Saturday, May 28, 2011

What Wood You Do?

No, the Nickelodeon version of the 90's show hosted by Marc Sommer has nothing to do with the title of this blog post, nor does this blog post have anything to do with cream pies and the "Pie Pod."  It does however, have everything to do with WOOD.

Since my return  to Buffalo from Vermont I have been working on setting up a wood shop that is devoted to reclaimed lumber and incorporating reclaimed objects.  In addition, it is my hope to someday be in a training position, hiring local kids and teaching them the ins and outs of woodworking.  Woodworking is an incredibly personal experience; it teaches some patience, precision or quality standards and others it brings out an incredibly artistic side, bur regardless of what it means and what the individual takes from it, it means a job.  Learning skills enough to sell work and make a living is priceless and I can only hope that there is enough demand to train several folks at a time...

Today was an especially exciting day at the woodshop...Michael was a champ and started installing the wooden floor (reclaimed T& G from a deconstructed barn) and a whole painting crew came in to start painting the wood shop mural!

More on the wood shop later, but for now...check out the cool mural (thanks Cayla/Marty!)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Muddy carhartts, straw in my hair

There is something so wonderful about natural building...working with your hands, using non-toxic materials, and getting messy in the process! Today marks the halfway point of the Natural Design/Build class at Yestermorrow, and I am having the time of my life. There is too much information that I have written in my notes to post on here, so instead I am choosing to highlight some of my thoughts thus far:

In my travels across the country I have met many people in the natural building world, each with their own methods, each with their own level of experience, and each with their own definition of natural building. There are the extremists who compromise on nothing and incorporate no manufactured/industrial product, and there are the builders who are apt to use caulk or other methods of air sealing because they are more concerned with the overall performance of the building--both health and energy-wise. At the same time that there are these extremes, there are also things that most natural builders I have met have in common: they care deeply about what they do, they put a lot of thought into their work, and they are the artists of the building world.

Unfortunately, in comparison to the west it seems as though there are very few natural builders in the northeast. It comes as no surprise given the rough extremes of northeast winters and summers which make natural building such a challenge. That is perhaps the number one reason why I find the people doing natural building in extreme climactic places like Vermont so inspiring. They battle moisture infiltration, air infiltration, high humidity, a short building name it, they work with it. They do not follow the tide of conventional building techniques, rather, they are the masters of rolling with the punches and following the tide toward healthier, happier living spaces.

Ace and Deva from New Frameworks are among the northeast builders, and coincidentally are the instructors for the Natural Design/Build class I am taking at YM. Couldn't have gotten better teachers...these guys know their stuff, are wonderfully patient, and display their intense curiosity and love for learning more about their field in everything they do. If I take nothing else from this class and from the instructors (which isn't possible since I have already learned SO much), it is that a large part of living a full life means finding what you are passionate about and pursuing what you love to do. I already knew that, but to see that same love for building and love for teaching that I have discovered in myself reflected in others really just reiterates and reconfirms that I need to continue to pursue it in some way, shape, or form.

As for the class...we are kickin' booty, putting up bales, carving shapes with chainsaws, mixin' mud, and gettin' it done! In my time here at Yestermorrow I have found this week to be by far the most intense, the most fulfilling, and the most productive. We've learned everything from basic bale sizing/reshaping to techniques for avoiding air infiltration to roof framing strategies for increased insulation. We've gone late into the night talking about moisture problems and thermal properties of buildings, and we've delved into drafting details for flashing, bale to roof connection, etc. Everyday is exhausting, but everyday I confirm that this is my calling. Natural building, building in general. Working with people to create a community that supports each other, working with people to provide healthy, rejuvenating, and inspiring places to live in...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Art of Building (3 class set)

Took classes a few weeks ago that I have yet to reflect on called math for building, structural design and codes/costs/contracts. Though the class wasn't the most exciting, I sure did learn...that I will always need to understand more about structures, load capacity, etc. and that the more I think I know about them, the more I will realize that no one truly knows how a structure will work...even the best of the best cannot predict what a structure will do 100% of the time.

Math for builders: There were some regular ol' public school teachers in the class, which totally allowed me to see the class in a different way. Instead of seeing it only as a tool that I can use, I was also able to see using building to inspire learning. Again and again I return to hands-on education. I am a visual and hands-on kind of learner, and the more I talk with people, the more I realize that that is the way that most people are. Listening to someone go "blah blah blah sine cosine tangent" at you for an hour is way less effective than having a school project where building the roof for a shed becomes a less in trig. All of the sudden BAM! the student that can't care less about trig is suddenly a whiz. She can do it because it is suddenly more relevant than finding the angles of a triangle drawn on a piece of paper. Things I found helpful and math-related: how to build risers for stairs and how to use a framing square (though not included in the class, it is something I think should be included in the math section)

Structural Design: Taking this class at Yestermorrow, you'd think there'd be some section of this course that relates to alternative and natural building. How do you calculate loads for strawbale buildings? What can a tire wall support? Despite that this was not the case, I still learned a lot about how buildings are built, how to figure out how much support is needed, etc. Going over my house as an example...I finally understand why it is not falling down when it seems like that is exactly what it should do given that there are major beams that have been entirely cut through. Yay for old style construction, old timbers, and old timers who overbuilt their structures! Interesting fact: Warren,VT has a higher snow load than Buffalo does.

Codes, Costs and Contracts: This is where I think I often run out of patience. The most critical steps in building are writing up a contract, giving estimates, and winning bids. It wasn't anything new, but the main message was to take time to do it right, but don't obsess over it. A bid is a'll win some, you'll lose some. Know how much time to spend on an estimate versus a full materials write up. Don't let potential customers take advantage of the work you do and your intellectual property. etc. etc. etc.

All in all, an okay class. Definitely helpful, and I think one which will become increasingly relevant as I leave Yestermorrow...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Something to brighten the day

Here at Yester-campus there's a lot of cleaning to be done in between classes. So this week I have been vaccuming carpets, painting baseboards, etc. While cleaning the overhead lamps and dead spiders/bugs galore were raining down from above, I noticed this particular arrangement of the dead bugs in the lamp to the left. A smiley face! When life gives you lemons...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Cuckoo for coconut oil?

Went to NYC this weekend and gave away some of my creations that I’ve made thus far…my cutting board and the very first spoons I’ve ever carved. In making these, I have become increasingly interested in how wooden objects are made, how woods vary, and how to maintain the wood in the proper manner. Who knew there was SO much to learn about wood? Though I knew it was the case, I am still surprised that there is life beyond a 2x4, ha!

Lately, I am into learning about different treatments for wood, especially for wood that will be used in eating, such as cutting boards and spoons. I have learned that once again, it is simply a matter of common sense; if I would not eat the oil, I should not put it on the wood I will be eating off of. Seems self-explanatory, no? Then again, susceptibility to rancidity must be taken into account. For example, I should not treat wood with olive oil since it is much more susceptible to rancidity than say walnut oil or almond oil. …but walnut oil is not extremely common, is it? I opted for coconut oil…I read it is a good way to treat wood due to its low rancidity…we’ll see how it works out. Secondly, something I did not even realize, which may be an extremely important topic to consider if giving wood gifts as a present, is allergies. If someone is allergic to walnuts, don’t treat the wood with walnut oil. Same with coconut. Makes sense, but if you are not allergic to any foods, it is not something that would immediately come to mind in choosing finishes.

So I am getting a good lesson in finishing wood, but what I really need to practice more is joinery…will hopefully practice and return with a post later in the week. The other thing I want to reflect on and discuss in a blog post is non-profit and for-profit structures, which has been a major discussion throughout my whole travels. I am wanting to evaluate the viability of something like Yestermorrow operating in a for-profit structure. I have much to say regarding this idea, and so perhaps there will have to be two posts this week! By the way, I will post much of the home repair stuff I am learning on the BuffaloBasics blogsite as well, just to continue to increase access to a wide variety of will be the same post, but there may be additional information on upcoming workshops at my house in Buffalo. Taught by me, taught by Brendan and Pat, taught by Maura...a very loose free school structure!

Class 2: DIY Hot Water, the PAIN mound.

Last weekend I took a class called DIY Hot Water Systems. The class was based on the idea of the Pain Mound, a concept championed by scientist Jean Pain, of France. A Pain mound, according to the instructor, uses the heat generated from the process of decomposition to heat water lines fed to your house, in turn decreasing the need for additional water heating appliances that consume fossil fuels.

How does it work? The simplest explanation is that water lines are buried within a tightly packed mound of decaying organic products, the water in them heats up as they travel through the mound, and they re-enter the house at a much higher initial temperature, thereby reducing costs for water heating.

Is it realistic? For Vermont, perhaps. A rural setting is preferred given that the space required for such a massive Pain mound would be the size of many city backyards. Also, in a rural setting there are no neighbors to complain about an unsightly mound whereas in the city, you can be sure to expect some inquiries from neighbors, not to mention inspectors.

Cost-benefit? At this point, the cost outweighs the benefit in my opinion. Though I have no evidence for it, it would seem that the cost of wood mulch, plumbing fixtures and piping and the labor involved in building the pile would be greater than the money saved on simply heating water using fossil fuels. If, however, the benefit of not being reliant on fossil fuels is more important than any costs associated with being off the grid, then perhaps it is worth it for you. For me? Not so much.

If you are interested in learning more about this concept, how it was built, the specifics of costs associated, the BTUs generated from the pile…I’d be more than happy to share documents…get in touch with me by leaving comments or by emailing me…

Sunday, October 17, 2010

WfW, not WWF silly!

I took my first class here at Yestermorrow this past week, and wouldn't ya know it was called Woodworking for Women (WfW)! A topic near and dear to my heart...women in "nontraditional work."

...hang on, who decides what is non-traditional anyways?? sheesh!

The instructor for the class was Lizabeth, a woman carpenter whose father was also a pediatrician! Funny coincidence! I spent the whole week making a shaker-style end table, learning about routers, mortisers, dado cuts, different kinds of was a really good introduction to the woodshop, and now I feel totally at home creating furniture and other wood products.