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Floor conundrums abound this week, my friends. 

I recently came across the concept of end grain block wood floors like the one here: http://www.designsponge.com/2013/12/before-after-cartolinas-end-grain-block-flooring.html/comment-page-1#comment-559821 and I must say, I'm intrigued.  Of course, this gentleman installed this floor on a wood sub floor.  Consequently, my brain secretary has been fingering through my mental files on earthen floors trying to come up with how to make this work in an earthen floor application. 
"Well now," says my little Brain Secretary, "according to this pitifully thin file, there seems to be an indication that this is possible in an earthen floor application, but once again, DETAILS are missing."  She's saucy.  Nearing insolent in her tone, and I'm planning to address that.  

I went lookin' for the material to fatten up said thin file and found in my dogeared copy of The Hand Sculpted House (Evans, Smith, and Smiley) that woodblock floors are, indeed a "thing" when it comes to earthen floors and the authors say that, "In areas where there will be heavy traffic or lots of water, such as mudrooms, bathrooms, and workshops, you may prefer a more durable floor than you can make with earth.  Bricks, tiles, slate, wood blocks, flagstones, glass blocks-all can be used in mass floors, separately or together.  All require a solid base. They can be bedded on pure sand, lime mortar, earth mortar, or cement mortar...Make sure wood is thoroughly seasoned and very dry throughout."  (p 253, emphasis mine)  

Mmmmkay.  Here are some of the threads in my line of thought- feel free to chime in.  In fact, PLEASE chime in. 


1) "In areas where there will be heavy traffic..."  giggle....*snort*... I have 5 children.  My WHOLE LIFE is heavy traffic.  So yes, yes I believe I will choose from this list of "if" materials, thank you for asking.

2)  By "solid base", I'm assuming this means the same base you would lay your final earthen floor coat on i.e, road base-type layer over a capillary break layer over a tamped dirt grade.  Can I get a "that's right!"?  And IF that's right...

3) ...what would be the best option for the "setting" material for wood block?  I've seen the sand bit done with bricks then sealed.  It's a thought.  Could soil cement work well, ya think?  The man who did the floor mentioned above said in the comments, "... I have many years of construction/woodworking experience and am well aware of expansion and contraction in wood floors of any kind, more so with end grain, as it absorbs moisture much more readily. You definitely need to leave an expansion gap around the perimeter of the room, and use a flexible elastomeric flooring adhesive. (Bostik EFA adhesive)"  Purty sure Bostik won't adhere to a rammed earth base.  Correct me if I'm wrong.  Once I get THAT part figured...

4) ...as I understand it, end wood drinks moisture like a sailor.  (But any moisture, not just rum)  Can it still qualify for high traffic use with children (and their cups, toys, water balloons, potty training (just keepin it real) etc.) if it's sealed with something serious?  If so, any suggestions? Again, the maker of the above floor said, "I finished the floor with three coats of an oil based finish."  If not, (or really even if so) would just cut pieces of lumber (same thickness, as in 2x's) laid flat like tile work better??  Cuz I have access to lots of random stuff like that from conventional building sites (waste can be beautiful.)

5) The Hand Sculpted House also mentions what I call "cookies" or rounds cut from roundwood (p 254) (thus-ly: https://www.bobvila.com/slideshow/just-floored-15-totally-unexpected-diy-flooring-alternatives-46258/cheap-flooring-ideas-cross-cut-wood-floor#.WM3XsfIx_IU ).  Dude.  We have so. much. cedar.  It's dry, cured, the works.  Could I use that?  Would YOU?  What steps would YOU take to make it a successful choice?

6)  I gotta figure this out as we're fixin' to get our stemwall going and I have to know how high my floors will be so I can get my thresholds right and all that jazz.  I may or may not have thought I had made up my mind about floors a zillion times over the past 4 years...

Bless you all in advance for your superior earthen floor nerdiness.  I hope it rubs off on me so I can tell my Brain Secretary to "go fly a kite.  My earthen floor file is fat enough, thank you!"





 


 
steward
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Zee Swartz wrote:
4) ...as I understand it, end wood drinks moisture like a sailor.  (But any moisture, not just rum)  Can it still qualify for high traffic use with children (and their cups, toys, water balloons, potty training (just keepin it real) etc.) if it's sealed with something serious?  If so, any suggestions? Again, the maker of the above floor said, "I finished the floor with three coats of an oil based finish."  If not, (or really even if so) would just cut pieces of lumber (same thickness, as in 2x's) laid flat like tile work better??  Cuz I have access to lots of random stuff like that from conventional building sites (waste can be beautiful.)


the reason for using wood on end is that it is very durable and resists abrasion in that orientation. that is also the orientation of greatest compressive strength. it does indeed absorb a lot of moisture, but that can be used to your advantage: so long as your sealant is thin enough it will also be absorbed readily through the end grain.


5) The Hand Sculpted House also mentions what I call "cookies" or rounds cut from roundwood (p 254) (thus-ly: https://www.bobvila.com/slideshow/just-floored-15-totally-unexpected-diy-flooring-alternatives-46258/cheap-flooring-ideas-cross-cut-wood-floor#.WM3XsfIx_IU ).  Dude.  We have so. much. cedar.  It's dry, cured, the works.  Could I use that?  Would YOU?  What steps would YOU take to make it a successful choice?


cedar is really soft. some friends of mine have a nice yellow cedar plank flooring. it's so soft that I swear I can feel it give under bare feet. it was already pretty beat up after just a couple of years, but still looks nice.

cedar also splits really easily. if you wanted to use it for end grain flooring, it might have to be really thick to prevent it from splitting into tiny bits. as I understand it, these floors are generally much more durable when they are thicker regardless of the wood used. I would expect a thick floor of end grain cedar to wear unevenly, but it could be really nice. you would probably have to build one and use it for years to know for sure. you could also build a small prototype and put it somewhere you'll walk over it a lot.


tangentially related: check out Nicolson pavement and wood block pavement. folks used to make roads out of wood blocks stood on end. turns out there are some good reasons not to do that, but maybe those problems could be solved.
 
Zee Swartz
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Hello Tel!  Thank you so much for taking time to read through all that and give me your thoughts- it is appreciated and TRULY helpful. 

Blessings to ya!

Zee
 
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In New England a lot of old machinery buildings had wooden block floors with the end grain lain up so that it would absorb the oil and tallow flung off by the machinery. After a few years time it was nearly impervious to water or rot! I worked at a Railroad Roundhouse that had this type of floor...and 150 years later it was still working just fine.

Myself I have laid a wooden floor with in-the-floor-rounds, with end grain up. I poured concrete around the blocks and had great success. I chose hemlock because I have a lot of it, it is semi-rot resistant, it was the traditional flooring material for the upstairs of old New England houses due to its density, and the trees I have are really big, so it did not take many rounds to cover a big area!

I waited until the wood dried out a bit so that shrinkage would not be a problem, debarked the rounds, drove nails in the wood to help anchor it to the concrete surrounding it, and obviously cut them to a consistent thickness. I worked well; enough so that it was a water tight floor. This was inside a woodworking shop, and the only reason I speak of it as being in the past tense, is because I built onto my house and had to excavate the area for a new addition. I am planning on building a WOFATI and that will most likely be the type of floor I put in it; it worked that well for me.
 
Zee Swartz
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Travis,

Yes!  Thank you for that- I'm so excited to hear your experience. 

Can you tell me this:  You said you installed this floor over concrete...do you think it would do as well over an earthen base floor?  What would YOU change about how you installed the floor if you wanted/needed to lay it over tamped earth?  Also, can you make any guesses about how soil cement would perform in comparison to the concrete you used between the rounds?  Ahhhhlso, did you seal your floor with anything?  If not, having experienced the performance of this type of floor, what do you think you would lean toward in the way of sealants?

A WOFATI, eh?  I've only heard them described.  Better hop on over to the WOFATI forum and get a better idea of what they entail now!

Thanks again for sharing your experience with me-it's very valuable.

Zee
 
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I've seen this used in old roads in Over-The-Rhine,Cincinnati Ohio.
Still solid,very cool looking.
I would do it just like the bricks ,set in a a bed of tamped sand,then with sand swept into the cracks.
I found this photo here:https://5chw4r7z.blogspot.com/2008/08/main-st-otr.html?m=1

It's from OTR in Cincinnati.
The black is probably creosote or some other nasty, but it makes me think that charging the ends would harden the wood and look great.
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I would pay attention to grain orientation. The link you provided showed most of the pieces looking quarter sawn or rift sawn. Flat sawn boards would have more pieces that could be likely to warp badly. This Link Shows the differences between milling types and grain orientation.

Using earthen or cement based products as a 'grout' would likely have low expansion and contraction. Mixing this with a softwood species would probably fail sooner than a hardwood species. The hardwood should be a bit more dimensionally stable and have less expansion and contraction. If you are looking to use locally sourced materials then you may want to talk with a local woodworker for recommendations. They might also have scraps you could use to make your floor.

I would use the ability of wood to soak things up to your advantage. Finding something that soaks into the wood and make it water resistant could be helpful. I have seen a lot of houses locally where wood rots on the bottom because it is nailed in place and then painted, leaving exposed end grain in a humid and rainy environment. I take waterproof wood glue and let it soak in for several minutes and repeat a few times until it won't soak in anymore. Not exactly the most permie friendly solution, but tearing trim off in a few years due to rot is probably less friendly to the planet. You might be able to use something more natural like beeswax and then a surface of beeswax and linseed oil, or beeswax and shellac. I'm sure other wax or oil based products that won't go rancid could also be used and then a harder coating on top to reduce wear.

Attaching this to the floor itself could pose a problem. Anything that isn't waterproof, such materials high in clay or cement, will likely wick moisture. This might not be a big deal if the house foundation is raised up compared to the surrounding areas. If this is on a hillside or someplace where part of the house is below finished grade then you would need extra precautions to keep all moisture away from the house so it can't wick up through the floor and soak into the wood.
 
Travis Johnson
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Zee Swartz wrote:Travis,

Yes!  Thank you for that- I'm so excited to hear your experience. 

Can you tell me this:  You said you installed this floor over concrete...do you think it would do as well over an earthen base floor?  What would YOU change about how you installed the floor if you wanted/needed to lay it over tamped earth?  Also, can you make any guesses about how soil cement would perform in comparison to the concrete you used between the rounds?  Ahhhhlso, did you seal your floor with anything?  If not, having experienced the performance of this type of floor, what do you think you would lean toward in the way of sealants?

A WOFATI, eh?  I've only heard them described.  Better hop on over to the WOFATI forum and get a better idea of what they entail now!

Thanks again for sharing your experience with me-it's very valuable.

Zee


Zee I did not know what a WOFATI was until I came on here either, then did not feel it would be something I would do, then thought some more about it and realized it might be something I wanted to do very badly. Typically when I make my mind up on something, I carry it out, it just takes longer because...well when I say "we", it typically is only me and no one else to help out. My wife and I are looking at building one to rent out at first (I live in the Permie Capital of the World), then live in it after the kids leave, most likely giving our current house to one of our kids. We just want a much smaller house to take care of.

As for your questions:

I did not place this wood OVER concrete, I placed it IN the concrete, so the wood rounds were indeed placed over tamped earth. That was my whole purpose, to save the amount of concrete I needed to make up the floor. I carefully placed the rounds, then poured concrete between them. That was why I placed nails around the perimeter of the rounds...where the bark was removed, this embedded the wood rounds into the concrete so they would not move. The key is to have enough space between the rounds so concrete can pour in. If you leave too small of a space, you are forced to add what amounts to grout between the rounds with spoons, and that is tedious. In any case, I have a cement mixer, equipment and a gravel pit so concrete is not so much an issue for me, its just mixing it in huge batches that is troublesome. But I see no reason why earthcrete would not work. Along those same lines, compacted earth would work as well I would think...or COB (though I have no experience with COB, nothing against it, just never fussed with it). The concept is no different then doing landscaping where the brick is laid out and sand is swept between them to "lock" them in. In this case you are just compacting the soil/earthcrete/concrete/COB around the blocks.

As for sealants, I am not sure. I tend to be a minimalist and look at things differently then everyone else. It is mostly a curse I think, but I never used any. Nor do I think I would want to. My thinking is that of a simpleton I guess; if I can make the floor quick and cheap to install, why worry about longevity when I can redo it so easily? My house, a timber frame is filled with lumber I logged off my own land and sawed into lumber and its not protected with sealants. I dislike the smell and the off-gasses they produce. I have used them, just in places that need it like my kitchen counters, window sills, etc. But mostly, I let the wood stay raw. Some of it is over 22 years old and is just fine. Why protect something that does not need protection?
 
Zee Swartz
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Travis, thank you so much for the detailed answer!  I get disproportionately excited about these conversations and having my questions answered.  I live a sheltered life.  

I did not place this wood OVER concrete, I placed it IN the concrete, so the wood rounds were indeed placed over tamped earth. That was my whole purpose, to save the amount of concrete I needed to make up the floor. I carefully placed the rounds, then poured concrete between them


First of all, let's just take a moment and congratulate me for figuring out how to do that^ quote-ey thingy.  I've always wondered how to do that and feel now that I really belong to the forum set. 

Second, that information clears up some confusion I had and I'm even more excited now that I understand what you did.  I love it! 

I feel like I should give some more details about our house, especially considering this part of Daniel's reply (Thank you, Daniel!  Especially for the grain link! That will be very helpful too.)

Anything that isn't waterproof, such materials high in clay or cement, will likely wick moisture. This might not be a big deal if the house foundation is raised up compared to the surrounding areas. If this is on a hillside or someplace where part of the house is below finished grade then you would need extra precautions to keep all moisture away from the house so it can't wick up through the floor and soak into the wood.


(again with the quotes, so cool, LOL!)

We are building a "bale-cob" house "under" a steel framed structure with a metal roof. Bale because it's stinkin' hot here, cob because I wanna, and the steel building because building walls before the roof is not cool-ask me how I know **sigh** Here goes...
We are on a gentle south facing slope in central Oklahoma, zone 7 and considered the subtropical bit of OK.  According to topographical maps of the area, our acreage is the high spot locally.  We'll have a 2' overhang.  We put drainage in uphill from the house running south on the west side, as well as a french drain in the rubble trench that also runs south or downhill to daylight.  Yes, our floor level will be several inches above surrounding grade.  We plan on 4" of gravel, then we're using a tamped earth base made of decomposed granite.  In addition, and this is the most "un-green" part of our plan, we are incorporating a product called Secure Set- a poured closed cell foam product (it's inert when dry and does not off gas) into, or rather, on either side of our earth bag stem wall.  This will afford us a bit of insulation in our stem wall, some added security in regard to our gravel-filled earth bags, strength, and water impermeability from the outside of the stem wall.  I am VERY well aware of the controversy surrounding anything impermeable, however, I believe we've come up with an excellent plan for our situation, and, well, I'm not gonna change it.  If anyone is interested in knowing more about that and, possibly opening up a can o' green worms, just let me know.  The point is, I think we have very little chance of water ending up in our floors.  What with our gravel capillary break, the careful drainage plan, and, really, our climate, which is normally in a state of perpetual drought or semi-drought and more often susceptible to fires from dry weather and wind than to any kind of prolonged wet, I'm confident that once our floor is dry, it'll stay dry from below.  (Oh, and we're installing an attic fan, which should help with humidity inside the house).

HOWEVER, as mentioned, I have kiddos.  Several kiddos.  And my middle name ain't Grace, so I probably make as many messes as they do.  That being said, I'd like to try and keep the floor protected from above as well.    I'd like to find a happy medium though-one that gives a level of protection, and a cleanable surface (think dropped eggs, spilled milk, messy home school projects, etc.) but doesn't introduce lab chemicals to my floor, where we spend a lot of time.

From the most recent responses, I wonder if this plan would work:

*Proceed with our tamped earth over gravel base, let it dry completely (I totally posted about that elusive concept...haven't had any responses yet, sigh.)

*Position our end grain rounds or what-not; whatever we decide on with "pouring room" between them and the nails sticking out the edges

*Invite people over to puzzle over our bizarre looking wood/nail floor

*Fill in the gaps with a cob mixture very similar to what we would use if we were to use a traditional poured earthen floor

*Let dry (again with the completely dry gab!)

*"seal" with something...I happen to have a 55 gallon barrel of linseed oil that was given to us (weird, right?)

*wait for THAT to dry (lots of fans. Oklahoma is humid.)

Hmmm...Next question:

What about the bathroom?  We'll have a shower and 2 sinks, composting toilet and yes, an exhaust fan.  I'm not getting many warm fuzzies about how this might perform in a bathroom.  But I'm totally open to being corrected on that.

Again, THANK YOU for all of your help and insight!  I appreciate it very very much.

Zee 

 
William Bronson
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How about a checking dryness with a soil moisture meter? One dry you could fill the test holes with your sealant.
 
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