Monday, October 4, 2010

Playing With Cob! (A Mosaic Adventure)

Cob is a mixture of subsoil (clay), sand, and some kind of fiber (like hay) that makes a kind of hard cement when it dries. Growing up in the city of New Orleans "cob" meant the snot in your nose that you coughed up and spit out, usually referring to spitting a 'cob' on people or near them. It still takes me off guard when I hear the word 'cob' now used to refer to the sustainable and ancient building material that is being handmade all over the world as an alternative to the inefficient building materials of the modern (cheap) human. Cob produces thermal mass, and all kinds of other fancy words that mean it has some awesome natural qualities in controlling temperature in your home.
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My cob project was to build a fire code safe platform underneath my wood stove. When I moved to the Luck Cabin there were just some haphazardly placed bricks under the hot box, and they didn't come out near far enough to prevent fires caused when the sparks fly out the wood stove door (this usually happens while putting in new logs like Hickory which throw off many hot flamin' sparks.)
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With the wooden frame set in, I was ready for my cob expert friend Mary Jane to come over and help me get the project started!
Mary Jane and her special man built their WHOLE HOUSE outta cob. Seriously! There is no better teacher then experience, Mary Jane knew her shit about the mixture and what consistency we were aiming for. Sticky, ooky, gooky, bloppy.
We used clay dug up at my house (when my grey water system & mini barn were put in), sand (some i stole from a secret place and some mary jane brought), and the magic ingredient ......
DONKEY POOP! yay!
Here is the equation broken down::::
clay + sand + donkey poo + water = sticky heavy cob worth throwin' down.
We mixed it up in this big storage bucket with our hands. Mary did alot of mashing, pushing it down with her fist, turning it over and over. Adding water, adding sand. Checking the feel of the cob.
I pushed it around, flipped it and kept talking cause i was so excited.
Once the cob mixture was feeling right, we started tossing it down into the wooden frame bordering the wood stove...
We filled in all the spaces, and used our hands to sculpt it flat and smooth on top...
Can you believe how awesome that looks!? We don't need no cement, we need only found Al' NaturAl' materials!
GETTING ARTSY WITH THE COB::::
I wanted to decorate my cob with lots of broken plates, glass, and beads. I can say from past experience it tends to crack more with lots of close together decorations, but Mary Jane said all cob cracks, you just want to reduce the amount of cracking to a minimum. She also noted that with cracks, you can just fill them in with more cob later.
The artist in me could not resist a full out mosaic assault on my cob platform. I didn't know what I wanted to do so I started with a simple border made from glass beads I've carried around for years (called "mass of glass" at craft stores, it's the reject 'ugly' glass beads sold in a big tub.)
I wanted to do some kind of bird too, and after Mary J looked around the Luck Cabin she noticed I had alot of owls... her suggestion led to some majorly scary fun! I was so scared to fuck it up but then it started really coming together as we collaborated on the owl's features...
Since the cob was setting up slightly (due to the wood stove actually cranking out some wood burnin' heat) I was adding some water to keep it wet and using the back of a heavy kitchen knife to 'tap' in the tiles evenly. We also used a paint brush dipped in water to run over all the tiles to smooth out the cob and fill in cracks. This covered the tiles in a muddy wet coating that can be removed with a sponge AFTER it dries.
Mary J went home to work on her own cob stove project... and I became obsessed for hours making the mosaic more and more elaborate.
.-.-.-.--.--.--.-.--.-.-hypnotizing.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-
This project was so much fun I can not wait to do my next cob idea, which will be to take my old broken wood stove sitting out on my porch and build a cob oven around it!
but it'll have to wait till Spring time when it's warm cause nobody wants to stick their hands in frozen sticky mud. ;)
XOxoxox

13 comments:

Joan said...

Wow that is so wonderful.

Cosmic said...

I have enormous respect for you guys(I've dreamt of building a sustainable eco-home for years / decades , I know who to for advice now:)!
x

Liberty said...

Leslie that is SO AWESOME! Totally beautiful. I love having functional things be beautiful like that!
thanks so much for sharing this with us
:-)

Mezzuzah said...

Beautiful!

Stephanie Rogers said...

I want to experiment with cob so bad, since we're eventually going to be building our permanent house out of it. We were planning on making a cob oven... then moved in here where there already was one! I think we're going to have a lot of fun with the sculptural qualities. I LOVE your owl!

Lou Cheese said...

That's a great mural, and the cob is probably much safer than the brick alone. In Kansas many of the early homesteaders used a local stone for the floors & walls by their wood stoves that is in abundance there, limestone. They soon discovered that Kansas limestone in particular has a lot of air bubbles in it, and when it got too hot the limestone would explode.

Hehehe, exploding limestone is about the only exciting thing that happens around there.........

Linda Starr said...

Now I know what to do with my pottery shards, that is so great.

alex trumpe said...

Such an awesome blog! :-) I love it -- great post! Interesting information; I'd never heard of cob before. What you did with it looks fantastic!

Alex

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http://www.idealcharity.blogspot.com/
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blair said...

the owl is the coolest !!!

Cindy@sunspiritstudio.ca said...

wow! thanx for posting this project. I am a clay artist who has been doing fireplace facades out of my own homemade ceramic tile which involves firing in my electric kils. I have been driven to create these installations without the electric firing......I see how easy it is for a hearth, but thinking that I would need to add cement to the mixture to make it adhere to the wals around the stove? Any suggestions?

elisa said...

I would like to repeat this hearth project for my wood stove. How do I mix up my own cob mixture if I don't have a friend with experience like you ?

elisa said...

I would love to do this for my wood stove. How do I find the right mixture since I am not as lucky as you to have a friend with experience?

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