All In All, It’s Just Another Bale In The Wall*

*I know.

It was Bale Week on Duschesne. Beginning last Friday our crew took chainsaws to straw, shearing the sheer for our home’s namesake material: the straw bale walls. Notches were cut, angles shaped (then shaped again, then again, then…), gaps stuffed, and lessons learned in this our first full-on, hands-on encounter with straw bale building.

Jeff’s due to share with ya’ll a photodocumentary of the process, so I won’t go too far into it. But for one contributing detail: how to shape and build out the spans above doorways and windows. Here, of course, we cannot stack bales upon air. Not this air. And so, what do we do? There are a couple of options.

Using one method, we tightly fit an unsupported bale between two adjacent stacks. The fitted bale spans the gap above the window or door frame. To keep the bale in place under pressure, two small, thin, durable straps are run through the perimeter ceiling drywall, over two  two-by blocks (each secured into the drywall from above), and wrapped back around the bale to be ratcheted tight with a handheld bander. Thus we have a full on strawbale frame for the window- or door-to-be.

Alternatively, there is the lathing method. In this case, angled blocking is run from the top of the framing up to the drywall (in our case, 18 inches out from the wall beam). This provides a support and run for the metal lath securely stapled to it, creating a pocket running at an angle from the window frame up to the future ceiling. This pocket is then filled with a light straw-slip clay mixture. Using mostly straw, a thoroughly mixed slip (see pictures below) is added to create a fill able to be tightly packed into the lath’s hanging pocket. This method affords an extra opportunity to shape to design the slope from frame to ceiling. In the case of Andy’s home, we are going for an angular detail. Unlike many previously constructed CR straw bale homes, Andy’s home will have fewer curvaceous corners and more sharp, clean confluences. For us, it is an opportunity to experiment with plastering, honing geometries out of mud. I will be sure to share the process when it comes!

I enjoyed last week’s format enough to emulate myself this week. Enjoy the pictures and the captioned details below. I’ll enjoy the weekend.

Also, if anyone is reading this (firstly) and if anyone has anything to share regarding the use of chainsaws to cut straw bales in natural building, please feel open and free to begin a discussion on the topic. It is an interesting one which I suspect will yield insightful ideas and anecdotes and suggestions from all corners of the natural building grid– hapless hippie to consenting conventionalist– and it is a discussion worth having for the very fact of the discordance of the juxtaposition of chainsaw and straw. (Which certainly isn’t anomaly in the way we build. No more, surely, than any aspect of industrialized society.)

As we consider the tools we use (what energy feeds them, their appropriateness for the task, how we are sourcing our materials) and the methods we have adopted, even standing under the umbrella of the good work of bringing natural building to a mainstream “market” and culture, still, I believe, still we should consider why we are doing things as we are. As Community Rebuilds never fails to express, there is always an unfinished door toward change. What one house adopts the next may disregard. Be it a concrete pillar or a bale turned on its side, the changes we make flood the living system with our conscientious thought. And it is this, if not the bale walls and the earthen plaster or the well-lit and comfortable spaces we strive to create, it is this which is the best work we can offer up: to continually re-imagine the motion of the wheel, and in this way shift the shiftless paradigm. Let me know what ya’ll think.

And enjoy the pictures!

Here is a wonderfully overexposed shot of Chris and Josefina attaching the lath (aka- blood lath, so called for it's sharp edges) to the multi-cut block running at an angle between the window frame and the drywall. (Note that the drywall here is installed as a fire retardant barrier between the living space and the wall/attic area.

Here is a wonderfully overexposed shot of Chris and Josefina attaching the lath (aka- blood lath, so called for it’s sharp edges) to the multi-cut block running at an angle between the window frame and the drywall. (Note that the drywall here is installed as a fire retardant barrier between the living space and the wall/attic area.

Here we have Jeff industrial egg-beatin' the water-clay mixture into a light slip to be added to the dry clay as fill for the hanging window and door frame lath baskets. The clay is locally sourced, just down the road. (Note: Jeff, your jeans are tearing.)

Here we have Jeff industrial egg-beatin’ the water-clay mixture into a light slip to be added to the dry straw as fill for the hanging window and door frame lath baskets. The clay is locally sourced, just down the road.

Britta, Jeff and Leslie stuff the straw-slip clay mixture into the baskets and have a gay ol' time doing it.

Britta, Jeff and Leslie stuff the straw-slip clay mixture into the baskets and have a gay ol’ time doing it.

And here is an example of completed progress. Note that this space is specially designed for bookshelves inset into the plaster below and flanking the window. Designed by Kristen and executed with Jeremy's help, this aspect of the office will undoubtedly be a  bucket of fun to plaster out in the coming months. Homes should bear the weight of books, if you ask me. Books held in earth and wood.

And here is an example of completed progress. Note that this space is specially designed for bookshelves inset into the plaster below and flanking the window. Designed by Kristen and executed with Jeremy’s help, this aspect of the office will undoubtedly be a bucket of fun to plaster out in the coming months. Homes should bear the weight of books, if you ask me. Books held in earth and wood.

Lest we forget, Dan finished and soffit today!! Thank you, Dan.

Lest we forget, Dan finished and soffit today!!
Thank you, Dan.

Here's a giggle picture, to remind ourselves how much fun we are having.

Here’s a giggle picture, to remind ourselves how much fun we are having.

Remember, there is a whole world out there.

Remember, there is a whole world out there.

Comments
3 Responses to “All In All, It’s Just Another Bale In The Wall*”
  1. Robbie says:

    Sorry. The pictures came up after I scrolled to the end. You’re all doing great work!

  2. Eddy Winko says:

    A chainsaw is a must, although I’d probably use an electric one next time, less noise, less fumes, less clogging with straw; but not much good for taking to the woods to chop down trees.
    Some interesting methods, the window looks great; it will be interesting to see how it looks once plastered.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: