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We just ended a week long cob workshop at the Mud Dauber School, where we are building our straw bale house.  What a lovely group of cobbers!  In seven days eight students plus Greg constructed a tiny cob and straw bale building, from digging the rubble trench on day one:

16821236295_5d0efbc4c3_oto finishing the walls on day seven!:

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We are excited to be hosting two more workshops this May, one cob workshop and one straw bale workshop.  You can read about them here: http://muddauberschool.com/workshops/

Sharing healthy and hearty meals while working together is part of the experience during our natural building workshops.  In May we will be working on constructing a cob and straw bale dining area/kitchen!  I am looking forward to the creation of this space, as we build the infrastructure for our school.  And looking forward to many more muddy meals.

Thank you cobbers!

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Plaster Love

I have not posted to my blog in a long time.  I have no excuses other than the all consuming busyness of parenting combined with house building combined with no internet access.  I apologize for any comments I never responded to, as I simply have not logged in here in a long time.  I hope to do so more this year!  We have been busy finishing our straw bale house, which we hope to be moving into soon.  Greg has been working on it full time for many months now, and Leo has been going to preschool two days a week since the fall, so I have had a chance to work on our house as well.  Since the beginning of my full time parenting journey I have not had time for much else, and have been truly enjoying this opportunity to once again spend a chunk of uninterrupted time working with my hands.  It is time I cherish, with an even greater appreciation for the amazing material I fell in love with years ago.  I love clay.

red clay plaster

red clay plaster

Our straw bale house is much larger than our cob house, and soon we will be moving from 300 square feet to about 800 square feet of living space.  This has given us an opportunity to enjoy lots and lots of plastering!  We were able to complete our three coats of exterior plaster before the cold temperatures set in, and spend the winter finishing the inside with the wood stove warming our work days.  A luxury we did not take for granted!

When I plastered my cob house I had minimal plastering experience, and was just learning to use a trowel.  I plastered most of my house with a yogurt container lid!  I have had a few opportunities to plaster again every so often, but this winter I got to immerse myself in it.  And I fell in love.  We decided to plaster the interior with all clay plasters, aside from a couple places where there is lime plaster.  My wonderful friend Joelle came to visit us for a week in December as we finished up our base coats over the bales and began our finish plaster.  I met Joelle the year I began constructing the cob house, as she signed up for my cob workshop.  After the workshop Joelle came back to visit and work on the house with me many times.  So much of my house was built by Joelle!  So much so that I will always think of her when I think of my house.  Joelle has continued working in natural building ever since, and is a talented plasterer, among other things. I was excited to have her work on our straw bale house as well, and enjoyed learning from her. Even though she was 7 months pregnant, Joelle drove down here and slept on our cob house floor, and worked all day plastering for a week straight!

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kaolin plaster test batch

kaolin plaster test batch

Joelle convinced us to used bagged clay for our finish plaster.  After many, many hours of digging, soaking, and screening site clay in freezing temperatures for our base coats we were happy to experience to luxury of dried powdered clay.  We live near STARworks, where there is a factory for processing local clays for the many ceramic artists in the area, where there is a rich history of pottery making.  What a resource!  We decided on a kaolin clay as well as the beautifully red Okeewemee clay.

Base coats of earthen plaster, using site clay:

15528285214_867f4b050e_o 15528284454_e6503b562a_oKaolin clay plastering:

16150628175_21ec653042_o DSC_5348 DSC_5350finished!:

Joelle's swirls!

Joelle’s swirls!

DSC_6265 16225606210_a5d21a6321_oThe kaolin has grown on me.  At first its white-ness was strange to me, as I am used to the colors of our clay soil.  But now I am in love with its brightness and neutral gentleness.  I love the floor to ceiling complete continuity of the plaster as well, although it was not the easiest plaster job.  But it is so lovely.

We used the red Okeewemee clay downstairs.  I love walking into the house and feeling the warmth and rich red color of the plaster.  It really can’t be captured in a photo, the way the plaster reflects light just has to be experienced.  I also don’t currently have many pictures of the downstairs on my computer to upload right now.  But here are a few:

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We used the same red clay for our earthen floor mix that we used on our stairs.  Once sealed with linseed oil the color deepens dramatically:

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In the room with our to-code flush toilet, I plastered with a mix of the red clay and kaolin, with the addition of a lot of chopped straw.  I think this might be my favorite plaster in the house, and I’ll have to take some nice photos of it soon.  But for now here are two from my phone.  I sealed it with linseed oil around the sink area, for water resistance.  I love the way linseed oil can affect the color of plaster!  It brings out the golden hues of the chopped straw as well:

16729984470_8d8a41b14a_o 16601180389_2506642ea7_oWhen we completed all the plastering I was satisfied with the accomplishment, but sad to end my series of day after day of peaceful focused plastering.  I am looking forward to all the opportunities for spring time plastering on the many other unfinished buildings on our property.  As well as, hopefully, finally plastering the rest of the cob house!

And thank you Joelle!!!

We have a couple of natural building workshops planned for this May, during the peak of our beautiful North Carolina’s spring season!  I am especially excited that these workshops are being held at the site of our future home, in the rural town of Snow Camp, NC.  Greg has been building us a permitted straw bale home on our 11 acres, as well as creating some infrastructure to accommodate the beginnings of The Mud Dauber School of Natural Building, which will be sharing our 11 acre home space!

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Greg and Mike will be teaching two workshops this May, one is a 7 day cob building intensive, and the other is a 9-day permitted straw bale workshop!  Here are the details:

7-Day Earthen Building Immersion:

May 4-10th

7-Day Earthen Building Immersion
May 4th-10th, 2014
$750
[20% off for full payment 90 days in advance, 10% off for 30 days in advance, 10% for family and friends participating together]
20-student maximum, to ensure a good instructor:student ratio.

Join us at the future site of the Mud Dauber School of Natural Building, in Central North Carolina, for a natural building immersion! Instructors Greg Allen and Mike McDonough will guide participants through the creation of a cob and strawbale cottage at the edge of a small pond. We will be harvesting clay from beneath our feet and grasses from around the pond, and mixing them with human power right on site! Strawbales from a local farmer will be built into the building as well.

You will learn all of the basics about mixing and applying cob. Strawbales will be integrated into a “balecob” hybrid wall system, which we will discuss the thermal benefits of. We will add a door and windows into the building, with accompanying carpentry experiences. The final days of the workshops will be dedicated to roofing the building with a living roof. Natural plastering opportunities (mixing and applying) will be available for those interested. Most of the week will be completely hands-on – this will be supplemented with sit-down discussions and presentations about foundations, siting a building, roofing options, building permits, and more.

9-Day Permitted Natural Home:

May 17th-25th

The 9-Day Permitted Natural Home
May 17th-25th, 2014
$1,000 [20% off for full payment 90 days in advance, 10% off for 30 days in advance, 10% for family and friends participating together]

Join us at the future site of the Mud Dauber School of Natural Building, in Central North Carolina, for a unique permitted natural building workshop. Instructors Greg Allen and Mike McDonough will guide participants through the creation of a stick-framed cottage, with strawbale and straw-clay walls, natural plaster finishes, and cob details. We will be building with rough-sawn lumber from a nearby sawmill, on-site clay, local strawbales, and as many salvaged materials as possible. The small building we construct will provide the necessary learning experience to go on and build your own permitted building of the size you want.

We will spend most of the week doing hands-on building, covering a mix of conventional and natural techniques: masonry foundation, carpentry, strawbale walls, cob mixing, plastering, roofing, and more. In addition to hands-on work, there will be plenty of time devoted to sit-down discussions and presentations. Each participant will receive a copy of the building permit application to take home as reference. There will be discussion about how to minimize the effect that your local codes/inspectors might have on your ideal natural design.

The building will have a concrete pier foundation, a wooden framework, and a metal roof. The walls will be insulated with straw, and the ceiling and floor with dense-pack cellulose. The finish floor will be earthen, and the walls and ceiling will be naturally plastered. There will be opportunities to sculpt cob into a window seat bench, around corners, and to create an arched doorway.

Some of the techniques you will have the opportunity to learn:
– plastering on bales, drywall (for ceiling), and cob
– framing a floor, walls, and roof
– pouring cement piers
– installing a metal roof
– building up strawbale infill walls (stacking, re-shaping, trimming)
– simple wiring
– installing windows and doors
– mixing natural plasters
– earthen floors (if we have time left)

*We will be focusing on the use of hand-tools for this workshop. Power tools will be used infrequently, and by instructors only. A handsaw can be as fast as a circular saw if it’s maintained and you practice!

Three meals a day will be provided, and will be mainly vegetarian, with a couple meat options throughout the week. Most any dietary restriction can be accommodated, and participants are welcome to bring their own snacks. Camping will be available on site, as well as toilet and shower facilities.

Both Greg and Mike graduated from the Cob Cottage Company’s apprenticeship program in 2008, and have teamed up to teach natural building skills on the east coast.

To sign up, or ask questions, e-mail Greg at muddauberschool@gmail.com, or call at 315-657-3980.

photo by Natalia Weedy

photo by Natalia Weedy

Greg and Mike are both apprentices of the Cob Cottage Company, and together have taught many natural building workshops here on the east coast.  Here are some lovely photos taken by one of the participants from last year’s springtime cob workshop, Natalia Weedy.  Natalia’s photographs capture what I love the most about cob…the satisfaction of working with one’s hands, the joy of creating something together as a community…

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We have been living in the cob house for almost two months already!  I don’t quite have the words to describe what it has been like for me to be back in this cozy space, with my family.  I love this house, and all its beauty and gentleness.  Being here brings me so much joy, and a centered feeling that comes partly from reconnecting with a place I poured so much of my energy into, and partly from the qualities of the house.  The curves of the cob walls, the texture of the plaster, the warmth of the wood.  These natural materials are just so comforting!

So far we have been comfortable in this little space.  The wood stove works well and heats up the house, although our winters here are fairly mild.  The earthen floor and cob are a lot of cold, cold thermal mass, though, and if we are gone for a couple of days then the house takes longer to warm up once we get a fire going.  I think the properties of cob are most appreciated here during the intensity of our endless summers, when the temperatures can become quite miserable.  Then the cool floors and walls are refreshing, but for now we wear slippers!

Some pictures of my cozy little hobbit house:

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Greg has spent another week or so working on the cob house, and this week I have been in awe of just how fast he is!  It really is incredible.

Greg tiled the countertop around the sink, and finished the salvaged chestnut portion of the countertop, as well as the butcher block from the Habitat Re-store.  The three different countertop sections looks quite nice together.  I love the chestnut!

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chestnut

chestnut

finished!

finished!

DSC_0700Greg also started a portion of the outdoor countertop:

DSC_0365I can’t believe all the interior plaster is finished!  Greg did one coat of earthen plaster in a few spots, and then two coats of lime plaster.  I love how plaster changes a space so dramatically, clearing away all visual distractions, allowing the curves of the walls and window reveals to really be appreciated.  So beautiful.  The lime really brightened the space up significantly as well.

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first coat of lime

first coat of lime

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finish coat

finish coat

DSC_0686 DSC_0719 DSC_0721 DSC_0723And the earthen floor!  Greg did a mix with the red clay in the “living room” and a mix with the yellowish clay in the kitchen.  Check out the shapes in the red clay floor!  These will later be grouted after the floor is dry and finished.

DSC_0744 DSC_0750 DSC_0772 DSC_0782 DSC_0784The next step will be oiling and waxing the floor once its all dry.  The way the space has come together fills my heart up in an indescribable way.  I am in love with this gentle space, so full of beauty.  I am so looking forward to spending time there with my sweet family.

a return to cob

We haven’t forgotten!  Time passes…life is full, and we have been busy.  My days have been completely immersed in the strange, magical, and irrational world of a two year old, and Greg has been in the middle of countless building projects (including a straw bale house for us!)  My patient little cottage has been waiting quietly, housing the occasional visitor, storing random items and crocks of various ferments.  But, finally, there is some time open for this sweet little cob house.  Greg spent all of last week working on the house, getting it ready to be our home this winter  We are focusing on getting the interior finished, as all the exterior plaster will likely wait until spring or summer.

Some pictures from last week!

A metal roof for the little gable above the back door, using scrap pieces from another project.  It still needs some work where it meets up with the cob and some of the cat steps.  I’m afraid that a couple of the steps will have to go!  But they will be replaced, ensuring that the cats will have full access to the eastern cat walk, should they so choose.

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Greg poured the subfloor in the “living room,” trying out a mix with a bit more clay, using 1 clay to 3 sand.

subfloor!

subfloor!

And the culprit…

DSC_9737…who left these tracks:

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Which gave Leo a good opportunity for a little lesson on how to trowel out cat prints:

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Cob!  Greg got in a good amount of foot mixing, as there was a lot of cobbing to be done in odd places, as he worked on closing up the house and getting it prepped for plaster.  Luckily he had some help!  Leo was eager to join in a mix when I took him out to visit for a day.  My heart melted a bit…he’s a pretty good cobber!

DSC_0020 DSC_0022 DSC_0058 DSC_0070 DSC_0079 DSC_0086Ready for plaster!:

DSC_9943 DSC_9971 DSC_0110 DSC_9810 DSC_9855Greg also had the not so exciting job of switching out the wood stove, from the Scandia to our sweet Jotul 602 craigslist score.  Aside from being a nicer stove in general, the Jotul has the option of having the stove pipe exit from the top, which works out so much better in the small space.  Greg had to bust a new hole through the cob wall for the pipe to exit through, but that wasn’t the difficult part.  I had long ago returned my borrowed scaffolding, and now there is no easy, safe way to get up there and change the way the pipe is oddly bolted to the rafters in so many places.  Greg spent a full day, and then some, going up to the roof and down again working on changing my awkward installation.  It looks a lot better now…

DSC_9745 DSC_9747 DSC_9782Greg started building the cabinets under the counters, and also built some shelves next to the sink using mostly wood from the free pile at the sawmill.  He’s heading back out tomorrow to spend a couple days on the kitchen, installing the countertops and building shelving.

future countertop

future countertop

starting the cabinets

starting the cabinets

shelves

shelves

I’ll be back next week with another update!

Its Spring!!!

As each season comes to it’s end and the next is waiting new, something inside of me always feels refreshed.  Like letting out a deeply held breath.  But this time of year, right before the trees transform from bare branches, and the landscape everywhere is about to explode into an electric green… it’s my favorite time of year, and I always get a little excited.  There is so much energy and anticipation in the earth, waiting for just the right moment to burst out.  Shouldn’t April be the first month of the year?

The addition has been waiting all winter as well.  We got things to a good stopping point, and then left it for the season.  Greg has kept busy working on other projects, and now that it is getting warmer (tomorrow is supposed to be in the 70’s!) we’ll be planning a time soon to finish the addition.  We’ve also been planning…another house!  The building never ends…

Also exciting…Greg and Mike are teaching a series of workshops nearby this May.  They are going to be hosted at Pickard’s Mountain Eco-Institute near Chapel Hill this April and May.  They’ll be teaching one 7 day intensive workshop, as well as a few weekend workshops.  Plenty of mud and straw is in the near future!  Here are the links:

7 Day Cob Intensive

Earthen Oven 3 Day Workshop

Natural Plaster Weekend

If you’ve been looking for good cob workshop in the southeast, check out one the links above, and then come visit NC!

I also can’t resist sharing a little cuteness.  My sweet guy loves to “mix plaster” in his wheelbarrow, and make a big, muddy mess.  Here are a couple pictures of Leo learning to mix up earthen plaster and then trowel it on the wall.  18 months is a bit young, but I thought he did great job! (Although he always puts his plaster on the wrong side of his trowel..)

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And here he is again, plastering his face…

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