Posted in Blog, DIY Hints & Tips, House Renovation, Tools & Materials, TUTORIALS

Our Old Flagstones get a New Home

…. from a pile of slabs……. to a classy stone floor ….here’s how…

opus romain patternslabs laid out in the courtyard
We laid these flagstones in an “Opus Romain” pattern — laying the flags in regular rows,  but varying the row-width across adjacent rows.

You need to decide beforehand on which widths you are going to use. Commercially available flooring in this pattern usually come in 3 widths; for example, 60cm, 45cm and 30cm. The lengths of the individual slabs will vary so that each width will have say a couple of rectangular sizes and maybe a square size.

“Sounds complicated?” “Not really, once you see a picture or two of how the pattern works, it all pretty obvious.”

Opus Romain stone flooring

…….so onto a few ‘Tips & Tricks’…….

  • Sizing  the Flagstones : This is perhaps the trickiest part of the job! There are no hard and fast rules—you need to assess what you have to work with and try and work out the best width options to choose—to achieve a pleasing pattern without undue waste.
  • Essential Tools — Angle Grinder (preferably with a diamond/carbide disc), club hammer and bolster cold chisel, eye protectors, ear protectors and face mask, tape measure, T-square and marking chalk or pencil.
  • Cutting stone with the grinder – make the straight cuts with the grinder steadily and evenly, letting the machine cut gradually to its maximum depth, around a few cms or so. It isn’t necessary to cut a stone “all-the-way-through.” Then with the bolster chisel inserted around the middle of the cut, give it a few sharp blows with the club hammer—and it should split away cleanly and easily.
  • As you can see in one of the images above, I’ve angled the grinder slightly “off-vertical” — undercutting the edge. This is a little trick to make it easier to lay the cut edges of the flags closer to each other, avoiding the chances of odd lumpy bits left after breaking stopping the close fitting of two adjacent flags.
  • Then carefully and gently tap along the top of the cut edges with the club hammer, chipping little fragments away to leave a more natural looking stone
  • Finally, should it be necessary to remove some stone from the underside of a particularly thick slab, make a series of close parallel cuts, and repeat again at 90°, and then chip these away carefully with the hammer and chisel. (A great way, incidentally, to make your own stone dice!).

"Opus Romain" style of laying paving
You may then decide whether to grout the spaces between the stone with a lime mortar — or simply brush in some sand or fine gravel. Depends on what look you’re after.

And if the floor is exposed to light and rain, then you’ll need to weed the cracks from time to time if they haven’t been grouted.

So give it a try and “Bonne Chance!”

Posted in Blog, HOUSE & GARDEN, House Renovation, Tools & Materials

My Hemp Porridge — another great material for the DIY builder.

The wet gluey porridge that is hemp renderI happen to have a Scottish surname — and I do like porridge – but even I would baulk at a bowl of this for breakfast !

What is it?  —  It’s a mix of industrial grade vegetal HEMP fibre, (Cannabis sativa) — (Not to be confused with Indian Hemp — Cannabis Indica), LIME and WATER. We’ve used this material extensively as —

  • floor insulation
  • as rough render on open, porous stone walls to plug all the draughts and prevent rodent activity
  • and as a easy way to fill all those awkward places before starting the decorating stage.

DOWNLOAD OUR PDF for all the details:  Hemp Vegetal Fibre pdf

Posted in Blog, HOUSE & GARDEN, Tools & Materials

Old Broken Roof Tiles make great Garden Pathways

broken tile pathwayTwo weeks of subzero weather has finally given way to warmer sunnier weather. Back to clearing some of the mess at the back of the house, including piles of leftover old broken roof tiles. We’d already decided to use them up as ground cover around and between the raised beds in the vegetable garden. In the images, the ‘path’ between the two existing raised beds was prepared by raking level, a porous plastic anti-weed membrane cut and laid down, and some leftover castine (fine clay/chipped stone aggregate) added and tamped flat before adding the broken tile, smashed with a club hammer into small, nicely sized pieces, flat enough to walk on.broken tile texture

Posted in Blog, Tools & Materials

Lime – How To Choose What To Use

Here is an image of the 3 types of lime that we’ve used over the years. They are all readily available from all the builder’s merchants in our region, although the brands and specs will vary slightly in different regions of France. By the way, CHAUX is the french for lime and is pronounced like “SHOW”

1. CHAUX RABOT : This is the standard hydraulic lime in our area. “HYDRAULIC” simply means that the lime is not pure CaO, but has other silicates and carbonates added to render it hydraulic—i.e., when mixed with aggregates (sand/gravel) and water, the mix will “dry” or cure even in the presence of water. In fact it is water that initiates the curing process. NON-HYDRAULIC lime by contrast is a purer lime, no added silicates etc, and “dries” or cures by the action of carbon dioxide in the air. So this materials will NOT set under water, unlike, cement or strong hydraulic limes. The strength of hydraulic limes are rated on a scale of 1 to 5, from weak to strong, so the Chaux Rabot shown above is rated NHL 5 — strong.  We use this lime for all general stone and block laying, (never use cement mortars) and also for basic first coat wall pointing and renders.

2. CHAUX BLANCHE : This is a weaker hydraulic lime, pure white in colour and therefore useful if you want to pigment the mortar or render—it’ll take the colour better than Chaux Rabot, which has a warm pale grey colour. Being weaker, it is better used in wall pointing and render, rather than structural work, and being more expensive, is best restricted to more specific interior finishes and decorate work.

3. CHAUX AERIENNE : Traditionally this lime has been used for final finishes and lime washes. When using lime mortars for external stone pointing, the best practise is to first point up the brushed and cleaned out joints between each stone with a medium to stong hydraulic lime mortar, then brush that back after a few hours before it sets too hard, then apply a further two layers as smoothing renders, the latter being ‘weaker’ than the former. Chaux aérienne would be used for this last coat. But this is labour intensive and quite time consuming so nowadays, is retricted to special renovation work. We tend to point the jointing first and then point again with the same (hydraulic) mix, wire brushing back as soon as the cure is dry enough. (‘ll link this later to a post on Pointing). Denise however, makes good use of this lime for interior wall finishes—it’s very versatile and she’s already used it on top of clay renders.