Hide cables cheaply and easily

A simple and easy way to hide cables is to thread them through a length of PVC water pipe, available very cheaply at most hardware stores or plumbing supply shops.


We have speaker cables running up one corner of our lounge, through holes in the corners of our built-in shelves. I cut the pipe to length using my trusty mitre saw, but any power saw or hand saw will do the job. The whole thing took hardly any time.

The pipes seem to only come in white, grey or clear (the last one not being any use), but they are paintable if you need them to match your décor.


We built a fence

Our old fence was really amazingly hideous – big crimson panels with a weird bamboo trellis thing at the top, and getting to be in quite bad condition. So we tore it down and built a simple paling fence.

We were lucky enough to borrow a friend’s nailgun, which made it all much quicker than it would have been. We also learnt that it is important to check that each paling is more or less straight before nailing. And, once again, mitre saws are the bomb.

Sanding vs varnish stripping

The other week I had a go at stripping and re-varnishing a large window frame, which was looking a bit rubbish. It still looks a bit rubbish, but less so. This is what I learnt:

  • Doing this properly is a heck of a lot of work, regardless of how you do it. Even once you’ve got the original varnish off, you have to varnish, sand back a bit, varnish again, sand back again, and then varnish a third time. You might also have to sand a third time, I’m not sure because I skipped the sanding entirely, which is probably why the windowsill is not smooth. Also I suspect my brush technique wasn’t great.
  • Varnish stripper is pretty much useless if the varnish is dried and cracked, but in this state the wood should be pretty easy to sand.
  • Varnish stripper works a lot better on decent condition varnish (or paint), but you have to use a lot and it gives off some horrible fumes. Unless you’re using it on a very small surface, and outdoors, you should use a ventilator mask (NOT a dust mask – they don’t block fumes). Some of them shouldn’t be used indoors at all – check the label.
  • It does work surprisingly quickly, though – if it’s going to work, the varnish will start bubbling within a minute or two, and be done within about half an hour. You still have to scrape everything off, though.
  • It sounds sensible to use coarse sandpaper if you’re sanding, but it will leave a lot of very visible little scratches which take forever to get out and will show under the varnish. Sanders with a rotary action seem to be particularly bad for this.
  • Old, stained wood will usually still be stained under the varnish. You might be able to sand it down to a consistent colour, but not necessarily. It’s probably best to just accept that old things look old.
  • A few days spent re-varnishing makes painted wood seem much more appealing.

How to move an electrical outlet (for non-electricians)

Sometimes you will have an electrical outlet in a really stupid place. In our master bedroom, for example, some genius put it hard up against the doorframe, so you can’t actually plug anything into it. Other times it would just be more convenient if an outlet were above table level, or not being blocked by furniture.

Fortunately, shifting an outlet a short distance is often really easy, and can be done safely by non-electricians.

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In which I fail at many things

I haven’t posted in ages and ages and ages, even though I’ve been doing heaps of DIY, because things keep going wrong. Either what I’m working on completely doesn’t work, or it more or less works in the end, but it’s not exactly something I want to show off.

So here are some of the things which I took photos of, but either didn’t manage to finish or I thought ‘yeah, let’s not show what I ended up doing with this’.

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Here’s the chair which I thought I could fix until a crucial metal bit broke, and then I couldn’t find a replacement. 
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Here’s the cat being unhelpful, and also unphotogenic. 
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Here’s the varnish stripper being ineffective.
Here’s the skirting I installed in the laundry, before finding out that the doorframe next to it is painted some random shade of white found nowhere else in the house.

Easy painting hack

Wiping excess paint off your brush onto the side of the pot is a bad idea – you end up with paint drying around the edges, making the lid hard to put on, and apparently it’s also bad for the brush.

A simple solution is to get a wire coathanger, undo the twisty bit, and then re-bend it to fit over the paint pot. Then you can wipe the excess paint off on it, and it will drip into the pot without wastage.

In other news, I have discovered that sanding the varnish off skirting boards is a pain in the bum, especially if you’re sanding part of it because there are sander marks, and then you put new sander marks on a previously fine bit.

For sale: Perfectly preserved 1970s time capsule

Houses which haven’t been done up since Nixon was in the White House are not exactly rare. Usually they show several decades of neglect and deferred maintenance, which is what makes this house in Wellington, New Zealand, so special.

The four bedroom house has it all – the inexplicable stone wall in the lounge, orange and brown floral wallpaper and pale olive cupboards in the kitchen, and beige absolutely everywhere. Even the furniture – green couch, upright piano, dining chairs that look like the offspring of a upholstered stool and an office chair – is period perfect.

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What’s most surprising is that it all seems to be in perfect condition. To the untrained eye, everything appears to have faded from some less beige colour, but I’m pretty sure it was all manufactured in exactly that shade.

The property is valued at NZ$610,000 (approx US$410,000), which is either a lot of money for something which needs to be completely stripped out, or a bargain for something that appears to have fallen through a wormhole from 1975.

Buying a doer-upper: a reality check

Yes, with a bit of work it would be lovely, but still no. Photo by Toby Dickens.

When we bought our house, we had big dreams about all the changes we’d make to it. ‘Yeah, we’ll move the kitchen there, and the bathroom there, and knock out this structural wall…’ Um, no.

When buying a home, most people accept that they’ll be doing some work on it. Some of us have watched too many DIY shows and salivate at the thought of turning a wreck into the perfect home. In the real world, it’s not that easy.

There’s no definitive list of cheap or expensive things – they all depend on your skills, your house, what your tradie charges, and local costs and rules. Instead, I’ve listed factors which will add to the cost – sometimes quite considerably.

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How to fix nail holes

Nail holes and similar small holes in a gib board (dry wall) wall are about the easiest things to fix. Most of this will be pretty obvious to the typical home handyman / handywoman, but not so much to the inexperienced – especially the first step.

Larger holes – more than a centimetre or so across – are more difficult, because the filler won’t stay in place while it’s drying. If you need to fix a hole more than about five centimetres across, there’s another tutorial here.

To fill small holes in your walls, you will need:

  • Craft knife
  • Filler


  • Something to apply the filler with. I use one or both of the above: a silicone spatula (intended for kitchen use) and a plastic scraper/applicator thing. The spatula is better for squishing the filler into the holes, where the other thing is better for smooth application.
  • Medium-grade sandpaper

Step one: Open up the hole

Applying filler right away is generally not a good idea, for two reasons: 1) the paper surface of the wall will generally be peeling around the hole, which will make it harder to get everything flat, and 2) little holes are a bastard to get filler into.

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Should you buy a house with a friend?

Photo by Eric Patterson (https://www.flickr.com/photos/drflysuperfunk/)

Nearly three years ago, my husband and I bought our first house – with a mutual friend. This isn’t a common option, but with housing becoming ever less affordable in most parts of the world, it’s an option that more people will consider.

The big question is: is it a good idea? Having done it, I’d say the answer is maybe.

In this post I will go through the pros and cons of buying a house with a friend, and the things you need to do if you decide that it’s the right option for you.



This is the big, obvious one. More people means more money – not just for the deposit and mortgage repayments, but also for maintenance and renovations. If you’re single, buying a house with another single friend – or a couple – might be your only realistic way of getting on the property ladder.

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