2013: The Year of Chairs, Stairs, Workshopping, & Moving

by ziggy on December 30, 2013 -- 1 comment -- Follow

Spreading Seed: Living Roof

High up in the sky, spreading seed on the living roof of Strawtron

Now is the typical time to think back on the past year, and to try my darnedest to remember everything that has transpired. 2013 was a particularly memorable year, not unlike the others, I suppose. But this year has been pretty different in several big ways, too. Most notably, this year we decided to move to Berea, Kentucky and sell our two homes at Dancing Rabbit. But that didn’t stop us from squeezing in a few more natural building workshops before we left. Oh, and we had to wrap up a lot of work on Strawtron before we could even sell it. Somehow, we found a way to cram it all in.

Here’s a look at how events and projects unfolded in 2013.

Handmade Windsor ChairWinter

In January through early February, we were still staying in Tennessee with family, attempting to earn some cash to be able to bring our timber frame/straw bale house (Strawtron) to a further point of completion. Spending weeks in the suburbs is generally not my idea of a good time, but thankfully, we made a great friend while there. We spent countless hours hanging with Greg Pennington, and doing woodworking projects in his shop.

We learned how to make a Windsor chair (and came back with one each). I made my first shaving horse, and April made a very sweet walnut bench. I also made a bunch of spoons, a set of shelves, fixed up a Millers Falls boring machine, and finally had the time to delve more deeply into carving and woodworking, something I’ve wanted to do more seriously for a number of years.

In February, Greg tipped us off to Berea, Kentucky, and based on his description of the town, we planned a visit. We enjoyed it so much we soon after went back a second time, for a longer duration, and wondered whether the area would be a candidate for a future homestead.

Carved SpoonLater in February, we returned to Dancing Rabbit to ponder our next move, and to enjoy what winter was left in Strawtron. Actually, it proved to be a pretty long winter with a good bit of snow, which is not always a bad thing in my mind. Winter eventually gave way to a busy spring.


As soon as the weather permitted, we tackled some maintenance work in Gobcobatron, cleaning up the house, building some new furniture (including a better bed frame), and oiling the tile floor in preparation for renting the house to guests and visitors. We decided to try advertising the house as a rental space for Dancing Rabbit visitors, and we ended up getting a lot of interest from folks wanting to experience life in a cob house for the weekend, too.  (There were more requests than we could handle, actually.) We wrapped up the new interior work just in time to host our first couple in the house. We would go on to host a good handful of people throughout the year.

Pekin Ducks - DucklingsAround the same time, we were faced with the possibility of doing another Timber Frame Workshop, this time for a couple that had recently moved to Dancing Rabbit. Though April and I had recently decided we would keep a light workshop schedule this year, it ended up being hard to say no, and preparations began to organize and promote another 10 day workshop in August. Things were starting to get busy by now…

On top of all that, we had 25 chickens arrive in the mail, and 16 ducks followed soon after. For some reason, it seemed impossible to consider going without raising a few animals this year, even though we were already planning on moving by autumn… It’s hard to say whether it was worth it in the end. I absolutely adored the ducks, but they added a layer of busyness that I could have easily done without.

Anyway, in and amongst hosting people in Gobcobatron, getting the chickens and ducks settled in, beginning promotion for the 2013 Timber Frame Workshop, planning for a series of Cob Oven Workshops, and tending to seedlings and our garden efforts, the building season was back open to continue work on Strawtron.


Timber Frame WorkshopSummer came a bit too quickly, and progress was feeling sluggish on Strawtron. Without hard deadlines like the previous year, perhaps it was just more relaxed, and more difficult to see the work getting done. Closing in the north porch was a much bigger job than expected (but what isn’t?), between building the floor for the storage loft above, framing the walls, making light clay straw, installing windows, and then… siding. It took weeks to track down a source of wood and a willing mill to make our desired white oak live edge siding. But once we found our guy, it was worth it in the end.

The ducks roamed the space around the house, providing many good laughs all the while, and the gardens took off sluggishly. It was difficult to give the plants the loving attention they deserved with all of the other pressing work in front of us. By this time, too, we were settled on Kentucky, and our good friend Jacob was already making plans to move there ahead of us.

Outdoor Cob Pizza OvenThe Timber Frame Workshop dominated much of August, and thankfully went off without a hitch. Good times were had by all. During the course, we were already starting to build our new cob oven — the “demonstration oven” that we would use to cook in during our series of Cob Oven Workshops in the next two months. The roof was already up, and with the help of good friend Lauren, the construction of the oven was a pleasant breeze.

We still had to build a second foundation for the oven that would be built during the workshops, and I put it off as long as I safely could, as things were certainly hectic by now. Our minds were turning to the looming and unfinished living roof of Strawton, too. Every day that autumn drew nearer, the need to finish the edge detail, and spreading the rest of the soil over the exposed EPDM grew greater.


Homemade PizzaOur Cob Oven Workshops were a delicious success — we ended up (over)filling three of the classes. With two weeks between each class, we had just enough time to unwind, work on the roof of Strawtron, and prepare all over again for the next oven to be built in-between each workshop.

At some point, we completely covered the lower roof of Strawtron in soil and straw (since the living roof edge detail had finally been completed) with the help of a group of Dancing Rabbit visitors. It was, to say the least, intensely satisfying. Shortly after that, the bigger upper roof was finally covered, too, and during the process I became more comfortable working at heights and on scaffolding. (Working up high in 2012 caused me some of my greatest anxiety of the season.)

Roundwood Spiral StaircaseBetween loading soil on the roof, building cob ovens and eating pizza, butchering chickens, and finishing homemade doors to be installed, we announced the sale of Gobcobatron, the first of our two homes at DR. That in and of itself was a very momentous event, as it represented an official step into a new chapter of life. (It’s still for sale, by the way.)

With our workshop season at an end in mid-October, we could use our last month to quickly finish everything we hoped to do before heading to Berea, Kentucky. In late October, we announced our move, and decided on a date to leave.

With a mere week remaining until our departure date, we bit the biggest bullet of all, and decided to go ahead and construct the roundwood spiral staircase. Earlier, we half-decided to put it off until an unknown future date, but deep down we knew if it didn’t happen now, it likely wouldn’t happen at all. And so we started drilling holes, making mortises, chopping tenons, and dizzying ourselves with the complicated task of creating a spiral stair. Somehow, we pulled it off, and again felt intensely satisfied that we spent the energy doing it. The house was so much more complete with the finished staircase in place.


Some time between installing treads, and pegging risers, we packed up what we thought we might need for a winter in Kentucky, and drove away on November 14th.


Handmade Continuous Arm Windsor ChairBefore going to Berea, we visited family in Tennessee, and spent another couple weeks working with Greg in his shop. I built a second Windsor chair, this time of the continuous arm chair variety, and April and Greg puzzled over spinning wheel plans and came up with a gorgeous wheel after many hours of turning, fabricating, calculating, and assembling.

And now, we’re in Berea, me sitting in my new chair, April making plans for the finishing touches on her wheel, and together with Jacob scheming about our potential homestead future.

Who knows what 2014 will bring?

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  • Terry K

    Can you tell me more about “oiling a tile floor”? Are you just oiling an earthen grout? Or are you also oiling the tiles themselves?

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