All through this Covid thing I have been working on my apartment, the place where I now spend most of my time. I live alone in a flat I bought 15 years ago. Over the past year I have been gradually converting my living room into a multi-use workspace with a balance between the digital and physical worlds.
It’s super-hot here in Dubai, with exceptionally fine sand
that blows around in the wind and gets everywhere. As long as I was working full-time, the effort
of keeping my balcony clean, out outweighed the benefits of sitting outside in short
bursts at the weekend. But now I’m here most of the time, those brief sorties become opportunities to sweep the floor (doubling as bodily exercise)
or fiddle with my newly acquired potted plants.
In short, my balcony has switched over from mild embarrassment to major asset :)
Another opportunity for supplementing my digital activities with something more physical has been my plan to create a “workbench corner”. I have serious misgivings about all the major tech giants, and their monopoly effects, but the pandemic has overcome my resistance to using Amazon. Do I really want to put my mask on and head out on a speculative shopping expedition, not knowing whether I will find what I need to build a workbench? Well, I found a portable bench online and it’s been a big success so far. Likewise, most of the new tools I have acquired, were delivered to my door by some guy in a mask and gloves.
I have been waking at 6.15 for several years now, originally to beat the traffic, but lately to get out for a brisk walk while the sun is low in the sky. I live in a semi-low-income area and people discard things in haphazard locations. I wish it were not so, but on the other hand I have never really liked to live in posh neighbourhoods. It’s good to remain in touch with people who do physical work. So I have started picking up discarded timber and recycling it. First came some pieces of packing-crate which I planed smooth and then carved into a rather flat “egg & dart” pattern.
I should have started with a profile, but the wood is too thing for that, and I don’t have a moulding plane to run it with. Still, it served as a bit of practice in using my plane and chisels, plus reviving my tool sharpening skills. Felt good after such a long time. Rough pine is not quite like a piece of lime wood of course, but it’s a start.
The next thing I found was a broken cot. This yielded a good quantity of square-section timbers, covered in dark brown varnish. I decided to use these to create a set of baby bricks. That was something we did in Zimbabwe as part of the building curriculum for secondary schools that we were developing. The idea was to have a series of problem-solving worksheets, and sets of bricks that students could use, working in pairs on their school desks. You can do this kind of dry-bonding with real bricks on a flat piece of ground. That’s the way that I learned bonding, 45 years ago when I did my bricklaying re-training course. But you need a log of bricks, and a lot of space. Plus the effort of re-stacking them all at the end.
I’m super-pleased with my Tenon saw. Nice to get something made in Sheffield, or anywhere that’s not China to be honest. No disrespect to Chinese people, but it’s another monopoly type situation and I’m not a fan of the surveillance-state model.
You need a good number of standard bricks, then a few each of half-bats, quarter-bats, three-quarters, and queen closers. I will consider adding the rarer items like King Closers later on perhaps. I’ve been roughing up the varnish with a wire brush and sandpaper, then painting them yellow with a tin of emulsion paint that I also bought online.
The two indoor plants that I bought have not done well, but I finally got around to re-potting them and maybe they will bounce back. Meanwhile, back at the baby-brick factory: a stopped end in English Bond, one brick wide (2 wythes if you are American) This is the secondary method for achieving quarter lap, using ¾ bats. The more common detail would place a queen closer between the last two headers. Which should you use? It depends on the length of the run required.
The next one is a “blast from the past” for me. I remember the elation of solving a corner in English bond, one and a half bricks wide, for the first time. You start by showing someone the basic module (stretcher at the front, two headers at the back. Then they have to place the next course (reverse module, displaced by quarter lap). Then you set the challenge of building a corner.
I always thought that bonding problems were a great way to
develop logical thinking in a 3 dimensional context. If you can solve challenges like this and avoid the trap of "straight joints" you can probably handle the planning of a multi-storey building with attendant vertical load transfer issues.
I won’t attempt a detailed explanation of the last image. I was just testing out a few other potential exercises to get an idea of how many bricks of the various types I need. I can continue to crank them out in small batches whenever I have an hour or so to spare and want to take a break from staring at a computer screen. Sawing, Measuring, Painting: all quite therapeutic activities.
The longer term goal will be to combine my Revit bricks, physical bricks, maybe some hand sketching, figuring out a sequence of exercises, creating worksheets, and of course sharing the results to all my friends in the building trade, the BIM bubble, AEC professions, etc. Lets bring these worlds together: the physical, the digital, the artistic.
PS this was written on my 70th birthday :)