Monday, September 12, 2011

Week Thirteen – 15th- 21st August

Stonework fever on site this week!

It’s time to build the retaining wall to the north side of the house. To help us with this we have the help of the wonderful Ken, with his inexhaustible patience, his fabulous laugh and his cool tools. The idea of the retaining wall is to keep the steep bank on this side from eroding over time. Instead of using stone for the whole length of wall we have found a supply of Urbanite. For those of you new to urbanite, it is broken up bits of concrete footpath. It is extremely strong, with a concrete strength of 35kN! Being a waste product, it is a free resource so the only cost is to transport it. The boys here did a couple of runs to pick some up from not too far away. Fair play to them for the hard work they put in lifting it into the truck. No easy feat, as we found out while sorting the pieces to prepare for building. Lucky they’re all grand strapping lads! Urbanite comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. It took some of us a bit of time to be converted to the beauty of the material but within the week Paul has managed to convince the sceptical of its hidden potential.

So we got to work on a rainy Monday morning with muddy puddles a-plenty. Ground preparation for the wall is all important. We needed to dig out a good base for the foundation of the wall which has to be at a right angle to the batter or slope of the bank. The batter should ideally be between 25 and 33 degrees for it to be effective as a retaining wall. A height of 1m and the depth of 500mm was decided upon. Once the ground was levelled and the angle dug out we made a timber guide to the wall dimensions, which we set into the bank. Initially we thought about doing a random stack but after laying the first few rows it was looking rather uniform, so it has become a coursed wall instead. Even though it’s now coursed it is still quite a puzzle to solve. Both brains and brawn have been fully exhausted this week! A couple of trips to the lake helped to ease the pain…

Ken gave us a great introductory talk on the techniques and best practice for building stone walls, highlighting Patrick McAfee's book Irish Stone Walls, published by O'Brien Press, as a great resource for more information on the whole process in detail.

As the week wore on and progress was made, bits of urbanite were flying as the rock chisels came out and got a good battering. A small seat was conceived in the sunny evening spot –fi ghts over this sitting spot are bound to ensue! There’s still a bit of work to be done especially around the approach to the house. This will be done with natural stones and will tie in to the urbanite wall. The bank will then be back-filled and will also cover the top of the wall.

Alongside the stonework, work on the posts for the timber frame of the new workshop has continued, preparation of more basecoat was done and applied to the light straw clay wall, frames for the windows in the balecob wall were made and the matting for the sedum was laid on the roof. Busy as usual!

Welcome back to Shawn and Sonja who are back from Germany for a couple of weeks. Great to have you with us again. Also welcome to Mathilde who has joined us from France. Our workforce is getting bigger and bigger –thankfully so are the meals!

Our yoga class also expanded this week with some new enthusiasts. Giggles were hard to stifle as we wobbled in the field trying to be trees!

A great weekend was had in County Sligo, where 12 of us headed to check out a couple of cob houses and naturally the natural beauty of the local beaches. It was great to see the different applications and flexibility of cob. Thanks to everyone who entertained us for the duration of our stay up in the sunny north-west -Marina, Noel, Ciara & Gareth, Colin, FĂ©ile & Family–we really appreciate it! We’ll be eating the spoils of the weekend for many meals to come..