Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A great documentary

Since I haven't been showing you all anything interesting in a while, check out what these guys have done!

This house was built by a group of students at the Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Vermont. The project was part of a semester long program where students learn to design and build a high performance sustainable building. I met these students and heard all about the house while I was taking the concrete countertop workshop.

Stay tuned for big things...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Stone Soup Concrete

This weekend I will be attending a workshop at the Yestermorrow School in Vermont. I will be learning the basics of working with concrete as a material for constructing countertops, sinks, etc with the owners of Stone Soup Concrete.
I am excited to learn how to do this and will probably be incorporating some of this work into the design of my house!

Why I haven't been blogging.

It's the same old story. Many good things have been keeping me from working on the house. These are some photos of one of those things.

I have been lucky to get to work on this incredible project recently. I am helping to create a copper cladded gable on the peak of a house I have been working on all summer. While it definitely isn't a tiny house, it is an incredible place and my skilled craftsmen have worked on it over the years.

This is a Sketchup model of what we are doing. It is composed of nine copper panels that will be crimped and soldered together on the wall, creating a weather tight system for the next couple hundred years. The top diamond is a window but the other three will have designs applied to them. This whole piece will transition into the cedar shingles below.

It takes lots of careful planning, pattern making and imagination to figure out how to cut and fold a flat sheet of metal into one of these three dimensional components.

From pattern, to copper,

past the brake, to a piece ready for final tuning and soldering.

This is a shot of my shop where we built a full size model of the wall to to our layout and assemble on. When the pieces are finished we will assemble what we can in the shop, then take it to the house and put it up!

More pieces after sheering and bending, ready to be mitered and soldered.

Terry of George A. Bardnard Co, one of the oldest roofing companies in Worcester, teaches us the proper way to tin a soldering copper using sal amoniac.

More trimming and fitting.


Pieces coming together.

Finally, this is what Dermot and I affectionatly call "the zoo". The small twists of copper that come off the sheers as we trim the pieces seem to take on a persona of their own. They come from the land, sea and air but seem to agree with each other in the confines of the pen.

Once we finish this, the copper roof for my house will be no problem!

October snow.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Things I did this week

I finally got around to trimming the end of the floor boards and installing a piece of oak at the step up. This is my new favorite tool- it is a circular saw made by Festool with a track to ride in. It makes cuts like a good table saw, but has the convenience of a circular saw. It made quick work of cleaning up the slightly uneven floor boards. I borrowed this form a friend.

Here is the finished edge. Now the floor is ready to be sanded and oiled!

Next on the list was replacing the broken hinge pin on the stove door. It was snapped at the joint and both pieces were stuck in the stove and door. They were removed with some careful drilling and a drift punch.

When I bought the stove, some of the firebricks that line the sides of the stove were broken and missing. This meant that I could not build a really hot fire in there for fear of warping the plates. They were also supposed to be the support for an iron plate in the top that directs the gasses and smoke for an efficient burn. Replacement bricks seem to be readily available on ebay but are expensive and must be shipped from the UK. I saved quite a bit of money by buying a $20 bucket of refractory cement and casting a new set.

Here they are right after pouring. I let them set for about 24 hours before installing them and building a small fire to make sure they were fully cured. All went well and I am now ready to burn some coal if I need too. The temperature has been in the forties at night but the cabin has been about 70 with the stove going. I definitely need to build the last two sections of wall and make some windows before it gets really cold though.

And finally, I hooked up the cook stove! I cant wait to design and build the rest of the kitchen.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wood and Insulation

Over the past two mornings I have been cutting, splitting and stacking wood. I don't really know how much I will need for the winter. It is definitely a small house and does not take much to heat it, but I do have lots of windows (well I don't even have those at the moment...). So far I have about a half a cord. Half of it is well seasoned Black Locust, and the other half is ash which is still green. Hopefully by the time I burn though the Locust the Ash will be a little more burnable. Ash is one of the best woods to burn green if you have to use green wood though. I will continue cutting up dead dry trees from the woods. It was really nice to be able to light a fire last night to take the edge off the cool night.

The stove takes little eleven-inch chunks of wood which are very hard to make a stable stack from. This one will probably need some support.

When I bought insulation for my roof, I bought a few extra sheets thinking I would find a place for it. Last night I went to the shop and pre cut all of the panels for the two walls that require the most insulation. Once again, I tried to make them too perfect and ended up ripping off about a half inch from every piece of foam to compensate for the varying dimensions of the rough cut framing. It was a shame to mess up the clean edges from the table saw, but it is all hidden anyway. I will fill any voids with spray foam to keep everything tight. I do not want any condensation/mold issues this winter. With an R-Value of 36, I should be toasty this winter.

I wonder if I will be able to get any cell phone reception with all that foil?

Sunday, October 9, 2011


I have been searching for a suitable chimney for over a year now. If you have never looked into the price of good double wall insulated chimney, you are in for a shock. It runs about $125 a foot! I had 8 feet of it but was missing one T- section. Of course the company has updated their line, which as far as I can tell means they changed the coupling between sections just enough that the new and old systems are not compatible. I couldn't buy a new T, and could not find a used one anywhere. Last week I finally found a good deal on a used setup that had almost everything I needed. I was hoping that I could make a couple of pieces of my old one work with the new system but unfortunately no matter how many times I tried, it just wouldn't work. In the end I had to buy a one foot section of new pipe to make it through the wall.

After much time spent figuring out the best place for the chimney to exit while maintaining the proper clearances, I set up my router with a jig to cut a clean circular hole through the siding. Once the siding was cut I finished off the sheathing with a jig saw since it will not show.

Next the thimble was installed and the first section of pipe went through the wall, followed by the T. I fabricated a brace to stabilize the next length of chimney and then installed that with the cap.

Hooking things up inside involved nothing more than plugging the sections of pipe together. After worrying about this for so long, it was nice that it all went so smoothly.

It was a warm day today but I had to light a little fire to see how it all worked anyway. I don't have any heat shields installed yet so I just built a little fire to test it out. It had a great draft and I was able to make the fire respond instantly by adjusting the air inlet. Seems good! I still have a lot of details to finish before I can call in done, but it is a major step in the right direction! It is nice to feel somewhat prepared for the cold weather this year. Now I need windows, two sections of wall and some insulation.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Kitchen thoughts

Here is the most recent plan for my kitchen. I know it seems a bit pre-mature to be thinking about the kitchen when I don't have windows, a stove and insulation but I love cooking. Sometimes it is easier to think about doing things than to actually do them anyway. Somewhere there is a healthy balance between doing and thinking.
Earlier this summer  found a propane range and oven on craigslist. It is a very basic 24" model but it seems to be about the right balance of size and functionality. Originally I wanted the stove to be on the north wall where the sink is shown in the model, but this seemed to be a bit to big for that spot. The width is fine but it is just too deep. Having the stove on the north wall seemed to create a good flow between the prep space, sink and the table/countertop that separates the kitchen from the living space. The stove in the current location will work but I hate to break up that one long counter space. If I find a slightly smaller stove I will revert back to that plan, but for now I am going to stick to the current model, unless anyone has a better idea?


This week I did not have time to get any actual work done on my house, but I did do a thorough cleaning. All of the construction (and lack of any sort of roof for a few days) has left a lot of dust in the house. I sweep regularly but it is hard to keep clean since I live in the woods and there are many crevices to collect dust in the unfinished walls. The other problem that has been bothering me is mold. It has been so wet this summer that everything grows mold. A pair of my boots even turned green and fuzzy! I don't think that I have seen more than two days where the relative humidity has been below 95% in the past three months. Seriously. Anyway, It feels really good to get everything clean again. I had to run an extension cord down here so that I could use a hepa vacuum for the mold. I will definitely have to use some bleach on some spots. Maybe Fall will bring dry weather?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Roof installation, Days 2, 3 and 4

On Sunday I woke up early with a mission. First to Home Depot, the only hardware store open on a sunday morning. Armed with rope, shackles and other bits of hardware I headed to the checkout line. While in line, there was an announcement over the intercom requesting a moment of remembrance for the victims of 9/11 followed by an incredibly awkward moment of silence. Many people seemed to be unsure of what to do. The clerks, will all of their supervision and conditioning to pump people through nervously looked around trying to decide if they were actually supposed to stop ringing up customers. The moment of silence lasted almost a full minute, just long enough for the person in front of me to finish his very detailed conversation with the checkout lady about his pussing poison ivy rash and how to cure it with gasoline. It was a very bizarre experience.

Next I was off to a house I have been working on all summer (an incredible place with a whole story of its own) to pick up my block and tackle and some words of encouragement from Dermot, the owner of the house. My next stop was the shop to quickly weld up a steel bipod for the crane that I had devised the night before. My plan was to mount this structure to the ridge beam on the opposite side of the roof from where the first panel would go. The cradle in the top of this support would hold a two-by-four about eighteen inches above the peak of the roof. The other end of the two-by-four would be lagged to the plate at the foot of the rafters. With this in place, I could hook the block and tackle to the top of the crane and haul the panel up the roof using a ladder as a ramp.

Pat showed up by noon and with the help of a few guys at the shop we stacked the panels on the truck in the order and orientation they would be installed on the roof. I did not want to have to be maneuvering these things around too much on the muddy ground the house is sitting on. We drove down to the house and spent several hours finishing what I didn't get to on Saturday and setting up the crane.

It must have been about five o'clock by the time we were finally ready to hoist the first panel. I scrounged up as many people as i could convince to help us out and we lifted the fist panel into position.

I have a fuzzy memory of lots of activity, and then all of the sudden the first panel was screwed into place!

The second panel went up without a hitch also. At this point we were all exhausted and running out of light. Perfect time for a celebratory dinner at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant, Da Lat, with Lauren and Pat.

On Monday after work I came back for a second round. Jack and I put up the two panels on the north side in under two hours!

Last night after work I scrambled to roll out tar paper and seal up the house once again for another advancing storm. Lauren stayed over with me for the first night under the new roof. We fell asleep to the  the nearly full moon traversing the sky directly across the skylight and then were woken up around three in the morning to an unbelievable lightning show and storm! I am so happy to have a more permanent roof over my head!

The next step is to finish making the plans for the copper roof, and hopefully install it before winter! But for now, I am left with a big mess to clean up and a truck stuck deep in the mud.