One Wall Up, and Three More To Go.

David's picture

It's been a while since we put our very first hunk of cob on the wall, and now we are counting down to our last. I did a bit of some rough calculations and as of this moment, I figure we have 22 more buckets of clay and 44 more buckets of sand to finish up our cobbing. Which equals 1-1/2 more 55 gallon drums of sifted clay and 22 more sled fulls of sifted sand. Which can then be calculated to 11 or 22 more batches of cob, depending if we are laying 6" or 12" lifts. I don't know about you, but 11 batches sounds much better than 22.

If all those numbers sound a bit confusing, don't worry about it. Just know that we are almost done. Over the weekend we had some hot and sunny weather, so we tried to take advantage of the clear skies as much as we could. We managed to prepare and set all of our loft joists and even put on the remaining 1' of cob on the south wall. Not to shabby if you ask me. The joists look great and the finished wall is a bit of a relief. One wall up, and three more to go.

For the joists, we used peeled pine and 'slightly' peeled birch poles. It wasn't originally planned that way, it's just what we ended up with. You see, we had purchased a truck load of 16' logs to cut and burn for this coming winter. They were a mixture of pine and birch, and were stacked in a pile against the barn. Well, I had hoped to use all pine for the joists, but as it turned out, most of the pine was tucked in way at the bottom of the pile. I did get lucky with three of them though. It wasn't enough for all the joists, so I had resorted to using another two of birch.

Out of the five poles, two of the pine were already peeled, one was not, and the birch were a bit on the shaggy side. The first thing I did was cut them all to size. I made sure they were long enough to sit on the walls so that the ends were pretty well centered in the walls. The peeled pine were ready to go, but the other three needed a bit of work. For the birch, I figured I could peel the bark off lickity-split. Heck, I did it once already when I made my banjo, and it wasn't difficult at all. The bark peeled off it quite nicely and left a whistle clean log in the end. Well, apparently the poles I have now sat a little longer than my banjo log cause the bark was holding fast and strong. It would take me a whole day to peel one pole with my buck knife and hatchet. I had to think of something else. After looking the pole up and down, I decided to just clean it up. So I found the side that was the flattest and scored it with my knife, end to end. I then started peeling the outer layers of the bark. (For those who may not be familiar with birch, the bark grows in sheets and can be pulled off in layers.) Well, I knew I didn't want the inner most layer to show, nor did I like the shaggy outside, so I peeled a few layers just take off the gray shaggy bark. This gave me a nice peachish log that still shows all the little 'eyes' of a birch tree. Quite nice really. Also, being how the flattest side will be the top of the joist, you won't see the scoring from underneath.

So the birch wasn't too difficult, especially when Patricia offered to give me a hand, but then came the stubborn pine. There was no easy way to skin this cat. It had long since been cut down, and the bark was no longer a separate part of the log. After some serious contemplation over extracting an already peeled pine out from the wood stack, I knelt down and got to workin' on the pine I already had. It took me a while, but eventually I had a clean log. Well, even though I had two types of wood, it was actually a good thing. You see, the loft is in two sections. On one side I used the two birch, and the other had the pine. In such a small space, I think the two different woods will help define the separate spaces.

So now it was time to lay them up. I had thought I could set them as we cobbed, but just before we started mixing a batch, I realized it wouldn't work. The logs themselves were quite heavy and most likely would shift and slump before the cob had a chance to dry solid. Plus, I couldn't see it being an easy chore to keep them all level to one another. So I changed gears and went ahead and dry set the joists before cobbing. I lifted the joists on the walls, and with Patricia on one wall and me on the other, we set them in place. The existing walls were about 8" lower then where the joists needed to be, so we had to prop them up somehow. We ended up using some paving bricks to do the job. They actually worked really well because the shape of the bricks were such that the joists could rest in a groove, keeping them from rolling about. It took us all day Saturday to prepare and set the joists.

The following day it was time to cob. We needed about 1' to go along the walls, and we decided to try something different. So far we have been laying the cob in 6" lifts, and it has been taking us a day to lay one lift if we worked at it all day together. So, we decided to try and lay a 12" lift. We'd make a double batch of cob so we could get twice as much done. At that rate, we would surely be able to finish the remaining cob for the building. That was the theory, and we put it to the test. The theory failed.

Well, maybe not totally. We did trim some time off doing the double batch, but it there were other factors we didn't take in account. One being how heavy a double batch is. Patricia was having a very difficult time pulling up the tarp to roll the batch around, so I started helping her mix the cob. Normally, she'd be mixing while I reloaded the buckets to make ready for the next batch. So what was happening was after we laid the cob on the walls, she would have to wait while I reloaded on clay and sand. The clay is not so bad. Two buckets of pre-sifted clay. But I needed four buckets of sand, and they all needed to be sifted first. It amounted to a lot of down time. The other factor was cobbing around the deadmen and joists. I didn't think it would take as long as it did. Working on one side of the wall, and trying to reach around to the other and fill in all of the nooks and crannies around the wood was a bit of a hassle.

We thought we'd be able to get the last of the cobbing done today, but instead we only finished the south wall. But we're still happy with it because we can check off one wall. We are going to work on the north wall next, and then the gable ends. With the north and south walls in, we would be able to install the roof. That will give us something to do when the rain comes again. Plus, I can install the trombe window and door as well. Nice!

Well there ya go. A very prosperous weekend and an aesthetically pleasing difference. Here are a few pictures of the progress.


Rachel's picture

Great pics! I especially love the one with one of each of your feet in it! :-D That's one for posterity, for sure.

What are the holes in the walls for? The ones with pipes sticking out.

By Rachel
David's picture

Thanks! The holes that you are looking at are the ports of the trombe wall. The actual pipes will be removed, leaving holes in the wall for air to travel through.

By David

Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive learn something like this before. So nice to search out any person with some authentic ideas on this subject. realy thanks for starting this up. this web site is something that’s wanted on the web, someone with a little bit originality. useful job for bringing one thing new to the web!

David's picture

Thanks BMihaelll! While I can't claim authenticity of the core of my ideas, I can say that I've made modifications to existing practices. Mostly due to keeping to my ideals of using what's on hand and making due, and finding my own ways to carry them out. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don't. But regardless of the outcome, I'm always glad to have learned something.

By David