Friday, April 22, 2011

DIY concrete outdoor table

     I haven't posted here in this blog in a while but life just gets that way sometimes.  I am much more on top of my other blog posts at my other home improvement blog
     As many of you know my husband and I built a gazebo in our back yard last year and since then I've wanted some small outdoor end tables and just wasn't willing to spend the money for the crappy tables I found at various stores.  Sometime in the middle of this past winter I read about making concrete table tops in my favorite magazine, The Family Handyman (maybe one day they'll change the title), and have been thinking about it since then. 
     The weather has finally cooperated and I was able to start the project.  However, like with so many of the projects we decide to try on our own the instructions make it seem so much easier than it is.  Here is a description of the project so far and comments about what I ended up doing differently so far.  The table top is still in the garage curing at this time so you won't see the finished product for a few more days.
I wanted to use the Quikrete counter top mix but couldn't find it anywhere locally.  My friends at Ace Hardware - Alameda Station put in a special order for me but the product won't be here for a few weeks. I did some research on line and this was the product other's had used so I decided to do some experimenting with this.  I want to make 4 tables and if this product doesn't work I will use it to make some stepping stones for our garden.
I know I swore I'd never again make something with eight sides after all of the measuring and cutting we had to do for the gazebo but I just couldn't have square tables in an octagonal gazebo. I guess I have a little bit of OCD going on but this cutting and measuring was much easier.  This is a picture of the form I will be using for the table tops. The instructions recommended using melamine (the white laminated shelving stuff) but I thought it was too expensive.

I painted the inside surfaces of the form to provide some protection for the wood to minimize the concrete sticking and to allow me to reuse the forms for additional table tops.  I also caulked all the of seams so I would have smoother edges and with the hope it will make it easier to remove the forms when I am done.
If you are interested in details on how I made the forms, feel free to comment and I'll get those details to you.
I filled the form with the concrete mix, made sure the form was sitting on a level surface, covered it with plastic and left it to set up in the garage.
I forgot to add the colorant into the water before I mixed so this table top won't be black like I wanted.  This is just an experiment so I'm not too upset. 
The instructions showed a mix that was very runny. I know enough about concrete to know that too much water is a bad thing.  I'm assuming the countertop mix may be different.  So the consistency I used was more like chunky peanut butter.
I will be posting the pictures of how the table top turned out and, if successful, how to make and attach the legs.
I'm thinking of having a class or clinic on making stepping stones or small table tops like this.  If you are interested please comment on this blog post or send me an email and I'll let you know what I'm planning.
Judy Browne
home improvement classes for women

Monday, April 4, 2011

Working safely with electricity outdoors

4 Important things to consider before working with electrical devices outdoors.

UL (Underwriters Laboratory) label
Check your electrical devices and any extension cords for a UL label.  The UL Mark means that representative samples of the cord have been tested for foreseeable safety hazards.

Choose the right size extension cord 
Extension cords are labeled with valuable information as to the use, size and wattage rating of the cord.
Is the extension cord designated for outdoor use? -  Be sure to check the label on the cord.  It should clearly state if it is suitable for outdoor use.
Is the extension cord the right size for the tool you will be using? - Just because the extension cord is long enough to reach your work does not mean it’s the right size for the job.  Using an undersized extension cord could cause the cord to overheat and start a fire.  Look closely at the labeling on your extension cord and compare it to the requirements for the tool you will be using.   Here is a handy file with more information on sizing your extension cord.

Protect yourself from shock hazards
Are you plugging the extension cord or tool into a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) protected circuit?  Newer homes were built to electrical codes which require that any receptacle that is located outdoors must be on a GFCI protected circuit.  Older homes did not have this requirement.  If you’re not sure, you can either test the receptacle with a tester or purchase a GFCI protected power cord.  They can be a little pricey but you’re safety is worth the cost.

Inspect your electrical cords and plugs
Check your extension cords and power cords and plugs prior to use.  Be sure there are no cuts or damage to the insulating cover on the cords.  Check plugs to be sure they are not damaged.  Never use a cord with a 3 prong plug that has the round ground pin removed.  This is a safety hazard!

For more information and a list of home improvement classes available to learn more about doing things yourself visit

Some of my favorite things for doing it yourself

Spring is in the air and I've had a bit of spring fever which has me working on projects but not keeping up with my blogging.  The latest issue of the Family Handyman prompted me to make this list of some of my favorite DIY products. I've include some of my personal favorites, which I've used, and some new favorites that I've just recently discovered.
Some of my personal favorites...

Shark Bite Plumbing Connectors
The shark bite plumbing connection system allows you to make leak free connections between copper, PEX and CPVC without soldering or adhesives.  Perfect for the DIY plumber.  I’ve used these myself and I love them.  They can be a little more expensive but they are so easy to use they are well worth the extra cost.  In fact, this past weekend my husband and I replaced the back flow preventer on our sprinkler system using shark bite connectors. If you're interested in learning how to work on your own plumbing consider taking my Plumbing 101 class.
Paver Sand (Polymeric)
Last summer when we were working on our gazebo and landscaping our back yard we discovered this wonderful paver sand.  We debated making a path to our gazebo using pavers because I don’t like having to constantly pull weeds and grass out from between the stones.  But this stuff works like a charm and we have no weeds between our pavers.  After laying your pavers you simply fill the cracks with this special paver sand, wet it with a hose and let it dry.  One disadvantage is the need to completely remove the entire product from the top of the pavers or it will stain them. Unfortunately for us the label indicated it was non-staining and I believed the label.  Don't make the same mistake.
Self Leveling Concrete Filler
If you’re working on repairing the damage to your concrete from the winter weather consider using this concrete filler.  It comes in tubes that fit in your caulk gun, is easy to use and leaves a nice smooth joint.  It’s best for narrow and shallow cracks (less than 3/8”) but for deeper cracks just fill in with sand or backer rod before using the filler.  We used this on our driveway and were happy with the results.

Some of my new favorites...

Instant electrical connections
I just read about these in the April issue of The Family Handyman, one of my favorite magazines.  For those of you who have taken my electrical class you know how much room a wire nut can take up in an electrical box, not leaving much room to work or to add additional things, like a dimmer switch.  These handy gadgets are sure to be added to my tool box.  They cost a little more and you will have to have a variety on hand but it looks like a winner to me.
Snap Toggles
I first saw these types of toggle bolts when I was working with a DIY closet organizing system called Easy Track.  At the time I couldn’t find these types of toggle fasteners in any of the stores, but now it looks like they’re available.  Another thing I’ll be adding to my tool box.  They are so easy to use; I can’t imagine going back to the traditional style.  I'll be adding these to my class on how to hang things on your walls & ceilings.
KwikWood or QuickWood
This is a simple, easy to use, quick setting wood filler and it’s not messy.  Great for filling screw holes when repair door knobs and catches or filling damage to wood trim.  You simply cut off a slice, need it together (it’s a 2 part epoxy product) and complete your repair.  You have about 15-20 minutes before it sets up.

If you live in the Denver Metro area and are interested in taking in person classes to learn many DIY techniques you can find more information at