Workshop Built of Straw

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Another winter saw the mercury plummet to record lows. I’ve always had a wood burner in my pottery and would never be able to dry the pots without one. But the trouble was I was heating the sky by day and it was getting so cold at night that despite wrapping I was still loosing pots to the frost.

Insulation is the key and this is where having a small temporary workshop for so long, allowed me to compromise when deciding on the size of my permanent workshop. You see the problem I had was that the cow shed is over 70 feet long, I had always fully intended to build two internal concrete block walls to divide the building into three – it was just a matter of in which position? (Or as it turns out with what?)

The revelation arrived one night while I was as I watching Grand Designs (as I do) on TV. The particular episode featured a building employing straw bales as dual purpose building blocks and insulation combined. Straight away I new that I wouldn’t be using conventional concrete blocks after all. The next few months were spent planning (well day dreaming really) and Sue my wife and various others enjoyed tales of big bad wolves and of course the more serious, although actually incorrect notion of fire risk.

Don’t be put off by nursery tales about the big bad wolf – we should be wise enough to realise that the wolf probably worked for the cement manufacturers! *

Undeterred late summer 2010 I visited my neighbouring farmer to enquire about purchasing straw. He immediately laughed – not for the reason I thought, but because earlier that year there had been a drought and consequently the cereal crops were short and straw was at a premium. Straw bales were located though and I paid a price that I was more than happy with.

Spurred on by fresh enthusiasm, work on the new pottery finally moved forward. The top of the stone walls were consolidated and timber ceiling joists were installed. Early 2011 the two straw walls were built. The bales were laid like bricks and hazel coppiced from the wood, was fashioned into spiked stakes which were driven through to stop any lateral movement. Less than two days later the walls were built.

The ceiling was made from 75mm Kingspan and in combination with the straw walls has helped to create an environment for work which I must say is really quite cosy. I will have to resist the temptation of getting myself a comfy chair in my cocooned world of straw – this is a place of work, not rest and relaxation!

It is indeed true that winter 2011/12 was particularly mild. Never the less my working day is now such a joy – a couple of logs on the wood burner and no more long johns for me. (The pots like it too).

Lots of how to and inspiration for straw bale construction by Andrew Morrison. I also found Barbara Jones‘ book a good read.

* Building With Straw Bales by B. Jones 2002 :9

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