Nearly Worthless Planter

Once I mostly painted the Minnipin House, I turned my attention to other outdoor aesthetics. There’s no one who’d call my front yard a showpiece but I’m trying to improve things incrementally.

First up was the undistinguished front stoop. It looked better than it did pre-paint but needed a little gravitas. Or drama. Or something. So I poked about and stumbled on Ana White’s Frame & Panel Planter Plan.  That inspired me build a tall, painted planter for the stoop. Topped with an old topiary frame, I’d say it generally worked out OK, though I’m still waiting on my vine hydranga to blossom.

Here's the undistinguished front stoop with the first Ana White plan tall planter
Here’s the undistinguished front stoop with the first Ana White plan tall planter

Still the stoop looked . . . incomplete. Because of mailbox placement, I didn’t want to try to match the existing planter exactly in terms of height, but it needed something. And I did have a second swirly trellis that I wanted to do something with, but I just wasn’t sure what. Deep in No Spend Spring, this project seemed to be on endless hold.

Sorting wood in the garage the other day, I made a pile of leftover outdoor wood, mostly bits of fir and cedar and some mystery stuff that had clearly lived outside for a time. As part of No Spend Spring, I’d already used some old fence tips to make a rustic succulent planter but until I started really looking at the pile, had assumed I didn’t really have enough to do a larger, more distinguished looking planter that would sort of match the one already in place on the front stoop.

Also, I was guilty of doing that silly thing where you assume you need to use all the same kinds of materials to make something great. I didn’t have enough fir for a whole big planter. Or enough cedar. Or enough mystery outside wood. Or any 1x3s. But combining the scraps? Making it smaller? And painting my standard accent black it so the differences in wood would be invisible? Possible!

Outdoor-suitable scrap lumber pile.
Outdoor-suitable scrap lumber pile.

So that was my first near-miss opportunity. Time to eyeball it, measuring again and again.

I looked back onto the Ana White plans to refresh the project in my mind. I’d try to make this one look like a shorter version of my original. I scanned the recipe and got to work.

Because I wasn’t using the plan’s exact measurements, I decided to cut all the big pieces first and just make sure I had enough scraps as I went along. There would be just enough leftover cedar and fir pieces if I went for a 15″ height. 15″ would give me enough of a rise for sweet potato vine to tumble prettily over the stoop. I could stick something in the middle to go up and climb over my second swirly trellis. I also decided vary from the plan by using only salvaged 1x2s, and not any 1x3s, which I didn’t have anyway.

Here’s how all that cutting played out.

Side panels of fir and cedar.

Side panels of fir and cedar. Rails of 1x2s salvaged from another disaster project.

Panels with frame pieces
Panels with frame pieces
Things to watch out for: salvaged wood missing pieces, unextracted nails or screws
Things to watch out for in salvaged wood missing pieces, unextracted nails or screws

Next I used the trusty pocket hole jig to make the frames. So proud of myself! I actually remembered to  make sure the crappy, damaged parts of the wood faced inside the planter, where they’d never be seen. And I remembered that two panels needed to be 1.5″ wider than the other two.

Pocket holing the frame pieces
Pocket holing the frame pieces
Imperfect sides need to face inside the planter.
Imperfect sides need to face inside the planter.

Now it was time to nail the cedar fence planks to the frames . . . and I discovered I’d cut them too short. Like seriously too short. Impossibly too short. Hard to salvage too short. Why didn’t I read the plan more carefully? Too damned short. Argh!

No! Oh no! My planks are too short for my frames. I JUST MEASURED WRONG. ALL ON ME. ALL OF IT.
No! Oh no! My planks are too short for my frames. I JUST MEASURED WRONG. ALL ON ME. ALL OF IT.

At this point I was seriously tempted to just go buy a few more cedar fence planks. They’re pretty cheap when you’re only buying 2-3; my cost would be $5-$7.50. But that would be the opposite of the spirit of the project and a direct violation of my No Spend Spring commitment and all the things I’ve been learning. If nothing else, I know myself well enough to know that every time I looked at that planter, it would bug.


The frames could be cut down. I could turn them into a 12″ frame instead of the 15″ I was going for. That would change the look not for the better. And, for once I’d let my frames set up properly so the glue and screws were just about perfect. Busting them apart to whop 2-3″ from the frames would be tedious, would damage the wood even more. And I just didn’t want to.

This is the point in time where it’s a really good idea to take a long, tall drink of water and do something else for a time. Deep breaths. Just because my easy project didn’t turn out easy . . . well, it could be abandoned. No one but me would know. Or I could blow the budget. Or I could figure something else out.

The issue was mounting the fence planks when they were too short to stick onto the frame. And coming up with something that wouldn’t shorten the frame.

Hmm. The stubby cedar & fir planks did have middles! A bar across the middle of the frame could solve that. And I did have enough leftover 1×2″ to make four little bars. So that’s what I did. It wasn’t going to exactly match the look of the bigger planter but painted black, it wouldn’t be jarring. I can live without matchy matchy as long as I can get some harmony going.

Here's a frame with the unplanned middle bar added.
Here’s a frame with the unplanned middle bar added.
Here's the assembled planter with the middle bar holding the panels onto the side.
Here’s the assembled planter with the middle bar holding the panels onto the side. Mind those gaps! If you look closely, you can see that my panels don’t go all the way up the frames.

The end result was a little wobbly. You can see some air at the top, where the planks aren’t big enough. I decided that should work okay because I’d be lining the planter with black landscape fabric so the gaps would hopefully sort of disappear. And the weight of the dirt would stabilize the wobble a bit. This planter wasn’t going to move around basically ever, so this precarious plan might not be so ridiculous.


Yes, you can see air between the top of the frame and the panels. Not ideal but my reality.
Yes, you can see air between the top of the frame and the panels. Not ideal but my reality. This pic also shows the slats inserted into the planter to save dirt.

Though 15″ tall, I wanted a shallower planter because I’m pretty parsimonious about dirt. I really am. If I have extra good quality dirt, I want it to go into raised bed vegetables or as many containers as possible. So I used some scrap 2x2s to create a ridge and nail in some slats, making the planting depth about 8 inches.

I inserted 2x2s in the corners to provide a ridge for the inside slats and add a little stability.
I inserted 2x2s in the corners to provide a ridge for the inside slats and add a little stability.

Now it was time to add the top ridge, which would help the cosmetics quite a bit. Unfortunately, I’d used up so much of my scrap 1×2, there would not be enough to do the whole rim. Time to patch the little left over gap.

Here's the patched top edge.
Here’s the patched top edge.

This is what I ended up with. Made from salvaged wood, it was — and still is — riddled with holes from extracted screws and brads. This is the point where you’re supposed to whip out the hole filler and get to work.

Here's the assembled leftover/salvaged wood planter, riddled with holes and dings from
Here’s the assembled leftover/salvaged wood planter, riddled with holes and dings from assembly and past lives. Ready for paint!

Only I couldn’t. Because I’m out of that stuff and we’re in No Spend Spring. So I got to work with my left over black SharkSkin Deck and Siding Stain, hoping for the best. While that stuff doesn’t totally fill in gouges in a beat up deck, it does have a smoothing over effect.

And this is the result.


Here's the finished salvaged planter. That's sweet pea climbing inside the trellis.
Here’s the finished salvaged planter. That’s sweet pea climbing inside the trellis.
Here's a looking down view. I yanked some sweet pea from one of the window boxes to climb through the trellis. I'm hoping the sweet potato vine in two colors will spill prettily down the stoop. I think it's  pretty hard to see where I patched the top rim of the planter.
Here’s a looking down view. I yanked some sweet pea from one of the window boxes to climb through the trellis. I’m hoping the sweet potato vine in two colors will spill prettily down the stoop. I think it’s pretty hard to see where I patched the top rim of the planter.


Here's the undistinguished front stoop with the first Ana White plan tall planter
A look back at the before.
Here it is with two semi-matching planters and topiaries.
Here it is with two semi-matching planters and topiaries.


And here's the stoop with the flag flying.
And here’s the stoop with the flag flying. We’re ready for 4th of July now!

So, I am pleased to have moved these outdoor wood scraps into being something useful, that gives the front stoop a little more balance. And I think that the middle bar I had to use essentially disappears painted black.

I still have dreams of a bigger front stoop, the kind you can put a rocker on. And railings. And a lot of other things. But this is it for now.

What do you think? What would you have done differently (besides measure twice)? Is the stoop now too matchy matchy? Should I paint the concrete dark gray (that’s what the concrete base of the house is painted.

As always, thanks for reading.











North End Largesse

New to Boise, I picked this neighborhood because of park proximity, walkability, and the charm of older homes. Though pricey compared to other neighborhoods in Boise, these amenities outweighed any fantasies I had about a home with a master suite, gourmet kitchen, or swimming pool.

What I didn’t know then was how generous a neighborhood it would be. I was prepared for California-transplant hate (which I didn’t get, ever), but not the active welcome and practical help.

Today I am grateful for the gift of plants from my kindly North End neighbors. Thanks to them, seven tomato plants are now in the raised bed, ready to go to town in the coming heat. And the bald patch in the front yard is now planted with day lilies that one neighbor thinned from her bed. I’m so excited to have plants in a spot I thought would be bare all summer due to No Spend Spring!

Wheelbarrow full of lillies, free!
Wheelbarrow full of lilies, free!

The Mints are as grateful as psychopaths ever are, as well. Another neighbor lost her cat and showed up on my stoop with a bin full of dry cat food.

I don’t remember this happening in my old neighborhood, even though I lived there more than a decade, and had lovely, friendly neighbors. When neighbors dropped by, or hailed you outside, it could be to chat, comment on one’s landscape, complain about something, or demand support for some issue. Not to just give.

North Enders seem to be heavy NextDoor users, and they use it well. Sure, there are a fair number of lectures, issue related, and for sale posts. Yet there seem to be even more about found pets, creatures who need homes, and useful free things (lumber! plants!). Now and then there are calls for help, refreshingly creative ones. At the holiday one neighbor asked for help for some homeless friends, struggling to get into housing with a disabled child. Her plea wasn’t focused on cash but on the short term assist that was needed. This meant specific items to help this family with practical needs and a holiday celebration. OK, not rocket science but my California-jaded self is just so used to pleas only for cash.

I posted once, trying to find a home for a puppy a friend was fostering. This was met with practical offers for help for the little guy. Sure, there were a few unhelpful lectures as well, but scanning — and ignoring — those were a small price to pay to help the puppy. That puppy quickly found a home.

It’s not just online. I notice it out dog walking as well. There’s a genuine interest in my beast, the occasional invite to sit down by a front yard fire, collegial alerts about foxes in the area (the Mints seem impervious), and the like. Sometimes free stuff is just left out for the taking. Or the lost posted on telephone poles (and found again). The North End Neighborhood Association (NENA) is active too, and volunteers kindly deliver a quarterly newspaper.

I’m not sure what inspires all this kindliness. Is it a Boise thing? Is it smallish city  living? Not sure. Just lucky.




Coffee Sack Outdoor Pillows

Last year I found a couple of coffee sack banners at a garage sale, two for $5. This was a better deal than the $15 you usually see and I liked the colors. I also liked the text on the sacks: Costa Rica for one and a portion of my name on the other.

I thought of using them for a rustic roman shade but that didn’t really work for the pretty little egg house. The burlap was too rough for indoor pillows so outdoor pillows it would be, ideally something flat for the outdoor bench.

No Spend Spring came around and with it, that twitch to get the outdoor living spaces in shape. I had the material for the covers, but nothing for the guts.

One day I was cursing myself for dropping $20 on an ugly lounge chair cushion. At the time it was “good enough” and $20 didn’t seem that much. Now I was stuck with the cushion and would rather have had the $20 back. (Yup, there’s yet another lesson in wise spending.) I’d tried painting it with some latex and fabric medium but it just stayed ugly. Its two virtues were its waterproofness and relatively flat shape.

Lightbulb moment! Could it be reused to serve as the guts for one of the coffee sack pillows? I tried stuffing one with it and it was just too long. Hmm. Back to hating it unless . . . hacking it in two at one of the seams would right size it and give me two cushions. The cut would compromise the waterproof aspect, but not too much. Plus I’d never have to look at the hideous old cushion again.

Found the scissors, hauled out the sewing machine. Fifteen minutes and two seams later . . .

Coffee and Costa Rica, wonderful to dream of
Coffee and Costa Rica, wonderful to dream of

2015-05-18 14.21.40

It was a huge relief when Tattoo indicated approval.
Whew! Tattoo says they can stay.

But now there’s this question: should I leave the bench in natural pine and just seal it? Or SharkSkin it black or blue?

And back on topic, what have you done with coffee sacks?

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

The salad bar!

I’m late to plant salad greens but I did get some arugula in. For me, food planting needs to happen in boxes and beds because of the horrible Mints. Cats are so appreciative of loose dirt and are never troubled by anxiety over destroying your seedlings.

Poking about one day, I saw a lovely idea for some small scale raised box plantings. Out of my price range but perhaps possible with some leftover lumber.

Inspirational planter ladder at a home decor shop. Lovely  and $100+
Inspirational planter ladder at a home decor shop. Lovely and $100+

Diane was moving and gave me the ladder from her kids’ bunk beds. This was perfect for my salad bar, helping me elevate a few boxes out of convenient reach for the cats. And it could lean up against the house, shielding the greens from harsh afternoon light. Easy, simple paint project. And exactly in keeping with the goals of No Spend Spring.

the bunk bed ladder before
The bunk bed ladder before.

The arugula is now sprouting. The grass underneath it is destined to be mowed. Really soon.

The salad bar is almost open. Yum!
The salad bar is almost open. Yum! The planter boxes are made from found lumber (rafters!) and leftover stain. They could be screwed in but I left them loose for easy repositioning
Yum! The nice thing about thinning arugula is you get to eat the rejects
Yum! The nice thing about thinning arugula is you get to eat the rejects

I hate the idea of thinning, seems so wasteful. Plus I get so excited when anything sprouts. On the flip side, when it’s food, you get to eat the tender shoots. These I sauteed with a splash of toasted sesame oil and onions. It’s a perfect bed for a roasted portobello mushroom with a side of rice.

Arugula shoots! Also tasty
Arugula shoots! Also tasty

Deck Life Extension: SharkSkin!

When I moved in, the deck on the little egg house was already rickety. Boise is a four season climate and though it’s pretty dry here in the high desert, it can be tough on a deck.

I’d thought I’d quickly replace the deck but things didn’t roll out exactly as planned. This year, I noticed the deck was giving both a barefoot me and the dog splinters. I still didn’t want to replace it. Time to ponder alternatives for extending its life.

Initially I was fine with the grayed out look of the deck. It looked like really old wood, much like my teak & eucalyptus furniture left to gray naturally. Plus I’ve painted the house exterior in shades of gray and the fence is similarly weathered. So at first I thought about just finding some kind of sealant. But I kind of wanted more of a hard coating that would smooth out the rough wood. And I wanted it easy.

Here's the original deck, nicely greyed wood but not specially pretty
Here’s the original deck, nicely greyed wood but not specially pretty

That got me thinking about a painted look. Since stains and sealing requires refreshing every couple of years, it didn’t seem more convenient than painting. Also, I love the look of painted wood floors.

First I stumbled onto Rustoleum’s Restore Deck Coating and got kind of excited. It seemed like just the thing. However consultation with the home store’s staff informed me that you did need the special roller painting kit to apply it, which would be awkward with the deck rail’s many tricky angles. They suggested painting the deck floor and staining and sealing the rails, but I didn’t want to mess with two-three different products. And, if I was going to do this, it meant going to an actual color and there was nothing perfect for my place in the color deck (though there were many, many choices). Finally, user reviews were pretty mixed.

49504 - 1 Gallon

Next I found SharkSkin Deck and Siding Stain by Cloverdale at my nearby Rodda (Kelly-Moore store). The more I looked at it, the more SharkSkin really did seem perfect! Tintable to any color, it was designed just for my situation: a good, durable coating for a beat-up old deck. No need to seal over the paint job, just plan to do two coats. Designed specifically for Pacific Northwest conditions, it could handle Boise’s four season climate if it could handle weather in the Sawtooths. Also, it could be used for siding so if I had leftovers, I could use them on my never-quite-finished exterior paint job project. Prep (scrubbing and bleach), seemed doable. Price was good, about $28 a gallon, making this a $60 project.


Once I decided on SharkSkin, I decided to go a little crazy on color. This might not be a forever deck so why not paint it blue, like the accent color in my exterior? This particular deck is an extension of the dining room /kitchen space. I like an indoors that flows to an outdoor room.

So blue it was. Only, it wasn’t.  It was just . . . so much blue.

Max, not convinced the blue deck is worth shifting about for
Max, not convinced the blue deck is worth shifting about for

Time to ponder a little more. I’ve always liked black. I’d avoided black because I thought it would show dust on this project and be to hot. But what about black and and the light grey that is the main color of the house? This could give the deck a sort of fun holiday look without being too wild or too hot. And I wouldn’t be wasting stain since I needed to do two+ coats anyway: blue was just the first coat.

Black and grey stripes, a little more interesting
Black and grey stripes, a little more interesting

The black and grey didn’t work for me either. With the blue gone, the deck seemed to have no relationship to the garage. I liked the black rails but the grey just wasn’t gelling. It looked like it wanted to be white but still wouldn’t tie to the garage. Soooo . . . back to blue. With two dark colors, the deck might be hot but probably, by the time summer was upon us, not too bad since the tree that shades the deck was leafing in.

This is what we ended up with:

Blue (Home Depot Restless Sea) and black (Rodda/Kelly-Moore Cobalt)
Blue (Home Depot Restless Sea) and black (Rodda/Kelly-Moore Cobalt)
Staging the deck with Adirondacks
Staging the deck with Adirondacks
And here's the deck view from the back door. Perfect place for a little morning coffee or meditation
And here’s the deck view from the back door. Perfect place for a little morning coffee or meditation
Here's the deck from ground level, looking at the back door. Restless Sea changes with the light making it . . . restless! Love it!
Here’s the deck from ground level, looking at the back door. Restless Sea changes with the light making it . . . restless! Love it!

So, that’s my sealed / color stained in deck.  A month or two in, the SharkSkin is holding up fine. Furniture dragged around doesn’t seem to scratch it. It hoses down OK when the deck gets dusty with spring debris. The black does show dust but not in a way that bugs be too much. I’ve done a few touch ups but these are mostly due to someone’s sloppy paint technique than a problem with the SharkSkin. The blue and the black do feel pretty warm on the feet when the sun is directly overhead but so far it’s not bothering me or the Mints or keeping us off the deck. (Despite my rants on comfort as a priority, I guess I’m willing to sacrifice a little comfort/function for the right look!) On the cost front, this ended up a $90 project because of the gray. But that’s OK because I plan to use it on the siding (I needed a little extra of that to finish the main house anyway).

What do you think? Too much or too little colorwise? Am I the only one a little charmed by the stripey deck?

Thanks for reading and sharing!



Rustic fence tip planter

I was lucky enough to score some old cedar fence slats from my local ReStore on the cheap. These were destined to become my decorative shutters, which meant cutting off the dog ear tips.  There wasn’t much to them, maybe six or seven inches but I think of cedar as so precious, I was at loth to put them in the recycle bin.

Time flowed. Spring sprang. As is usual for Spring, outdoor projects floated through my brain. I’d been itching to build some planters but this Spring was not  just a regular one, it was a No Spend Spring, so I was in heavy making do mode. Planters were definitely on the want-not-need list, so I was on lumber restriction for making anything.

One day I was looking at an over-crowded succulent plant pot and the messy little pile of fence tips caught my eye. About 45 minutes later we had:

2015-04-25 16.13.13

This looked incomplete and was a little rickety so I stapled a metal band around for a little extra stability. Hopefully it will rust soon.

Here's the rustic fence tip planter
Here’s the rustic fence tip planter

2015-04-26 09.28.52

If you’ve got old fence tips and want to do something similar, here’s how:


  • Fence tips leftover from another project
  • Leftover lumber for base, ideally fir, cedar or something water resistant
  • Nails/nail gun
  • Saw
  • Drill
  • Stapler
  • Metal flashing or other material to create band

Building the planter:

  1. Figure out how big your planter can be given your leftover materials. Mine was about a 16″ square.
  2. Build a simple base. I had leftover fir, which also does well outside so I several pieces, cut them to 16 size, and screwed them into a base
  3. Nail your tips into sides of the base
  4. Drill drainage holes in the base
  5. Staple a metal band or other band to all sides. If it’s too shiny, scratch it up with a wire brush and rinse it in vinegar.
  6. Plant

I love this bad boy! I’ve got it wedged next to the lawn so the succulents can benefit from sprinklers and won’t require much from me. And it’s making me think that maybe a rustic style planter filled with succulents is a good future thrifty gift idea.

Have you cobbled together a planter from found materials? What’s your favorite planter project?

No Spend Spring

Circumstances dictate that this is a No Spend Spring for me.That means no cash outlay on anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. Dog food? Yes. Crystals to finish my chandelier project? On indefinite hold. And what I must buy, I must find less costly ways to purchase and use less of it (sorry Max, that goes for kibble too).

This No Spend living is often NOT FUN. It’s tedious to always be counting, counting. It’s not fun to juggle or re prioritize a grocery list which started out modest (no really, peanut butter is a thrifty choice. And yes, we’ll be freezing that leftover baguette). I know I’m blessed not to be desperate. My version of No Spend living is about figuring out how to cover the important stuff until cash gets better.

In my heart and in my head, I know that this time is really good for my intellect and my character. Already I can feel myself stretching to figure out how to do the things I want to do without spending money. For middle class folks, it becomes so easy to do the convenient thing, especially if it seems modestly priced. No Spend living has raised my awareness of the general American addiction to convenience — and how that siphons away precious resources that most of us will wish we had back one day. Because right now I do wish I had that $20 back I blew on a “good enough” outdoor cushion that I now loathe.

I think also, it’s so easy to forget how hard it is for so many when you live in that middle class bubble. Living No Spend means living a lot like the the poorer among us. Little driving, a lot of walking and biking. Everything takes more time. A wickedly self-indulgent meal out is at a crappy drive through. Coupons are interesting. Socializing is sharing a home cooked meal, taking a walk or game night. All this reminds me that for so many, this endless figuring is an enduring fact of life, not a (hopefully) temporary glitch. So I feel like this is making me more aware, slightly less insensitive to the struggles of others.

Another benefit of No Spend Spring is that projects, instead of getting started and stalling when something else takes precedence, are slowly getting completed, especially if the supplies were already on hand. Also, because of the No Spend thing, many of the projects don’t get done in that idealized way that was the original plan. Sometimes frustrating, it’s actually always quite an interesting challenge. My view of a dollar has changed. Because I’m serious about No Spend, I think on every dollar, apply the want/need test, and only rarely indulge in satisfying the want.

So this is me, trying to embrace this time and way of living, hoping to get some lasting lessons from it. And it’s me, experiencing a lot of smug moments, as I do accomplish goals without reaching for my wallet. Living No Spend does not mean living No Do. Projects are my therapy and joy right now. Speaking of which, here are some of this No Spend Spring’s Projects:

DIY Shoe Rack: I wanted those shoes organized and accessible. The budget for new wood wasn’t huge but it wasn’t in the plan either. No Spend Spring scored me some free garage sale lumber and reminded me to shop the rafters of my garage first.

Landing strip chair: In my shoes off home, seating at every outside door is a must. I was making do with an awkward chair (kept hitting my elbows) when I lucked into one from a downsizing friend. I had a dream of what to re-cover the seat with but that beautiful new fabric would cost $17 . . .

Rustic fence tip planter: This is the perfect project for leftover lumber of awkward sizes!

Salad bar!: Diane’s old bunk bed ladder is now my salad bar!

Correcting the basement stairwell walls: Did it wrong the first time. Thought I’d have to wait and redo it when new plywood was in the budget. Turned out there was a “vintage” piece lurking in the basement rafters.

Gallery wall: No spend doesn’t mean no decorate. It just means mining your existing supplies.

Closet refreshes: Entry way or bedroom, No Spend Spring is an ideal time to freshen a closet.

Coffee sack pillows: The sacks had been languishing in the garage. If I could just find the right cushion insert, they could be come pillows.

What about you? Do you go through No Spend waves or is it just me who hasn’t managed things ideally? What lessons have you taken away?


DIY Sliding Barn Door Hardware aka Rewards of Thrifting with a Wish List and Open Mind

One nice thing about this 1947 cottage is the garage has two entrances, one of which was a cool looking — and working — sliding barn door. But the other door? A beat up old steel door that couldn’t actually close — and, because it was steel, couldn’t be trimmed to properly close. It also didn’t take paint too well.

This is the cool existing slider, which I'd already painted
This is the cool existing slider, which I’d already painted
This is the untrimmable steel door, scraped the concrete, rusting on the inside, not paint friendly and wouldn't close all the way
This is the untrimmable steel door, scraped the concrete, rusting on the inside, not paint friendly and wouldn’t close all the way

Because the back of the house faces the detached garage, I look at those two doors ALL the time. I tried sprucing up the view with outdoor furnishings and the like but since the bad door had to be propped open, you basically could always see inside the garage. Just not pretty.

One day I decided to poke around in the garage rafters in a hunt for some free lumber (I dwell in hope). Many cobwebs and displaced spiders later I discovered a door that matched my existing slider! Eureka! This beauty had obviously once possessed the exact hardware the existing door has but the old kit was nowhere to be found. And so the plot hatched: restore the dual sliders.

Old door pulled down from the rafters
Old door pulled down from the rafters

In my naivete, I assumed that sliding door hardware would be slightly more pricey than regular door mounting hardware. Oops.

Reality set in: sliding door kits that would allow me to remount the old door and sorta match the current one were not cheap. The stuff  from various vendors was pretty. Yet everything I could find was totally out of my $50 allocated for this project, around $150-$350 for a quality outdoor slider kit.

Next step: read a bunch of DIY posts. There were many where folks bought full kits and installed those.  These were fun to see yet mostly for inside sliders and out of my want-not-need budget.

Mostly the posts were about building custom or refreshing vintage doors. Great ideas but already I had the door. I needed to get that bad boy up without spending more than $50. Also, this project required outdoor quality hardware whereas a lot of the pretty hardware kits were for inside use. The most useful two posts from searching on “DIY barn door hardware” were:

Instructables‘ sliding barn door with skateboard wheels. So impressive! And materials that could be used outside. However, I decided skateboard wheels would not look well with my 1947 cottage look. Yet it got me thinking about what other wheely type items might work — and I added “some kind of barn door wheel/pulley” to my thrifting wish list.

Addicted 2 Decorating had a GREAT parts list and picture to go with it, which got me looking at plumbing materials and brought the project in around an impressive $60. For my outdoor use though, bottom-mount wheels weren’t going to work on my bumpy, often cluttered surface. I needed a top hanging solution. But I would totally use their plans inside.

Design the Life You Want to Live uses pretty custom made wood wheels, which they also sell. More than I wanted to spend with this project but if I were doing an inside project, would be worth considering.

Fast forward five months, which means about 60+ yard and estate sales visited with my dream finds list hovering in the back of my mind. And then, at this one estate sale in the garden tools pile, I looked over and saw:

Two pulleys from a North End home, circa 1915. Owners said they were used to hoist a wheel chair up and down stairs!
Two pulleys from a North End home, circa 1915. Owners said they were used to hoist a wheel chair up stairs!
$10 each! And I had to think twice about it!
$10 each! And I had to think twice about it!

For $20, my wheel problem might be solved. With the rustic look, I thought they’d go okay with the cottage exterior, even though my two doors would not be matchy matchy. And I loved that they came from an old local home.

Next it was time to assemble the the rest of the hanging kit. Top of the list would be to find some kind of plate I could add to the door that could handle the fat hooks and be tough enough.

For once I did what you’re always supposed to do and rummaged around my nearby ReStore for something that might work. In the framing hardware area, I stumbled on two long, sturdy metal slats(?) with big holes punched in them. They’re used for something in construction – another customer in the checkout line said they’d be priced at $45 each new. So big, they were definitely overkill for my project but I couldn’t beat the price: $5 for two. And I just loved that feeling of thrifty re-purposing.

What are these?  I dunno. The guy at the store said they cost $40 new. ReStore charged me $5.
What are these? I dunno. A guy at the store said they cost $45 new. ReStore charged me $5. Most important, they passed the fat hook/matching hole test.

Next, it was time to paint the new old door using leftover accent paint from my DIY house painting job.


Home Depot isn't paying me but I gotta say, I love the coverage oin this Behr Marquee stuff.
Home Depot isn’t paying me but I gotta say, I love the coverage on this Behr Marquee stuff.

And once that was done, it was time to measure the door, the opening and the wall space I had to work with. Next I went to see the knowledgeable guys at the nearby True Value.  I had the shopping list from Addicted 2 Decorating and walked out of there with:

  • Two galvanized iron floor flanges (1/2″),
Floor flanges
Floor flanges


Two four-inch nipples (1/2″)

4" nipples


Two elbows (1/2″)

One 8′ conduit pipe (1/2″), custom cut and threaded (I learned that means they put the little grooves in the ends).

Elbows and conduit
Elbows and conduit

Now it was time to measure, measure and remeasure. It turned out I made the pipe too long so I had to trek back to the store and get it cut and re-threaded. This added another $1.30 to the project, a super bargain.  (Yes, I was ready to buy a whole new conduit pipe. I am that ignorant.) Then, I had to make sure that the rail mounting height would be high enough to handle my pulleys, the door hardware and the door itself.

Next I mounted the pipe/rail, which was the trickiest part of the project after all the measuring. Here’s why: 1) I wanted to do the whole thing all by myself. Having a second person would have made it easier since there was a lot of weight to balance during the install but this adventure is mostly about doing stuff on my own. So I used my painting ladder to prop up the rail wherever I needed a second pair of hands. 2) The guys at the store told me to expect the rail to bow a little. If my pulleys/wheels were normal weight, it would not be a problem but the vintage pulleys were really heavy — about 20-30lbs each. So no matter how level I managed to make it, it wouldn’t look perfect. (The guys at the store nixed my brilliant idea of strengthening the conduit by inserting some rebar: said it wouldn’t help with the sag.) Still, I told myself, one step at a time and all that.

First flange in and nipple screwed in.
First flange in and nipple screwed in. Why is a straight little piece of pipe called a nipple?
First elbow added
First elbow added
What the elbow looks like from the outside
What the elbow looks like from the outside
Now the conduit screwed into the first elbow
Now the conduit screwed into the first elbow
And now the tricky part: threading the pulleys on and propping it all up while I installed the second flange.
And now the tricky part: threading the pulleys on and propping it all up with the ladder while I installed the second flange.
Two pulleys threaded
Two pulleys threaded

After that, I screwed in the second elbow. Next, I installed the second flange.  While I’d marked it off at 7′, I had to be prepared to adjust the length slightly because the elbows, nipples and conduit screwed in altogether ended up with a slightly different length. Once elbow #2 was in, I could tell where the second flange should go. Last, I screwed the second nipple into the flange and elbow at the same time. I wasn’t really sure how or if that would work but somehow it did.

Now it was time to test the mystery door hanger part on the pulleys. As you can see, once there’s weight on the hook, it flips the pulley so it rides on top of the conduit.

Testing they mystery part that will be used to hang the doors
Testing they mystery part that will be used to hang the doors

After that, I propped the door up under the pulleys to make sure the measurements still worked and the door would hang level.

Door propped up under the pulleys.
Door propped up on scrap lumber under the pulleys.

I attached the door in place. This is probably not the best way to do it however, I was working solo and it was all getting very, very heavy. I just didn’t trust my back to hold up to trying to raise up and hang the door on the hooks the door once the hanging hardware was mounted. Guess this is another spot where a second pair of hands could have helped. Still, according to my level, that door got installed level. Still, you’ll see from the conduit sag that it’s not perfectly level. Most important: finally it was in!

Door installed!
Door installed!

I was pretty excited and relieved at this point. I took a big step back and . . .

Two sliding doors, sadly not charmingly mismatched
Two sliding doors, sadly not charmingly mismatched

It did not look fabulous. The functionality, yes, it worked. But my cool vintage pulleys seemed lost next to the too shiny silver hanging slats. I’m not a fan of painting hardware but in this case . . . my friend Kate agreed. I thought about just scuffing the slats to take out the shine but they’d still be vast. Time to whip out the spray paint.

Not matchy matchy sliders but okay for now
Not matchy matchy sliders but okay for now

So that’s it!

I love it! It hides the ugly stuff inside the garage, opens easily, stays where ever I put it and is fun to look at.  Also in this last photo, I’ve added a door pull (for convenience, looks) and a stay roller on the bottom (for stability, to keep the bottom of the door against the garage).

Looking back/better next time:

The main three things I did right were:

  1. rummage in the rafters to find a free door
  2. look for online advice
  3. stayed open to alternatives for conventional sliding door wheels

If I had the scratch — and someday I might — the one thing I’d do differently is talk to a metal fabricator (or blacksmith?) about getting a sturdy replacement for the conduit, which does sag under the weight of the heavy pulleys. Maybe over time it will bother me that the two doors don’t have matching hardware and I’ll redo the whole thing with a pre-made kit. But right now I’m really happy with it. I got the functionality I want and the whole thing was really pretty fun.

I did overspend against the $50 budget. Percentage-wise, by a lot, 22%. In dollars, less than $15.

Project costs summary:

  • Door: $0, found in garage rafters
  • Paint: $0, leftover from house painting
  • Wood screws for hardware mounting: $0, leftover
  • Two vintage roller/pulleys: $20, ($10 each), estate sale
  • Two 4″ nipples: $3.18, ($1.59 each), True Value Hardware
  • Two elbows: $1.98, ($0.99 each), True Value Hardware
  • Two floor flanges: $4.98     ($2.49 each), True Value Hardware
  • 1/2″ conduit plumbing pipe cut to 8′ length: $13.75
  • Re-cut and re-thread pipe to 7′ length: $1.30
  • Two re-purposed door hanging hardware metal things: $5 ($2.50 each), ReStore/Habitat for Humanity
  • Stay roller, $7.99, Mintcraft through Amazon
  • 6.5″ door pull, $6.17, National Hardware through Amazon
  • Black spray paint, $0, leftover from another project

Total project cash outlay: $64.35

So, I went $14.35 over my project goal — more than 22%, urg. With better measuring I could have saved $1.30. Also, I could have skipped the door pull ($6.17) –or gotten a smaller one– and not bothered with a stay roller ($7.99). All of that would have brought the project in at $48.89. Yet still, in real dollars, that $64 is not a lot.

Would you ever try this project this way? I get that my vintage pulleys at $10 each were a real find but a quick search on eBay for pulley shows that they are out there and available (I’ve seen several that could be used the same way listed at $9.99).

One note: if you’re thinking of sliders outside, know generally these aren’t going to be tight fitting the way a normal door would be. That works for me because I wanted doors that would hide the garage mess and block things blowing in when closed. But in the high desert, dry climate here, air tight isn’t a necessity. For locking, you can add a simple latch and use a lock as shown on my pre-existing slider.

A basic latch like this can be secured with a simple combination or key lock. Not as convenient as an ordinary door key but it works in this setting.
A basic latch like this can be secured with a simple combination or key lock. Not as convenient as an ordinary door key but it works in this setting.

Feedback? What would you have done differently? Have you done a DIY barn door? Outside or in? Regrets or gloats? I’d love to hear it all.

Thanks for reading!