Week 9/10 Lab Data: Group C

Day 1: Wednesday, 26 May

Group C collected wattle for walls downstream from the building site. Aubrey and Astrid looked for and flagged suitable poles while Sam and I followed with loppers and a bow saw, respectively. We ended up spreading out a bit in search of fresh timber. Cutting shoots around 1” in diameter was remarkably quick, and such shoots were plentiful in the Cannon’s floodplain. While the saw was effective, loppers were objectively the superior tool for this work. We found that willow, which grows in large but somewhat isolated clusters near the river, was far more flexible than other species available and generally preferable for building. Willow shoots tended to be consistently thick, long, and straight, further facilitating the gathering of several dozen in a short period of time. Thicker pieces of dead wood for walls were more difficult to harvest consistently given the limited selection and time; we ended up with several that were too thick, too rotten, or too crooked. We were able to gather the roughly 36-40 shoots and six uprights.

Figure 1. Trimming weavers for a hurdle.

Day 2: Friday, 28 May

On the second day, we and three other groups began constructing hurdles for the walls while two groups cut turf and built the frame. One of the main bottlenecks in the process was the dearth of cutting tools; Spencer and I, with the only hatchets, were responsible for roughly cutting a number of stakes for the framing group as well as sharpening uprights for all four hurdle groups. As such, our group could not start weaving a hurdle until we finished cutting all two dozen or so uprights. We ended up making do with some short, thick, and crooked poles. The weaving process was fairly quick since the willow shoots were plenty flexible and mostly just about the right length for our hurdles. A minority were long enough to loop around at the end; to avoid breakage, these can be twisted to separate the fibers and effectively used like rope. The hurdle’s height was fairly easy to control by the addition of weavers.

Figure 2. Starting to weave a hurdle with highly irregular uprights.

Day 3: Monday, 31 May

On the third day, Sam and I took measurements of the frame and some hurdles so their final dimensions could be adjusted. The hut’s design allows two walls, the longer north and south, to be a bit longer than necessary. What we found is that the uprights of most or all hurdles, despite being properly spaced at the base, tended to splay out during weaving. The ideal dimensions of each hurdle, as measured from the hut’s frame, are given below. Actual widths are measured between the outermost uprights at the top of the hurdle. Loose weaver ends and loops are not included, but generally add about 10-15 cm. Excess width was corrected for by pushing the splayed uprights in and lopping off loose ends. Heights were easily corrected and are not included here.

WallGroupIdeal height (cm)Ideal width (cm)Pre-refinement width (cm)
North (long)C90178184
East (short)F90110137
South (long)95180
West (short)95110Too wide
Table 1. Ideal and actual dimensions of hurdles.

We found that the easiest way to install hurdles in the hut was to trim the uprights at the top, then plant these ends into the ground and saw off the sharp ends after installation. Some fits were a bit rough, but they could generally be made to fit at the cost of some digging and broken lashings on the roof timbers. Before the last wall was installed, the cremation urn was inserted and a moving eulogy delivered by Brendan.

Figure 3. Our hurdle after installation. Note that it was flipped for installation; the sharpened ends had been in the ground and were sawn off before the roof was installed.

Day 4: Wednesday, 2 June

Having finished the hut’s frame and wattle walls, we gathered mud from Spring Creek for daubing. My group found that mud quality varied substantially on the meter scale. Most areas were fairly sandy or rocky, but a few patches of good, organic-rich mud were available both at and above the shoreline. Once roots and rocks were removed, this proved to be remarkably sticky, consistent mud. We added significantly less straw than other groups, but we were able to find a good moisture content that made for quality daubing. As an extremely rough estimate, we used about 60 liters of mud (four mostly full five-gallon buckets) to cover about 1.6 m2 (90 x 180 cm) of wall on one side. A fair amount was required to fill gaps.

Figure 4. Kneading mud for daubing the north wall. We used relatively little straw but achieved a good consistency.

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