Cob Workshop Stone Foundation

In anticipation of our upcoming cob workshops to build Colin’s woodworking shop, we have been busy setting up the foundation and floor of the building.  The spot where we are building is tucked up against the bedrock slope that slants down and somewhat divides our land into upper and lower sections, the upper section being where we have just completed the first half of our strawbale house which will eventually be extended down the rock slope.  The workshop is situated off to the side of this slope and as close to the side line of the property as we can go.

In early July we had an excavator come and dig out 2 foot wide trenches that would hold 18 inch deep concrete footing walls with drain rock along the outside.  Colin built forms down the middle of the trench, using the clay walls as the forms on the inside of the trench and leaving the outer side empty for filling with drain rock.  We dug a connecting trench and placed a drain pipe that went down hill towards the garden.  Colin added a small grid of rebar in the bottom of the trench and then called in the cement truck to pour the footings.  He added stakes of rebar throughout the wall to tie together later after the stonework was done, as was requested by our engineer for seismic strengthening of the stone and concrete.  He also dug footings for the skylight posts and placed saddles after the concrete pour.  The concrete footing wall came up to the height of the clay grade, and provided a strong ledge onto which the excavator would place many of the massive stones that exist on our property.

So by mid July, we had the excavator back and picking huge stones from our pile that Colin directed into the spaces between the rebar stakes, trying to place them in such a way so that he could fill in between them manually with smaller stones.  He mixed and shoveled concrete as each stone was set, and adjusted the placement so that the outside edge was either flat or sloping downwards for water run off.  In the pile, he found two huge flat stones that were placed at the front double door entrance to the shop.  Then he spent the next few days picking smaller rocks and cementing them in the spaces, creating a two foot wide, irregularly stacked stone ledge two feet high onto which the cob wall will be stacked, keying in to the varying height of the stones for extra solidity between the cob and the stone wall.

A large pile of clay left from the digging of the trenches will be used as part of the clay we need for mixing the cob, and a large pile of local pit run sand is being delivered in the next few days.  Bales of straw will be picked up from the Saanich Peninsula, and a huge tarp has been strung up to protect the space from the heat of the sun as well as the unseasonal threats of rain we have been getting.  The food menu for the workshop participants is being finalized, and we have even had a friend come by to film the construction of the foundation with the idea of making a small movie of the cobbing workshops and the process of building this small natural building.

We are off in a few days to our annual family music camp, so getting as much done and in place now will help us feel more prepared when we arrive home and have cobbers showing up four days later!  We are very excited about hosting this learning opportunity, and creating a beautiful space for Colin to work in.  We are still accepting people to join us- see the previous post Cob Workshop Approved for details of the cobbing workshops in August.

Indoor Stone Work

art at my feet

Colin has a natural talent for packing many things into a small space.  Fitting things into a closet, storing stuff in a shed, packing the car for a road trip, or loading a truck for moving have all been times when I have been so grateful for having Colin and his jigsaw puzzle skills.  So too, does this skill show up in his stone work, whether it is a dry stack landscape feature for clients, or a set of steps and a stone hearth for our house.  Our most local stone here is sandstone, which breaks naturally and easily in flat, rectangular shapes, while retaining a sound strength and many beautiful hues ranging from grey and black to orange and red.  The hearth is two feet high by three feet wide and three feet deep, holding the wood stove up at an easy loading height and providing a warm ledge on which to perch.  We used a variety of small stones to fill and decorate the spaces between the stones, and used a tile grout to seal and fill the cracks.

The three steps that lead from the mid-section of the house into the sunken living room have a nice curving fan shape sweeping on both the upper and lower steps.  Since the opening of the stairs was quite a bit wider than we really need in which to walk up and down, Colin took the time to build a seat into one side.  We have since discovered that the seat and the depth of each step are a great place to sit with our instruments and play music.  We also grouted the stairs and added many stones that we have collected from many beaches around the world.  Since the house is built on a slope of bedrock, bringing some of this stone into the interior of the house gives it the feeling that the land below us is emerging through.

Colin’s stone work tips:

Make sure to have lots of selection of rock.  Dry fit the layout of stones of the lowest step first, chipping and shaping any stones that need it.  Then remove them and place mortar underneath and begin settling the stones back in place.  As for the hearth, dry stack the lower levels first, making sure that joints do not fall above another joint.  When mortaring the cracks, we left the mortar recessed so we could cover the mortar with a dark tile grout.  Take your time.  Finding just the right rock for just the right space will give you a finished job that will be forever beautiful.

To see more of Colin’s stone work…

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