The last three weeks I have had the honor of being a work trader for the Natural Cottage Project that took place at the Straw Bale Studio in Oxford, Michigan. Being a work trader meant that I got a discount for the workshop by coming a week before the course began to help with setup. And it meant that I got to more intimately see what it takes to put on a natural building workshop as well as getting to know the instructors and my fellow work traders quite well.

Personally, these last three weeks have been life changing and have cemented (with cob, of course) my own desire and passion to do everything I can to keep my hands in this stuff and continue to pursue natural building as a career. You might ask, what will that look like? And the truth is I don’t yet know, and there are a lot of possibilities in this still emerging field. But I know I want to do it.

The day that really made it all come together for me was the day that the timber frame literally came together and my hands were in it from the first bent that went up to the very last rafter. The whole experience put me on a natural high and I just knew inside that I had to keep doing this. It was around this point in the workshop that I started getting people saying things to me like, “So are you going to keep building? Because you’re good at it and you should,” and “I want to build with you again,” and “How long have you been doing this?”

After two months in Boston feeling like a fish out of water I finally felt back in my element; I was learning, I was teaching, I was creating and inventing, and I was sleeping under the stars. This is the way I am meant to live my life.

And I was so immersed in it and reluctant to pull myself away from the action that I neglected to write any blog posts while there! Not to mention that my camera broke so I will be using the pictures of other very generous people to retroactively try and share my experience with you all.

For now, here are some pictures from the first week as a teaser. I will do my best to give you more details on the project and my experience in the next couple of weeks!

Photo taken by Eva Wimmer. The beginning of the Foundation.

Foundation trenches go to frost depth which is almost 4 feet in Michigan. They are filled with gravel, then perforated drainage pipe, which can be padded and given extra filtration by wrapping in straw. Then more drainage gravel is put on top of the pipe and then larger rocks and rumble fill the trench to almost grade. The last few inches on the trench should again be filled with gravel to give the first course of the stemwall a level surface in which stones can be embedded. Photo taken by Eva Wimmer

Timbers have arrived! Photo taken by Eva Wimmer.

And now Sarah has arrived! Here we are putting up batter boards which serve the same purpose as dayton stakes- marking a level plane that we can use for reference to make the foundation and the building level. These boards were set up using a water level. Photo taken by Eva Wimmer,

Visually checking that the batter boards are level. Photo taken by Eva Wimmer.

Foundation wall beginning to be built and cement piers poured in Sonotubes which will be used as footers underneath timber frame posts. Photo taken by Eva Wimmer.

Our four wonderful instructors. From left to right: Deanne Bednar of Strawbale Studio
Sarah Highland of Highland Artisan
Christina Ott of Barefoot Builder
Chris Mcclellan of IndustrialRustic. Photo taken by Eva Wimmer.

Covering up a mornings worth of cob that will be put on the wall tomorrow. A layer of wet straw and then a tarp covering that will keep our cob from drying out in the summer heat. Photo taken by Eva Wimmer

Timber framing 101: Tool care and maintenance. Photo taken by Eva Wimmer

After an exhilarating cob toss our cob bond beam in in place! Yup, that is right, we are using cob rather than cement as our bond beam on top of our stem wall. Photo taken by Eva Wimmer.

On top of the cob bond beam we places our toe ups, which the straw bales will rest on. Also notice the oak footer that has been bolted to our asana tubes. The timber frame posts will sit on top of these. Photo taken by Eva Wimmer.

Our superhero cooks, Emily and Noah, kept all 70 of us well fed during this two week workshop. We couldn’t have done it without them. Photo taken by Eva Wimmer

Working through the rain, some of us get to see just a little bit of what it means to do round wood timber framing as we prep our two round floor joists for the loft. Photo taken by Eva Wimmer.

The layers of the subfloor are going in. First there is 6 or so inches of drain gravel. Then 4 inches of the red pimice stone pictures above will serve as an insulative layer. Pumice is a very porous rock that, if available locally, is a great natural insulator for earthen floors. On top of this pumice with be another 4 inches of pressures fines (crushed rock) that are highly compact-able. Each layer is well tamped and leveled  Photo taken by Eva Wimmer

Here is the final layer of the subloor, the crusher fines or crushed rock, being spread evenly across the floor surface. Photo taken by Eva Wimmer.

And now it is time for the timber frame raising! A process that will require all hands on deck. Here is the first Bent put together and just about ready to be raised. Photo taken by Eva Wimmer.

One of our youngest workshop participants helps hammer in a wood peg. These pegs are octagon shaped and put into round holes. Photo taken by Eva Wimmer.

The first Bent being lifted into place. Photo taken by Eva Wimmer

Lowering a rafter plate into place. Photo taken by Eva Wimmer

Checking to see if the last peg is fully hammered in. Photo taken by Eva Wimmer

The completed timber frame. Photo taken by Laura Luttrell.

I will leave you with that for now, but promise to post more pictures soon!