Friday, November 23, 2012

Life at the coalface

Spring is in the air. Spring is in the step. Spring has sprung up my nose. Hayfever sucks ... but the mild weather has meant great progress on the house. As I have been somewhat silent on these pages over winter, guilt has got the better of me and I'm sharing some updates with the world. Besides, I'm stuck in town servicing the car and need to fill in some time (seeing as how I cannot do any building :) ). So much has been accomplished since my last entry here. Here's a quick rundown of what we've achieved. 

After the awesome efforts of our baling team, I spent several weeks getting the walls compressed and trimmed. The pallet strapping that we had so carefully installed under the bale plinths turned out to be fairly much useless when it came to compressing the bale walls. We could get only 5-10mm deflection using this method. As has occurred oft-times, plan B was put into action. We built horizontal ladder bars out of 4x2 and laid these on top of the bales. I had some car jacks onsite for this eventuality and used these (to great effect) to then squash the walls until they were quite firm. With stacks up to 7 bales high, I managed to get some walls to deflect over 350mm down. I then tied (using more timber and lots of loooong nails) the ladder bars to the adjoining wall and window bucks. This took nearly a week. Stuffing straw firmly into the cavities left remaining above took more than another week. Next / parallel step was packing straw and cob into all of the gaps between bales and structure. This had to occur in several layers to allow the cob to dry properly. Dana was doing lots of this on her days off and then applying a clay slip to all remaining exposed straw surfaces. Before this could be done, I trimmed each wall panel to some kind of straightness using the little chainsaw. The biggest problem area was the corners. Unfortunately, 5 of the 6 external corners had suffered from varying degrees of outward bowing ... however carefully we tried to lay the bales! Most of these were fixed with trimming and re-tieing but the NW lounge corner bowed out so much that I had to restack from scratch. In these places, I also added some el-cheapo bamboo screening from Bunnies which was pinned in with 6 inch staples made from fencing tie wire.

Weather is the great enemy of many steps in the building game. Just as things cooled down enough to spend a whole day working with minimal sweating, so too did the cob drying process. This happened to the point where it would take 2-3 weeks to go off enough for another layer (instead of the 2-3 days initially) and eventually saw the formation of white mould where the wet mud sat moistening the bales. Mild panic was followed with some strategic online research and some phone calls to knowledgeable people. Apparently, the problem in not uncommon and can be rectified with a variety of methods. Rectification options included: better air flow around any drying areas; spraying mouldy bits with lime wash; spraying borate; spraying chlorine; or, spraying bleach. There is no universal magic fix but, so far, the lime wash seems to be doing the trick. Huey's next enforced delay was the render soil. I'd done some labour at a mate's place as barter for many tons of deep red-brown subsoil that he'd made bricks from. Free soil in exchange for attaching fibre cement sheets to eaves sounded like a great deal. Waiting 3 months until the ground firmed up enough to get the digger in to fill the truck was the price of such 'free' materials.

There is plenty more to report on but that will have to wait for another day. Silly season has started early yet again and time is at a premium. Pics soon too.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Raising Arizona

We have bales up. Yay.

That was 3 months ago. Boo.

Many friends and family came to help us out. Yay.

Life since has been flat out, interesting and fun. Yay.

I've struggled to find enough time to post about this. Boo.

Finally, here are at least some photos. Yay.

300 bales of wheaten straw

stacking under cover on pallets

down they come...

...and on the stack they go

we got a good system going

piling it on...

...and on


a stylish dismount Indigo

keep 'em coming

and keep on stacking

last bale off the truck

let the cubby house begin

and let the real house get it's first bale

Dave bangin one into place

Slug joins in too

it all seemed to happen quickly

Ande working hard

Dana & Jules making half bales

Karena & Dana gluing carpet to the steel (to stop condensation getting into the bale walls)

I didn't just supervise

Looking wonky

bangin in bamboo stakes to tie it all together

committe meeting fixed the wonky

looking good

a dwindling stack

even Finn got in on the action

a bit of fatherly advice

South West wall ready for compression and trimming

Jon got enough time off lining the ceilings to lay a bale or two

the leaning corner of Pisa

the boys made a killer cubby house

who gave this man a nail gun? Thanks Martin...

Alison & Dana having too much fun

Pete & Liam on the case

the calm before the storm

well, a 70 year old storm

Ma banging it into place

looks like fun
Heather and Dana plugging the gaps with loose straw and mud
East wall stacked

almost looks like a house
Many thanks to our baling crew and catering team.

Phew, that took ages to load. Next installment has compressing, trimming, gap filling, cob, mould, lime, plumbing and more. As ever, it will be on the infonerd when it's done.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

This is a stick-up (or Lots Of Sticks Up)

I left you all last post with us amid-framing. Here's the rest of the timber cutting and bashing story.

Whilst settling in to primitive life in the shouse, we still found a few hours every day to continue on with the big house. Because Sol had been so kind as to lend us his tools of trade while he XMAS-ed and holidayed, I was keen to make as much use of the compressor / air nailers arrangement as possible. So, we plodded ahead, adding a few lengths of 4-by-2 or sheets of ply every day.
filling the gaps
keeping those conduits out of the way
 Looking back over the photos to write this, I am overwhelmed by how much we have achieved. Each section and each detail was measured, planned out (i.e. drawn up to make sure of how it goes together), cut, assembled on the ground, installed and fixed in for good (once we were sure that it was level / plumb / etc!). Some were a little too tight and had to be trimmed or planed down but most either popped in or were 'persuaded' with a few taps of the eccy-thump machine (rubber mallet). Here are some progress shots as we went.
solid buckeroonies
...and strong
 A few times, we came to a impasse where I could only continue on my own so, in between times, Dana got to making us a letter box. We designed it in the shape of the house and it came out pretty darn good. We planted it at the front gate and then found out that the mail delivery contractors wanted it at the end of the street, so Dana uprooted it and stuck it on with all the other home made letter boxes on the street corner.
looks just like our house...
...except raised on a pole!
My brother Nick and his family popped by and gave me a hand for a few days while Dana worked back in town. We got the first lintels made and installed and I did some precision carpentry to finish off Dana's study. A few more weeks of slowly but surely went by and then Sol called up for his tools. We cleaned them up and dropped them back and I got him to convince my dearest that it was indeed worth investing in the same. A bit of Trading Post and Tag Trader time later, I had a twin cylinder compressor, a Paslode 5000 series frame nailer, 20m of hose and about 2500 collated nails (all for well less than half new price!).
lintels by Nobbie, exquisite framing by me...:)
more Nobbie lintels
now with ply bracing
it makes noise and it blows air
yay for Paslode...
 So I used these new toys (oops, I mean well loved second hand tools..:)) to clean things up a bit and build a bench for the 50 million boxes of hardware and hand tools that had been gracing the laundry stem wall (before I had to install the bottom boxing). Unlike much of my life, I like a clean, well ordered site - you can find what ever you need in a moment. Perhaps there is a bit of the old man in me...

so neat
engineer's son anyone???
Another cool side project that Dana got on to was the creation of a rodent proof cupboard. We'd been getting sick of the little buggers eating through plastic to get at our food and thought that a chunky timber unit would solve this.
no more Rattus
I'm proud of this now hidden multiple compound mitre / bevel. Sitting inside the bathroom wall now - it fitted so perfectly.
More assistance came in the form of Biggsy on holiday for a few days. With many years of site experience, he came in more than handy. I just had to say "I need that bit there and built like so" and it would happen. Nice. Even better were some strong muscles to help lift the mega-lintels into place.

are you sure it's level?

flying the big boy

now docked for good

me team at work

Over the next few weeks I kept plugging away at it bit by bit, taking the time to both do it right and not trash my back again. This meant building in one-person-manageable sections and piecing it all together in-situ.

piece by...

...piece by...

...piece, it all...

...came together...
...just nicely

The kitchen walls took a bit of beard stroking and head scratching to work out but the end result is primo. I'd put aside a couple of studs that were bowed enough to follow the profile of the rafter pretty snuggly. I had to clamp these to the rafter to get true measurements for the studs and then pre-build sections that still allowed drill access to screw studs to SHS poles. Speaking of which, I could swear that the steel in those posts has got harder over time. So hard that (after one too many broken drill bits and some real swearing!) we gave in and hired a magnetic clamp-on drill press for a day. This chunky beastie chewed holes in our steel like a hot knife in butter. Smiles duly followed.
bed wall
kitchen part 1
and the trickiest bit
 Another day and the kitchen wall was schmicko. As soon as I'd tightened down the last bolt, I gave the frame a tap with the hammer and it sang to me...

A couple more 3x4x2 laminated studs for the main dining window and we were ready for the framing inspection. Which, as posted earlier, went just swimmingly, thanks.
can't you just hear it sing???
With all that info now dumped from my brain, I can now start to think about writing up the baling workshop. Soon, soon, soon. :) In the meantime, here are a few more random pics from the period...

oh, it's so pretty

Rats ate the timber louvres. Armour plating will get em. I call it the "Food Dalek"

it's all about the light

that stud on the right looks wonky...because it is!

light ... and... anti-light.