We’re making a few changes around the garden and sheds for my new workshop space and I’m turning an old hut into the new chook house, henceforth known as Cob Palace. The base of the walls in the old hut were formed using earth-building technique called earthbag. They were partly plastered with cob mix, but I never finished them. The cob plaster protects the polyprop bags (a “waste” material), from deteriorating in sunlight and gives a good surface for earth or lime plaster later, not that I ever got to that stage.
The missus and I have recently done a weekend Natural Building Workshop run locally by two guys, Tom Beauchamp and Blue Forsyth. I’ve been interested in this stuff for decades and have dabbled in the past, but never been involved in a hands-on learning environment with others. The workshops were very affordable, another factor that made them accessible for us. I’ve built many different shelters over the years, and I love simple structures. I also love any building method that is non-toxic and low-impact on our precious planet. The majority of people on this orb still make their own shelters. It’s empowering and a wonderful thing to live in a space you know intimately because you literally created it and formed it with your own hands. And you don’t need to mortgage your life away to do it.
So, what better on a crisp autumn morning than sinking your digits into a tub of mud. The site foreman, Gabby, had helpfully excavated masses of clay from beneath a tree stump in the new chook run. (The chooks free-range so the idea of a run is simply where they get corralled at night.) Add some sawdust for fibre, water to mix and voila; cob building mix.
Building with cob is totally unmediated by tools. You make the mud, form it into a ball or cob, and smack it into the wall. I found myself using my knuckles, the heel of my hand, my fingers to massage and shape the material. It’s so primal. The cob gives feedback to your hands immediately as to whether you need more or less water in the mix, more or less sand or fibre.
So, that’s how I ended up early yesterday morning, my forgotten cup of tea going cold on the potato mound outside in the garden as I sat on the floor sculpting clay-mud onto the walls.