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Fwd: Re: GSBN: RE: dipped Bale Walls

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From: Sarah Machtey mudhome@...

Hi Andy,

At 12:27 PM 5/24/2007, Andy Horn wrote:
In such regard, I would be interested to know if any of you have tried the
pre-dipping method with load bearing systems???

I recently tried it. Since we were not using normal bales, I'm not
sure my experiences are really relevant to anyone on this list
(except Darcey, who was there, and Martin, who's probably heard
about it from Darcey) but here goes...

I was in Pakistan with Darcey Donovan, where the only bales you can
buy are made with chopped straw. So the building bales are made by
hand, using imported farm jacks and steel compression molds that
Darcey designed and had fabricated there. The technique involves
making loose balls of straw and stuffing them in. One very minor
problem we had was that smaller balls made better bales, but all of
the Pakistanis involved are always male and it is difficult to
convince men that smaller balls are better. (Ok, you didn't need to
know that detail, but given the recent posts I just couldn't help
throwing it in.) Anyway, the bales are only about 1ftx 1ft x 2ft so
the added weight of dipping isn't the issue that it is with bales in
any of the standard sizes.

I suggested dipping because it had always seemed like a good idea to
me, though somehow I'd never gotten to try it. I also suggested that
we try Tom Rijven's method of holding a large (maybe 2ft x 2ft or
more?) slightly flexible flat thing against the wall and hitting
with a mallet, which I'd seen him demonstrate at the conference in
Canada. At the time, I'd thought that I would usually want to modify
the technique by using hands, yogurt lids, or pool trowels to smoosh
things down, since his results are flatter than I and most Americans
I've worked with generally prefer. But we thought flat would be good
for a demonstration house in Pakistan (though I was pleasantly
surprised by some of the houses that the homeowner pointed out as
beautiful when he was looking through pictures in my computer -
organic handmade-looking interiors, etc.) We gave the flattening a
shot with various broken bits of furniture/house (from the
earthquake that precipitated the introduction of strawbale into
Pakistan) but none of them seemed to work very well. The main
problem seemed to be that the edges are not like on normal bales.
Another slight factor was the limit on how much you could hit them
without knocking them out of alignment. They had less size and
weight to keep them in place, no posts to be wedged between, and
certainly nothing like Tom's unique system of replacing the strings
with a wooden matrix that holds everything in place very tightly. To
get the clay to hold the straw flat seemed to require it to be
extremely thick - thick enough that I was concerned about expansion
and contraction causing trouble as moisture came and went. Perhaps
my fear was unjustified, especially considering that the locals
choose only pure clay soil (if it's available and they are using
soil) for their mortar in stone walls and other building purposes
and never add sand, but... I thought about adding sand, but didn't
suggest it because the sand had to be purchased, and I had never
heard of anyone using anything other than just clay before. So I was
very pleased to read that your "slip" actually contains sand.

We gave up on the flattening board and started smoothing the straw
down by hand as part of the dipping process and/or on the wall, and
things seemed to go fine. Later, after the slip had all dried, there
was an awful lot of whacking at the walls to push the house into
shape - much more than I've experienced before - and the clay would
come raining down in a nice fine powder, perfect for breathing in
and ruining your lungs. Your technique of pre-stacking would prevent
this problem and sounds like it would produce the best quality
walls, but also sounds like it takes a lot of time and care and space.

After I left Pakistan, they started on another house. On that one
they did not dip because they had not found clay in time, and I
heard recently that they had just slipped the walls and had found it
much faster and easier than dipping.

Personally, I still like the idea of dipping.

I'll end with some random comments on language, which you should
feel free to skip:

When we began mixing the slip, I told our students "custard" because
we had been served custard and told that the Urdu word for it was
"custard". Sometimes I wanted to say "pudding" but I refrained
because I had seen a heading of "puddings" on a restaurant menu,
under which there were various desserts listed, such as apple pie,
seeming to indicate the meaning was different. You can imagine
trying to dip bales in something the consistency of apple pie :-)

In Urdu, there is no direct translation for the word "straw". Wheat
straw (which is what those chopped bales are) and rice straw (which
we used for our bales) have different names. I will refrain from
getting into the problems of Spanish having only one word for straw,
with too many meanings, because this list has become lewd enough.

Thanks, GSBN folks, for all the info on your various dipping methods,
Sarah Machtey

At 12:27 PM 5/24/2007, Andy Horn wrote:
Hi all
Just to add my support of the dipping method...