This post is from Brett Sasine who attend the Fall Natural Building Practicum:

For my independent project I made a tipi.  A tipi represents all of the aspects of natural building and is an empowering structure in that it both provides a beautiful shelter and also mobility.  A sustainable and portable shelter may increasingly become important in a world where the reality of climate change may lead to displacement of people.

The perfect simplicity of the tipi requires a minimal of materials and can be done without the use of any industrial products.  I followed a pattern in Reginald and Gladys Laubin’s great book The Indian Tipi to make my tipi.  I used an old Singer sewing  machine borrowed from a local community member to sew the cover and harvested 13 twenty-five ft. long Douglas Fir trees for poles and striped these of bark.  Sewing the cover is by far the most time consuming aspect in making a tipi, especially if done by hand.  That said, it is not that technical and fairly easy to grasp.  My experience sewing previous to making the tipi cover consisted of stitching a few patches onto pant knees.

After completing the cover and striping the poles, I whittled twenty stakes out of White Oak (any hardwood will do) to tie off tipi edges to.  I then whittled 12 lacing pins out of Dogwood to be used to hold each side of the tipi together.

Setting up the tipi takes about an hour and is a job best done with two or more people but can be done solo.  A tripod of poles is lashed together and then each successive pole is laid equidistance from the center around the tripod.  One inch rope was then walked (or run) around the tipi in a clockwise direction to secure the pole junction.

The canvas is raised with the help of a long pole and is wrapped around the wooden bones of the tipi.  The canvas was secured by bunching the bottom around rocks and then staking these secure to the ground.  If we were living in this tipi year round we would also install a liner on the inside in order to reduce the cold draft and inspire the warming fire to vent vigorously up and out!

If you would like more detailed information about tipis refer to Reginald and Gladys Laubin’s great book The Indian Tipi.


The Garden Arbor Pentagon




One man, one plan, a dream takes flight. They said it couldn’t be done. They were wrong. This structure, made from the purity of locally harvested bamboo and timbers, now stands as a testament to the power of an idea. An idea that cascaded into a spiderweb of destiny (SEE PHOTO AT END).

Out with the old, and in with the new. The old structure (see before and after photos) stood rotted and ugly, dead grapevines tangled in it’s ugly delapidated roof. I tore out the old eyesore, spent a day weeding and landscaping, and set forth to gather five hefty logs for the new posts.

Alright Ya’ll. Time to “Git ‘er Dun” as we say here on the farm. The new posts were stripped of bark with the trusty pole peeler. The old post holes were widened and the posts set it. Then eight more elegant smaller timbers were harvested and peeled for the frame of the benches that would run between the posts. The eight bench poles were measured and layed-out and then notched the old fashioned way with a handsaw, chisel, and hammer. The bench poles were then run horizontally attached with log screws. Then scrap 1X10’s were laid across for benches. We have benches! Time to sit down and have a spot of tea, maybe even a sip of whiskey.

notched logs

Now the Bamboo. Fifteen selected culms of top-quality bamboo had been curing by standing upright while filled with slaked lime to help make them more insect and rot-resistant. Beatles love to eat the starch in bamboo (see photo of beatle I found ready to munch on my bamboo).

Beatle's love Bamboo

The pieces of bamboo were then sweated over the fire pit that now set in the middle of the arbor. Five of the bamboo pieces were used as crossbeams, running between the five posts. These five pieces were lashed together with blue synthetic twine left over from stawbales. Then two-foot pieces of bamboo were used as knee-braces to help support the structure.These braces were set into holes that I drilled into the posts and then lashed securely at the other ends.

Then the roof went up. My wonderful life partner Jill helped me to raise the roof rafters. We tied them with several secure lashings at the roof peak and then more lashings where they overlapped the other bamboo at the tops of the posts. Awesome! Then short cross-pieces of bamboo were cut and lashed perpendicular to the rafters.

What is reality? Reality is an entire roof made from only bamboo and twine. In this whole process, not one single piece of structural bamboo was nailed, screwed, pegged, or otherwise penetrated. The reasoning behind this was to help preserve the bamboo and to maintain the full structural integrity of each culm. Additionally, the bamboo was kept out of direct contact with the wood posts except on the knee braces. This is reality. Reality is awesome.

To finish the roof, smaller diameter flexible culms were weaved into the existing roof frame to create more paths for the grapevines to grow on. A six-way bamboo splitter (see photo) was used to make some splints to weave into the roof when bamboo-supplies ran low.

To make the whole roof sturdy, I needed A way to secure the lashed bamboo to the tops of the five posts without penetrating the culms. This was achieved by cutting five pieces of 1/4 inch re-bar, sharpening their tips, and then bending them into a “U” shape. These then were hammered downward into the log, securing the rafter tails and crossbeams into the posts. Now that’s what I call “Gettin’ ‘er dun”.


Waterproof Roofs the Natural Way – Update

Sooo, its been some time since I’ve posted last and I have some good and bad news to share with you. As is customary in delivering such information I’ll share the bad news first.

Bad News: I did not complete any of my theorized waterproof roofs.

Good News: I’m going to continue my research after I leave Aprovecho.

So all is not lost in my case. I think…

Some time after beginning my project it became clear to me that I was most interested in harvesting natural clay and firing it into ceramic tiles to use as a roofing material. After spending far too much time with clay and having many attempts at progress end in slippery disaster, I feel I have begun to get inside the mind of the clay. I feel like i have overcome the first big hurdle of working with this material and have an increased confidence for working with it in the future.

If you decide to follow in my footsteps and play around with clay, I will share a few things I’ve learned to compensate for the handicap of following my lead 😉

Pro-tip #1 : Save your experimentation with large amounts of clay for warmer weather. Immersing your arm in a barrel of water and clay every couple minutes to check for lumps while mixing at 4 degrees C (39 F) is not a fun time. This would not be a problem if you were working with a more manageable amount / were working in or near a heated space / knew what you were doing.

Pro-tip #2: Partially hydrated (wet) clay is difficult to harvest and even more difficult to fully hydrate (dissolve in water). If at all possible try to harvest clay in its hard and dry form and leave it somewhere airy and dry to dry further before re-hydrating it.

Unfortunately I found this helpful website far too late into my time here, but the information therein is very useful – AND has some nice pictures, which this post seems to be lacking.




Tea & Sconce

Last week we were earthen plastering the Great Hall. Part of this was creating some wall mounted sconces.

Here’s how we did it so you can follow along at home… pencils at the ready!

  1. First we created a cardboard template for the sconce backplate. It was important to make sure the light fixture would fit!
  2. The template was traced onto some large timber, then cut using a jigsaw with the blade angled at around 45 degrees
  3. Next we drilled holes for our plum branches (these form the sconce framework) The holes were drilled larger from the back to allow fixing later.
  4. We harvested some plum branches from the garden and cleaned them up
  5. The plum branches were inserted into the holes we drilled, then fixed using a small nail. We had to pre-drill the branch to stop it splitting
  6. The plum branches are bent to the other side of the back plate, making sure that you leave enough space for your light bulb!
  7. The final branch is bent from the bottom and tied onto each cross piece.
  8. The framework is now completed and you can fix it to the wall
  9. Using long strands of straw dipped in clay slip, we wove the body of the sconce, making sure to leave gaps at the bottom for the light to escape
  10. After it dried, we gave it a quick trim then plastered over the whole thing. Then we sat back, had a cup of tea and enjoyed the beautiful view.

Bamboo (Now with pictures!)


My Time at Apro and Windows

On first arriving at Aprovecho for a building course in the warm Oregon summer, I was very inclined to explore this environment of which I’d heard much from friends and travelers alike. The forest drew me, the hills rolled out to me, fresh herbs and garden smells wafted to my nostrils, the creek splattered for my attention, the sun soaked deep in me, laughter and new voices filled my ears, and life everywhere was seemingly buzzing. Well, we went on a tour and saw all the stuff they had and met all the wonderful people here and started doing natural building and friendship/community building as well. The summer came, the summer went, and at the end there was a playhouse dwelling! Not exactly finished, but altogether a nice little place with great potential.

I came back to Apro in October to build with the crew for a few weeks. As a part of the program, the students choose a personal project to work on when they’re not building together. Not wanting to start a large ambitious project, and limited to a few weeks, I decided to choose a small one. My project is creating some glass windows for the playhouse dwelling and glass art to brighten cloudy days and moody spirits. Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve wanted to use this kiln that was collecting dust in the shop and create something beautiful. I was able to do a test run in the kiln by melting some glass bottles I found in the recycling bin, and later create windows with nicer scrap glass I found at the local glass store. It felt pretty neat to be able to create something useful out of a thing you might just get rid of. The windows are circular and colorful and hopefully pictures will be posted on the blog soon.The other builders will install the windows in the playhouse after I leave, so it will be a surprise to me where they end up. I’m excited to come back and see how much has been done. Looking forward to seeing how our ideas will fuse!