Monday, July 26, 2021

Studio/Workshop Progress Report - Moving In!

With the final, thin coat of render now dried on the internal straw bale walls, plans are afoot to begin the process of moving into this space. It's easy to convince myself that this marathon job is over; however, it's something of a reality check to view my progress through a camera viewfinder; the minor but necessary finishing touches requiring my attention are cast in stark relief when I do so!

Realistically, it's when power and plumbing connections have been made that I can truly begin to celebrate. As this will involve third parties, and with tradesmen difficult to secure in these parts, I can look forward to further delays before I can tick the final boxes and relax a little. In the meantime, I hope these photographs depicting what has consumed my life over the past 3 1/2 years are of some interest.

In the interests of full disclosure, you should know that when framing these photos I carefully avoided the piles of tools and materials still strewn over the floor in places!



Monday, August 3, 2020

Studio/Workshop Progress Report - Ceilings and Sills

The weeks slide past in a blur, and it seems I'm only able to fully appreciate the progress I'm making when I take the time to record the current state of the project and compare new photos to those included in my previous post.

I'm pretty happy with the tongue-and-groove pine ceilings and less inclined to paint them white as I'd initially planned; I can always choose to do so later after I've lived with them for a while. If nothing else, I'll protect them with a couple of coats of water-based polyurethane which shouldn't darken them appreciably. 

The high spots on the rendered walls have been rasped back which accounts for the mottled appearance; they'll have a consistent lighter colour once the third and final coat of render is applied, and the option remains to add some white oxide to the render mix at that time to lighten them even further.

Fabricating the timber window sills and corner window seat was tedious and time-consuming, but the end result is very pleasing. I used a timber species marketed commercially as Tasmanian oak, which is actually sourced from several eucalyptus species.


Saturday, May 9, 2020

Studio/Workshop Progress Report - More Render

After a frustrating delay due to the rendering contractor's wait for material from China, the second, much thicker coat of render is in place. The final form of the walls - including the curves around door and window openings - has been more firmly established, and I can finally visualise what the completed internal space will look like. The render will continue to lighten in colour over next few weeks as it dries.

At this stage the render is still soft to the touch on the building's interior walls, but I can begin the task of installing ceiling and wall linings safe in the knowledge that any damage to the walls I might accidentally inflict will be covered by the third and final coat of render.

The first coat of render took a couple of weeks to dry and gain the strength necessary to support the thicker second coat. While the wait for the rendering contractor's return was a little frustrating, it did provide me with valuable thinking time during which I was able to reconsider the choice of materials for the next stage of the project and research how best to install them. Where would I be without YouTube?

I'd been happy with my initial material choices until I'd spent some time on the "thinking stool" contemplating how I'd cut plasterboard sheets destined for the ceiling to accommodate the exposed collar ties that tie the rafters together, and how I'd manhandle them into place. Most importantly, and despite having watched any number of YouTube videos on the subject, I questioned my ability to hide the joins between sheets. On that score at least, I concluded that there was a potential gap between my ambitions and my capabilities, and that a less demanding solution was therefore preferable. Pine lining boards provide that solution; not only are they relatively cheap and easy to install, but with a coat of white paint they should complement the rendered external walls. I'm more confident in my ability to successfully install plasterboard on the internal walls, and of my ability to disguise joins. My thinking is that an expanse of flat, featureless plasterboard will provide a resting place for the eye, and contrast with the earthy rendered perimeter walls and the lining boards covering the ceiling.

I've always had confidence that the insulation properties of the straw bale walls, double-glazed doors and windows, ceiling and under-floor insulation will deliver a comfortable work space. Once I've stuffed the remaining gaps between the top of the external walls and the rafters with spare insulation material I'll know whether my confidence was well-founded.  


Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Studio/Workshop Progress Report - Render!

Yes, it's a mess, and no, the true colour of the render will not be revealed until it has dried, but I'm declaring the application of the first coat of render a major step in the right direction!

This is the first of three coats of lime render, and forms a base for the thicker second coat which - weather permitting - will be applied next week.

Once the second coat is dry, my work resumes in earnest; fitting of ceilings, wall linings, eaves, bathroom waterproofing and fit out, and installation of floor coverings will keep me very busy for the next couple of months after which I'll be ready for the third and final coat of render inside and out. 

Winters here are bitterly cold by Australian standards, so before I tackle these jobs, I'll prepare for the wet, cold months ahead by stuffing the gaps at the top of the external walls with insulation material.


Sunday, March 29, 2020

Studio/Workshop Progress Report - Doors and Windows

I had a long wait for doors and windows to be fabricated and delivered, but I'm pleased to report that they're now in place.

I've more or less completed the balustrade that runs along the edge of the deck on the northern side of the building, and the decking planks have been secured, except for a gap along the base of the straw bale wall sufficient to allow render to be applied to the wall below deck level.

The rendering contractor indicated he'd spray the first coat of render next week, but with rain forecast I'm prepared to be disappointed. Nevertheless, I can console myself with the idea that it's bound to happen fairly soon. 

I've allowed myself time this week to enjoy the view out of the corner window, and the experience is everything I'd hoped it would be. It's wonderful to be surrounded by deciduous trees, particularly as the autumn colours appear, and when the leaves fall and more distant views materialise, I know they'll be a constant, pleasant distraction.   

On a glorious autumn day like today it would be easy to doubt that the world has been turned upside down. Please heed the advice of the experts, and stay well!


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 kayak 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.