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Natural Building & appropriate technology’s blog 16

Article 16 of Natural Bldg and Appropriate Tech Internship

Two big days for us! We spent them working on our front wall.

Since Thursday, while the sun was shining on our sweaty bodies, we worked hard. Our skills improved, mastering the art of chiselling, drilling and bolting. Now that we already raised up our back wall we have more experience on what to do and what not to do. The process went smoother, definitely.


Oscar (myself) chiselling.


Simon with the homemade long drill to go through all the depth of the timber.


Yes! The windows fit.

 Some students also went on their own project. We are ready to set up the ram pump. And a group of people harvested heaps of pine’s needles in the forest. This material will serve as a light earth mix to fill in our walls. Good insulation, we are looking forward to put it into the walls.

 7 cubic meters of pine needles. Thanks to the group who went harvesting them.

 At the same time on the building site. Grasped by a highly vibrational cosmic wave Rafa begin to harmonise himself with the structure.



 And after that, went to lift the whole front wall by himself.


But it is a lot of timber! So we came to help him!


Not so easy to lift. So we gathered all together, prepared ourselves and begin this big event. Ropes, a jack and a lot of muscles!

And here we go. RAAAAAAAH!






And… And… And…



Magnificent. So glad to finish the week with this awesome accomplishment. We are all satisfied and looking forward to keep going with the building.Here are the names and materials we used for the walls while they were horizontal.

Front wall

–          Four and a half studs

–          Two lintels

–          Two top plates

–          Two bracers

–          And a hell of a lot of threaded rod, washers and nuts

Back wall

–          Three studs

–          One top plate

–          One brace

–          And a little bit less threaded rod, washers and nuts

It is a lot of material. It was definitely a good idea to assembles the wall on a horizontal way. Having vertigo, climbing up there with these big logs is not for me. Working with round timber is an enjoyable experience. It does take time but the result is just beautiful, a true artistic structure. And even if we are assembling a square building the round timber add a harmonious atmosphere.

See you next week.

~Oscar Morand, 15 March 2013, Natural Building and Appropriate Technology Intern

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Natural Building & appropriate technology’s blog 15

Article 15 of Natural Bldg and Appropriate Tech Internship

Big Step for us today, we did put into place our first wall! Highly motivating event, the structure is moving upward and it is very encouraging.

 To begin with we had to finish the wall on its horizontal position. Big Ben taught us how to use the chisel. I really appreciated this tools that totally fit the them of our intern ship: appropriate technology.


Tom chiselling a flat part on the stud to lock it with the top plate.

Basically we first decided very precisely how to install our wall, while all the parts where still able to move independently from each other. This task asked for a lot of precision.


Measuring the needed length of the top plate.

 Once we were satisfied about the shape we begin to lock it into place. Our wall is composed of three studs, one top plate and one brace. Every time that a piece of timber touch an other one a flat surface on both poles was being chiselled to create a good grip between both mediums and then they were bolt together.


Sarah creating the flat area for the washer of the bolt to sit in.

 top plate

The top plate being bolt to the studs.

 Now our wall is solid, almost over engineered. We are pretty sure that it is not going to move. We have been precise enough and the best is that it even looks square!

 Ladies and Gentlemen it is time for the show.

 “Drums in the background…”

 Participants are ready to…      …lift the wall! Yoo-hoo!

And we are doing this the hard way, muscle!

Every one is here and PUSH!

lifting wall 

Lifting the wall.

 In fact it is amazing what the strength of many human beings put together can do. It was not this heavy at all.

 First wall, done!


Our very first one.

 We just need to fix it with some bolts to the steel bars coming out of the bond beam. Hopefully our studs were perfectly aligned with them. The studs are 25 millimeters up the concrete to not allow any kind of moisture going into the wood.


Waiting to be bolted.

It is a big event for us and also a real relief after all the hard work that we did since the beginning of the week. A highly satisfying moment for all of us.

Now we just need to start the other one. And the incredible thing is that we begun in the afternoon and the process went way faster this time. Maybe we will be ready to raise the second wall by tomorrow.

 During this afternoon some extra activity took place for the people who didn’t had much to do on the building site. We cannot always be all involved at the same time for sure. A group of person begin to tan some sheep’s skin and weld together the compression room for the ram pump.

Myself I began an experiment to grow plants with chlorophyll content inside the leaves without sun. I am not going to say more about it and will write in the future a full post about the results.

See you tomorrow,

 ~Oscar Morand, 13 March 2013, Natural Building and Appropriate Technology Intern

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Natural Building & appropriate technology’s blog 14

Article 14 of Natural Bldg and Appropriate Tech Internship

 All right, we are building two sleep-outs. We come from various place around the world and various backgrounds. One of us is a builder, the other one, me included, we are not. We all learned a lot since the beginning of the internship. But very often we were told what to do and it is totally fine.

 Simon suggested that we really dive into the project and the plans. Basically the plan is there but it shows the walls and the roof how it is supposed to be. It doesn’t show how to put in place the wall, how to set up the roof. And this process is up to us. Now we have to figure out how to put all the bit and pieces into place. Lots of hypothesis, lots of theory, a little bit a frustration and heaps of thinking.

 going through plans

 Going through the plans, all together.

 It is a little bit like the puzzle into the Kinder Surprise. There is always a few seconds of unknown where we just don’t know what is the top and what is the bottom. So imagine for a whole house, even if it is small, the plans are complex. Especially for people like me who have never looked at this kind of paper.


 Thinking a little bit more, on site.

 But the collective intelligence is here and slowly, step-by-step we all begin to understand what we are going to create. A big step was also to get familiar with all the specific words on building. Here are a few: top plate, stud, girt, brace, bearer, etc… I will not go through the entire list. But we made one and it helps a lot. Coming from Switzerland and speaking French as my mother tongue, I really struggled with all this vocabulary. My head was steaming!

 Big Ben

 Big Ben drawing a side view of the building.

This has been a long process and all the steps have not been detailed enough yet. But we definitely made a step forward towards to the understanding of the big picture. We also learned a lot about what we could have done differently like first surveying the available material and then create the design of the sleep-out instead of the inverse. One more time, we can always do a better job.

To be honest, even if we all understand the importance of this step, we went through a bit of frustration. This type of learning process suite some persons, but not every one. It is highly theoretical and needs a lot of visualisation in the head. The group kind a split up into two between the own highly passionate about it and the other one who just want to do something more physical.

It is worth to mention that we all feel closer to the project. We can all picture what it is going to be from the general up to the detailed. Anyway, let’s go back on what we have achieved in these two days.The bond beam is done! Beautifully done, strong, and fitting the local council regulations. We are happy!

 fresh bond beam

 Being freshly taken out of his box.

 A team did a survey of all the wood that we have and made a list. With this we know what goes where and we marked all the wood to be able to access it faster.

  surveying timber

 Surveying the timber.

 After all our thinking of Monday we decided to first set up the back wall. And to do so we are going to fix together the stud of the back wall horizontally before raising it in place.

And let’s not forget an important step in our journey! The strength test for the poles.

alright, it will hold

 It’s all right, it will hold. 

 ~Oscar Morand, 12 March 2013, Natural Building and Appropriate Technology Intern

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Natural Building & appropriate technology’s blog 13

Article 13 of Natural Bldg and Appropriate Tech Internship

One more big day at the Koanga Institute.

As promised here are some pictures of the solar ovens! Finally we lay all of them out in the sun!


As you can see the four stoves are all different, this had its effect on efficiency too. We all learned a lot through this process. The winner of our solar oven competition is the last one, with reflectors on three of its sides. The inner plate reached a temperature of 140°C. That’s hot! Now, the mystery, the double glassing of this same winner solar oven cracked! Hmmmmm, did it crack because of the heat? Or did it crack because of someone who was not happy about the result? Who knows!


Roasting potatoes! 

Anyways potatoes are cooking for the day and it is a perfect synchronicity with our menu for today. Two teams today, one will finish the bond beam, and the other will build a rocket barbecue! Perfect with the potatoes.

Let’s begin with the rocket barbecue team which I am part of. Our brief was simple: build a barbecue, otherwise you have nothing to eat for dinner! With this powerful motivation we began to check out all the available scrap material around us and think about what we wanted to create. It needed to be efficient, this is the rocket part, and big, because there is a whole community to feed. Having this in mind we designed it.


The design, our reference point through the whole process.

Personally I like working in a team, but also I like when things go fast. I am not very patient and sometimes I found it challenging listening to everyone argue about why this and how that. BUT I realized that this is the actual learning process  I came for as part of this internship. Through this exchange of concepts, each one of us is able to express his own vision and understanding of the principles. Through this kind of conversation we can figure out what we actually understand and more importantly what we don’t, and here we learn.

So now let’s build! We have a lot of metal work to do so first…



… we learn how to safely use the tools. It is very important to know what to do in a safe way. Especially when we use some really powerful electric tools or even more powerful an oxy-torch. These things can melt metal ! So we don’t jump on the tools and Tim explained us how to use them. I love this kind of day, where we can have a go on tools that I didn’t even know it exists. Now, Let’s go! We are prepared and focused, we know what to do and we don’t want to be hungry. Let’s build it!


Sarah welding.


Shaz using the axle grinder. Angry Ben welding.


And even more welding.


And now we can up with all the piece together and…

The G shape of our rocket barbecue is too short! No, it is not exactly true. We knew. I put this picture to symbolize the fact that even with some well thought-out design there is always some factors that we don’t include and one more time this universal law: we can always do a better job. So let’s not stick too much to our design and be flexible. Let’s not be scared of changing things.


So we improved our rocket barbecue and we succeeded in finishing it on time for the event of tonight!

But before that, we forgot some people! The other group, the building team. Let’s have a look at their work. Not having spent the day with them I will try to describe what they did at my best. The first step was to finish the box to pour the concrete. Once the box was in place they set up a layer of plastic inside for the concrete not to leak from the sides.


Finished box with the plastic.

Next step was to put in place the rebar. A little problem happened, the rebar was too small, so they had to readjust it quite a few times before having it inside.


The rebar in the box.

Now is time to begin with the concrete. I have just asked the building team and they reckon that 2 cubic meters of concrete went into the creation of the bond beam, more or less 25 wheelbarrows full.


 Tom and Dehlila, the younger generation, working together.

 Thanks heaps to the building team for their incredible work!


A happy team.

Big lesson for the day was that somehow in a smaller team we are able to do bigger task. We work in a more efficient way and the communication is clearer. I really appreciate to be in a team of 4-5 to do a single task, where there will be no time when I am just standing there asking myself what to do?

And after all the work, time to eat! We used our rocket barbecue and the potatoes from the solar oven to have a feast with the whole community. After the labour, time for the celebration!


Getting ready for the party.

 ~Oscar Morand, 8 March 2013, Natural Building and Appropriate Technology Intern

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Natural Building & appropriate technology’s blog 12

Article 12 of Natural Bldg and Appropriate Tech Internship 

Time for the bond beam! A team went to the workshop to set up the stirrups on the metal work and bring the rebar up to the place where we are building the sleep-outs.


Here we can see how the rebar fits into the stirrups.


The happy team moving the rebar.

Yesterday we lift up the height of our floor to be higher and for the moisture not to come into our floor. We are going to lay a layer of plastic on top of it and we don’t want to have hole into the plastic so we had to put a fine layer of sand to protect the plastic. And this layer also needs to be level. At this time of the process we didn’t have a dumpy level or laser level. What did we use? A long and straight piece of wood with a classic level on top of it and it works fine.


Big Ben and Rafa levelling the sand. We end up quite close.

To put in place the bond beam we have to create a “box” out of wood, which is going to include our steel bars coming out of our foundation. In this box we will pour concrete that will sit around the rebar. It creates the bond beam. The rebar is there to add some tensile strength, important in a place like New Zealand with earthquakes.


Tom cutting some wood to create the box.

The mix of concrete, one part cement for five parts aggregate (a mix of different sand and variable size gravels) and some water has to sit in the box. It means that the box needs to be level for the concrete to settle correctly. To do this we found out an old-fashioned but not less efficient dumpy level. I really appreciate working with this kind of tool. Good engineering, no electricity, efficient and two persons are needed. One thing that I have noticed today is that my skills are improving. The simple fact of putting a nail in a board, the nail goes fast and straight, the fear of hammering my finger has disappeared. Same things with the saw. With the help of Big Ben who taught me well I saw faster and straighter, which is not always this evident.


Checking the level of the profile and the box.


Setting up two board to create our box.


Here we can see the width of our box, it includes two steel bars coming out of the ground and the rebar will settle in.

And finally at the end of the day the truck with all the material for the concrete arrived and we are ready for tomorrow!


Cement and gravels.
Over and Out

 ~Oscar Morand, 7 March 2013, Natural Building and Appropriate Technology Intern

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Natural Building & appropriate technology’s blog 11

Article 11 of Natural Bldg and Appropriate Tech Internship

Firstly a picture from yesterday of the timber after it had been stripped of all the bark.


Stripped wood.

And finally, after all this suspense, I proudly announce the opening of the solar oven competition! The sun is bright, and the solar ovens are finished. A team of people spent the whole day measuring the temperature of some bottle full of water in the oven. I don’t have all the results yet, but what I can say for having tested it is that some plates inside the oven went up to 120 °C! That’s pretty hot my friends.


Shazad and Shelly in front of their shiny solar oven, with a lot of reflectors.

Otherwise, we are still working on the foundations of our sleep-outs. Time to set up the bond beam. For this we had to bend our r-bar very precisely and the team doing this job did very good.


Here is our bended r-bar, ready to be set up.

The bond beam will be composed of concrete with a core of r-bar to provide tensile strength. We decided it would be easiest to form the r-bar frame as one piece ahead of time instead of installing piece-by-piece. The 4 square r-bar that you can see on the top needs to be joined with each other in a square pattern. For this we had to create some square stirrup ties that will hold these 4 r-bar together. We estimated having to do 24 of these squares. And to do this task, what could be better than still using some r-bar? Firstly we had to build a structure that would allow us to bend the r-bar into a good shape and then shape out 24 squares. Personally I love working with metal and it was a joy to melt and bend these pieces of r-bar.


Silus creating the square stirrup ties to hold the bond beam in place.

Part of today’s task was to lay out 7 m3 of fill-in to raise the floor of our sleep-outs. A big truck came delivering all this material. We had a vibrating plate…Wait… A big truck burning fossil fuel that we ordered to bring us some material that has been mined somewhere else on earth? Having to hire a vibrating plate that smells so bad when it is running? Aren’t we doing a Natural Building Internship? What is natural about all this?

These kinds of thoughts came to me, and then, a realisation. I am not alone in this world, we are not alone. And we have to match the council’s regulations. It is not good or bad, it is and that’s it. And even with all this “non-natural” (if we can call something not natural) things that we have used it is not that bad. Our carbon footprint is still way lower than any commercial building. Definitely we could do better, but this is a universal law, we can always do better. And doing this, we are aligned with the legal entities around us. Our model can be replicated without any major legal complication in the area.


The hard fill arriving.


Foundations set up, waiting to be raised, levelled and compacted.

Anyway, as I am saying (more precisely writing) we had a vibrating plate to compact the hard fill up to the desired height. How did we do that? One person on the vibrating plate, some shovelling the hard fill in the wheelbarrow, other emptying the wheelbarrow and a few people racking and pre-levelling the hard fill before that the vibrating plate passes on.


Angry Ben on the vibrating plate.


The whole team working. Vibrating plate running, wheelbarrow following the rhythm and racking all this.

~Oscar Morand, 6 March 2013, Natural Building and Appropriate Technology Intern

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Natural Building & appropriate technology’s blog 10

Article 10 of Natural Bldg and Appropriate Tech Internship

We had a lot of rain these last days and it was such a relief to see the sun shining yesterday. Tes had the opportunity to take the seed out to dry. And here we are in autumn, heaps of harvest everywhere, and it takes quite a few hours to sort this out. Let’s not forget that all the seeds here are processed by hand!


All the seeds waiting to be looked after.

Friday we harvested almost all of the logs that we need. And Monday we went through the process of taking off the bark. All together we took out our spades and our motivation and went through with the job. It was one of those tasks where every single person is working. No one’s standing there waiting for something to do. And Yeah! 10 people working together can do amazing things. In half a day we took off all the bark from the trees, ready to be used!


Everyone working together.

That afternoon we had time to work on our solar oven! Two out of four are finished! We will now wait for the sun to shine and the birds to sing (even if it doesn’t affect the cooking process) to bring out our oven and give it a try. I tell you, they are beautiful. I will post some pictures when the food is inside.

Another group had to work on the foundations of the building, preparing the site, reviewing the design and how it fits the council’s regulations.


The peeling process as demonstrated by Tom

And that night, rain again. And this morning, rain again. So, today we had a special session in the workshop, under the roof. And they are my favourite! There we have the opportunity to really learn some small but wondrously practical and valuable stuff. I had a lesson from Big Ben where he taught me how to sharpen chisels. I am really grateful, being able to look after our tools is so important in a possible future where the masses of obsolete products will be used up.

We started the foundation piles where there is only the bond beam, and we can get started on the wall bracing and roof. For the foundation we used some concrete at the bottom, a steel bar coming on top in the middle aligned with the walls. In the workshop, Tim lets us have a go with some of his tools. It was the very first time for me to do some welding and I found it very enjoyable!


Angry Ben having a go at the drop saw with the advice of Tim


Joseph experiencing the joy of welding.


Silus and Rafa creating the round structure that will hold the concrete around the steel bar.

After having all the bits and pieces we laid in the foundations in the holes made for it. It was a quick job, and well done. One had to mix the concrete and the other filling in the concrete and making sure that the foundations are at the right place. We used the profile to lay out a second square 90 millimetres outside the inside 10 square meters area. It defines the exact placement of where the steel bars are going to sit. These steel bars will hold the weight of our posts.


The two Bens and Simon checking the design.


Making sure the steel bars are level and at the right place.


Silus, super accurate and always a good smile with him.


Here are the foundations. 100 millimetres under the level of the strings will be our floor. Hard to imagine at the moment.

~Oscar Morand, 5 March 2013, Natural Building and Appropriate Technology Intern

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Natural Building & appropriate technology’s blog 09

Article 9 of Natural Bldg and Appropriate Tech Internship

Big day today! Bob has finalized the designs of the two sleep-outs and now we are ready to harvest all the wood we need for them. So the program is to spend the whole day harvesting poles. We all put our rain gears, boots and gloves and we checked that the chain saw is running, two bow saws, tap measure and the checklist of the desired timber we need. And here we go! Ready for an other big day in the forest!


The whole crew ready to go! “On the road again”

We divided ourselves into teams, to get the most efficient way of working together. The markers (the one who mark the needed trees), the cutters (obviously the one with the chain saw), the measurer (rules, tap measure and a little bit of math to figure out the length of the trees) and the team I was in the muscles (the one who have to carry all this). We worked really well all together. Each one of us knowing what they have to do our aim was to clean this job in the day.


Tim making the chain saw running!


Chester and Rafa trimming and carrying the wood next to the road.

For this day we brought all our energy and good will to do the biggest amount of work possible and we did pretty well! Testosterones leaching from our body and the sounds of cracking timber surroundings us we were able to do massive amount of physical exercise.

And we are back! We loaded the trailer twice with all the wood and we have all the poles needed for one full sleep-out and more or less half for the other one. Quiet proud of what we did it was not yet finished for the day. The timber being very fresh we put the poles on a big stump to let the sap run out of the trunks. Even if it is only for a few days it is always less moisture inside them. We are fully aware of the fact that the timber needs to be cure and without doing this process it may twist in few months or years. But it is a challenge and it is definitely be a big learning journey for all of us.


The last effort unloading the trailer.


And here we have all the work that we did today! It is a big pile of wood.

We yet have something very important to acknowledge. The trees. Thanks to them humans have been able to build roof over their heads since millennia on all the continents. Thanks to them humans have discovered and use fire. Trees are sacred. They were here before us and will be here after us.

Thank you mother earth for your gifts. Thank you trees for being present. We will make good use of your bodies. May you rest in peace.

Blessed be nature.

~Oscar Morand, 1 March 2013, Natural Building and Appropriate Technology Intern

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Natural Building & appropriate technology’s blog 08

Article 8 of Natural Bldg and Appropriate Tech Internship

Here at Kotare Village we begin to feel the shift in season. Good-bye the warm summer and welcome at the cool autumn. But even if it is colder during the morning we had an outside class. What a good way to energize ourselves by being bare feet on the cold morning dew. Better than any coffee!


Yesterday Tom did some research about the design of our two passive solar sleep-outs on how to maximise the catchment of the sun to keep us warm during this time of the year. And he did share all his questions and answers with us this morning.


And this time it is not Tom but Tim who showed use that basics bits and pieces of a ram pump and explaining us the theory behind it. Basically it is a pump that works without electricity. It uses the energy contains in the water of a stream to pump it out of the same stream. I would advice you to do some google research at the subject because it is fascinating.


Tim drawing the mechanisms of the ram pump.

Let’s walk the talk and talk the walk! Straight after that we went into the creek to make a survey of the future ram pump. We prepared ourselves to have our feet in the water and found two different suitable spots. Having the theory fresh in the mind, it is always such a good experience to go directly on the field to see the practicality of these kind of projects.


Here is a possible spot for the ram pump.


Tim and Big Ben surveying the site.

Today we also had a sad event. It was the last day of Joanna who was here for the last seven weeks. She designed and implemented a typical urban permaculture garden as a demonstration site and an experimental site to see if it is possible to provide all the nutrients necessary for good human health in a small backyard. And just before she left we had the chance to have her present her project. She really did amazing work in the last few weeks. Thank you Jo! J


Joe presenting all her work.

Today is also Thursday, and like every Thursday it is seed packing day! A moment where people in the village and the interns gather together around all the seeds to put them into the packets that will go to sale.


Seed Packing around the table.


Shaked preparing some blueberry cuttings. He then soaks the cuttings into water where little pieces of willows branches have soaked overnight. The willow as a great roots hormone that will help the blueberry to send back some roots.

~Oscar Morand, 28 February 2013, Natural Building and Appropriate Technology Intern

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Natural Building & appropriate technology’s blog 07

Article Seven of Natural Bldg and Appropriate Tech Internship

Every morning we gather in front of the classroom and have a daily check in to see if anyone has a particular issue or idea. Also, we have an opportunity to speak about how we feel from the previous day as well as what we want to see happening. It is definitely an important moment of the day as everyone listens to each other.  Personally I feel empowered by the attention of the group on each other. It definitely strengthens the bond between us while improving the community dynamics

And now to the hill! We all went to the little valley beneath the hill where we harvested the Kanuka poles that we need for our two sleep-outs. One person, in this case Chester, with the chainsaw is cutting the poles, and another person is walking around and marking the wanted poles for Chester to cut. All the others are carrying the poles through the rugged hill.

How lucky we are to have Mel, our cook, who prepared us a morning tea break that we brought with us made of some powerful nut balls to raise our energy levels! Because I tell you, it was a hell of a job (like Shelly would say with a south African accent) going up and down with these poles, and three or four of us carrying the bigger ones.


Sometimes a single and strong man can carry one pole alone!


We don’t see it but this pole is quite long and heavy, which explains Shaz’s facial expression.

In the afternoon we had a really good conversation about how to set up a toilet system that could be approved by the council. Even though I personally live in Switzerland where the regulations are different, it is so interesting to speak about this “taboo” subject and actually see all the different ideas and systems that can be used to recycle our “organic human by-products” without using the massive amount of water that is currently used in most developed areas. And after theory, practice! We went to empty the composting toilet. The material coming out looks decomposed, without even a single bad smell. Ah to be humanuring!

~Oscar Morand, 27 February 2013, Natural Building and Appropriate Technology Intern