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the first wofati - allerton abbey- version 0.7  RSS feed

 
Burra Maluca
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Here's a load more photos. I'll add comments gradually but I want to upload these asap.








































 
Jesse Grimes
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First off, those pictures I wanted to put up with my last post:
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Evan preparing the door catch beam for burial. The nails will help hold it in place.
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Zach using his wood grinder thing to create some room for the window buck.
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Ernie teaching us a thing or two about straw bales.
 
Jesse Grimes
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More pictures:
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The bottom logs, with two cob "plugs' on each side to keep rodents from burrowing through, and wool stuffing for insulation.
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The door catch beam in place, along with a flattened log in the doorway to support the lintel.
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Two new bale needles, "Excalliber" and the "Scimitar"
 
Jesse Grimes
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We got some more done on Saturday, and also ran into some challenges. I got the window buck built in the morning, which was pretty straight forward, while Ernie showed the crew the process of sewing up the bales to make the complicated cuts needed to fit the bales around the various shapes of the posts and beams within the wall. I got the window buck installed level and square within the wall, then we realized it needed to be moved forward to the front of the straw bales, so I repeated that process over again. Meanwhile the other ants were trying their hand at sewing up and cutting bales, with varying degrees of success. I tried my hand at shaping one of the notched bales to go around the door catch beam, but my first try was pretty ugly. It had to be redone, so we went to get more bales and made a disheartening discovery. Save for the three baled that I grabbed from under the red shed at base camp, all of the rest of the bales we have on hand at the lab have black mold growing through them due to improper storage. They have been kept under tarps for some time, and the tarps have not always been exactly waterproof. I learned from Erica that even if there wasn't rain getting through the tarps, the moisture from the soil would rise from the soil into the air in the heat of the day, and then condense on the tarps at night, dripping down onto the bales. In this whole project I am learning more and more about a form of building I have never done, and a material I have never worked with, some of the lessons are harder than others.
After a hectic week of long work days and lots of unexpected challenges popping up, including Ernie having some potentially serious problems with his leg, learning that all the straw bales we have on hand are unusable had me feeling pretty down and I was happy to take a couple of day rest and do some re-thinking. When I keep running into a string of problems with a project it is a sign that there is a flaw somewhere in the basic design or strategy behind it. Brian came by Allerton Abbey this morning and we talked over the challenges and problems. One of the biggest things I learned about straw bale construction in the past week is that its value is as a complete system, in which the structure is designed with the straw bale dimensions and construction methods in mind. In this project we are attempting to force straw bales to fit into a space and structure that was not designed or built with a straw bale wall in mind, a very complicated retrofit. This is why Ernie and Erica were teaching the crew some of the most complex cuts in straw bale building instead of the basics first. These cuts are very time consuming, up to an hour for each bale, and there are upwards of 80 different cuts to make in the whole project. My experience on Saturday had me very doubtful about being able to complete this job anywhere near on time or in budget. This morning, Brian and I talked about ways to simplify the process of building this rear wall, creating square edges to but the bales up against and using other strategies to fill in the areas around the posts and beams with straw. The goal with this project is not so much to utilize straw bale construction, but to create a well insulated and sealed wall to keep the cold winter air from stealing heat from the wofati thermal mass. I need to get the back wall built and completed, then we will re-evaluate or strategy before starting to build the front wall. Brian is ordering a new batch of bales, and this time they will be stored in the new berm shed, under wood and well protected from the rain.

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The window buck
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The window buck in place and Josh trying his hand at tying up a bale.
 
Jesse Grimes
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In the absence of good straw bales to work with, and in the presence of more rain today, we got a little bit of work done on the downhill wing walls. The permies staff and other volunteers have all left, so it was just Carol-Anne and I today. She continued to fill in the cracks in the wing wall with cob, and I installed some boards along the bottom of the walls which will serve to tie in the future watershed/insulation umbrella into the wall. I attached 2x6s to the logs and filled the spaces behind it with wool, to continue the seam of insulation from the wall into the umbrella, then I cobbed over this space. The final plaster layer on the wall will come right to the outside edge of the 2x6s and complete the seal. Another 2x6 will be attached to these, with the umbrella tarp pinched between to hold it in place. The future porch deck will wrap over these 2x6s to hide and protect the umbrella. I also installed the 2x6s to the outer support log for the wall, with enough space below the sill edge to fit the deck boards on top, but still well below the sill. This way water on the surface of the deck will not be able to blow into wall during heavy wind and rain. I will likely extend the lintel across the whole front of the wall to act as another sill plate that extends over the deck a few inches.
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wool stuffed under the support log and behind the 2x6 to continue the insulation layer
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The 2x6 on the wing wall with wool stuffing and cob cap.
 
Julia Winter
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A porch/deck just outside the door, in between the wing walls, will be such a great space, and go a long way towards keeping dust and mud out of the wofati. I can't wait to see that!

Will there be a wooden floor inside as well, some day?

It's great to see that projects are ongoing - I wish I could have done more. I planned to, but then the unexpected gift of trees and other plants required immediate action at base camp. And then, of course, huckleberries.
 
Jesse Grimes
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I'm not sure what the plans are for the interior floors. I think an earthen cob floor would be the way to go, but that is not part of this project. That is a whole project in itself.
 
Cassie Langstraat
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just me gettin my cob on at allerton abbey... on the wall and on me..

 
Tim Reynolds
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I enjoyed all of the pictures and updates! Thanks for the tour Jesse.
 
Roel De Nijs
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Burra Maluca wrote:Day 1 at Allerton Abbey

Even a CodeRanch-techie with no permaculture experience whatsoever had a great day at Allerton Abbey: collecting cow pies, stomping cob, applying cob to the walls,... Really awesome experience!
 
Jesse Grimes
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We have been plugging away at the Allerton Abbey project bit by bit over the last few days. By we, I mean Carol-Anne and I. The pace of work has definitely slowed since all of the volunteers left, but we are making progress nonetheless. I finished carving an angle into a 2x10 to serve as a window sill, as well as cutting a curve into one side to wrap around the post, and installed that into the window buck. The wall is just waiting for a delivery of new dry straw, so we moved on to other parts of the project for now.

I used the tractor to dig out a deep hole about 10 feet out from the wall, so that we can lay in the insulation and watershed umbrella away from the wall and down 4 feet. What you see in the picture is the contour of dirt draining away from the building, that will be covered in a thick layer of sawdust for insulation, then several tarps will be installed over that. On top of everything will be placed more dirt, so that most of the umbrella is under about a foot of dirt. A deck is going over much of this as well, and will protect the umbrella near the walls where there is not as much dirt covering it.

I spent most of yesterday driving "Ellie Mae," a huge old Ford flatbed truck, to the lumber mill to pick up one unit each of 2x6's and 2x4s. It is pretty cheap to buy them in this quantity, about a buck a stick, but I must say there are some pretty ugly sticks in there. Once I got the units back to base camp we found out that they were far too heavy to unload from the truck using the forks on the tractor. So me and Josh had to unload a bit at a time and re-stack them by hand in the berm shed.

Carol-Anne has been keeping on with the cob work over the last few days, but isn't enjoying working alone as much as when there were other people to stomp cob with. We could really use some extra hands and to make for quicker work and some nice company. I've put up a thread about the ongoing cob and straw work party for the Allerton Abbey project, so if you have been wanting to learn some natural building skills go check it out.

I got my hands into the cob today along with Carol-Anne, and we were able to nearly finish the plaster layer on one of the wing walls. The logs are all completely covered on the vertical section now, except for two that stick out more than the rest which we are going to leave exposed so there is somewhere to attach things to the wall if needed. Plus, one of the logs is all twisty and cool looking so it will add a bit of art to the wall. The overhangs above the vertical wall may be a bit tricky to get plaster to stick to, so we may just fill in the gaps between the logs, leaving the wood exposed. A lot of the poles up there are now covered in bits of cob, so unless we can clean them and make the filled cracks look nice, we may end up having to plaster upside-down.
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A silly window
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The excavation for the umbrella
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The newly plastered wall. The light splotches are clay slip splatters, which will be covered with the final coat.
 
Gary Huntress
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Jesse and Carol-Anne, you're doing a great job! As a self employed carpenter I know what it's like to get bogged down on a job with no one to help (no fun there) but try not to get discouraged. Hopefully, someone will respond to your plea for help and really get things going again! It'll be really exciting to see how this new design performs during the winter.
 
Tim Skufca
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Nice work! I am curious as to how the cob will hold up on the log substrate. Wood is not the ideal material for cob to stick to, and would benefit hugely by putting a steel mesh onto the logs first. The wood expands and contracts with the humidity, and even a little amount will crack the cob. Hopefully this won't be true for you guys.
 
Jesse Grimes
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Ernie and Erica didn't think the lath was necessary, though I'm not sure why. I may try putting some down just to see if it speeds up the plastering process, and also along the upside down sections of the wall to make plastering that easier.
 
Tim Skufca
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Tim Wheaton put some cob in the 2nd WOFATI similar to this technique (directly into the log joints). Maybe analyze the status of those areas to verify its success. If it's not cracking and falling out I'd be surprised.
 
Jesse Grimes
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So I tried doing a little bit of plastering using the lath, with poor results. The undulating shape of the wall makes it so the lath will not fir snugly against the surface, leaving spaces behind it. Even when cob is pushed through the lath into this void, the lath still has a tendency to lift away from this underneath layer leaving a void between the two. I have used lath and plaster before, but It seems to behave differently with the cob mix we are using. Perhaps chicken wire would work better, though with much less reinforcement strength. I think no matter what we do, over time the cob plaster will crack, as we are dealing with an exterior wall made of many different sizes of logs which are all expanding and contracting at different rates. The purpose of the cob plaster in this application is not structural, but to provide a surface to be white washed, reflecting more light into the house.
 
Jesse Grimes
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Progress! Yesterday was all about getting the insulation/watershed umbrella installed in front of the new wall. In the morning we took the fire truck and the 5 yard dump trailer to a local friend with a sawmill to pick up a load of fresh sawdust to be used for the insulation layer. Once we returned we started preparing to install the umbrella. Before putting any of the tarps down, I used the tractor to move enough of the sawdust for a good thick layer over the big hole I had dug earlier. First we pushed some of the sawdust down the slope of the hole, then we laid out the bottom layer of tarps, Bilboards material several layers thick. This edge of this went in the bottom of the hole, them I moved a few loads of dirt over it to bury the botom of the tarp over the insulation layer and pin the whole thing down.
After this, we spread out the sawdust over the whole area, leaving some room near the walls to attach the upper layer of tarps. To do this, we tucked the top edge of the tarps around a 2x6, which was then screwed into the 2x6s I had previously attached to the bottom of the walls, so that the tarps were wrapped over the outer 2x6 and pinched in between the two. It sounds simple, but when you are dealing with multiple layers of 15x30 foot tarps, crawling underneath them to get to where you can screw the boards down, and trying to make sure it all stays tucked in... well we got it done anyway.
Once that was done, we pushed the sawdust up underneath the tarp/wall junction and spread it all out to a uniform thickness and proper slope away from the wall. Then the bottom tarp wads pulled up over the sawdust, the top tarps were pulled down over those, and a third set of tarps were put in between those two to fill in a little gap that was left between the two. All of the tarp layers are arranged like roof shingles, so that water will flow down and off. Finally, I covered up everything with a layer of dirt, retaining the proper slope. Next we will build a deck over the whole thing.
 
Jesse Grimes
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pictures from yesterday
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a pile of sawdust ready to be insulative
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the top tarps attached to the wall
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The umbrella all laid out, ready to be covered with dirt.
 
Julia Winter
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Wow.
 
Tim Skufca
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It's a bit late for this consideration, but did you account for any plumbing, specifically gray-water, or other conduits, perhaps future wiring to a bank of solar panels, that may need to run through this area?
 
Jesse Grimes
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That was never part of the plan, but the wall isn,t built yet so I suppose I could run a couple of pipes through it and cap them off.
 
Tim Skufca
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It's also a great place to bring in an earth-tube. Once you tighten the openings into the WOFATI (the uphill and downhill walls) there will be a need for fresh air during the winter months. An earth-tube is ideal for this.
 
Weston Ginther
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Jesse Grimes wrote:


I noticed there are no supporting boards under the window frame. If the plan is to use a traditional window, I would be concerned about the window frame sagging over time.

Now if the square bales will end up being packed tight underneath it or if the plan is to build a lightweight window, then it probably won't be a problem.


Jesse Grimes wrote: The purpose of the cob plaster in this application is not structural, but to provide a surface to be white washed, reflecting more light into the house.


I might have missed a stated change in the plans but I was under the impression that Paul wanted to avoid any heating due to solar gain. That way if the WOFATI is a success people can't attribute the heating to passive solar.


Tim Skufca wrote: I am curious as to how the cob will hold up on the log substrate. Wood is not the ideal material for cob to stick to, and would benefit hugely by putting a steel mesh onto the logs first. The wood expands and contracts with the humidity, and even a little amount will crack the cob. Hopefully this won't be true for you guys.


I kind of had the same thoughts. However, I would tend to trust Ernie and Erica's experience over my own...
 
paul wheaton
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Weston Ginther wrote:
I might have missed a stated change in the plans but I was under the impression that Paul wanted to avoid any heating due to solar gain. That way if the WOFATI is a success people can't attribute the heating to passive solar.



Weston,

(I just sent you an email in the hopes of getting you and Katelin out here for out rocket mass heater innovators event this october)


The effort for the bright color is not solar gain for heat, but for light.

I feel like we are already getting a lot of light into the space, but ernie made some good points about getting even MORE light into the kitchen space.

 
carol-anne besler
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As for the earth tubes, I could be wrong, but I believe Paul wants to make the wofati concept work without the use of earth tubes. Ernie and I talked about putting storm Windows on in the wintertime, with vents at the bottom of the storm window and top of the inner window. This is why you can see the two boards at the top of the window buck with the vent space between. This will allow for a convective heating effect to happen in the gap between the inner and storm window, allowing heat and airflow to circulate into the house through the top vent, but not allowing heat to escape because hot air will not sink down through that opening. These vents also serve the important purpose of keeping the Windows from shattering during a heavy storms due to rapid changes in air pressure.

The window buck you see in the picture is unfinished, just installed for placenent. The plan is to have the window buck supported by the straw bales. There is concern about mounting the Windows solidly to the structure as the structure might still settle, putting stress on the Windows and cracking them. This is what happened to the old Windows.
As for the white plaster, yes Paul is opposed to any sort of passive solar heating effect in the wofatis in order to prove the concept of annualised thermal inertia. However, he is also very concerned about making the interior very bright. The white walls will have the effect of reflecting a lot of light towards the Windows, but since they are not oriented towards the sun they will not have a very large effect of actually reflecting direct sunlight and heat. Some parts of the wall will never receive direct sunlight but will reflect the ambient light.
 
Jesse Grimes
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Oops, I'm posting from Carol-Anne's phone and forgot to log her out. That last post was by me.
 
Gary Huntress
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Ha, ha! And here I was marveling at Carol Anne's technical breakdown of the design features! Not surprised, mind you; just, well, impressed.
 
Jesse Grimes
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She's looking prettier every day. In the absence of straw bales for building the walls, I have been focusing my efforts on other aspects of the project. After filling in the dirt over the insulation/watershed umbrella, it was time to install a nice deck over the whole thing. The challenging part about building the deck was that there is not much room between the dirt layer and where the bottom of the deck needed to be, in order to keep it below the sill on the straw bale wall. Also, I didn't want to put screws through those lovely tarps we just installed so the deck couldn't actually be attached to the walls of the wofati. My solution was to build a floating deck, that is supported at many points by rock "piers" which hold it up above the dirt layer. The decking boards are supported along the walls by the 2x6s I used to secure the tarps, but they are not screwed in. The rest of the structure is all screwed together and supported by the stones on a 2'x2' grid. I decided to mirror the shape of the roof line and wing walls, which worked out well for the length of boards I was using, and I think it created a lovely looking deck. Before it was even finished the citizens of ant village were gathering and socializing on this new space, which is actually now the largest flat and level outdoor space on the entire lab. This becomes quite a commodity when the only place to sit is on the dirt, rocks, or pine cones of the forest floor.
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The support structure.
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stone piers, locally sourced natural materials.
 
Jesse Grimes
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Come and have a sit.
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Julia Winter
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Oh, that is lovely. Good job!
 
duane hennon
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"Before it was even finished the citizens of Ant Village were gathering and socializing on this new space, which is actually now the largest flat and level outdoor space on the entire lab. This becomes quite a commodity when the only place to sit is on the dirt, rocks, or pine cones of the forest floor."


now Paul won't be able to get anything done
 
Sue Rine
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Beautiful
 
Jesse Grimes
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Brian returned to wheaton labs towing a load of new straw bales, so I was able to resume work on the straw bale wall. After to talking to Brian, I've decided to go about building the wall in a slightly different way, which should help simplify the process. Instead of custom shaping each bale to fit around the door beam and posts, I fit a few full bales in along with shortened bales with simple straight sides. The areas that are left to be filled in I will cover with metal lath and pack straw tightly into the cavity. The lower wall was pretty straight forward, with just a few short bales with straight sides to tie up and cut. I tied the bottom two courses of bales to the support logs using the wires w had attached to the dead men. The spaces between the window/door bucks and the upper beam just so happened to be barely wide enough to stuff a whole bale into, after a little persuasion. These bales were wire tied to the upper beam, although I don't think they are going anywhere without the ties, just to be sure. The upper triangle section was a little trickier, since I had to cut bales at an angle to fit under the roof. It took a couple tries to get the angle right, but I was able to stuff two nearly whole bales into the space and nearly fill it up. These bales are tied with wire to the upper beam as well, although again, I don't think they would move very easily considering how tightly stuffed in there they are. I got the wall mostly filled up in one day using the simple cuts, and then experimented with using the lath around the door beam. It seems to be working pretty well.
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the lower wall filled in with two whole bales and two shortened bales.
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The wall filled in with bales.
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Metal lath around the door beam, stuffed tight with straw.
 
allen lumley
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- After some (understandable ) comments about iron/steel within the COB mass or the COB shell I just want to understand

(or a close approximation ) What the lath is going to be used for !


More and More Post and Beam construction reminds me of the Pen/Dutch Barns of that Region ! For the Crafts Big AL
 
Len Ovens
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allen lumley wrote:- After some (understandable ) comments about iron/steel within the COB mass or the COB shell I just want to understand

(or a close approximation ) What the lath is going to be used for !


Look at the last picture above, it kind of explains things.
 
allen lumley
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- O.K., color me Stupid ! I see its presence, but that part was pretty well secured by the previous '' Buck'', and the installation, So was the Metal Lath

a case of Belt AND Suspenders, or does it have another Function ? Like a frame work to stabilize the Structural Cob and Lime Coat shell ?

Remember many other eyes will turn to these pages for future building Ideas ! Big AL
 
jesse markowitz
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So I see you guys are using a car to mix cob! Does this help? Do you still have to mix it a little bit after the car runs over it a few times? Would you use this process again?
 
Len Ovens
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allen lumley wrote:- O.K., color me Stupid ! I see its presence, but that part was pretty well secured by the previous '' Buck'', and the installation, So was the Metal Lath

a case of Belt AND Suspenders, or does it have another Function ? Like a frame work to stabilize the Structural Cob and Lime Coat shell ?


I see at least two functions:

A) It allows extending the straw insulation over an area that bales will not fit. I suppose one could make custom bales for this area, but in this case I think they would be less effective as the ties would render some hollow areas that are filled in this case. I expect this will be continued up the post between door and window.

B) It is used for shaping/radiusing the corner.

C) It will help hold the shell and rendering.

Opps, thats three. I better stop now

Function stacking... note that the straw that fills the metal lath serves more than just as insulation as it supports the lath.
 
Cassie Langstraat
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jesse markowitz wrote:So I see you guys are using a car to mix cob! Does this help? Do you still have to mix it a little bit after the car runs over it a few times? Would you use this process again?


the car was just breaking up the manure actually.
 
Jesse Grimes
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Looks like Cassie and Len already answered the questions for me. But yes, the lath is there primarily to hold the straw in place around the beam, and will continue up that beam and around all of the round pole. Conveniently, it also adds support to that rounded edge and will provide a nice stick to the cob layer, I hope. Ernie and Erica showed us how to custom cut the bales to fit around the posts and beams, but after spending a lot of time doing a bunch of complex ties and cutting the bales I ended up with some pretty weak shapes and an uneven edge around the beam. I would have likely needed to wrap it in something for support anyway, so the lath just makes the whole process faster and easier. I know a lot of people are following this but I hope they remember that this is my first time working with straw bales, and I am just learning as I go.

Cassie is right about the car being used to break up the cow patties. It kind of just pulverizes most of it, after which we soak it in water over night and then push it through a screen before going into the cob mix. If we don't break it up first we end up with big chunks that don't want to go through the screen. I found that an electric drill with a paint mixer helps to break it up even more before going through the screen.
 
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