The no budget build – excavation

My plan is to extend the existing building on three sides, and through it’s elevation. This means removing an existing building to the west, and cutting into the bedrock both to the east and west, to excavate a sufficient footprint, thereby keying the building into the mountain, rather than perching it on the mountain. One of the reasons for this was to try and eliminate the possibility of having the building rack because of sub-terrainious movement. Looking at the existing main building led me to believe there had been some movement, as most of the walls were out of upright, and ran in and out of alignment, some of that could be put down to poor construction, but I didn’t imagine all of it was.

The excavation seemed to highlight the existence of bed-rock movement, as huge blocks of slate often sat slightly separate to each other, or adjacent but shifted, as if they had been wrenched apart.

Rightly or wrongly, I choose to excavate first, demolish next. My principal reasons for doing this were that I wanted to have a reasonable siting to put the scaffold on, from which to demolish the building, and in addition, I wanted to use some of the excavated rock to build a new terrace and create a level site in-front of the main building, making the process of building easier, and giving me a better storage facility.

There has been approximately a 2- 2.5m x 7m section to remove either side of the building, that ran anywhere between 1.5m-2.5m high. That has varied between a thin topsoil and bed-rock to a mixture of soil and rock.

On the eastern side it was about 98% bedrock, on the western side about 30% bedrock and the rest a mixture of variously packed soil and rock.

All of the excavation I did by hand. Most of it with hand tools. Principally, a pick, a shovel, a mattock, a breaking bar and a barrow.

Ahh the joy of pick and shovel work. It has taken a long time. It has been hard labor indeed, helped by the relentless scorching sun.

Something else that’s funny, in an odd way, is the fondness you develop, and dependence on a particular tool. On the last house I built, for us, it was two things, my dewalt chop saw, and paslode first fix nail gun, ah joy. Fond memories. Two great bits of kit that really speed up framing.

I guess it’s the same with everything, you develop a fondness for the tools of your trade, they are the things that enable you to earn money and to live, and maybe if you’re lucky or talented they help you express your ability as a craftsman as well, if that’s your thing.

With some aspects of building, depending on how you look at it, they help you develop a zen oneness with the thing you are doing. Laugh as much as you like, you will only understand what I mean by this if you have actually done what I’m talking about, and for a protracted period, don’t expect zanshin when you get out your black and decker work mate and kronky homebase hand saw to do some DIY, it doesn’t happen overnite, or even after a couple of years, but takes a lifetime generally. The similarity between martial arts and building is a strong one. Not in what they produce but in the way that you work. You will only really grasp this if you have done either or both of these things ‘Grasshopper’.

So far here, it’s altogether lower tech than back in the UK, and currently like stepping into the past as it’s back to the pick. To be frank in all the years I’ve been building and all the ground work I’ve ever done, I’ve rarely ever had to get a pick out. Probably a result of living in east anglia, where there is no rock as such, you could always get by using a shovel, and at worst get the mattock out, but here, when you hit bed rock, there’s nothing like the pick. Where it wins over an electric, pneumatic, or hydrolic breaker is it enables you to grub out larger sections of rock without splitting it all over the place and wrecking all the faces.

I used an electric kango on some of the bed rock, when it got too awkward to continue picking it out, there are only so many days even I am prepared to work when all you get out of it is a barrow full of chipings for 8 hours entertainment.

There is an additional method to the way I am choosing to work, you can call it permaculture if you wish, I would just say it’s being resourceful and forward thinking. I am trying to waste nothing, I know that there will be building related waste, I am just trying to minimize it, and find another outlet for it. It’s not just the cost of waste disposal, and here there really aren’t the skip hire companies to haul it out anyway. It’s a different mindset, about how can I use this thing to it’s best and most advantageous.

It’s me trying to be as thoughtful as I can. In part this attitude to building has evolved over my career, and in part this place has offered me the opportunity of looking more thoroughly at how I do what I do, and also it was something I read in john Seymore’s complete self sufficiency handbook, he advocated an approach to farming that did the same, waste nothing, what grows on the farm stays on the farm, and using things to benefit other things, beyond the immediately obvious, for instance the reasons you would keep pigs isn’t just for their meat, but also to rotavate, to consume waste matter, and to fertilise your land by spreading their own muck, not easy to get shrink wrapped meat in sainsbury’s or asda to do that.

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