Wooden Mold

End Grain Mold

To build our butcher shop we build molds and pour in jello. When the jello hardens we have a solid structure and can take off the molds. In our case the jello is concrete. Concrete is a very green, that is to say eco-friendly, building material – contrary to the bad PR being put out by some organizations. Concrete consists of a small amount of the binder, the cement which is made from burning limestone. Most of the concrete is stone and sand – the aggregate. This material is sourced locally just over the mountain from us. Local material, short transportation distance and once properly built it lasts for thousands of years with little to no maintenance. This makes concrete better than wood, especially for certain kinds of structures like our butcher shop which is exposed to a lot of water during wash down.

I’m talking a bit against my interests here, by supporting concrete, because after all we sell a lot of wood from our forests here at Sugar Mountain. If I was going to speak to boost my sustainable logging then I should be promoting, and using, wood to build our home, butcher shop and encouraging other people to live in wooden houses. There are a heck of a lot of beautiful wooden homes. I’ve built and renovated wooden houses for decades. But the fact is wooden houses have always made me a little nervous. After 230 years the wood gets really well dried out. It’s like living inside a tinder box. I heat with wood. Wood burns – really, really well.

So I built our cottage out of masonry, brick, stone and concrete. Even the ceilings and roof of our cottage are concrete. Likewise the butcher shop and most other things we’ve built in the last decade are done with these same techniques. I’ve been shifting away from wood to stone and masonry. These harder materials are stronger, last longer, require less maintenance and most of all won’t burn down with us in them. Much appreciated that.

Speaking of burning, not only does our cottage not burn down but it uses barely any firewood to keep it warm. This is because it is not a leaking sieve like our old farm house was and more importantly all that masonry gives it a very high thermal mass that stores heat. The best I ever was able to do with the old wooden farm house was get it down to three cords of wood a winter using intensive passive solar heating to assist during the good days. Even then it was never comfortably warm. The tiny cottage won’t even drop below freezing if you leave it empty and it is easy to keep comfortably warm with less than 3/4 cord of wood a year – just a few sticks a day. That’s energy efficient and eco-green which just keeps paying back year after year.

But back to the wood mold… Wood is very beautiful and useful. Most of the wood from our forests goes to furniture making followed closely by lumber for home building. After that firewood and then pulp that goes to pellets for wood stoves, bedding and the like. The lumber is also excellent for building form work to pour jello into. When you peel off the forms you often see very interesting relief pictures engraved in the now rock hard concrete. This wood end grain from the base plate will vanish into the final floor of the bathroom but maybe someday in a few thousand years an archeologist will discover it and think about how the butcher shop was built. Maybe it will even give them clues about our environment based on the tree growth rings.

Outdoors: 72°F/58°F Light Rain
Tiny Cottage: 69°F/67°F

Daily Spark: Laughter can be found in slaughter.

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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11 Responses to Wooden Mold

  1. karl says:

    the cistern on our old place was built in the 50’s using news paper as the form release agent. with a mirror you could read the daily news from fifty years ago.

    • That’s cool! When I’ve used pink foam as a form like the ceiling of our bedroom I got a diamond pattern – done on purpose that time. I had done it for a shelf and noticed the effect. I’ve wondered about using Foil-Bubble-Bubble-Foil to get an interesting pattern. I want to test that in an upcoming pour. Waxing produces super smooth results.

  2. karl says:

    Waxed super smooth is probably great for easy cleaning. This should fix the mis-address thing too (fingers crossed). BTW I must admit that I am envious of your butcher shop build and the end result of an elegant solution to humane butchering on site. I cling to your posts as a plaster to leaving our farm.

    • Yes, that fixed the ‘l’. I fixed the others by hand. One of the experimental things we made was a sink which was formed with waxed wood around the outside and a beach ball for the basin. This produced a super smooth finish. We embedded polished stones, magnets and other things. Rather fun. Made a great sink.

  3. David Lloyd Sutton says:

    When my dad poured concretized adobe into forms to make blocks (about 18X 12 X 5)) he did so recycling the discarded stiff impression sheets from the newspaper printer at the paper where my mother worked. So one side of each block had impressions of bits of some day’s news, “upside down and inside out”, and varying as to which surface had been up, but there. That structure is gone, to my lasting sorrow, but I imagine it could have turned a few future archaeologists psychotic had it lasted.

  4. karl says:

    I have seen strong magnets imbedded into a sink back splash then metal beer caps would be pressed into bars of soap. The end result was the bar of soap clung up off the wet surface dried which made the soap last longer. Also, the elimination of a soap dish made for easy cleaning of soap residue. I always thought if I made a poured sink and counter top I would use that technology.

  5. Sean says:

    Have you taken a look at brick buildings with timbrel vaulting? It allows you to span large spaces with vaults using brick and mortar which are pretty ecofriendly. That and it’s pretty too!


    • Yes, in fact in Boston, MA I believe I saw long ago Guastavino back before I knew the term. Excellent work. I was very impressed. In our old farm house there is a beehive oven with brick arches that is pretty cool. Nowhere near as impressive, of course, but along the same design lines. In our cottage I did several brick arches, simple roman arches – not vaults. Someday I would like to do a stone vault – just for the heck of it. I was playing with designs this winter. It’s one of my folly goals.

      • Sean says:

        I like how the technique allows a person to build a vault using simple templates and guides without the heavy support frames involved in the construction of masonry arches.

        The projects you’re doing (farming and construction) is really darn cool. I wish I had the space to try it for myself!

        • I find “why buildings stand up” fascinating. I love exploring and trying new arch and vault techniques. We’ve been talking about taking the big granite skins we get and splitting them up into bricks for doing things like this. It is simple saw, chisel and hammer work. Since we can get many colors of skins that will give us variety for pattern work. I try to incorporate some new technique in each project so I learn a new thing and then rinse and repeat as I find useful ways to employ it.

  6. Dana says:

    What a great way of building. I bet it will last for ever and then to have those forms for more prjeccts later is cool. I really enjoy reading about all the stuff your family does. You all work so hard! You should be proud of what you have done.

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