Friday, March 6, 2009
They say knowledge is power, but they also say a little knowledge can be dangerous. Scott and I knew we needed as much power as possible given the fact that we had never built anything substantial in our entire lives. We hardly thought the rough-planked shed in the pasture or the storage box for our camping lantern counted.
We also knew where the straw bale pioneers lived. That's why we found ourselves driving south, almost to the Mexico border, in order to attend a workshop at the Canelo Project. Bill and Athena Steen, authors of The Straw Bale House (and many other books), taught a week-long class centered around the basics of straw bale construction and plaster techniques. A tour of straw bale houses in the area was one of many highlights. It featured the good, the bad and the funky: an artist's home detailed with antique Mexican doors and earthen floors, a disastrously constructed and abandoned building returning to the earth, and a hand-crafted home full of color and character.
Our house will be a timber structure with a straw bale wrap. We felt that we also needed a class that would teach us how to use chisels and mallets, the tools used to create the mortises and tenons that will connect the large beams that will form the framework of our house. One evening Scott did a Google search of timber-frame workshops. Most were located in the northwest or the northeast. To our surprise, we discovered The Institute of Traditional Building Skills at Snow College in Ephraim, only four hours away. We signed up for three days of hands-on experience and began to learn the basics of a centuries-old craft which we will soon be using extensively.
We came away from both of these classes with a little experience, lots of answers and even more questions. To us, that meant we were headed in the right direction. It remains to be seen which we are becoming - more powerful or more dangerous.