Posts Tagged ‘dry stacking’

What’s new with the cob house this month?  Lots of things!


As my belly grows larger each week, physical labor becomes more difficult and complicated for me.  I’ve been very lucky lately to have a lot of help from my friends, who’ve done most of the work on the house, in exchange for a meal, and my company….


Greg and Jeremy worked on dry stacking some urbanite steps, so I no longer had to use a five gallon bucket as the first step up to the second floor.  I’ve had some really big pieces of urbanite left in the pile that were way too large to use in the foundation, as well as just much too heavy for me to ever move.  Here’s Greg and Jeremy transforming those chunks of urbanite into my new set of stairs…

Mike and Greg came out on another weekend to help pour the subfloor in the first story.  The mix was 3 buckets of sand, 3 buckets of screenings, and 1/2 bucket of soaked clay.  Its amazing that such a small amount of clay can bind all that aggregate!


The work on the subfloor went pretty fast, so Greg and Mike decided to make an urbanite patio outside the entrance.  Greg started digging while Mike collected rubble for drainage.

Greg found access to my rubble trench, and some perforated drainpipe was laid in the drainage layer of the patio so that it empties directly into the trench.

found the rubble trench!

filling with rubble


and then a layer of screenings...

laying "stones"

the finished patio!


You may have noticed the freshly plastered interior walls in some of the above  pictures.  One weekend we had a work party to plaster the first story interior walls.  Greg and I, as well as our friends Ash, Giovanna, and Kristy, worked together plastering all the oddly shaped surfaces.  Between the bookshelves, niches, window reveals, floor joists, etc, there were a lot of awkward spaces to plaster.  But it was a lot of fun, and so satisfying to see the room transformed by the smooth, smooth plaster.  We used a beautiful yellow-brown clay that we found here on our land, and I really love the color.  I must have been too excited about plastering, because I forgot to take any pictures that day!  But here’s some before pictures:


some niches I carved...



And the room post-plaster:

Yesterday Greg and Dan came out, and they worked on decking the roof for the outdoor bed.  The poor tulip poplar rafters have been naked and exposed to the elements since last summer.  But not anymore!  Greg and Dan used the rest of the pile of decking I had left over from the main roof, and there ended up being just enough to finish the job.

I’m thinking of trying an experimental “earthen roof”, involving  my pond liner scraps and a final layer of lime and tiles, but I’ll write more about that later.  And, as soon as the subfloor dries, we’ll be pouring the finish floor layer, sealing that with linseed oil and beeswax, and then I’ll finally be able to  inhabit the entire cob house!




Read Full Post »

Last week I took a mini road trip up to Philly, and along the way got to visit a friend of mine who is building a home for herself and her husband.  Most of the building projects I’ve worked on have been with the same people each time, so seeing Melissa’s project was so much fun for me, and such an inspiration!  She decided that she was going to build a house, and without ever having even seen a cob house before, she just got some books and taught herself.  This is why I love cob.

We all have the knowledge and ability and resources to meet our needs for shelter.  That knowledge is just buried underneath all the messages whispered into our ears as we grow up in our culture.  Messages about who can build.  Who is strong enough.  Who has the expertise.  Messages about what shelter is.  Messages about what our needs even are.  When we can break away from what we’ve been told, we start to realize what’s possible.

At 5’1″, Melissa is smaller than me!  But, like me, she is the main person building her home.  She dry stacked her own foundation (on a rubble trench dug 3 feet deep!), and now has her walls built up, with almost all the windows in.  When Greg and I were walking through the woods trying to find her place, we knew we were on the right trail when this is what we saw peeking back at us through the trees:

The land there is meant for cob.  Amazingly beautiful stones are laying everywhere, perfect for dry stacking, but surprisingly few stones are in her soil to interfere with digging.  And the subsoil is almost the perfect mix of sand and clay!  Melissa hardly has to add any sand!  I’m jealous of her soil, as I’ve found I have to add a lot of aggregate to my mix to keep it from cracking dramatically.

Here a stone is embedded in the wall, just asking you to run your hand along it’s surface:

What does a construction worker look like?

An architect?

A designer?

An expert?…

Read Full Post »

Every spare second of my time over the last week has been spent moving around pieces of concrete.  I wore holes through the fingers of my gloves, and then wore my fingertips raw.  When I laid the last chunk of urbanite today I almost didn’t know what to do with myself for the rest of the day.  I just hung around the house site for a while, walking some on the foundation to test the stones, and make sure they didn’t move.  Now that the foundation is finished, the wall is ready for some cob!  I can’t wait to get some mud on my feet.

south wall

west wall & entrance

north & west walls

So, today I did use a little cement to mortar the bricks in the threshold.  The guy at a local building supply store gave me a free bag of concrete that had busted open. Here’s some mortar action:

And the threshold:


And here I am gloating over my beautiful, beautiful stemwall:

Read Full Post »

The south wall of the foundation has grown to stand 18″ above ground level, which means that part is finished.  Once the wall was up to ground level, I started stacking the urbanite on it’s side, instead of laying it flat.  I feel like this method allows for more creativity, and I’ve been having so much fun dry stacking lately.  The wall is also going up much faster, partly because stacking them on their sides means I get more height with each placement, but also because I’m using much smaller pieces, which I can pick up and use quickly, instead of struggling to slowly drag some massive chunks of concrete onto the wall.  The different shapes and sizes of the pieces make a more interesting wall, too…

south wall

Read Full Post »

Today I finished the third course of urbanite, which finally brought me into some above ground territory.  The eastern part of the stem wall is now a couple inches above the grass!

I haven’t been able to stack urbanite as often as I’d like lately, but, when I can work a full day, I seem to be able to lay a course in a day.  The hardest part of the dry stacking so far has been trying to move around pieces of concrete that weigh more than me.  I can’t lift the larger pieces on my own, so I’ve had to roll them across the field,  slowly inch them closer to the wall, and slide them into place.  And then sometimes slide them back off…

Here’s some pictures from earlier today:

Read Full Post »

The first course of urbanite is complete, and so begins the start of the foundation stem wall.  On Friday I picked up a yard of sand, and after tamping the rubble and then laying old grain bags on top, I put a layer of sand over the grain bags, to create a more stable surface on which to lay the concrete pieces.  Then it was time to start laying the urbanite.

Gray and I spent hours hauling urbanite over to the site and fitting them together like puzzle pieces.  We had a lot of fun, mostly working in silence, except for the sounds of hammer, chisel, and breaking concrete.  It went a lot faster than I expected, and we had the first course done before dinner…

Read Full Post »