After what seems like years of work (and is) with nothing showing above ground but increasing amounts of mud, we are at last rising above ground level.
Just after New Year, we took delivery of several tonnes of rough sawn English-grown larch, from which to construct the ring beams and frame to support the bale walls.
So, two weeks ago, I booked off my last two weeks of leave, and we started a crash-course in joinery. This involved constructing a robust box section horizontal frame, closed above and below with exterior grade strand board. All the joints between timer lengths and board needed to be glued and nailed. This was all built propped on bales on the tyre foundations, so that a second layer of strand board could be applied to the bottom of the frame.
So, once a complete ring-beam was formed, we had a nervous job of gradually lowering the entire structure from the bales directly onto the tyres, using three lorry jacks and some nerve. All went without a hitch, and the job of filling the voids of the ring beam with straw for insulation and affixing the top layer of strand board seemed to fly past!
All the while we were doing this, Patrick Duffin and his team of brickies and scaffolders from M. Duffin Bulders Ltd set about building the internal brick walls that will act as thermal mass, and help hold up the stairs and floors! As I write this, they are up to lintel height on the ground floor. We are using old floor timbers from a demolished factory in the village (pitch pine and oak) as our lintels – nice seasoned bits of wood that still have a lot of life in them.
Once the brick walls ( the bricks come from an old railway bridge on the farm, renovations of a friends’ house (thanks Dave & Annie) and an old industrial site in Melton Mowbray) and the wooden ring beam are complete, we will be visited by a team of experts and trainees from Straw Works, who, during the course of three training weeks, will erect our straw bale walls. You can find details of these training courses here.