made of straw
From 16-20th September, it was my pleasure to work alongside Phil Christopher and Glyn Clark of Huff and Puff Construction in the culmination of months of careful coordination, planning and preparation to run our first training course on the live lambing shed project. An interesting mix of participants attended, from the seasoned professionals of Natural Build to students of architecture and engineering, and they all kept us on our toes with queries from both academic and pragmatic perspectives.
Phil and Glyn had been generous with their time in quite literally preparing the ground for the course: when the attendees arrived the bottom ring beam and leca ladder were constructed, the top ring beam winched into position on the corner posts and floor joists securely fixed. The first task of day one was thus to get everyone working together to lay sheets of osb3 as a floor before moving on to the more serious business of selecting, preparing and dressing bales.
We were fortunate with the weather and only had to rely on our tarpaulin for that particularly sodden first afternoon: excepting the occasional shower, we enjoyed a mild start to the autumn and fine conditions through the week.
With bales thoroughly surveyed and prepared, day two started cleaning the timber ladder to receive the lightweight expanded clay aggregate (leca) and drilling holes to fit the 300mm hazel stubs that hold the first row of bales in place. As bales were starting to be positioned, care was taken to explain the use of the alligator saw to rapidly notch around uprights.
Day three, Friday, continued wall construction to lunchtime before a consensual 'class trip' to the Arts Cabin in Sherborne where I met Phil and Glyn one year ago. The aim of the visit was to show everyone the finish and feel of a completed straw bale structure, as well as provide a prompt for questions that may not have arisen within the earlier stages of a build.
Refreshed from the less physically taxing day before, we quickly raised the walls to the fourth course. At this point, we were 'pre-spiking' bales with 1300mm hazel pins, sitting them in place and working the pins down by hand or hammer into the wall below for lateral stability. This took time, as did employing the persuader to ensure the walls were in alignment, and for all the productivity it felt like relatively slow progress.
The final day rushed by, buoyed by excitement and experience through repetition, and in a few hours the team managed to complete just under half the building's walls to a full seven courses. Following lunch, Phil demonstrated the detailing around openings and compression of the bales with ratchet straps to mimic the load imposed by the roof and force the bales to settle into their final positions. A brief discussion about trimming the walls and an open Q&A later and it was, all too soon, time to say farewell.
It remains to be said that I would like to extend a huge thank you from myself, Phil and Glyn to all our participants for their patience on our first foray into training, their enquiring minds that pushed us to constantly evaluate and strive toward best practice and the invaluable feedback they provided along the way. In turn, we hope everyone enjoyed their experience and took away some important lessons in straw bale construction: I very much look forward to the potential for future collaborations and, naturally, our next course!