Monday, September 27, 2010


When I first learned about cobbing, I thought, "Aha, I'll never need to face my fear of wood or measuring again! I'll just cob it until it's right." However, I have found my lack of knowledge and proficiency in this area to be more and more limiting as time goes on. I first faced up to my fear this summer by building a solar chimney dehydrator.

With that under my belt, I was lucky enough to get the chance to return to the Thunder Mountain Retreat Sanctuary, this time to attend a timberframing workshop. Led by Sarah Highland, assisted by Liz Johndrow, and hosted by the PeaceWeavers, this was a week of intense learning, hysterical fun, and blossoming friendships. Sarah's gentle and precise teaching helped all of us (six women and two men or so) gain an appreciation for the wood and a beginning understanding of timberframing. I learned how to see increments of 1/16 of an inch, and how to split a knife line with a (very sharp) saw. Seeing how Sarah ran the workshop, and how PeaceWeavers ran their lives with us in their midst, I am ever more grateful for my natural building family and all they have to teach me.

Yet more plastering in Washington

I say Washington, but it's really Maryland. This was my third trip down, and this time Eric and I did some lime plastering over earthen base coats, on the back side of the strawbale studio he's been building there for the last couple years.

We used Red Top Gauging Plaster to speed up the lime set, along with some Set Retarder to slow down the set up of the Red Top. This gave us about half an hour of working time before the material became too firm to spread. I'd never worked with these additives before, but the lime seemed well behaved in their company. Cactus juice and rice flour paste rounded out the mix, making the plaster smooth and creamy.

You can read more about this place on Eric's blog, and also in some of my other blog entries below.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Straw/clay toilet wall

Before going full steam ahead on my plan to build a straw/clay partition wall in our house, I thought it prudent to practice somewhere less obtrusive first. Our bucket toilet is due for some renovations, to fix the rather visually permeable partition wall, and to re-do the toilet to make for a more comfortable sit.

Sophie and Kat pulled apart the old set up, and we amended the wall frame to work for straw/clay. Once the rather arduous prep work was finally done (lumber's in the barn, tools are in the house, hammer's nowhere to be found), it took only a few moments to stuff the wall cavity. I learned that, for a wall this thin (4"), I'll want to compact the straw more firmly than I did, and will also be more generous with the slip. I had a fair bit it re-packing and patching to do where things didn't hold together to my liking.

Slip and base coat plaster went on smoothly, though the plaster shrunk more than I figured it might. For the back side of the wall, I added piles of chopped straw; thought it might offer my sometimes squishy wall a bit more support. We'll see. Finish coat is next, and I'm thinking of using some clay that I picked up in Maryland; it's pink as pink can be.

My plaster recipe was:

Sand (32, 56 & 74 mesh) 2, 3 and 1 parts respectively
Clay (EPK) 4 parts
Soaked paper 3 parts
Casien 0.125 parts
Chopped straw less on one side, more on the other

I've been reading Carol Crews' new plaster book, Clay Culture, and I'm finding it to be an excellent resource, full of history, recipes and encouragement. Any questions I had during this process were quickly answered by flipping through her book. I highly recommend it.