Brick floor

For our workshop floor we wanted something durable, easily cleaned, cheap, traditional, and of course, beautiful. Brick saw to our wants more perfectly than we could have hoped in our wildest dreams.

I must say I have never been a fan of concrete. If the smell, complication, price and modernity of this medium were not enough to discourage its use, there is a worry of its sustainability and long term practicality. One transcendent characteristic of long lived foundations around the globe is flexibility, our earth is in constant motion, and this motion does not seem to bode well for cement. How many slab foundations have you seen cracked? Or slab concrete sidewalks, driveways or patios? Most all crack, leak, and deteriorate quite swiftly. Not to mention the price of having a slab poured, as well as the labor and complication of the form work and the actual pour itself.

A traditional brick floor on the other hand, is simplicity and flexibility personified! No forms, no rebar, no ubiquitous gang of heavy booted laborers, and no expensive truck. (the truck alone was a deal breaker for us as we would have needed to spend over 2K in road work to even GET a cement truck to our building site) The brick only wanted a cushy bed of gravel and sand, it flexes gorgeously and can be repaired or even replaced with ease. As we needed around 1K bricks for our masonry heater needs anyway, tacking on a few extra for the floor was no hurt at all.
IMG_6450IMG_6440IMG_6452IMG_6498IMG_6507

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 9 Comments

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

IMG_7243IMG_7239IMG_7521

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Wattle and Daub II

Oh what joy is clay! Sticky, gooey, lovely stuff great for so many things, we are blessed with an abundance of this underutilized material here in Eastern KY. Mixed 4 to 1 with a bit of local creek sand, and another batch of straw from my neighbors farm, and we had our daub. This mixture we spread and smoothed onto both sides of our wattled panels, pressing the daub to ooze through and lock front to back. Once dry this daubing compares to concrete in toughness, though it retains some flexibility which endears it to a drying timber building. As the timbers slowly dry over the next decades, or swell with humidity swings thought the year, this daub will move with the timbers, and help to regulate moisture in all parts of the building. The dry clay is a huge moisture sponge, pulling excess humidity from the air, or adding it from outside, in fact somewhat air conditioning your building. It is amazing how cool it is just stepping though the doorway on a hot summers day due to this amazing ability of clay. Conversely in winter this same clay helps keep the building warm by soaking up warmth from a heater inside and the rays of a warm sun as well giving thermal mass to the structure. The straw adds strength as well as a bit of insulation value to the walls.

IMG_6082IMG_6108IMG_6127IMG_6131IMG_6162IMG_6176IMG_6182IMG_6202

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Wattle and Daub I

As our building gained his metallic hat, he also shrank back from the truth of his external nakedness and a search for that best brand and fashion of woody overcoat began. Though many a proud New England barn gracefully ages inside its board and batten siding, we felt a covering more Tudor in nature would suit our needs and style a bit better, while remaining “cheap as dirt” to compliment our pocketbook.

Wattle and daub is an ages old technique practiced in some form by most every culture around the globe, proving its raw practicality. The idea is simplicity itself. You start with some framework of wood, weave saplings or other thin length of wood between this framework and cover this “basket weave” with a mixture of subsoil and straw. Once dry this “daubing” becomes extremely strong and flexible, and may be further weather proofed with a lime plaster coating. This method relies on basically free or waste materials and leaves a most beautiful and picturesque structure reminiscent of a fairy tail cottage everyone wishes their grandmother lived in. We were able to cover the entirety of our workshop with a trailer load of free scrap trimmings from the local sawmill, and about 35 dollars of hydrated lime…

IMG_5945IMG_5961IMG_6029IMG_6032IMG_6035

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Workshop roof

Sometimes circumstance is unkind to young innocent homesteaders. Luckily in our case it was not ravenous wolves nor rampaging Sioux which plagued our first year on the land, it was unheard of rainfall, and I mean truly unheard of, even by our neighbors in their 80s…who had, “never heard no tell of such a wet summer, my poor rotted taters!”

Though I can not in any way vouch for the rottenness of their “taters” I can say we lost much time this year due to rain, and an adequately dry roof seemed just the thing to dry out sopping wet spirits…and possibly our moldy long johns  as well!

I must make a small side step in some attempt at explanation of our roofing choice. Many who have followed our progress may wander at the selection of a metal roof on such a painstakingly period correct building as our workshop. To be honest I had every intention of going all the way with a proper Tudor thatch roof…until I found thatching quite hard to come by(in fact the only supplier I found gets their in from scotland at an understandably ridiculous price) which left us with either harvesting our own river cane, which does not grow much in the mountains locally, or wheat, which would be great had we grown it last year and had ready at hand…

The next obvious choice would be an oak shake roof over pole purlins. I really had every intention of going this route as well until I started hunting for the good sized straight oak logs to split. This proved both difficult and morally suspect…their not being much in the way of 100+ year old oak straight and knot free around our land, what is to be had, should it not be used in a more sustainable way? Would felling a 200 year old oak to produce shakes which may last 50 years make ecological sense? The general rule most observed and applied to sustainable forestry I have read goes, “A product made from a tree should last at least as long as that tree took to grow, preferably longer” So no shingles were out, or at least out until some horrid storm would give us the chance to salvage large logs which might be burned in someones wood stove!

So we were finally left with but few options, and the most practical and affordable seemed to be a metal roof over wood decking. As it turned out our neighbor did have a rather large Yellow Poplar fall in a summer storm, and he graciously gave us the wood to use.

IMG_5724

Reclaimed rafters from a house built circa 1918…

IMG_5725

with just a touch of the Jack plane…

IMG_5740

give up their aged beauty to the light!

IMG_5746

Bucking poplar for the roof sheathing

IMG_5756

Sometimes rest is good for a man…

IMG_5856

Nails reclaimed and reused from the same old house

IMG_5865

Green poplar sheathing going up

IMG_5911

Adding a bit of elegance

IMG_5969

tarpaper goes on

IMG_5976

Then some metal

IMG_5994

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

The Raising

The day had finally arrived! After 6 weeks of hewing timbers, and several more weeks hand carving all the joints, our little frame was ready to spread her arms and reach for the sky! Needless to say I could hardly contain myself…my wife was far more pragmatic, thankfully she keeps me grounded.

This day historically would have been an event concerning much of a community. Women would begin before daylight preparing a mountainous heap of delicious foods, while men arranged long tables and endless chairs. Many burly hands would grasp white knuckled to thick ropes, as some men prepared to ride the tops of bents being drawn skywards, ready to thrust the first pegs into waiting tenons…

We would have none of this, for we were three, and one was the cutest 5′ nothing Peruvian wife, and another a small dog with a pink hand stitched dress…

We did not despair however tempting it was, after all, we had a stout lifting shear, a homemade tackle block, a capstan, and enough 3/4 inch manilla rope to lasso a good sized Russian Boar!

IMG_5525

Each bent was laid flat on the foundation, tested again fro square and fit, then bored, pegged and lifted up into place.

IMG_5534

Our lifting shear, with hand forged S hook, and hand maid tackle blocks

IMG_5537

Our Capstan and snatch block

IMG_5538

First bent is up and secured temporarily with a tacked brace

 IMG_5562

A small block nailed to the sill timber helps keep the post from slipping past its mortise.

IMG_5575

Bent two is pegged to bent one, locking them together forever

IMG_5582

Bents one and two up without a hitch!

IMG_5586

Peg made from old tobacco stick goes in

IMG_5633

Offset holes in mortise and tenon help pull the joint tight and keep it that way

IMG_5642

Bent three is ready to go up

IMG_5662

Setting the top plate down on its three post tenons. Half lap dovetailed wind braces will be let in later between the posts and top plate.

Posted in Uncategorized | 23 Comments

On Joints and Joining

A quiet elegance beams from a Timber Frame building, penetrating those near with a warm glowing awe. The simplicity and raw efficiency of the squared timbers as they reach jointed fingers outward to embrace and shield a space with the least amount of wood required seems to define sustainability, beauty, and permanence. It was this efficiency which first led me to favor a Timber Frame over a log cabin as was normally used in our area in times past. A log cabin (though lovely) the same size as our building would use at least 100 logs of the size we have available to us. Our Timer Frame needed less than 20.

The trade off of course is complexity of design, a log cabin is simply notched at the ends in some local fashion, and doors and windows cut out. Easy peasy! A Timber Frame is an adventure into the realm of joinery which must fit together quite well and accurately.

Throw into the mix the perfect imperfection of rough hand hewn beams and the challenge is accepted once you begin!

Our basic design grew from necessity, of what we truly needed at the moment, and would need in the future. Having spent nearly one year in our canvas wall tent, a workshop would provide us with a space more comfortable to live, and more practical to work at the same time, until a more permanent home could be fashioned.

This being my first ever building of anything larger than a rabbit cage, I went with the most simple design I could find, a three bent “tie below plate” frame with common rafters. The size was dictated by our location, a lovely nearly level spot on a south facing slope nestled amongst many shade trees and a stones throw from an old hand dug well.

IMG_5268

One long side laid out

IMG_5271

Post stub tenon

IMG_5308

Most joints receive a Roman numeral to help keep track

IMG_5366

All the joints were cut with a few very simple hand tools, auger, hand saw, chisel, mallet and framing square

IMG_5389

Most joints are “housed”, this keeps them tight when they shrink or expand or otherwise move around, (or when you just didn’t cut the tightest joint!)

IMG_5402

The top plates crowned badly enough in several directions that layout was don’t off a snap  line instead of the actual Timbers edge. At least they didn’t twist though!

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments