Wattle and daub III

Lime is quite an amazing material, in fact the entire process smacks of alchemy or pure old school wizardry. Tiny mollusks, sponges, and corrals create a crusty home for themselves out of aragonite or calcite, die and millions of years later leave their sea bottom home as layers of limestone. You burn this stone, give it some water, make a plaster or wash with it and it returns to stone, covering your home in the same crusty shells our ancestors used millions of year ago. Its the ultimate thrift store recycle, we get to reuse the armor great great grandpa fended of trilobites with to fend off the elements…

All awesome coolness aside, lime plaster and wash have other attributes which lend them perfectly to timber frame dwellings. Unlike modern cements, Lime is wear permeable, allowing the building to transmit excess moisture in or out, preventing rot, and helping the clay daubing to regulate humidity. Lime also is quite deadly to microorganisms as it is highly caustic. Even before we knew what germs were, it was felt lime washing walls was hygienic and prevented a build up of vermin. And of course its just plain beautiful, the brilliant white offsetting and complimenting the ever darkening timbers and heavily brightening any room.

The only true roadblock we found was actually locating the correct type of lime, or anyone who knew what we were talking about…Traditionally limestone would have been cooked in a kiln, producing “quicklime” which was then slaked with water producing a lime putty. This quite random process created a putty which had to be soaked for long periods of time (often generations) to ensure complete hydration of the lime particles. Masons would soak large quantities in pits, the grounds even temperature preventing freezing, literally for their children’s work, then taking cakes of putty from long dead relatives out with them on the job. Having no great uncle laying down our store of lime, we needed another alternative. Fortunately for us, these days several companies produce a hydrated lime which may be used directly, known as type S hydrated lime. The “S” denotes this lime as being special, and altogether different from the type “N” or normal hydrated lime. The type S has apparently undergone a “special” process of steaming and other proprietary treatments lending it to our purposes a perfect regard. We searched high and low for type S lime in our local rural stores, and after many blank stares, and sideways glances at my sad attempts to relay our specific needs, we found a feed store selling a lime not marked as type S by the company but claimed to be the same by their representative. This brand “old castle” apparently produces type S then packages some as that variety for masons use, but also packs some up just as hydrated lime for agricultural use, both coming from the same spout as it were.

Even with modern type S lime, most advocate a minimum of 6 weeks slaking under water before use. We quite recklessly did not, but mixed our putty directly from the bag, with good results, perhaps we got lucky…

In any case our plaster consisted of 3 parts mason sand to one part lime putty, and one half part unraveled manila rope cut into 2 inch lengths to simulate horse hair in the historic recipe. Having this mixed up we misted each wall panel with water to help control suction from the dry clay daub, then applied a half inch layer of the plaster using a pool float from the local DIY store.

I must admit, with time completely against us we were in a huge rush to get any lime work done before winters freezing fingers did their worst to our walls, and so broke most every rule in traditional plasterwork. Amazingly, the walls turned out quite well, did not crack apart and fall into a heap of powder as was my worst fear. Plaster was traditionally applied in 3 layers, a very hairy “scratch” coat, a medium weight “middle” coat, and a thin hairless lime rich “finish” coat. These coats were applied then covered from the sun and wind and dried very slowly, taking weeks to finish, then upwards of 5 coats of lime wash were applied on top. We had barely the time to get one hairy coat of plaster down and 2 washes before our first freezes of the year, but somehow this seems to have worked for the raw nature of our need. I would hope that perhaps the wealthy, or at least the proper homes were finished in the way described as traditionally correct, but many structures were “thrown” up by those less wealthy or prepared homesteaders, and if my theory is true, we count ourselves honored to be categorized along with these more common folk of the past. IMG_6584IMG_6577IMG_6598IMG_6534IMG_6668IMG_6827IMG_6824




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7 Responses to Wattle and daub III

  1. Have you heard of others using rope fiber as reinforcement for plaster? I have seen buildings in GE with horse hair and seem to recall roofing tar with hair in it, although I think that it is more common these days to use fiberglass.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mrchickadee says:

      I have not, we may be the first, as rope may have been too dear to wast for that purpose. I did read somewhere that fiberglass and other synthetic fibers may be too slick to work well, I also read somewhere that the fiber should never be added earlier than 48 hours before use as the ime will continue to eat it until it dries.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks so much for posting. I looked around a few years back when I decided to give it a try and didn’t really find much in the way of folks building timber frame. Now in the last few weeks have found three…. I decided not to go the traditional route with hewing because I would never have the time needed, shoot, I am probably three years behind already and I am milling my beams ;-). I did build a shave horse that way though just to see what it was like.

    Keep up the great work, I look forward to see how the inside comes together!

    Liked by 1 person

    • mrchickadee says:

      Thanks for commenting. Yes, it does take time, but we are happy we did it, you can probably forgo any workout plan while hewing though! Its a huge amount of time and work, but in the end, a person can literally have a home for say 2k…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. msjoy1234 says:

    Can’t wait to see you – the lime looks fantabulous!


  4. metaspencer says:

    Great post and I love the blog. I have seen some of your videos on YouTube, but stumbling upon your written thoughts (here on the blog) is an even bigger treat. Great stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

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