Mag's Free Plans and How-to Videos!

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Mag's Free Plans

ToolGirl's online How-To Videos

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Zander and MagMore free plans!

In a new partnership with Lowe's Canada, Mag has produced a video series of fun, colourful projects that families can build together

Each 3-5 minute episode is accompanied by downloadable step-by-step instructions loaded with extra tips and mini-lessons, so even if parents aren't experienced in building, they can learn alongside their kids!  


December 16, 2013

Tweens with Tools on CP24 Tuesday December 17!

This week we launched 5 new kids' DIY videos and tomorrow morning I'm going to be meeting 10 tweens at Ryerson Public School in downtown Toronto at 6 in the morning to spend a few hours on CP24's Live Eye building some really cool projects from our new season of Lowe's Family Fun Projects.  Hope you'll join us for the Live Eye!

Lowe's Family Fun Projects - Tween Season

December 10, 2013

Upcycling - ideas to spike your creativity

If you're the type of person who gets fidgety while riding in the passenger seat of a car for prolonged periods of, say, 5-10 minutes, you may need to work with your hands to modulate your nervous energy. 

Crocheting bird feeders out of 40-pound test fishing line is satisfying and productive. Whittling is an effective way to build up your supply of tinder for the winter, and the pile of wood shavings under your feet will keep your toes warm on long winter drives.

Or you can turn to your smartphone for solace and revel in arty/crafty/hacky/buildy project tutorials and start plotting your next DIY attempt.  

If you're naturally frugal with a sideways imagination you might enjoy the incredible range of human ingenuity I've collected in my Upcycling board on Pinterest.  

Who wouldn't want to make a combination candle/TP holder from scrap lumber and steel pipe?

Upcycled toilet paper holder

Or make a bench from an old bed headboard/footboard...

Upcycled bench from bed headboard

Or build a side table out of cut-offs...


Is there any human who doesn't like to make new stuff out of old stuff?  I haven't met one yet.

Drool inducing unputdownable book for DIYers

This just landed on my Christmas list with a big gorgeous thud.  Kevin Kelly has been blogging about inventive gadgets and devices for as long as I've had a computer, and he's finally produced a compendium of his faves.  Don't put this book in the bathroom or you'll have a bum ring from sitting there far longer than necessary imagining all of the things you can do/build/make/share/hack. Glory tool-e-lujah, baby.


November 12, 2013

Christmas Tree Alternatives - why go traditional when your tree can scream quirkiness?

Things change in an average life and for some of us, that means hanging on to time-honoured traditions, like our Christmas tree style, with renewed tenacity. For others, it means jettisoning the familiar in an effort to redefine ourselves and acknowledge change.  For the latter group, here are a few suggestions for kicking up the festive while maximizing the restive. 

A driftwood Christmas tree...


Driftwood tree


A homemade scrapwood Christmas tree...


Scrapwood tree


A wall Christmas tree made from treasured ornaments...


Ornament wall tree


Another wall tree...




A cardboard Christmas tree...


And of course, you can always create a DIY tree with used spindles, although one of my readers complained last year that it was god-awful and 'what was I thinking?'.  Of course, if you're a died-in-the-wool non-traditionalist, you're used to hearing that.  

What about you?  Any searingly unique tree installations to share?

November 06, 2013

Upcycling Demo At Habitat ReStore This Weekend

If you're in the Newmarket area this Saturday and in the mood for some arty laughs, stop in at the Newmarket ReStore and watch Mag lead a spirited session of upcycling. Mag will be taking ReStore furniture from derelict to daring using swanky new finishes and 'furniture make-up' from Canada's van Gogh Paints. Hope to see you there!

Upcycling Demo At Habitat ReStore This Weekend

October 16, 2013

Lowe's Family Fun Projects - Tween Projects

Tweens are hugely creative and we've been having a blast shooting new episodes featuring their designs - here are a few:

Zoe (12) and her swinging treehouse lounger

Lowe's Family Fun Projects - treehouse swinging bed

Ella (9) and her climbing net

Lowe's Family Fun Projects - climbing net

Lucas and Kevin (11) with the chalkboard desk they built (steel pipe base)

Lowe's Family Fun Projects - chalkboard desk with steel base

We'll be posting tween episodes on Lowe's Canada in time for the Christmas break - check out our other kids' projects (ages 3+) if you ever find yourself stuck indoors with rowdy kids!   

June 04, 2013

How to never again get attacked by an insect (black flies, mosquitoes, horse flies, even lice)

I've been exercising and working outdoors all spring, in clouds of black flies, and I don't have a single bite. In a normal year, my face, neck and arms would be covered in red welts that itch and burn and swell, in spite of wearing long sleeves AND a ridiculous hat made of netting that the bugs always infiltrate.  (Once you've got a black fly INSIDE your net hat, you're just a big meat sandwich to that little dork.)

But this year I've been using a Canadian homeopathic preparation called Mozi-Q (one small tablet dissolved under the tongue a few minutes before going outside).

I have no bites. They don't even LAND.  Horse flies, mosquitoes, black flies, deer flies.  Apparently it even works on lice and bed bugs. The homeopathic effect is so thorough that you'll think irrational thoughts like, "Well, maybe the bugs just aren't biting this year."  

Then you'll make your friends try it.  And when they come back to you and say, "My god, I don't have a single bite, even after gardening all weekend", you'll maybe start to believe it really IS working.  

I've given it to 3 people besides me and they all said the same thing, "My god, I don't have a single bite!" 

So if you're suffering with the bugs this season, give Mozi-Q a try. (where to buy)

P.S. I've been using homeopathic treatments for 30 years and even took courses in homeopathy because it's such a fascinating and cool science.  Homeopathic remedies are prescribed extensively in England by physicians. The members of the royal family are huge fans of homeopathy. You can read about the origins of homeopathy in the lovely little book, "Heal Thyself" by Dr. Edward Bach. (available as a free PDF

Available online - about $25/season


I've been caught up in a number of eyebrow-blowing-off experiences lately.  

First, my talk at TEDxWaterloo at the end of March.  It consumed me.  I've never worked harder on anything, yet I still made crucial mistakes, which have driven me crazy for more than 2 months. Until this morning, when I realized that our mistakes become our future strengths so I should respect my mistakes, not revile them.


I also started work on a new season of Lowe's Family Fun Projects.  This year we're working with Tweens. The kids have lots of cool design ideas (headboards, WarHammer terrains, treehouse upgrades). It's going to be amazing to watch them work with their hands. 

Zoe and Ella
Zoe (12) and Ella (9)

I've been experimenting with getting some cool finishes on furniture.  Here's one of them:

Textured marbled effect using Annie Sloan chalk paint
Marbling effect

And here's another:

A finish I call, "Layered as an old fishing boat"

I made sheers after the blinds fell apart (employing doorknobs from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore)

Daniel's leg-slinging ladder stylings

Kicked off the 2013 Habitat for Humanity WomenBuild. Want to join me in September?  

Mag Ruffman and Tina Holmes
With fellow WomenBuild ambassador Tina Holmes

Walked a lot.  (shades of Avonlea)


And traveled to Saskatoon and Vancouver for Skills Canada's provincial and national competitions.  More on that this week from Vancouver with the adorable Mike Holmes.

Mag Ruffman at Saskatchewan Skills Competition, 2013, photo by
Photo by Dave Stobbe,




February 08, 2013

How to make a tinned picture frame

This week's free ToolGirl How-to video gives you a billion options for bone-easy handmade gifts.  You'll learn to frame any two-dimensional item using inexpensive materials and a soldering iron...

How To Make A Tinned Picture Frame  - step by step instructions

February 01, 2013

Got the winter blues? Let your fingers do the therapy!


the plight of un-busy hands
Photo credit: chris@APL via Flickr


If this crisp cold snap is making you frantic and testy, your hands can calm you down and put you in The Zone where time ceases to exist, all problems turn to vapor, and Winter is just a word that applies to some other part of the world. Here's my curated list of places to find craft instruction online.

Now, if you want a truly in-depth course from a world-class instructor at a fraction of the cost ($20-$40) you'd pay to take the course in person, here's a closer look at my favourite online learning resource, (Correction to article: Craftsy won't be offering 'food tech' in 2013, but they will be offering food and cooking courses)

Craftsy offers fantastic classes that show you in REAL time (not fast-forward-big-reveal TV style) how to actually DO something.  Grab a cup of coffee and peruse your options for learning how to quilt, weave, sew, crochet, knit, decorate cakes, cook, garden, and even re-finish furniture. TIP: When you're scrolling through Craftsy's Featured Classes, you can click on any of the Free Mini-Classes for a taste of the instructor's style and content.  

If you don't have a local independent yarn store or craft retailer that offers classes, is an amazing virtual resource.  You can study anytime, 24/7, talk to the instructor and/or fellow class-mates while the lesson is in progress, record personal notes onscreen, and instantly repeat the last 30 seconds of video if you missed something.  

Have fun!

P.S. I'm enrolled in two courses (so far) if you want to join me - Scrap Quilting and From Drab to Fab (upcycling furniture).  

Here are some of my classmates' furniture projects from our Drab to Fab eh?

Projects from learners




January 23, 2013

The Joy of Pyrography

Here's a classic for all lovers of wood.  Try not to be dissuaded by the fact that I can barely pronounce the word 'pyrography'.  

December 21, 2012

Turning old wool sweaters into felt




Tea cozy from felted sweaters
A bobble-headed tea cozy made from a felted cardigan


Felted wool blanket
Felted blanket in progress


Felt is my new BFF - it's cuddly, uncomplaining and easy to make, plus you can form it into endless cool projects.  

The steps are fast and simple.  Take a pile of wool sweaters, scarves and mitts, wash them a couple of times in the washing machine so they're good and matted, then cut them up into strips, shapes or blocks and reconstruct them into rugs, blankets, dog beds, soft sculpture, toys and accessories. 

[For more details on the felting process, see this week's column, I Felt That.]

You can join pieces of felt together by hand sewing it, machine sewing with a zigzag stitch, or by using a crochet needle.  


Crocheting felted wool
Crocheted edge-joining


Making rosettes using felted strips
Strips cut on the bias and joined with zigzag stitch


Felted wool bowl
A bowl made from strips of felted wool



Felted wool bowl (from strips of bias-cut felted sweater)
Bowl detail (upside down) - the concave bottom is a natural result of the sewing process. When you keep tension on the outside edge of the strip while sewing, the piece naturally forms into a bowl shape.



Joining felted pieces with a sewing machine
Random pieces of felted wool joined with zig zag stitch over flannel backing


Felted wool cat toy
The cat's favourite new toy - a felted wool ruffled mouse (ruffle-making details below)


Ruffled tea cozy from felted sweater
it's easy to create ruffles from strips of felted wool


You can create fast ruffles from strips of felted wool using nothing more than a crochet needle.  You end up with a robust and rambunctious spiral that you can turn into a bobble/pompom (like the one on top of the tea cozy at the top of this post).  Here are the steps.


Creating ruffles with felted wool
Using a small crochet needle (I used .75 mm or 1/2), pierce the end of a strip of felted wool.



Creating ruffles with felted strips of wool
Pull a loop of yarn through (I use mohair because it's thin, strong and slippery - and I used a contrasting colour so you can see it better)



Creating ruffles with felted strips of wool
Next, pierce the felt along the top edge of the strip



Creating ruffles with strips of felted wool
Then move about an inch along and pierce it again (I'm left handed, so you'll need to reverse directions if you're right-handed)



Creating ruffles with felted wool strips
Keep going till you've got 3 or 4 'stitches' on your needle



Creating ruffles with strips of felted wool
Now hook a loop of yarn and drag it backwards through all 4 stitches, including the mohair loop you made back at the beginning



Creating ruffles from strips of felted wool
Draw the yarn through that first loop and snug the ruffle gently so the yarn is taut



Creating ruffles from strips of felted wool
Your ruffle is starting to take shape



Creating ruffles with strips of felted wool
To join strips, just pierce the top edge of the new strip as though it were part of the existing strip. Felted wool doesn't ravel, so the raw edges won't give you any grief

Creating a ruffle with felted wool strips
Just keep going now, adding strips and continuing to draw the yarn through clumps of 3 or 4 'stitches'. The ruffle will start to spiral on itself and create a staunch and flirty effect. When you're ready to end the ruffle, just draw the yarn through itself a couple of times to make a locking knot.



Creating a ruffle with corked wool
By the way, you can use the same process to create a ruffle using tubes of corking


Because felted wool doesn't ravel, you can cut it into fringe, too.  I'll keep posting pictures of the stuff I'm making for my last minute Christmas gifts.  Or if you can't wait to see mine, you can find a lot of cool ideas here.

Hobbit coasters - felted wool
Felted coasters that I subsequently needle-felted, inspired by the ironwork design on the inside of Hobbit doors

Felted sweaters turned into dog bed
Why is it that everything you make for a dog gets taken over by a cat?



December 03, 2012

Moving video about kids and power tools

This really touched me.  What a great way to connect kids to their inner brilliance.  


October 02, 2012

How to appliqué almost anything on a candle

It's getting to be gifty season and I've got a hostess treat that's fast and classy depending on your definition of classy.  This quick video contains my hard-earned tips for festooning candles with microwave-pressed flowers (or hardware for a more manly version).  

September 22, 2012

Canada's favourite tradespersons as voted by ToolGirl readers!

Here they are - all of the touching, lovely thank yous to tradespeople all over Canada:

Hi Mag

I am nominating my son, Greg Burrows who is entering his second year of carpentry after 4 years of university. To see the pride on his face after building a project amazes me! He loves carpentry! The pride and patience he shows in his trade makes me so proud of him.He is very lucky to find a career that he loves.
Susan Taylor
East Preston



I would like to "nominate" john baddelley out of victoria B.C.  John has the ability to foresee and understand what you are talking about, while you're saying it.

He puts you at ease immediately, and is compassionate and caring in his demeanor.  John helped me out immensely with reno's at my fathers house in victoria when it was determined that mobility was an issue.

Thank you for this opportunity

Dal Cosby

Cambridge ON


Continue reading "Canada's favourite tradespersons as voted by ToolGirl readers!" »

September 21, 2012

Today is National Tradesperson's Day - thank someone handy!


Two young tradespeople in training - Photo by Photo Dudes on Flickr


Irwin Tools has declared that today is National Tradesperson Day in the U.S. and Canada.  I'm heading out to join CHCH's Bob Cowan to celebrate this morning.  Please tune in to CHCH at 9:15 if you get the channel where you live.  

When I get back from Hamilton I'm going to publish thank you notes from approximately 200 readers who sent me details about their favourite tradespeople.  

In the meantime, show some appreciation today for the people who keep our world humming - carpenters, plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics, welders, machinists, ship builders - by buying them a cup of coffee, calling up to say 'thanks for all you do', dropping off cookies at a local job site, or hugging a tradesman in line at Tim Horton's.  

For more info, visit Irwin's salute to tradespeople everywhere.  If you're a young person with a great 3D aptitude, visit Skills Canada to explore careers that'll let you use it!



September 18, 2012

Just got my 'nails' done for @HabitatToronto and @HomeShowsTO's #UpcycleChalllenge

ToolGirl Mag Ruffman's #UpcycleChallenge welded garden art
2,498 masonry nails, 3 wrenches, and 3 handsaw blades plus 11 pounds of MIG wire and 50 hours of welding!

The lovely folks at Habitat for Humanity Toronto and Toronto's Fall Home Show have come up with the most fantastic contest this year.  They asked 13 designer/DIYer/blogger types to go shopping at one of Toronto's 5 Habitat for Humanity ReStores (where they sell amazing building supplies and archtectural salvage for 50-80% less than retail).
We were each allowed to spend up to $100 to get something to repurpose into a household item.  The entries are fantastically creative. (You can vote for the project that you like best, or better yet, go to the Fall Home Show or place an online bid for your favourite piece.  All proceeds go to Habitat for Humanity to build more great homes for great families.)
Re: the sculpture above:
The first panel (far left) is a plain rectangle and is the first geometric thing I've made since my math debacle in Grade 10 (I got 11 out of 100 on my geometry final).  So I've officially made peace with geometry.  
The middle panel strays into a more organic shape, and the third panel is full-on entropy in the shape of a female form (or two lovebirds according to my Facebook friend Moe).  
P.S. Here's the 'Before' shot!
I seriously love welding.  I bought a Hobart Handler 125 for about $300 a few years ago and it's become my favourite weapon of mass construction.  
Last week I taught Oli, my niece-in-law, to weld.
Mag Ruffman and her niece Oli; welding lessons
Welding, the most popular activity at Ruffman reunions (besides eating)
I also gave my sister a few lessons last week and she went straight home and bought her own welder - a classy Lincoln package that included a helmet emblazoned with red flames!  She's making sculptures out of farm implements. 
Gillian on her first day with her new Lincoln MIG welder
A metal artist at work


September 11, 2012

Super-easy decoupaged mirror frame to build with your favourite kid

My friend Shyenna (7) has an eye for colour.  When there's paint around, she cuts loose.  Her choices are instant and fearless.  I love watching her because it inspires me to go with my own instincts, even though I've always doubted them.  

And this project isn't just about decorating with fabric and paint.  We also built the mirror frame from scratch.  It's a simple, fun project that any beginner can accomplish.  (Plus there's a monster who lives in the mirror!)


August 17, 2012

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, where have you been all my life?


Remember the first thing you ever painted with ‘real’ grown-up paint, not kiddie watercolour paint?

Remember the exhilaration of gobbing on that first transforming brush full? Remember the utter lack of control and the hashmark-style brush strokes? Well, you can have all of that back.  

Modern painting has become a chore to be avoided. It smells up the house, the prep alone is a lot of trouble, and you have to match the paint to the surface you’re covering, which leads to mistakes (i.e. latex over alkyd, wrong primer, bubbling, blistering or peeling because some genius used Plaster of Paris instead of spackle on the ceiling and the lime goes into solution and starts fizzing under the paint...).  

And let's not forget that modern paint comes in 28,000 colours, only 27 of which actually look good in any known home.  

Well, I found a paint that is so fun, relieving, gorgeous and smart that I'm painting everything in the house, including the most avoided task in the DIY roster: the kitchen cabinets.  

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint is finally available in Canada. And it only comes in 27 colours (the ones that look good in houses), which can be diluted with Annie's Pure White or Old White to create lighter shades if you desire. (I covered Annie's paint in my column today. But I didn't have enough room to tell the whole story, so I'm adding some more details here.)

The paint has so little odour that my insanely smell-sensitive husband couldn't even tell I'd been painting the kitchen when he came home from running errands.  

And I'm painting right over 30-year-old alkyd. No prep. It's so easy to work with this paint that I can do a little bit every day rather than shut the kitchen down for a week while I remove all of the cupboard doors, sand them, prime them, roll on a couple of coats, and then replace all of the hardware and re-install them. 

(I went with Versailles green, the colour of the kitchen cabinets in Jasper Dale's kitchen on Road to Avonlea.) 

Annie encourages Chalk Paint users to brush the paint on with abandon, crisscrossing the brushstrokes to add texture and depth. The paint lends itself beautifully to arty effects like layering and distressing. Even on plastic! (This is a thick base coat on my plastic iPhone case) 



I was going for 'rustic barnboard'.  This is how it turned out...



I had a lot of fun painting a beat up old table made from Douglas fir...  

Renoir table
Photo: Nora Duffy

(table top was painted with Versailles green and then immediately rubbed with a rag to create a pickled effect) 

I experimented with mixing some concrete pigment into the paint (Old Ochre) because I hadn't bought enough colours. Concrete pigment tends to be lumpy so it creates streaks in the paint.  I found that using a sponge to apply the paint helped reduce the streaking.  I just swabbed it around till the finish was even. 


(Shiny urethane be gone!)

Chalk Paint creates a very soft, velvety matte finish that you can gloss up with Annie Sloan's soft waxes. They come in clear or dark shades.  Both buff to a silky sheen.  The dark wax is great for creating various grunge effects or for aging a piece.  


You can check Annie Sloan's web site for a dealer near you.  The paint is so loaded with pigment that it covers most surfaces quite nicely with one coat.  If you're in the Greater Toronto Area your closest dealer is Kathie Jordan in New Hamburg, Ontario.  Kathie will ship paint and/or wax to you if you don't want to make the drive.  You can also place an online order for Annie Sloan paints and waxes from The Melon Patch in Bath, Ontario.

It's worth the visit to Kathie's shop if you're in the GTA - she's lovely!

Kathie and Mag

TIP: The online palette looks darker than the paint actually is (on most monitors). The best way to experience the colours is to go to a dealer and see for yourself, or do a search for the glorious projects that people have posted online.

Screen Shot 2012-08-17 at 11.37.20 AM

OTHER TIP: This is the recipe to use if you want to try creating DIY chalk paint formula using PVA (white glue) and chalk whiting.

August 10, 2012

National Tradesperson Day is coming September 21!


Photo by keltickelton via

This just in from Irwin, makers of some of my favourite hand tools.  (I've upgraded the term 'Tradesmen' to Tradespeople in a few places and like it better!)

The second annual National Tradesmen Day will be held on Friday, Sept. 21, 2012, and IRWIN® Tools encourages all Canadians to make plans to recognize Canada’s tradespeople – the men and women who are the backbone of our nation. The country’s skilled craftsmen should be proud of their incredible skills and talents.  And they deserve to be recognized for their hard work, which is often performed in difficult environments under stressful conditions. 

National Tradesmen Day, held each year on the third Friday in September, is a day when the nation pauses to thank skilled workers like auto mechanics, roofers, bricklayers, plumbers, woodworkers, electricians, carpenters, and others who help keep Canada running. During last year’s inaugural National Tradesmen Day festivities, many people found ways to show appreciation and gratitude for tradespeople by holding celebrations, recognition events and activities throughout the country. 

It’s vitally important that we say thanks and find ways to encourage skilled trades as valuable career choices for young people. Without these hard working men and women, Canada’s infrastructure and our way of life would come to a screeching halt. Despite the fact that these jobs are so important there is a looming skills shortage in Canada.  The Construction Sector Council projects that over the next 8 years there will be a shortfall of 156,000 skilled workers across the country.  This shortfall is driven primarily by expected retirements.  Between 2012 and 2020 there are 219,000 workers expected to retire and not all of these jobs will be filled through expected workforce growth.  The projected gap of 156,000 workers is a serious issue that could create project and service delays in many important areas of the economy.  

This year, IRWIN is coordinating multiple activities throughout the nation and is partnering with retailers and community groups for National Tradesmen Day celebrations. IRWIN offers some ideas Canadians can use to show their appreciation of skilled tradesmen:

  • Call your favorite handyperson and simply say “thanks for all you do.” 
  • Send this Video Link to tradespeople you know and say thanks.
  • Stop by a local jobsite where tradespeople are working and leave a box of donuts or cookies. 
  • Buy a tradesperson a cup of coffee.  
  • If your friend, husband, wife, daughter, or son is a tradesperson, make September 21 an extra special day for him/her. 
  • Support trade schools that train future trades workers, and urge governments to adopt workforce development policies for skilled trades. 
  • Talk with your children about the endless career opportunities in skilled trades, and visit Skills Canada ( to learn more about a national organization serving teachers, high school and college students preparing for careers in technical, skilled and service occupations. 

For more information visit or


Mindblowing projects to make by melting old LP records


If you have an oven and a collection of old LPs, you can have as much fun as possible with your clothes on.  

The PVC vinyl that old records are made from becomes pliable at extremely low temperatures.  Here are some creations you can try.  For complete instructions, see my weekly column.

Note: The vinyl melts in just a few minutes and is warm to the touch when you pull it from the 200-degree oven (don't use a hotter oven or the vinyl will start releasing toxins).  You can form it by hand immediately, but use leather gloves if you're nervous.  


All beginners in Record Upcycling should try a bowl.  

Pressing the vinyl between two bowls will give you a more predictable outcome:



But why be all conventional with your bowls?  Squeeze the vinyl for a more extreme effect.


Or cinch it down into a desk accessory:


Cut the vinyl into strips and form the strips into napkin rings that suit your musical friends/family:


Or form the strips into hooks for towels or jewelry:


While it's warm, cut a record in half, then reheat it and form it into a sconce:


Here's how to fasten the sconce to a wood base; first, use a regular drill bit inserted through the record's hole to drill through the two layers of vinyl that form the back of the sconce.  


Next, use a screwdriver to drive a short screw into the wooden base:


You can form the vinyl into a cylindrical sleeve to slip over a bud vase.  (Wrap it around a rolling pin or a piece of hardwood dowel)


I'm experimenting with painting the vinyl in case you don't have a penchant for shiny Seventies-looking vinyl accessories.  Whatever the case, isn't it fun to know how to upcycle your vinyl records into a funky personal statement?


July 27, 2012

Milk paint experiment; it smells great and boy, does it last

I've been experimenting with making my own interior and exterior non-VOC paint this week after reading about the durability of 9,000-year-old paintings found in Asia and Egypt.  

I didn't have room for all of my findings in my weekly column (recipes included), so this is a little addendum.  

Using concrete colourant, which is available at hardware stores, I tinted my first small batches of paint.  I got some nice golds and reds (one coat).

Bird Feeder

Then I added a little titanium dioxide (available at pottery supply places for less $ than art supply places) to some of my skim milk/Borax base and got a beautiful 'pickling' stain, which I rubbed into a rustic cricket bench.  The pigment built up in the rough texture (it's a little hard to see in the photo).  This formulation would look great on an urban fence or deck.

P1310046 - Version 2

Next, I used an exterior grade formulation made from cottage cheese and lime (which I learned about here) to coat this bench top (tinted with 'medium buff' concrete colourant).  On the buttermilk-coloured legs and base I used a two-layer cross-linking alkaline/acid formulation that I learned about from this very smart person. (To get the warm colour on the legs/base, I tinted the acidic topcoat with titanium dioxide and a tiny bit of 'lemon yellow' concrete colourant.)


I literally did NO PREP on this bench - no brushing, scraping, or even wiping with a rag. Okay, I removed one old coccoon, but that's it.  The bench had been outside for about 10 years and the original 5 coats of water-based urethane had flaked into oblivion.  Note to self: never use water-based urethane for exterior applications; it can't hack the Canadian climate.

This is the bench after a borate-laced coat of casein (milk) paint, which I made from skim millk and Borax laundry additive. 


After all of the experimenting, I think the milk/Borax formulation is the easiest to work with.  It produces a clear matte finish on bare wood (bye bye forever water-based urethane) and can be tinted easily by making a paste of water and concrete colourant and then mixing it into the milk/Borax base.  


You can make the milk/Borax stuff into an opaque white by adding lime and titanium dioxide till it's nice and thick.

Of course you can order milk paint powder from either of these two places if you don't want to go the wet 'n' wild route:

The Real Milk Paint Company (U.S.)

HomeStead House Milk Paint (Canada)

I'm aiming to paint 400 feet of fence with my own homemade milk paint later this fall. Anybody want to help?




July 26, 2012

$50 Lowe's gift card giveaway


Canadian blogger Kat at MommyKatandKids built our camp stools project with her two little ones and they did an awesome job! She's offering a $50 Lowe's gift card to a reader who wants to try one of Lowe's Family Fun Projects with their kids or grandkids. Check out the contest here.

July 03, 2012

Proof that little kids should be allowed to use power tools

In case there's any doubt in your mind about whether someone as young as 4 years old can use a drill or a saw, just watch these faces...

(See 15 easy building projects for kids 3-9)


May 25, 2012

An indoor/outdoor fort made from PVC pipe

Princess Castle

Who doesn't love a fort?  Especially if it looks like a medieval fantasy pavilion!  I made this little castle with my 3-year-old friend Charlotte using four 10-foot lengths of 3/4-inch PVC pipe.  Charlotte loved fitting the pieces together and painting her own banner.  Instructions and video available with other kid-friendly summer projects at Lowe's Family Fun Projects


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Mag's Books

  • : We're All In This Together

    We're All In This Together
    Based on four years of interviews with Steve Smith, Mag's unconventional biography reveals the personal stories, sorrows and joys that continue to inspire the man behind the Red Green legacy.

  • : How Hard Can It Be?

    How Hard Can It Be?
    Mag's quirky and entertaining book of home improvement projects for beginners.

Nota Bene

  • It’s never too late to be who you might have been. - George Eliot (1819-1880)
  • Simplicity of character is the natural result of profound thought. - My fortune cookie