Our ‘natural’ home at Morningwood.

The home in these pictures represents, so far, about 6 months of work.  I’m really cheap, so I wanted to build this for free. So far, it has run about $3.5000, with excavation being the lion’s share of the cost. It will cost (conservatively) another $2,000.00 before we’re living in it. 

I call this home ‘natural’, but that’s a bit of a misnomer.  All of the rocks, logs, sand, etc. were culled from our property, but we did use about 30 bags of concrete, which is frowned upon by true, natural home purists.  C’est la vie.  Of course, we ran the generator, and chainsaws, and even painted the forms with used motor oil, but like I said… I’m cheap and that was the cheapest approach I could find.

I’m constructing this blog haphazardly, so please bear with me. I’m going to post pix of the process as it unfolds, and eventually, even the silly pictures will be incorporated.  I’ll describe the process as we go along.

  This rock wall section and few log uprights were the bulk of the work done in the fall of 2011. These would stand until the spring of 2012, when the following work commenced.

The Henge

In the Spring of 2011 I set about peeling 20 large Poplar trees that we had felled on our property. These would become the main uprights, and most of the horizontals, which came from the thinner, top portions of the trees.  I’d pour a footing, pound old drill rods in the ground, then plumb a piece of steel out of the center of it.  I then drilled a hole in the base of the log, and stood it up on the peg.  I then plumbed the log as best I could and braced it to the ground.  Between two of these log uprights, I made a form/pad 6″ deep, again with scrap steel rods pounded into the ground. I used old road grader blades (very heavy steel) horizontally in the form, to give it torsional strength, and to prevent the concrete from cracking. On top of this, I built the plywood/2×4 form, three feet high and one foot deep. I then mixed the cement and laid the rocks, flat face out (against the form wall), making sure to choose rocks with character. The next day, I’d peel off the form and admire the results… I rinsed, then repeated 13 times.

Mouse over pix for description, or click on any image for gallery.

That pretty much sums up the henge and in-fill portion. There’s a few sections left to complete, but several in-fill sections will accommodate sliding glass doors, so very little hard rock work remains to be done.  Until I borrowed a cement mixer, we used a drill and paddle and hand-mixed the mortar/concrete for the rock walls. This proved to be a lot of work,  requiring about 20 batches per section. The cement mixer made short work of it.  Placing the rock in the form took a bit of effort, and the walls came out better as we learned along the way.   I took a triage approach to the work, pouring a footing, then erecting one or two log uprights, then another footing, etc.  It seemed to help break up the monotonous labour (mixing cement, etc.) and also allowed one to see how each section might come together.  Also, it took about a week of recovery after humping rocks into forms for just an afternoon. I required a real amount of help from my friend Glen with the wall cap joinery (the horizontal logs strapping the uprights together).  Calculating the angles required to join the logs with ever-changing angles (the structure is oval, not round, and not perfect in any sense) took all the brain power the both of us could muster.  In the end, Glen managed to figure out the angles (with logs upside down, on the ground) and most went up without a hitch. The joints are a ‘mitred half-lap’ joint, so that an equal amount of each horizontal rests at the correct angle on the vertical log upright.  Of course, they each weighed at least 200 pounds, so that part sucked. Impromptu scaffolding helped.
Each of the joints was pinned together and then into the upright supporting them with several 12 inch spikes. Mortar and window gasket foam was packed into the joints before spiking.

Here’s the reciprocal roof frame, in a nutshell…

I was smitten with the idea of a reciprocal roof, after seeing the results of folks like Tony Wrench and Simon Dale’s impressive work.  Apparently, they lend themselves well to round(ish) structures and are ideal for living roofs.  As to whether it will work, check back in six months, after a serious winter.  While probably not the biggest roof going, it’s the largest reciprocal roof frame I’ve seen on the Interwebs. At 50’x32′, it’s a big span. The log rafters are between 20 and 35′ long, including the four foot eves.  Recommended are supports for spans longer than 15′, so I’ll have several. These will double as supports for the sleeping loft.  I feel confident, but cautious.  I owe a debt of gratitude to my brother Todd, who seems to show up just when I would be stuck without him.  In three days, we harvested the 13 main rafters, peeled them and placed them.  These were ‘pecker pole’ Jack Pine trees, roughly 8″ across at the butt.  We also first built a tripod to accommodate the work. The hardest part of having help is trying to return to work solo after the help leaves!

And here’s some random shots of everything…

Morningwood & more….


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