Resources Archives | The Year of Mud

Japanese Joinery, Animated

By | Carpentry, Design, Resources, Timber Framing, Traditional Building, Video, Woodworking
Japanese craftspeople have the reputation of designing and creating some of the most intricate and complex timber joinery on the planet. The use of timbers in construction has a long and deeply fascinating history, and many of these astonishing joints have their roots in the building of temples. Historically, these techniques were fiercely guarded secrets of the carpentry guilds. (If you’re interested in Japanese joinery history and the current practice of temple restoration, check out the fascinating book The Genius of Japanese Carpentry.)

Check out this collection of beautifully simple animations of Japanese joinery in action. These are great little demonstrations of timber frame joints interlocking together.

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The Art of Natural Building

By | Book Reviews, Resources

art of natural building bookAs the temperature rises, so do our activity levels. Summertime can be hysterically busy as we juggle all of the projects and work commitments that we’ve taken on. This year is no exception. We’re at the brink of several exciting things here… but I digress. I know I’m being vague, but I’ll have more to say about all of that soon.

During our downtime at home, the newly released The Art of Natural Building has been inspiring lots of conversation. This new book release is a much improved second edition to the original published way back in 2001. The 2015 edition is a major and well-organized overhaul, containing a diverse spread of essays and articles about natural building materials and techniques, building history, best practices, and personal stories.

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The Magic of Japanese Plastering

By | Clay Plaster, Lime Plaster, Resources, Traditional Building
Japanese Plastering

Traditional Japanese interior with natural plaster finish

Today, I present you with two websites that shed a bright light on the magic of traditional building and natural plasters of Japan. Japan has a long history of the use of natural clay and lime plasters in construction. Thankfully, there still exists a wealth of knowledge of these traditional finishes, and skilled craftspeople are keeping the practices and recipes alive.

Kyle Holzhueter is an American-born builder, consultant, researcher and educator specializing in natural building techniques, including straw bale building and clay and lime plasters. He has taken up full-time residence in Japan, where he’s been formally trained in traditional plastering. His websites are a treasure trove with some incredible building documentation, including the recipes, mixing, and application of some of the most interesting and refined natural plasters I have ever seen.

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Embodied Energy of Common and Natural Building Materials

By | Resources

light clay straw

Embodied energy is a term that often comes up when discussing the benefits of building with natural materials over synthetic, manufactured, or more conventional building components. It’s an important concept — embodied energy is “the sum of all the energy required to produce any goods or services, considered as if that energy was incorporated or ’embodied’ in the product itself.”

Attempting to actually calculate or understand the full implications of embodied energy is a mighty challenge, however, and honestly a bit befuddling, since it’s going to be completely different depending on your location. However, this table from The Natural Building Companion book is an excellent reference — not the end-all be-all of data necessarily, but an excellent case example comparing the differences in embodied energy between natural materials like straw, sand, and timber to concrete, paint, fiberglass insulation, and others.

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Seeking A Handmade Life

By | Media, Resources
Bill Coperthwaite Yurt House

Bill Coperthwaite’s yurt home in Maine

“The main thrust of my work is not simple living, not yurt design, not social change, although each of these is important and receives large blocks of my time. But they are not central. My central concern is encouragement – encouraging people to seek, experiment, to plan, to create, and to dream. If enough people do this we will find a better way.”

This is a quote from Bill Coperthwaite, whose book A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity I have just recently finished reading. The book is, for lack of a more creative word, an interesting one, sprinkled full of a life’s worth of knowledge and insights, yet strangely lacking in what I thought would be the obvious subject — living a handmade lifestyle. The book is both idiosyncratic and universal, simple yet dense, and encouraging yet only pointing in a general direction.

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Death is Life: Gene Everlasting Book Review

By | Resources

GeneEverlastingThe next time I feel desperate about the state of affairs in the world, I should turn to this book for a quick and thorough pick-me-up. Which is ironic, I guess, because the real theme of the book (as you might guess from its title) is death. Death and dying are usually not a welcome topic of conversation.

However, Gene Everlasting is an evocative opportunity to step into the well-worn shoes of our favorite contrary farmer/writer Gene Logsdon and consider what it’s like to have lived 80 years on this crazy green earth, possibly waiting for death around the corner, questioning immortality, but discovering what it means to savor life in all of its colorful moments, big or small, happy or sad.

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Tool Drool

By | Hand Tools, Resources, Woodworking

2013_04_katalog_teaserThis post (I hope) is not encouraging materialism, although it may seem mighty close. I just got my free copy of the newest (to me) Dictum tools catalog. Dictum (formerly Dick Fine Tools) is based in Germany, where they offer the topmost of the top of the line woodworking (and gardening, leather working) tools in the world. That sounds like a bold claim, but I think it’s true. It’s full of the best Japanese, German, & American wares. Their catalog is very finely made to boot, with beautiful photos, and a wealth of information about each category of tools.

Why am I writing about this… well, the catalog is free, and I encourage anyone curious to go ahead and get a copy (by mail, or by PDF). Sometimes, it’s helpful to know what quality means and looks like. I have no doubt the stuff in here is top notch, most of it exceedingly so that it easily surpasses my budget. Maybe this is a stretch, but I think it’s educational, too. The range of items they offer is big, and some things I have frankly never seen anywhere else. There are profiles interspersed of individual toolmakers, so you get a sense of who is making the knives, saws, where they live, etc. I especially like that.

I am a firm believer that you shouldn’t waste your time with inferior tools (because time and energy are ultimately our greatest asset), and the refined craft of tool making is unfortunately going by the wayside. This is a way to keep those ideas alive.

Swedish Carving Techniques Book Now For Sale

By | Resources, Woodworking
Wille Sundqvist, Carver & Author of Swedish Carving Techniques

Wille Sundqvist working away

Here’s just a quick update on the Taunton Press reprint of Wille Sundqvist’s Swedish Carving Techniques — it’s now for sale through their website. Ragweed Forge also has copies for sale for slightly less than MSRP — check it here.

As a side note, I love the above picture of Wille Sundqvist at work — the man is now in his upper 80s, but it doesn’t look like he’s stopping anytime soon.

Finally, a great quote from Bill Coperthwaite, another great individual worth mentioning at a later date: “I want to live in a world where people are intoxicated with the joy of making things.”

Hand Forging Axes in 1960s America: A Short Film

By | Hand Tools, Resources, Video
Forging an Axe By Hand

Forging axes by hand in America in the 60s

I recently enjoyed watching this insightful video about making and forging axes in Oakland, Maine in 1965 at the Emerson Stevens shop. This particular shop was the last surviving company to produce axes in an area once known for forging and blade-making. To watch these individuals work and to witness the process is a real treat, yet the film is permeated with a certain sadness as the filmmaker realizes that we are watching something that is soon to wither away into history.

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Earthen Floors Book Due Spring 2014

By | Earthen Floor, Media, Resources

Earthen Floors Book

Exciting news on the natural building book front — Earthen Floors, a book all about installing and living with earth-based floor systems, is due out April 1, 2014. Written by two very experienced natural builders, Sukita Reay Crimmel and James Thomson, the book is the first of its kind dedicated solely to the art of making inexpensive, durable, and beautiful floors made mostly of sand, clay, and fiber. There are a host of books that touch upon the topic of floors, but few that delve very deeply into the nitty gritty details. This will be a welcome addition to the natural building library.

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