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DayCreek Journal

August 3 , 2003

New Friends

Pictured from left to right, top row: Lea, Bonnie, Marvin, Mary, Dave. Bottom row: Laura

My afternoon plans of getting one or two batches of mortar done have been spoiled by a thunderstorm passing through the area. It's probably a good thing though since I haven't found the time to do a journal entry in a couple of weeks. It rained so hard, so fast that I had to run out and open the run-off valve to prevent the cistern from overflowing. It's been very dry here for the last two weeks, but a few thundershowers worth of rain has filled it back up again. It is so nice to take rainwater showers—I am so very happy to have that cistern!

I've got lots of catch-up writing to do here, so I guess I'll start with what I did two weeks ago. Trying to keep humidity levels reasonable in the house, I have been doing cordwood walls every other week and the last week in July was spent roughing in the solar-assisted tankless water heater. I ran a new electrical circuit to the utility area which feeds the power vent for the water heater, as well as an outside light and electrical outlet. I will spend the second week in August finishing up the tankless water heater. By then I should have a tank of Lp gas ready to go. So far, I have rarely needed any other heat other than that provided by the sun for hot water, but it won't be long before Autumn is here and cloudy days return. Plus, now is a good time to take advantage of lower gas prices before the winter rates go into effect.

Having the new electrical line installed made things a little brighter for my guests that arrived here last Monday. Laura Manthe, from the Oneida Nation is planning on building a one-story cordwood building that will be used for drying and braiding an heirloom variety of white corn. This will be a community project that will surely attract attention to the benefits of cordwood construction. Laura and her friend Bonnie attended Rob Roy's workshop a few weeks ago, but they were curious as to the benefits of using recycled newspaper in the mortar mix.

I was more than happy to have them camp out here at Day Creek for three days and help build a wall. Everyone got a chance to get their hands into PEM (Paper Enhanced Mortar) and from the remarks that I received, they were in agreement as to the benefits of using such a mix. Adding a bit of clay to the mix makes the mix that much more pliable and sticky. Regular mortar mixes for cordwood do not adhere very well to wood, while PEM does. After doing 38 walls of cordwood, I feel that I have pretty much perfected the mix. I don't think I would change a thing.

Here's the current mix:

6 parts paper
4 parts sand
2 parts clay
3 parts type N masonry cement
1 part type S hydrated lime

The mix can be made in a wheel barrow or cement mixer. I prefer to do it in the wheel barrow for a stiffer mix, but when I am here by my lonesome, I use the mixer. The mixer requires a bit more water for it to mix properly, but it's not a sloppy mix—just slightly wetter. Having a bit of clay makes the mix "stickier" and it sticks to the wood without slumping away.

Laura and her friends got to build the second cordwood wall with the latest mix and it went quite well. With six helpers, we did various batches by wheel barrow and by mixer. The wheel barrow method goes pretty quick when you've got two people mixing with hoes. If I had a constant helper, I would do away with the mixer completely.

After the first batch of mortar and cordwood, Marvin placed sacred tobacco into the wall and blessed the house. There are certain walls to the house that I will always remember and there is no doubt in my mind that this wall will always have a very special meaning to me. It is also a custom of mine that anyone who helps with the house at least signs a log and if the mood strikes them leave a few words of wisdom. It will be tough to beat the log-end artwork on this particular wall. I'm sure some of our friends will want to "dress up" their logs now in competition.

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end, and I was back to doing cordwood by my lonesome on Wednesday afternoon. The house seemed awfully quiet after they left but life goes on and there was a lot of work left to do on the wall.

The local newspaper will be here tomorrow to get an update on our house and to discuss my experiments with paper enhanced plaster. So the rush was on this weekend to get up to the second floor where I will build an adobe-style window frame for the article.

Building the framework for the adobe-style windows is quite time consuming—not so much the wood frame building, but putting on the metal lath. It takes a lot of screws to attach the lath. When I say "lots", I'm talking hundreds of screws. Since my plans are to do another ten windows in the same fashion, I may invest in a power-nailer. It's not only time consuming to do this with a cordless drill, but it's hard on my carpal tunnel.

As usual, everything I do seems to cause a chain reaction of other projects and this week's project was no different. Since the second part of this 17' wall is located on the second floor, it makes sense to wheelbarrow the mortar up the hill in back of the house. I had sealed over the back door frame last winter to keep the cold out, but now it was time to install the Home Depot $56 door. I should have done it a long time ago. The door looks great and it also brightens up the upstairs area a bit. With the new door installed, tomorrow I'll be ready to wheelbarrow in the mortar as I build the wall and plaster the inside of the upstairs window well.


The departing thundershower that filled the cistern.