Interior Wall Boards – Part I

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Well, we’ve (mostly) completed plumbing, we’ve (nearly) completed electrical, now we’re onto installing the walls! It really is a relief to finally be working on something a little less technical.

First, we need to decide on a look for the interior. (That whole “wanting the house to look nice” thing.) We both really like the aesthetic of varnished wood, but didn’t want all the knots and spots you tend to see in pine. Pine is often used in tiny houses because of the cost and weight, but we really dislike the chaotic look. We considered painting the interior, but decided against it because we preferred a more natural appearance. So we knew we needed a wood species that looked really good. We looked around. We thought about milling hardwood like we did for our floor boards, but found that because of the way hardwoods are sold and processed, we would have had to buy boards that were twice as thick as we needed. This means we would have to plane the boards down, turning half of our investment into sawdust. So we began looking into high-grade hardwood plywood. At first we were hesitant about using plywood. We’ve read a lot about how plywoods tend to be made with heavy-duty adhesives that contain high amounts of urea-formaldehyde. Normally, because formaldehyde is natural and commonly found in in low levels in most building materials you just have to learn to live with it, but in such high concentrations in such a small space, we had to be careful. However, we found a type of birch plywood called PureBond Hardwood Plywood made by Columbia Forest Products that sold itself on using formaldehyde free adhesives and zero voc processing methods. After a little research, we decided to try it!

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We both really like the look of birch (just see our flooring) so we bought a stack of ½ cabinet grade hardwood plywood. All 28 sheets of it! Afterwards, all we needed to do was decide on the board width. We looked around online at other tiny houses and decided we liked the look of wider boards. We determined that we could cut our boards into roughly 9” wide slats and leave ourselves with only half an inch left over. Talk about efficient! This took only a few hours of work. We also decided to add an extra dimension of texture to our walls by making a small horizontal groove at the top of each board to make it appear as if there was a small darkened space between each board. This created a strong dark line along each board that made the final look appear much more modern and clean. After that, we had our boards! Now we had to varnish them…

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We decided to finish our wall boards with a simple zero voc furniture varnish from ECOS Paints. We sealed our floors with a very similar product from ECOS, and we were very happy with how easy it was to work with and how clean and good looking the final product looked, so we ordered a little bit more for our wall finishing.

We then made an assembly line for processing the boards. We would sand each board, varnish it, put it up to dry in the house (in our excellent holding racks made of leftover 2x4s stacked all over the house), wait til they dried, sanded the boards again, varnished again, and then repeat it all over again.

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I must say, I did enjoy traversing through the boards while humming the Mission Impossible theme song as I tried to scale the boards to access and pile the dry ones in the back.

What made things even more complicated was that only half of them could fit in the house at one time to dry… which meant we ended up with two stacks of boards, one a step further along in the process than the other. Just to make things more confusing. You KNOW how much we love confusing.

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We ended up with five separate layers of boards in the house, many carefully balanced across 2x4s as shown here.

Next we’ll be installing the boards, and finally we just might get to really work on the interior! Woohoo!

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Tiny House Flooring – Part III, Stain and Varnish

A few months ago we found an ad on Craigslist from a woman selling a two-burner marine stove for a great price. Already there was a scheduling challenge – she lived further away, but could pass it off to her friend’s son who went to a college closer to us (still about 4 hours away) and we’d work around his class schedule to pick it up. So we drove there, searched the school’s giant library for some random stranger who goes by “Levi,” not having any idea what he looked like. A few hours later, we finally found him and bought our new stove.

Which has actually come in really handy in our build.

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The nice thing about an Origo marine alcohol-burning stove is that it’s portable. It runs on denatured alcohol and doesn’t need any sort of electrical or gas hookup. We’ve tried it out a few times and it works great!

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Each of the stainless steel canisters are filled with wool, which soaks up alcohol and allows it to slowly evaporate. The stove has a few knobs that allow for the gas to come out at different rates. All you have to do is light it with a match.

So how does this relate to our floor? What’d we do, cook it? Well not exactly, but we did make our floor stain using it.

Okay, let me backtrack a bit. As you know, we first made our own flooring and then installed it ourselves. Our next step was to stain and seal it. So Drew and I spent a long time researching stains. We wanted something that was non-toxic and durable. We searched all our favorite green companies, but they all had VOCs and other contaminants. We thought linseed oil might work, but then we realized our water based varnish wouldn’t properly adhere to it, so we scraped that idea.  So we decided to make it ourselves, like we’re doing all too often these days. Why not, right?

So we researched DIY solutions to making our own stain. We wanted a darker floor, so we ordered some ground walnut hulls. We bought a second-hand cooking pot, some remnant muslin fabric, tied it closed, and used our fancy new stovetop to boil it for hours.

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…And hours, and hours.

In the traditional method of making a walnut stain, a thicker stain is often preferable over a thinner, lighter stain. As time passed, we would test it on spare pieces of birch boards to see what the finished stain would look like. We were hoping for a more reddish-brown color, but it ended up being a brownish-gray. We wanted something to match our door – what could be do?

Then Drew had a brilliant, yet crazy idea. How about we add some of our leftover door paint to the mixture and see what happens? It is red and water-based, after all…

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This could have ended really badly, but it didn’t!

We tried it out in a smaller mixture of our stain with the paint to figure out a good ratio. It almost looked purple, but when we tried it on a sample of wood it looked pretty good!

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The large section of reddish stain was from our test. The darker version below was without the paint added in.

We decided to go slightly less red, so we mixed it together in a smaller proportion within our main pot, and decided to apply it to the floor.

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The stain color would go on really light brown, but then would dry more reddish. We still aren’t sure why that is.
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The first coat of stain as it finishes drying.

We applied our first coat with a paint roller. Once it was dry we decided to go ahead and apply a second coat to make it darker.

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Applying the second coat. We would wipe off the excess so it didn’t create darker stains where we didn’t want them.
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See how differently the stain dried after it was coated?

And here is the finished product!

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Unfortunately the stain covered a lot of those nice deeper hues in the birch, but we think they may still be subtly highlighted after applying the varnish.
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The final coat of stain after it dried.

After it dried, we went ahead and applied a wood varnish to the floor to protect it for durability. Luckily we found one that was zero VOC and had a safer MSDS report.

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Applying the first coat.
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After one or two coats.

We applied a coat every two hours for three coats in total. We took a full day to finish applying all the coats.

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The final layer!
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It goes well with our door…

After that, we covered the floor in ram board and cardboard to protect it while we work on plumbing. We even laid out some of our cabinetry to see how it would fit.

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This is a very crude layout of how our kitchen will look. The large barrels in the back corner will be our water filtration system. The bathroom will start about where the green tape line is on the left. The piece of cardboard sitting on top of the cabinet represents our counter. Like I said, very crude layout indeed.

Next we FINALLY get to start on plumbing!