Earthbag Cellar – Earthen Finishing

A couple of months ago Iulia posted on a local (our village) Facebook page that we are looking for help with the cellar construction – women only! One woman expressed her interest and finally, in the last stretch of earthwork the circumstances matured for her to join us. Speranta was with us for a few days and was a great help (much more on the implications of that that in a separate post). She helped Iulia mixing the batches of cob and applying the base (rough) layer of finishing.

When we finished the large room and moved into the smaller one, we realized that the earthbag walls were disappearing and decided to put in a “vanity window” that is typically put in to prove to people that the structure really is made of earthbags (or straw bale or whatever you build with) … but mostly it will enable us to reconnect with the vast work hidden under the surface .

The vanity-window also became a kind of “finish line” as Iulia and Speranta converged around it.

… and converge they did 🙂

We also made some repairs to the retaining walls, where we did not apply enough material (say it with me: cob is a structural material):

While they were applying the rough layer I focused on the next layer, adjusting mixes, techniques … experimenting to see what I can achieve with the natural clay subsoil under our feet. This image shows different stages of work and different results:

There is a lot I can say about earthen finishing … but I don’t know if I will ever be able to put it in words. It is a physical learning … and I feel like a beginner. Seeing and feeling and working with the material is immediate and intuitive; it is subjective yet clear. Describing it is hard to do. It can be an immersive and meditative work (and physically demanding). I am realizing that in future projects I want to give it plenty of space. Right now we are in a bit of a race (though still working pleasantly and spaciously) as the temperatures are rapidly falling (we’ve already had nights with almost freezing temperatures).

We’ve already made more progress than these pictures tell:

  • The internal finishing is technically complete … though I am still playing around and experimenting with a finer finish.
  • The electricity work is done … we have lights and power and a fuse-box installed (another first for me).
  • I’ve begun filling the cracks in the earthen floor.
  • Today I did a first experiment with the outside, lime-based finishing. I’ve been preparing for this for some-time, it is the last major known-unknown for me. The experiment felt good … we will see in the coming days and weeks how it settles.

It is unclear yet when we will be able to use the cellar. The biggest question is when the floor will settle hard enough to support a load. Soon we will clear everything out, we will install a fan, I will lay the finishing layer on the floor … and then we wait (while I attempt to create the outer door).

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