Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The next job

It’s a little odd having finished the rammed earth. For the last few months, my priorities in the build have been clearly defined - build the retaining wall, get it core filled, then build the rammed earth wall.

Now that both of those are done, I’ve got to come up with the plan for the next major works:

  1. I need to apply a tanking system to the back of the retaining wall and shipping container to waterproof them.

  2. I need to build something to fill the gap between the shipping container and the wall - a little rock wall, perhaps.

  3. Then I can backfill the cutting with screenings, and form up a spoon drain above to divert water away from the wall.

  4. The slab-on-ground portion of the upstairs building needs to be excavated, formed up and poured.

  5. The suspended slab above the retaining and rammed earth walls needs to be formed up and poured.

I don’t feel nearly as well prepared for these jobs as I have been for the wall building…

Monday, June 11, 2012


That one didn’t take long. 25 minutes or so to mix up a small batch of soil, then an hour of ramming and fiddling around shovelling soil from the bobcat bucket into the forms.

Here’s the result!

I’m not game to remove the doorway framework just yet, while I have confidence enough to remove the formwork panels as soon as I finish ramming I think I’ll let the block dry before I ask it to support its own weight.

So that’s the end of my rammed earth experience for the near future. I’m definitely going to build with it again in the project somewhere; it’s bloody hard work but the result is more than worth the effort.

For once I’ve managed to beat the sunset, too! Packing up in the twilight is so much nicer than fumbling around in the dark…

Ready to ram!

Finally have all the forms in place and I can start ramming! The form panels were relatively straightforward, but needed all-new holes drilled which takes an age so I now only have two hours of daylight left.

The panels are suspended by clamping bolts over the top of the existing walls, with one centre-bottom through the top of the door framework and a centre-top through the wall infill itself.

Forms done

It took quite a lot longer than I hoped (wow, there’s a surprise) but the formwork for the door infill is complete and installed.

The lintel in its final resting place:

Next step, form panels…

In the daylight...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The final panel

The last bit of rammed earth in my immediate future is the infill panel in the doorway. This one is a little bit more of a challenge technically, because I have to incorporate a steel lintel and build a form structure in the doorway upon which to ram the panel.

This is what I’m planning:

This is a frame construction using 140x45 structural pine, supporting a heavily braced form ply sheet upon which I’ll ram the earth panel. I’ll use my existing form panels, bolted through the frame and over the top of the existing wall.

With any luck I can get this all done tomorrow, so I’ll be heading back up to the site tonight in order to make another (bleh) early start…

Saturday, June 9, 2012


I didn’t beat the sunset, but I didn’t really think I would. I did manage to get the final course of forms lifted and fixed in place before the light gave out which was a blessing, since drilling and bolting the panels in the dark is difficult at best (and not exactly the safest thing to be doing at 2.5m above ground level).


That’s the last of the big panels complete, and again I’m very happy with the result. I’m especially pleased with the chamfers between the panels - they’ve very precisely defined and close to perfect. They really do look good, and their precision really does set off the rest of the wall.

One thing I noticed as I was packing up, is that the tiger stripes on the oldest wall panels have faded considerably. My suspicion is that they’re caused by rubber from the ramming head being deposited on the form ply and transferring to the wall, but it appears that this thin film of rubber is no match for exposure in the weather as it’s reducing in intensity over time.

I’m not sure whether to be pleased or disappointed…

Nearly there!!

4:15pm and I’m at the top of the fourth course. Time to lift the final course into place, and ram the last 200mm or so of wall!

Thankfully I’ve figured out a safe method of lifting the formwork by myself without risking an injury.  Since each course is bolted to eachother through the “flange” formed by the steel angle, I can safely remove the clamping bolts from the lower course of forms and it will be suspended by the bolts to the course above it. I can then hold them together using a quick-release hand clamp, undo the bolts and taking a firm grip of the “flange”, release the clamp, take the weight of the form panel and slide it away from the wall.


It’s been a good couple of hours, with plenty of progress made. With my previous panels I’ve observed that I tend to produce about five rammed layers per 600mm course of formwork, but accidentally-on-purpose I’ve been filling the forms a little more than I have in the past. I haven’t measured them (a bit hard with the formwork still in place ;) ) but I’d say I’m ramming down to about 200mm in these larger layers. It takes a little longer to ram the material, but overall it’s a faster process.

My fourth course of forms is now in place, and I’ve just used up the last of the second (large) batch of soil so I’ll be on the bobcat for an hour or so now to mix up the final batch. In the past I’ve tried to mix just enough soil to finish the panel but I’m not going to take that risk today, so I’m mixing up a full cubic metre even though I know I won’t need it all. Better to have some left over than have to mix up a bit to finish off.

I’m not going to beat the sunset today, but I may just give it a bit of a scare!


That’s the only way to describe the wearer up here today - it’s persistently foggy, and even though there’s been little rain everything is soaking wet.

No matter, I have only 4 hours of daylight remaining and I’m less than half way up the wall so it’s a quick bite to eat and back into it.

It’s remained foggy all morning, so the relative humidity up here is pretty near 100%. As a result, the compressor is producing a LOT of water in the air.

Before I started it this morning I already let out a couple of litres, and this is the result of two hours run time. Yikes!


The first batch of mix is all used up, and I’m about one third of the way up the wall. I’m a little behind schedule time-wise, fighting the awkwardness of reaching down 1.2m to the bottom of the forms to spread out the first few layers of mix but that’s behind me now.

Once I get this coffee into me I’ll mix up the next batch and get back into it :)

Hi ho, hi ho...

Wow, it’s sooo foggy this morning!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Another day down...

.. another wall panel prepped.

I had intended to get rather a lot more done today than I managed but yet again, the number of jobs needing to get done exceeded the available daylight hours and I found myself screening tomorrow’s ramming soil in the rain, by Hilux and bobcat light.

The major delay today was making up the chamfer timbers for the infill wall panel. Since I’m not using the columns for this one (which have the chamfers integral) I needed to produce some new ones, but these needed to occupy the chamfer space in the adjacent panels as well as produce a chamfer in the infill panel.

Am I making sense here? :) Chamfer chamfer chamfer, chamfer chamfer…

The short story was that I needed to cut two corners off four pieces of 90x45x2.6m pine, which I didn’t have. I contemplated ripping down some of the 140x45 boards I have from the slab formwork to 90x45, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it so it was off to Seymour to pick up some of the right ones.

I think these took about 4 hours to make, primarily because my table saw blade has only about a 65mm reach, which when the bevel ripping guide is taken into account is about 5mm too short to make a full cut through the pine. So most of my day was spend with a chisel, trimming the excess.

Fitting the chamfers (and the expansion joint foam, which I nearly forgot) to the walls / forms turned out to be a difficult, fiddly job too so lots more time and expletives were lost. I finally got there around 5pm, just as the sun cried enough.

There’s going to be a fair amount of frigging around tomorrow with the clamping bolts, so this panel may be slow going…

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Where has the week gone!?

Wow, time flies, it’s Thursday already!

I’ve been keeping a close eye on the weather forecast for the weekend, and so far so good - there’s the chance of a shower tomorrow afternoon but otherwise it should be good building weather! :)

With the long weekend I’m aiming to have the rammed earth wall finished, including breaking out the grinder to tidy up the top of the walls and get them nice and straight. I’m also going to need to cut a 50x100 rebate into the retaining-wall side for the sandwich panel formwork, since the bottom of the suspended concrete slab is supposed to be at 2520mm, which is the height of my walls.

In other good news, it turns out that AEG have repaired my cordless drill under warranty so I don’t have to sort out an alternative this weekend. Good stuff!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

In the daylight...

Back on site this afternoon to cut and split some firewood, and this is how the wall looks in the daylight :)

Oddly it seems to be darker than the others were straight off the forms, but it’s been cold and overcast today with the threat of rain, so it’s not dried out at all. With the wet weather forecast this week, it looks like it’ll have perfect curing weather…

So I’ve got one more full panel, and the door infill to do. Ramming these panels is seriously hard work (boy, am I feeling it today), but it’s incredibly rewarding and I think I’m going to miss it when this part of the project is finished. I’m going to have to find something else to build in rammed earth a little later on, I think… :)

Next weekend is the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in Victoria, so I expect if the weather cooperates I’ll get the wall finished, infill and all. I’m trying to convince my brother Gareth to make the short hop down from Sydney to lend a hand before the ramming is all done, otherwise he’ll miss out on all the fun :)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

It. Is. Done.

8pm, and I’m done. So’s the wall…

I was sorely (pun intended) tempted to leave the formwork in place, pack up and go home when I finished ramming at about 7, but I figured that while I have Craig’s cordless drill I ought to make the most of it and strip the forms off tonight.

Ta da!

Another one down, and I’m really pretty happy with the result. There is a little tear out where I’ve removed the bolts, but this seems to be totally unavoidable since every single one has done it regardless of how careful I am removing the bolts.

There has been a little bit of sticking-to-the-forms going on, even though I wiped them down with clean engine oil before I started. It seems that when the mix is a little bit wet,  it sticks to the forms. I managed to keep today’s mixes reasonably dry so there’s less damage than there has been on the previous panels, but I have a small amount of patching work to do.

I’m so glad I decided to rebuild the end column - it has produced a fantastic, almost completely perfect result. I couldn’t be happier with it.

I’m also coming around to the tiger stripes - I’d prefer the walls without them, but they mark these walls as mine!

One thing I’m going to have to look at with this wall is the final height - I’m slightly over in the middle of the wall, but pretty close at the ends. At 7pm in the dark and the cold after 12 hours of ramming all I want to do is be finished, so my attention to detail wanes a little. Have grinder, will fix… another day.

Looking good!

It’s been a solid few hours of ramming - it’s now 3pm and I’m half way up the fourth course of forms, or more or less half a metre from the top of the wall. Two hours of daylight remaining.. although I don’t like my chances of beating the sunset since I have to leapfrog the last course of forms and mix up my final batch of soil.

Oh, and my cordless drill just shat itself - the clutch has gone, so it’s slipping and the chuck is wobbling around a bit. I’ve needed it to (re)drill the holes in the columns for the clamping bolts — these never seem to line up from wall panel to wall panel. I have my hammer drill I can use, but it won’t go in reverse so winding out the bolts is going to be something of a challenge. I might ring Craig and see if he’s got one I can borrow…

Next batch ready

About 1.25m3 in this batch - there’s not much sunlight to dry it out so although it took a little longer to mix, it’ll last me a bit longer before I have to stop again.

Onwards and upwards!

First batch down

Just finished off the last of the first batch. A little less than a third of the way up the wall so far.

While it’s all going fast so far, it’ll take me the better part of an hour to mix up the next batch, and then when I have to leapfrog the forms that’ll be another half hour. This is where things move faster with extra pairs of hands :)

Making record progress

The early start is really paying dividends - I started the compressor at about 0745 and it’s now 0900 and I have most of the first course of formwork rammed.

So far so good! 8) At this rate maybe I’ll finish before dark after all…


6am, and having been a clear moonlit night, it’s effing freezing this morning!

No time for the cold, though - I’m working without help today so I’m starting before sunrise in the vain hope that I might finish before sunset.

I can hope, can’t I?

First job is to get King Kompressor out of the container. I think I’ll try and fit the castors first, ‘cause this thing must weigh 150kg easily and it’s not the easiest thing to drag around. With that done I’ll mix up the first batch and hopefully get ramming by the time I can see the sun :)

Friday, June 1, 2012


I nearly got everything on my list done today.

The building inspection didn’t happen - I got a text message around lunchtime informing me that he was running late and wouldn’t make it today, and could he come by in the morning? No problem says I, but I start work at 0630 so if you want to see it before I start ramming, you’d better be there before 8! :)

So I took photos instead, and will email them to him.

Just about everything else happened as planned, although rebuilding the end column took longer than I’d hoped (although it’s now looking schmick and so hopefully will the wall) so I was screening earth by the light of the Hilux again.

I’m glad we’re so far from the neighbours, I’m sure they’d be unimpressed if they could hear the bobcat and Hilux and generator and compressor rumbling away at all hours…

I didn’t manage to get the castors fitted to the compressor, or the control joint foam installed (I forgot) and ran out of daylight to cut firewood. That’ll have to wait.

So it’s off to the pub for dinner and a muscle relaxant (or three), then an early night for a very cold, very early start…

Damn my mental notes...

Since I started this project I’ve become very good at making lists. Lists of things to buy, lists of things to take with me each weekend (keys being permanently on top of that one), lists of things to get done. Without these I’d be hopelessly incapable of getting anything done.

Of course, I didn’t put the order in which I should ram the wall panels on any list. This means I have one panel to do using the columns, and some nasty channels in the surface which will mar the end result.

Having had a close look at the column with the bolt channels, I’ve decided to completely replace the form ply and pine chamfers. I had considered filling the channels with silicone, but their edges are all over the place and I’ll never get a flat surface. Also, the chamfers on it at the moment are looking decidedly second-hand, and won’t produce a very clean result. As this panel is the end of the wall I want it to be as close to perfect as I can produce, so instead of taking a short-cut I’m replacing the lot.

Daylight be damned. I have a floodlight :)

Friday, 7am

Lots to get done today:

  • Chem-set the starter bars for the infill wall panel.

  • Cut and wire the steel mesh for this and the end wall panel so I can get them both inspected this afternoon.

  • Fit the expansion joint foam to the end surfaces of the walls surrounding the gap.

  • Modify the formwork columns:

    • The column forming the doorway needs the longitudinal bracing removing, and the top of the column will be braced against the panel on the far side of the door. The captive bracket bolted to the slab will keep the bottom of the column located fast.

    • The column forming the end of the wall closest to the container .. I’m in two minds what to do with this one. When I started planning the rammed earth walls, I made a mental note that I should start ramming with the panel closest to the container. This would mean both column surfaces would be “plain” (i.e. smooth) producing a wall with no (few) flaws. I promptly misplaced this mental note and started at the other end, which required the clamping bolts to pass half-through the surface of the column. If I use this column as-is, I will either have to fill these channels in the column surface or fix the wall after the earth has been rammed. The alternative is to replace the form ply and chamfers on this column.

  • Bolt the set of castor wheels I bought during the week to the compressor, so I can move it around without giving myself a haemorrhage.

  • Screen another large batch of soil. Conveniently (not) the rain last weekend ran down the bobcat tracks I’ve made in the landscape directly into the leftover screened soil, so this will now probably be too wet to use.

  • Cut some more firewood to satisfy the voracious appetite of our wood heater at home.

Another leisurely day on site…