September 28, 2009

Rob Roy's Cordwood-TimberFrame-Earthen Covered Workshop

This all started months ago at the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair, where while attending a number of 2-hour workshops, we met Rob and Jaki Roy. By the second day of the Fair, Kim and I had committed to the Roy's upcoming 5-day workshop to be held in late September near Del Norte, CO. This worked out well for us, since it preceded the Earthship Internship we'd signed up for, and was on the way down to Taos, NM where we were scheduled to start on October 5th.

Coming in from the northern part of Colorado, we expected to leave all the snow behind, and in a way we did, traveling mostly through lower altitudes, but as we approached Del Norte, we were taken by the rich fall colors topped by those dazzling white peaks at the higher elevations.

We noted that the antelope were as smart as us, staying down in these lower valleys, where the grass was still plentiful, and the long, open views afforded protection from predators.

After a couple of wrong turns while searching for the " Angel Rock Ranch" (named after all the angel pinnacles in the the rock behind the home) where Rob's Workshop was to be held, we finally enter a boxed in canyon, and get our first glimpse of Kim and Mike Cellura-Shield's fabulous hide-away here in God's country!
In short order, we set up the Alpenlite to the east of where Mike had already poured the slab for the "six-poster" (more on that later), as seen in this photo from up the hill. (Trailer left, and construction site mid-right, between the dark green tree, and the white panel truck in the distance.
Mike & Kim's home sits up near the rock shear wall that forms the rear of the canyon, nestled into an area that affords fabulous views of the property below.
The "house" is actually three separate facilities, the living room/kitchen cabin (above), the quaint hexagonal bedroom, and the ever charming "facilities", voted the finest outhouse ever seen by every participant in the workshop!

We approach the gathering living room cabin, I take note of some of the nice "toys" that Mike has collected, bringing fond memories of the bygone days of dirt-biking in Louisiana. As participants gather for an introductory supper the charm of this beautiful ranch sinks in, I feel completely comfortable and welcome in our new surroundings.

Kim had prepared some wonderful food, and combined with the excitement generated by the fifteen attendees, made for a fun first evening.

Next morning, after hot coffee overlooking the "spread" below, the workshop is officially kicked off by our first classroom session. Most mornings were spent reviewing Rob's thorough materials in class followed by a quick lunch, and "hands on" for the afternoon.
As a precursor to our arrival, Mike and Kim had worked hard to prepare the slab, and gather the necessary materials for complete construction of the "Six-Poster", defined by Rob as a simple post and beam timber-frame structure roughly 12ft by 20 ft. The small enclosure is ideally suited to a "trial project" which Rob and Jaki recommend for your first attempt at a cordwood project.
The small building can be tailored to serve as a sauna, small guesthouse, or in this case, a shower/restroom facility for B and B guests that stay here at the Ranch.

Although all of the cordwood (also called "log-ends") was prepared, Rob started with a good explanation of how the log-ends are cut, debarked, and stacked and dried in anticipation of a project. Mike had built an interesting device, a chainsaw version of a chopsaw, that made cutting of the 10inch log-ends easy. This same tool was used as shown here to get a nice square cut on the six 10"x10" posts that would form the supports for the roof and cordwood infill.

Rob is a master at organization, and no detail was spared in getting off to a good start carefully setting and leveling each post in place, then adding bracing to ensure all would be ready for the next days work.
The end of the first day signaled a perfect opportunity to visit a nearby hot springs. Set against a backdrop of the distant White Sands mountain range, the spa-like facility offered a large outdoor spring-fed pool, kept around 100 degrees.
Rob and Jaki were first to hit the warming waters, and Rob insisted I try my underwater camera as he and other students plunged below.

Soon I found Rob and "the girls" in the much hotter pool inside, where we all enjoyed the steaming waters and a light supper before retreating back to the Angel's Rock for a good night's rest.

Weather deterioration threatened the next day, so class was cut short and we returned to our six posts and proceeded with positioning the "girts" that would soon form the support for the entire roof. Rob insisted on taking our time, and made sure that each and every member of the crew had the opportunity to work on and understand each step in the process.
As the rafters went on, the "six-poster" soon took on the appearance of a real building, leaving us all with a high sense of accomplishment by the end of our second day.
Along with the hard work and sense of accomplishment came a good appetite, so I got my 25 quart jambalaya pot out, and cooked a large batch of "Sambalaya" my own version of one of Gonzales, Louisiana's award winning recipes.

The next morning we quickly covered the roof, except for the earthen cover of course. The foam & visqueen went on easy enough, but was a bit of a challenge to keep in place in the high winds we were experiencing...

Later that afternoon Rob explained the advantages of using the post and beam type of construction, one of which is to have a covered work area for the laying of cordwood walls, protecting them from the elements, and giving the builder a set of nice, square "forms" to lay the walls within.
A major part of cordwood masonry is getting a good mortar mix. Rob explained that along with the correct mix of components, consistency was of up most importance to quick and correct layering of the log-ends.
In addition to his favorite and proven cement mix, he prepared some "lime putty" so that the participants would experience laying logs with two slightly different masonry types (I did say this man was thorough, right?).
Speaking of thorough, I think we spent the better part of a morning on that first course of log-ends on that first wall. Rob had carefully prepped the surface, gathered tools, jigs, proper-sized chunks of wood and made sure we all understood how important it was getting organized and off to a good start on this first layer.

Let's see, mortar, spacing, insulation, logs....push into place, more mortar, insulation, logs.....and so on!

It wasn't long before master "pointer" Jaki jumped in to demonstrate the use of this odd assortment of butter and dinner knives that had been transported along with the Roy's luggage on their flight from New York earlier in the week. As we watch Jaki show her talents, each team member gets a chance to try their hand at the finishing skills. ("pointing" is the process of smoothing out the individual joints of mortar showing in between and around each log-end on both sides of the wall).

Meanwhile, the other walls get started under instructor Rob's watchful eye, so that we all have a chance to experience first-hand each and every step of the cordwood laying process.

Another hard day's work makes for another ferocious appetite, so Kim and Mike invite us to their unique Peace of Art Cafe in Del Norte. The cafe is part of their "Organic Peddler" complex, which features the Cafe, a store and the Casita B and B.

It becomes evident that this "six-poster" is not their first pass at this cordwood stuff, with the cafe being an elegant example of the the techniques being used on a large-scale commercial facility!

After a brief explanation of the facility, we're treated to a delicious organic/vegetarian platter that makes my mouth water, just looking at the pictures again!

The final couple of days were spent "driving up the walls" which included the incorporation of several examples of "bottle art" into each surface.

Kim had done a skillful job of planning and sketching out each design, giving us the guidance we needed to complete these colorful creations that would carry a theme thoughout the "cottage". Along with their unique design, Kim had thought out their placement to take advantage of the wonderful morning and evening light hitting the east and west walls.

We got as far along as setting the first "windowbuck" into place on the west wall. By noon Sunday, we had three of the wall sections well along their way, including getting a few logs in around the first windowbuck. Upon formal completion of the course, Rob handed out our "diplomas", certifying each as every one of us as a Master Mortar Stuffer!

Monday a group of us took a drive to Pagosa Springs to visit a rather unique concrete dome house, but that's the subject of the next post. Kim (my Kim) and I returned to the ranch that afternoon to find Jakie still at work on that west wall windowbuck. Turns out that Brian (one of our classmates) had stayed on to help with the mortar mixing and cordwood completing one side of the window opening with another beautiful combination of wood and bottles!

All-in-all this was a great workshop, given by two wonderful & competant instructors (Rob and Jaki) hosted by our new friends Kim and Mike in a setting of pristine beauty and remoteness. We highly recommend both the Workshop and their excellent DVDs & books:
You might also want to plan a visit to see Kim & Mike in Del Norte.
UPDATE: as of this writing, Kim has sent these photos, showing the additional work they have completed on the project....beautiful bottle art!