First Stones in Place

Cutting Granite Tank Header Beam

This week we began placing the first stone of the tiny cottage. Up until now we have been doing poured concrete walls, poured concrete slab, concrete block and ferro cement work. Placing our first pieces of granite is a milestone as those are the first pieces of finish material that will be visible in the final house. Everything else we have done to date, aside from the door and windows, will vanish as the house matures.

Note the hand held pressurized water sprayer will is using to wet the saw as we cut the granite using a diamond blade on a skill saw. The water lubricates and cools the blade as well as keeping down the dust and cleaning the work area so we can see the cut line. We have done the wetting a number of different ways. The garden sprayer is by far the best portable method we’ve found to date. Also of note is the garden cart works great for transporting the heavy stone and as a handy height for a work bench.

All of our stone is either field stone or scrap we’ve gleaned from the local granite quarry and stone shed waste piles. As we built terraces and pond dams with the waste granite over the past six years I have been pulling out the best pieces, those that would make good fence posts, steps, sills, shelves, are of spectacular color or just interesting. Some of these are going into the house. This means the free granite and marble literally fell of the truck. As such it has incurred some nicks and scratches which would make it unacceptable to some people. Martha Stewart or Fine Home Building might be appalled with some of the nicks in edges. But they give the cottage instant character and age. It is also fun to have stone that is from our own land and local quarries – especially at this bargain basement price, e.g., free.

So I work with the material at hand, cutting out bad flaws, finding the pieces that are just right for each place in the house. It is a very hand crafted cottage. I enjoy the process and am certainly getting my daily workout sorting through all the stone. No need for a gym membership or weight machine when you have granite piles to move!

Weight Bench for Granite Beams

The view above in the tiny cottage looks into the master bedroom from the common room. When I say bedroom, I mean bed room. It is just big enough to hold our queen size futon with storage below, book shelves on the wall and a small desk ledge along the west side – to the left in the photo above. My desk chair is the bed. There is room for the door to swing inward which also gives room for standing and dressing by the built in closet behind the door. In order to get storage space below the bed and duct work for fresh air exchange below the floor the bedroom floor is elevated from the commons room. It is two steps up which gives about 15″ of space below the floor and about 30″ of space below the bed. A friend compared our tiny cottage to living on a small yacht at sea. Each space is finely crafted for functionality. Each move and position thought out. My sons compare it to building a space ship since they have no experience with yachts. Some how I don’t think this space ship will get off the ground!

The blocks on the raised floor form a weight bench of sorts to hold the granite beams for sills and shelves. This allows me to lift the granite part way into place and then do one final lift of the 200 to 300 pound beams from knee to should or head level while Will spots me. For any larger beam and I would build a gradual step up so I need only lift it 8″ or 16″ up at a time but that would take extra space on the limited platform. The slab shown on the weight bench in the pictures is the first shelf below the aquarium. That’s the lightest piece at about 150 lbs and the bench wasn’t really necessary for it but it gave me a good practice to see how it would work when I do the heavier stones.

Behind the stove firebox on the left is the air ducts for incoming air heater. Behind that is bedroom cloths closet and then the wall of my marine aquarium that sits between the bathroom and the bedroom. As of this writing the granite shelf sitting on the weight bench is now mortared in place along with the side walls to the tank shroud which will support the middle of the ceiling and attic floor. That shelf is a sawn but not polished piece of grey granite. This means it has a smooth top finish but is not highly polished.

Amazingly, on the first try I got the shelf perfectly level left to right with just a hair of tilt back towards the tank front to back just as I wanted it to be. Maybe this isn’t so amazing because I did mock the whole thing up dry stacked before disassembling it and then rebuilding it with mortar. Still, I was surprised I didn’t have to spend a lot of time shimming. It did take a lot of work putting all those blocks and granite up and down to model the whole thing and get the cuts right but it was well worth it.

The reason the slight tilt of the shelf back towards the tank is important is that if there is any small leakage it will go towards the tank and drain into the bathroom drain rather than towards my desk and the bedroom. The bathroom is our wet space – the bedroom is a dry space. The tank will be siliconed into place along the top and sides when done to minimize any water or humidity coming from the bathroom and tank towards my desk and the bedroom.

The reef aquarium that will sit in that wall will light both the bedroom and bathroom. It helps having bright light during the long dark days of winter. The aquarium area great way to have a functional anti-SAD station by my desk. A person will be able to see into the tank from both sides but because of careful aqua-scaping they will appear to be two very different tanks and it isn’t possible to see through from one room into the other.

The wooden scaffolding above is to support the ceiling pour which we’ll be doing soon. After having played with plaster, white concrete and sandwich combinations of the two I have decided to go with simply a white concrete pour for the ceiling. The finish is excellent and the concrete is much more durable than the plaster. There is the idea in our minds that we might occasionally move all our possessions out of the house for a spring cleaning and pressure wash the walls, ceilings, etc. With that in mind I designed the floor to have a very small slope to the floor drains we installed when we poured the concrete slab last November. Likewise the attic and loft will be washable. Plaster would not be so rugged as to survive this sort of annual spring cleaning.

Tank Wall to Lower Shelf

The photo above shows the first shelf in place. The concrete blocks have had their initial surface parge and have had their cores filled – both done with PVA fiber reinforced concrete. The surface of the concrete is rough so that the next coat will bond properly – thus the score marks on the walls.

Above the shelf will be an 18″ high window space into the tank. That is my window to the sea. I don’t travel and I’ll probably never visit Fiji or other far away tropical islands where the dizens of my coral tank originated. I do love studying marine biology here in my sea on the mount. And frankly, one trip to Fiji would cost far more, both in dollars and environmental impact, than I’ll ever spend on the aquarium.

Above the window into the tank there will be a thick beam of granite and then a granite shelf above that for books. That beam will sit on the notches in the concrete partition block on either side of the window. We’re waiting for the mortar and concrete on the first section to cure before we put the 500 lbs of the beam and shelf in place. Sitting behind the granite shelves and beams are concrete blocks to spot the stone. The wood scaffolding in front of the wall is to retain the shelves and beam as they cure. Each granite piece is balanced and interlocked so that if left alone it would actually stay in place without mortar but the very thought of it possibly falling, especially onto someone, makes me build in plenty of safeties.

If you look past the tank window you can see a vertical white pillar in the middle of the bathroom. That is an 88″ high by 4″ by 5″ piece of white marble. That post divides the room into the three areas: toilet stall, bathtub and sink. The theme colors of the bathroom are marble and black granite with occasional carefully placed pieces of green black granite and field stone. While the front room and commons have dark floors and medium buff walls to collect solar energy the bathroom, which is in the back and darker, is dominated by lighter colors with striking contrasts on horizontal surfaces. This will make the small, darker space feel larger and brighter.

Sawing Pillar Cap Stone

The bottom of the pillar sets in a pre-prepared hole in the bathroom floor. The top of the pillar is keyed into a hole in the octagonal white marble cap stone. The purpose of the cap stone is to distribute the upward thrust of the pillar across a broader area of ceiling so that the pointy part of the pillar does not pierce the drum like arched center of the ceiling like a needle through a balloon. The cap stone will actually be half embedded into the concrete of the poured bathroom ceiling. The bathroom ceiling must be especially strong since above it is the wet utility room which will house the water heater, water storage, additional aquaria, refungium, grow out tanks and surge devices for the reef tank.

Sawn Out Key Hole

After cutting the cap stone from a larger piece of white marble we plunge cut the edges of the key hole and then scored the middle to make it easier to remove the key hole material. Diamond blades can do amazing things on stone! Don’t try this at home kiddies – she’s a trained professional carpenter.

Chipping Key Hole in Cap Stone

The outer line of the key hole cut markings is the size of the post. The top is bevelled to fit into the key hole. When we were done I chipped out the key hole and beveled the hole to the edges of the line. This way it will lock onto the top of the bathroom pillar. Add a little bit of cement between the two and nothing’s moving these babies.

Splitting Corners of Cap Stone

This part of the job is purely for aesthetic reasons. A square cap is boring. An octagonal cap is elegant. It is amazing how chopping off the corners improved the piece, transforming it into a beautiful stone to receive the up-thrusting force of the bathroom pillar.

Finished White Marble Octagonal Pillar Cap Stone

At this point it started to rain hard so we quit for the day. Another day we’ll wash down the marble, possibly lightly grind the surface and set the cap stone in place above the ceiling scaffolding where it will fit into a hole in the ceiling mold. After we pour the white concrete for the bathroom ceiling only the bottom couple of inches of the octagon cap stone will be visible. The rest, including the rough surfaces, will bond with the concrete of the ceiling.

Outdoors: 60°F/53°F Overcast, 1.5″ Rain
Farm House: 72°F/63°F
Tiny Cottage: 71°F/68°F

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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5 Responses to First Stones in Place

  1. Anonymous says:

    I know that on an earlier post, you had a floor plan of the cottage. Can you repost it though so it is clickable and can be made bigger? I would like to be able to see more detail. Thanks. Erin

  2. Woody says:

    The granite and marble will really give the cottage a been there forever feel. We have accidentally built a stone fence along our road. It started as a convenient place to pile field stone. Now it starts at the state highway two thirds of the way to the house. I would say it will reach the house in a year or two since we grow rock here.

  3. cat says:

    oopps…i posted my comment for here on the post below..hahah great job!! congrats on getting closer to your cottage…:) see my other comment..LOL

  4. Farmerbob1 says:

    I am eventually going to just start at the beginning and read all your posts, Walter, but for now I must say that I’m still just picking and choosing randomly based on the “You May Also Like” and “Random Lucky Posts”

    I would like to point out that one of your images on this page appears to have poofed:

    “Tank Wall to Lower Shelf” is a dead image link.

    • Fixed. That was caused by the bug where the translator between the old Blogger software and the newer WordPress software inserted random end of lines (CHAR13) into the text streams. That is the first time I know of it doing it inside a URL. Thanks for catching it!

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