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TEG Newsletter - Issue #14

TEG Tour - 2:00 pm Sat. August 7th St. Anthony Church ~ Questa, NM


Our last TEG Tour was in March of 2020. We are excited to resume our in-person tours! We will be touring the Historic adobe St. Anthony Church in Questa, NM on Saturday, August 7, 2021at 2:00 p.m. Mr. Flavio Cisneros, historian and lifelong resident will be our guide for this beautifully restored adobe building. (No doubt that he will know more about the buildings in Questa other than the Church!) Constructed in the mid 1800's it was scheduled for demolition in 2006 after the west wall of the church collapsed. The community was not having it and proceeded to rebuild the church over the next 10 years. https://questa-nm.com/historic-san-antonio-church/


We invite you to join us for this TEG Tour of St. Anthony Church in beautiful northern New Mexico. Questa is about 40 minutes from Taos. The address of the church is 16 Cabresto Rd. in Questa. If you would like to attend please RSVP by August 4th. Call Pat at 575-644-8099 or email theearthbuildersguild@gmail.com


We will be holding our TEG Board meeting at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday morning in Taos. If you would like to attend, call or email Pat for the meeting location. We will have lunch together between the Board meeting and the Tour. (Location to be announced). Again, we ask that you RSVP for the meeting, lunch and/or the Tour.


Looking forward to seeing everyone!


Pat Martinez Rutherford - TEG Board Member


 

The Muchow Adobe (1980), which was featured on the 2018 Tour

Ninth Annual San Diego Adobe Home Tour


The San Diego Adobe Heritage Association has announced that its 9th annual Adobe Home Tour will feature adobe homes and buildings in Rancho Santa Fe, Escondido, and on the historic Hidden Lake Ranch Estate. Held on Sunday, October 17th, the tour will feature buildings from the early 19th century through the 1970s with both classic Spanish Colonial and modern-design adobe homes demonstrating the wide variety of earthen construction in San Diego County. Tickets are $28 and can be purchased here.


Ben Loescher - TEG Board Member


 

SCEB Research at Sandia

National Laboratories (cont.)


This will be a short installment of the ongoing SCEB Research at Sandia Labs. Since my last article (May, 2021) not much has happened other than the getting all the details worked out to conduct another set of tests, one being the ASTM E119 Fire Resistance Test, and the other being a straightforward structural strength test of our construction system.


In my previous article I relayed my opinion regarding the benefits that testing and analysis of earthen materials brings to the earthen construction industry. But for a business entrepreneur, there is another quite valuable benefit and that is to have material proof that your product is what you say it is. Having the data and photographic proof that your claims are true and confirmable is absolutely valuable when trying to create marketing “buzz” around a newly envisioned product. If I make the claim that these blocks are exemplary thermal storage products, it helps to have the graphs showing the transmission of thermal energy through the blocks over time. This is not guessing, this is proving. That is what it takes to convince serious builders that this is not some fanciful product that looks nice, but that it is instead capable of delivering consistent and impressive performance. If we claim that our construction methods can deliver a substantially unique stress/strain performance, and having the corroborating evidence of graphs, photographs, and actual test pieces showing that performance, then it becomes markedly easier to ease into the cost discussions that are part of the construction considerations.


It appears that our tests will be completed by the time the next newsletter comes out so I hope to have a more complete reporting of results by then. Stay tuned!


John Jordan - TEG Board Member


 

Recent Earthbuilders’ Guild Certification Exam




Congratulations to Benjamin Tapia, and to Ben Loescher of TEG, for their recent completion of the TEG Adobe Proficiency Certification.


Our next exams will be in the Fall, dates TBD—watch the website for updates!


The Earthbuilders' Guild now offers three exam locations: Albuquerque, NM; southern New Mexico, in the Ruidoso area; and in southern California.


Helen Levine - TEG Board Member


 

An Update on Recent Activities at Adobe in Action


Twenty students are currently working their way through Adobe in Action's fourth online class of 2021 - Adobe Wall Construction. After completing a series of small lumber projects (rough bucks, gringo blocks and story poles), the students are getting ready to lay test blocks into a mud mortar to practice key adobe masonry techniques at home before heading out into the field.


Adobe in Action is celebrating its 10th year of offering online classes in 2021. The full 2021 class schedule can be found at https://www.adobeinaction.org/event-calender/. Our next online class - Roofs for Adobe Structures - will be starting on Monday, August 16th and still has a few spots available.


In addition to our online classes, we continue to offer project support to four owner builders who have all completed our online adobe certificate and continue working on their home builds. An example Owner Builder Support Project can be found at https://www.adobeinaction.org/paul-mallory-project.


Kurt Gardella - TEG Board Member


 

Teaching SCEB Production at Santa Fe Community College


As part of an effort led by Kurt Gardella (TEG Board member) to bring SCEB instruction to the Santa Fe Community College curricula, I was honored to be asked to contribute my experience and knowledge of SCEB production to the initial class that is being given for the summer semester. As it turns out, my part has been primarily focused on podcast material that has been used to acquaint the students with both my personal journey with SCEBs as well as my subject matter expertise on them. The podcast material whetted my appetite for a more tactile and personal communication with the students and so we made the decision to have a brief hands-on class session that will demonstrate the general modes of SCEB production using an interesting piece of machinery that was donated to the SFCC. As of this writing, the in-person class is still over a week away, so I look forward to reporting on the results of this effort in a future newsletter. Still, what I will do in this short article is show some images of the machine and what my intentions are regarding using it to try to convey the broad set of variables that need to be considered when producing SCEBs.


The machine itself is not an actual purpose-built SCEB making machine, and I believe it was a one-off design that may have been someone’s project machine. There is residue that appears to be some form of papercrete that may have been it’s intended purpose. Regardless, we have decided to put it into service as an SCEB producer! There isn’t much in the way of history to this machine as it was donated to the SFCC and ended up in their trades and crafts department. Kurt identified it as a potential SCEB machine and we are working towards realizing that intention. It is simple in design and operation, with the motive force coming from a 220V electric motor directly connected to a hydraulic pump, which is in turn connected to a simple up/down manual flow valve with built in pressure relief function. It should produce somewhere in the vicinity of 2500 p.s.i. of fluid force if it is working as designed. At this point, it has not been tested but that should be remedied before the class session.



 

The motor and pump assembly are the black items with the wire wrapped around them. The compression chamber is the leftmost raised structure. It is mobile with rolling casters.

 

The compression chamber dimensions are 16” in length by 8” in width, with thickness of the block being variable, generally between 3.5” and 4”, depending on soil amount. Initially, the hope is that the machine will work at all, and if it does, then additional issues can be addressed. At this time it lacks a critical piece of material, namely the bottom plate of the compression chamber that must rest on the push platen in order to completely close the compression chamber. This most important piece is scheduled to be completed within the next few days by the technicians at the SFCC. Without this piece there is no ability to press dirt or any other material, so this is a priority.



The darker colored piece with the two square holes is the push platen. The compression plate must be fabricated to exactly fit onto this piece without sliding or twisting. A fairly strong 3/8” thick steel plate should do the trick, but it must not bind in the chamber and it must also not let more than a miniscule amount of dirt pass by it. Precision in fabrication will be key!


The part with the springs is the top of the compression chamber which rotates out of the way. The pivot is not visible here, but is directly under the corner that is touching the edge of the compression chamber. The three rods lock into the edge that is standing up to the right of the compression chamber. Pretty neat design for a single block press.




 

Side view of the compression chamber with the top swung closed. Visible underneath the chamber is the hydraulic ram that moves the press platen up and down. Although it is a bit difficult to make out, the track that keeps the press platen in correct alignment is the vertical slot on the right-facing side of the chamber.


 



View of the simple but effective lever control that moves the press platen up and down. The top is swung into place and locked down ready for pressing action. The pressure gauge is visible just to the left of the lever control and is needed to determine what level of pressure is being exerted on the material in the compression chamber. The vertical track of the press platen is visible here, a bit obscured by some yellow rope used as a temporary safety catch for the top piece locking mechanism.


 

The use of this machine will allow us to demonstrate many of the issues that arise with the production of SCEBs. The ability to quickly make up a soil mixture and deliberately introduce problematic issues will be instrumental in tangibly demonstrating and solving these issues. Once we have completed this first hands-on class, I will report in a future article what we found both in terms of the machine’s operation and usefulness and in terms of the student’s reaction to the demonstrations. I am looking forward to it!


John Jordan - TEG Board Member


 

Remembering Joe Fait, maestro bovedero


A friend and TEG member, Ernest Aragón of Albuquerque, had called to inform me of the passing of Joe Fait, one of the few very accomplished bovederos in the Southwestern USA. Ernest is one who would feel that loss, for he is a bovedero and custom adobe home builder. Many of us were inspired by Joe Fait, as Joe was happy to pass on tips from his trade to those interested in learning.


A bovedero is the type of mason who can build vaults, domes and other curved shapes using brick, adobe or stone. The trade goes back to ancient times, mostly to North Africa, countries of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. There, wood was scarce, but adobe traditions and human ingenuity were strong. The antiquity of early adobe vaults is of note: today, domed adobe grain silos built in the time of Christ sit quietly in the Egyptian sun. Over time, these specialized forms spread into Eastern Europe, where vaults and domes became the architecture of choice for churches and important public buildings, but also for homes. This became true in the New World as well, where today, México has the strongest tradition of these forms in all of the Américas. In the USA, these shapes are common in large, public buildings and we almost take them for granted. But few adoberos of today know how to build them and those who do can command a respectable fee for their work. Vaulted ceilings are popular in high end custom work, especially over living rooms, libraries and outside over verandas and breeze ways.


Sadly, in 2018, the Southwest lost one of the few vault builders who could claim that title of maestro, a master vault builder. Joe Fait was born in 1922 in Prague, Czech Republic. His father was a bovedero, as was his grandfather. When Joe moved to Arizona in the late 1940s, he brought his skills along with him. He became a custom home builder and began to install vaults and domes in adobe homes around the Phoenix valley. He became aware of the adobe traditions of the Southwest and melded them into his Eastern European designs. He also was quite interested in rammed earth and was a real promoter of David Easton's work in the Napa Valley of California. He liked the idea of using thick base walls to support the weight and absorb the thrust of the arcing adobe ceilings above. What adobe builders call a bond beam is called a “ring” beam by bovederos and Joe used them on all of his projects. They had the usual rebar requirement, but also a ledge or step was formed on their inner sides to receive the adobes of the vault or dome.


If you asked Joe what sort of adobes he preferred, he would tell you adobe quemado from Sonora, México. They are made in Agua Prieta, Querobabi and Sásabe, Sonora, all places near the Arizona border. This type of adobe has been popular in Southern Arizona for generations and is used along with standard adobes for residential work. In the 1980s and 90s, Joe was a regular customer at Marvel Masonry Supply in Scottsdale, where they still stock many sizes of adobe quemado, ranging from the small cuñas of brick size to the 10”x 2”x 7” standard 'dome adobe' and even up to the 12” x 4” x 16” wall adobe. These are made like regular adobes, but then fired in a mesquite fueled kiln at about 1200 degrees F. for 24 hours. The result is stabilization by fire and the adobes have a slight ring when you rap them with your knuckles. Joe's preferred mix for his mortar was 2 lime to 1 Portland to 5 sand. He used that recipe on all of his domes and vaults. He stressed the safe practice of using fully stabilized materials and mortar for any roof construction.


Meeting Joe in person was always a positive experience. Fiesty, but friendly in nature, Joe would describe with enthusiasm how one could build this or that aspect of a home. He expected full value from any material purchased or any food served. At meals, he liked soup, but if the bowl put before him was not full to the top, he would tell the waiter to take it back to the kitchen and fill it to the rim. On the job, if he was handed an adobe he judged as faulty, he would toss it quickly to the discard pile and remind his helper to look more carefully for any flaws. When starting a new worker, he was always patient in explaining how to carry out the work. He hoped to find helpers who could become apprentices. He had that old time sense of duty to a rare trade- one that looked to a younger generation to carry it into the future. Joe's two surviving daughters did not take up their father's vocation. But one of his apprentices, James Anthony of Colorado, did take up Joe's skills at the start of the new millennium. After twenty years of practice, James is one of the leading bovederos in México and probably the current maestro across the Western U.S.


During his time, Joe was right up there with other masters of adobe vault and dome work around the world. I would place him with Hassan Fathy, the Egyptian architect, who with his Nubian bovederos built an entire Egyptian City using adobe domes and vaults. Joe contributed to his trade on the same level as the architects Gernot Minke and Kiran Mukerji, who perfected adobe domes for residences through their work at Kassel University, Germany in the 1980s and 90s.


Many did not know that Joe was a real athlete- a professional tennis player. Having to hop about quickly kept him nimble on the site. He was aware of the importance of good morale in his crew. I remember one warm morning when we visited a Fait project in Paradise Valley. By 10 a.m., it was already over 100 degrees F. Said Joe to his crew as a break ended, “Let's tackle it with vigor and with the true American spirit. We can do it now and we can do it well!”


Joe Tibbets - TEG Member


top foto: Joe's four-cornered sail vault begins in one corner. All four must come together exactly. middle foto: Joe Fait, circa 2001 -both photos by SWSA

bottom foto: James Anthony in his domed adobe root cellar, 2001

-photo by J. Anthony


 

Earthen Legends


TEG has begun a project of compiling bios/stories of those people who have contributed to our industry over the years. We are interested in receiving bios from anyone who can add to our library of knowledge in a salute to those who make up the history of earthen construction. Send your submissions to theearthbuildersguild@gmail.com. Our thanks to Joe Tibbets for his submission of Joe Fait.


Criteria for submissions to Earthen Legends:

  1. One whose profession was in the field of earthen construction – building homes, commercial buildings, adobe making, rammed earth, compressed earth blocks, scebs and manufacturing of materials and products used in earthen construction.

  2. In the field of education – teaching earthen construction

  3. Authors on the subject of earthen buildings/materials/architecture.

  4. Architects, engineers, and designers of earthen construction.


 

TEG Board of Directors Position Open


The Board has an opening available for a seat on the Board of Directors. We meet 6 times a year at varying locations in New Mexico - primarily Albuquerque. Over the last year we have been meeting via Zoom. The position provides for many opportunities to network, keep informed, visit earth building sites, and work with committed industry professionals. Please submit your qualifications and a letter of interest to theearthbuildersguild@gmail.com.


If you have any questions, please ask. We would welcome your participation. For your perusal, minutes from our meetings are posted on TEG’s website: www.theearthbuildersguild.com


 

Request for Photos


TEG is in the process of revamping our website. We are seeking photos to use on the website. If you have photos representing your work, earthen construction, or earthen buildings we would welcome them. Please include a description and credit the photographer if available.



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