the smallest items make a huge difference. It is so good to see the switches and the metal covers in place rather than the gaping hole in the wall. By the way, we used safety grab bars for our towel bars; the thickness of the bars separate the towels so that they dry better in this humid climate. Plus, they just look industrial, don’t they?

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In the master bedroom there is a lamp on either side of the bed and a hanging lamp over the chair. The lamp over the chair turns on from either of the two entrances to the room.

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A strip of LEDs provide general lighting in the loft. (Cyn says don’t pay any attention to the chaos of the boxes, they’ll be re-organized soon.)

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To light the stairs, I bought ten, truck side marker LED lamps and mounted them under the hand railing. I ran the low-voltage wiring inside the square steel tubing that the railing is fabricated from.

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Here is a photo from the bottom of the stairs. The lights make a good night light and consume almost no electricity.

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The mass of spaghetti wiring under the microwave counter in the kitchen is now organized and nicely tucked into a large junction box. A sharp eye will see that the Romex connector at the top of the box is upside down — there just wasn’t enough room under the counter to install it correctly. But at least I installed one!

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The wires in the junction box go to and from the new switches that control the kitchen lights and the exhaust hood over the stove. I used waterproof exterior electrical boxes because they look so much better than the standard electrical box. We used a lot of these boxes in the house and they AREN’T CHEAP!

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Eight of Cynthia’s red kitchen lamps are now controlled by switches. Here are three of them. The open kitchen cabinets make a good segue to the upcoming cabinetry project. Stay tuned for a few more weeks.

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I took this photo from the second bedroom, looking through the laundry room, the master bathroom, and into the master bedroom. I wanted to show that the light in the master bedroom is working. Also, I don’t know if I have posted about how we used safety grab bars for door handles.

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You can see that the lamps in the living room are working. Also, I installed a light fixture high on the roof support column. This lamp illuminates the photos in the concrete frames and is controlled by a switch on the other side of the column.

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Looking from the front door, here is a shot of the dining room and living room with all lights working.

Back in the kitchen, there was a big-ugly-stinking-mess at the shelving and electrical panel to the right of the refrigerator:

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Using my homemade, DIY sheet metal bending brake, I formed some aluminum shelving and also a cover for the electrical panel. To cut the aluminum, I set up shop in the carport:

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My shop is a mess, but I had just enough space to bend the cover for the electrical panel:

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Here are the shelves and panel cover in place:

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The shelves hold the house phone, the wifi printer, and the monitor for the security cameras. Later I will stain the wooden baseboard the same color as the floor.

The door can be opened to access the electrical panel:

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So with just one or two tiny electrical details left to do, I can almost cross this one big task off my list. I consider the electrical work a success — I had just two small issues to figure out — I transposed two wires on one three-way light switch, and in the bank of switches in the kitchen I inadvertently screwed a switch mounting screw into a bunch of black wires, causing a dead short when I flipped on the breaker. Once the smoke cleared, both issues were easy to figure out and fix.

Next week I have some more aluminum to cut and bend to make shelves for the little office, plus make a few remaining shelves for in the walk-in master bedroom closet.

In other news, I spent a lot of last Sunday modifying my new GoPro camera. GoPros can take excellent quality photos and video, but the fixed lens gives somewhat of a fish-eye effect. Also, the focus is fixed so that the foreground and the background are always in focus. But a modification kit exists called the Backbone Ribcage that removes the stock lens and allows for using virtually any other lens made for photography. Of course I had to give it a go. Here is what the modification entails:

Here I am readied to do surgery. The original GoPro is at the bottom left. The other parts and pieces are for the modification:

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Here is the camera all torn down and ready for the rebuild:

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I drew little boxes around the screws that I removed and labeled them for proper reassembly.

And here is the final product with a nice little wide-to-telephoto lens:

P1020979-001Everything worked well, but when I tested the camera, the video came out black even though I had removed the lens cover. I sent a quick email to tech support and heard right back from the owner. He told me that he once made the same mistake — the iris in the camera was shut completely down, preventing any light from hitting the sensor. Duh Fred.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

The Last Bathroom

It has been some time since my last post. But in there was a cold that put me down for a week, plus a trip to Medellin, Colombia. And our very poor Internet service hasn’t helped; I attempted to write all last week, but although we are paying $110 a month for 3 megs, the best we could get was 0.33 megs or so. Uggh. But now we have a new provider, 5 megs/$38 per month, and we are getting a good, solid, better-than-four megs, depending. I’ll call it a success!

A while back we tiled the floor in the half-bath between the living room and the master bedroom. Since then, I have tiled the counter, painted the walls, installed the sink and faucet and the toilet, hung the door, and painted the walls a light, warm gray.

I started off with a problem. A few years ago when I poured the concrete counter, I failed to make provisions for the counter to be thinner at the faucet and drain so that I could install the fasteners from below. I just didn’t know. So using a concrete drill and a hammer and chisel, I cut out two holes:

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Then using slices of PVC pipe as forms, I made two, 1-inch-thick concrete doughnuts:

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When the doughnuts cured, I stuck them in place with some bondo:

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Later, when I tiled the counter, I filled in the gaps with mortar. Here I am starting the tile job:

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We chose an iridescent blue-gray glass tile. I got lucky-as-could-be in that I didn’t have to cut a single tile! Here is the counter, the pedestal that I made out of a concrete culvert, and the rest of the bathroom all done:

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One mirror above the sink and another above the toilet makes an interesting effect. A hole in the back of the pedestal allowed me to plumb the sink drain.

Here are some more bathroom photos:

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We had one extra photo, a banana flower, left over from the living room; it fit well here.

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It wasn’t easy to photograph a 4’x8′ bathroom without catching myself in the mirrors!

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We bought the sink a long time ago on Overstock.com.

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We’re good and happy to have this last really raw area of the house done!

In other news, now that the driveway is free of piles of sand and gravel, we spread an additional eight-yards of crushed gravel. Here’s Armando chipping away at one of the piles:

P1020869-001While Armando spread the gravel, I tackled a long-nagging project; I hung light fixtures on the columns at the front gate. Nothing fancy, but they do look good with the gate:

P1020935-001Another day, I welded together some rebar to make an arbor at the front of the carport/bohio. It will look great when the vines with red flowers grow up the column and across the roof:

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This plant seems to have tough vines. We haven’t seen the flowers, but the guy at the nursery said that they would be red and that the hummingbirds would love them.

After a year away from her glass bead studio, Cynthia is turning out some lovely beads. Here she is working on one at her torch:

P1020950-001The plants are looking good. Here are a couple garden shots:

P1020963-001P1020939-001P1020940-001One day I caught Bob in a big yawn:

P1020859-001Our Medellin trip was only for five days, but here are a couple highlights — Every morning we had breakfast at a small natural food store/restaurant called Salud Pan (healthy bread). The two pictures in the next photo are hanging on their wall:P1020871-001We met up with my girl cousin from Massachusetts for the trip. Even after all these years, I still can’t help but pull her pigtail. Here we are at Jardin Botanico (Edit — actually, the next two photos are out of order — we are really at Parque Arvi, higher up in the mountains, hence Cynthia wearing a jacket in the cool air) :

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And Cynthia and me:

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Some flowers and plants at the botanical garden:

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The garden isn’t just about the plants. There are lots of birds and other critters, including this gargantuan iguana (taken with a telephoto as you don’t want to get too close — these critters aren’t afraid to run at you full tilt)!

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Luckily they weren’t just sunning but were kind of active. Here’s a short video:

We went to Plaza Botero again on this trip, always fun to see Botero’s work. Here is Cynthia with the cat:

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Another view is like something out of a 1930’s earth invaders sci-fi movie:

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It was quite warm in the plaza, so we took refuge in the air conditioned museum. I have to stop eating all those arepas!

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I guess that you could call this the Botero-effect mirror.

So that’s all for now. Now Cynthia and I are pulling the last of the wiring for the master bedroom and bathroom and a few other spots. Thanks for stopping by.

350 Pounds Of Concrete Hanging On The Wall

As I mentioned in my last post, the long shipping container wall in the living room/dining room/entry was calling out for some art. So Cynthia and I looked through our photos and found eight pictures of flowers that we had taken around the property. I uploaded the photos to AllPosters.com and received the prints a couple weeks later.

Now what to use for frames? Easy would be to buy some frames off the shelf at Machetazo or other local store. But as you know, this whole house project isn’t about easy. So, NO!

But what? With our concrete counter tops, benches, and shelves, well, why not concrete picture frames? That sounded exciting so I got right to work.

Last time, I posted the following photo of the form work for our concrete picture frames. I still needed to apply some strips of wood to make a recess in the back of the frame to receive the glass and pictures:

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After I had the forms assembled, Armando mixed a rich (more cement than normal) batch of mortar and placed it in the forms.

Two days later, I pulled the forms. The new concrete frames looked quite good, but they had air holes and honeycomb here and there. They looked even better once we applied a coat of dark-gray grout to all the surfaces that would be seen. When the grout was dry, I sanded the frames smooth.

Next, Cynthia and I, each with a sponge, walked around the table a dozen times applying 24 coats of sealer as we made our rounds around the table:

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Cynthia is putting the first coat of sealer on the first frame. Notice how the sealer darkens the grout that is spread on the surface of the frames.

The next photo shows the frames all sealed, although they still need to be fine sanded and one more coat of sealer applied. These things are heavy — fifty-pounds each! P1020840-001My next step of the process was to drill holes in the tops of the frames, tap in some plastic expanding anchors, and screw in heavy-duty hooks.

Now with the frames ready for hanging, I moved inside the house. Armando and I screwed a 20-foot length of sliding door track high on the wall.

We chose to hang these frame-beasts with chain hanging from wheels that I inserted into the sliding door track. Here is a photo of the wheels:

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Note to self: Get a manicure.

Cynthia and I cut the chain and set the glass and photos in the frames.

With everything assembled, finally, we hung the frames on the chains and we were done.

Here are some shots of the photos mounted in the frames and the frames hanging on the wall:

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The largest photo is 16″x20″ plus the two-times the width (almost 4-inches) of the frame, making it about 24″x28″. They are BIG but the wall can handle it.

Here is a panorama of the entire wall:

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Ignore the curvature of the panoramic photo.

Now, isn’t that better than a huge blank wall?

We couldn’t be more pleased, and the whole project — enlargements, glass, wood for the forms, screws, sand/cement/sealer, door track, wheels ($14 each and we needed 14 of them), chain, and miscellaneous bits and pieces, and Armando’s labor sits at around the $500 mark plus about six person-days of work. It couldn’t have been easier!

Plus, we have one photo/frame left to hang in the half-bath off of the living room.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Is It A Carport Or A Bohio?

Again, we were at a decision point. Now that the carport concrete floor is poured, do I send Anibal and Francisco on their way, or do we get down to business with the tile?

I thought that the slab should cure for a while, at least a week. I went online and Googled DuckDuckGo‘d the question.

Knowledge and advice was all over the place. Two days. One week. One month. Many months. I chose to go with the person who said that by using modern mortar with polymer additives, the time shouldn’t matter much as long as the initial water was gone from the surface — the mortar will adhere well to the still-curing concrete and move with the drying floor slab and tiles won’t pop. Ask me in a year how it turned out.

So the next morning, we got to work tiling the new slab. Here are a couple photos of the completed floor:

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These are the same tile that we used in the living room and bedrooms.

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Note to self: I still need to paint the shop door!

Now the question is, is this area a carport or a bohio? A bohio (pronounced bo-E-o) (No Robin, it’s not B-OHIO) is an open-air structure, usually separate from the house, that is great for outdoor entertaining on a hot day in the tropics. Bohios often have facilities for barbecuing and/or cooking. Traditional bohio roofs are made of palm fronds and have a protected opening at the top to let hot air escape. You can see that my roof has this venting quality and it is actually very pleasant underneath on a hot day. The eastern exposure makes it even more pleasant on hot afternoons, not that it ever really gets that hot here in the mountains! So is it a carport or a bohio? I suppose that the answer could be, “Yes!”

We finished tiling the floor early on Thursday and I wanted the guys to finish the day or even one more day to make more of a week for them. A couple of other tile projects had been lingering on, including the half-bathroom off of the living room. That floor didn’t take long:

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This photo is before grouting the floor and baseboards. I’ll tile the pedestal and the counter top before I install the sink.

And lastly, the wall under the master bathroom sinks was still just stucco. Anibal and I tacked this project while Francisco finished grouting the carport floor:

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In the next photo, you can see that we didn’t tile around all the pipes. I’ll dress the area up with some aluminum covers. Stay tuned.

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The next day, Friday, while I still had the tile saw set up, I decided to install the tile baseboards in the living room, master bath, laundry, and the guest bedroom. I’ve always said that a room doesn’t look done until the baseboard is installed. It is still true. Here is a photo of a row of tiles that has been grouted but I still need to run a bead of caulk along the top of the tile and touch up the paint:

P1020833-001Here is a strip in the second bedroom that is all done:

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Bob watches the touch up paint dry.

One day, Anibal and Francisco were going great guns without me (no border tile to cut), so I decided to tackle a little unfinished project. I had never finished the top of the glass block window in the master bathroom, mainly because I didn’t know what to do with it. We did know, however, that we wanted some ventilation in the shower area next to the glass block window, and whatever I did had to keep rain out of the house. After some pondering, I figured it out.

I cut a line along the shipping container wall two-inches above the top of the glass blocks. Then I took a length of 2″x6″ steel cariola (a metal C chanel), welded ends on it, and placed it in the hole above the glass blocks. The 2″x6″ works well because it overhangs the glass blocks by about an inch on either side of the wall. I caulked it into place with urethane caulk.

The next day after the caulk had dried, I cut some window screening a foot wide and as long as the cariola. I rolled the screen into a tube and tucked it up into the space above the window. And viola! — the window now has an overhang that protects the opening from rain entering and also provides ventilation for the bathroom. The screening can be removed at any time for cleaning. I still need to prime and paint the new metal:

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Lastly for this week, I started building some picture frames. The long container wall in the living/dining room is desperately pleading for some art hanging on it.

Cynthia and I went through all the photos that we have taken on the property. We chose eight pictures of flowers and uploaded them to AllPosters.com. A couple weeks later (the shipping to Panama time), the enlargements arrived.

Yesterday I measured the prints and made most of the forms for some concrete picture frames. These will be thick and heavy, and I have in mind an idea for hanging them. Stay tuned. The next photo shows my progress on the concrete forms. What, you’ve never seen concrete picture frames? Neither have we. Should be fitting for our Natural-Industrial-Bling design style. Stay tuned:

P1020822-001That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Unexpected Progress!

The day after my last post about tiling the walkway, we tiled the bottom step to the carport floor and installed a few missing tiles here and there. I thought that that would be the end of our supply of tiles, as I had estimated the job with a very sharp pencil.

But we did have nine tiles left over, just enough to tile the ramp to the back yard with only the tiniest bit of scrap left over:

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To fill out the day, we moved operations to the electric meter wall at the corner of the property. Armando and I had tiled it a couple of years ago, but the stucco at the top of the roof line was too smooth to bond the tiles to. One-by-one and over time, the tiles loosened and fell to the ground. Francisco roughed the stucco with a hammer and chisel, then Anibal painted on a bonding agent, and we cut and fit the tiles. Here is a photo that Cynthia took of the crew:

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At the end of the day our tile crew was all caught up until time to tile the carport floor, and I was about to dismiss Anibal and Francisco for lack of work. But I really didn’t want to lose them as it may be some time before I could get them back.

Anibal and I got to talking; he still had no other work on the horizon, so we decided to start the carport floor the next day. I had previously purchased the rebar for the floor, but we still needed sand, gravel and cement.

There still isn’t a lot of mixed sand and gravel deposited on the river banks, but Ramiro’s brother, who lives next to a river, had the ten-yards that we would need. He promised it for the next day. Then I went to town and ordered 30, 94-pound sacks of cement that were delivered the next day.

The next day, Armando, Anibal, Francisco, and I prepared the carport area for the pour. We have used this area to mix concrete on for five-years. Some areas were quite thick with remnant concrete and mortar, and to level the floor it was tough work with pick-axe, sledge-hammer, and shovel. We used a string to determine the level of the floor and picked away at the high spots and filled the low spots with the chipped-out debris. This took most of the morning. Here are some photos:

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We dug a trench along the front edge of the slab to allow for more concrete here — I don’t want the slab to crack the first time I drive over the edge! In the next photo I am driving rebar into the ground, making support for a 2″x4″ metal cariola form for the concrete:

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When we had the earth scraping and filling done to allow a five-inch concrete slab, we moved on to the rebar. Here Armando cuts some rebar with the angle grinder:

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We measured for the cross-pieces of rebar:

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Then we cut all of the cross pieces:

P1020706-002Now with the grid of 1/2″ rebar, spaced at 16″-on-center, we tied the rebar intersections with wire. Cynthia got in on the action, too, cutting and bending the 300-plus tie wires:

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Here the guys wire the rebar together:

P1020716-001After the rebar was in place, we drove some long pins of rebar into the ground, then I welded angle iron to the pins. Using a string from front-to-back of the carport, we adjusted the angle iron (by hammering on the pins) to set the top of the slab:

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You can see the angle iron — one at either edge and one running down the middle of the carport. We’ll use the ten-foot length of aluminum tubing to strike the concrete level.

Now we are ready for concrete.

The sand and gravel mix didn’t arrive in the afternoon as promised, but I was told that it would arrive early in the morning tomorrow. Tomorrow arrived, along with the men at 7:00 a.m., but still no material, so Ramiro called his brother. It seems that the two-block-long road down to the river was too washed out and the truck couldn’t use it. So, the delay was caused — if you can understand how much work this must have been — by the three men having to physically wheel-barrow all ten-yards uphill on the deeply-rutted two-block “road” to the truck. Uugh!

The truck arrived with the first four-yards at 8:30 and we got right to work. Spreading out the entire four-yards, the men then added the cement,:

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then they mixed and added water:

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They make little troughs throughout the pile to contain the water. Anibal, the oldest on the crew, was assigned hose duty.

After the pile was mixed, Armando grabbed the wheelbarrow and kept at it all day long:

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Anibal and I placed the concrete and struck it off using the angle iron guides:

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We caught little breaks when we could:

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We ran out of concrete when we were almost done with half the floor, and had to wait an hour-or-so for the second four-yards to arrive. Here is the floor half-done and starting on the second half:

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With just a bit left to do on the floor, we waited again for the arrival of two-more yards of sand and gravel. This was a lot of mixing in one day for our small crew:

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The next photo shows the slab ALL DONE! Also, note that the driveway is a mess of sand and cement (this stretches all the way to the front gate), making it difficult to walk into the house without bringing in a bunch of junk on your feet:

P1020759-001So I sent a WhatsApp message to Jesus (man with truck) and ordered four-yards of gravel for the driveway. Yesterday, Armando and I spread the pile. We’ll still need at least another load, but I’ll wait until we are all done with the sand pile Here’s a panorama with the driveway almost all graveled:

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So having the floor slab done was a big surprise for us, we thought it would happen in June or July. But here it is at the tail end of May and it is in and done. Now just to tile it…

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

A Week Working With The Walkway

Back in October or so of last year, we came to an intermission point in installing the floor and wall tiles. Two larger projects lingered — completing the outside walkway from the front steps around to my shop, and the carport floor.

Money was one of the issues, and in the time since then we saved our pennies to buy the remaining walkway tiles. We ordered them and they just arrived. I called Hanibal and Francisco (now I have corrected Hanibal’s name to Anibal) to see if they were available and lucky for us, they were.

At day four, we have the walkway, the wheelbarrow/wheelchair ramp, and all but one of the steps down to the carport completed. Here are some photos:

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Francisco prepares to mix some mortar.

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Anibal places a spacer and sets the tile with a rubber mallet.

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This is the walkway in front of my shop.

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A nice miter turns the corner.

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This walkway connects my shop to the front door of the house.

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The bottom concrete step will be covered with the carport concrete floor, so there is just one step left to tile. Note to self — paint my shop door.

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The tile stacked on the walkway is for the carport floor. The carport will double as a bohio, or outdoor party area. The bamboo in the planters that Armando and I made is doing very well.

In other news, remember Ramiro, the man that did a lot of welding and painting for us some months ago? We had some painting to do, and Ramiro had three days between jobs, so we invited him back to tackle the front gate. Two years is about all the time you can get out of a coat of paint fully-exposed here to the tropical sun. Ramiro sanded, primed, and painted the gate anew. Not a speck of paint on him, a very meticulous worker:

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The gate is dark green, the same color as the house trim.

I don’t have a photo, but Armando has been busy in the yard, preparing for the rainy season by cleaning and digging out all the drainage ditches. He seems to enjoy grading the bottom of the ditch so that the water runs freely and doesn’t puddle (no breeding ground for mosquitoes).

Cynthia has been busy, too. Here is her latest bowl out of the kiln. She named it Antiguedad. She made the bowl with a variety of five mica powers and a small-gauge copper screen. She intentionally left the edges of the bowl “organic”. I think that it is stunning!

P1020653-002You can see the copper screen through the clear glass on the underside:

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Nice job Cynthia!

That’s all for this 201st blog post. Thanks for stopping by.

Five Years In The Making, My 200th Post

This blog entry marks my 200th post on PanamaShippingContainerHouse.com. Cynthia and I began this house-building project on June 6th, 2010, just two-weeks away from five-years ago. And now we can see the light at the end of the tunnel!

Tackling much of this Big-Person’s Erector Set myself, I’ve had to push pretty hard, and keep on pushing pretty hard, if I ever want to see the project completed. As such, there has been a never-ending stream of items-become-reality.

I have become conditioned to frequently having something new to enjoy, appreciate, be frustrated by, and be proud of. As an artist, I like the creative process. It feeds me. It stimulates my brain.

This is not to say that it hasn’t been exhausting and that I haven’t wanted to walk away. Many times. The size of the project, the learning curve of creating a unique, owner-designed and owner-built shipping container house, the new skills that I have had to learn, plus the general decrapitude of my age (I can see 70 from my house), have been daunting.

But artists wouldn’t have it any other way, would they?

I know that the house isn’t done yet, however several readers have asked me if I would do it again — If I knew then what I know now, would I do it again. It’s a hard question to answer (indeed even some of our political elite have fallen into the trap and bungled the answer). And like a politician, I’d like to dodge the question and ask a different one.

Are we glad that we built this shipping container house? The answer, from both Cynthia and myself, is a resounding, “Yes!”

Would we do it again? (Ah, you still want me to answer that question…) “NO!” But not for the reason that you think. We think that building anything from shipping containers is a cool idea. We think that this has been a worthwhile exercise. We have learned a lot. We can’t identify any major mistakes along the way that have made this a stupid idea. We love the way that it is turning out.

But we wouldn’t do it again because we are more artists than builders. A builder can replicate the same house a thousand times, maybe flipping the floor plan every other time. But an artist — an artist is in it for the creation of new ideas, new expressions, new processes, new enlightening. So no, we wouldn’t do it again.

The house “works” for us in its design and materials. The containers provide a modular design grid that allows for a very fluid and usable living space. The large spaces, such as the 16’x40′ kitchen/family area, work well here in the tropics where airflow and ventilation is everything.

The still-somewhat-uniqueness of using shipping containers has enlivened the project, even more so than if we had built a good design from the standard concrete block method. We’ve enjoyed knowing that we’ve taken four containers out of the junk pile and up-purposed them into a home that has a lot of living potential.

Lastly, Cynthia and I have created this design from the ground up. We didn’t buy plans on the Internet, and we didn’t hire out any of the creativity. We’ve worked well together to solve really-difficult issues. Often Cynthia won’t like my ideas or I won’t like her’s.

But our philosophy around this is that if one of us doesn’t like the other’s idea, we look for a third option. We’ve discovered that the third option is never a compromise. Neither of us has had to give up anything along the way. The Third (or Fourth — or Seventh) Option that we find is always better than what either of us has thought of individually.

To everyone who has followed along, subscribed, or commented, thanks very much. I haven’t “monetized” this site because I like it the way it is. I’m not even selling the idea. This blog is my diary, and I’ve enjoyed making it public. I hope that you have enjoyed reading it.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

And Then, Just Like That, We Had Back Steps

For E.V.E.R. now, we’ve had a back door but no steps up to it (or down from it, depending on where you stand). And in the carport, we still had a small pile of mixed sand and gravel from the river. In order to pour a floor in the carport, this pile of material had to go.

So instead of moving the pile, we decided to use it up by making steps to the back door. Armando, with me helping on the technical layout and the concrete pours, spent about five days on the project. And now, just like that, we have back steps — one more item to cross off of the To Do list. Here are some photos:

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The concrete slab with all the embedded rocks is where the cascade of rainwater falls from the roof.

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Armando told me to make sure that I got the concrete placed right-side up.

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While Armando focused on the steps, I worked the list inside the house.

We had yet to finish the wall under the bench in the master bathroom shower, so one day I couldn’t put it off any longer. This was a nasty little area because the container wall was quite dented. I wanted to attach tile-backer to the wall, but the dents wouldn’t allow it. So with Armando outside with some screws, and me inside with a couple lengths of 2″x2″ square tubing, we attached the tubing to the wall. Now with straight lines, I glued and screwed tile-backer to the tubing.

Here I am just about to attach the tile-backer:

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The special screws for tile-backer are an engineering marvel. The “point” drills through the tile-backer, then into the metal stud behind the tile-backer. The two “wings” enlarge the hole in the tile-backer that the “point” made. As the wings contact the metal stud wall, they are sheared off and the screw part advances into the metal stud. Finally, when the screw head hits the tile-backer, “teeth” on the underside of the head grind away the tile-backer so that the head sits flush. Ingenious and not cheap per each:

P1020574-001After the tile-backer was in place, I tiled the wall and grouted it.

Next on my list was some trim work on the wall between the master bedroom and the master bath. This entire area looked was unfinished. I cut, fit, and painted some wooden boards, and now the area is transformed. Here is the bedroom side:

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I like the hand-finished texture on the wall. I still need to install towel bars, and of course, the electrical.

Beyond the bed in the bedroom is a cozy sitting area. I trimmed the top of this wall, too, and hung a fun lamp. We still need a round mirror for the wall:

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In the master bath, I got to check a tiny item off of the list — I drilled a hole through the concrete shelf, passed the lamp cord through the hole, and attached a new plug. The toilet area is a pleasant place to sit a spell:

P1020614-001Here is a photo of the space from above:

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The bedrooms were still a bit macho, so we found some nice curtains (on sale!) at Novey. Here is the master bedroom with the curtains hanging:

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The vertical white stripe in the corner with all the wires will get a metal cover. The lovely antique secretary with the curved glass doors belonged to Cyn’s grandmother.

The second bedroom:

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In the kitchen, morning light was just too bright coming through the glass block windows. Curtains here make the space much more pleasant:

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I did a few smaller projects as well, including repainting the bottom few inches of the container wall in the kitchen. The white paint was dirtied when we grouted the floor. If you are going to build a shipping container house, realize the extra work involved here:

P1020636-001In the Bug-Of-The-Week Department, Cyn spotted this tropical, leaf-like camouflage take on the Praying Mantis:

P1020627-001That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

Working The List & New Plants Arriving Daily

With the exception of the carport floor, the last significant outside job is done. This is a good thing because the rainy season has begun. That last job was to finish the west end of container two:

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Notice that the sky is no longer blue. Rain is on its way soon.

Here is this end all painted, window washed, soffit panel installed, and the scaffolding disassembled and returned to its owner after two-years:

P1020561-001Trim was still lacking in the two bedrooms at the top of the clerestory wall. It looked unfinished with the uneven ends of the zinc ceiling panels. So I installed a metal angle which provides a more crisp look. The next photo is looking up at the ceiling:

P1020560-001While I had the hang of being on ladders, Armando and I finished the kitchen ceiling by installing the last piece of zinc panel. In the seating bump-out, we hung a piece of tilebacker (no drywall in this damp climate…) on the ceiling and painted it gray. I still need to hang one of Cynthia’s red lamps:

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Cat painting by our friend, Alexia.

Since I had the gray paint out, I decided to continue in the hallway to the master bedroom. Long ago primed with red and white paint, the area was very dirty. I washed the walls and ceiling, sanded and primed rusty areas, and ran beads of caulk around the door frames. I painted everything two coats of the middle gray. Now this hallway doesn’t stand out as an eyesore:

P1020558-001Finally, using some extra PVC pipe parts, I took a few minutes and upgraded the video surveillance cameras:

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I cut a two-inch PVC elbow on an angle and glued it to another elbow. The camera fit snugly and the pipe makes a conduit to run the wire up the wall. I’ll paint the pipe the house color to make it disappear.

In the meantime, we now have about sixty-four new plants in the ground!

To the left of the driveway turnaround, we planted sixteen purple Mexican Primrose. These grow and spread well, so this area will be much fuller a few months from now. At the left side of the next photo is a new bush — I’ll build a trellis for it to vine up and over the carport entrance. It will have flowers for the butterflies and hummingbirds:

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The new birdbaths are in place in the yard. Armando and I still need to apply mortar to the outside of the birdbath supports — I’d like them to look like tree trunks.

We put a row of the same Mexican Primrose along the yellow “Shrimp Tails” by the front gate. Again, these will fill in nicely:

P1020542We planted sixteen new grass plants along the west fence line. These will grow and hide the concertina security wire on the fence:

P1020544And five red-flowered trees that the butterflies and humming birds will like:P1020564-001The back yard is filling out nicely and is a good spot for one of the bird baths:P1020548The fern garden was doing well but looks better with the addition of a bunch of large-leaf purple plants. And we like the little flowers that Armando surprised us with:P1020551-001The hibiscus struggled through the dry season, and they were attacked numerous times by leaf-cutter ants. But they are doing well now that they have had a couple deep drinks of water:P1020547P1020546That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.