Creating Custom Doors

By: Tom Henderson

We builders like to grumble at some of the details architects pass our way. On this project, it was some ginormous doors that we needed to integrate into the design. doors1One of the doors is 3 meters tall by almost 2 meters wide. The challenge with such a door is to create something that's not so heavy it's impossible to lift, nor something that is going to buckle or warp too much.

Once we’d done our share of grumbling, however, we got to work figuring out the best construction method. 


Pete has built many solid timber doors during his time at Thors Hammer so taking his lead we decided to create a solid timber frame, insulate the cavity with foam and then skin it with some large sheets of MDF board.

Pete took great care to select quarter-sawn timber. Quarter-sawn refers to the way the timber is cut. The grain of the timber runs in a particular direction so that any warping can be better controlled. This cut of timber has larger stability and is less likely to buckle, split or warp.  See photo below for an example.

doors 2

Pete ended up disappearing into himself for a couple of days while he got into his zone of cutting, biscuiting, glueing and trimming these monster doors.

They have now been hung on sliding tracks so that they can zone off portions of the house (particularly the stairwell to reduce unwanted hot or cold air circulating through the home).



 custom door finished

Here you can see one of the finished doors.  The door is lying on its side and Pete is standing across the width of the door.

It’s now satisfying to have overcome the challenge and see the mega doors sliding so smoothly on their tracks.







Through the fluro veil - David Korda from Homesteads Stoneworks

By: Tom Henderson

In an ever complex world, the relative simplicity of a stone wall has a certain appeal.IMG 1868There is also an interesting contrast in the demands on the stonemason.Brute strength is required to handle the stone, while a fine feeling for the material is required to shape and place within a wall.In our continuing series "Behind the Fluro Veil" we introduce you to our stonemason David Korda who creates beautiful rock walls for our clients.

David's working life started as a bank clerk. He then moved into the Commonwealth public service but by his mid 20's he sought a career change.

He started working with a landscaping business which satisfied his need for more tangible work results.It was while working as a landscaper that David was exposed to the art of building with rock and stone.


IMG 1869

Eventually he focussed solely on stonemasonry, a craft that he has been honing over the past 19 years.
David stands remarkably straight for someone who may handle over half a tonne of rock in a week.He explains that bending knees isn't so important, it's avoiding twisting while lifting that is the key to a healthy back.If a straight backed stonemason makes this claim, I figure you can count on his word.

For more examples of David's work go to:


Through the fluro veil - ACT Marble and Granite

By: Tom Henderson

act marble 3In this series of personalities in the local building industry we introduce a character behind some stone and marble.

At the age of 74 Tony Stausenbiel runs ACT Marble and Granite along with his business partner and fellow German immigrant Fritz Koroschetz. 

We asked Tony whether the stereotype of German perfectionism is true. Tony explains with a chuckle that maintaining quality or pleasing a client is never an issue. In fact, the biggest issue is when his business partner Fritz is installing a stone benchtop and returns from an installation frustrated by the most minuscule of imperfections that no-one would ever notice.

“Sometimes it’s too much!” exclaims Tony.

Tony came to Australia in 1961 as a 19 year old not long after he completed a bricklaying apprenticeship in Germany. His father, who was a postman, had helped him get the apprenticeship with a builder he knew in the 50's.

As Tony said," In those postwar years you didn't get any career choice, you simply took the opportunity that was presented to you.”

It was a relief and surprise to him when he came to Australia that the topic of the war was never a hurdle to his acceptance here. The only time he felt uncomfortable about his German heritage was when he was working at the CSIRO shortly after his arrival.


act marble1He got talking with a work colleague who spoke German well. Prior to coming to Australia Tony had only had 3 hours of English lessons, so he was relieved to find someone who spoke his native tongue.

When Tony questioned his colleague about where he had learned to speak German his answer was "in a concentration camp." The colleague could see Tony's discomfort and quickly put the young man at ease saying “those were other different times.”

In Canberra, while working as a bricklayer, architectural draughtsman, and ceramic tiler in the 1960's and 70's, Tony was surrounded by a very multicultural workforce who shared many different faiths and beliefs. This prompted him to pursue his interest in history and religion.

Tony invested a lot of time and money in a university course via correspondence from the USA focussed on those subjects and with tongue in cheek he jokes about starting a new religion.


act marble2

At this point he unbuttons his work shirt revealing a T-shirt advertising the new religion (see photo) – Juchrislam – Beautifully United in Disciplined Devotion and Humble Attitude! (Can you make out the acronym?)

On the rear of his shirt you’ll also find Tony's suggestion for a new Australian flag.

Tony has been getting these t-shirts printed for the past 20 years, and never misses an opportunity to unbutton his workshirt and share his thoughts, knowledge and humour on what he sees as the common threads that connect us all as human beings.

The building industry can be painted as a rough place at times. At 35 Degrees we derive a lot of pleasure from scratching beneath this façade and connecting with the wonderful, interesting and inspiring people we engage with to perform our work. It’s that sense of connectedness that ultimately makes our lives so much easier and more satisfying.


Through the fluro veil - MBOE Electrical

By: Tom Henderson

fluro veil2 smlAt 35 Degrees we highly value working with subcontractors who provide a professional service delivered in a friendly manner. Peter Mitchell of MBOE Electrical consistently delivers in this regard, as do his team members Emma and Amos. We have worked with Peter for over 7 years. MBOE is an acronym of his children’s names: Micaela, Blake and young Owen. Pete came to Canberra as a teenager from the Hunter region to play with the Raiders U/19s and reserves. After finding life here to his liking this has become the home for his growing family and business.

Pete’s team member Emma is one of the few regular female tradespeople we see on our sites. Both her father and brother are electricians, and she spent part of her youth helping her father out. Despite this, Emma’s first career was as a massage therapist which tied into her passion for sport. However at age 26, she found herself drawn to the variety of work that the electrical trade offers – different work sites, clients and ongoing learning. As a result she commenced a mature age apprenticeship in her father’s business and has subsequently spent the past year working with Pete and Amos.

We see it as a positive sign whenever we encounter females in the trades and hope these numbers increase in coming years.

Through the fluro veil - Bruno from Canopy The Tree Experts

By: Tom Henderson

fluro veil1 smlIn the early days of Canberra’s development there was a policy to house the builder’s families separately to the public servants. Lower Narrabundah is a remnant of an area assigned to the builders.

These days there still appears to be a gap between the white and blue collar workers. In this town dominated by the public service, “Tradies” are sometimes spoken of as if they are a foreign species.

At 35 Degrees we work with some amazing people, from architects to building inspectors, carpenters to earthmovers. We would like to introduce you to some of the people we work with on a regular basis and their stories.

Welcome to “Through the fluro veil”.

At 35 Degrees we value professionalism and the value education plays in our industry. Bruno Wright pictured in the image below is the proprietor of Canopy The Tree Experts. Back in the 80’s and 90’s when there was very little education or controls around tree lopping in Canberra, Bruno developed a course in arboriculture (the cultivation of trees and shrubs) in conjunction with the CIT.

He then spent the next 7 years teaching this course which helped pave the way for more professionalism of the industry. Canopy is currently a key consultant on tree protection and management, as well as providing tree trimming services.

Despite being the owner of the business, he’s more often found out on site where he enjoys “keeping his hand in” operating his machinery.

We value engaging subcontractors such as Bruno and Canopy who share a broader passion and commitment to our environment, our city and our industry.

Canberra's prefabricated housing

By: Tom Henderson

pre fab housingThere is an ever increasing range of modular and prefabricated housing options emerging around the world. Everything from Chinese transportables to the uber refined German homes such as Huf Haus (see for phenomenal systemisation and detailing).

Canberrans may not be aware that we have a history of modular and prefabricated housing dating back to the 40's when it was held up as a solution to economic mass-housing.

The Monocrete homes are the most common. With their precast concrete panels the walls could be stood in a day, Unfortunately, there was minimal savings in terms of build costs, being roughly the same as brick veneer. These homes have become notorious for being damp and cold.


There is a Beaufort steel house in Ainslie that was built in only 8 days in the late 40’s. It was made almost entirely of steel. It was manufactured in the Melbourne munitions factory that produced the Beaufort bomber during the war. The factory retooled to convert from aeroplane to house construction, however due to a post war steel shortage and a change of government, the project was cancelled after only 23 homes were built.

It’s interesting to note that with the imminent closure of automobile factories in Australia, grants have been available in recent years to investigate the opportunity of converting these factories to suit the production of prefabricated housing.


pre fab housing2The Tocumwal homes of O'Connor and Ainslie were not pre-fab as such, but were transported to Canberra where they were used to house defence personnel during WWII. When they were relocated to Canberra locals were critical as they considered them substandard housing. They were basic homes but a tight knit community developed around the O’Connor homes. This strong community vibe continues to this day.

A similar community sprung up around the Narrabundah prefabricated cottages. They were cheap, compact, demountable houses constructed to create a “workmen’s camp.” They were constructed of steel frames, with aviation grade plywood walls and asbestos sheet roofing. Despite having rock-wool insulation in the wall cavities they were freezing in winter.

There were two timber prefab housing types that was trialled in Canberra.The most common was the Riley-Newsum homes which were manufactured in England. They were comprised of timber wall panels that could be installed in a day. These homes included ceiling insulation and a centrally located fireplace but were still notoriously cold.

The other timber kit home was called the Puutalo and came from Finland. It arrived from the Finnish factory in sections of walls, floors and ceilings. It was deemed climatically unsuitable not for being too cold but because it was sweltering in summer!

The challenge continues to strike a successful balance between cost, comfort, flexibility and efficiency with prefabricated and modular housing.

Reference: 100 Canberra Houses by Tim Reeves and Alan Roberts Halstead Press 2007

Canberra – it’s not an easy task to build a city

By: Tom Henderson

ToM Sparrow smlLike many Canberra teens, when I finished school I couldn’t get out of this city fast enough.

For eight years I ran away. Most of them spent roaming around Europe and then settling down as a young parent in Denmark. I eventually realised how much I missed our blue skies, the smell of Eucalypts and the warble of magpies. This was probably also compounded by living through several Danish winters.

As a result I returned to Canberra with my Danish wife and young family in 2000. The past 16 years have been a slow process of relating to Canberra without the old teenage attitudes clouding the relationship. 

Discovering mountain biking helped accelerate the process of appreciating Canberra for what it is, as it creates an easy and inviting connection to the fantastic bushland which so enriches our city.

Recently my neighbour lent me this pamphlet which is a re-print of a guide handed out to public servants who were relocated to Canberra in the 1920’s.

Only after reading the following quote did I come to appreciate the major task of creating a city out of these dusty plains. It wasn’t only the scale of the task that struck me, but the lofty ideals that accompanied this vision for a new capital city. The quote comes from the Federal Capital Commission’s April 1926 ‘General Notes for the information of Public Servants’:

"I would ask each public servant to bear in mind that it is not an easy and simple task to build a city at all and still less so when working to a rigid program at high speed.

IMG 1360I can assure you all that Canberra is going to be the finest garden city in the world so far as the ‘fabric’ of the city is concerned and I do hope that the ‘spirit’ of the city, which will be so largely determined by its new inhabitants will be of the same standard”. 

I think, without exception that every public servant who has visited Canberra has been delighted with it, and I am convinced personally between us we can make it one of the most attractive places in the world in which to live and work."

At the back of the pamphlet there are a range of home designs that prospective citizens could choose from, homes that are now commonly found in our older suburbs such as Kingston and Ainslie.

As a Canberra boy, first in denial, now embracing his hometown, I’m excited to offer homes for the residents of this city into the 21st century. Homes that allow us to appreciate our unique climate and environment, homes that reflect who we are as a city today, homes that play a part in contributing to the shared vision and ideals of this city.