Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Studio/Workshop Progress Report - How to Eat an Elephant

With all the straw now in place, wire mesh fixed over the junction of posts and bales, the supporting framework for doors and windows installed, and innumerable other details dealt with, it’s as if a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders. It’s at this point that I can look forward to the first of three coats of render being applied to the walls in a couple of weeks – what a momentous day that will be!

While I wait for windows and doors to be delivered and the rendering contractor and his pump to become available, there are other jobs to occupy me, the first of which is the construction of a balustrade around the deck. I’m sure it will feel like a pleasant diversion after the months I’ve been surrounded by a veritable mountain of straw bales and endless rolls of wire mesh.

Until I embarked on this workshop building adventure, constructing a strip-cedar sea kayak was the most ambitious project I’d attempted. I devoted countless hours to it over the course of more than 12 months, and it was with a great sense of joy - and relief - that I finally set off on my maiden voyage.

The many hours of enjoyment the kayak brought me as I explored rivers and estuaries close to home are pleasant to reflect upon, and adventures I’ve had with it further afield are truly memorable; however, it was the process of actually building it that I've most often called to mind over the years, particularly when I've been preparing to tackle other lengthy and challenging projects.

I clearly recall being so overwhelmed when I first skimmed through the plans and instruction book that I briefly contemplated returning them for a refund.  Fortunately, I overcame my initial feelings of inadequacy and took the time to assess what lay ahead in a more rational state of mind. A more measured and disciplined approach seemed to be to concentrate on achievable short-term goals rather than be overawed by the scope of the project as a whole. This promoted the illusion of it being much more achievable, and allowed me to inwardly celebrate each step as a mini-milestone as I ticked them off along the way . Without losing sight entirely of the “big picture”, limiting my focus to the next milestone made it easier to acknowledge and enjoy my progress, which no doubt helped me maintain the necessary levels of motivation.

Had I known what I was letting myself in for as I deliberated on whether to attempt the building of my workshop as an owner/builder, I question whether I would have committed to it. Once I'd done so, however, I’m sure that the experience of building my kayak helped me to visualise the workshop project as a series of bite-sized chunks and not be disheartened by the overall magnitude of what I was committing to. As my building consultant is fond of telling me, the only way to eat an elephant is one mouthful at a time.


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Studio/Workshop Progress Report - Endless Details

Tony is a very helpful and energetic neighbour who seems to know everyone in our little town; he was therefore well-placed to co-ordinate an effort to dispose of the mountain of surplus straw bales stacked in the centre of the workshop. Thanks to his involvement, they were gone within a couple of hours once buyers had been found and a pickup date agreed upon. A convoy of local orchardists and gardeners descended on the workshop on the designated morning, and as I slid the bales down a ramp I'd hastily constructed out of one of the window openings facing the road, they were quickly loaded onto an assortment of trailers and tray-back vehicles before they were whisked off to new homes. The congestion I'd experienced for months was gone, and an unimpeded view from one end of the workshop to the other materialised as if by magic!

There's been a prodigious amount of work involved in stuffing gaps with loose straw -  either between adjacent straw bales, or between bales and adjoining timber posts - and in covering the posts that border door and window openings with wire mesh. There's a danger of cracks developing in the render due to differences in rates of expansion and contraction wherever different materials meet, and the wire mesh alleviates that concern to a large extent, much as rebar does in a concrete structure.

Because the double-glazed windows and doors are horrendously expensive, I've practiced avoidance behaviour over the past couple of months and have yet to commit myself to confirming the order. I've carefully measured the window and door openings a couple of times, and all that remains is to double-check my measurements against the overall dimensions provided on the manufacturer's quote one last time. I know I can't postpone this step much longer but it's still making me nervous!

One of the remaining tasks on the "to do" list is to build a timber structure above the top-most bales at the gable ends, stuff it with straw and cover it with wire mesh. Aside from that, there are any number of small, finicky jobs on the horizon as I inch towards the point at which I'll be ready to engage the rendering experts.

Eighteen months into this project, I find myself continually devising new mind games to give myself a jolt of enthusiasm and help persuade myself that I'm at least entering the home stretch; for example, I regularly remind myself that whatever small task I manage to complete on any given day constitutes progress, and is a positive step along the seemingly endless path to completion.


Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Studio/Workshop Progress Report - Straw, and More Straw

Based on the lack of recent progress reports you could be forgiven for thinking that I've either lost interest or have decided to hibernate for the duration of our winter months. Neither is true, and although the pace has slowed a little due largely to other work commitments, I've accomplished a lot since my last post.

Installation of the roof in March was certainly a major milestone, and meant I was able at last to order the straw bales which form the walls, safe in the knowledge that they'd be shielded from the the weather.

The tarpaulins I erected around the perimeter of the building provide additional protection and have withstood some fierce thunderstorms that saw me nervously inspecting them for damage once the weather had abated. 

Here's a recent photo of her, decked out in her winter pyjamas.

With the tarps in place, the most noticeable change externally has been the installation of a rainwater tank which will service the needs of the bathroom as well as those of the surrounding trees, shrubs and vegetable plot.

Under the covers, the straw bale walls were erected quite quickly, but I'd definitely underestimated the work involved in constructing the timber framework that fills the gap between the top of the bale walls and the rafters above. As if this wasn't time-consuming enough, the remaining task was to surround this framework with wire mesh and pack it tightly with straw. As the photos below show, there's still some work to do to complete this aspect of the project.

The cost of transporting the straw bales was significant, and I adopted a cautious approach by ordering far more bales than I thought would be necessary for fear of requiring a second delivery. The supplier was very generous and loaded an extra 20 bales onto the semi-trailer free of charge. Needless to say, there's an enormous stack of spare bales occupying the workshop floor space. I'm almost at the point at which I'll know my remaining requirements with some certainty, and it will be a happy day when I can dispose of the surplus bales and my views of the interior spaces are unimpeded by the straw mountain.


Monday, January 21, 2019

Studio/Workshop Progress Report - Framing Complete!

There have been some barriers and distractions over the past couple of months, and I haven't matched the rate of progress I would like to have achieved. Nevertheless, I'm pleased to report that the timber framework is finally complete.

As I've reached each goal over these past months I've felt a sense of accomplishment that's often been mixed with feelings of relief; this building project has been a solo effort so far, and I must admit that there have been some stages along the way that have become tedious as well as taxing in a physical sense. Nevertheless, it's been rewarding to have ticked each box on the "to do" list, and, having done so, given myself permission to come up for air long enough to reflect on what I've achieved. After a very brief respite, it's been time to square my shoulders and look ahead once more, anticipating the next set of logistical and physical hurdles.

More so than at any point previously, completing the timber framework marks a truly significant milestone that encompasses all of those mini milestones I've alluded to in the paragraph above. I can now look forward to engaging the professionals to install the roofing sheets, guttering and down-pipes, after which I'll finally be in a position to order the straw bales that will form the walls. It's tempting to think that at this point I'm entering the home stretch, but I'm old enough and wise enough to know better than that! 


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Studio/Workshop Progress Report - Rafters

Although I'm yet to commence work on the verandah on the northern side of the building, the rafters and collar ties have been installed over the studio/workshop area itself. That being the case, it seems like another milestone has been achieved - hence this post!

As the current plan is to install vaulted ceilings, the lack of ceiling joists that would otherwise be present posed some problems when it came to installing the ridge beam and attaching rafters.

At such a height above floor level, safety became a primary concern. After ruminating on the problem for a few days, I ended up building a movable platform spanning the lengthwise beams on either side of the gable portion of the structure. The platform provided some measure of security, the downside being that it had to be repeatedly dismantled and reassembled as I worked my way from one end of the building to the other.

Next up: the verandah and deck.


Thursday, August 2, 2018

Studio/Workshop Progress Report - Posts and Beams

My last update at the beginning of May seems like a lifetime ago! That particular blog post dealt with the the installation of stumps, so I'm pleased to report that there's been significant progress in the intervening months.

Despite the loss of a several days due to other work commitments and inclement weather, I've finally erected all of the necessary posts and beams around the perimeter of the building. The beams above the deck on the northern side of the building will have to wait until the deck itself is in place; it will provide a firm platform and improve my chances of surviving a multitude of trips up and down ladders - descending in a controlled manner is my preference!

The supporting framework around windows and doors requires some substantial timber posts, and there are some additional hefty pieces of wood above them whose primary purpose is to contribute to lateral bracing of the walls. Cutting, drilling and attaching the steel brackets that secure the lintels above the windows became quite tedious; by the time they were in place I was definitely ready to move on to the next stage.

I'm eagerly awaiting delivery of a large beam that runs the length of the workshop. It supports the rafters and is located at the point of transition between the steeper gable portion of the roof on the northern side of the building and the more gently sloping skillion portion of the roof on the southern side.


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Studio/Workshop Progress Report - Stumps

The weather was so dry here as summer drew to a close that very little of the soil excavated from the stump holes stuck to the auger, as would've been the case had the soil contained any moisture. The task of removing the excess dirt from 80 stump holes was therefore more physically demanding than I had expected, but was made easier after a very generous neighbour pitched in and helped over a couple of days. 

Once the holes were cleaned out and given the OK by the building inspector, the next job was to pour 200mm (8") of concrete into each hole to support the cypress stumps. With the aid of a small cement mixer and a wheelbarrow I found that this too was a lengthy and exhausting process, and I was greatly relieved when all the concrete was in place and could be left to cure for a week, allowing me something of a reprieve.

Installing the stumps with the required spacings and alignment required careful measurement and bracing, and much more physical exertion than I'm used to; not only did the soil have to be backfilled around the stumps, but to achieve the necessary stability I needed to compact it in layers with the blunt end of a crowbar. Needless to say, I'm feeling much stronger and fitter than I did before I began this project!

I'm fortunate to have been able to borrow a laser level which will make the task of cutting the stumps off to their final height a much easier task, with greater accuracy than I could otherwise achieve. 

From this point on, I'm hopeful that the fun factor will increase and that the demands I've been placing on my weary body will diminish a little!