How to Repair Deteriorating Flagstone Steps

April 27, 2018   //  Posted in: DIY, Entryway, Supporting Sponsors, Tools   //  By: Emily   //  Leave a comment

This post was sponsored by STIHL because they supplied the cut-off machine and safety equipment. However, the decrepit steps are my own, and repairing them has been on my list for a long time. Thanks to STIHL for partnering with me on the project.

You know it’s time to repair your entryway stone steps when it’s become instinctive to warn guests to watch out, look out, careful! don’t step there, please don’t fall. Our tangled length of caution tape weathered 10 consecutive seasons and was still was holding up better than the crumbling, deteriorated flagstone step of our 1950s home.

Old, broken flagstone steps on a 1950's entryway.

The flagstone steps and stone details were original to the construction of our home, and the spots that took the most foot traffic were really beginning to show their age. The stone had not only begun to splinter and crack, but it was also loose (sitting atop the mortar unsecured) which seemed especially hazardous for anyone not paying attention to their footing. Recipe for disaster.

Old, broken flagstone steps on a 1950's entryway.

Finding flagstone that would work for replacing these steps was the easy part–we had leftovers from the summer when we installed a large patio on the back of our home–but cutting them down to fit the depth of the step was the challenge, and the real reason this repair never seemed to get done.

When we installed the patio, we worked with a friend who is a professional landscaper; he’d bring along his gasoline-powered professional cut-off machine to trim stones down to size as we needed (and it was a really, really big intimidating saw). We don’t readily have access to him or the big saw though, and other ordinary homeowners don’t have those types of connections either, so when I visited STIHL last fall and went all heart-eyed at the TSA 230 STIHL Cutquik® cut-off machine, the team was (surprised about my heart-eyed interest but) really receptive to me wanting to get my hands on the product.

FWIW, we weren’t there to be testing cut-off machines as much as we were learning about the Lightning Battery System® line of products, but between presentations and tours, we were lucky to get a lot of exposure to the variety of products manufactured by the company. STIHL makes just about everything for outdoor care. And, FYI you already saw me using the MSA 120 C-BQ if you caught my post on how to make a Swedish torch fire log; that’s a real good chainsaw.

So yes, I’m already a fan of battery-powered tools, but a battery-powered cut-off saw? I questioned a lot.

Testing the TSA 230 STIHL Cutquik® cut-off machine on flagstone.

I certainly liked the idea that it was a push button start (nothing complicated about it) and was fully-powered by a battery (no gasoline/oil/mixtures; boasting a “Caring for Nature” seal) and consequently, positioning it as a low maintenance tool when compared to its gas-fueled counterparts. Despite the big 4-lb. battery, it’s still super lightweight, weighing in at a total of 12.3 lbs., compared to 20+ lbs. for the gas-powered cut-off machines.

Would it be easier to maneuver? Less intimidating than a pull-start? (Can’t attest to how it feels compared to the big guns, but it’s absolutely less intimidating. Put on eye protection, push button, WHHHHRRRRRR.)

Would it be as loud? (It’s loud enough to warrant ear protection but not *as* loud as the machine we borrowed for the patio, which could wake the neighborhood. I mean, I was cutting through stone so there’s going to be some loud noise. That said, the tool has a maintenance-free brushless DC motor that makes for low noise levels and reduced vibration.)

Powerful enough to get the job done? (Spoiler alert, yup it was. The tool’s AP 300 battery will operate for ~18-minutes, depending on the type of material you’re destroying.)

Could it cut through flagstone that’s multiple inches thick? (Yes, our stone was 1.5” and the tool could cut up to 2.75” on the 9” blade.)

STIHL obliged with my desire to test the TSA 230, even though its uses are more limited for ordinary homeowners. If you find it interesting, definitely visit the TSA 230 product page on the website or get in touch with your local STIHL dealer to learn more.

When I was initially learning about the tool, it seemed like a sure winner for homeowners and landscapers who just need to do a few ZIP-ZIP-ZIP cuts without the hassle of pull-starting the machine with every use. It’s not an everyday type of tool, but one of convenience that’s worth having for specific projects. However, when I met with the local STIHL distributor for product training, I was surprised to learn that they also did a lot of business with emergency responders and fire companies who have been embracing the TSA 230 because it’s small, easy-to-store on fire trucks, and super quick and easy-to-use when the occasion arises and time is critical. It’s a less intimidating tool to learn to use, requires less maintenance, and is still amazingly powerful. Perfect alternative for these crews, and a product that homeowners with a penchant for DIY improvement and maintenance will value too.

So, back to our sad stone steps?

Old, broken flagstone steps on a 1950's entryway.

I started by removing the damaged stones. They were no longer attached and lifted right on up.

Removing and replacing old flagstone steps.

Beneath the stones was a layer of sand, which sat atop a layer of mortar.

Old sand and mortar beneath broken flagstone steps.

To loosen the mortar, I used the cut-off saw to create some notches in the material to break it up.

Using the STIHL TSA 230 to score mortar to make it easier to remove during a flagstone stair repair.

Using the STIHL TSA 230 to score mortar to make it easier to remove during a flagstone stair repair.

Once the base beneath the old stone was cleared out, we were able to confirm measurements for the new stone steps, and measure cuts on pieces of 1-1/2” thick flagstone. Using the metal tip of a pen, I scratched the straight line onto the surface of the stone (no marker or pencil, because it would have washed away with water spray). Why the water? It keeps the blade cool, and also keeps the dust at bay. Makes things a little muddy, but still probably the “cleanest” circular type saw I’ve ever used.

Measure and mark flagstone. Testing the TSA 230 STIHL Cutquik® cut-off machine on flagstone.

The machine itself ran like magic. So lightweight, ergonomic and easy-to-hold, I’m eagerly awaiting another opportunity to put this tool to use. To use this tool–and other cut-off machines–for stonework, start by scoring the stone across the line you etched. Creating that shallow guide line will serve you well as you continue to make the cut.

Testing the TSA 230 STIHL Cutquik® cut-off machine on flagstone.

On the second pass, cut a little deeper. On the remaining passes, depending on the thickness of the stone, forge deeper at the start of the cut and again at the end of the stone, envisioning that you’re leaving a bridge through the center of the stone to connect the two halves. Taking it slow and going a little bit at a time reduces the chance of the stone fracturing in the wrong spot. Still, as cautious as I was, each cut only took me 30-seconds. So awesome.

With the stones clean and dry, mix and lay your mortar on the step. We had two stones to replace that needed to level with stones that were still secure and intact, so we diligently leveled as we went to make sure everything was aligned.

Leveling flagstone steps in fresh mortar; a 1950s home repair.

Use your finger to point and smooth the mortar between the stones on all sides, and also use a damp sponge to remove mortar that squished onto the surface of the stone.

Smoothing mortar between flagstone steps.

We blocked off the stairs with some scrap wood and let the mortar sit undisturbed for a few days.

Allow mortar on flagstone steps to dry before walking on it.

The finished step? Hopefully, it’ll last for another 67 years!

Repaired flagstone stairs on a 1950s home.

It’s amazing how easily you can get a project done when you have the right tools. Thank you again to STIHL for making this possible.

How to repair crumbling flagstone stairs.

How to Make Your Own Barn Quilt

April 24, 2018   //  Posted in: Backyard, Barn, Decor, DIY   //  By: Emily   //  12 responses

Always committing to doing the things I say I’m going to do–in this case “barn quilt all the things”–I extended my collaboration with Buffalo-based designer Whitney Crispell of Local Color Quilts and made another totally crushworthy piece of outdoor art. Y’all! Still addicted to the quilts. Can’t stop, won’t stop.

How to design and make a barn quilt.

Last summer, I created a colorful design to produce a 50″ x 50″ modern barn quilt for DIY Network; the new one was a gift for mom for Mother’s Day (and I delivered it yesterday in advance of her seeing this post; it was a smash). The original barn quilt (def the OG, or OGBQ) has officially seen all 4 seasons–fallwinter 1, and winter 2 were especially perfecto–and I knew reusing paints from the OG palette would be nice for my parent’s house which is surrounded by trees and accessorized by gardens blossoming with every color in the rainbow.

The timing of the project also aligned perfectly with Bethany of Reality Daydream’s #WoodArtChallenge, and it’s so fun being part of the long list of talented bloggers who put their creative skills to work and designed their own square-shaped wooden artwork. See what others made at the bottom of this post.

Barn quilts are remarkably simple to make, and aside from a saw and a drill, all you’ll really need is patience and a few supplies:

  • 1x6x8 board
  • 18″x18″ piece of plywood
  • circular saw
  • ruler/tape measure
  • straight edge
  • pencil
  • (12) 3/4″ screws
  • paint samples
  • painter’s tape
  • paint brushes
  • polyurethane/weatherproofing
  • hanging hardware

The wood I used was white spruce harvested and planed from trees that fell on my parents’ property. Assuming you’re buying your own lumber, you can easily make a barn quilt the same size out of one 1x8x6-ft board. To determine the measurement of my square, I stacked three 1×8 boards side by side and measured them as 21.5″ wide. To match the height, I trimmed the three boards to be an even 21.5″ in length. Pushed together, they form a perfect square. Use a piece of plywood cut into an 18″x18″ square, and 3/4″ screws to assemble the barn quilt from the backside with no fewer than 4 screws hitting each board. Attach the hanging hardware after you’re done painting (you’ll want this baby to sit flush on the table, and not be wobbling all over):

How to attach plywood backing to your DIY barn quilt.

Whitney has a real eye for designing barn quilts, not just fabric quilts. The colors! Her refreshing take on heirloom quilting patterns! They’re familiar, while being completely reconcepted with consideration for modern design (and my love of the rainbow). I should point out that she’s available for hire if you want your own custom design too.

Local Color Quilts Barn Quilt Rainbow DIY Design

This particular design uses a 6×6 grid as a guide for painting, and dividing the face of your barn quilt into this same grid with light pencil lines is the first step to making this project easy. And please be smart and measure twice, mark once.

Barn quilt measurements in pencil to create a grid.

You’ll notice that I left a lot of natural wood exposed on this quilt. I prefer them that way because I think wood’s pretty, and this particular wood was thoughtfully preserved by my Dad himself, not just any ol’ 1×8 from the hardware store. Most traditional barn quilts are painted across the entire surface. If you want the entire surface painted, consider blanketing the boards with a solid coat of primer and white paint before marking your pencil grid lines and adding color.

Painting the detail, as I’ve eluded, is where you’ll need to muster all of your patience. To match Whitney’s color palette to specific paint colors, I used a paint app to match back to a certain brand. Most of the colors were close matches, and for a few colors that didn’t have an automatic match, I went and found paint chips from other brands. For each color, I bought a sample pot of tinted color for <$3.

Easy paint match colors on your phone with the Behr app.

Painter’s tape is the true workhorse in this project, and you should plan to use a lot of it. Fresh painter’s tape prevents the paint bleeding and helps to make nice, crisp lines. When you start, you’ll be working in various areas of the design, filling in colors on opposite areas where paint lines don’t collide.

Do several coats of paint in each space, and remove the tape before the paint has completely dried to get a sharp edge. You’ll need your first pass completely dry before you tape off and paint additional spaces, which is why this project takes a bit of time. This was my start, below, presenting as random colors with no rhyme or reason. Computer, camera, earbuds, ruler, dowel? lots of kids cups? doll bottle? check, check, check, etc.

Taping off areas for painting pattern on a barn quilt.Tape lines on a DIY barn quilt.How to design and make a barn quilt.

Finishing the paint on your barn quilt and removing the last pieces of tape is a really rewarding moment, so hang in there.

As for weatherproofing, I’m not convinced that a handpainted barn quilt wouldn’t look fantastic with a bit of natural weathering from wind and rain, but I did apply a coat of water-based poly to this piece so that my mom’s art would be a little more protected. If you’re looking for serious durability, consider coating your piece with a heavier-duty transparent weatherproofer, such as the weather seal you would apply to your deck. Remember to cover the cut edges of the boards with a good coat, too!

Water-based polyurethane to seal and protect a handmade barn quilt design.

When all of the painting is wrapped and polyurethane’s dry, attach the hardware of your choice, or attach it directly to your structure using long lag bolts into studs. We used 5″ bolts to attach the 50″ quilt square to the studs through our barn’s siding (in the background of the below photo), but this piece is lightweight enough to hang off a strong D-ring, as tested when I staged it against a tree in our yard.

How to make a beautiful, handpainted barn quilt.DIY barn quilt with modern rainbow design.

To see more from the group of bloggers who joined the #WoodArtChallenge, poke at these links:

1. Reality Daydream
2. 100 Things 2 Do
3. House Becoming Home
4. Anika’s DIY Life
5. My Repurposed Life
6. 3×3 Custom
7. One Project Closer
9. Chatfield Court
10. Create & Babble
11.  Hazel & Gold
12. Jen Woodhouse
13. Sawdust 2 Stitches
14. Wood Work Life
15. Remodelaholic
16.  Evan & Katelyn
17. Jaime Costigio
18.  Pneumatic Addict
19.  Bower Power
20. Lazy Guy DIY 
21. My Love 2 Create
22. Addicted 2 DIY
23. Her ToolBelt
24. Shades of Blue
25. Ugly Duckling House
26. The DIY Village
27. DIY Huntress
28. Mr Fix It DIY

Creative handmade woodworking projects with unique DIY tutorials.

Embrace your inner rainbow with a custom barn quilt. Learn how to build and paint one for your own outdoor decor.

How to Cut Your Own Swedish Torch

April 05, 2018   //  Posted in: Backyard, DIY, Supporting Sponsors   //  By: Emily   //  one response

This post was sponsored by STIHL because they supplied the chainsaw and safety equipment. However, the project is my own and Swedish cut fire logs really are things we make and use at home. I figured it was about time you learned how to make your own too, and am happy STIHL partnered with me on the project!

We’ve been making our own Swedish torches for a few years after having noticed them for sale–in exchange for real money–at local stores. “I have a chainsaw, I can totally make those,” I thought, and that’s how it started. Due to having an inordinate amount of firewood and a family with a healthy appetite for backyard campfires, this firepit accessory is one of the most in-demand products we’ve “manufactured”; can’t stop, won’t stop… starting a campfire has never been so easy.

Honestly, if I have one important tip for you–and it’s not related to product choice or how to make the cuts–is that if you have a tree taken down, ask the crew to leave pieces of the trunk in 2-3′ lengths and recycle those to create your own collection of Swedish logs. If you ask nicely, they might even knock a bit off your bill, since there’s less for them to muscle away. Follow the below tutorial and cut the Swedish torches while the wood is still green, and then let them dry in a sheltered spot until it’s campfire o’clock. One-time burn logs like this are ideal for small fires. They ignite easily and burn from the inside with great air circulation and very little maintenance.

Start by familiarizing yourself with the world of chainsaws. I’ve been a long-time supporter of battery-operated power tools because they’re lightweight, easy-to-use, considerably less intimidating, and you don’t have to futz around with the oil/gas mixtures. The STIHL battery-powered chainsaws perfectly meet those expectations. The product I’m using in this tutorial is the MSA 120 C-BQ which is part of the Lightning Battery System® line of products. With a ¼” STIHL PICCO™ saw chain, it’s marketed as a product that can make 100 cuts on a single charge, depending on the size of the branches and logs you’re powering through. I’m also sporting appropriate protective workwear for my hands, eyes, ears, and legs, and wearing long layers because any amount of chainsawing usually means I’m probably going to be showered in splintery wood chips.

This project is best for those occasions when you have big, unsplit logs, and when the logs have a diameter greater than ~10″.

Turn the log on its end. If there’s any doubt that it won’t be balanced (be wary of very tall logs, or narrower logs) put cinderblocks around the base to help it remain upright and stable.

Turn log on end to cut Swedish torch.

The cuts you make need only to be 3-6″ deep across the diameter of the log. If you put the chainsaw right up against the log, the sharp chain will eat through while you balance the saw – no “sawing” motions necessary with chainsaws, as the blade does all of the work. If the blade doesn’t reach all of the way through the log, switch sides and repeat the cut from the other end so that it’s an even depth.

Rotate your position and cut additional “pizza slices” into the top of the log.

Cut a "pizza pie" into the top of a log to create a Swedish fire log.

There’ll likely be a bit of sawdust in the crevices you cut; don’t make extra efforts to clear the tracks you made because the dust will act as kindling when you’re trying to light the log.

Cut a "pizza pie" into the top of a log to create a Swedish fire log.

Topple the log so that it’s on its side, and cut it down to a 7-10″ log. The few inches of solid wood beneath the “pizza” cuts will increase the length of time your log burns.

Cut your own Swedish Fire Log, called a Swedish Torch.

Once cut, you can tip the log upright again and cut another Swedish log from the wood that remains.

Learn how to cut your own one burn fire log (a.k.a. Swedish torch).

When you’re ready to ignite one of your cut logs and start a campfire, rest the log with cut edges upright. If there’s a lot of sawdust in the cracks, they will catch quickly and the log will immediately begin to burn from within. If you have trouble igniting due to lack of sawdust, form a small pile of kindling on top of the cut log. As the kindling catches and the embers fall down into the cuts of the Swedish log, it will quickly ignite itself, and burn quite evenly from the inside to the outer edges of the log. So cozy, so easy! Stockpile them when the opportunity strikes, and you’ll always be ready to get the fire started.

Learn how to cut your own one burn fire log (a.k.a. Swedish torch).

How to Cut Your Own DIY Swedish Torch a.k.a. Fire Log on