Saturday, September 25, 2010

Kitchen progress - walls and roof

Tom and the crew made amazing progress on the kitchen building over the past couple of weeks. After getting all the cement poured for the footers, Tom, Julio, and Marvin went out in the jungle to find some suitable trees for the support poles.

They found the trees and carted them back to the Farm in Tinkerbell.

The next step was to strip the bark from all of the trees. The timing of the tree cutting was important, because all the wood and the thatch must be collected in the week before and the week after the full moon. It sounds like superstition, but we’ve come to believe it, and some scientific types tell us it actually makes sense because the water in the plants follows the moon like the tide, and the water level in the trees and thatch is at the right level for best preserving the wood when the moon is full.

When the poles were stripped, they started mounting them on the footers. With a combination of man power and ropes, they stood the poles upright and while some of the guys held them, somebody else would drill holes through the bottom of the log and bolt it to the bracket mounted in the cement.

The tree used for the corner pole is quite large and very heavy, so they used a different procedure to get that tree set on the footer. The day before, Julio, Marvin, and Tom built a large stand as a brace so they could mount a block and tackle on it to pull up the pole.

They strapped the pole to a chain on the block and tackle, and used the pulley to get the log in position.

They left the bark on the big log until it was in position so it wouldn’t be slippery, and then stripped it once it was up.

At the end of the day, all of the logs were up on the footers. Most of them were roped to each other or to trees so they wouldn’t fall over before they were hooked together by the supporting beams at the top.

The next day, the supporting beams were added, all the way around from the top of each log to the next, and across the structure for stability.

This involved lots of climbing, using both ladders and the logs. I find it amazing that construction workers in the US always seem to wear heavy boots. Here, the workers find it easier to climb on the logs with bare feet, so they usually work in Crocs or sandals, and kick them off when they head up into the roof.

They then had to go back to the jungle to get the smaller trees that would be used to build the whole frame for the roof. They hauled these sticks back to the farm, and then spent the better part of a day stripping the bark from them.

The first step to building the structure of the roof is to set up the pole that will form the peak.

They then start running poles from the peak to the side beams to form the sides of the roof.

All of the poles must be nailed to the top roofline pole, and that’s way up there. The ceiling of the building is about 10 to 12 feet above the ground, and the peak of the roof is 15 feet above that. You’ll notice that there are lots of tree branches hanging over the roof. These will have to be removed when the roof is done because cohune thatch roofs need sun, but the construction guys decided to leave them there while they worked on the roof both for shade, and in case they need to grab something attached to something to get their balance.

When the sides are on, more poles are added for the front and back of the roof.

Horizontal poles are added for more support because the leaf is heavy, and to support the structure of the roof. A single tree is used for each side without joining trees in the middle.

The next two days were spent cutting the cohune fronds to be used as the thatch. The leaves are better when they’re cut from cohune palms in the open, rather than trees in the jungle. Only a few fronds are taken from each tree so the trees aren’t damaged. The guys had a problem this day because many of the cohunes had wasp nests, and everybody was stung. Fortunately nobody is allergic to bees! The timing on this was perfect because they finished the structure of the roof two days before the full moon, so all the leaf was cut the day before and the day of the full moon.

All the fronds were hauled back to our place on Chuck and Marjie’s trailer. About 600 fronds will be used on this roof, and the weight really adds up. It didn’t help that they day they hauled them back it was raining, so everything was even heavier because of the water.

All the leaf was unloaded, and it then needed to be split. A couple of the guys split the leaf, and the others sorted and stacked it, organizing the split leaves by length and by which way the leaves grow from the spine.

The splitting of the leaf here took all morning, and by the end of the morning we had stacks of leaf everywhere. Although we’re going to need more leaf to complete the roof, this gave them enough leaf to get started.

The four guys from 7 Miles went up to start tying the leaf to the roof supports, while Tom fed the leaf up to them.

Tom doesn’t mind being the guy on the ground, for a couple of reasons. First, he doesn’t like heights, so he’s more than happy to let somebody else do the work the requires your feet to leave the ground. Second, he knew how all the piles of split leaf were organized, and he knows what order they need the leaf of the roof, so he can keep track of which leaves from which piles are going up on the roof in which order.

By the end of the day on Friday, we had a respectable start on the roof. They guys had intended to work through the weekend to get at least the ends of the roof done, but Tropical Storm Matthew changed those plans. The crew still showed up here this morning to work, but Tom and I decided that we didn’t want the risk of the guys up in the wet slippery rafters working with heavy slippery leaves…and none of them looked too disappointed at being sent home. Work will continue on Monday.


sandy a. said...

That is so interesting!! Thanks for posting such a detailed blog; I've never seen a thatch structure being built from start to finish.

Marge & Tom Gallagher said...

If you would like to see the construction process from our other palapa, go back to our blog in Sept 2009, that may even have more detail.

JRinSC said...

Looking great guys... good construction all the way... well done.