It has been a little difficult to keep up on a blog posting about the building of the walls, because so much is happening in such a short time that photos of progress quickly become out dated. Most of my own time has been spent working alongside the cobbers, helping my mom to prepare and make meals, or collapsing in bed at the end of the day. The walls are now very close to their final height, and we will soon be able to install the rafters before we continue with the cobbing up and around them. I thought it would be a good time to review what has been done, and then follow up with the roofing later on.
We had three people from off-island join us for four days, and a continuous stream of friends and neighbors each day to learn and help out. Colin’s mom from Florida was visiting, as well as our friends from Vancouver who sold us the property and are building the little cabin on the property.
clay slip on the foundation
We started with learning the art of foot mixing on tarps, but then moved on to using the huge pile of bobcat mixed cob. Tracy Calvert, our cob building expert from Cobworks, showed us how to apply clay slip to the stones of the foundation to help adhere the cob to the stone, and then we started laying down the first handfuls of cob. We focused on building up one of the wall sections that would have windows in it, so that within the four days, our cobbers would have the opportunity to set the glass in place and cob the sills and edges. Tracy spent time each day after lunch discussing different areas of the building process, including foundations, techniques for windows and doors, plumbing and electrical, and roof structures. On the last day, we had a small ceremony to celebrate our work together by placing objects in a jar that have a personal connection and burying it into the wall of the workshop. We did that again with the second group of cobbers on the next weekend, and Colin and I were very touched at the honesty and words of appreciation and inspiration that everyone had regarding their experience building and learning together. Everyone had a different reason for being here learning about cob- some of which were specific to cob and some were seeking personal empowerment. We come together as strangers and leave each other with new friendships and new gems of knowledge to integrate into our lives. I was reminded of the time when Colin and I traveled a lot and met different people from all sorts of paths, knowing them sometimes for a short time or a long time before parting ways, but always taking something of the experience of knowing them with me.
It is also wonderful to have friends and fellow islanders stop in for a day or more to help out. Having the support of our community means a lot to us. We have come to see the building of this workshop as another example of building stronger community ties with experiences of working together and deepening relationships and memories between us.
Colin and I had drawn out a general sketch for a sculptural design on the outside of two flowing lines coming out from the sides of the main door and sweeping up into a raven on the left, and diving down into the roots of a tree on the right side of the door. We wanted to have bottles placed in the wall along the pathways of the two lines, so as we went we taped two bottles together to span the width of the wall and cobbed them in place. We also have some circular thick glass port windows, about 8 inches across, that we wanted to have in the walls, so we put buckets that were slightly smaller than the glass in the place where we wanted the windows and them cobbed all around them. By turning the buckets each day we ensured that they will pull out easily when we want to set the glass in.
placing corbels for the arches
We also made corbels with long lengths of straw covered in clay and layered together to build a strong protruding window sill and arches over the tops of the tall windows that we cobbed in place. Celine, our neighbor, brought us a beautiful tall blue glass bottle that we placed in between the windows, adding more dimensions to the width of the wall. We added a framed opening window on the east side, hammering old nails into the wooden frame for the cob around it to grab onto. We did the same with the door bucks, creating a network of wire and nails that the cob will harden around. There is no plumbing in the workshop, but there are a few light switches that Colin mounted near the door bucks, running an electrical conduit up to the rafters where all the wiring will run. Other electrical outputs will be built into an interior wall that will frame in a utility room and backing for Colin’s work bench.
Trimming is a big part of cobbing. Every day, before more cob is loaded on to the walls, the splooges that occur while building up with wet cob is trimmed off with a saw and remixed to be put back on the wall. It is important to make sure that the walls remain plumb, so that the strength of the weight of the cob is kept directly above the foundation. It is easy for the wall edges to wander in all directions. It is also easier to trim excess splooging than it is to add to dips that may occur, so it is important to keep the edges as plumb as possible and allow the splooging to happen.
We had the bobcat return in the days between the first weekend of cobbing and the second, to mix more cob and to remix the leftovers as it was getting dried out. We had two cobbers from off island join us for the second workshop, and again a continuous flow of islanders coming by and spending time working with us.
niches built into the sides of the window and bottles framing the door
By this time, we were also getting two or three groups of people stopping by every day just to see what was going on, asking questions and watching the process. We are fairly visible to the road, so walkers would stop, cars would slow down, and our neighbor across the street sent anybody who came to see her and her road side stand over to check out our building. After the weekend, Shawn (one of the workshop participants) decided to stay an extra three days and keep cobbing before flying back to South Korea, and we had two more people arriving after that who were not able to make the workshop dates but wanted to learn while we were still getting it finished up. That is where we are now- working up in the top few feet, making deadmen for the rafters to sit on, feeding Marco and Nick alongside our family, and enjoying the continued company of our community. Cobbing so far has proved to be a lot of physical work, work that is energizing and fun with a group of people working together and learning from each other. New creative methods of building are developed, and artistic touches are discovered. It would be too lengthy for me to explain details of the cobbing techniques, so I will recommend a book that Tracy recommends for anyone interested in learning more. Check out The Hand Sculpted House, by Ianto Evans, Michael Smith and Linda Smiley and Cob Cottage Company in Oregon. I also recommend a hands on experience for a better understanding of the process, and as a way of feeling out whether cob would be the ideal method if you have a project in mind.