Friday, July 25, 2014

Sandbag Dome Goat Temple

It's not everyday that somebody calls you and asks if you want to stucco a sand bag dome goat home.  That's what happened to me on Tuesday evening.  I had to make a little room in my busy scheduled life to fit it in...

It was none other than Joseph Becker of Ion Ecobuilding who would make such an offer. We drove down to Rainier, Washington yesterday morning to stucco the structure.

With this little Toyota pick up truck loaded to capacity, we picked up a mortar mixer and I caravan-ed with Joseph to the job site.

We used two orchard ladders, a maple plank as a scaffold to reach all parts of the structure.  The dome was built by a Earthen builder with plastic bags packed with sand.  It was covered with concrete, and in the winter rains most of the concrete chipped off, especially on the bumpiest sections.  Joseph specializes in traditional lime stucco and he used some concrete, at the request of the home owner, to make a stucco mix that would last longer.  The new mix used concrete, lime, sand, and fiberglass strands to increase the tinsel strength of the material.

The homeowner acted as the mix master.  She mixed each batch of the mud that the small team of Joseph, Roger and I applied.  We used a compressor and sprayer to spray on the stucco and troweled it flat with wooden trowels and our hands.  The bumps made it difficult to use the trowels so we mostly just used the palm of our hands to knock down the material.

The PVC tubes in the picture above act as windows for light and air to access the interior of the structure.  There were also glass bottles built in to the sand bags that functioned as windows.

The finishing touches,  Joseph pictured above. The goats are ready to reside in their temple...

Friday, July 18, 2014

Full Circle

I was feeling a bit burned out on working on the Leafspring, and Joelle had a friend visiting from San Francisco, so we decided to take him on a trip back out to the real world.  We spent 3 nights on the beach @ Toleak Point and explored the tidal shelf under the warm sun and the full moon.  It really rejuvenates the soul...

When we returned we went to the forge and I made a fro blade from an old leafspring.  I have been meaning to make a bigger fro so I can make shakes from some bigger cedar bolts I collected from the Hoh.  I designed this fro so a shovel handle can slide into the eyelet.  I did this for 2 reasons, first it's easier to store without a handle, and second because I don't have an extra handle and I don't want to make/buy one right now.

Here is a pic of the fro with the shovel inserted as the handle.  When I got home from the forge, I got to making shakes and I paneled underneath the bench I have been working on.

It was really rewarding to have a desired tool in mind that I need for a job, then go to the shop and make the tool, use it and install the finished shakes all in the same day.  This process has really come full circle after 2 years of practice.

Joelle also completed a really cool project I wanted to show.  She forged this knife from an old file.  We went to my friend Bill Dawson's house and while I was working on re-building rotted out rafter tails, Joelle used Bill's wet grinder to shape and then we tempered our first kitchen knife!

She put this antler handle on after getting some advice from Bill and with a final finish sharpen our first piece of custom cutlery is complete.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


While the days are long and the weather is hot a lot has been happening...

 First off, Jo finished painting her fade mural on the roof!

 These Barn Swallows are set to fly in to their sunset mural landscape.

The first door was hung yesterday.   I'm hoping to get the second set today!

The hinges arrived, they were previously in a hotel in Mill Valley, CA that was demo-ed.  You can see the Black Locust jambs and threshold in this pic as well.  I used black locust for the exterior wood because it is so rot resistant and I could get in trade with a friend.

The exterior side of the door...

I put on the furring strips with the help of my friend Steven.  These furring strips will allow fir a 1/2" gap behind the siding that will allow airflow to dry out any moisture.  Rain screens, in my opinion, are the best way to side in the Northwest.  Take advantage of airflow, whenever possible...

You can also see in this picture that the fascias are removed.  I pulled them off to paint all of the exposed wood from the rafter tails and the bottom of the plywood roof sheeting.  I got a cheap 8 dollar can of exterior paint from the re-store.  It makes a lot of sense to seal up all of the exposed exterior wood because it will begin to get the spotted black mold after a short time outside...

At the bottom of the furring strips I wrapped fiberglass mesh bug screen to stop unwanted visitors from venturing up into the rain screen space.  Thanks to Tyler Smith for this building envelope detail, and Rama Lash for the use of his staple guns... 

And the beginning of a loft ladder.  I forged these hand holds last week for getting up into the loft.

And I made a step out of a driftwood piece I carried for most of a coastal hike adventure.  Nobody shapes wood like the ocean shapes wood.  

You can see the simple forged brackets for the stair, and one cool moose...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

That Door Is A Jar...

The doors are finally ready to be hung!   I spent the last two days finishing up the exterior shingling, pictured above.  I cut these shingles on a band saw mill and I collected the old growth cedar bolts from stumps in the Hoh river rain forest.  

Here is the interior paneling of the door made from the excess walnut flooring.  The stiles and rails of the door are made from Douglas Fir, also cut on a local mill. 


Joelle is cutting and fitting 5/8" xps foam for the core of the door.  The batons act as nailers for the shingles.

I tried to find 5/8" foam, but was unsuccessful, so instead I borrowed this tool from Joseph Becker to cut down the 2" foam I had into 5/8" thickness.   The tool sends a current through a very thin wire and you can cut with the heated wire.  It worked really well, but it makes an eerie sound while it's cutting so we have affectionately called it the darth vader tool. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

House Truck Treasure

I was picking up the first boards of cedar bevel siding yesterday and I stumbled upon this gem.  I went out to get the siding at a beautiful little property nestled over by the Evergreen State College.  I explained to the guy I met to buy the siding a bit about my little house project and he told me there was a house truck he built in 1975 parked next to his orchard!  His wife Sue was really enthusiastic about the house truck.  She told us about how they had lived in it together for a few years and lived in while they were building the house the currently live in.  She said they needed to upgrade for their kids, but her nostalgia was a bit contagious...

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Spider Web Loft

I finally completed the loft floor last night.  It has taken a lot longer than expected, although I suppose I should expect that now.  I'm taking more time and using more energy by focusing on using mostly hand tools.

These are the tools I used to build the loft.  I would like to explain a little bit about them, so others can understand the process and have a glimpse into my developing style of finish carpentry.  The thin metal 3' ruler on the left is amazing.  It's light and flexible and works wonders for layout.  I picked this up a week ago after using one with Abel these last few weeks.  The Japanese saw was used for all the cuts.  I am a dedicated patron of these saws and I continue to use them more and more for most of my fine carpentry and some of my rough framing work.  A small aggressive file with a flat side and a round side.  This tool is essential for so much of my carving and small adjustment work.  A pencil, a utility blade and a tape measure.  The makita impact driver and a foam pad for my knees.  I cut this out of an old sleeping mat.

Here is a bit more about the impact driver:

I got this makita quad drive bit when I went home to Maryland for my Mom's birthday.  It was my grandfather's and he hardly used it because it was in great shape.  I asked my Dad if I could have it and he agreed because he had not used it much either.  I couldn't bring it on the plane, thanks tsa, so my mom had to ship it to me.  This little guy was worth the wait.  It is a #8 counter sinking drill bit on one side and it has an interchangeable drive bit on the other.  For this project I used a #2 square drive.  The reason I like it so much is because usually I have to change out the bit each time from counter sink to the drive, and I always misplace the bit.  I also have started using 2 drills, one for the counter sink and one for the drive, but I much prefer having one bit that flips and not having to manage another drill. 

Under loft view:  I used 5/8 fir strips, ripped into 1 7/8" strips.  They are spaced at about 1/4", which varies a bit because I did not measure.  I like the variance and honestly I would rather not measure.  The spans are a bit far for 5/8" thick material, but this loft will have a bed on it, so it will disperse the weight to all the boards.  I wanted to build lighter and the 1/4" spacing allows for airflow under the mattress to stop condensation, or better put, allows air to breathe into areas that will develop condensation and stop mildew. 

The loft was designed like a spider web.  There are several kinds of spiderwebs, the most common being the spiral orb web.  The loft starts from one corner and has 2x4 joists spiraling out from one point like a sun burst.  The fir pieces then connect the joists  and there is a big 16" piece of fir that is a little cantilevered over the edge.  I cut this piece with a jig saw on the grain line, so it oscillates with the grain of the wood.

It took a lot of work, but in the end I'm really glad I took the time to build something that breathes inspiration, pragmatic design, and aesthetic beauty.  A special thanks to Abel Zimmerman for inspiring me to complete my dreams.  

Monday, June 2, 2014

Shingling Complete!!

After many days of scribing shingles I'm finally finished!!  I just about broke down and cried at the end.  I enjoy the work, but I was tired of it when I stapled my last shingle.  I left early and went home to play with my dog.  I shingled this entire structure by myself.  Now I'm ready to put siding and shingles on the Leafspring, after a few weeks of decompression.

The big back portal window is a signature piece of the zyl vardos tiny homes.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Captain Hook's Hook

My roommate Grace is playing Captain Hook in an upcoming performance of The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow up @ the Griswold building in downtown Olympia.  It's put on by Pulp Productions for the last 3 weeks of June.  I got out to the forge yesterday after work and forged this hook for her.  With the advice of a local theatre guru I made it as dull as possible to avoid any injuries during the show.  I was excited to make a theatre prop and hope to get more commissions like this in the future.

Monday, May 19, 2014


I spent the last week shingling for Zyl.  I thought I would show some of the tools and explain a bit about the process.

I always try to reduce what I'm carrying in my nail bags to the bare essentials.  That way I'm not carrying too much weight, but I also do not have to climb down a ladder incessantly to get another tool.  I think creatively about how I can reduce what is necessary, without reducing efficiency.  For this job I was up on a scaffold plank for the higher sections of wall.  Therefore, I needed to keep everything stashed up on the plank, without blocking the back and forth movement in the shingling process.   The plank is pictured below.

The tools pictured below are all that I needed for most aspects of the job.  Sometimes I would use a pry bar to pop a shingle that was not right and nips to pull unwanted staples, but usually I did not need them.  I kept these tools in a bucket that was hung off the plank for when they were necessary.  For the most part the speed square, a pencil, the caliper scribe and a utility knife were all I carried.  I kept a jig saw and a stapler on the plank, along with a crate full of shingles.

I really enjoyed using the caliper scribe and got more comfortable using the tool.  The function of the scribe is to mark a line (tracing from an existing surface) on the shingle that I could then follow with the jigsaw and fit the shingle into the curved sections of the trim, the round windows, and the rafters.  Usually after the shingle was cut I would hold it in place and see if there was any gap.  If there was a gap, I would use a utility knife to trim the shingle and fine tune it to slip in with as little gap as possible.  This caliper scribe tool in particular has a split nut that allows you to change the width of the calipers with one hand.  You squeeze it and release the tension and it springs open or you can squeeze it closer together.  The "quick release" aspect of the split nut was really useful.  The caliper scribe is one of my new favorite tools, and I was excited to get to know the tool and ride the learning curve.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Black Locust Sink Insert

I made this cutting board to extend the counter space over the sink.  The Black Locust is heavy, hard, anti-fungal and rot resistant, which is why I have been using it in places that there will be lots of exposure to water.

I gouged a bevel into the bottom of the board so it slides snugly into the stainless sink.  After running it through the planer it shines like a golden, exotic hardwood.  It is one of my favorite local materials, and this piece in particular is a large slab for a locust tree.

 When the cutting board is not in use you can remove it from the sink and stow it below.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Pairoducks @ Zyl Vardos

When I first got involved with micro building a few years ago, my friend Joseph Becker took my by Abel Zimmerman's home to see a gyspy wagon he was building.  His big round windows, custom curvatures, and top notch craftsmanship really blew me away.  I had seen buildings of this quality in magazines and photos online, but I had never walked inside of one.

What really set Abel's tiny home apart is that he was building his own windows and doors, and almost everything had curves.  He was taking his time and going for something that was reminiscent of an older generation of carpenters and craftsman.  Needless to say I was really inspired, especially seeing a guy who is building all his own stuff.  It made it feel possible.

As I have been working on my own projects as of late and struggling to find work much better than weed whacking, I will weed whack if I have to weed whack.  My friend Rick Peters called me one day and said I know a carpenter who needs help.  I called him back and he said it was Abel.  I called him up and what do you know.  I'm shingling his new project.  Take a look and check out the Zyl Vardos website

Shingling with #2 Western Red Cedar shingles.  After each row, you coat the shingles with Penofin wood finish.  Stainless 1" staples for hardware.

At the end of the row of shingles I've been scribing and jig saw cutting the trim line.  I clean up each cut with a utility knife.  The soft cedar chips away with very clean cuts.  

We used this nifty old school hardwood mason block line.  I have never seen one of these before.  It makes it so you can mount your line on a finish piece and slide it up and down.  We marked out the shingle reveal line on painter's tape and slide the line up after each row of shingles.

More pictures and stories to come in the future...