Construction Wood Framing

Summer Kitchen Renovation Part10: Going Out on Two limbs (aka: Roof Framing)

This segment of the story starts with an innocent-looking picture – a first test assembly of the homemade scaffolding … it felt sturdy but did not feel good for testing given the uneven ground next to the workshop:

Assuming the scaffolding was going to work … the next challenge was to get a ridge-beam (“technical” terms are a bit inevitable here … I will keep it simple and the pictures will hopefully provide clarity) set at the correct height and precisely aligned in the middle of the space. We built two posts to support the ridge beam and the original plan was to let them stand on the ground floor, load them up with the ridge beam and lift them up … here is that plan in action just before the “lift them up” part:

… the “lift them up” plan was never going to work … so .. plan B … we erected the two poles in place:

… and it was time to disassemble the scaffolding, bring up the parts and assemble it where we needed it … here it is right up against one of the poles with Iulia making a first climb up:

… and for some perspective on where this is going:

… and the next day … it was time to actually go up:

… and we didn’t come here for sight-seeing (though the seeing was VERY good) … we came here to build a roof … and after MUCH fiddling (measuring, cutting, fitting, adjusting, head-scratching …):

… we got a pair of rafters in place:

… and the next day we woke up fresh and a bit wiser… and greeted by this view … which reminded us that we were able to actualy get rafters up and installed:

… and we got two more pairs on:

… and then a forth:

we were really getting the hang of it … and getting somewhat “comfortable” on the scaffolding … and then we reached the edge of the building … I was anticipating this and NOT looking forward to it … but there it was … inevitably. The next pair was right at the edge and the pair after that is an overhang that extends beyond the building. How do we reach out?

We considered different ways to approach this … and in the morning before heading out to actually meet this challenge I came up with the “diving board” … it took a few iterations … but there it is:

… and Iulia testing it by taking it for a ride:

… and looking from the ground up at the naked part of the ridge beam waiting patiently for some face-to-face time with us:

… and there is scaffolding … ready to jump ship into the shark-infested waters:

… and you may ask yourself (we sure did!): how DID the scaffolding get there?

… and we brought out all the latching straps … and latched it nice and tight:

… and there it was:

At this point I said to Iulia … being jokingly serious, that I think we will not be posting these images until we finish this phase of work AND live to tell about it (=without sustaining injuries or hospitalizations). I did not want my parents to see this (they are following closely!) and worrying. Iulia laughed AND seriously agreed! So … spoiler … you are seeing these images because the story ends well!

… and once again Iulia went up for a first look:

The next day Iulia borrowed some climbing gear (which she fortunately knew how to use) … and while we were over-hanging-out we were also securely strapped:

… and the thing started to really look like a roof:

Half of the roof was done … we pulled the scaffolding back away from the edge … took away the temporary supporting posts … and there it was:

… and we ran out of charred wood. The stack of charred wood that seemed abundant … was consumed until grass was again revealed. So we set out on a late evening charring session to renew the charred stack … so we could carry on with the other half of the roof:

… the charring, amongst other things, burns through some of the resin in the recently cut wood … here is a resin-rich section continuing to burn away from the fire:

We now faced yet another new challenge … attaching a second ridge beam to the first. The space was also getting more crowded … we needed to be able to both place and move the scaffolding with the posts re-installed in their new places … and to do that we had to place one of the posts in the scaffolding:

… and get the 2nd ridge beam up and connected:

… and we were getting good at “raftering” and another four pairs went up with more ease:

… and we arrived at the other end of the building … and we needed to bring the “diving board” over to this end … but we were not quite done with it on the 1st end.

The diving board gave us access to the top part of the overhanging rafters … not to the lower “tail” part … that was overhanging along the two sides. So we split the “diving board” into two … and … I didn’t have to spend much time there … but I did have to spend some time there … and it was actually easier than working up on the scaffolding. Every time we did this we had a set routine and Iulia was handing me things as I needed them, allowing me to stay focused and steady.

During some rainy days we built more scaffolding in the workshop … another large one (like the one in the pictures above), a smaller one (pictures coming up) … and the experimental stool (my first attempt at compound angles) that snuck into the last two pictures … so we had three scales of “high” to work with.

… and the roof started looking real!

… and we moved the “diving board” to the other side …. and got to work on the last two pairs:

… and we were now as good as we were going to get at “raftering” … so they went up easiest … and the diving board came down (and probably retired … taken apart and maybe some its pieces reused … most of it was made from reused materials):

… and we got one of the collar ties in place (the horizontal section that makes a pair of rafters look like an A):

… we had to take down the large scaffolding because it was getting in the way of installing the collar ties. So the next day we completed, brought up and assembled the smaller “home edition” scaffolding:

… and after some experimentation came up with a repeatable technique. Iulia was up on the scaffolding aligning and leveling each piece while I moved around from the side to side with the stool to lock it in place:

These elements will be visible in the space so they went through more treatment before being put up. Like the other pieces, they were charred. But then they were brushed clean (with a metal brush), sanded, cleaned with a wet rag, and oiled (linseed oil). Here you can see the difference between a raw untreated charred surface (some of the raw char has been washed off by rains) and a treated, cleaned, oiled surface:

… and then … after an intense two weeks … the last piece was put in place:

… and a simple and beautiful pattern and rhythm came into being:

… and onto the next challenge … converting this roof framing into an actual roof!

Construction Wood Framing

Summer Kitchen Renovation Part9: Going Up

After charring, brushing and light sanding it was time to oil the beams:

Then … getting them up in the roof. Fortunately, they were now lighter then they were when we received them green … making them slightly more manageable! We were able to hoist one side of the beam up to one side of the wall … and then with a strap drag the other end up … and then together getting up on opposite walls … move them into place:

… and slowly but surely … the beams were up … and the structure started to feel contained again:

Meanwhile, in the background (and the shaded workshop), the first scaffolding structure was coming together:

Then … well … it was time to start framing the side walls. For this we had to spend some time considering the position of the two windows (one in each wall). This took some time, standing on the walls, looking at views, light, directions, relationship to the surrounding … some simple mockups on paper.

We started building one segment … it was fairly large and was a bit of a struggle getting up on the wall (for just the two of us):

Initially, this caused some anxiety. We were stretching our limits … of experience, physical strength and scale … this is the largest thing I’ve ever taken on … and high up! Walking along the walls became trickier when the beams went up … now with a wall segment up … it required planning and attention!

The next segment was (in some ways) easier because it was smaller.

… and in this one we tried incorporating some recycled wood … here Iulia is charring some pieces for that experiment.

We decided to do the second wall in three smaller segments instead of a large and a small segment. This is the last segment assembled on the ground:

… and then up on the wall:

… and … two walls up!

… then framing in the two window frames:

… and finally … getting into place 4 beams that will support the roof … these stick out ~85cm beyond both ends of the structure to create generous overhangs:

We already have in place (waiting to be loaded with a beam and lifted into position) two temporary poles to support the ridge-beam … until it will be held in place by the roof framing … so … we just need to complete the first scaffolding unit … and it is time to build a roof!

Cob Construction

Summer Kitchen Renovation Part7: Window, Roof, Window

After completing the “wall move” we moved to the hallway to convert the gaping hole in the wall into a window frame:

This was put off until we decided on what kind of window. We finally resolved that and I could build a frame to build in and around:

All this time the rain was unrelenting. It was raining almost every day (some days less some days more). This is a screenshot I took of the forecast during this period … basically “rain forever”:

One day this is what I found – Litsa making good use of the small pile of (now soaked and useless) straw for cob in what otherwise felt like a miserable scene:

We were having a difficult time protecting the walls (new and old) with tarps because the remains of the roof were in the way. We decided to try a different approach. Instead of trying to cover the structure with tarps (which acted as excellent water collectors that drained into the structure) we decided to remove the remaining roof elements (beams and board) so that we could drape tarps over the walls. Water would get in (and help to recycle the dried cob by soaking it) but the walls would be protected.

So on a “clear” day I went up and started pulling apart and tossing down the ~7cm layer of rough cob that was placed on top of the ceiling boards and then it was time to take off the roof. It was an unpleasant job, mud, rot, and increasingly (as the work progressed) unstable footing.

At one point it became so unsafe to be on top that we pushed off the remaining boards from the inside of the space … until only the beams were left:

The beams … oh the beams … some had scratching went into these … it took some figuring out how to approach them … but we found an approach (I am not inclined to get into … too much work just to explain the challenge). The chainsaw played a key role … and we started bringing them down:

… and we were left with a truly naked structure … felt like a ruin … with tarped walls:

Then it was back to the completing the hallway window:

… and it too became a place … with a framed view … it looks out to sunsets:

The finish level of the cob above this window became the reference level for the entire structure. This is in preparation for a concrete bond beam that will carry us up to the second level (my primary objective in navigating and prioritizing our work is to get a new roof on). So we started “shaving” and patching the rest of the structure to this level (using a simple water level). This was tedious work.

The last wall we did was the one that still had the old window in it. I was hoping to put off replacing this window until after the bond beam. But there were some questions marks that led us to give it priority. We were wondering if the ~25cm of cob above the window opening (~1.2m) would hold if we removed the window and if we could expand the opening to receive the new window frame. We carefully dug out the wall around the window … gradually released it … got it out … and were left with the rough header – some roundwood pieces that were layed across the opening. We pulled them down carefully … and got our answer:

NO! It came crashing down … at least saved us the work of slowly working it down! We were left with yet another gaping whole (and the bond beam moved a few days further into the future).

I anticipated we may need to take care of this window/wall and had already built the frame for it … here it is in fitting just before assembly:

… and just before a nut came loose in the relatively new thicknesser rendering it useless (it has since gone to service and returned yesterday):

I spend the better part of a day finishing all the other parts needed for the complete frame … including charring them … and today we were able to fit it into place. Here it is, after the last fitting test, just before it went finally went in, on the pile of rubble which was the cob that came crashing down (all of which will be re-used!):

… and here it is fit in place … plumbed and leveled:

We’ve already cobbed around the base and in the coming days will finish rebuilding the wall around it and complete the frame itself and the header which will bring us almost to the top of the wall (~2cm of cob will be required).

Cob Construction Earthbags

Summer Kitchen Renovation Part5: Moving a Cob Wall

After last year’s preparations (a bit of deconstruction, preparing for water and electricity, installing an electric post and reconnecting electricity), this spring we started renovating. I’ve been less regular about pictures so this is an overview of what we’ve been doing.

We stripped the small “porch” of its flimsy wooden covering and window. Given our slow and sometimes unpredictable work progress, we decided to keep the roof on as long as possible (so as not to leave the structure exposed to the elements). We decided to build the new external wall around the existing wood frame. Here is Iulia creating a base of cob on top of which the new earthen wall will be built.

With the frame out of the way we could decide upon the new window location (not what we thought it would be). This required putting in two new posts and removing an existing one:

Meanwhile I was experimenting with the new workshop tools (thickness-planer and table saw – maybe deserves a separate post) to see if I could build a reliably straight and correctly sized window frame (for used windows we got last year) … and I was to get a decent result. After three layers of earthbags … the frame found its place and we continued to build up around it.

We are reprocessing cob by crushing it and remoistening it. We started using the soil from last year’s deconstruction using the cob-pools we also prepared last year. When we finished that soil we started taking down the internal wall … again resuing the materials … so “moving a cob wall”:

and discovered some rotten beams … this one in particular … it had the an electric pole sticking out above it that, I’m guessing, acted as a reliable water collecter that drained above the post.

It is a clear testimony to how tolerant cob is to water (absrobs it, gets stronger with some of it while releasing the rest into the atmosphere) and how intolerant wood is (especially the basic pine we have available to us here).

We reached a point where work on the sacks was becoming uncomfortable … we were crouching and banging our heads on the beams and ceiling. So we decided to take off the roof despite god laughing at us with a 10-day forecast with plenty of rain in it. Iulia’s sister and her partner came out to visit and helped us get the tiles off:

We responded to god’s challenge with plastic tarps which are doing a reasonable job (while also efficiently pooling water). We continued to take the framing apart .. from small to large members:

Then we took off the gutters and peripheral wood sufaces. We still have a ceiling to take down over the internal room (a layer of wood boards covered with a few centimeters of cob) … and then the large beams that go across the entire structure … but that will wait for the weather to clear a bit. Meanwhile we are back to “moving the wall” and loading the cob-pools in preparation for resuming construction:

Cob Construction Floors

Earthen Floors with Sukita Reay

Sukita wrote “the book” on earth floors and it was sweet to watch her at work in this short video demonstrating the making of an earth floor:

Cob Construction

Summer Kitchen Renovation Part1: Destruction

For the past few months Iulia has been clearing out the summer kitchen in preparation for renovation. We haven’t started because I’ve been reluctant to get into this project. During this period of my reluctance we did get more clear about the general plans for the renovation. We also got a set of 4 used windows that helped us make some design choices.

Then on the weekend of the July 20th Alin came to visit with us again. I was still reluctant to start, so on the first day we cut some firewood together. His presence and ability to help with physical work did bring us to a point of “critical energy”. I walked around the cellar and found clarity about where to start. The next day we started.

The small space in the summer kitchen had a baking stove built into the rear wall. We started by taking it apart. This image was taken after the exterior (sticking out the back of the structure) part of the dome was disassembled. This the inner half of the oven dome with the metal door opened and looking into the space.

This is after Alin went inside and collapsed the chimney and other inner parts:

The base of the oven was filled with dirt, stones, broken bricks … and plenty of broken glass:

We discovered three kinds of bricks: regular fired clay bricks, unfired (we are guessing home-made) cob-bricks and large flat slabs of fire-bricks (shamota) that created the baking base. We tried to organize materials for later to re-use. We had to set aside the materials that were mixed with glass (we tried sieving but small glass parts got through). We kept the whole & semi-whole clay bricks close to the opening with the intention of reusing them to rebuild it:

Behind the pile of cob-bricks in the above picture there is a similar pile of whole clay-fired-bricks and not far away accumulated a pile of broken bricks:

That was completed on our first day of work and on the next day we moved on to breaking down some cob-wall and converting the small window into a doorway between the small space and the main space of the summer kitchen.

Alin climbed up on the roof and started taking the wall apart from the top

… and (to my surprise) the rest came down fairly quickly (even though we did not have the right tools for the task!):

By the end of this day we had an opening all the way to the ground:

During the demolition we were getting nice chunks of cob. On the first day I put a few of them in a bucket of water to see if the cob could be re-activated … and it worked beautifully. So we created a cob-bath and loaded it up with what we considered to be re-usable cob materials. I was a bit naive about the size of the bath … it filled up very quickly. We soaked it all in water and let it sit and it has become beautiful, ready to use cob:

There is already a second larger pile that we are gradually dampening to bring it closer to work-readiness:

The next day was planned to be a work day with the excavator … but life happened … so we are on hold for a while … we hope to start moving again next week.

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