Four Counters And A Long Bench

And the flu dragged on and on for several more weeks. Then I got a sty and the area around my right eye swelled mightily. So I haven’t done much work since my last post. But now it is time to rebuild all that muscle that I lost in the past weeks! Getting back to work was physically difficult, but I did it and I have accomplished a few things.

One day I sprayed the long wall in the living/dining room. I sprayed it a primer white, so now it is ready for the finish color.

Cynthia said that she would like a long bench seat along this same wall, so one day Armando and I formed it and readied it for concrete.

I didn’t want to weld the rebar directly to the container wall because on the other side of the wall is the walk-in closet. Welding would burn the paint and make an awful amount of smoke and I didn’t want to remove all our clothes from the closet. But I did want to connect the bench to the wall so that it wouldn’t pull away. So I drilled half-inch holes where I wanted the short pieces of rebar. I inserted two-inch bolts from the closet side and put a nut on the living room side. Then I could weld the rebar to the bolts and not burn the paint in the closet. We are going to use the same black-tinted concrete as we did in the kitchen. Here is the wall primed white and the bench form work ready for concrete:


Later I’ll put LED lighting under the length of the bench.

While we were at it, we formed four counter tops. One is upstairs in the loft where we will put a small sink. This sink is close to the roof deck and will be useful for doing art projects in the loft. The bottom of a five-gallon bucket was the perfect size to make the hole for the sink; I cut the bucket on the table saw. The other wooden disks to the right of the sink will make the hole for the faucet:


Back down stairs, we formed another counter in the kitchen. We’ll put the microwave on this counter. I used a bunch of scrap rebar here. Later I’ll build an aluminum cabinet below the counter:


At the far end of the kitchen we’ll mount the TV on the dark gray wall. I want to build a cabinet below the TV for components and such, so we built the form work for a counter. As standard practice in forming all these counters, I drilled half-inch holes in the concrete walls and inserted the rebar into the holes. At the metal container wall, I did the bolt/rebar thing as I did on the long bench. The counter will be self-supporting with the cabinet built below:


And finally, this morning I formed the counter for the sink in the half-bath under the stairs. The sink will be a round glass vessel type that will fit the contour of the counter. A long time ago I saw a sink mounted in a corner with a mirror on either wall. It makes an unique effect so I’ll do the same here:


Armando and I plan to pour the concrete later this week or early next week.

In other news, I’ve been working on converting have converted to the gluten-free, low-carb, high-fat, high-protein diet that Cynthia’s cardiologist wants her to eat (based on the two books, Wheat Belly and Grain Brain). I’m eating a massive amount of food and have lost all the sugar and carb cravings. I am surprised how quickly those cravings disappeared. Below is a photo of my breakfast one day — a large plate of veges and three eggs, all scrambled and sauteed in coconut oil. I seasoned this batch with Herbs de Provence, although other times I may use curry or Italian herbs. This meal is interchangeable for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Delicious and very filling and I haven’t gained back a single pound!


For the past four-years, we’ve had a problem with a particular kind of fly, called the sagaño. The sagaño builds a giant mother ship nest, then sends away teams to build more nests. They’ve been trying to build many of these satellite nests high on the house, which Armando and I knock down with the pressure washer. But they won’t stop building! Besides defacing the house, this fly, if you pass within a few feet of their nest, will attack people and pets. They don’t sting like a bee, but instead bite. They quickly wiggle their way through your hair and bite your scalp. They like to climb under your shirt and bite your armpit.

The mother ship is just a few feet into the neighboring lot to the west of our fence, and the other day Armando and I decided that it was time for the big nest to go. I hated to do it because they seem to have the one redeeming quality of pollinating the bananas.

We quietly and stealthily placed a tall ladder in the tree about fifteen feet from the nest. Even that was provocative and the flies attacked. We had prepared ourselves with protective clothing which is a good thing because we were each covered with hundreds of the little biting creatures. Like chimps picking lice off of each other, I picked the flies off of Armando and he picked them off of me. Working in quick volleys, we cut the branch that the nest was attached to. Surprisingly heavy, the nest crashed to the ground with a loud thud. Armando had made a small, smokey fire to distract the flies.

Using a long pole, we placed on top of the nest a Ziploc bag full of diesel and a bit of gasoline. Next we used the pole with a nail taped to it to puncture the bag; the fuel saturated the nest. Finally, we used the pole to deliver a flaming torch to the nest. All this happened over several hours to give the flies time to calm down; most of the flies abandoned ship as they seem to like to be higher in the air. Here is the nest with Armando’s foot on it:



Again, I hated to do it but their bite is annoying and their saliva, or whatever they use as a building material, is corrosive to the paint and galvanized metal on the house.

And one other thing, these are bar flies. Really. They love the smell of oil-based paint and lacquer thinner. They get quite drunk and propel themselves against the wet paint. Now if you notice blemishes in my paint, you know why.

Cynthia returns from the States next week, so in an attempt to impress her upon her return, in the rain-free mornings I’ve had Armando outside in the gardens. For the first time, the entire lot is pretty-much weed-free and everything looks good and healthy. He cleaned dead leaves from all the plants and fertilized everything. This should be a good welcome home for her.

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

Kitchen Cabinets ~ Aluminum Siding ~ Not What You Think!

I can imagine the telephone conversation:

Me: Hello.

Salesperson: Hello. We have a truck in your neighborhood and would like to offer you free aluminum siding.

Me: Yes, I am interested.

Salesperson: How large is your house?

Me: Um, the size of my house doesn’t matter. I want the aluminum siding for my kitchen cabinets.

Salesperson: Pardon me? Kitchen cabinets?

Me: Yes, kitchen cabinets. When can you come?

Salesperson: Click.

As an aside, this reminds me of a conversation that my then 88-year-old mother had with a telephone salesperson. She had neither a driver’s license nor a car. She did, however, have a sharp wit and a great sense of humor. The conversation went like this:

Mother: Hello.

Salesperson: Hello. We have a truck in your neighborhood and would like to offer you a free windshield chip/ding repair.

Mother (putting on her best old-lady, shaky and weak voice): Do I havvvve to oooown a carrrrr?

Salesperson: Click

Okay. With that nonsense out of the way, I would like to confirm that I am indeed putting aluminum siding on our kitchen cabinets. When Cynthia saw it, she said that she thought that she was in a diner.

I used one-sixteenth-inch thick aluminum floor plate (also called diamond plate), the same stock that I used on the shelves in the walk-in closet. I cut the 4’x8′ sheets on the table saw. Of course I still have to make the cabinet doors and drawers, and they will be faced with the aluminum, too. Here are a couple photos:


Sitting at the eating bar, we can see out the windows to the left and through the kitchen door to the back yard. This is a large room (16′ x 40′) but still, it is good to have vistas to combat any closed-in feeling in the room.


You can see that I cut holes in the ends of the islands for electrical plugs. To cut the holes, I drilled the four corners of each plug hole then used a saber saw to cut to the corners. Cynthia and I pulled some of the wiring cables into the islands.

As it stands now, the kitchen, with the white walls, dark grey counter tops, and the aluminum siding on the cabinets, is quite cool looking. As in cold. Kind of dead if you will.

I laid out a few of the grey floor tiles that we have had on hand for some time now. We realized that the look of the cool-toned tile with the rest of the cool tones looked, um, really bad. Too much of a good thing if you will.

We decided to use those tiles on the loft and on the roof deck floors upstairs. Exact same square footage so nothing is lost. We took a trip down the mountain and went to Elmec in Coronado. Elmec sells floor tiles and plumbing fixtures.

Cynthia had been dead set against having any brown in the house. Too much brown in the ’70s I guess. But as we looked at the floor tiles on display, the browns kept coming up as the best option to warm the space. She still had a massive amount of trepidation, but we finally chose a warm brown (reddish but not red) tile and put our money down. The tiles have a wood grain embossed in them and they are the shape of wooden floor planks. I’ll lay them with a thin (one-thirty-second of an inch) grout line and use a grout that matches the color of the tile.

We will also look for warm colors when we choose curtain panels for the windows. I think that when all is said and done that the kitchen will have a nice balance of the coolness of tech and the warmness of nature.

We will mount the TV on the west wall at the far end of the kitchen. For watching TV, a love seat will back up to the third island. But with the white walls, that far end of the containers looks a long way away. We decided to paint the walls at that end a dark color to pull the wall in a bit. Here is a charcoal grey (and we like it a lot):


Of course you aren’t looking at the finished product. There is still some touch up to be done, and I am considering putting the foam building panels on the ribbed end of the container for consistency with the closet. That is the west wall and it gets hot when the sun goes down in the west. We don’t need that much radiant heat against the TV mounted on the wall.

The new floor tiles should be in this week or maybe next and I am anxious to get going on the floor!

In the meantime, Armando had taken a lot of time off and Aramis has run out of work here for the time being. Armando is working on a curb at the side of the driveway:


And early one morning just after sunrise, we had a visitor on one of our windows:


I know, I know. It looks like a plastic frog with a suction cup. But it really is real and apparently this type of frog does indeed have a suction disk on its belly.

That’s all for now, thanks for stopping by.

Concrete Kitchen Counters ~ Part 2

With some tears-of-frustration and a lot of joy and excitement, the concrete counters in the kitchen are all but done (I still need to find some carnauba wax and polish the counters).

In my last post, we had just removed the forms from the countertops. The concrete looked good, but there were hundreds of tiny holes — professional concrete guys have concrete vibrators and vibrating tables to coax the air out of the mix. But I don’t, so we had to deal with the holes the hard way.

I made a mix of cement and black colorant. We didn’t mind if the holes were filled darker, it would only add interest. Cynthia and I spent a morning troweling the paste over all the surfaces.

The next morning, I started wet-grinding the smallest counter top. As I ground away the cement filler paste, I realized that the filler had filled virtually none of the holes. Oops! Damn! But now I was faced with grinding all the counter tops back to ground (pun) zero — two days of filling and grinding for naught. I was wrought and fraught (hey, it rhymes). The wet grinding was very slow, so I tested the orbital (dry) sander with coarse sandpaper. It worked better than the wet, but still took the entire tiring day.

We considered our options. Tile over the concrete — absolutely not! Apply that glossy bar top epoxy — toxic, it will scratch, and it doesn’t have the natural patina that we wanted. No.

Finally, the winner — what we did was to partially seal the concrete with an acrylic polymer concrete sealant. Then I made a paste of black grout mixed with water and the acrylic sealant (I figured that there would be a good bond between the sealed concrete and the acrylic-modified grout). I made a small plastic spatula from a plastic jug and spent the day tediously spreading the grout in at least six directions over each and every hole. I had to beg and coax the air out of the holes as I introduced the grout. I kept the grout as thin as possible on the surface. Did I mention that it was tedious? I kept the grout moist with the occasional teardrop.

The next day I put a 220-grit sandpaper disk on the orbital sander. Happily, the sander made quick work of removing the residual grout layer, and with only a handful of disks left a very smooth surface.

Then I spread more of the acrylic sealer on the concrete, keeping the surface wet while the concrete drank its fill. I kept the sponge moving for about six hours and used a gallon-and-a-half of the sealer. Eureka! We now have a really smooth surface that we can protect with wax.

Here are some photos:


As the concrete absorbed the sealer and began to dry, we were delighted to see that the black concrete mix had retained much of its color.






Cynthia and I commented almost simultaneously how the concrete looked “rustic.” We tossed out words and it was odd how the word “nostalgic” came to our minds. The counters look as if we had re-purposed some old counters from a farmhouse or a nineteenth-century factory. They look durable, like they were made in a time now past. They go well with the recycled, industrial-strength aspect of the shipping containers. And with our eclectic style, we can’t wait to see the high-tech aluminum-faced cabinets below the massive and hand-wrought counters.

So even with the distress of not knowing what to do about the air holes, we have emerged completely jazzed with the look.

In Other News: One day I woke up and was really tired. Cynthia asked, “Why don’t you just take the day off?” That sounded like a great idea. After my shower, I went into the dry room/walk-in closet to get my clothes and get dressed. Struggling to get a shirt off the packed-and-temporary closet rod I said to myself, “Boy, it would be nice to just have more room on the closet rod (that Cynthia and I were sharing).” I thought that it would only take a short while to install one of the new closet rods. “I’m just gonna do a quick project,” I told Cynthia.

By bolting through the container wall with some short screws, I installed two brackets. I cut a piece of one-and-one-quarter-inch galvanized tubing, sanded it smooth, and attached it to the brackets. Total time: about a half-hour.

I moved my clothes to the new rod.

It wouldn’t be too much more work to put up the second rod, the one for Cyn’s clothes, so I did that, too. Another half-hour or so.

We had been using those wonderful and ubiquitous chrome steel shelving units that PriceSmart (and probably Costco, etc.) sells. But now, with the new rods in place, the racks didn’t fit. So I took another hour; Aramis working on one side of the container wall and me working on the other, we screwed some adjustable shelving standards to the container wall. But now there were no shelves.

So I dragged out the table saw and changed to a fine-toothed blade. I had Aramis help me cut sheets of diamond-plate aluminum that I bought some time ago for this purpose. The shelf brackets measure 18-inches, so we cut strips of the aluminum 20-inches wide. We cut enough strips to make four, eight-foot shelves and four, four-foot shelves — three 4’x8′ sheets of aluminum with just a small amount of scrap that I can use for baseboards or other trim.

Aramis and I took the strips into my shop and made one-inch, 90-degree bends on each of the long sides of the strips. Like this:


I could bend the four-foot shelves solo, but it took two of us to bend the eight-footers. We applied so much force that one of the welds on my brake popped loose with a resounding BONG. A quick re-weld got us back in service.

I used the saber saw to cut notches on the back side of the shelves so that they would fit over the shelf brackets. Then Armando and I washed the processing oil off of the shelves and dried them to a nice shine. I installed the shelves on the brackets:


Cynthia and I then populated the shelves with our clothes and other stuff that we need to keep in the dry room so that they don’t grow mold. I will make a few more shelves, especially over the closet rods:


These new industrial-style shelves work just fine for us. I am capable of making a wooden, high-end closet installation with fancy drawers shaped like socks and racks for all the ties that I no longer own, but in this climate, open shelves and plastic boxes work the best in our experience.

Cynthia and I finished about 5:00 in the afternoon. And a fine day off  it was!

We discovered a weak point in our window security bars, so Aramis and Armando spent two days welding in an additional curve to each window, grinding the welds, and painting the new metal.

Additionally, Aramis has installed the last of the loovered windows, and Armando worked with me for a day cleaning the concrete dust from the kitchen.

Jabo has found the closet under the stairs and thinks that this would make a swell dog house. It is only temporary, Jabo…


That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by. Happy new year!

Kitchen Counters

After Aramis and I completed fabricating the kitchen cabinet frames, it was time to make the concrete counter tops. But first, I sprayed three good coats of black paint on the frames. The paint fumes made Jabo a little goofy:


We almost decided to use granite for the counter tops, but concrete fit the Natural Industrial Bling style of the house just fine and is a lot less expensive.

I wanted to use plywood or particle board with a melamine face for the forms. But I couldn’t find it without a trip to the city. So I bought three sheets of 3/4″ plywood and three sheets of plastic laminate. I bonded the laminate to the plywood with contact cement:


Here I am waiting for the glue to dry.

After applying the laminate to the plywood, I cut the sheets to size and made forms. I planned to pour the counter tops upside down so that the laminate would make a nice smooth surface on the concrete. Here are the forms with rebar reinforcement:


The boards sitting edgewise on the forms are supports — using baling wire, I hung the rebar mesh an inch off the surface of the laminate. The drop cloths will keep the painted cabinets from getting splashed with concrete.

We wanted black or at least dark grey concrete tops. The river-run sand and gravel that we have used for all the concrete in the house is quite brown. But some time ago, I bought a few yards of unsifted black sand that was left over from when the main road was resurfaced. I also bought a half-yard of #2 (1/2″) crushed gravel. It is dark grey in color. And lastly, I bought 20-pounds of black colorant for concrete.

Friday was pour day. Armando, Aramis, and I needed to calculate how many five-gallon buckets-full of concrete we would need. We had to mix enough from the start, because it would be difficult to match the color of the first batch if we needed to make a second batch.

We did our best to estimate how much area of the forms would be covered with one bucket-full of concrete. We moved our hands; this much? More? No. Less? We finally found consensus. We then moved our hands, spread to the estimated distance, over all the forms. One bucket, two buckets, three buckets…. twenty buckets total. We decided to mix the equivalent of twenty-two buckets of concrete.

At the mix pile, we got eleven buckets of sand, the fourteen bags of gravel (one bag equals about 3/4 of a bucket) and three-and-a-half sacks of cement and mixed them all together:


Then Armando sprinkled the colorant onto the pile. We turned the pile two more times:


I wanted a relatively dry mix. The local men find it easiest to put a ton of water into the mix. Very soupy concrete is very common. Not only does this make for weaker concrete, but the surface is soft and pasty. I wanted the surface good and hard, with more sand and gravel and very little cement paste, especially if I decide to grind it smooth with diamond pads on the wet grinder. So I told the guys to pretend that they were mixing mortar to spread on concrete block walls. I made a super-big deal about this and told them that if it was too wet, it was not usable and we would have to start from scratch. And they could buy the materials!

As they mixed, I made last minute preparations in the kitchen. Armando delivered the first bucket full…. ….. ….. (insert anticipation here) …. …. …. IT WAS PERFECT! They had done what all us gringos thought was impossible. The concrete was well mixed; everything was wet, but it was good and stiff. I packed it into the forms and around the rebar. The mix was like jelly and compacted well when I pounded and jiggled it with the wooden float. There was no excess water!

Aramis continued mixing, Armando continued delivering, and I continued spreading and compacting the concrete. Every once in a while Armando would stop and assist me with screeding the surface smooth. Here are the tops all poured:


You can see that there is very, very little jobsite mess from excess water coming out of the concrete. This will make strong, dense, scratch- and ding-resistant counters.


Foreground island: breakfast bar, kitchen sink. Next island: stove (remember, the concrete has to be flipped over). Last island: bread/pastry prep.

We were done before noon. I had the guys clean up and told them that I was so happy with their concrete mixing that they could take the rest of the day off. I stayed and troweled the surface (what would be the underside of the counter top) smooth.

By the way, we had about a gallon of concrete left over. I tallied the number of years of experience that it took to make a rule-of-six-thumbs estimate; Aramis’ ten years, Armando’s fifteen years, and my, um, fifty years (if you don’t count my tree house constructing years). Seventy-five years of experience. One gallon of extra concrete. Good deal.

I wanted to let the tops cure for at least a week. But given how dry the mix was to begin with, on Monday morning I couldn’t discern any water or moisture on the surface. I decided to flip the slabs and remove the forms.

Aramis and Armando arrived for work. I also recruited neighbor workers Ramiro and Samuel. Together, the five of us removed the forms and flipped the slabs over so that the smooth side would be up.

These two-and-a-quarter-inch thick beasts are hundreds-of-pounds heavy! And with the cutouts for the sink and the stove, we had to be very, very careful to lift the slabs evenly and not introduce hairline cracks at the weak inside corners. I also kept stressing to the men to count their fingers. We took our time. We had to because the weight worked every muscle that the five of us had. At the end, all the slabs were sitting face up and no fingers were mashed or muscles pulled.

Here are some photos of the counter tops:

Looking in the kitchen door to the left:


Looking in the kitchen door straight ahead:


Looking in the kitchen door to the right:


Here is a closeup of the kitchen sink. We can’t wait to see the faucet in place:


The Schock brand sink is a granite composite made in Germany. With headquarters in the Bavarian forest,  the company appears to be very environmentally aware.

I still need to fill the tiny holes and then run an angle grinder with a diamond polishing pad over the tops. But for today, we are considering the job a huge success. We couldn’t be happier!

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