Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Welcome to our Genkan.

This is a traditional style'd Genkan(Entrance Hall), with a not so traditionally finished ceiling.
Usually there would be black floorboards, but these would let dust through, etc. so we replaced with 12mm plywood tongue & grooved together and washable wallpapered the underside.
The entrance floor is still the same compacted dirt as is traditional, but will probably give way to a levelled floor with slate tiles or similar - when we find them.
As mentioned in a previous entry with two example pictures, I want to re-finish with a bamboo floor on the upper level, but as this is low priority, I'll probably not take on the task for a while - or wait till the floor gets more worn out which will be some years...

The entrance step houses shoe boxes with sliding doors all the way around (Which have been cleaned and lemon oiled). The step is quite high - as is traditional, so I'll probably make a rough but pretty step out of some log cuttings somewhere along the line to make stepping up & down easier for the little ones and future guests.

There's still trim to fit on the corners of the walls where the stairs are and the furniture isn't going to stay where it is. We have a grandfather clock to go where the lamp is currently - and as we can't think of an alternative home for it, there's a very large mirror my wife uses for dancing practice, which will go where the chest of drawers is. We'll see - as we're not really sure if the mirror will look good there, or a very large painting!

We're also toying with the idea of putting in some eyelets on one of the beams and having a removable indoor swing for our daughter. We'll see. The furniture will probably slowly change to match with our home and and when we can afford it.

It's funny to think - Just a little over 2 weeks ago, this was a woodworking workshop & an absolute mess and was still dirty (But mostly cleaned) when we moved in!

The Office / Guest room.

The last room to be finished (Aside from the much smaller pantry!) is the upstairs guest room, which will be our office for the next couple of years, until we complete the renovation of the barn into a habitable building.

Over the last 2 weeks, Arnie & Shinobu have been beavering away, laying the ceilings, making a wardrobe, laying electrical cable (Shinobu fell through the ceiling when he slipped whilst walking on the framing to lay wiring at an early stage - which was a bit of a setback) and in the last few days - putting up the plasterboard walls.
It's looking like a room at last - and the house is now isolated from the sooty dust that had plagued us at the beginning!

The ceiling beams in this room are quite low, including the door frame at the top of the stairs, so we'll probably collect brass ducks and such, to put in dangerous places to warn people to stoop low in a humourous way (It's not funny when your head bangs on these stout pieces of wood...!)

The will probably be replaced with double glazed aluminium framed replacements, as in the main and 1st lounge - when we can afford it. Stuff like this is expensive in Japan as they're still using single pane glass for newly built homes!

Where there's green sheeting, this is covering up holes - which we've left open on purpose. These will allow some air flow in the summer and are amusing as they'll let light from upstairs be visible through the beams - and from upstairs, it's then possible to look down as well as admiring the structure of the beams.

I'd wanted to fit Tatami upstairs, but it would make the ceilings even lower, so we'll probably end up with foam underlay and some nice carpet - although I may leave that till we stop using it as an office, since carpet's expensive. Carpet tiles (Donated if I can scrounge some from friends in the carpet rental trade for exhibitions!) are what I'll probably use for now...

Will update more as this room's completed.

Moving house on Sunday 30th October.

Celebrating our little one's 3rd birthday in her new home.

I regret not having taken any pictures of our moving, but by Sunday 30th October, I was completely spent and the last thing on my mind was to carry my camera that day or even pull out my phone and take pictures. Fortunately Carlos shot a couple off on his phone to mark the occasion!

He had arrived the previous night to snatch a few hours sleep on our bedroom floor in his sleeping bag, so we could wake up at 5.30am to go together to Mark's house. There we had planned to join Tsubasa & Jun at 6.30 before meeting our ever reliable staff member Dai Chan, who'd rented the largest truck he could lay hands on.

As we arrived to a nearby car park to meet him, I was surprised to see the truck was half the size of that which we'd rented from the same company 3 years prior to move to Shizuoka - and we'd done two trips with that one!

Turns out the laws in Japan have changed and people can no longer rent the larger size without a full truck licence.

Fortunately during the month of October each time I'd gone home to Shizuoka, for the return trip I'd filled our Hiace people carrier to the brim with boxes and packing to ease the task of the final move.
But I couldn't see there & then how we would be able to shift the remainder without doing two trips and that would be likely to take all day & night!

I drove the first stint, whilst Carlos followed in the Hiace.
Had a great conversation with Jun, who has spent a lot of time this year as a volunteer helping out near Fukushima and couldn't help be impressed with what a thinker he is.
It's cool to see a teenager be so well rounded at such a young age already.
We made good time, getting to the house in Shizuoka for 8.30am.

Sensing the workers for today needed a hearty breakfast, Carlos and I whizzed to the supermarket in my wife's car to get a supply of milk, bread, bacon & eggs, whilst Jun, Dai Chan & Tsubasa begun packing things inside the truck.

My mum & wife hadn't completely finished packing, but there were enough hands to help and these boys all worked hard as a team to be as efficient as possible.

Carlos turned out to be a major asset yet again and I was glad I'd planned the moving day to co-incide with the Sunday he'd put aside to give us his help. He made sure every empty space was filled as goods were packed in like a jigsaw puzzle. Drawers which had been emptied were filled with small boxes and appliances, shelf cabinets were packed with small boxes, sofas were placed upright and even the washing machine was filled with smaller boxes & things so there was no packed air at all, as a result. What should have taken a 4 ton long truck & a bit more fitted - right up to roof level inside a 2 ton extra long truck! As we closed the doors at 12.30pm there wasn't enough space to fit one more box at all!

Portuguese style Gheto tuning FTW (My E30 M3's original exhaust - much needed for shaken!)

Meanwhile, the Hiace was packed with what we could fit inside it and we ended up leaving the house with just a couple of futons and various small nic nacs that the ladies would supposedly use to clean the house and pack with. I breathed a huge sigh of relief & ate a 7-11 lunch before promptly collapsing in the passenger seat of the truck (Apparently with my tongue sticking out!)& my head supported by the seat belt almost all the way to the new house, whilst Dai chan drove carefully to avoid upsetting the goods packed in the back.

We got snarled up in around 5km of traffic as we neared the Togane expressway and consequently arrived to the house just after sunset just as it started to rain.

I wondered as we neared the house - if this 3.2m tall truck would make it under the Kabuki gate, or would we be forced to unload it under half the roof and carry items 50m or so to the house in the rain...

When we arrived I carefully backed it in whilst the others checked roof to gatehouse clearance. There was only about 2cm only and I wondered if after we'd unloaded the whole truck it wouldn't make it back out, but figured we could drain the air in the tyres if we had to and re-fill once it had passed through with the use of a cigar lighter driven compressor I had in the barn.

Unloading didn't take more than about 40 minutes with 5 of us working together and I could sense some of the team were exhausted by now...

Dai Chan drove the truck out whilst I checked the clearance. The truck's roof began by leaving the underside of the gate's thick beam wet.... but passed through without so much as scratching it. Wow - what a blessing!

Dai Chan wanted to get home, so he set off right away & returned the truck to the rental company.
Meanwhile, I took the rest for a well earned Indian dinner at our new favourite local restaurant, before taking them all home in the now empty Hiace.

The return trip should have taken me 45 minutes at most, but I stopped about 5 times along the way to sleep, as I wasn't able to drive any more. The trip took about 4 hours as a result!

I was absolutely shattered, but felt a huge relief to have finally done the move.
From the next day, my girls & I would all be living together again in our new home, at last!

The next morning I packed cleaning products & basic tools, stopped by a home centre to collect a few more necessary items and headed to Shizuoka. The rental agency was due at 2.30p, and we had an empty house to clean. Being tired themselves and having our little one to look after too, my quite apparently pregnant wife & mum hadn't done any cleaning at all since we'd left the previous day.

So I set to it as best I could, taking up old carpet and repairing things last minute so we'd retain as much of our deposit as we could, although I knew in the back of my mind the agency would keep as much of our 3 months security payment as they could get away with no matter if we did clean the house beautifully - typical of rental agencies in Japan, sadly.

With less than an hour to go and things still strewn around the house, I begun just tossing it into the Hiace, to sort through later, leaving space in the back for metal I intended to take to the dump...

The inspection came and they commented on how we'd looked after the place well, but we'd still have to pay for new tatami coverings, cleaning of the air conditioner (10,000 Yen for something we'd used maybe 20 days in all dueing our tenure!) and cleaning the house which would cost around 200,000 Yen.
In all, we'd lose over half the deposit. I grumbled, but there wasn't much that could be done about it. At least we'd not be renting or getting ripped off again like this.
I felt thankful for our future.

Went to the dump to drop off old aluminium engine covers, unwanted car parts and other things and the evidently not very smart guy there asked me for 7,000 Yen for the priviledge of giving him our unwanted metal they'd make money out of.
This was of course well over the normal charge, bearing in mind it wasn't a van load, but just a few pieces. Another rip off charge.

Being short of patience -I refused, shut the back door and drove out of the area he was at before turning a corner, stopping and putting all the metal I wanted to get rid of on the ground.
He'd have to get rid of it now and for his greed he'd get nothing except the value of the metal.

Ten - finally, I met the girls and we travelled in convoy to our new home, stopping to see Alex on the way and have dinner.

The ladies hadn't seen the place for a few months, except for pictures - so it was a nice surprise to show them the new home.

We'd have to unpack it all whilst still needing to complete other work, but the house was comfortable enough to live now and they could see with their own eyes all the love, sweat and hard work that had gone into making our new home and so begin to enjoy it at last.

We all slept well that night, recouping from all the stresses of moving, only woken by the sounds of birds singing in the gardens the next day. Our new life together had begun at last.

Slaving away in the kitchen!

Needless to say, the Kitchen was an absolute necessity to have finished, at least to be usable - and in typical last minute fashion, I found myself spending the entire night of Friday 29th October cleaning the cabinets on top, sides and inside whilst drinking lots of coffee, before driving back to Shizuoka to collect the 4th Toyota Hiace load of packed goods before returning on Saturday evening to apply the last coat of varnish to the main lounge in time for it to dry before putting furniture on it the next evening!

But I'm getting ahead of myself here, so let me share the experience we had.

As I've mentioned before, the kitchen is just a band-aid job for now. It's the room where most attention should be paid to the smallest details and so my plan is to observe how my wife & family cope with the current setup then carefully and slowly plan & make notes on how to change things so we get the maximum benefits from a once only job.

The cabinets are of quite good quality with the lower ones constructed from stainless steel with chipboard doors. Arnie has suggested I might want to make some new wooden doors myself sometime. Not sure, since I'd want to use something strong like oak and that's hard stuff (pun intended!) to find in Japan. Maybe Ikea doors, but I know their quality is Mmmm-hmmmm and probably not much better than what we already have.
A simple alternative is to paint them, but they're not offensive for now - so we'll use them as they are and see how that works for a few years I think.

One of the first things I want to change is the 2 hob (Why do Japanese think that's all that is necessary, I wonder!) stove for an imported US made 5 hob stove with oven, as I miss being able to bake pizzas already (Could use the gas BBQ, I guess, but it's cold outside and I still haven't fitted any exterior sensor lights!)

I plan to fit an island in the centre of the kitchen with a sink where food preparation can take place, people can sit around on stools to eat a casual meal, or friends can congregate whilst preparing a feast together. A kitchen is a social place too!

The floor has some bad wear to the oak veneer and I plan to re-cover it.
When I have a little spare time, I'll probably sand it down, stain and varnish to try & get rid of the unsightly worn patches.
Longer term, my idea is to fit a diagonal pattern of plain white & black chequered lino, but I may choose textured tiles instead, or something else if I can come up with a more attractive and usable solution in the interim.

There's a spaceous larder to the right of the fridge - but it's the last room Arnie and Shinobu will finish this month - since the electrical fuse box is located there and all wiring needs to be completed before the walls can be closed up.
Shouldn't take long to finish, as it's nowhere near as large as any of the other rooms and the ceiling and floor are already finished too, but I digress...

The previous owners had hidden the beautiful beams with thin plywood and a veneer of fake oak boarding, as on the back wall below. This has subsequently been ripped out and the plan hatched to frame around it and fit plaster-board before covering with washable wallpaper to - as Arnie likes to put it, "Pop"!. Of course, before fitting the plaster-board to make them look their best these beams needed to be sanded, stained and given a couple of coats of sellac. In addition, as we didn't like the brown painted wood and it wouldn't take more than a few hours, this was given a coating of matt black paint before also being treated to a coat of sellac.

Shinobu took on the task of sanding the GL putty on the ceilings.

Shinobu the resident acrobat and tightrope walker shows off his skills.

Unfortunately he came down with a high fever the next day, putting him out of action for the last week of work before we moved in, so I took time off work and helped Arnie whilst learning how to wallpaper ceilings in the process.

The last few days before our move, Arnie finished fitting the LED spotlights (Same as fitted to bedrooms and dining room - as they consume about 10% power compared to normal filament bulb spot lights) and putting in a receptacle for fitment of some 12V rail type spot lights we'd be taking from the house in Shizuoka. I replaced all the Japanese style wall receptacles that were about 30 years old with new US spec items and used the same brass wallplates as the rest of the house.

There's also things to complete in this room, which I plan to do later as they're non-urgent cosmetics.
In our quest to get rid of the horrible oak veneered plywood we ripped out the covering for the step to the dining room, hoping the wood beneath could be re-finished in the same way as the entrance hall.

Unfortunately it isn't in as good condition, so we'll be sealing it and using some of the left over oak flooring to re-cover it. As there's quite a high step, I'll probably build an interim step so little feet and older people (Maybe including ourselves in future!) can step up more easily.

Also still need to add some trim to the edges of the ceiling, similar to the lounge and other rooms that need final cosmetic work, but this was deemed to not be as urgent and we ran out of time - so the trim will be completed about the same time as the pantry in a few week's time.

In the meantime, this is what the room looks like now. Remember we're waiting for the larder to be completed so we can fit shelves and store away a lot of the things that we have little space for at the moment!

Finishing the dining room floors & doors.

The same urgency as the rest of the rooms applied to the floors & doors of the dining room. Needing skilled fitment, Arnie was the one to cut & lay the last row of flooring.

Meanwhile, Shinobu showed me how to use a rotating hand-held power saw to cut a rectangle of 12mm plywood - which would make the base for the cover over the irori fireplace.

It was clear to me varnishing floors with a family living in the house would be a lot more difficult, so during the evenings whilst the house was quiet I'd varnish and in the afternoons in between working (for a living!) whilst Arnie & Shinobu worked on another room I'd be outside cleaning the doors and prepping them for re-fitting.

The previous owner's wife had been a heavy smoker and seeing the residue on the glass would be enough to make any smoker want to quit!

Fortunately I keep a good supply of car cleaning products for our business and engine cleaner worked a treat at dissolving all that tar. I then washed with soapy water before rinsing and propping each door up outside the house for it to dry.

I cut to size using the chop-saw & fitted the oak scraps to the plywood, before glueing and nail-gunning into place.

If you've been following this blog, you'll know how the floors were prepared, etc. so I won't bore you with those details again. Here's how the dining room looked with cleaned doors fitted.

Unfortunately one of the doors got blown down during a particularly windy night...

Luckily my wife found a local glazing specialist who still has supplies of antique sand blasted glass!
When he came to the house he told us how he'd replaced panels here over the last 30 years or so including fitting glass to the front doors when they were new! The then casually mentioned that the grand Kabuki gate had been built some 20 years ago at a cost of around 13,000,000 Yen, during Japan's bubble economy.
We keep learning interesting history bit by bit from locals, since this house and it's previous owners & local property traders had been well known in this region.
...I wonder how they'll describe us in years to come with all we have planned for our future living amongst the countryside community. The Japanese do enjoy gossip too!

Doors were also fitted to seperate the children's room from the Engawa (Enclosed walkway bordering the house from the garden).

Looking at the dining room from the children's room. The sliding doors seperating both spaces will have shoji paper on of course, but this hasn't done yet as Arina's sleeping on a futon in our bedroom for the time being.

Beneath each newly fitted door I replaced the previous plastic runners with brass & any worn out wheels with too much play or stiffness have been replaced. Being a very old wooden structure that's suffered through countless tremors & earthquakes the house isn't all square and most of the doors don't fit perfectly, so these replacement wheels are also height adjustable so I can adjust as necessary.

The oak shown above is the piece that was previously covered in blemished varnish, separating the entrance hall and dining room. After using a power sander on it, I treated with Golden Oak stain and 3 coats of semi gloss Poilyeurethane varnish before fitting the brass rails.

There are still no light switches, wall receptacles or lights in the ceilings and the original wattle & daub upper wall sections are still yet to be painted but since this room isn't in use for the time being (It's currently used for storing yet to be unpacked boxes and furniture) & I have yet to make a large dining room table from scratch - we've temporarily moved onto more pressing engagements.

Finishing the central lounge.

With just a couple of weeks to go till the end of October, the increasing urgency continued our race against time!

The central lounge needed to be finished with at least the ceilings completed, ceiling and wall beams stained and masked, electrical wiring laid, plaster-board walls fitted and plastered & oak flooring laid, sanded, stained and varnished. All this in between doing other work such as finishing the floor in the 1st lounge, dining room and completing the kitchen!

Arnie & Shinobu worked like troopers, getting the lounge finished within just a week. As the ceiling had no slats to content with this time, the job could be completed a little faster.

Above the ceilings they laid insulation as they went.

Ceiling nearly finished!

Ceiling done except for fitting of trim all around the perimeter, but this would have to be completed after we'd moved in, as there was still much to do.

Arnie & Shinobu moved straight onto putting up the plasterboard. By now Shinobu had learnt to be a dab hand at this job so the job could be completed twice as quickly!

By now we were 2 weeks away from moving. At night I'd drink copious amounts of coffee and apply eco-wall plaster... So busy I didn't even have the time to get a haircut!

That Saturday Carlos, another hard working Portuguese friend - sensing urgency volunteered to spend a day helping me. Although the walls were still not finished being plastered and the scaffolding was still in place, we started laying oak flooring at 10.30am...
Carlos was convinced we'd finish in about 6 hours, but I figured it might take a bit longer, since the dining room had taken me a good 25 hours of working through nights to lay by myself.
But we got into a rhythm. I'd measure and cut, laying the end pieces myself and he'd keep going 1-2 rows ahead. We'd keep each other going fast - since one couldn't continue without the other's work.

By 9.30pm we were about 10 rows from completing the job, but ravenously hungry, so we headed out to find a restaurant. We ended up in a great little Izakaya (Japanese equivalent to a good English pub!) with excellent food and decent cold beers.
Downing some more coffee on the way home, we struggled through the last 10 rows and finished around 2.30am, both completely shattered by this stage.

I collapsed on my futon and before my head hit the pillow I was fast asleep.
Next day, I was slower - but continued to plaster through the day.
Arnie spent a day the following Monday working out the wiring for switches, plugs and lighting before putting up the plasterboard and GL puttying the screw holes.

And by the middle of the week, the walls were finally completed... with just a few days till the weekend!

The spotlights I fitted were bought used from Yahoo! auctions.
They're a funky design with a sort of adjustable zoom lenz on each light.
I got a surprise when I switched them on for the first time!

I spent some time each day until Saturday 28th preparing the floor. Staining first, then varnishing with Polyeurethane. The final 4th coat was put on at 2am on Saturday 29th October, 3 hours before meeting a group of friends to take a 2 ton truck to Shizuoka to pack up the rest of the house in Shizuoka!

The doors separating the entrance hall from the lounge I fitted during the 1st weekend since we moved in.

This is what the lounge looks like today. We're still not finished of course.
We want to fit replacement aluminium double glazed doors with clear glass and no partititions so we can enjoy the garden and make the lounge feel as if it's closer to nature.
Also there's little things to do with trim on the ceilign edges, original posts to stain & sellac, electrical sockets to fit into the corners of the floors (Special floor sockets in brass boxes from the States) and one wall to go into the corner, to separate the kids room - but this will be done later. For now it's how we'll use it.

Fortunately our little one approves of her new home now it's no longer, "Dirty dirty - Oh my God daiyo Mama!!"

Monday, October 10, 2011

Re-staining the 1st lounge's floor.

After applying the sealing coat of polyeurethane, I realised the stain had been turned to liquid by the thinner with clear marks resulting... I'd put the job off for long enough. Bought a cheap belt sander and got to work, finishing with a vibration sander attached to our trusy hard-working Dyson vacuum cleaner.

Thankfully applying the stain afterwards showed no marks from before. This was obviously the first coat. 2nd coat made it all look a lot more uniform.

This time I took the precaution of using the backsides of a couple of plank's scraps to apply stain and test. It ran again, so it hadn't been the fact that I'd oiled the wood to get a more uniform coating before. The stain clearly isn't compatible with the Polyeurethane varnish. Spoke with Arnie and he has a couple of cans of sanding sealer precisely for this purpose. I'll apply that tommorow (On a piece of scrap first) to make sure the same problem doesn't occur. Failing all, I could use a water based varnish as an alternative - but as the two lounges will be used for social events including belly dancing, etc. I'd prefer the wood was as protected as possible with several coats of super hard Polyeurethane satin varnish.

I'm sure we'll work it out. Just one of those challenges that are sent to test us.

Here's another quote I recently enjoyed from Ann & Alex, our missionary friends in Cambodia.

“If you have a great ambition, take as big a step as possible in the direction of fulfilling it. The step may only be a tiny one, but trust that it may be the largest one possible for now.”
—Captain Mildred H. McAfee

Repairing a roof leak & how not to do it!

As we moved wood, we found there had been a leak from the recent typhoon weather, right in the centre of the house.

So we got a ladder & I climbed up, but no sooner had I reached the edge did I realise it wasn't safe to go up there without some rope for safety. But how were we going to get a rope over the roof?

We tried tying a stone to a string, but couldn't throw it far enough over.
Then I got the idea of using a fruit picking telescopic pole with a handle operated gripper as a sort of fishing rod to cast the stone over the house...

1st attempt nearly did it, then about 5 attempts went increasingly wrong until I managed to cast the stone straight into a glass panel. We couldn't help but laugh, it would have looked funny in a comedy sketch as the three of us tried to figure out how to do this!

Not discouraged, I promised myself not to do the same thing again and a few attempts later the stone flew over the house and dangled from a tree over the other side!
We managed to fish it down, pull the string and get a rope over the roof before tying it to a tree...

I then climbed up carefully (I don't like heights much!) and made my way to the leaking area where I found a loose top panel, whilst squatting and using my arms to avoid putting weight on the centre of the roof...
Sealed with plenty of mastic, I began to make my way back only to find Shinobu had put all his weight on the copper sheets and squashed a few pieces flat on his way to give me some copper nails.... My fault, as he's only just turned 16 and this being his first experience on a roof - didn't realise how fragile the copper beneath his bum was and I hadn't told him!

I straightened the bent panels as best I could then applied more sealant. It's waterproof for now, but I'll have to get up there and replace with proper half pipe top tiles sometime - maybe made of fired clay with a glaze.

I'll probably do this around the same time we put a chimney through the centre for the wood burning stove that's planned...

Another job for later. I was glad to get down from there. Shinobu said he'd enjoyed the view!

For now we've left the rope and ladder in place, so we can monitor to make sure the leak's repaired.

A quote I received by chance this morning from Ann & Alex in Cambodia summed it all up nicely:

“Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.”
—Barry LePatner

Preparing Japanese Cedar planks for the remaining ceilings.

After having finished the dining room ceilings, Arnie & Shinobu got onto the job of preparing the ceiling boards for the central lounge and guest room ceiling upstairs.

This is an involved and time consuming job, starting from raw planks of Sugi.
First off they planed each board several times, till the finish was acceptable.

Then each board was sanded down to smooth any imperfections, with the edges bevelled and channels routed into each board for splines to fit between.

Each board was then inspected and knot holes / imperfections filled with black caulking, so they wouldn't come out later, nor look unsightly when finished.

Mahogany coloured stain was applied at this time, dried then finished with a coat of sellac. Took about a week to get all this work done. Monotinous stuff, but they trooped through it. Now finally we're getting to stages of less sawdust production!

The ceiling of the central lounge will be finished tommorow and they'll move onto the guest room thereafter.

Once the ceilings are done, electrical wiring can be installed before plaster boarding of walls can be done. Thereafter it'll be my job to eco-wall. Arnie & Shinobu may need to do the flooring...

We're in a race against time these last few weeks. Still need to finish wallpapering the ceilings & walls in the kitchen too!