Following a lengthy study-journey on wood-framing as a basis for hemp-lime construction I have recently begun looking into carpentry as a preparation for outfitting our future home with custom made furniture.
At this point I am approaching woodworking with a practical outlook – we’re going to need kitchen cabinets to place our sink so that we can have running water and we are going to need a simple raised-platform to place our sleeping mat. Practical means we’re going to need some things during the construction process itself – they have to be simple for us to build on site.
This is an important point because woodworking also has an artistic and meditative side to it and though we may eventually have a space for this kind of woodworking – this will only come at a later time. Right now I am focusing on extracting the most practical, feasible, accessible, efficient and affordable information I can find. This includes design, materials, tools and techniques. I believe this is important because I have found that if I lose sight of this objective I can get pulled in different directions that dissipate my energy and focus.
This is a list of some of the online resources I have been spending time with:
- The Wood Whisperer is where I am now spending a large chunk of my days – a must visit – you can also find their videos on their Youtube channel.
- New To Woodworking is, as it’s name implies an excellent point of departure for beginners – and it too seems to be something that is getting started.
- Woodworkers Guild of America have some great videos which got me started in a good direction.
- Fine Wood Working looks like an abundant resource though I haven’t spent much time with it yet.
- Matts Basement Workshop is another promising resource which I haven’t yet spent much with.
Though I try to avoid anything Google wherever possible, Sketchup keeps coming back as a useful tool so:
- To install Sketchup on Ubuntu you will need to install WINE
- You can download Google Sketchup here (I really can’t believe I am linking/recommending a Google product)
- Google has some very useful videos on how to use Sketchup which is much easier then trying to figure it out on your own.
- There is a Sketchup plugin called Cutlist which I haven’t yet tried but sounds like potentially useful so maybe worth checking out.
One of the most basic tools in wood-working is a workbench – and as many seem to have done, I too plan to design and build my own. There are tons of designs and ideas out there – but again I am finding myself having to filter them out through my needs, abilities and priorities. Following are a few resources I have set aside (I have rejected many more!) to use when I get around to building my workbench:
A nice 3 video sequence on measuring common roof rafters (the wooden beams that make up the surface of the roof):
It seems that Clark & Tim, the guys who wrote Building Green, moved in the Passivhaus direction. They have a project called Nauhaus where they are attempting to bring together their past experiences with the Passivhaus standards.
I believe, as I have written before, that the Passivhaus standard is not a practical nor sustainable form of construction – though there are some excellent and applicable ideas and inspiration to be drawn from it. The Nauhaus was built with hemp, which from the theoretical (at this point) knowledge I have gathered simplifies, ecologizes and reduces costs of many construction aspects. Yet because of Passivhaus standards Nauhaus also reintroduces many complications which I find … uninspiring. Just this morning I was reading their chapter on building a green roof, then I came across the massive, industrial insulated crane-lifted panels they used in the Nauhaus project. Though I can appreciate their efforts to move forward and improve … it feels to me like they took a wrong turn somewhere … I think Passivhaus had something to do with it.
Amongst the information on their website is an educational set of posts with images showing the contruction chronology – from foundations to a completed building. At this point in my education, these documented processes are extremely useful and rewarding. The chronology starts at the end of this page – from where you can scroll up and forward in time to see the project progress.
And also this super-simple ingenious carpentry lesson from Tim – as he creates a simple tool for measuring and placement of formwork from here.
Wouldn’t it be ideal if you could grown your own hemp and then use it to build your home? 1 or 2 hectares of hemp stalk is potentially all you need to harvest enough building materials to build a house. Imagine that – growing your own house! … but it isn’t a simple thing to do.
The hemp plant has four elements: seeds, leaves, fibers and a wooden core. The part you need for construction is the wooden core – also called the hurd or shiv. Separating it from the other elements of the plant requires effort. You need to grow the hemp, deffoliate it (remove the leaves) before harvesting, harvest or remove the seeds, harvest the stalk, let it ret (start decomposing so that the fibers can be separated from the hurd) and then decorticate it.
This finally step of decortication seems like the greatest obstacle – this is the process of separating the fiber and the wooden core. It can be done either through massive manual labor (of which I don’t yet have all the details – but it involves collecting the harvested stalks into small bales and then beating them to separate the fibers and wooden core) or in an industrial process. The indutrial process is usually designed to extract the fibers, the actual wooden shiv is simply a left over of that process.
It would be so much easier to grow your own construction hemp if decortication could be avoided – and this may be possible but my understanding is that it depends on the climate you live in. This research paper on Hemp-Concretes claims that it is possible to create hempcrete using both shives and fibers – BUT it is important to note that the research focuses on the structural aspects of the resulting hempcrete. It does not address the effect of fibers on insulation and breathability of the hempcrete.
Introduction of fiber to the hempcrete mix can cause humidity problems. When fibers are clumped together they tend to draw moisture and that is not something you want to happen in your wall. According to Steve Allin it is possible to add 5%-15% of fiber to the mix but not much more. This may be less of an issue in a hot and dry climate – but otherwise the risk seems unwarranted.
Maybe when the hemp industry matures it will be possible to cultivate stalks with very little fiber and a massive wooden core – which could then be used in whole? For now though it seems that self-grown hemp is not a feasibly reliable option for construction unless you have the means to decorticate it.
There is only one book (worthy of being called a book) I know of (in English) – Building with Hemp by Steve Allin. It isn’t the one and only book you will need to actually build with hemp – but it provides the best overview, explanations and images I’ve encountered so far on doing so. It touches on many hemp-effected aspects of construction. You will still have to do a lot more inquiring and apply your own common-sense but this book will be an excellent road-map for you on your journey.