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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Back to School

In September of 2007 we became students again and registered for "Cordwood Building," a class at the North House Folk School (see the list of recommended web sites.) What a blast! Kent Jones and his partner Nick Vavricek were our talented teachers. They built their own two story house of a timber frame that Kent carved and enclosed with cordwood walls of about 100 aspen that they felled on their own property, peeled, cut to length, split, dried, and stacked, and cemented in place with "Nick's Special Mortar Mix." Kent is a wildlife biologist and Nick is an RN, neither one had much construction experience, and their house is beautiful. Inspiring. And what a fabulous outhouse! The very best outhouse I've ever seen in Minnesota! (There's an even better outhouse, with hilarious cartoons and a view of snow-capped volcanoes, in the McNeil River Grizzly Bear Sanctuary on the Katmai Peninsula in Alaska...but that's another story!)

So what the heck is cordwood building? It is a type of wall enclosure where small lengths of wood are used like bricks in mortar, perpendicular to the wall. You see the grain ends of the pieces on the inside and outside of the walls. When dry and weathered, it looks a lot like stone until you get up close. Two layers of mortar are used and in the center where the wall is hollow, the gap is filled with insulation, traditionally cedar shavings.

We learned about the technique, then drove to the end of the Gunflint Trail and helped build part of a cabin for the Wilderness Canoe Base on Saganaga, which lost 66% of its buildings in the Ham Lake Fire of 2007. The forest on Saganaga was devastated, charred and bleak; but I added a bird to my life list, the black-backed woodpecker, who was busily drilling for the insects that were feasting on all the dying trees.


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