Straw Bale House – Walls getting plastered
We’re all done bailing at Dunbalen
[Student post from 2018 Student – Samuel Betts]
Week 9 at the Hartwyn camp has flown around and the house is really starting to shape up. It’s amazing how much this building has changed over the weeks. When the henge first went up the structure seemed crazily high and narrow, but now with the floor level raised and the exterior form established the space now seems lower and with a cosy yet spacious feel.
This week triumphantly saw us complete the entirety of the straw bale walling with Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday filled with more straw than our tool belts and clothes were. Though the baling didn’t get any easier, it was nice to see people’s competence grow; often accompanied by more and more maverick restringing and romboiding techniques. The bales didn’t fly up like the giant lego blocks they look like, but we trudged along at an admirable pace for such a hard space to fill with rectangular, straight sided bales. We took satisfaction in knowing that any future baling would almost definitely be easier than this. Once the entire circumference of the build was covered in neatly arranged straw bales we set up the ratchet straps that were placed up under the bales before they were put in place and after were wrapped over the top compression ladder. Then using all the communication skills that we’d been practicing this whole build, we tightened the straps carefully to evenly compress the bales under the top ladder to give strength to the wall. Whilst all this commotion was happening, Joe was in his element on the roof finishing the roof boards and then adding a fascia board of larch around the perimeter to stop the future turf from sliding off.
Gap filling and window silling.
With the walls fully up, on Thursday we started filling in any gaps between the straw bales and the wooden frame at places such as the windows and doors. This was a fiddly job involving the preparation of straw ‘parcels’ by tightly wrapping bundles of straw (mainly using the original twine from the old bales), and then tying these freshly made bundles into the walls. Another group of us started fixing up the frames for the windows to go into. This was done by putting up 6x2s in the gaps of the wall reserved for the windows, and making plumb and level square or rectangular frames.
On Friday we had people continuing work on the window sill frames, whilst others started applying a material called light clay straw to the top layer of the wall, filling in the gap now created by the compression of the bales by the ladder and ratchets. The making of the light straw clay started with the processing of the subsoil that was previously excavated during the establishment of the build site. This subsoil was shovelled through a wire screen and then mixed with water in some large baths using an electric mixer. We were aiming for a consistency of slop that didn’t quite run off the hand, a bit like lumpy sloppy custard. This mixture was then added to loose straw that was left over from the reshaping of the bales, and mixed together to create light straw clay. We then added temporary forms to hold the straw clay in place before it dried. This process required constant mixing and applying to the walls, and by the end of the day we’d filled in close to a quarter of the top wall. This may not sound like much, but like most new skills we’ve been learning, they can take a while to get going, but once we have our eye in and the ball starts rolling, great things happen. The beginning stages are sometimes filled with frustration and mistakes, but when stuck to and practiced, a lot is learnt and we often become very proficient. This philosophy can also be applied to different aspects of life too, and so along with physical skills, this build is often teaching us great lessons that are not always obvious at first glance.