A patio slab deuglified and some lessons learned

Patio set plans by The Design Confidential, built by Coffee Under the Umbrella

My DIY patio set with some cute guy

As I mentioned in a previous post, I decided to build a set of benches and tables for the sad, unused little concrete slab of a patio outside our sliding glass door to the backyard. So here’s some background.

The previous owner of our home, we were told, had a dog. The backyard, when we moved in, was kind of in shambles. And the two are apparently directly related.

I’ve never had a dog, but I guess they can wreak havoc on backyards if left to their devices in that they can dig up your entire yard, which is what happened in our case. It was a large plot of bare patches of dirt, invasive trees and ivies, and a few nice trees. A sizable oak right next to the slab and a tall pecan in another location. And that’s it for the nice trees. There was a huge, huge chinaberry tree right in the back corner of our fence that was pushing the fence over into both our next-door neighbor’s yard and that of the neighbor behind us. And several hackberry and mulberry trees along the back of the fence.

About half the yard has no shade at all. An automatic sprinkler system came with the house, which we’re really grateful for, but in the furnace of the central Texas summers, not much survives in that patch.

Some previous owner seemed to have liked flowering plants, but also seemed to have not known much about those plants. There are several really beautiful bulbs planted around the backyard…all in areas that receive little to no direct sun. There was a little patch of canna lilies that never bloomed (and also which I killed this past spring, which I realize takes some talent to do…but we won’t talk about that. I never claimed to have green thumbs!). And there are several bulbs planted right at the base of the big oak, and of course, most of them are in total shade most of the year. There are some purple irises and paper whites, which weakly bloom in the spring, and several others that have never bloomed, so I don’t know what they are. My plan was originally to dig them up last winter and relocate them to the corner that the chinaberry was at (we had it cut down shortly after moving in), then install a rock patio around the oak. But I couldn’t because the bulbs started growing in NOVEMBER last winter when we started getting more rain after the long hard drought. So there they languish another summer.

Anyway. I was unhappy about that patio, as I was about the rest of the house, for over 3 years. I’ll detail more about the lessons I learned regarding that in a later post. The red chairs were my first attempts at deuglifying the slab…after which I stopped for whatever reason and decided complaining was a lot funner. Yeah, I’m sure my husband will tell you what a party I was.

Porch slab before

Blech

As I mentioned before, planning my son’s birthday party was the main motive behind getting off my bum and deciding to actually do something about it. I needed more seating, I needed a place to put stuff on, and I needed shade. I started there.

I dislike metal patio furniture, for whatever reason. It feels cold and unwelcoming to me (even though it is often too hot to sit on during the summer). I love the warmth of wood and dislike the prices of most wood patio furniture, so lumber and power tools to the rescue again. I looked through both Ana White’s site and Rayan Turner’s, and eventually settled on these benches and this table (and if you visit the links, you will see my build showcased).

I got the table frame built and square. I felt like a rock star when I saw how perfectly in alignment the aprons were with my carpenter’s square. I had built it while it was lying upside down on the patio, and was too excited to wait for my husband to come home to help me flip it, and it wasn’t heavy, so I figured there would be no harm in flipping it over myself. I thought I was pretty resourceful until 2 of the legs broke off as I was turning it.

I think my husband came home that day to me crying (again), but by then I had cried over so many projects that he was pretty nonchalant about it. I had considerably more problems accepting my imperfections back then than I do now. He gave me a pep talk and a hug as he stepped over the drill and the bits lying on the living room floor. He was, and continues to be, so awesome. I continued to sulk that evening.

The next day, I wrote to Rayan for the first time to let her know what happened and if she could offer any suggestions. I wasn’t really expecting an answer, but I actually got one within half an hour! “Don’t panic!” was the first thing she told me. She went on assure me that I didn’t completely break the table and that it was salvageable.

So I just flipped the legs over and reattached them. I think I recall having to take some things apart and redo them, which sucked, and was stressful since I had a deadline of my son’s party, but I sucked it up and did it. And made sure my husband was able to help me flip it over. (Note: If you take these on, I’d suggest you add some support brackets underneath where the aprons attach to the legs.)

That was done. I started on the table top. And here is where I learned a very difficult lesson.

I was very aware than a 1 x 4 board does not measure 1” by 4”. Really, I was. But I was unaware that a lot of them also don’t measure 3/4” by 3.5” either. I found this out when I was drilling the pocket holes for the table top. I had attached the outside frame together beautifully, then flipped it over and let out a primal scream when I saw that every. Single. Screw. Was poking out the other side.

I had already applied 3 coats of very not cheap sealer to these boards. I measured their exact width. 5/8”. Every single one. I wanted blood. I didn’t know whose, but I wanted someone’s.

I visited a few forums and submitted my questions. Was this common? Is there any way I could make this work? Some suggested I set my Kreg jig for 1/2” stock and to just use the 1.25” screws. Most told me to demand a refund and go find a real lumberyard.

I did, then called around. The first lumberyard I called didn’t carry western red cedar and explained that finding a 1x piece of cedar that’s actually 3/4” is actually difficult these days because of the nature of how they are cut. I don’t know how true that is (perhaps someone really familiar with the industry who is reading this can enlighten me), but I had to move on since they didn’t carry it anyway.

I found this place, and the fact that it’s women-owned and managed was a bonus. I got my lumber, they were all 3/4”, and I was happy. I finished the table top and was happier. Getting the little pieces in took the longest to do because the openings weren’t equal width across the length of the table top. I thanked God when I was finished with that.

I needed benches. And I needed to cut the angled back legs with something. I borrowed a jigsaw and tried at first to cut out the rounded legs on some scrap 2x4s. I decided to scrap that plan and go with angled legs.

I borrowed my neighbor’s Porter Cable circular saw. And it scared the daylights out of me with all its testosterone. So much that I had to buy my own (I bought a little Skil saw).

I had a week to build two benches. My husband lifted his eyebrows and nodded when I told him. He patted my shoulder. “No matter what happens, I’ll still be proud of you,” he said. Ok, whatever.

And I did it. I later ended up reinforcing the joints with some diagonal bracing, stretchers, and dowels, which my neighbor kindly showed me how to do. But I finished them before the party. I bought the cushions at Garden Ridge Pottery – they are actually meant for a lounge chair, but were the perfect length. I drilled an umbrella hole for the table, then looked for the umbrella. The one we chose is from Costco, made with Sunbrella fabric. The base is a very heavy granite square with wheels. The best part is that we got both from craigslist.

Bench bracing by Coffee Under the Umbrella

How I reinforced the bench

I got some charming little hanging candle holders from Pier 1 and Ikea and eventually some potted plants. The small white table I threw together with scraps from this plan. Another neighbor kindly gave me the baby spider plant that you can’t really see, and the stupid-heavy concrete planter it’s in was in the backyard when we moved in. And yet another neighbor gave me the bougainvillea in the white planter. You might be able to suspect why I decided to stop griping over the ugly factor of my house – because I have the most amazing and generous neighbors.

So that is the story of my patio, and the picture is where it stands today.

Patio after by Coffee Under the Umbrella

Today!

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Ana White kid chairs and table

Ana White $4 chairs and Clara Table built by Coffee Under the Umbrella

Ana White $4 chairs and Clara Table

My little boy needed a table to sit at. The adults needed a “kids table” for when we have dinner guests. This served both functions. I had enough scrap for two chairs and spent a few bucks on the lumber for the table, some Valspar primer and spray paint, Kreg jig for the table top, and there it was. Another set of Ana White’s plans for you.

The only modification I made to the chairs was that I used pocket holes to fasten the back aprons to the side aprons for added strength instead of using wood screws through the end grain. I was barely able to squeeze my drill in the square but did it by severely contorting my wrist and hand.

My first strip job and the lessons learned from it.

(Yes, I went there). I bought this set in sad shape.

Sad peeling lawn chair, before

Sad peeling chair

2 chairs connected by a table plus one separate chair. I somehow fit this whole thing in the back of a Honda CR-V. Structurally sound, and desperately peeling. I had never sanded anything in my life and didn’t anticipate the extensive work that would go into this. I started sanding manually because I was just cheap. I am the child of an Asian engineer and married to another tightwad, after all. So I bought a 60-grit sanding block and started sanding away one night on my naked back patio slab over a plastic tarp. And started noticing all the spaces in between the boards that I couldn’t get to.

So I bought a belt sander off Craigslist (don’t judge me. No, really…just don’t), not knowing anything about them at the time, and took the whole. Thing. Apart. And stripped it. And it died 2 weeks later. It fulfilled its mission and was given proper respects. I’ve since learned to invest in tools that will see a lot of use and haven’t looked back.

I used Zinsser’s oil based B-I-N primer on one set and their water based version on another (that was over 2 years ago and I have no idea why I did that). Then spray painted them a bright cherry red from Valspar’s line. And was happy with them for a while. So I threw them on our back patio slab and ignored them and the rest of the patio for about a year.

Red chairs on a sad patio

Red chairs on a sad patio slab

So fast forward to a year later. My trashy slab with no covering was really bothering me. And looking out the window to see bright red chairs on it made my blood pressure rise slightly. Kind of literally because it was 100+ degrees all summer and red just made me feel hotter. And my son was having a birthday party in a few weeks and I hated the idea of having guests stand around on a slab. So I built some benches and a table. And will blog about that in a later post. Back to the chairs, I had a gallon of $5 oops paint from Valspar (I go to Lowe’s a lot if you couldn’t tell) just sitting in my garage. A lot more than a gallon – my husband calls me a paint whore – but one of them in particular happened to be outdoor paint and in a shade of blue that reminded me of a swimming pool.

By now, the red paint on the chair that was primed with water based primer was peeling (I’ve learned a lot since then), so I sanded, primed them all with Zinsser’s oil based primer, painted 2 coats, done. Ta-da.

Blue refinished patio chairs

Patio chairs refinished blue, take 2.