Have you ever wondered how to build a root cellar of your own? One of our Real Milk Paint fans had the idea to create their own underground, food, and wine storage cellar. They wanted to create a food-safe cellar that would be easy to maintain and keep everything safe and dry. Leveraging inspiration from The Hobbit, they set to work designing, building and creating a one of a kind wine and food cellar using Real Milk Paint products. Here is their story:
Late in 2011 as I was thinking about the next project that we should do, I thought about having a root cellar, like I had when I was a kid growing up in the mid-west. Having level ground on our property, digging into a hillside was not an option, so I started sketching out what I thought would work. Dig a square hole, use our native rocks for walls, a ramp to the surface, then a door at the top. Being a fan of Tolkien’s, I ended up drawing what looked like a Hobbit home. My wife bought into the project when I used the term ‘wine cellar’ instead of ‘root cellar’ and off I went.
In January of 2012 my neighbor, who had a back-hoe, and I set up in the area where I wanted the wine cellar and he traced out the outline using flour he took from his pantry. As we finished up the rough outline and looked back we saw the outline being erased by my dog who was busy eating up the trail of flour. At that point, I knew this was going to be one of those projects.
Fast forward past the adventures in digging and getting the rock walls in the main chamber built, the next step was to decide on the roof. I considered a metal roof and had a welder look at the project, but going back the Hobbit hole, I couldn’t see how that fit and it was still going to be expensive going that route.
So I instead had the welder put a frame around the roof that was 1/4 inch thick 2 inch L metal lip that was then concreted into holes left in the wall. This would be extra insurance that the A-frame couldn’t get pushed down from the weight of the roof. The roof would be 1 1/8″ floor grade plywood. The top was covered with rain and ice membrane and coated with roofing tar on the seams. The bottom of the roof was treated with RMP Tung Oil as was the 4×6 beams that made up the A-frame. I didn’t want to take any chances with the load factor on the roof, so the trusses were 12 inches on center, glued and screwed together. The A-Frame is all douglas fir.
The Inspiration Behind the Door of the Root Cellar
Once the rock walls from the ramp that lead up the stairs were nearly done, it was time to turn to the front facade. I had thought about a round door. But the hinging and weight didn’t seem worth it. Early on I had decided that the front would be round with the bottom straight and the door would be a normal sized door just cut out of the circle.
Doing the math, I knew that the circle needed to be 10ft round to have a decent door with the meat around the frame. Of course, when I drew that out there was all the space around it that seemed wasted. In a flash of stupidity when I first drew it up, I came up with the idea of a wine train that would be next to the door. This would be a second small trap door and ramp. The idea was you could load a case of wine on a wine train and lower it down a ramp, walk down the stairs and put the wine onto the rack. Of course, this means building an extra ramp and extra wall. At the time I didn’t appreciate how much back-breaking work could be done with a few pencil lines on a drawing.
The front facade is all redwood. It would face the elements and would be the what people would see. 10ft redwood boards were planed by hand and glued together in sets of 4 or 5 boards. Then cleats were screwed onto the board sections and put together until an 8.5ft by 10ft rectangle was created. The circle was cut out. It was sanded and treated with lots of Real Milk Paint’s Tung Oil on both sides. The facade was installed and bolted onto the rocks, the doors were then cut out and hung.
The last of the roof was completed and sealed. A custom door frame was built for the bottom and a second redwood door was made for the main chamber and again coated with Tung Oil and still has a beautiful redwood shine as it never sees sunlight. Then it was all covered in dirt.
Next was the shelves for canned items and fruits and vegetables that we would store. These were simple douglas fir boards screwed into the walls and protected with Tung Oil. A wine rack was made that can hold 7 cases of wine. Redwood really sucked up a lot of Tung Oil and we were surprised that as more oil applied, the darker the wood looked.
Next, I needed a table at the end of the wine ramp that was at the right height and a wine cart that has a hinged back so you could easily unload the wine. Here scraps of wood from the project were used the wine cart is redwood and treated nicely with Tung Oil. By this point, I had placed several orders with Real Milk Paint and was getting used to seeing the packages arrive from UPS always prompt and sealed. Even though it came to cross country I never had any problems and it was just something I always knew would be there ready on time. Other things caused delays.
Finalizing the Details
By early 2014 the last detail of the project seemed complete. After a few failures, I realized my wooden wheels weren’t working (no amount of Tung Oil could fix this). And I added skateboard wheel bearings to the wooden wheels of the wine cart. The project did, or so I thought.
The California Wildfires of 2015
September 12th, 2015 brought the Valley fire. The third major fire in our area that year and one that was the most destructive. It burned 1300+ homes and myself and several neighbors were pinned down with the fire closing off both exits due to its size and speed. We were seconds away from using the wine cellar as refuge with myself and next-door neighbor lined up at the door until we saw the road clear and we left. When we returned our house and most structures on the property were burned to the ground. The well house survived. The wine cellar had a Manzanita next to it. The tree was gone except for the stump and the was significant damage to the top facade. The rest of the wine cellar was untouched. A lot of other work, including rebuilding our house had to be done before the wine cellar, so it sat until 2018.
In rebuilding the front facade a few things were going to change. First, the original drawing had the boards horizontal. This was not so good for the human door as it was made of several pieces that wanted to collapse under their own weight. So, the new facade would have the boards running vertically.
Next was to add an awning to allow more dirt on top and to help protect the facade a bit from some of the elements. With the prices of redwood having gone up significantly, I decided to go with douglas fir to save money. This also got me to change from using the light Tung Oil to moving to the dark Tung Oil. Also, the awning would be sheets of plywood that also I wanted to darken slightly. I didn’t want too dark, so I put the first coat on as Dark Tung Oil and once I liked it, I moved to the normal Tung Oil.
The nice thing is to you can go back and forth with Tung Oil, just know that the first coat soaks in more and will define the color more. I decided the leave the original facade in place and just cut out the burnt wood where it needed to be removed and screw the new facade to it. With the new awning, I had a chance to add LED lighting strip to it for a nice accent at night.
The door is done and saws and hammers are put away. Now I hope to enjoy it for a long time. Just every now and then take a rag with Tung Oil and rub it down to protect and give it that nice shine.
If you have a project using Real Milk Paint Products, we would love for you to share it with us! Visit our Submit Your Own Project section on our website to share your wonderful work with us and for a chance to be featured in one of our blog posts.
Food and Wine Cellar Q&A:
What type of wood(s) did you use in this project?
The woods used in the project are redwood and douglas fir. The awning is 1/4 plywood that is sandalwood lamented into multiple layers.
What kind of good do you store in your cellar?
This is a wine/root cellar that stores wines, canned goods, garlic, sweet potatoes. Because it is underground, I wanted a product that I felt good about around food. I didn’t want to use a product with petroleum solvents or worry about re-coating it later with something with VOC or just stinks or soaks into food.
I think I have used every product that you have in this category, so I have used many techniques. I stared with the light Tung Oil and citrus solvent and started with 50/50 mixes while I was learning.
Later I switched to 40/60 (tongue oil/solvent) in hopes the solvent would help penetrate the wood deeper and later coats where more 50/50 and 60/40. I might have done some at 75/25.
I used foam brushes and rags to apply it. Most surfaces have 3 or more coats. The softer woods can soak this up and I want protection. The number of coats depended on the wood and how it was cut/sanded. The original front facade/door was reapplied once before the fire. The wood underground has only had light applications where needed.
How did you use Citrus Solvent?
I used the Citrus Solvent a mixer since I first bought the 100% Tung Oil and I wanted deep penetration into the wood. I have since used Half and Half and do like the convenience of not having to mix all the time.
Does the wood and oil/solvent have an effect on the wine? If so, how?
The Citrus Solvent only had an effect on my wife as she wanted to know if it would always have that citrus-y smell. I assured her that it was temporary, but still put a fan in there for a few days to help clear it out. There is a lot of wood inside the main room; in the ceiling, A-Frame, shelves, wine rack and wine train table, train cart, train door, and human door. The walls are all rock. The wine and the food stored there never picked up anything from the Tung Oil or solvent.
Did you like using Real Milk Paint products?
Love the products as evident that even when rebuilding I didn’t hesitate to buy more to redo the facade.
What would be one piece of advice you would give to someone who has never used pure Tung Oil before?
For someone that hasn’t used it before, I would give this advice. Don’t apply in full sun or if it will freeze before it cures. Always wipe excess off 30 minutes to an hour after you are done. These are in the instructions or hints and tips, follow them!
What would be one piece of advice you would give to someone who has never used pure Tung Oil before?
The keys to an underground wine cellar are: Lots of dirt on top, that is your insulation that regulates temperature. Air vents to allow for air exchange. Sturdy structure for the roof and sealing the wood from the top. A safe product like Real Milk Paint Tung Oil and solvents that you can trust on the inside.