Mud and Tree, Plaster and Sill

“Both destiny’s kisses and its dope-slaps illustrate an individual person’s basic personal powerlessness over the really meaningful events in his life: i.e. almost nothing important that ever happens to you happens because you engineer it. Destiny has no beeper; destiny always leans trenchcoated out of an alley with some sort of Psst that you usually can’t even hear because you’re in such a rush to or from something important you’ve tried to engineer.”

“Everything takes time. Bees have to move very fast to stay still.”

-David Foster Wallace


Three weeks remain in the building of Andy’s strawbale home. We have spent the last few attending to details and diving heavily into plasters. Custom wood sills and bookshelves have been installed in all rooms while bathtubs are hooked to plumbing, a swamp cooler lined into the attic, and all sorts of trim affixed. We will focus here on a handful of major happenings (the Interior Earthen Plastering, the Exterior Lime Plastering, Construction and Installation of Sills and Shelves) and a few bits and pieces. Enjoy.

Lime Plastering.

We began with a limewash (lime and water) painted on with comically large brushes on the exterior surface of the house. It was a quick drying milky layer set to act as a draw between the dried earthen plaster and the subsequent lime plaster layer to follow. Like the Slip ‘n’ Scratch applied to interior bales (and the clay slip applied to interior dry wall), the limewash facilitates adhesion between plaster layers.

The following layer, the Lime Coat, is 3/8th’s of a lime, mason sand and water admixture. The mason sand and water were sourced locally and the lime is of a variety first mined in Ohio and known as Type S Hydrated Lime, which is lauded for its “high early plasticity, high-water retention values, limited oxide content and minimal coarse fraction.” This is to say it is initially workable and retains the water content required for its chemical transformation back to stone. The lime plaster will, quickly at first, and then progressively over many years, harden again into its stone state through a process of re-carbonation. Water catalyzes this process and so we occasionally spray the wall lightly with a hose to encourage the natural chemical processes within. On hawk and trowel, you can actually hear the re-carbonation in its initial stage. The lime coat is applied with metallic trowels and followed with a sponge float. The latter creates a textured surface by drawing out the sediment in the lime plaster. Note below a Stretching Jeremy, Jeff’s sci-fi glasses and the shining white glare of our freshly limed home.

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Interior Plastering.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, a Slip ‘n’ Scratch mud was smeared with hand hydraulics into the face of the bale wall to create an integrated surface for subsequent plaster layers. On the drywall surfaces (including the ceiling), a light clay-sand slip was painted with brushes to serve a similar purpose. (Thanks Leslie!) Also, in lieu of drywall mud, a clay slip was used to seal wall joints.

Following the slip and scratch coats, is the Brown Coat, a 3/8ths to 1/2 inch layer of sifted reject soil, chopped straw and water admixture. In the Brown Coat, we begin to see the true shape and form of the finished interior. As shown in the pictures below, details emerge in the shaping of the mud as framing and what all lies beneath slowly disappears.

(Fun Fact: Drywall is essentially a pre-packaged plaster layer, originally intended to save homebuilders the time and energy of plastering themselves. This makes it somewhat ironic that natural builders sometimes apply plaster onto plaster onto commercially produced and sheeted plaster, but code requires drywall as a fire block and earthen plaster has not yet been cleared by the powers that be as an effective fire block. But this will change.)

At any rate, see below the images of Brown Coat plastering and the beauty of emergent form, all the product of each step taken so far, from foundation forming to bale setting, through the tension and pull of the weight of forces above, below and all around. The changing shape each addition applies shiftingly.

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Andy purchases custom sills, mostly sycamore, to be installed in all windows and occasionally as bookshelves. We prepared framing for some and improvised others, fitting and shaping each to its unique nook. Grace built small shelves for the Library wall while Jeremy and Anna tirelessly installed a double window sill in the Living Room. Dave affixed a few shelves into the Master Bedroom wall, nicking slots with a chainsaw and plastering to set. Each piece is uniquely cut, shaped, sanded and set for this home.

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Watch as the Bookshelf moves toward finish:

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And here are a few more, including: Jeff’s handmade attic access hatch, Exterior Door Trim, Anna’s Custom Mudding Boots, trim for the inset television, a mud-sculpted masterpiece, a bathtub in early installation, an afternoon fire intended to dry moist dirt for sifting, Dave’s leveling efforts, and a cemetery in the crux of autumn.

See you soon.



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