Monday, June 4, 2012

Homing in on Progress.

With a full-time young family occupying the house, progress hasn't been as rampant inside the house as before we moved.

Here we see the beautiful & strong doors that Arnie made for us, with the trim in the entrance now also all finished & fitted (Except for skirting boards - one of the jobs I need to finish sometime soonish).

I've 85% finished the room upstairs which is intended to become my day office / guest room.
Arnie got us a large donation of used but good condition carpet tiles which were a perfect solution for the office floor & also the engawa walkways around the perimeter of half the house!

The doors Arnie made have been also been fitted. You'll notice the English style wrought iron latches. Not very in keeping with Japanese tradition, but they're something I always liked about old English houses. Besides, there are beautiful things from all over the world to be enjoyed so where there's a better solution whether aesthetic, functional, or both that works in harmony with what we envisage - we may as well chose that which seemingly suits us best for the long term.

Still want to fit the wardrobe with a mid level slatted shelf and have invested in a self-draining dehumidifier to install inside for warmer stickier summer months. This would also take humidity from the air within the room since there's the grille above the shoji doors but also ensure that futons and out of season clothing stored in the wardrobe won't begun to mould. A much better solution than the weak wooden slats they sell in home centres along with silica gel containers.

I also want to make some well finished shelves to go along the wall opposite the entrance doorway. This will house a flatscreen TV and media, decent speakers connected to our centralised component sound system and provide plenty of space to continue building a library. Need to make some perspex frames & windows to seal the gaps between the beams which overlook the central lounge too.
As all the new sugi ceilings are insulated from above - In winter these windows would be opened when we want to heat the office (Since hot air travels upwards). In summer they might be opened too for added ventilation. Still not decided if we'll fit air conditioning here. I'd rather not, but it remains to be seen how hot the office can become in the summer.

Right now it's June and the whole house is comfortable in terms of temps & humidity, so it seems the well insulated roof and overhangs may keep this house cool naturally over the summer. Time can tell us.

Once the weather had warmed up I removed the temporary plastic partitions, cleaned the original wooden slats first with engine cleaner acid, then soapy water before rinsing and drying. A few of the small wooden pieces had fallen out, but are safely stored to be glued back into place sometime. This now allows air flow between the 2nd lounge & our bedroom.

We're hoping that by the autumn we'll have our wood burning stove in the 1st lounge, so we'll be able to enjoy some of the radiant heat in our bedroom too, through this grille. If not, then we might have to think about fitting a smaller wood burning stove in our bedroom, instead of the (cheap Ikea) book cases that occupy the space right now.

So I still have many changes I want to make to many of the rooms, especially with regard to doubling the size of our old bathroom & utilities area (Which are a poorly made extension that's gone to come down!) plus making the kitchen a better & easier place for my wife to spend much of her time each day. But with these things some jobs take priority over others for available means. A view to the finished vision gets ever closer but seemingly never arrives, much like false plateaus when climbing mountains.

This here's the pantry door.

I've now finished plastering the walls and fitting skirting in the pantry too. Just need to deal with some minor cosmetic finishing, then I can get to work on putting it sturdy shelves so at last my wife will have space to store foods, both preserved and fresh fruit & veg from the garden - in cool, dry & dark conditions. Might be hard to show in pictures, but this is the pantry as it is now. I'll be changing the lighting and it'll look quite different lined with shelves of stored food, cooking tools, etc.

You'll notice the house doesn't have many pictures on the walls yet.
We feel we really want to get each room finished before deciding where to put up pictures & paintings.
One picture I really do want to hang is of Arnie & Shinobu to make the mark & show the two people who put in so much work to make our home what it's become.

Here's a peek at the window he's made... It's a copy (With improvements!) of something I saw 5 years ago at a Kyoto temple. Love it! - Another Arnie masterpiece!

I'm hoping to be able to have Arnie rebuild the corrugated steel roof using the tiles we collected from Shodoshima, as a first stage towards building a new bathroom & utilities room, but there's no mad rush at the present. Maybe after September or October once the weather begins to cool after the expected long hot summer.

Arnie makes a Japanese Circular Shoji Window.

I saw this window in a temple in Kyoto years ago. I liked it so much, I took a picture as an example of a simple but beautiful solution to create a hole for a view.

Between our main lounge and what's intended as the children's room we currently have an old double quilt as a wall.
The room doesn't get a lot of daylight, so we wanted to make a window where it would be possible for the children to look out to the front garden in the future. In the lounge we also plan to put a large wood burning stove in, so having a window that's penetrable by heat is desirable.

Making two large wooden round pieces from planks is an engineering challenge which Arnie had never tackled before.
He says his dreams at night often give him the solutions he prays for.
The flat pine planks were carefully chosen for their beauty of grain and lack of knots before being carefully sawn in accurately shaped pieces to make a well joined ring.

In all there are 12 flat pieces bonded together with two hardwood biscuits between each section, which makes a very strong & permanent join.

Each ring is 2 pieces as there's an inner & outer piec, so that's something like 48 pieces cut, shaped & joined together with accuracy - from basic planks - with no nails at all!

Arnie then used a jigsaw to cut a basic circular shape.

Using a router he milled the wood till it was all perfectly circular.

His next stage was to build small shoji doors in the traditional style (No pictures of these yet, as it's still Arnie's work in progress as I write).
He found some old shoji doors out as rubbish from a neighbour and took one as a sample to study & copy. Again, no screws are likely to be used as would be traditional. Being machine finished they'll be pretty much perfect too.

There will be a total of 4 tall rectangular Japanese paper sliding doors that fit inside the hollow wall and these will open together to slide almost out of sight, or they can be fully closed. The doors will be easily removable so in the event the Shoji paper needs replacing, it'll be easy to do. In the kids side we'll perhaps put up some curtains too, to help shield noise.

Here we see Arnie laquering the finished "Doughnuts" (as he likes to call them).
They'll be waxed and polished to create a simple, but elegant solution.

I don't know how a Japanese temple door that was used in inspiration would have been made traditionally, but the grain isn't usually as well defined so they probably paint before laquering, which will hide imperfections.
In Arnie's case he's made the wooden workmanship easier to see.

In about 1-2 weeks Arnie will bring the wall and windows here. I'll need to eco-wall before the dougnuts are fitted.
Looking forward to seeing how it's going to look!

And here's a nearly finished product ready to have the wall plastered (With Eco Wall - same as the other walls in the house), then the doughnuts glued in (Both sides of course). I'll need to find some nice Shoji door paper and put it on before it's finished. When the doors are all opened, the frames are partly visible. For aesthetics it's nice to have them about half opened, as in the first picture.

Arnie actually made 3 doughnuts.... as his daughter liked the design so much he made the same thing (One sided only) for his daughter's bedroom window too!

Update: After plastering, here's what the finished project looks like.

On the bottom left is a hole for a box which contains integral speaker wires for wall mounted terminals, to avoid having speaker wires around the edge of the room. That's for another project to be completed over this winter to build a music centre concealed behind two sliding doors.

Arnie makes some beautiful doors.

We needed 3 walk through doorways completed. One for the room upstairs, one for the storage beneath the stairs and one for our pantry. Also there was the need for 4 small shoji doors for the storage above our bedroom closet

Arnie measured the sizes he'd need to make, went home and built them in his workshop over around a month's work on and off, since work often needed time for glue to set and laquer & varnish to dry.

He had needed to spend a fair amount of time setting up, but once all done, he made beautifully accurate progress.
The pictures below tell the story from beginning to end.

I'll show these fitted in another post soon.

This picture shows when Arnie was just waiting on custom cut mirrors for the door which will be in the genkan (entrance).

A little bat that came to visit.

At dawn each day the birds outside make quite unusual if not very loud song. We see little birds that look a bit smaller than chickens searching for food.
Of course there's moths and other insects flying around, sometimes in the house...There's small holes everywhere in an old place like this which will take us some time to get to all of.

One evening I could hear something occasionally hitting the ceiling and wondered what it was.
It turned out to be a baby bat that had probably come in through an open door. When I put the lights on to watch it, the poor little creature gripped onto one of the beams and huddled silently for the rest of the night.

The next day it made it's way into our bedroom. I got a glass and a book to carefully catch it, then my daughter & I studied it before taking it out into the forest to set it free.

I had her lift off the glass, but it wouldn't fly away. Eventually we left, hoping nothing would eat the poor bugger.
He just lay there trembling from the ordeal.

I returned after 15 minutes to find him gone. Now don't eat all our blueberries and raspberries!

A large clearing in the forest - all in a day's work!

This clearing was made in a day using a chainsaw and a fire pit (To burn all the brush).
This is an area of our forest below the main garden area (House is on a large hill).

Our plan is to make a pond down there fed by grey water from the house and rain from the roof, which will go via a small wetland to be naturally purified first. This will provide a home for ducks and some small fish, etc. There will be simple stone steps laid after the work's done, so they won't decay over time as wood would...

As we have a lot of very stout Bamboo forest, we're also thinking of making an arbor and a small guest hut, perhaps, or even just somewhere to sit & relax. Some of the trees are enormously tall so what we wanted to create was a clearing where the surroudings are mostly the tall trees. A lot of our forest needs thinning, but one thing at a time.

This isn't a priority project, as there's still other more pressing changes we want to make. It'll never end!

This is the area before Jun & I cleared it.

Saving about 220kg of great memories and creating new ones.

In November last year I had the opportunity to catch a ride in a 20ft container from the UK.
Back in 1998 I'd hibernated a bike in UK I'd been very fond of.
Having had it since 1993 when I'd bought it with just 3,000 miles in UK. I covered a total of 62,500 additional miles on it in 5 years inclusive of winter use.

The VFR never missed a beat despite being ridden hard just about every time I used it in the UK. It toured Europe, went on camping holidays 2 up all over the UK (Some of the readers might remember these trips sat on the back!), rode for hours on empty winter highways late nights on a pinned throttle to get to my girlfriend's campus at a Northern University.

I'd modified it quite extensively and it was a very fun machine to ride. Memories include beating early Fireblades and R1's with it's much improved handling and braking combined with country roads I was familiar with.

So when I left the UK in 1998 having covered so much mileage it wasn't worth selling so I hibernated it as best I could, since it was going to sit waiting for my return inside our small garage at a house near a seaside cliff on the outskirts of Brighton... !

Fortunately an old biker friend in UK looked after it during the last 4 years and did some servicing work before he found an old pallet that had been used to ship Ducati's for many years... and it was pressed into service for my Viffer to be shipped in the container.

I also bought an old seat off Ebay UK and had it sent to a very kind chap called Tony Archer to be re-trimmed with new gel type foam, before a customer visiting family there over Christmas brought it back for me. Cost about 80 GBP including UK postage!

Despite draining the carburetors and squirting lots of WD40 into cylinder barrels before storage, it didn't start when I put on a new batter, so a few weeks ago I stripped down the carbs and cleaned them out well. Took a while to burn out the penetrating oil I'd squirted down the exhaust before sealing it up to store 15 years ago.... I think the fuel pump's probably still a bit gummed up and perhaps hoses are too, but she idles well and runs OK at lower revs. Just needs a good ride with some fuel system cleaner in the tank, I hope!
I've ridden it on country roads behind our home and it feels really sweet. Suspension is still just right and brakes (rebuilt) are perfect. It fits like an old comfortable glove.

I'm now in the process of getting it legalised for registration as a re-import in Japan. It's a loop jumping process.
Not only did they want engine & chassis number pictures, but now they also want tracings of the numbers... Engine's is hardly accessible, but I'll get it done somehow!
Then when it's ready it'll one more become my runabout bike. Is this an environmentally concious machine for the Eco-Kominka? Why yes - of course it is! It hasn't been scrapped and these VFR's will do a lot of mileage.. their engines are virtually unbreakable and it uses less petrol than a small car, whilst getting to it's destination faster so there's less emissions!

It has scratches and a few cracks that needed repairs with lots of small stone chips from the hard use it's had, but it still scrubed up & polished nicely. It'll be put into local and longer distance duties, as well as being a spare bike to lend to friends who know how to ride it well.

Welcome home to a dear old friend....

Our Toyota 3.0 sportswagon was making it's thirst felt on short drives to take our daughter to Kindergarten and return twice a day. It's value was plumetting as we continued to use it each day. Living in the countryside means we can register older Diesel cars unlike Tokyoites... and so a plan was hatched.

Arnie's son badly needed a good car for his family as his ailing high mileage K-van was burning more oil than fuel.
An easy deal was struck where he could have our Altezza and with roughly the same value I went out in search of an older but reputedly unbreakable car that would do high mileages.

I'd always liked Benz W124 Turbo Diesels as I know they're the last of the really well built medium sized Diesel bruisers without troublesome electronics & less strong engines of later models. Being quite old now they're very rare in Japan but thankfully after a few months of daily searching I finally tracked one down.
A 1991 Automatic 300 TD with 175,000km! It didn't start well (Glow plugs were all shot - but that made it cheap!), A//C doesn't cool (yet!) and that was, er - about it aside from bumper scuffs. Paintwork will polish up beautifully too, once I get the polishing machine out!

Body's in good condition with absolutely no underside rust on the chassis.
With a good friend in Germany, I'm being able to get the parts and accessories I need inexpensively. I have designs on this car, where it'll have a better leather interior (Saved from a scrapped 500E Ltd), a high quality sound installation, improved handling whilst retaining comfort, very good braking and grip from uprated parts. As & when I find time, I'll set about fitting improvements - sourced used where possible.

Although the Toyota was a great car that never gave us a single problem in 70,000km, I prefer the solid feel of this older car and it's characteristic interior leather smell. It's quickly proving to be a really comfortable and safe car despite it's age.

To me this is a more environmentally concious car than our previous. It consumes much less fuel (About 45 mpg is possible with gentle use) and is built to last another 20 years, by which time it'll well & truly be a classic.
It's got an engine that will run for 1,000,000km if looked after well (German Taxis are still running & these cars often get sold from Japan to take on long hard working lives on African roads too!).

With the ever escalating prices of fuel, cost has been a deciding factor especially bearing in mind fuel will never be cheaper, only more expensive as it becomes more and more difficult to extract from the ground.
Diesel's cheaper in Japan (To help support domestic delivery infrastructure) by about 20% too, so the saving on fuel combined with better economy adds up to around 35% thus making the switch to Diesel family cars only - a foregone conclusion.
Being Diesel it can run perfectly well on simple vegetable oil or other oils including hydraulic fluid!
It's just amazing that Diesels can run on so much variation of fuel.
Perhaps I can run it on Eco Diesel in future if I can find a source, but it's already pressed into daily workhorse duties.

They don't make them like this any more.