Friday, 31 May 2013

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Our Garden - An Introduction

We've lived in our current house for about a year, and so the garden is a complete mix of plants and structure from previous owners and things we've added and changed. 

Here's a quick tour of how our garden currently looks:

Vegetable plots

This is completely our work, and has been the focus of our efforts since we moved in. When we arrived this area was overgrown with knee high grass and weeds. We've set it up with four basic beds for flowering bulbs and vegetables. 

Lawn with low wall edge
A large part of the garden is taken up by an almost ovular lawn, defined by a brick wall that has seen better days.


Beyond the lawn, in the far corner of the garden, is a small pond. We haven't decided what we want to do with this area yet - but in the mean time it turns out the local frogs are very keen on it and we currently have a lot of tadpoles!


Next to the pond we've created an enclosed area for our four hens.


The patio has become a bit of a dumping ground while we work on other areas. Hopefully it won't always look like this!

Fruit Trees

When we moved in there were three fruit trees in the garden: a plum, an apple and a pear. We've since added three more apples and a cherry - but it'll be a few years before we get any fruit off these new trees.

...and that's about it. 

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Sunday, 26 May 2013

A Tale of Two Tables: 3. A Twist in the Tale

Wood is a living thing. Even after it has been felled, dried, and cut it will continue to move. It will expand and contract, crack and generally warp. This is particularly noticeable across the grain on wider planks. Subsequently the attachment of the table top is designed to allow the whole sheet to expand and contract. All the best laid plans however can be thrown by the timber.

Many of our planks have knots in them. The dark swirls add interest to the pattern of the grain and can be a delightful feature of the wood. They are however a pain to work as they are tougher than the surrounding wood.

We got our planks planed and thicknessed by the timber yard as the equipment to do so is beyond the means of most amateur wood workers. When we started to try and clamp the table top together we discovered that one plank was not square. It appeared to have hit a knot when having the edges planed and twisted slightly (you can see the gap between the square and the wood in the top photograph). This wasn't the wood moving for the top remained flat. We therefore had to re-straighten the edges. Without the proper machinery the most accurate we could do was use a router to re-cut the 90 degree edge. Several sessions of carefully measuring, clamping a guide, cutting into the edge of the wood millimetre at a time and remeasuring later we had a square plank again.

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Friday, 24 May 2013

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Garlic Bread - comfort food to go with anything

I find fresh bread food for the soul. Combine this with garlic that is one of the most warming ingredients and this is the perfect accompaniment to so many foods. This particular loaf I made on a damp early spring day and we enjoyed it with bowls of lasagne. The high butter content gives this loaf an extra softness and richness that is best enjoyed fresh. It is very simple with a bread machine but you could do this recipe by hand.

Joe's Garlic Bread
250g White bread flour
160ml Water (cold)
6g Instant yeast
1tsp Salt
5 Garlic cloves
1 Rosemary sprig
30g Butter

Add the water, yeast and flour to the bread machine and put on the shortest dough cycle (we use the pizza dough setting). Whilst that starts put the butter in a small pan and start it melting. Crush the garlic and add it, the salt and the rosemary to the butter. Gently fry it until the garlic colours. Drain half the butter into the bread mixture.
Once the first dough cycle has finished knock the dough back (we start the cycle again to let the bread machine do it for us). Turn it out into an oiled bread tin, squash down with your finger tips and drizzle over the remaining butter, garlic and rosemary. Bake at 200 degrees Celsius for around 20 minutes.
This bread is best left for 15 minutes to cool a little before tucking in!
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Sunday, 19 May 2013

A Tale of Two Tables: 2. The Hills Are Alive With the Sound of Chainsaws

I like wood. It may be strange to some, but those who have worked with it will understand. It is a tactile, sensory thing. Some woods assault the nasal passages with their rich oils whilst others caress the skin with their smooth planed surfaces. Some give to the slightest cut whilst others are strong as steel. They can be as pale as snow or brightly coloured like an autumn sky. Grain can provide majestically sweeping flow to surfaces or interrupt the eye like bright stars in the sky. All in all the choice of wood for the table was going to be pretty important for me.

Aesthetics aside I wanted a native wood, one that wasn't costing the earth but was supporting proper forestry. Practically I wanted something tough enough to survive the abuses of family life and come out with character not flaws. Realistically this limited my options a little! To get the durability I desired I would need to look at hardwood species. This narrowed me down to perhaps a dozen options, which I then narrowed down further based on the strength of the wood. There are lots of papers and books discussing and comparing the toughness but I shall leave those for you to find.

This left me with a choice of oak or cherry. We decided on oak for the extra fraction of toughness (as lovely as cherry is). I managed to find a local timber yard who specialised in regionally sourced woods that were based in Wentwood Forest near our home. This forest is being actively managed and slowly turned back into traditional deciduous woodland. The oak isn't quite ready yet so ours came from Powis Castle, 90 miles away. Wentwood Timber were very helpful, cutting and planing all my planks for me. All the photos on this page were taken on their site one sunny April afternoon.

Finally: one car full of oak for the tables.

Previously: 1. Grand Designs
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Friday, 17 May 2013

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

A sharp point

2013 for me has so far been the year of the scalpel. That's not as scary as it sounds, honest! I asked for a craft knife for Christmas last year without any real idea what I would use it for, but aware that often when making cards I've struggled to implement what I planned with a pair of scissors. Joe bought me a scalpel with a retractable blade.

I don't think either of us could have foreseen the extent to which I would enjoy using this tool. I have rapidly become enamoured with the art of paper cutting. Have a quick pop over to google to see what I'm talking about. I'm amazed by some of the intricate work that is produced. Some of it's laser cut - but a lot is done by hand, and it often blows my mind a little. I love shape and pattern and this plays right into that.

After making a few birthday cards I started to wonder about larger pieces, and started with this butterfly.

When we were on holiday last year Joe took some lovely pictures of a butterfly which provided great reference material. I spent a while working out how best to represent the beautiful wings with their bright patterns and delicate veins but feel that the final result doesn't quite do them justice. I find butterflies fascinating though - so no doubt I will try again at some point.
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Sunday, 12 May 2013

A Tale of Two Tables: 1. Grand Designs

There has been a large rectangular hole in our home ever since we got married. Our first flat was unfurnished so we begged, borrowed and freecycled the furniture we needed. The table is the only piece of furniture left that is on loan. More than a year ago we decided to start planning and, several design iterations and a house move later, construction is now under way. The biggest challenge to be faced in the design was meeting our own requirements! We want something that will suit the two of us eating breakfast, and something that will sit all our immediate family for an extravagant Christmas dinner. That meant an expanding table.

I should warn you now this post is long and features lots of numbers and theory - just wait for the later ones if you would like pictures!

Both of us had come from family homes with tables that could expand to some extent or another. Jenny's parents table slid apart and clipped an extra leaf in. My parents had an unusual antique design that expanded / contracted with a threaded rod up the centre of the table (like this one). The threaded rod meant it could properly clamp down on the extra leaves and expand a large amount without sacrificing too much strength. This is important but I shall come back to it later.

The first thing to do was work out table sizes. Based on our design criteria we decided we needed to sit 6 comfortably, 10 expanded but should be able to squeeze 12. This is where it is time to crack out some maths. We assumed that we would sit one person at the head / tail of the table and the rest along the side. Assuming the table is somewhere between 3 and 4 feet ( ' = feet, " = inches for those new to old units) wide the lengths are relatively simple. Allow 12" from each end for the end sittings. Along the sides each place needs 24 - 30 " for a generous sitting. We measured and decided that 24" seemed ample for us - our dinner setting with room either side fitted easily. This meant we needed a 6' table that could expand to around 10'. The width was an easier matter of measuring how far we could comfortable reach to pick up a plate from over a table. We settled on 42" (3'6" - for some reason table widths are normally defined in inches) as being big enough to get plenty of dishes in the middle but small enough to clear both sides at once.

Asking a table to stretch that far requires some careful consideration of the physics. There are three main methods of expanding a table, all boiling down to the frame beneath.

  1. Keep the legs in the same location and extend the overhang of the top.
  2. Stretch the frame and keep the legs at the corners of the table (inset or otherwise).
  3. Add extra legs to support an extended top.
These designs have some limitations for us. The first is typically limited to an extension of 24" or so (like this)- otherwise even with additional frame beneath you gain too large an overhang. This is a problem because people tend to lean on tables, even push against them when standing up. Imagine your largest friend (don't name them, just imagine them) pushing on a table top with a two foot overhang. Its going to need a lot of support! With normal table top thickness (3/4" to 1 1/2") an overhang of up to 12" is workable. This method isn't going to manage our 4' extension!

The second design allows a slightly larger extension than the first but still struggles with enough strength for large extensions. The frame needs to overlap sufficiently to still provide strength in the centre of the table when extended. This can be done - my parents table (mentioned earlier) manages it by using a threaded rod to clamp the two halves together. This keeps everything more rigid and stops it twisting, reducing the load on the centre of the frame when loaded. Still hard work on the wood and perhaps worth seating your largest friends nearer the legs (in the nicest possible way).

The third method does allow a large extension - almost any size imaginable but adds extra legs and is often done with drop leaf tables, blocking leg room when in the reduced size configuration.

Owing to the cumbersome nature of the drop leaves we decided to try and plan a table based on the second design. I found suppliers for a coarse threaded rod and worked out the combination of bolts to allow one end to rotate but not move and the other end to slide up and down the bar. Then we bought a house. This is the quickest way I have found yet to derail a project! By the time we got back round to the table it was winter and our loaned table was in the corner of the kitchen rather than the conservatory where it had been all summer. We had accepted this when we got the house and decided we would build our grand table in the conservatory and abandon it each winter for a second hand table that we would find for the kitchen. Then we realised we could kill two birds with one stone and settled upon our final plan - a variation of the add extra legs design.

We decided to build two tables. Both the same width, one 6' long and one square that when placed at the end of the other would extend it to our magical requirement of seating 10 people. A kitchen table and a dining table, which can be brought together to make a banqueting table.

The positioning of legs still required a little work - in order to be able to sit the full number comfortably when the two tables were together and not have someone banging their knees. We decided to make sure the two tables had a combined overhang at the head that when joined a person could sit exactly between the legs on the join. This would then leave two people between the legs on the larger table and one on the smaller (on one side, plus the head and tail of the table giving 10 total). From here on the design is relatively straight forwards. Build a top from planks joined together, make a box shaped frame underneath (with additional supports on the larger table) and join it all together in unison. Plan sorted! I will give the details at each stage of the build in later posts.
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Friday, 10 May 2013

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Welcome to Our Urban Cottage

So here we are, on the frontier of the blogging world, itching to tell you all about Our Urban Cottage.

We moved into our first house in June 2012 and since then have been hard at work taming the garden and decorating the house. We now have four chickens and spend sunny weekends outside digging, cutting, pruning and planting. We also love to dabble in all sorts of traditional crafts from spinning to woodwork - albeit with power tools where possible! We enjoy spending time in the kitchen cooking and baking, sweet and savoury, hearty and fine dining.

All in all there is plenty going on, and we want to share it with you. Please leave comments, we'd love to hear your thoughts and what you have been doing in your own urban cottages!

Joe and Jen
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