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06.10.2015 admin
The castle is sized to fit the satellite dish that will be used as a form to pour the roof. I decided to place the first layer of cinderblocks while the concrete footing was still fresh.
We hid junk blocks with random colors and textures on the back side of the castle, to be buried below ground level. I disposed of old latex and acrylic paints as concrete additives to pour the cinderblock cores. We added rebar and concrete to every core to insure that the castle will be around for a long, long time.
Blocks over the windows and doors are notched to allow placement of horizontal rebar and concrete. We added a layer of four-inch wide blocks to accomodate an eight-inch sandwich of concrete, insulation, and concrete around the satellite dish. Blocks of insulation in the mortar will later be cut out to leave passage for the chimney up through one of the turrets. We painted foundation coating over any part of the castle that was clearly underground, then backfilled the site. The ridges on the satelite dish required cutting and fitting a lot of little pieces of insulation. We filled the floor up level with the footings with dirt, mixed in a little cement and water and tamped it down with a cinderblock to make an earthen slab.
We blocked out a section in the middle for the chessboard, and then poured terra tiles around it.
We framed in the rough openings around the windows and door with plastic lumber scavenged from a dumpster. We invited Edwin's classmates up for "Medieval Day," playing war games with bows and foam-tipped arrows. We hope to be able to prevent that last little bit of dampness, which may ultimately require inserting a small metal drip edge near the top of the walls. The cavity in the middle was filled with scraps of insulation before being capped with concrete.
We cemented over the dome and sculpted the roof to direct water around the blocks and off the roof. It was one of those big, old-style, clunky dishes from the early hey-day of satellite television.
Then I had this idea to add teeth around the top, like the "merlons" on a castle, so we started calling it a castle.
I decided to insulate it and add a wood stove, with a chimney rising up through one of the turrets. There is plenty of space on the five-acre property, but it is all on the side of a hill, and there are really only two semi-flat areas for building. Now put the foundations under them." I've always loved this quote for the inspirational affirmation to follow one's dreams in life.
For environmental and economic reasons, we would use as many recycled materials as possible in the construction, starting with the lumber used to build formwork for the footings. In order to bury the front as well, I added formwork for a stubby wall on each side of the door. Logan helped pour the footing before heading off to a summer cooking job in Washington D.C. We shoveled the sand and gravel into the back of the truck and hauled it to the mixer, parked right by the castle.
That way, there would be no shelf outside the wall to collect moisture, which might migrate through the wall. The dish needed to rest at least partially on all four walls, and we wanted to use full sixteen-inch cinderblocks all the way around, without having to make a lot of custom cuts.
Mortaring up the blocks was slower than I anticipated, but a lot faster than doing actual stonework.
We started with a mortar bed on top of each existing row of blocks, then placed the new row of blocks and stuffed mortar in between them. Most people would consider this overkill, and most cinderblock buildings only have a few cores filled with concrete and rebar. As it turned out, my neighbor had a bunch of really-old cement leftover from building his house about twenty years ago. An eight-inch wide block was used in each corner to keep the spacing right, so that from the ground it looks like full-sized blocks all the way around. We were short on blocks, so I had to buy sixteen cinderblocks to have enough to finish the job. I didn't feel like two inches of blueboard insulation was enough on the dome, and I thought that scrap carpet might be an ideal way to finish the insulation job.
I was somewhat concered about this layer adhering properly with the first layer on the dome, and so added a bunch of old latex paint, acrylic bonder, and polypropelene fibers to the mix to improve the qualities of the concrete. Ultimately, we decided to go with terra tiles after all, but we blocked out a 4' x 4' square in the middle of the room for the chessboard and started by pouring terra tiles around the perimeter. Then we went to Rabbitstick Rendezvous in Idaho to teach a class on quickie bows and arrows.
He and I played a few games of chess with our regular plastic chess pieces, but they definitely look too small on the big board, so we will have to find or make some larger chess pieces.
I finally settled on a glass plate for the top of the skylight, with a crystal-cut salad bowl stuffed up from below to make a double-glazed window between them.

It looks more or less like an old, and somewhat weathered wood door, but it is actually a fiberglass door filled with foam insulation. Fortunately, I pulled a pile of plastic lumber out of the community dumpster earlier this year. We chose vinyl windows to withstand the weather, with decorative cross bars between the glass panes to get more of that castle-like look.
The windows arrived from the factory two weeks later, and were easily installed with a level, a drill, and some screws to drive through the pre-fabbed holes. We ran the metal chimney up through the middle of the back left turret and cemented it in place. Our primary concern has been keeping the interior dry, since cement work is highly porous, and this structure is made of cement and cement block. The author of this chapter, who built her own tiny house, does make a good point that the tiny house movement uses the romantic idea of living simply as a marketing tool to promote more consumerism. Personally, I am still thrilled to have had the opportunity to put a literal foundation under a literal castle, even if it is only 10 feet by 10 feet and barely big enough for a bed, a table, and the wood stove! 20121 Kings 8:28 -- But please listen to my prayer and my request, because I am your servant. But my initial tests suggested I would get at least three-inch wide joints between the cinderblocks on the outside of the round walls. Building it near the house, shop, and chicken coop would add clutter to the existing compound. That way we could push earth up around the front without it spilling over in front of the door. I also decided to place the first layer of cinderblocks while the concrete was still fresh.
I think block masons would normally "butter-up" the side of a block with mortar before putting it in place against another block, but I preferred to place the whole row of blocks and shift them back and forth to straighten the line and adjust the width of the mortar joints.
The four-inch blocks made it possible to pour the concrete corners around the dome, tying the concrete and rebar into and on top of the block walls. I'm not sure, but I think that bucket might have come out of the town dumpster at some point.
He and I would meet up again in a week at my partner's house in Washington to teach classes out there.
I had hoped to buy some seconds at a discount, but they were all out, so I bought new blocks, plus a little more cement.
I'm sure I could pick some up for free, and it could be cut into triangles that would conform to the shape of the dome. Logan just returned from his cooking job and other adventures, so he helped out with the troweling. I had a big pile of woodchips, previously delivered for free by some nice folks who trim trees along the utility lines in the area. Edwin helped out with the raking and then hosed down the inside until he was sinking into the mud. I had a bunch of buckets of concrete dye, which I salvaged from a dumpster awhile ago, so we added brown die to the mortar.
I also noticed that I tended to play the pieces on one half of the board more than the other half, as it was too far to reach all the way across!
I had no idea what I was going to use it for, but it seemed like it would be useful for something. You put a nail in the barrel and a special bullet shell in the chamber, set it up, and whack the end with a hammer to fire the shot and send the nail into the wood and concrete.
The skinny windows in front are non-opening, while the larger window on the side is a slider, divided vertically to help match it with the front windows. We need to ensure that the castle stays fully dry inside before we finish the interior walls.
They somehow imagined they were doing me a favor, that my life would be better if I installed the ugly thing in the yard and had access to five hundred channels of nothing. Building it on the other flat site could conflict with anything we might want to build there later. The formwork was added to the larger square before we cut out the 2 x 6s to connect everything as a single footing. I hauled a small truckload of blocks home each time I drove past the block plant, and after a year, had enough blocks to build the castle.
We just used a four-foot level to plumb the corners then eye-balled the walls to get straight lines in between. Sometimes we poked the mortar down in between the blocks with a trowel, but I found it much faster and easier (and messier) to just mush it in from the top and the inside with my gloves.
Having come this far already, it seemed sensible to reinforce the castle to last for eternity.
Then we filled in the four corners around the dish with formwork to pour concrete to connect the dish to the walls. I had hoped to make it deeper and do it all in one shot, but backed off due to my limited faith in the strength of the dome to support all that weight, and also because we still had to mortar merlons on top of the walls between each of the turrets. The final product looked pretty dang good and is no doubt mostly waterproof with all the paint mixed into the mortar. My neighbor distributed the big pile into little piles around the pasture and added some around the castle to start building some soil.
But instead of chopping out the usual 8" x 8" square tiles, Logan and I used a scap piece of baseboard trim moulding as a cutting tool and cut angular lines emmanating like rays out from the chessboard.

Then they took off on a week-long, 160-mile canoe trip down the Beaverhead and Jefferson Rivers.
In the fall we installed windows and a door to help keep the cold out and the heat in, starting with the skylight in the top of the dome. Someone was probably remodeling and ripped the old deck off their house and tossed it in the dumpster. Afterwards, we filled any gaps behind the lumber with Great Stuff® expanding foam sealant.
I ordered tempered glass for additional resistance to weapons fire from our foam-tipped arrows, as well as to reduce the danger from glass shrapnel if a window should get broken some day.
It may have been intended for burning coal, rather than wood, since it had a roundish belly that narrowed down to about a three-inch diameter neck.
We sealed the dome with Dryvit obtained from a secondhand store, then waited for the rains to come. I just never considered our recycled castle project to be a "tiny house," nor did I imagine that it would become a poster-child for western imperial expansion, territorial appropriation, and the dominion impulse.
But we have three channels via the antenna, and that is more than enough of nothing already. And although the blocks came in many different colors and textures, I seemed to have enough of the right colors to make the project feasible. The outside required much more careful, tedious work to fill and smooth the joints with a butter knife. Some were still mostly powdery, while others had hardened considerably around the sides and corners. The cinderblocks from the previous row were only four inches wide, so we needed enough concrete to make an eight-inch wide mortar bed for the merlons.
Nevertheless, we will trowel a final waterproofing layer over the dome for extra protection.
Then he brought over a few buckets of soil from the other side of the lot to fill in on both sides of the front door. After finishing this first step, we removed the 4' x 4' block from the middle and let the floor cure for a couple of days. Plastic lumber like this is typically made primarily from recycled pop bottles, and it can be very expensive. On my brother's suggestion, I used a hammerdrill to drill through the door frame into the concrete blocks, then epoxied some big bolts in place for additional reinforcement before we hung the door.
We could only put a few pieces of kindling into the stove at a time, so the fire burned out in a matter of minutes. Unfortunately, it practically rained inside, although not due to any failure of the Dryvit.
It is a good example of academic intitutions cultivating verbosity rather than substance, but at least it is amusing!
Any blocks we didn't like we mortared into the two back sides that would later be backfilled with earth.
We used anything that we could shovel into the mixer, then added a bunch of junk latex and acrylic paints as an additive to strengthen the concrete.
So far, we have a little over a week of actual labor into the project, most of it done by Grant, Kris and me in June. We decided to tackle that project first, then come back and finish the dome and sculpt concrete around the merlons to help shed water properly. But my stash was free, and I was glad to have it for the high exposure parts of the castle around the windows and the door. A couple years later, we replaced the pot-belly stove with a more functional, horizontal stove that could hold more wood. The problem was that the concrete blocks and joints were all porous, and there is no roof or dripline to carry rain or melting snow beyond the walls. These were old paints that would have just gone in the dumpster anyway, so this was a good means to dispose of the paints.
We previously drilled a bunch of screws into the rim of the satellite dish to better bind it into the surrounding concrete.
I did this partly to seal up any gaps in the insulation, and also to keep all the pieces from blowing away until we could mortar over the dome. We also shoveled a pile of dirt inside the building to bring the floor level up even with the top of the footings. Bending over was a little hard on the back, but the job was too small to bother making a better tamper. Instead, water wicked its way in around the turrets or through the walls, wetting the ceiling, walls, and floor.
At the same time, we added weather-stripping and trim around the door, along with an aluminum threshold below it. Kris replaced the old door knob with a more castle-like one, which I bought secondhand for a still-pricey $35. Some had chipped edges, which made the mortar joints slightly irregular, rather than perfectly straight. All of these irregularities contributed to producing more of the real stone look that I wanted in the castle.

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