October 9, 2009

Brick House

I have taken to the European method of building interior walls of brick and plaster. Where I was born and raised with 2x4's and sheetrock, I have seen the light, and I've gone towards it. It's part of an entire built ethos of durability, I think, the French regard a building as something which lasts for centuries, and therefore should be built solid enough to get them there. But even those times are changing and construction a-la-mode is just as often sheetrock and metal studs, and here I am, once again, learning a disappearing craft.

I've decided to document the brick-wall building on the top floor of our project house, it's typical of the system and there was a place to put the camera out of harms way. These pictures are taken looking towards an existing stone wall that we will re-point and leave as stone. The walls I am building will enclose a large closet on the left, with a bunch of winter storage, and the bathroom across to the right. The stairs descend in the foreground.

The first step is to move the bricks up two flights of stairs, then to erect some boards to define the ends and set them in plumb and level. These boards are temporary but eliminate the need to constantly be checking and correcting with a spirit level. They are clamped to a piece of wood which will support a rolling door in the oh so distant future.

The bricks are 1.5 inches thick and are terra cotta just like an american clay brick. They can be stacked with a cement mortar or with a plaster mortar. I prefer the plaster because it sets in about 10 minutes and is strong enough to build upon in about 20 minutes. I can build up three courses and in the time it takes to trim a few bricks and mix up another batch of mortar, the wall is set enough to continue the process.

The bricks are offset to each other to provide strength, and can be used either horizontally or vertically as the situation dictates. The bricks are hollow, with channels running through them to make them economical, lightweight and allow for electrical wires to run through them. Here you can see the outlet down low and the switch at waist height, the plastic conduit is threaded into the wall as you build each course.
Posted by PicasaThe center section completed, I remove the framework and continue to work on the small side wallsA keen eye will see that I had to move the electrical outlet to the left so the door wouldn't hit a plugged in cord as it slid open (oops!) and the yellow double switch box has been installed in the small wall on the right.Then the plaster. The rough coat of plaster (the 1st coat) is the same product as the mortar. It is a product that sets in about 15 minutes, so one needs to work fast. They used to sell slower setting plasters but they realized I was getting too comfortable and decide to change the rules. By the time I get good at this I suspect they will change the product again, and eventually we'll be using "buckets of mud" like in the U.S.. This first layer of plaster goes on quickly and rough, about 1/4" thick with plenty of high and low points. From here we will choose some colors and start applying tinted plaster heading towards the eventual finish. One more layer of rough plaster and then 3 layers of a fine plaster and eventually a soap and oil finish we call Venetian Plaster.I'll update this next month when we get around to the finishes.