A beginners guide to bale terms.


Straw bale: a rectangular block of compressed straw (in our case, wheat straw), bound with two cords, these comprise the majority of our straw bale house walls

Mini bale: a small bale that has been created by separating a straw bale into smaller portions, often placed between regular sized bales

Micro bale: the even smaller cousin of the mini bale

Amoebale: the smallest of bales, with only a few inches in diameter

Orphan bale: bales of any size that were notched or cut, but nobody can remember who was working with them

Stubby chunks: bales cut into ~6 inch increments, turned on their side, and wedged in the uppermost layer of the wall, just under our drywall (having drywall over the bales is a UT state code requirement)

Frankenbale: a stubby chunk (see above) that is wrapped several times in cord to make sure it stays stable enough to be pounded into place

Light straw-clay: a mixture of loose straw, clay, and water, that acts as a cap and binder to gaps and cracks in the bale walls

This week we used all these bales to fill our walls. We started by hammering hundred of nails into our interior and exterior base plates. These gives the first bales a little something to grip onto and they also elevate the bales just enough to ensure any moisture that could get into the bales would be able to drain out to prevent rot. Plain walls are the easiest, with long stretches of regular bales. Cutting and considering windows and doors is more delicate. Hanging bales by straps over our windows and doors was the most difficult.

We cut the bales using a small electric chainsaw (oil stain on pantlegs much?), a larger gas chainsaw (Kelly Murphey’s beloved), or a small grinder. Kelly Ray refers to the bales as “big, dumb building blocks”- they definitely are. Rigid enough that we need to cut each one to fit in place just right, but floppy enough to make wavy wall spots, or just plain fall apart and make a huge mess. Once all the layers of bales were in place, we wedged amoebales into large crevasses, stuffed straw into tiny cracks, and used a light straw-clay mixture to fill gaps.

It took about 5 to 6 days to complete bale installation. The walls look great and we are glad to have less straw under our clothes and in our shoes. The wall forms and insulation are in, now we just have…2 months of plastering…

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