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Tumbleweed Tiny House Workshop After Thoughts

Ever since I got back from Jay Shafer’s tiny house workshop, I’ve been crazy about starting a project to build my own version of his Lusby.

The only change is I’d turn the downstairs bedroom into a “deskroom” so that Andrea and I can work in there.

If that doesn’t work out I’ll build another house that’s even smaller to use as an office.

At the workshop Jay helps you design your own version of a small house design… In other words, a floor plan made specifically to meet your own needs. So it’s fun.

If you ever get a chance to attend one of his workshops I highly recommend it. You’ll learn a lot about design and after spending the weekend with him you’ll feel prepared to start because you will have gone over everything with someone who has built a lot of these little houses.

If you want to attend one of Jay’s Tumbleweed Tiny House Workshops, click here.

He might be holding a workshop within a few hours of a drive near you. You can also take a Greyhound bus or…

You can find a deal on airplane tickets. They usually pick fun locations, so check it out.

Alex Pino and Jay Shafer

I had a great time. A big thank you to Steve, Brett, and Jay for the experience.

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Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!

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  • Patrick Hennebery January 26, 2011, 10:40 pm

    My First Cob, or the Fine Art of Scrounging-

      I took my first cob workshop with Ianto Evans and Cob Cottage Company during the summer of ’97, in the interior of British Columbia and returned home from the week long course excited about building something out of mud. The next weekend I rounded up my 3 kids and all their friends [ages 13 and 14] and showed them how to mix cob. Now the early teens are not a compliant age for enticing them to take off their shoes and dance in the mud. One young girl, however, whom the group all looked up to, thought it would be “kind of cool”. The others all removed their shoes and had a blast; while my first cob oven was built. 
    I decided I wanted my own cob cabin. Now, a good relationship exists between the building inspection department and myself, so I applied for a permit for a cob “studio”. “What the hell is cob?” they wanted to know. I sent them a copy of the new COBBERS COMPANION by Ianto Evans, Linda Smiley and Michael Smith and THE STRAWBALE BOOK [TSBB] by Bill and Althena Steen and slowly began educating them. The next month a permit was issued and I contacted Ianto and Elke Cole about teaching a 2 week workshop the following summer. The serious planning began.

    Being self employed on a small island and raising 3 kids was a financial challenge. My wife decided we could budget $1000 for the project after I explained how we could rent it out on weekends and get our “investment” back. That winter I began gathering materials and thinking about “the budget”.

    I began by evoking the 3 “B’s”: beg, borrow and barter [but no buy]. Being a carpenter/contractor, I have many friends in the building trades and decided to call in some favours. One such friend with an excavation/trucking business was working on a job nearby, where he was blasting out a building site for a monster house. He needed a place to store 30 dump truck loads of rock. In return for using my property [20 acres], he dropped off 2 loads of smaller rocks at the site, perfect for the foundation. A couple trips to the beach after a winter storm and I had enough drift wood logs for the post and beam frame and rafters. Another buddy with a self loading logging truck, hauled away some logs after clearing the site. In exchange for the logs, he excavated the building site, roughed in a driveway and dug a small pond to provide water and clay for the project. So far the budget had not been touched. All of this prep work was done during the winter before the workshop was to commence.

    I only had weekends to work on my “hobby”, as my wife called it and as spring arrived and the days got longer, work could continue into the evenings. Now I had never even seen a picture of a cob house and here I was about to build one. With my 1 week cob workshop under my belt, I started the foundation of dry stacked stone. We are blessed with a mild winter climate in the Pacific Northwest with no frost line, so the excavation for the foundation was only a foot deep to get down to undisturbed soil. Quickly, I learned about easy rocks and ugly rocks. Quarried sandstone tends to have several flat sides and is very stackable but rock that has been drilled and blasted is generally triangular in shape; not ideal for stacking.

    I am not a big fan of concrete and a lot of natural builders shun it. It is a fact, that we as North Americans use more of it per person than any other substance, except water. It is also a fact, that it’s production produces a large percentage of the green house gases but I figured a tiny bit would go a long way to securing the base for my cabin. It made laying the ugly rock so much easier and provided a rodent barrier. The foundation was 18″ wide and between 12″ and 24″ high above ground, while the footprint was 240 square feet on the interior.

    The south facing beaches on Mayne Island provide me with an ongoing source of building materials. Perfectly straight 40′ fir beams, gnarly cedar stumps for posts, large cedar logs for roof shakes, beach boards for furniture and a variety of yellow cedar, arbutus and alder can all be found. It is free, resistant to bugs [salt], peeled and sculpted and who needs an excuse to go to the beach anyway? We call it God’s Lumberyard, delivered twice a day [tides]. The powers that be are getting fussier by restricting the use of vehicles and chainsaws on the beach but basically if you can carry it, you can have it. 4 people on 2 log carriers can move a pretty hefty chunk of wood. The best pieces are alway furthest away, so I have a idea to build a little electric motorized dolly with wheelbarrow tires that could move large pieces. You could use the frame from an old rotor-tiller with and electric starter motor and car battery. Hmmmm.

    I put in 3 rows of 3 posts, each row with a beam on top; the higher middle beam being the ridge. The outer beams are 16′ apart. Instead of a concrete pad under the posts, I rolled large rocks into place and buried them a third in the ground. Using a rock drill, a 6″X 3/4″ hole is drilled into the top of all 9 rocks. I then pound a 12″X 3/4″ piece of rebar into the rock, which in turn goes into the post. Between the rock and the post is several layers of asphalt roofing to prevent moisture from wicking up. The bottom of the post is notched to fit. You want the post to look like it is growing right out of the rock. Before the workshop, the foundation, post and beam and beach log rafters were all completed. This works well for throwing a shade or rain tarp over during the construction.

    My labour was not part of the budget, so I still had a $1000 but knew it would go quick. Being a builder, I had a lot scrap lumber stored away in the shed. I never threw anything away and now it was going to payoff. I took a trip to an off island lumberyard that sells large amounts of asphalt roofing shingles. The shingles are all stored outdoors and the paper wrapping that holds the bundles together was deteriorated on some of the pallets that were not covered. Some bundles were dinged with the forklift and some were just scattered about. I spent an hour separating the damaged, opened and odd colour bundles. When I spoke to the manager about my clean up job, he gave me all the shingles I needed! He knew they were unsaleable and I had been a customer for many years. After the shingles were installed on the roof, it was covered with hay and seeded with wildflowers. Every spring the flowers and hayseeds bloom. Awesome.

    Cruise back alleys and if you see some building material that look like it has been there for a while, park your truck and go ask about it. All they can say is no. You will be surprised how often you drive away with something useable. Two important tips are: you will have better luck during the day when the husband is at work and if they say yes, pick it up right away. If you wait till the weekend, it may be gone. I acquired 24 sheets of old 3/4″ form plywood for my roof this way. Sweet.

    Hay was what I decided to use to insulate my cob house roof. A local farmer traded me 100 bales of last years hay for an old wood stove and some chimney pipe. I always seem to have at least 3 wood stoves in my shed, all courtesy of island recycling. There are 5 cob buildings on my land and every one is heated with a recycled woodstove and chimney. I always took the CSA [Canadian Standards Association] stamp to mean- Can’t Stand Authority. The local recycling depot is a great source for stainless steel sinks, wood stoves, scrap iron, rebar, crushed glass for drainage, windows, ABS plumbing pipe, cardboard for insulation, used electrical parts and wire. Over the years I’ve even acquired 2 utility trailers from them. Most of the products they take in [cardboard, glass, plastic and scrap iron] are worthless on the present market and they are happy to have someone haul it away. It costs them money to haul it off island. I put an ad for windows wanted, in the monthly island paper. That was 13 years ago and the calls are still coming in. Doors and windows are plentiful, so be choosy.

    Used building supply stores are all the rage in urban centres. Expensive but an impressive selection. Garage sales are also great sources for building materials and if you wait till Sunday afternoon, the stuff is free. Never worry about the things you missed. Sometimes it was just not meant to be. Lumberyards always have slings of weathered grey lumber for sale cheap. Take 2 or 3 and they get even cheaper. They look bad sitting out front and the sales people are always happy to see them gone. Lumber wrap is the covering that lumber arrives in at the lumberyard. They have dumpsters full of it and have to haul it to the dump. 2 layers and it is almost waterproof, an adequate moisture barrier in small framed cottages, a covering for lumber piles and best of all….perfect for mixing cob. When I cob in Mexico, it is folded under the mattress of my teardrop trailer; about a foot thick. No lumber wrap in Baja. Recycle yards are full of appliances. Washers, dryers, freezers, fridges and stoves and all have 3 sides of baked enamel steel that is 32″X32″. How about using them for large roofing shingles? Harvest gold and avocado green are some of the more popular colours. Pallets are everywhere. You can pick them up by the truck load, free on Craig’s list. Pallets from the east can be maple and birch while glass from Asia, arrives on mahogany pallets. Screw them together to make a house and you can pack them with a straw/clay mixture and plaster them with a sticky clay/cob mix. Very cheap cozy home.

    I started a straw bale cabin back before I found COB. The cabin lay unfinished while my passion for cob was growing but I knew I had to get back to it. When it came time to buy the bales, the only ones available were from Alberta [1000 miles] and $10 each. I talked to my farm neighbour and he agreed to deliver old dry hay for $2 a bale. End of discussion. Now I know all the books tell you not to use hay but the point is: if you have a limited supply of cash and a big pile of hay, you can still build a beautiful, comfortable and long lasting house. I know because I’m living in that house. Back to the cob.

    I was laying down an earthen floor with the recipe from TSBB. They talked about a month drying time in New Mexico; in the summer and here I was in the Pacific Northwest in December! I thought “what the hell” and poured an inch of concrete over everything. Next day, a hard floor and I was ready to move on. Like I said before, there is a time and place for a wee bit of concrete. With a dwindling personal stash of lumber, I pondered over what to use to finish off the floor. High in the rafters of my shop, I came across a hidden cache of rough cedar 1″x8″ between 2 and 3 feet long. They were the off cuts from a long ago siding job. I planed down the 1″x8″ and cut it into 7″ squares, which were then finished with a recycled varnish. We have a painter’s exchange where paint, varnish, glue and stain, are all free. These pieces were glued to the concrete floor with grout spacers between them. The construction adhesive I used, was the single most expensive purchase in the entire cabin. After grouting the cedar “tiles”, another coat of varnish was applied. I’ve never heard of cedar being used in a floor but it looks great, seems to wears well and I would definitely use it again. It is a soft wood but take your shoes off if your worried. It’s a floor.

    Now, I’m not saying save every little scrap of building material, but learning to recognize something of value, is an acquired skill. It took me years of collecting a lot of junk, before I realized this. When you are about to drag something home, ask yourself; will it be used in the next few years? It’s easy for the area out back of your shop to become a junkyard. If you can’t use it or move it on, don’t take it: unless of course it’s fantastically super cool! I used to think that the really really great stuff, would be saved for MY house of the future but I finally figured it out. Do not hoard that curved one piece cedar log door frame, that beautiful beveled stained glass church window, that textured gnarly yew ridge beam or those 3 piece curved rear windows from a 53′ Buick. Put it all in the next cob project. I am a firm believer that you need to move those amazing elements on, in order to receive even better pieces. It’s worked every time: that plus regular visits to the recycling depot and beach. I often get calls from island acquaintances, to come and pick up something “perfect” for one of my cob houses. I never ask what it is, just get in the truck and go. Oh, the surprise of it all. The last thing was a gigantic set of moose antlers that I fashioned into handles and knobs and coat hangers.

    For the interior plaster, I went with a sand/clay/hemp mixture. One of the participants was president of Hemp Tech and had shipped me 2 huge vacuum packed bags of chopped hemp stalk; so into the mix it went. When the plaster dried, it was whitewashed with a thin lime/water/white glue combination. After 3 or 4 coats, it sparkled like an Greek village on a sunny day. For the serpent on the fireplace, I mixed the limewater with pigment and created a brilliant red/green collage. There is no electricity at the cabin and Tracy and I were plastering by candle light on winter evenings with the fireplace blazing. After working through 3 or 4 evenings in the dark, we checked out our handiwork on Saturday morning in the natural light. Neither of us were impressed, but realized under the conditions, it was just fine. Let go and move on. Plastering is definitely a fine art that takes much patience and practice and we just got our first taste of both. On the exterior plaster, I used a clay/cow manure/ mineral pigment mixture. The manure gave it a slippery texture which was a dream to apply and hardened to a leathery water resistant finish. It also contains a great deal of fibre, for strength. Most of these recipes were trial and error; so when mixing plasters and earthen floors, make lots and lots of samples and remember, in natural building, everything kind of works.

    It was a simple task installing the curved cedar door frame into the cob, but building the door was another matter. When logs are milled into beams, the offcuts are called slabs. The local portable bandsaw mill always has a mountain of them that are free for the taking. Great for firewood or building a door. I had some strap hinges from an old garage door and made a wooden door latch called a sneck. Those Scots. I added a table and bench made from 4″ thick arbutus with driftwood legs. It completed the decor along with an old rug that really tied the room together.

    I once used these cedar slabs to build a 12’x20′ cabin with a loft and living roof. It was called “The $1000 Home Workshop” and was competed in 7 days. Once a year I take a bottle of fine Scotch and pay a visit to the sawmill guy, just after Christmas. He has a years worth of offcuts, odd sizes and general unmarketable lumber that he wants to clear out before the new year. We wheel and deal over a drink. He once delivered 4 truck loads [5 ton flatdeck with a crane] for $800. Enough lumber to build 2 cabins. I visit lumberyards off island on a regular basis, looking to see what they have laying around and getting to know the staff on first name basis. Sometimes they will even let you go through the dumpsters. Oh joy! I once found 4 pallets of 8″X48″ OSB [oriented strand board]. There was no charge but you had to take all of it. I realized that OSB in not exactly a natural material but I was keeping it out of the landfill and it was free.

    When a tradesperson delivers building materials to your site, always slide a case of beer into the cab of his truck. It does not matter if he is delivering sand, clay, stone or lumber. Do it for the electrician, plumber, machine operator or your buddy giving you a hand. It is cheap insurance, especially if you need that extra load of sand delivered on a Sunday to keep the workshop rolling. They never ever forget a case of beer.

    Well, that’s the story of my first cob cabin. There is no greater learning curve, than by just doing it. Participants that take a cob workshop and go on to construct their own home, usually build just that one house. You learn so much that first cob undertaking, it seems a shame to just stop. When you take the time to look about and see how much material our society discards, you can begin to formulate a plan for using it in building your own home. I have a passion for building and creating spaces with a minimal footprint and am truly blessed by living in an area with an abundance of resources, natural materials and a perfect climate for cob. Before I moved to the island,I had no training and had never built anything. Since that first cob cabin, I have gone on to build over 20 cob homes. Every one is unique and was built specifically for the person who was to live in it. I have learned so much from every single project about people and a natural approach to building. During our workshops, we encourage young and old to join in, where children are always present and most welcome. A barefoot building site with minimal power tools, machinery and noise is a safe site. The building process with cob is very ergonomic and fluid. It is wonderful to have the owners on site to make many of the small decisions and design changes that creep up during the building activity. This insures that each and every homeowner gets exactly what they envisioned.
    Patrick Hennebery November 2010

    Patrick moved to Mayne Island in 1983 and lives there with his wife Kit and twin boys, Ethan and Brody. The island has a population of 1000, on 8 square miles and is located midway between Vancouver and Victoria in the Gulf of Georgia; off the south west corner of British Columbia.

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