Creativity, Plans and Projects

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 10, 2012

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?




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

May 15, 2012

Not your average growth chart

Last week I built a cool growth chart with my 4-year-old friend Quintyn (with some help from his little brother, Kai).  The design has sandy beaches (made from sanded caulking), sea walls (made from pea gravel), tiny houses (made from 2x2 poplar scraps with sandpaper roofs) and the metal tape from a busted tape measure, which acts as the yellow line going up the middle of the road.  Magnetic cars slide up and down the tape to measure kids' heights. SO FUN! I'm learning so much from these little kids with their fearless approach to design and colour.  No hesitation, EVER!   A video and free plans for the growth chart are available now at Lowe's Family Fun Projects.


Growth Chart

April 03, 2012

World's best fix-it compound Sugru now in primary colors!

Great news for hackers and fixers - Sugru, the mouldable silicone putty that air-cures to resilient toughness so you can repair or improve ANYTHING - is now available in primary colours that combine to create ANY SHADE on earth!!!


March 12, 2012

The (Kreg) Jig is Up! How you can start building furniture now, even if you're a noob.

One Jig to Rule Them All

Hot tool helps newbies build fantastic furniture  


Stephanie Reavis' beautiful cabinet constructed with a Kreg Jig


As spring sneaks in, it’s fun to go through each room in your house and create a punch list of things you’d like to change, add or replace.  The list can hold all of the items that bug you, from minor to major, not including relatives.  

Don’t hold back; put everything down on that list, from faucet repairs to paint jobs to pictures that no longer give you a happy feeling.  If there’s anything you see that messes with your well being - ping! (magic wand sound effect) - it goes on the list.  

If your list reveals lots of holes in the furnishings department, don't be bummed.  It’s never been easier to build stuff.  And try not to feel overwhelmed if you've got a long list; here are a few of my must-builds for comparison:  

  • pine recycling center for the kitchen
  • wainscoting in basement
  • big framed whiteboard for the home office
  • computer hutch for the kitchen
  • matching nightstands for the master bedroom
  • built-in cabinets and shelves for the master bedroom
  • floor-to-ceiling bookshelves for the den
  • window bench in the guest room
  • bed frame and headboard for the guest room
  • storage benches in the mudroom 
  • storage shelves for dumbbells in the workout room
  • built-in storage for the laundry room
  • tool storage shelves and boxes in the workshop

So, what are the chances of any of these projects actually getting built, whether in your house or mine? 

Pretty darn good.  Even if your desire level is way higher than your budget.  

Continue reading "The (Kreg) Jig is Up! How you can start building furniture now, even if you're a noob." »

March 06, 2012

Make a drop spindle

I've developed the possibly weird hobby of spinning newspaper strips into 'yarn' using a homemade drop spindle. (Sometimes, for the dessert course of spinning, I use strips of plastic food wrap instead.  It's easier to spin and makes a really tough, clear yarn.)  

When I saw drop spindles for sale for $50 at the local wool shop, I came home and made one with some doweling, a picture hook and a chopped-off bit of old candle stand (the circular part). I fastened the parts together with Sugru, the mouldable silicone putty that air cures to a resilient, springy toughness.  



Bottom view:

Yarn from food wrap:

Stay tuned for possiby weird crafts made from plastic wrap and newspapers.

March 05, 2012

Tutorial to make a penny-tiled floor


Love this fearless tutorial on how to apply and grout pennies to make a cool looking floor


  • Get ToolGirl's Newsletter
  • Watch ToolGirl's videos


  • Flickr
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Pinterest

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