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Archive for the ‘earthen floor’ Category

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!!!

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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.

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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!

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This is why I haven’t posted lately:

So, last year I built a house.

And this year my body built…another body!  And now I’m just waiting for my body to release this baby.  But there has been a little bit of work on the house.  After Greg poured the finish layer of the earthen floor, it took a week or two to dry.  And I was very, very excited to see that it dried without a single crack!  Success!

I sealed the floor with four coats of a linseed oil blend I bought from landarknw.com.  It was a bit of a splurge, but I wanted something completely non toxic.  I didn’t want to be breathing in fumes from the boiled linseed oil and mineral spirits from our local hardware store, especially not while pregnant.  Someone on a cob list serve had recommended LandArk’s Earth Finish for earthen floors, so I decided to give it a try.  I ended up using just about one gallon, and even had a little extra to use on some of the wooden parts of the house, mainly the door frame and ladder.  The floor turned out great!  With each coat the color darkened until it reached a deep purplish red, and it seems to be  very hard and durable.  I’ve accidentally knocked my box fan into the ladder opening more than a few times.  Each time that its fallen from the second story onto the earthen floor, it hasn’t even left a mark.  And I’ve mopped it a few times, and it remains unchanged.  I plan on waxing the floor soon, too, so it’ll be interesting to see how that affects the floor as well.

first coat of oil

the first floor..finally lived in!

I’ll post some more pictures soon…

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