All posts by Earthship Captain

Finishing the kitchen countertop

Previously, here on Sailing the Earth, I was telling you about our adventures with epoxy. It is fascinating stuff, if a bit temperamental.

Well, things have progressed and I can now share with you how it all turned out.

After completing the third and final coat of epoxy, the counter was ready to be installed. It wasn’t super perfect, but it was quite a bit improved from the first coat. There are still two bugs embedded in it that I couldn’t dig out, so they will have to stay in there… forever. Maybe someone will clone bugs from their DNA in a 1000 years.

I let the third coat cure for several days and then while Kat was at work on Sunday (yesterday, July 23rd) I proceeded to install it. First I had to prep the surface. This meant clearing off all of the clutter that was on the base, cleaning it and then applying a generous amount of glue.

Looks a lot like a breakfast pastry, doesn’t it? With the base all prepped, all there was to do was put the newly finished counter into place. I clamped it and screwed it down from underneath. That counter is not going anywhere.

Sorry for that blurry picture, but you can probably see just how shiny the counter is. Here is a close up.

Unfortunately, I discovered the hard way that it scratches pretty easily, or at least the brand that we used for this project. You can see the scratches I put in it in the bottom-left corner of the above picture. I didn’t have a way to clamp the counter down at the back so I used a 20L (5 gallon) jug of water to weigh it down. In positioning it on the counter, I twisted it a bit and the bottom of the jug is knurled plastic, so it left those marks you see above.

Fortunately, this is the trailer and not the house, so learning these things ahead of time is a useful experience.

With the counter locked down, it was time to install the sink.

Unfortunately, I miscalculated just how many pieces I would need to finish the plumbing of the sink drain and I wasn’t able to get it completed in one day. Kat was in town this morning so she stopped at the hardware store and picked up the missing pieces.

Here is a picture of the plumbing for the drain, immediately connected to the bottom of the sink.

I bought a P-trap that included the clean-out, just to make our lives easier if anything needed some maintenance later on. Frankly, I don’t know why they call it a P-trap. A U-bend or an S-trap would be better. I like S-trap actually because you could make it stand for stink-trap, as the whole point of that is to keep some water in the pipe to prevent smells from the sewer or septic from entering your home.

Anyway, that pipe that you see traveling downwards at a 45 degree angle joins up with all of this stuff at the bottom.

I added a clean-out plug, for future maintenance, though it was a bit overkill. There is another one on just the other side of the wall on the right.

The part with the T and the pipe heading out the wall through the blue insulation is the new plumbing vent I put in. The old one had been in the wall inside the small room where the toilet had been, but we removed all of that, so I needed to put the vent back in somewhere. This was a pretty convenient spot, right next to the wall. I just put a 45 degree connector on the T-junction and ran the pipe out the wall, upwards at an angle. There is another 45 just outside the wall and the pipe then runs straight up the wall of the trailer.

After it was all glued together and all of the threaded bits had their sealing tape applied, it was time to try it out.

Yay! No leaks. Now we don’t need to go outside to dump our dish water. In fact, we might even be able to do the dishes in the sink. Woah! Not sure we’re ready for that kind of excitement. It’s been a good two years since we could do our own dishes in a sink.

On a side note, we discovered something interesting about ABS glue and rigid insulation: the former will melt and dissolve the latter. Here you can see the hole underneath the pipe where the glue squished out and dropped onto the insulation.

Something to be aware of if you’re ever gluing ABS pipe near rigid foam insulation.

Despite the small flaws (and scratches… grrr) in the counter-top, this project turned out pretty well. Now if only we can complete the next project in a more timely fashion.

Kitchen Countertop Adventures

So I had left off previously talking about the new counter-top we were working on for the trailer. I can’t say that it is all complete, but we have made some progress.

We decided to put an epoxy finish over the wood to give it a nice shiny, protective coating. This has turned out to be a little tricky. I am, however, getting ahead of myself.

We started off with the prep work. I took the counter out to our truck shelter which is acting as our work shop. Out there, Kat applied the stain and varnish to it.

Once that was done, I propped it up to it was all as level as I could get it. I taped all of the edges to prevent spill-over and I also prepared a sheet to cover it after we finished the pour.

If you’re wondering what the big log in the middle is for, that’s to hold up the cover sheet so it doesn’t touch the counter.

So, let the pouring begin!

We learned quite a few things doing this. First, epoxy likes it to be warm. The warmer, the quicker it will cure. Secondly, humidity is bad. This will encourage bubbles in your epoxy and that’s not a good thing.

Kat and I did this together because the epoxy starts to setup pretty quickly after you mix it. We managed to complete the pouring in short order. Fortunately, the counter-top isn’t that big.

Once the pour was completed, I spent some time trying to get rid of some of the bubbles, but that didn’t go so well. According to the instructions, gently exhaling on them should make them burst as it supposedly reacts with the CO2 from your breath. Well, I did a lot of blowing and the bubbles didn’t pop at all.

I also couldn’t spend forever working on this because it was starting to set, and also bugs kept falling in it. We did fish some big ones out and eventually I just covered it.

I used an old shower curtain for the cover, which worked really well. After that we let it sit for a long time, over a week.

When we finally went in to look at it, it was all nice and shiny, but there were a few bugs sticking out of it and lots of bubbles. Also, the tape didn’t work quite as well as we had hoped and there were a lot of drips down the sides that we had to shave off.

Here you can see Kat in her bug hat removing the tape.

I took some time and dug out the bugs I could find, as well as many of the bubbles. Then I did a filler coat on top of that. It has since dried, but I plan to do one more final thin coat as that last one came out a bit rough.

I did some searching online and found one website that said the most ideal setup for doing epoxy is in a vacuum. Not having a vacuum chamber readily available, we went with what we had. Hopefully, after this third coat, it will look nice. I’ll let you know how it goes after we get that done.

Martin Earthship Pack-out

It’s been well over a month since my last post and I’m sure there are people wondering what is going on with us. Fortunately, I have some Earthship related news this time.

Last Saturday (July 15th) we trucked down to Mallorytown (near Brockville, ON) and helped out at the Martin Earthship. It’s a full three hour drive for us to get there, so we were up early and out on the road to make it there for 10am.

We had been down there last year, helping to pound tires. This time, we were doing pack-out. For those not familiar with pack-out, this is what we call the procedure by which we fill in the spaces between the tires after they have been pounded with dirt. I talked about this extensively during our trip down to Salida, Colorado, so I won’t go into too much detail.

We had a really decent day for this, as it was partially cloudy, but no rain. Jay and Erin (the owners) also have these portable tent-like shades that we moved around the site to keep the sun off us as we worked.

Here is the first picture of us all looking very busy.

They only have three full courses of tires completed, with a fourth partially done, so it didn’t take us long to move down the length of the wall.

Here you can see the basic idea of what we’re doing. The idea is you throw in a blob of concrete (after wetting the surface of the tires first – very important or your concrete won’t stick) and then put an aluminum can in the space.

Cover the first can with more concrete and then put two more cans in. Add more concrete and by the time you have that all covered, you should be coming out pretty close the the outer edge of the tires. The purpose of the cans is to save on concrete, so they’re really just spacers in this case.

Here you can see Kat hard at work testing out the hammock.

By the end of the day, we had done the pack-out from one end of the house to the other. Here you can see me. It kinda looks like I’m looking for an offering with my hands out like that, but really I’m carting a handful of concrete over to the wall.

Overall, it was a great day, we accomplished things, met some new people, shared our ideas and generally had a great time. Jay and Erin are always great hosts.

Something to note on Earthship pack-out: if you wait until you have the roof on before you start doing pack-out, you can use adobe or cob instead of concrete. This may or may not be cheaper, depending on how easily you can get your hands on clay. You don’t want to do adobe/cob before the roof goes on though, otherwise, if it rains, it’s all going to fall out. Related to that, any tire wall that is exposed to the outside (like wing walls, for example) must have concrete for pack-out for that same reason.

If you’re wondering where we are at with our own Earthship, we still require an engineering stamp for our plans. We have found a local engineer who is himself building an Earthship so that is a big bonus. Unfortunately, he isn’t fully certified yet as he will be sitting his last exam in August, so we’re in a bit of a holding pattern at the moment.

Soggy spring

I would love to say that we have accomplished a whole lot in the last month since I posted, but unfortunately we haven’t. This is largely due to the weather. I think this past May has been the soggiest one on record. Rain is pretty common in May, but it has been rather severe this year.

Our area was pretty lucky in that the worst we had were a few basements where the sub-pump broke and they wet basement floors. Other parts of Ontario and Quebec had full blown evacuations and states of emergency. When you come back to your house after it all resides and find that the water was up to the level of your counter-top in your kitchen, you could say that we had a lot of rain.

My last post was on May 2nd and it wasn’t long after that when things started to get crazy. We had two days of severe rain, then this happened on the 7th.

Yeah, that’s right. It started snowing. This has been known to happen in May, so it wasn’t so much of a big deal, except for the fact that it didn’t stop. I bet you can guess when I took the following picture?

That wasn’t the end of it either. It just kept snowing, right through until the 9th.

You can see that there wasn’t a whole lot of accumulation, but still, three days of snow in May?

Someone needs to turn up the outdoor thermostat.

That wasn’t the end of it either. I think we had a day or two break and then we had two more solid days of rain. When I say solid, I mean around 60mm (2.5 inches) of rain. That number may seem small, but if I put that in equivalent snow terms that would be 60cm (2 feet) of snow. It rained A LOT!

Those were the two heaviest days, but we’ve had quite a few days where it rained since then. Not nearly as bad. On May 14th we had a severe thunder storm which included hail. I had just done my weekly trip to the dump and it started on my way back. I was pulling into the driveway when the hail started so I sat in the truck for a bit and snapped this picture of the hail building up on the windshield wipers.

Not only has it been wet, it hasn’t been particularly warm either. We’ve had a few days above 20C (68F) but not many. And on those days when it isn’t cold and raining, the bugs are bad enough to pick you up and carry you off if you aren’t careful. The black flies especially are having a bumper year. We’re hoping the dragon flies will show up soon and we have seen one or two, but the big swarms of them have yet to arrive. They help a lot with reducing the biting insects.

All of this wetness has put a big damper on our firewood harvest this year. Going out in the pouring rain to cut down a tree isn’t a great thing to do. It’s even more inadvisable if there is high wind. Don’t try cutting down a tree in high wind and expect it to drop where you want it. I avoid that at all costs.

In addition to this, because of all of the rain, there were times we couldn’t even get the truck up the hill for fear of burying it out of sight just because the ground was so saturated with water. We still can’t drive to the top of our hill because a lot of water is draining down the road and it’s very squishy.

Of course there is the bug factor as well. Once you do get a decent day to go cut wood, you have to deal with the bugs. So, needless to say, we are behind in our firewood harvesting.

Fortunately, we haven’t been completely idle. We did get started on installing a new sink and finishing the counter-top around it. Here you can see the cutting of the hole where the sink is going to go.

Slightly closer so you can see the sink outline in pencil.

There we have it, a hole for a sink.

We even have a sink to put in that hole too! We bought it at the Re-store which I have to say, is kind of a hit or miss in terms of whether it’s really worth it or not. The sink we bought didn’t have holes for faucets, nor did it have a strainer basket. We weren’t too concerned about the faucet holes as we aren’t likely to have any faucet for a while. A new strainer basket cost $20 for the cheap one. The sink cost us $45. I could have bought a brand new sink for $100 that included holes for the faucet and strainer basket. Add some tax in there and you start to wonder if it was really worth the savings. Things to think about if you ever go to the Re-store for building materials.

Now for the counter-top we decided to use a 19mm (3/4 inch) piece of plywood with red oak veneer. One sheet of that will set you back $85 so you don’t want to mess it up. I cut out the piece to size for the counter first.

I scribed the hole for the sink from underneath and then cut out the hole for the sink as well.

Voila! New counter-top. Well, almost. The counter then went out to the staining and finishing department. I can say that it has been stained and had two coats of varnish put on it. The next step is to put a thick coat of epoxy on it to make it durable and waterproof. We have the epoxy, but it is sensitive to temperature and humidity so that part has been put on hold until things dry up and warm up a bit.

So it’s been a slow start to the year. We haven’t planted anything in the garden yet either because it’s been so cold. Last night we had a low of 2C (36F). Yes, we had a fire. They say we should be safe for planting after the full moon in June, which is this Friday. We can only wait and see at this point.