I was recently asked by the YouTube channel, SHELTER MODE, if he could feature our container house on his channel. He asked for a short story about our build and for some construction photos. In sorting through thousands of photos, I thought, hey, why not make a post about it for him. And anyone visiting here for the first time could see some of the process we went through without plowing through all 200-plus posts. Here is the story. At the end are a lot of photos from the way-back machine. Continue reading
To recap from my last post, I have for some years now wanted to try my hand at aquaponics. Aquaponics involves fish and vegetable growing. In short, the fish excrete ammonia, which is toxic to the fish. But bacteria process the ammonia and produce nitrite and then nitrate. Vegetable plants are grown in the water that is rich with the nitrates, feeding the plants, and then the water is returned to the fish. It is a nearly closed loop system, just needing input of fish food and an occasional small dose of, for example, iron. But to do all this at the scale I want, I need a greenhouse. Continue reading
PART I ~ A Very Long-winded Introduction To A Significant Project
Sorry, no pictures this post.
Time sensitive note: I’ve wanted to write this post for some time, but the COVID-19 pandemic kinda knocked the wind out of my sails. But today I determined to sit down and write. I hope you are all well. We are watching the world change in front of our eyes.
For some years now, I have wanted to grow our own veges. But our soil is rock hard and would need significant augmentation to be successful soil. And if the bugs flying in the air and/or the leaf cutter ants marching on the ground don’t eat the leaves, then the grubs underground will eat the roots. And then there are the rabbits. And the windy season would leave the leaves in tatters. And the dry season requires constant watering as the soil turns to stone. And the torrential flooding in the rainy season is no help either. And who wants to bend over and work the soil at 70+ years old anyway. The only dastardly thing we are missing here is deer! So I tabled the desire. Continue reading
Hi there. I bet you thought you would never hear from me again. Well I’m back with an update and possibly a reboot of this blog. For those who want more shipping container house building info, my future posts may be disappointing. The container part of the house build is done and it has been done for more than three years now. `
For the past three-and-a-half years, this shipping container/art house has been for sale. As in much of the world, the housing market here is absolutely flat. Only a couple of properties have sold here and they were priced well below what the sellers wanted and way below what we were asking.
Meanwhile, Cynthia and I have been living here. Real living and not just the five-year all-consuming exertion of creating and building this house. We’ve had time to be creative with our arts. We’ve had time to just sit and relax in the master bedroom porch and watch the birds. We’ve had time to know each other more deeply. As time passed, we explored other places to live when the house would potentially sell. Medellin, Colombia (we’ve been there five times now). Guanajuato, Mexico (wow, but stairs, stairs, and more stairs make it not a place for Cynthia with her new knee). Greenville, South Carolina (fair weather, progressive culture, health care, etc.) and Austin, Texas (Cynthia’s family).
But through all this time, two factors have become important priorities.
One factor is that we love the rich nature and relative seclusion of where we are. Every morning we wake to something we’ve never had before. Recently it has been a family of Aracaris (Toucan like birds). And the flock of wild parrots absolutely prevents sleeping in and missing these wonderful mornings. To start over somewhere else and miss a significant amount of time (years?) without just sitting and being has become a less inviting idea.
The second factor is really a matter of time and energy. We have created something here and it took a lot of energy and a lot of years: this custom house that is a joy to live in, a workshop that I have organized for the first time in my life, a new glass studio for Cynthia, a watercolor painting studio for me, and more is in the works. We want these things in our life and to start over with the diminished energy of age is looking more and more unlikely and un-enjoyable.
As an example of what I am doing when not building a house, here is a cabinet I built for my art supplies:
So with a substantial and significant amount of pondering, realizing, and talking, we have come to the “ah-ha!” decision to remove the house from the market. Not that it is selling anyway, but we have come to settle on all the good points of staying put.
Over the next while I will post Part II of the reserve water tank project, our studios, an orchid wall that I built, and a major project that is underway.
That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by. Fred
I haven’t posted in a long time because I haven’t done anything much write-down-word-worthy lately. But I felt like writing this morning and cranked out the following bit about the month of April here in the mountains of Panama, and I thought I’d show you a little project that I have been working on.
As I do many mornings, today I was on our roof deck sweeping away a few dry leaves and watering the plants. From the roof deck I can see the woodpeckers that, as they do every year in April, are making new nesting holes (in preparation for babies and for protection in the rainy season) in the trees in the next lot over from us. It’s quite a show.
Every day I put several bananas in the dead tree stump in our front garden. We’ve covered this stump in bromeliads and orchids, and nesting birds have made the tree a bird condominium. They have a wonderful time darting in and out of the plants on their way to and from the bananas. There are black birds, black and red birds, black and yellow, green, and even blue birds. Robins, and the woodpeckers, too, come for the bananas. Small reddish-brown doves peck in the freshly-tilled garden and finish off the banana peels that fall to the ground. The bird banana buffet gives Cynthia and me hours of enjoyment as we watch out the kitchen windows.
The tall trees in our front garden turn golden-crested in April, and the loudly-chirping hummingbirds work the blossoms all day long. Soon, bees will arrive to take the nectar that the hummingbirds leave behind; their buzzing is very loud and reaches a crescendo in the heat of mid-afternoons.
I also love April because now, after several very dry months, we are starting to receive several rain showers each night. They don’t last long, but come down in brief sheets, signaling that rain is on its way. The fragrance of freshly-dampened soil smells good and I go back to sleep.
The other day our gardener, Armando, pointed out a loudly singing bird that was “calling the water,” he said in Spanish. I’ve really enjoyed learning Spanish so I can pick up these bits of local knowledge – such as when the breezes that start in November and December are called “brisas de Navideña,” — the breezes that bring on Christmas. Many of the local workers here may not have a lot of book learning, but they know the wildlife and the subtle rhythms of the seasons.
With everything so dry, the birds enjoy the three birdbaths that we made for them; keeping the water refreshed is a pleasant part of my daily routine, too.
Recently we noticed that the mango trees are in full-bloom in our area; we should be picking mangos fresh off of the trees in late June and July. Because we are in a micro-climate zone, our mango schedule is quite different from down in town or just down the mountain road a few kilometers.
There are distinct seasons in Panama, not as dramatic as, say in New England, U.S.A., but they are distinct in their own subtle way. I love April; there is a lot to observe and to appreciate here.
In other news, the other day I got a call from a friend of ours. She has been taking care of the home of someone who had recently died, and she lost the keys! She asked me if I could get into the house. Of course I could, houses are my business, but locks, unfortunately, aren’t.
I did a survey of the exterior of the house and decided to remove the security bars on a small bathroom window (the window was small, and so was the bathroom, come to think about it). Fifteen-minutes with a hammer and chisel and I had the bars removed from the concrete block house. It would be minimal work to mortar the bars back in place. I climbed through the window, removed the screws from the two deadbolt locks, and opened the door. Our friend bought two new deadbolts and I installed them in just a few minutes.
But this got me thinking — how much easier it would have been on my senior citizen body if I could have just picked the locks and not had to mess with shoe-horning myself through the tiny window and making the high drop to the floor. YouTube to the rescue. Over the next couple of weeks, I watched a couple-hundred videos, maybe more, about lock picking. I now dream about picking locks.
So I thought that I would buy a set of lock picks. They can be had for twenty-bucks, or a high-quality set for under a hundred. But then again I thought, why not make them myself? There are lots of videos on YouTube showing how to make picks from hacksaw blades and the thin pieces of spring steel that sit under the rubber part of most windshield wiper blades.
Our car needed new wiper blades anyway, and a few bucks bought a handful of saw blades. A day or two later I had my very own homemade lock pick set (I still have a couple more picks to make…). I think they came out pretty well, all ground, sanded, and polished to a bright shine. Here are a few photos:
So now it is time to see if I have what it takes. I have a pile of old padlocks that I am gearing up to practice on.
By the way, if you are the least bit interested in how insecure most of the locks that most of us use, here is a video by a man named bosnianbill. Locks are his hobby and he enjoys figuring out the puzzle of each lock he touches. Bosnianbill is part of an international group of people who consider lock picking a grand sport. They have competitions and swap locks and information among themselves, picking for the fun of it. Here is one of his 600-or-so videos:
Now, after a bit of practice, maybe I will be able to open a lock the next time I get a call from a panicked friend. I’ll “keep it legal” as these sport pickers say at the end of their videos.
That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.
I have been promising you, and promising you some more, that I would make a video of the house. With this post I announce that I am half-way there. I have completed a seven-minute video of the exterior of the house! I wonder if it will break any box office records as Star Wars has just done… ah, probably not, never mind, dumb thought. Here it is (full screen is better) :
This was no small task for me as I had to acquaint myself with my GoPro 3+ camera and the GoPro Studio editing software. I even built some equipment including a slider so I could get smooth side-to-side shots. Commercially-built sliders are available for a bunch of money, but I built mine for not-much with a couple aluminum shower curtain rods, a cut-up plastic kitchen cutting board, and some PVC pipe fittings. I bought the wheels online. Here is my slider. The shower rods were my idea and make for the lightest-weight five-foot slider in the Universe or anywhere…:
I saw the DIY PVC pipe fitting dolly on YouTube. I put an extra port on the dolly so that in the future I can mount an LED video light for closeup work:
I bought a gimbal. Until recently, gimbals were only used in big movie productions and cost many thousands of dollars. Now they are available for the hobby market for just a couple hundred dollars. A handheld gimbal allows a video photographer to walk over rough ground, climb stairs, and even run, and the gyros in the gimbal keep the camera stable. I love what miniaturization is doing for tech. Here is Cynthia modeling my gimbal:
Not counting building the slider, this shoot took me about twenty-hours to video, edit, find music on the Web, and add the audio track. I also had to diagnose and fix a problem with my computer — when I would download and play an audio clip, it sounded all garbled and fuzzy. The problem was that I had an older version of VLC Media Player. Once I uninstalled the program, the audio opened on Windows Media Player and sounded just fine.
I spread the shoot over a couple days to get the sun at its best advantage. Sorry, the sun doesn’t shine on the north side of the house at this time of year so this side is in shade — I’d have to wait another six-months to complete the video. I opted not to wait. Overall I had a good time, and especially enjoyed making the opening and closing credits. I learned a lot… I like steep learning curves!
I hope that you enjoyed my video. I’ll work on the interior shoot soon. I promise.
That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.
Three days ago I finished applying the Feather Friendly window dots on our large front windows. I am happy to report that not one single bird has even come close to colliding with the glass!
This past week in addition to finishing the bird dots on the windows, I’ve spent several days washing windows and making the house shine. Ramiro is still washing the house inside and out and touching up paint as he goes, and Armando has been cleaning the exterior rock work with the power washer. I still have a couple small tasks to do — install an electrical plug, tie some wires up under the house, install a plumbing vent — but everything is all but done. However I did want to show the finished bird-proofing of the windows.
Here are some photos:
This first photo is in progress. You tape two ruler guides (provided with the rolls of dot tape) to the window. Then you roll out enough tape to go across the window and cut it to length. Then, following the ruler, press the tape onto the window, one row every two-inches. Lastly, run a credit card over each dot to stick them to the window and then remove the carrier tape. Only the dots are left on the window:
I took the next photos just after sunrise:
You barely notice the dots from inside the house. Jabo does report, however, that he is seeing spots:
As I get closer and closer to completing every little item on the punch list, Cynthia reminded me of what I said when we first met about eleven years ago. We met online, eHarmony.com. In our emails back and forth, I told her that I was in the process of doing a down-to-the-studs remodel of my 1920s Craftsman bungalow home in Colorodo. This was a Big Red Flag for her, as the photos that I sent to her were “ugly” as she says.
But I told her that, “I finish projects,” and I emailed her my resume, if you will, of other houses that I had completed. Well, that sales job sealed the deal. Cynthia moved from Ohio to Colorado and we spent the next three-years finishing the bungalow.
Here is the bungalow on the day that I bought it. It was pretty nondescript.
And here it is just before we sold it, windows washed and everything:
Now our shipping container house looks finished. It really feels good to have so much to show for our five-years of work:
That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.
In my last post, I made and hung the kitchen cabinet doors. This time, I focused on the drawers. Now with the drawers completed, the kitchen install is drawing to a close!
I started with the drawer boards thickness-planed to 5/8″, and I cut them to a width that would allow for good spacing on the dovetails. I measured and cut all the drawer pieces to length and started making the dovetail corner joints. Here are two boards in the dovetail jig:
After I cut all the dovetails, I took the boards to the table saw and cut a one-blade-wide cut at the bottom of the pieces. This allowed me to slide the aluminum drawer bottoms into place. Here is a set of boards all ready for assembly:
I cut the aluminum sheets to drawer-bottom size. Then with a small paintbrush, I applied carpenter’s wood glue to the joints and tapped the pieces together with a rubber mallet. With this joint, no nails or screws are needed — a good thing in a tropical climate because any moisture left in the wood will rust nails and screws in short order. Here is the stack of drawers waiting overnight for final sanding of the joints:
I like kitchen cabinets that have pull-out trays at the bottom of the cabinets because it it is much easier to reach the pan in the back of the cabinet. So I made trays in the same style as the drawers. Here are the trays waiting for sanding:
Same as the doors, after a good sanding, I gave all the drawers and trays a coat of sanding sealer and two coats of polyurethane, sanding between the coats. The drawers (not the bottom trays) also needed additional drawer fronts so I made and finished those too. Finally it was time to put the drawers and trays into the cabinets. Here are some photos of the completed kitchen:
Here is a closeup of a drawer with its attached front, one of the trays, and a door:
Here is a closeup of one of the dovetail joints:
I used Blum brand drawer slides for the drawers and trays. These slides are very nice — when you close a drawer, just push on the drawer, and at the final two-inches you can let go of the drawer and the drawer slide takes over and automatically and silently glides the drawer to its closed position. Here is a short video that I found on YouTube by Dan Lake that shows how the drawers come to a smooth and quiet closed position:
I have to say that I am very, very happy with how the kitchen turned out. Everything looks just right and my eyes are doing a happy dance. Cynthia likes it too, I just wish that there weren’t so many conflicting priorities with the house and that I could have done the kitchen a lot sooner. I still have a couple finishing details, but I’m calling the kitchen, DONE.
Not much in other news this post, except that one day, using bananas from our back yard, Cynthia made “good for you Fun Food” or baked banana bread doughnuts. Gluten-free and very delicious. I couldn’t eat just one!
Living in Latin America, it doesn’t take long before one comes across a statue or park named for a hero from distant history. Who are they and what did they do? I just finished reading the book, Bolivar: American Liberator by Marie Arana. Almost every night for a couple weeks, I would retire to the screened-in bump out in the master bedroom and read the Kindle version on my smartphone. I enjoyed the hooting of owls as I read.
Over the course of twenty-some years, Bolivar traveled 75,000 miles on horseback, fought the Spanish plus many competing forces withing South America. He made and lost fortunes and always fought for equal representation for all South Americans including freeing slaves. All this was at the same time as Washington and Jefferson and other North American patriots were fighting for freedom. It was a fascinating read.
That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.
I’ve been working on the kitchen cabinet doors.
I planed the wood for the cabinet doors to its final thickness, cut the pieces to their final widths, then plowed a groove to accept the glass panels. Here is a photo with the boards cut to width and the groove cut:
I used to have a router table, but the humidity here made Purina Mold Chow out of it. I looked all over Panama for a new router table but couldn’t find one. So using a small shop bench and a quarter-sheet of plywood, I made my own.
With the router set up with a single cutter, I easily made the groove for the glass panels (photo above). Next, I calculated the size of the stiles (the side pieces of the doors) and the rails (the top and bottom pieces of the doors) and cut them to length with the miter saw. Here I am sizing the doors and cutting the pieces:
I put double cutters on the router and cut the ends of the rails. Here is my makeshift router table. The router hangs upside down under the plywood:
Here is a close-up of the double cutter assembly that cut the ends of the rails:
Here is a photo of a stile (on the right) and a rail (on the left):
When all was said and done, I had a pile of pieces and parts, ready to assemble:
Whoa! Not so fast! Before I assemble the doors, I need to drill holes on the back of the hinge-side of the door stiles to receive the hinges. Here is my setup for drilling the holes with my grandfather’s antique drill press:
Now with everything measured and ready to assemble, I calculated the size of the glass panels and ordered the glass. I had to wait the better part of a week for the glass to be cut. There is one glass company that we like to use, and they didn’t have any of the frosted glass that we wanted for the doors. It would be weeks (months?) before they would have any. But they did have frosted safety glass, basically two sheets of clear glass with a frosted safety film sandwiched between the panes. Although it cost a lot more, we went with it.
While I waited, I applied a couple of coats of polyurethane varnish to the edges of the stiles and rails where the glass panel will slide into the grooves. This will keep me from slopping varnish all over the glass when it comes time to finish the doors.
Next I pulled all the hinge stiles out of the pile and screwed the hinges onto the stiles. Then I screwed the hinge onto the cabinet. These hinges easily come apart into two pieces, making hanging the door really easy. These are Blum brand and have several adjustment screws for aligning the door in the frame. Here are the hinges shown with the parts connected and separated:
I also took some time and installed the drawer slides onto the wooden carriages that I previously built:
These are Blum brand self-closing drawer slides, the best. They aren’t cheap, plus I had to import them from the $tates. Here is a close-up:
I finally got the call from the glass fabricator, and drove down the mountain to collect my order. Back home, I wasted no time in assembling the doors.
I let the glue dry for a day then sanded the doors smooth and ready for varnish. Now they look like this:
For the first coat, I painted on a coat of sanding sealer. Basically thinned down varnish, sanding sealer soaks into the wood, raises any grain that is going to raise, then dries hard and is very easy to sand. It leaves a satin-smooth surface for the polyurethane. Here I am applying the sealer. Notice that I don’t have to cut close to the glass because that part of the wood is already sealed:
Here are the doors all hung out to dry overnight:
After sanding the sealer, I applied a coat of polyurethane, let it dry overnight, sanded the doors again, then applied a second coat of finish and let them sit another day. I finally got to hang the doors and install the handles that we bought about a hundred-years ago. I like to mount the handles so that the top of the handles line up with the horizontal line of the rails:
We think that they look great. But now we can’t just reach down and pull something out of a cabinet; extra step — remember to open and close the doors!
The drawers are next and I have already started working on them. But this will wait for my next post.
In other news, just as a downpour arrived, Armando dug some of the yucca that we have growing on the other side of the road. He couldn’t wait to show it to me as it is Guinness Book-qualified BIG!
Water from a long gutter at the front of the carport/bohio dumps a lot of water! The water goes under the fence and into the drainage ditch:
The garden is growing on steroids this rainy season; there is a lot of sun but the downpours are substantial and deeply-soak the soil. Here are some going-crazy maracas:
And some going-crazy ferns and what-ever-they-are big purple plants:
And last but best, Cynthia just completed a glass platter. This one was an amalgamation of two projects that she didn’t like. So we got out the tile saw and cut both projects into small pieces. She then arranged them into a new piece that is really fun to look at. Cyn named the piece, “Amalgamation.” In the photo below, the platter is casting a long shadow in the morning sun:
We made a little video about it:
That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.
I have made some progress on the kitchen cabinets.
If you remember, a long time ago I framed the cabinets with 1.5″x1.5″x1/16″ square steel tubing. At the time, I had no idea how I was going to mount hinges and drawer slides, but I knew that I would figure it out when the time came.
Well, the time came. I spent some time sitting on an upside-down five-gallon bucket, analyzing and figuring out what I would have to do. Finally, I had a clear idea in mind. I would build a wooden “carriage” inside the metal framework to carry the drawers and to mount the door hinges to.
The 1.5″x1.5″ pieces that I cut for the purpose were finally dry enough to work with. I made pilot holes in the wood, then screwed the wooden pieces to the metal framework with 2.5-inch zinc roofing panel screws. These screws are self drilling and hold well.
Where I needed to attach one piece of wood to another, I used my Kreg pocket screw jig to make the holes for the screws. Here is a photo (credit — Kreg website) of the jig and the pocket holes that allow you to screw the pieces together. I like this jig; it is well worth the money and really speeds assembly of parts:
Building the framework was a double-jointed contortionist’s idea of a good time. Here are some photos of the completed carriages — sealed, sanded, and polyurethaned:
Between coats of urethane, I spent most of a day running boards through the thickness planer. Here are the drawer fronts — I still need to cut them to their finished length and width:
And the pile of un-thickness-planed boards that you saw in my last post —
Now looks like this:
I planed (as in past tense of to plane) the parts that will be the door frames down from one-inch to 13/16″. I still need to take these down another sixteenth to 3/4″ when they dry just a bit more.
And I planed the parts that will make the drawers and pull-out trays down from one-inch to 3/4″. I still need to take these down to their final 5/8″ thickness after they dry just a bit more.
Each board went through the planer six-or-so times as it is best to take off a little bit at a time; I was like a one-armed wallpaper hanger, jockeying each piece of wood in and out of the planer as fast as I could. I took Armando home with four more bags of expensive shavings for his chickens.
I’ll let the wood dry a few more days, then plane it to its final thickness. I took my dovetail jig out of storage today — I hadn’t opened the box in eight-years. I was afraid it would be full of big black ants and a lot of rust, but everything looks good to go. I can’t wait to make the drawers!
So that’s my update on the kitchen.
In other news, I finished painting the front door wall metalwork and spent a few hours with a razor blade cutting paint and caulk off of the perimeter of the windows. It looks nice now:
Here is a panorama shot that I took from the pickup as well. Remember, the driveway doesn’t curve, it is just the panorama distortion:
Cynthia has been spending a lot of time at her lampworking torch. She and I were just remembering how her (now fired) neurologist told her that she would never work with hot glass again because of the neurological damage done during her last open-heart surgery. Never tell Cynthia that she can’t do something! Here is a slide show that we put together of some of her recent stunningly-beautiful beads:
And finally, Jabo takes solace on the cool tile next to the living room fountain on a warm afternoon.
That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.