Archive for the ‘cobbing’ Category

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.

DSC_9748 DSC_9753 DSC_9774 DSC_9995

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



And the culprit…

DSC_9737…who left these tracks:



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



I’ll be back next week with another update!

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As the season progresses, our home here is coming back to life, as the focus switches from keeping warm to any number of projects and activities.  Now when the weather is nice, everyone is outside, working on building projects, gardening, etc.  It feels good to know winter is coming to a close, with the rest of the year waiting for us behind it.  I’ve been putting in a lot of hours at the dairy where I work, but on my days off I’ve been focusing on finishing the second story of the cob house, cobbing in the rafters and getting the room ready to plaster.  All the cob is almost finished, and I hope to be able to plaster within the next week!

The weather on Friday was still a bit chilly, so Noel volunteered to do all the foot mixing, while I sat on the balcony and watched, my feet warm and safe inside my boots…

Since Noel mixed the cob, I built with it, closing the gaps around the rafters.  Its been months since my hands have got to experience the sensation of working with cob, and I had almost forgotten just how much I love it…the deep satisfaction that comes from working with my hands.

Here you can see how much nicer the roundwood rafters look once they’re surrounded by the cob wall.  All the darker brown cob above the window is the fresh stuff.

We finally finished cobbing in the wood stove on Friday as well, and I’m excited to fire it up for the first time at some point this week!  Here’s some pictures:

crazy stovepipe...

So, now there is a new object in view from the balcony of the cob house.  Can you see something in the background, between the stump and the cob house?

Our friends Julia and Ben are building a tiny cabin, mainly out of salvaged materials and roundwood harvested from the woods here.  Its looking so cute that I can’t resist posting some pictures of it!  Designed to be low-cost and quickly built, most of the work has been over the last month, with hardly any money spent on materials.



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Throughout this project I’ve had many, many people share their time and energy with me, helping to slowly build this home.  At this point more than fifty people have spent time here working on the house!  There are two people in particular who have given a lot of themselves.  Joelle and Alexor signed up for the week long cob workshop we taught here back in July.  But a week of building wasn’t enough for them, and they ended up staying here for over a month, working through the hundred degree summer heat to help build our home.

Since Joelle and Alexor were here to watch the house begin to grow from a few inches of cob into an actual building, it’s fitting that they came back to visit and help cob as the walls reached their final height.  We worked all day long for 3 days, and as the sun was about to set on their last day here, we were cobbing over the final course of straw bales in the north wall.  And now the house is ready for a roof!


Alexor foot mixing

north wall ready for the third course of bales

Kristin cobs in a lintel (and more cat stairs...)

Alexor cobs in the last window

last course of bales for the balecob wall

Noel drives split bamboo through the bales

bales and cat steps

ridiculously tall...

As we worked on the second story these last few weeks, I just couldn’t help myself, and I decided to add more cat stairs, and another catwalk, and then more steps…

So, in theory, the cats should be able to walk up the steps to the balcony, and then onto the south catwalk, then up more stairs to the east catwalk, and from there take some more steps around the north side of the house back to the balcony, making a complete circle.  All this is going to make the house pretty awkward to plaster.  But I really love my cats…

cat stairs!

Last week we finally used the last of the clay subsoil we had piled near the site when clearing the land and digging the rubble trench.  I’m actually surprised the pile lasted as long as it did, and we got through most of the second story before we had to start using some clay we had from digging a biochar pit last spring.  The new clay soil is really, really high in clay.  A beautiful deep red clay that will be perfect for plaster.

red, red clay

There are still a lot of random areas that I need to go back and cob, but the walls are at their final height, and the next step is the living roof.  I am eager for the house to have some serious rain protection, so that I can enjoy thunderstorms once again, instead of worrying about my cob baby, moving tarps around in a somewhat hopeless attempt to keep the walls dry.  Lucky for me our whole region has been in a serious drought…

The look of the house has been transformed again this last week, and I find myself walking over there often, climbing up the ladder to the second story, and then just sitting in silence, reflecting and daydreaming.  As I sit there and look at the earthen walls, I’m filled with so many emotions, and I feel so much love for this house, not only for providing us with shelter, but for bringing so many amazing people into my life.

To everyone that has helped us build, thank you so much!

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Over the last two months I’ve watched the walls of my home grow taller each day, inching closer to the sky with each handful of earth.  As the house unfurls it’s personality is beginning to take shape, given life by all the individuals who’ve spent time here.  Working through the peak summer temperatures, so many people have already put their love and energy into this building.  Its something you can feel now when you step inside.

Once again my mind returns to the differences there can be between natural building and conventional construction.  Is it the method itself?  Its slow and intimate, with each cob worked into the wall by hand, no barriers between clay and skin, a free flow of energy from body to earth.  Maybe its the relaxed atmosphere of the work site, no loud machinery, just conversation and laughter… or sometimes no voices at all, just the birds and the bugs and the wind.  A house built that way has to end up feeling like a home, comforting and nurturing.

Whatever the reason, whenever I walk over to the house site now, I feel everyone’s personalities there.  I have been so lucky to have so many amazing people here to build with.  I miss everyone so much when they leave, but am comforted knowing that a little piece of each person stays with me here in this house.  What a gift!

liz and tanya

tanya, alli and liz on the balecob wall


tanya and joe


steve and joe

With everyone’s help, the first floor is pretty much finished.  The windows and lintels are all in, and the walls are up to the final height.  Once the sawmill down the road cuts the lumber we ordered (which was supposed to be here a week ago) we’ll be laying the floor.  And then the second story begins…

Here’s some recent photos:

the first lintel

down the path...


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Sunday was the last day of a week long cob workshop at our place.  With 8 of us working together the cottage has grown into a structure that really is starting to look like an actual building!  Here are some pictures from the last week:

day one

handmade tortillas cooked over a fire

cantilevered stairs

pile of "cobs"

putting in the last step on the last day!

making half bales for the balecob wall


balecob north wall

the "spy window"

the walls are getting so tall!

I feel so lucky to have had everyone spend a week putting their love and energy into this project.  Two people were even here on their honeymoon!  It becomes more apparent to me all the time just how much the natural building process can differ from conventional construction.  Working in the middle of July through the summer heat, we had so much fun, and everyone was so enthusiastic.  Four people have even decided to stay for another week, saving me from the shock of having to go back to working mostly by myself.

Thanks so much to everyone for your hard work and great company!

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Yesterday was the longest day of the year, with the season’s growth at its peak, the sun high in the sky, and a just-born baby goat on the farm.  To top off an already awesome day, the timing was perfect for putting in the first (and largest) window in the house.   At 68” wide and 66” tall, it takes up the majority of the southern wall.

Here you can see where I leveled a section of the south wall, leaving just enough space to slide in the window:

After making sure the corners are square, Noel and Gray braced the window with some scrap lumber, to make sure the corners stay at a 90 degree angle, so the window doesn’t shift at all, and will still open easily a few months from now.

Placing the window….

Bracing the window to the ground, making sure it stays plum and level…

We screwed some “deadmen” into the sides of the window, which help anchor the window into the wall as we cob around it.  Here I am cobbing in the deadman, which in this case is a piece of cedar:

Here’s the window at the end of the day, looking kind of ridiculous in proportion to the wall it rests upon:

The window on the southern side is going in pretty low, combining Pattern 222 (Low Sill) and Pattern 223 (Deep Reveals) to create an interior window seat that will be the perfect place to sit and read.  When the weather is nice I’ll have the window open, so as I read I’ll be able to smell all the herbs that will have been planted outside.

What do I mean by patterns 222 and 223?  Well, I’m referring to A Pattern Language, one of my favorite books, and a must-read before building anything!

The section for the second largest window is prepped, but I”l probably save all the rest of the window installing for our cob workshop here in the beginning of July.  Since there’s a nice layer of cob along the entire stemwall, I’ve had a lot of fun jumping up on the wall, and seeing everything from a different perspective.  Feeling the cob under my feet as it dries and hardens makes me have a lot of respect for it as a building material.  Its totally solid and rock-hard:

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A couple weeks ago my watch broke.  Then my laptop got sick.  And now my cell phone is barely functional.  The message I’ve been getting lately has been clear.  Are modern technologies able to withstand temperatures above 90 degrees?  Humidity above 90%?  A time span of more than a few years?  In a few hundred years my laptop will be just another item slowly releasing its contents into the earth and water around it.  So will my cell phone.  And my watch.

What will this cob house look like in a few hundred years?  Maybe a great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchild will be sleeping upstairs with a few cats, replastering every once in a while, fixing any leaks in the roof.  Maybe it will have been abandoned, the field long since grown back into a forest, and the clay, sand, and straw returned to the soil.  A family of black bears will have found the urbanite foundation, still standing, creating a perfect shelter…

I made my first foot mix a couple weeks ago, thinking about the materials under my feet, and where they would be when I was gone.

The other day my friend Feezor came over and we dug around in the neighbor’s scrap wood pile, scavenging enough pine and cedar to make a custom door frame.

A great thing about designing and building your own house is being able to build with the size of your own body in mind.  I’m short, standing tall at around 5’3″ with shoes on.  The front door will be 5’6″, and 23 1/2 inches wide.  It feels good to stand in a doorway made just for you…

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