After over four months of foundation work, we were finally ready to lay our first adobes on Saturday, October 21st. The thrill of this milestone didn’t fully strike me ahead of time. I had been primarily focused on making the final preparations – moving adobes up to the build site and finishing the door rough bucks.
Megan, Jared, and I arrived at the site around 9:30 AM yesterday. It was a cool and windy day. We started out by putting up the string lines between the story poles. We tried to make the strings as taught as possible to reduce the sagging of the line and to minimize movement due to the wind.
Once the string lines had been set, it was time to make our first mortar mix. We fired up the generator and plugged in our brand new electric mixer. I had two piles of materials to work with – a pile of concrete sand delivered from Southwest Concrete, and a pile of screened clay from our build site. Here is a photo showing the method I used for screening the clay ahead of time:
Once the mixer was running, I started by adding water to the mixer. I then added two shovelfuls of sand and one of clay to achieve a 2:1 sand to clay ratio. I added 12 shovelfuls of material with this alternating pattern and then added asphalt emulsion. We were looking to achieve an asphalt concentration in the vicinity of 5%, so we added about 2.5 quarts. I quickly watered down the mixer blades as best as I could to keep the asphalt from sticking. I then added another 9 shovelfuls of sand and clay to get a total of 21 shovelfuls of materials – 14 shovelfuls of sand, 7 shovelfuls of clay. I then added extra water to get to the mortar consistency I desired.
Jared steadied the wheelbarrow as I dumped the first mortar load from the mixer. The consistency was perfect. It was gritty and workable. As soon as the mixer was empty I sprayed the mixer down to keep it clean. We wheeled the mortar over to the first section of wall and shoveled it on the grade beam.
We had already dry-laid out our adobes to see what spacing we would need to avoid needing to cut any adobes on this first wall section. We would need to make our brick spacing slightly greater to avoid needing to use any smaller pieces, but I felt it was an acceptable spacing.
And then I laid the very first adobe of our adobe house. I hadn’t laid an adobe since about a year and half ago. It felt good to be back at it and to be doing so on such a meaningful project. The first adobe settled in nice and easy. I laid the rest of the adobes with our first mortar mix and explained to Jared what I was doing and how I was using the level and the string line.
After I laid the first 12 or so adobes, it was time to make another mix. I laid all the adobes for the first two mortar mixes, and then I let Jared get his first experience laying adobes. Jared was only going to be there for the day, so I figured I’d let him lay the rest of the bricks for the day. He did a great job. I made all the mixes and he laid the next 50 or so adobes. We did about 75 adobes on our first day. We took our time and went slow. I was just trying to get into the rhythm and workflow, and Jared was getting used to laying adobes. This first day was less about productivity and more about getting off to a good start.
Although I hadn’t thought too much in advance about the milestone of laying our first adobes, I started to really feel the magnitude of the moment once we started laying the bricks. We had worked so hard to get to this point. The foundation took four long months. When you dream of building an earthen home you don’t really dream about digging the spread footings or even framing the roof – you dream about laying those adobes, getting your hands dirty in the wet mortar, and raising the massive earthen walls of your home brick, by brick, by brick…