Today feels, to me, like the first REAL day in the whole project. Sure there's been a ton of research and daydreaming and drooling over pictures, and we have bought a couple books and a video....
But this is the first day we actually did something solidly concrete - we took a class in cordwood construction. We've been planning to do it for a couple years, and last year we even marked off the dates of a major class down south. Money prevented us from going to that one. It's a whole weekend, and would have cost something like $350.
Luckily, a customer of ours (Solid Rock Masonry) told us about a class being offered at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais. This class was much cheaper ($110 for both of us) and only half a day, which was more doable. And in the end, I think more than enough. Certainly in a weekend class, we might have had more practice time, but we learned the basics and most importantly, we got a sense that we really CAN do this. At least...we think so. We did learn that getting and preparing logs might be a bit of an issue since peeling is really only easiest with fresh cut trees, for a certain short span in the spring - we're not too likely to be able to do that. So we'll be researching options for that.
Nick and Kent, who taught the class are fabulous and did a great job. They were down to earth and full of information they were able to share in a straightforward way. We got to tour their cordwood house, which was a real treat since I've only ever seen them in pictures. And I'll tell you, when everyone else in the world thinks you're crazy, it's hard not to start to believe it when you've never even seen the real thing. Well now we have and it makes a world of difference - when you can see it and touch it, and really get a sense of it...I KNOW this is what I want my house to be. (Theirs is freakin' gorgeous and I only hope we can come close)(They graciously let us take photos so I plan on stealing several ideas for built-ins and such).
Here's a few photos of what we did (all photos can be clicked for a larger version):
Some tidbits I learned in the class that I don't want to forget (in no particular order):
* Planer shavings make good insulation, sawdust does not because it's heavy and compresses down
* Logs WILL shrink and you WILL have to caulk them but you can get caulk that looks like mortar
* A butter knife with a bend in it makes the best tucking tool
* Put the whitest end of the log IN - so the house looks nice inside
* Make sure you face all curves down, so you don't create places for snow to collect and cause rot (see the triangular log just by the lower right corner of the window? That's BAD)
* Do NOT handle the ends of the logs with your dirty mortar gloves or they'll get all gooped up
* Snowball test for mortar - make a snowball and toss it up - if it crumbles when you catch it, too dry - if it flattens like a cowpie, too wet
* Part of preparing the log-ends for the walls is to shave off any little strings with a box knife and rasp the edges off of the ends all the way around - partially to look nice, and partially to save your fingers when you go back to caulk.
* If you're using post and beam, or other wood joins (like windowsills?) you want to pound nails in all the way around with the heads sticking out a little to create something for the mortar to grab onto (probably a little more than shown here)
* Make sure the tops of your mortar rows are flat, not rounded. Specific advice Kent gave me because mine were getting a little heapy on the top.
Those are really just the basics, but that's really what the class was about - the basics of cordwood building. And the truth is, you don't need to know a whole lot more than that. Once the house is designed and the framing is up, the construction is very simple and reasonably forgiving. They were constantly saying "We had no idea what we were doing at that point" and "This is what we learned as we went along". It was very reassuring to me to hear that you don't need a huge skill base to do this - you just need time and patience.
(Also? It was a huge thrill to be around people who KNEW what we were talking about! Everyone in the class! Knew who Rob Roy was and knew what bottle logs were for! Crazy: Vindicated)