Workshop Weekend

When the big bad wolf came huffing and puffing into Torrey last weekend, his first stop might have been the greenhouse under construction at our house. Despite his previous success with certain pigs of note, this straw structure was impervious to his attempts at blowhard demolition. His efforts were in vain.

Not so the efforts of the folks building that greenhouse. They were learning the principles of building with straw bales and earthen plaster at our workshop sponsored by the Entrada Institute. Eight participants learned about building with bales from Bill and Athena Steen, leading experts in strawbale construction and natural plasters from Canelo, Arizona. The Steens drew from decades of experience, teaching everything from foundation and framing, wiring and plumbing, to stacking bale walls and finishing with plaster made from local earth.

Beginning with a presentation on the history of and possible designs for strawbale structures, and a tour of our strawbale home, the group then got hands-on experience by stacking 56 bales of barley straw within the previously constructed post and beam frame to create walls for the greenhouse. Bamboo poles and baling twine were used to stabilize the entire affair. Workshop participants spent the last days making plaster from clay, straw and sand, and then applying it as an inch-thick coat to the interior and exterior walls. While the final coats of plaster and finish work must still be completed, the builders left Torrey feeling successful, informed and maybe even inspired to raise strawbale structures of their own someday—all big-bad-wolf-proof.

Our teachers…

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Bill Steen

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Athena Steen

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Preparing bales by smoothing ends by hand

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and by more aggressive methods.

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Measuring the gap requiring a custom bale

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Inserting a bale needle then

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Tying knots

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to make smaller bales

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Fitting a notched bale around a post

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Examining progress

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Checking alignment

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Making adjustments

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And more adjustments

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Rasping notches in bales for bamboo support poles

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Using bale needle to pass baling twine through bale courses in order to

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tie bamboo poles on either side of walls together

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Learning about plaster

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Getting our hands dirty

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Filling large gaps between bales prior to first coal of plaster

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Applying the slip coat

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Screening dirt for plaster

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Making plaster with Mort, the mortar mixer

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Learning the proper technique

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Applying the first coat around a niche

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Teamwork

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The beginnings of a shelf

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A few moments to observe

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to listen

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and to rest

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The first coat of plaster is completed on the interior and exterior

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Merry and Mom – our support

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