Beautiful boulder clay

This unprepossessing grey mess I collected in a bucket is boulder clay. If you’ve got a house with clay walls, it’s like finding a seam of valuable minerals. There’s no clay to beat it.

Our part of Suffolk mostly sits on thick layers of the pale grey, white-flecked natural building material, laid down by glaciers grinding their way over chalk. But it’s usually deep down and hard to find.

It comes near the surface here, because that’s why our pond exists, sitting on an impermeable bed of clay. But it’s not so easy to dig out without draining the pond, which we think was once a clay pit.

Digging a trench to plant a hedge yesterday I kept finding lumps of it, deposited there after earlier work on the pond. It has got muddy, but that doesn’t matter – a bit of earth won’t spoil its performance.

Not only does it make a good, plastic clay for wall repairs when mixed with straw, it is also less prone to shrinkage cracks than ordinary yellow clay, and dries as hard as a lump of chalk.

If you have clay daub walls and come across any, store it till you need it. Wonderful stuff.

Updating an old door without replacing it

This nice door was made for The Old Brewhouse when it was a farm service building where nobody lived.

It has thin planks with cracks between, and is a heat sink in the house during winter, no matter how much draft proofing is stuffed in and around it.

As a listed building, we’re supposed to make a formal application to the council heritage department and pay a fee if we wish to replace it. Our solution was to leave the old door untouched, apart from a few new screw holes, and build an identical door on the inside of it to double the thickness, cover the cracks and improve its thermal performance. It should make a noticeable difference to the warmth of the room in midwinter.

Continue reading “Updating an old door without replacing it”

Ancient drains

I’ve just laid 35 feet of new drain from the house down to the pond, and discovered a layer of what seem to be 18th or early 19th century drains, of a type that a little internet research discovers were named horseshoe drains. I have often noticed, whether at Greek ruins or at Norman Castles, that the remains of old drain and sewage systems fascinate visitors, myself included, so the annoying fact that one of our key drains was totally clogged with tree roots at least produced something nerdishly interesting. Continue reading “Ancient drains”

Repairing the floor – 3

I go into a great deal of detail in these floor posts, on the grounds that if you’re interested in repairing a very old floor you’ll need it; for the rest, read no further! Over the years it’s the blog posts like this that seem to be read most, I assume by people doing similar jobs.

Rotten sections, weakened sections, blackened, stained and crack and holed sections – the whole messy old floor came together into one attractive, if battered, whole, once beeswax polish was applied.

It’s great what a coat of beeswax can do for a damaged floor.

Continue reading “Repairing the floor – 3”

Repairing the floor – 2

The first thing to do was to protect the room underneath from debris falling through the many cracks as we worked on the floor above. The solution was a plastic tarpaulin tied to the joists:

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The second thing to do was to make sure the boards were firmly on their joists so not springy when walked on. There were two bad patches, where the boards had to be screwed down hard onto the joists to stop movement. Since the undersides were exposed, we were also able to push in wood spacers from below. Continue reading “Repairing the floor – 2”

Repairing the floor – 1

The floor we want to repair is of unknown age but must be pretty old, not just because of its battered state but because the boards are of uneven widths of up to a foot or so, presumably because they were cut from the same tree. Continue reading “Repairing the floor – 1”

Old floorboards

And now for the next challenge, but I need to get fit first: does everyone get quite as stiff as I do when trying to work for long hours on a floor? It is the most uncomfortable position to work in, apart perhaps from plastering a ceiling, but we are about to start on repairing a lovely old floor that until now has been covered to protect it, so the pain will be worthwhile (I hope). Not entirely sure what it is, but think that it is oak or elm. More later, as we get going on the job next week.

Cracks

The hot, dry weather has produced many more cracks than usual in our front wall.

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Much of it is plain clay daub with thick layers of limewash and here and there a smear of recent cement where previous owners had tried to stop the clay falling out. There is no evidence of it ever having been rendered or plastered on laths. Continue reading “Cracks”

Limewash over emulsion paint 

I’ve been wondering how best to  redecorate a room whose surfaces are finished in old materials – clay and plaster – but which have been painted with modern emulsion. That may be creating a breathability problem.

Very modern emulsions are impermeable to moisture. Cruder basic emulsions have a certain amount of breathability, but it’s hard to tell which it is, looking at the result at least 30 years after it was last painted. So should the emulsion be removed? Continue reading “Limewash over emulsion paint “

Rat assault 

Just discovered a disadvantage of shallow brick footings: a large rat managed to tunnel right under them and up inside where the water and waste pipes enter and leave the building.

Caught the rat with an electronic trap and filled the hole down to the bottom of the footings with a couple of buckets of limecrete, using lime, sand and gravel.

Had to do it twice more because another rat twice bypassed the limecrete by digging a longer tunnel, partially removing the still soft limecrete as it went. Continue reading “Rat assault “

Old fashioned paint

It has been a positive pleasure painting the windows in the last few days using custom-mixed linseed oil paint from Ingilby’s of Glemsford. The window frames were stripped and repaired, and much of the putty renewed, some time ago, and they have since been given several coats of pure linseed oil to prepare and waterproof them. But for various reasons, I didn’t get round to completing the job.

Now I’m painting, I can immediately see the benefits of using linseed oil on old wood. Where I’ve left a leading edge of paint on bare wood, the oil spreads out of the paint into the wood, which seems to lap it up, almost pickling the timber in oil. That can only be good for long term preservation, especially as absorption is helped by the slowness with which the paint dries. Continue reading “Old fashioned paint”

Repairing the damage 

The first step is to prepare some of our grey boulder clay, which we saved from the excavations for the extension. It is much better than the brown clay we used previously when we bought ready mixed daub from a farm in Essex.

We pounded the clay lumps with the end of a piece of timber until they became like smooth plasticine. Continue reading “Repairing the damage “