With summer drawing to a close, there was one major house project looming ahead of us. Both Ryan and I found it daunting, and thus motivation to begin was mustered slowly. Nevertheless, last year we had talked ourselves into being builders and roofers, and had ended up with a sturdy little home. Surely we could now test ourselves as small-time masons.
We had made it through the past winter with oakum and puttylastic chinking the space (in places, large gaps akin to holes) between the stacked logs that formed our walls. It worked fairly well, and we were comfortable. Now that the logs had dried, cracked, and settled, however, the cabin was ready for something more permanent: masonry chinking.
For guidance, we turned to the books of Rob Roy, cordwood masonry enthusiast and educator from northern NY. Through his instructions, we arrived at an imprecise formula that was encouraging only in that it readily acknowledged a quick learning curve. Once we got a feel for the process, it was supposed to be easy.
Thus, we set about mixing 3 parts sand to 1½ parts mortar mix to 1 part sawdust to 1 part hydrated lime (measured with great accuracy by heaping shovelfuls, naturally), plus enough water to make it wet (but not too wet)…you can see that it is clearly a foolproof process. The mortar mix and the sand are self-explanatory I suppose: The sawdust is to slow the drying process and lessen the likelihood of cracks, and the lime tenderizes the whole mixture, making it akin to spreading chunky peanut butter, and adding a pleasant white color once dry. As for the water amounts, I gradually learned it to be equivalent to two-plus-a-little-more dog dishes worth of liquid. When things got a little too moist – and this happened more than once early on – we simply added more mortar mix until we had the consistency we wanted. Ta-da, we’re experts!
It seems like Mr. Roy might just be right. Using a garden trowel and a bent butter knife, the mixture was set between the logs, smoothed over and pointed neatly into place.
We took our time, and completed all four walls over the course of a few weeks. We were taking care, watching closely for effects of humidity, torrential rain, heat, and frosts … but with generous eaves and judiciously chosen workdays no major catastrophe, nor even minor aggravations, have yet presented themselves.
The result is “a proper frontier cabin” right here in our Dorchester woods. With the mortar mix drying bright white, the cabin looks tidy and trim with its new set of stripes. And from the inside: no glimpses of daylight nor the catch of a draft in the corners!
We keep watching the mortar as the weather changes, curious as to how the winter’s cold will treat it. Our inexperience certainly prompts an overabundance of care and observation; that said, we are optimistic. And we’re looking forward to many toasty hours inside our cozy abode.
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