End of a Chapter

As it happened, 2015 was the year a number of chapters were closed. One chapter closing, that of my Dad’s life, was particularly sad. He was a big fan of Nerdwood and would have loved to have seen Clare and I move in. At least he went out with a whole lotta love all around.
There were some chapters that were much happier to close. I finally got my degree (Bachelor’s), and managed to do so before all my hair fell out. More salient to this story, however, is that we finished the last of the cordwooding, at least in Nerdwood proper.

Continue reading “End of a Chapter”

50 Words for Snow

After a few mild winters here in the Copper Country, the snow is back and it’s not kidding around this time. It started snowing in earnest a few days before Thanksgiving and barely let up for over a month. Fortunately, the tractor has a snow blower attachment, making it a lot easier to get to the house even with 3+ feet of snow on the ground. If only I had gotten around to removing the mower deck and putting the blower on before it got cold!

Just follow the white path home

Fortunately we made a bunch of lime putty and dried a mini-beach worth of sand before the snow started, so once the Fall outdoor chores (including cutting up still more logs!) were no longer possible, we picked up cordwooding again. We’re now completely into the second floor loft; this wall on the west side of the house is partly over the open area and partly in the loft:

Four-string wall panel tuned to 'E'

It was a bit tricky getting to the top, but with some scaffolding and homebrew planking, we were able to finish it up.

Call of the West, or Wall of Voodoo

Over on the east side, Clare finished up her head-of-the-stairs bottle feature. This was in progress in the post My Autumn’s Done Come

Some folk call it "Drinky Pete"

We’ve used up the lime putty and sand, just in time for the tongue-and-groove aspen for the ceiling to be delivered. Looks like I’d better fire up the snow blower to clear a path for it!

In Which We Drop Some Cordwood Science

Our cordwood construction workshop on September 21 was quite a success. Matt’s promotional skills drew in seven intrepid participants who made the journey out to Nerdwood to try their hands at mortaring up a few logs. They were a great group of people; all already had done a fair amount of research on cordwood and all had very interesting and varied backgrounds. They asked a lot of intelligent questions and worked hard. I hope they had half as much fun participating as we had hosting.

We started out with Matt giving an introduction, and on to Greg giving a talk about the house and our progress so far.

Greg and his invisible hoagie.

And then on to a tour of the interior of the house and some discussion of the masonry heater and some of the other features.

Matt's invisible cupcake.

Greg gave a spiel about lime putty mortar and demonstrated mixing up a batch in the mixer.

Sand + lime putty = progress.

We were then all set for the main event: building some cordwood walls. Off to the garden shed. I gave a brief demonstration of getting a wall started, and everyone quickly got down to business.

The front of the shed.

Rockin' that front panel.

The back of the shed.

Matt likes what he sees.

As you can see, these folks were naturals. By the end of the session, we had three panels halfway done. I did a little pointing demo and we wrapped up the workshop. Greg and I are looking forward to seeing some of the new cordwood projects our workshoppers are planning!

This visitor to the workshop had to be sent on his way back to the woods. Someone identified him as a Copper-bellied Snake (Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta), but after a bit of research it turns out that he was in fact a Red-bellied Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata).

Sorry to disturb you, Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata.

My Autumn’s Done Come

Roundy bales

Ah, September in beautiful downtown Tapiola. The hay has been baled up, the vegetable garden harvest is in full swing, berry-picking season is winding down, apple picking is in the offing, and talk has begun to turn to the topic of shooting things. The weather is cool, the bugs dying off, and it’s an ideal time for a cordwood construction workshop.

The workshop is scheduled for Saturday, September 21. If participating in a hands on cordwood construction workshop sounds like something you would like to do, head right over to our good friend Matt Manders’ spiffy new website, superiorskills.net for information on how to sign up. Matt is putting it all together, Greg will be doing most of the instruction, and I will be on hand to heckle them and maybe help out. We’ll be working on the garden shed, and we hope to cover mortar mixing, wall construction, pointing, bottle ends, and cordwood best practices. If you can’t make it to this workshop, it looks like Matt has a bunch of other cool stuff coming up, so definitely check out his site if you are in or plan to be in the area this fall.

So what has been going on at Nerdwood? I realize it has been a painfully long time since I last posted.  Much of what goes on is, frankly repetitious, but I will try to cover some of the salient points on future posts. We’re making good progress on the second floor interior walls.

Second floor madness.

Most of the living room is finished, and we are working our way into the second floor loft.

Second floor wall in progress.

Bottle feature at the top of the stairs.

We hope to finish the interior walls this fall, and we’re enjoying the excellent weather while it lasts.

That right there is a big zinnia.

2012 Cordwood Year-end Wrap-up Extravaganza

I truly did not mind drinking a little Cointreau.

So there we were, merrily whiling away the summer stacking logs and mortar, carefully aligning bottle ends, and neatly pointing the mortar. Slowly, week after week the walls went up. There was so much to do—mix putty, split and clean logs, look after the garden, mow the grass—but I couldn’t escape this nagging sensation in the back of my mind that I was forgetting something important.

It was not until over six months had passed that it dawned upon me that I was supposed to have been blogging about all this the entire time! Once again it is January, and I am woefully behind on posts. Enough with the chit-chat, let’s review our progress.

The better part of the summer and fall was devoted to finishing up the first floor. This included a  panel surrounding the front door:

Front door half finished.

Front door, done!

A panel at the very back of the house:

Window panel.

A panel surrounding the french doors:

Back door panel.

Two very large panels (“devil walls”) in the northeast corner:

That ol' devil wall ...

The other big wall.

And a small panel in the utility room:

Utility room panelette.

Whew, that was a lot of panels. A crucial part of the process was to have several going at once, at various heights, to minimize the discomfort of having to work in the same position all day whenever possible.

By September, we were all done with the first floor. Time to cultivate a second floor mentality.


Back to Cordwood

The ubiquitous log cleaning tools.

After spending the last couple of months cutting and cleaning logs, mixing lime putty, and tidying up the place, July 4 was Opening Day of our cordwood wall building season for the year.

One of the loose ends that had to be addressed was what we have been referring to as This Whole Front Door Situation. Greg installed a temporary front door. Of course “temporary” can end up meaning a pretty long time at Nerdwood!

Beats a slab of plywood and some blueboard.

Very civilized.

Greg fired up the mortar mixer, and after a couple of work days we have some very nice new walls in progress.

First logs of the summer.

That ol' devil wall.


Keep calm and keep stacking logs.

Gewgaws and Shelflets

Despite one’s best efforts at crafting a beautiful cordwood wall with a variety of contrasting yet harmonious shapes and and sizes of log ends, it is inevitable to end up with occasional large, ungainly mortar joint. At such times, custom dictates placing a stone or interesting object in the mortar to break up the awkward space.

Rocks collected from the beach are great for this purpose, but we’ve also been working in some handmade mosaic tiles, or as we’ve been referring to them, gewgaws. There are a number of very talented artisans selling these on etsy.

Gewgaws galore.

We had a few river slates left over from the masonry heater, so we’ve added some slate “shelflets” embedded into the living room walls.

Lord of all he surveys.

Here’s one of the larger living rooms walls completed last fall,  which includes gewgaws, shelflets, and a few bottle ends.

Big, badass wall.

At Last, Cordwood Time Again

Since upgrading this blog a few weeks ago, I now know much more about who is reading it and what brings them here. Some of that information is a bit surprising. For example, I would not have suspected that people from Australia to Estonia hunger for blog posts about sheds. Who knew. At some point I will have to do an in-depth exposé on our shed. But I was not surprised that the overwhelming reason that people are checking in is for the cordwood. Which is really what it’s really all about! At long last we are getting back to talking cordwood, and not a moment too soon.

One fine day last July, we finally got started on the inner walls. Our old friend Dave Bach stopped by with his friend Mark, who was interested in cordwood, so we turned the day into an impromptu workshop. Greg mixed up some mortar, I set out some logs, and we all got to work.

Lime putty mortar is hilarious!

We started on the south wall, which features three large window bays.

How to begin a cordwood wall.

Cordwooding on the inside went rather quickly. With three people  mortaring, the narrow spaces beneath the window bays started to fill in.

An assist from Mr. Roberts.

The next weekend we started on a larger wall. Here you can see the string lines we use to keep the wall plumb.

Keep calm and keep mortaring!

It’s important to have several walls going at once, so you don’t have to work at the same height in the same position all day.

An adorable little wall.

As busy as we were, we could not compete with these bees outside in the garden.

Chives 'n' bees.

Inside Job

When we left off in October of 2010, the exterior cordwood wall was finally complete, and Matt the carpenter had finished off the top level with natural edge cedar lap siding. It was time to turn our attention to the interior.

On the outside, looking in.

The inside of the cordwood walls were to be sprayed with five inches of open cell foam insulation. Extensive prep work was required before this could happen. First, the window and door boxes had to be extended. The final thickness of the walls is twenty-one inches. We had decided to flare the sides of the window boxes outward, to give a wider opening on the inside. This would allow more light into the house. Once again, our experienced carpenter Matt was instrumental in getting this part done in a timely fashion.

With Matt’s table saw, we were able give rough cedar boards an angled edge. Then we cut them to the correct sizes. Greg and I did most of the cutting, while Matt did most of the assembly. We sealed up any gaps between the windows and the window boxes with cans of spray foam from the hardware store. Spray foam is sticky, nasty stuff, and it takes some time to get the hang of working with it.

CAUTION: table saw.

Once the window boxes had been extended, we had to protect all the windows by stapling sheets of plastic over the window boxes. This would prevent any stray foam from sticking to them during the insulation job. We also covered all the bottle ends with plastic baggies held in place with rubber bands.

October 2010 was a real turning point. For the first time, the house truly had an inside and an outside. The weather was starting to turn chilly, and we wanted to be able to keep it warm enough to continue working on it during the winter months.

Some late autumn asters.

I feel it closing in

Day in, day out, day in, day out...

Well, we survived Peak Log and Peak Sand and we laid up the last log in the outside wall on October 6. Whoooo!

The logs we just cut and put in the solar log-drying kiln were plenty dry after a month in there. We worked feverishly the last two weeks since we were having visitors come in on the 8th. While they were touring the house on Saturday we popped open a bottle of bubbly to celebrate the last outside log. My sister and brother-in-law protested, saying they had not done any work on the house. Madness, I say! You needn’t have lived another’s life for a year to celebrate their birthday, right? Luckily they relented and enjoyed a toast to Nerdwood, otherwise I would’ve been a bit tipsy on the way home.

While all this was going on, Matt has been working on framing the third level, including installing windows and housewrap, and flashing the bottom:

That's Clare's story, and she's sticking to it.

Our neighbor sawed up some cedar logs into one-inch thick planks with a natural edge. We dried them and are using them as siding on the third level. I think it looks pretty cool with the cordwood:

I generally side with wood

Now we can concentrate on the many many tasks necessary to get the house insulated and heated so we can continue working on it this winter.

We missed a mushroom in the Winecap Stropharia bed, and it grew enormous before we noticed it:

Mushroom, mushroom. Snaaaaake! Snaaaaaaaake! Oh, it's a snake!