Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Cordwood Workshop

First of all, I would like to say that I have three pairs of work gloves, and they all smell like wild animals.  From a distance.

Progress-wise, we have only about 10 logs or so to peel, and those are buried under other stuff, so we'll do them as we come to them. We think we have about half of the logs cut to length, and we do have a fair amount split from when we started. 

This past weekend, however, we didn't get to any of it.  We drove out to the Green Bay area and attended Richard and Becky Flatau's cordwood workshop, which was completely awesome! Richard and Becky are great, incredibly friendly and generous with their knowledge and skills.

There were 18 people there, and we were working on the cordwood in-fill of part of a barn. It was the lower level of the barn, in one corner, where the exisiting walls have been torn down and are being replaced with cordwood. Very beautiful farm, and gorgeous weather for our day.

This was a full day, hands-on workshop and we really spent most of the time actually building cordwood.  In the morning, Richard and Becky gave a lecture on points of cordwood construction, etc.  Next, they showed us all how to mix mortar by hand - and made sure we all got the chance to do a batch.

Here's Scott and I working on our batch:

We also got to help with mixing mortar in the power mixer, and I think there's no doubt that we'll be looking to get a used one and do our mortar that way.  One of the things Richard says, is to think about conserving your energy for working on the cordwood, rather then spending it on mixing mortar.  I can see where it could make a pretty big difference over the course of a day or a weekend.

Once the first batch of mortar was mixed, Richard and Becky demonstrated how to actually put toether the cordwood wall (MILE - Mortar, Insulation, Log End)

About ten minutes after that picture was taken, they dusted off their hands and said, "We're gonna mix more mortar, you guys line up and start building some walls."

Which is exactly what we did.  Most of us took some of the existing mortar and teamed up along the wall, and the rest went over to take their turns at hand mixing mortar. For the rest of the morning, everyone worked while Richard, Becky, and our host, Greg (who's also built a lot of cordwood) went around keeping an eye on things and giving pointers.  That was really the best part of the workshop - once we'd spent some time actually doing it and had a better sense of what it was like, then we got more instruction and pointers about technique and how to handle any problems or strangeness that creeps up.  In fact, if I noticed one of them showing something to another team, I tried to go over and watch or listen. I learned SO MUCH.

One of the things I learned was that we really CAN do this - we just did - we built a part of a wall that's pretty respectable looking.  Certainly as good as I would hope to see for my house. It's true that it's a very forgiving method of building and I'm pleased for that - it takes some of the fear out of it.

I also learned that it's a very satisfying and artistic method of building.  There was a point in the afternoon, where I was damn near giddy with how much fun I was having.  Now.....that sure as hell isn't going to carry us through the entire building of a house, but I know there's going to be plenty of times when I AM having that much fun.

Our hosts served us a wonderful lunch around noon, and then we all got back to work. Scott and I found that we can work together very well - it goes best when you have one person on either side of the wall working.  We also learned that we're going to have to get a little quicker at picking and placing the next piece of wood and getting on with it. We can't be hmming and hawing through 172 feet of wall.

Here's what 18 people accomplished in approximately 5 hours (which was the actual working time of the workshop, if you remove lunch and teaching time):

One thing we realized, is that while we clearly can do the work and make cordwood that looks good, it's very VERY time consuming. We knew that in principal, but in practice it does make the house project seem a little daunting. We were contemplating that over beers, later on, and even Scott admits, it's made him think twice. At least a little.

Here's the section of wall he and I built in that 5 hours of actual working time:

That's not a ton of progress.  But - it's progress by newbies, and we will almost certainly get better and a little faster at it, so that's one consideration.  During the day we talked about the prospect of friends and family helping us, which on the one hand would be great, but on the other you worry if they will do it well, you know?  We watched some of the other people working there, and some took a little longer to get the hang of it - and then there's the knack of choosing and placing logs in a nice pattern, and the ability to maintain an even amount of mortar between the logs - so you wonder, if you have a lot of people helping, will it show very much when the house is done? Will there be places that are noticably different based on who was working there and how they placed their logs?

One comforting thing I noticed at the end of the day, looking at the project as a whole, is that it looked pretty good all the way around, and I didn't really see any huge gaping differences from one section to another - and that's with nine different teams working. Which kind of gives me the impression that for the most part, with a little oversight, it all tends to blend together into a fairly cohesive whole.

At the end of the day, after we'd cleaned up, we all followed Greg out to his lake place a few miles away, where last year the workshop worked on a tool shed for him that he then finished. It's really interesting and unique and it's always fun to get a look at another cordwood structure in person.

The rest of the weekend was spent with our friends Cary and Jo, sitting around their campfire, and then......we DID get to go to the Packer's game!!!  At the 11th hour, Cary was able to pick up the tickets he'd had a line on and we got to go sit in Lambeau in just jeans and sweatshirts, enjoying perfect weather.  When Rogers got injured and was carted off the field before half-time, we thought our curse was still in effect.  BUT - ya'll can rest easy.....we seem to have broken it.  Rogers came back out for the second half and they managed to squeak out a win at the last minute.  It wasn't pretty, but it was exciting.

The workshop was a great experience, and while it was very sobering, it was also very inspiring and I think I'm feeling more excited than ever to do this project (and also more terrified than ever). 

One thing I think I really need to do is get zen with the idea that it's very likely we WON'T finish the cordwood by next winter and will have to button it all up and wait until spring again to finish it. That would mean it really will be two years before I could hope to be living there.  One thing I keep reminding myself is that with that much work to do, we pretty much WILL be living there most of the time, and I need to view it like that.