Friday, August 27, 2010

The things you find...

I am becoming more and more entranced with traditional building practices and materials, by which I mean traditional 18th century western European/American colonial practices and materials. (One must define one's terms.) A week or so ago, I was rereading what I consider to be woodworking scripture - one of Roy Underhill's early books - and he describes how oyster shells or limestone (both pure calcium carbonate) were baked in a kiln, then when covered with water, they erupted into pure white lime. This raw product could be mixed with a few other items and made into a variety of other items. Mixed with sand, it became mortar for laying brick. Mixed with horsehair and sand it could plaster walls. It could be turned into lime wash paint for those plaster walls. All this great stuff, from rocks and seashells?

It couldn't be that easy, I thought. He's leaving out 10 important steps, at least, or we'd be doing it that way today. Well, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but this video on YouTube. And, as they say, you could have knocked me over with a feather.

Slaking Lime At Virginia Lime Works

And it was just "one of those moments" for me, sort of like when you realize that a farmer's horse makes manure that fertilizes the garden, that feeds the family, that works the horse, that fertilizes the garden...etc. etc. And it "clicks". That's the way life is supposed to be lived! Not some smelly chemicals poured out of a can, but natural items, dealt with in simple ways, that make superlative building materials that will last hundreds of years.

Virginia Lime Works also hosts a truly fascinating 9 part video series on YouTube about historic masonry practices, including the Lime Cycle, which for pure "Wow" factor, blows the old Water Cycle right out of the...well, right out of the water. Virginial Lime Works markets a wide variety of absolutely natural, completely authentic, utterly non-toxic traditional lime building materials. You could eat anything they sell, if you could stand the taste. (I don't know that for a certainty, but I would bet money.) And what's more, lime mortars and paints actually absorb CO2 out of the air, as they endeavor, forever, to return back to their natural state, before they were so rudely thrust into a red hot kiln. They want nothing more than to be oyster shells or limestone rock once again, and so year after year lime mortars get stronger and stronger, provided you follow the advice of Those Who Know. 

The Lime Cycle

Traditional building trades and materials are, for me, a really slippery slope. I spoke to Tod Herrli today about ordering sash planes for planing my own windows. I've finally found a source for good wooden lath for plaster work. And of course, it goes deeper still. We haven't even started talking about windows and doors, or the pitch of the roof, or how high up the wainscoting should rise. But we will.

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