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DayCreek Journal

June 1 , 2001

Snap, Crackle, Pop

Ahhh, the sound of cereal crackling in a bowl of soy milk. Does life get any better? Well, it could get a lot better if the sound wasn't coming from the walls. No don't worry, the walls aren't falling apart nor is the post and beam frame lifting off the ground. It's just the walls talking to me.

A rather strange occurrence to be sure. Memorial Day afternoon was a pleasant, sunny, breezy and very dry afternoon. I happened to check on the two walls that were completed so far and to my surprise they were making a very subtle yet noticeable snapping sound. About two to three snaps per minute. The sound was similar to the snap of a spark caused by static electricity.

At first, visions of a cataclysmic event raced through my head. I looked at the post and beams for any signs of levitation or other unnatural acts. Everything looked fine. The cordwood walls were still damp, but most of the logs had no signs of water from the initial mortaring. After my heart stopped racing, I decided to make a few phone calls to the cordwood doctors.

Doctors Rob Roy and Richard Flatau were unable to diagnose the problems. Both doctors had never heard of such a thing. They both heard the sounds of logs checking in the walls, but this was not the sound I was hearing.. (The sound of wood checking in the walls is usually is a much louder sound and caused by the wood not being totally dry before mortaring them into the wall.) After talking to the doctors, I notified my fellow interns: James Juczak, Tom Huber and Paul Reavis who were equally stumped. Ideas abound such as air bubbles snapping, wood contracting, mortar contracting, etc. but it's still one of life's mysteries. (My own opinion is that the dry afternoon after a week's worth of rain and high humidity caused a rapid drying of the walls and it was just the sound of the wall contracting a bit.)

Since Memorial Day, I have not heard any further sounds (besides the normal voices I hear) coming from the walls. Visually everything looks great. So, I guess I'll just keep an ear out for further sounds. (If anyone else has experienced a similar sound -- please send me an email.)

During the last week, I was able to make some good progress. At this point, I feel very confident about the mix I am using. During my building of the first two walls, I have tried four different mixes. Although I hated changing mixes on the real house vs. a test wall, I have learned a lesson. If you are doing a test wall, make it the same size as the real thing. My results on the real walls have been quite a bit different than the test walls I created last summer. A few stacks of wood mortared together produce different results than an 8' x 8' wall. But, it's not that big of a deal. The walls that I have done so far are to the back of the house and it's interesting comparing the walls side by side.

The first wall, which is STILL drying is nothing more than paper and type N masonry mix. I changed the mix once on this wall because I didn't like the cottage cheese effect I was getting while pointing the mortar. The wall does look great though and although it's not totally dry, it's getting real hard.

If you haven't guessed by now, this is one of the utility room walls. There's plenty of access pipes in this wall along with a dryer vent, tankless water heater vent (top left) and an electrical outlet. (There's even a bottle end -- yes, there are ways to use bottles in a double wall house.)

The second wall was completed last Sunday. This wall also has two different mixes. The first mix I tried was very close to a "traditional" cordwood mix except I used paper in place of the sawdust. And after about four days of drying a few cracks appeared in the wall. Ed McAllen stopped by and said, "Yep, you'll get some of those." So, it goes with "traditional" cordwood mixes. Cracks are just a common occurrence.

The second half of the second wall is a rather unique mix of sand, paper and masonry cement. By volume, it's 40% sand, 40% paper and 20% masonry mix. I don't want to get too up about this yet, but so far it has been a wonderful mix. It goes on wetter than traditional cordwood mortar, but drier than papercrete. It's great to point with and so far... no cracks. Once the wall is completely dry, I'll be even happier.

As you can see, these window frames are pretty big. There's quite a few of these large windows around the front of the house to help bring in the winter sun. This is one of the two windows located in our bedroom.

I have since used this same mix on the third wall. I jumped over to the SE side of the house to do the third wall. I did this for two reasons: (1) I was cold working on the NE side of the house and (2) I wanted to try a wall with a window.

Putting together the window frame was a bit of a challenge. The windows were designed to fit into a 4' by 6' window frame and that they did - barely. Although the windows were milled to my specs, the windows are actually comprised of two pieces that are held in place with a furring strip. Unfortunately, the furring strip tends to make the windows a bit wider. I should have enough clearance, but I won't know until I try to put the window in the wall. In another week, I may try to install the window just to see how much trouble these frames might give me.

As expected, the wall went up quickly once I got the frame in place. Since this is pretty much a one man show, I used the Bobcat to help me bolt the frame to the horizontal beam. (I can't tell you how many times that Bobcat has come in handy.)

Next week, I will probably be distracted by some excavation work. The road needs repair and the mounds of clay and rock in front of the house needs to be leveled out so I can eventually mow around the house. Once I feel comfortable with the current mix, I'll report the details here on the journal.

This week's beanie photo goes to the pallet of ground hogs (a.k.a. woodchucks) living in the pole barn. Pictured from left to right, Jack, Cliff, Richard and Rob. (The names given were completely at random and no association to any master cordwood builder is implied.)