Thursday, September 17, 2015


We'd love to see you at the 2015 Gardner House and Kiln Open House Saturday 9/26/15 from 10am to 3pm.  If it's been a while since you've visited the Gardner House, you'll be pleasantly surprised at the progress.
Also, this Open House is unlike no other.  It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view not only the Gardner House, but also the excavated remnants of the on-premises clamp kiln before it is reburied.  This is the kiln in which we believe the bricks for the Gardner House were fired.
Please feel free to copy the attached invitation and forward this information via email or social media.  Thank you so much.
See you there!
The Gardner House

Sunday, March 15, 2015

New Door Jamb

Last semester, we started working on reshaping the door opening.  We pulled out rotten bricks and dug out deteriorating mortar.  This semester we finished filling in the open spaces on the wall and are now working toward building a door jamb to fit the new opening.

Before we could begin, I needed to build some of the tools to help us build the door jamb.  Here is our workbench, and on top of the workbench, is a rip fence, made of OSB plywood.

The rip fence was built to match the exact dimensions of my hand-held circular saw, so that I could push the saw directly against the clamped fence, to create a straight cut, "ripping" through wood along or across the grain.

The most difficult cuts on the circular saw were for the bottom portion of the door jamb.  I managed to measure the pitch of the hand-cut stone drip edge threshold at 10 degrees.

So, I needed to taper the bottom end of the door jamb downward from the indoor side, outdoor at a 10 degree angle.  Here is one of the trickier cuts on one of the bottom pieces.  I learned that my saw is not powerful enough for precise ripping, unless I do little things to help it like making relief cuts with my handsaw, and just plain going slow.

Another challenge was that I had no idea how to cut the mortises and dadoes for the hinges and door jamb supports.  I figured that my best bet was a hammer and chisel, since my only power tools were a hand held circular saw and a drill.  I used a circular saw to make measured relief cuts for my dadoes, then cleaned them out with the chisel, whereas for the door hinge mortises, I used only a hammer and chisel.  It seemed more accurate that way.

There were some problems and struggles along the way, but this moment was really satisfying. Not only does the door fit nicely in the jamb, but the jamb fits nicely in the opening.

I realized during this moment of truth, that my hole saw does not cut deep enough to work two-inch wood, and that I am not strong enough to hang this door by myself.  I was advised to mount the hinges, then just "drop the pins" through the hinge holes, but the commercial grade hinges we have had fixed pins, so I would have had to support the whole weight of the door with one arm and drive the screws with the other.  Probably not.

So, the old door and jamb are still in place and the new door and jamb are sitting in the parlor, waiting for next weekend.  Eventually, we are committed to a swinging door by the end of the semester. The open panels on the door jamb you see are left that way to accommodate a black walnut decorative center panel that will be recessed to the level of the interior structural pieces and finish nailed to the cross-pieces.  We will attempt to rout the decorative reeded pattern into them before we set them in place.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Door Project: progress

Pictures by Sam Osborne

We began repairing the brick door opening on the front door this weekend.  At the beginning of the weekend we were still not sure if the mortar would be sufficiently sticky, or how to make it more sticky, to hold the patch bricks to the existing wall, and we weren't sure how many bricks we would have to remove in order to create a sound opening.  We had also not worked through a strategy to create nailing surfaces.  A lot of uncertainty. 

Our progress in three steps:

1.  Broken bricks, crooked wall, cavities in the wall.

2.  We removed several rotten bricks  as a unit and laid up some tied-together layers.  The mortar stuck.

3.  We moved up and left to demolish and rework another tied-together unit.

We also made our first and second attempt at fashioning a nailing surface. 

Shimming out the nailing block.  Unfinished black walnut, riven timber.  Pulled from the wall and moved to a more suitable spot.

Nailing block to hang the trim in center of view.  Hewn from a discarded tobacco barn timber.

Next weekend we plan to finish the final courses on the same door side and move to the other side of the door opening.  The moment of truth came when the wooden door jamb fit back in the newly snug opening.  Hopefully this trend continues.  It was an exciting time. 

This next weekend will likely be our last full weekend of work on the house.  We may be back up again before the holiday period to do some winterizing and smaller maintenance jobs (or to finish whatever we don't get done next weekend).  Please feel free to leave us a message (here or on facebook) if you want to come visit. 

Thanks for reading. 


Monday, October 27, 2014

repairing my foundation (part 5): mixing natural hydraulic lime mortar, ...

This is a video from home builder Colin Moock.  I really like the way he frames his methods and mentality.  He is a home builder and is altering the ideal, in many cases to fit his needs and timelines.  He has posted a repair to his basement in over twenty parts.

Video Resources

This weekend we began construction on the door opening.  Pictures of that operation will be posted later this week, and in the meantime, here are some of the Youtube videos we used to formulate our mortar mixing strategies as well as our re-pointing strategies.  It is our long term goal to establish our own Youtube Channel, where you and future students can watch our methods develop in near-real time.  We would post content like this.  Until then, enjoy our video mentors.

This is the set of recipe ratios we used.  We like this one because it follows the assumptions set forth by Lynch (as mentioned in last week's entry) about the ideal ratio of hydrated lime to sand.  Also, this person is uses super clear vocabulary and demonstration techniques.  We expanded this ratio to pint sized containers--three pints sand, two pints lime.

Here is part one of a video series on brick repair.  Mike Haduck provides some practical tips on brick laying, cutting bricks,  and working with mortar.  He has a large number of straightforward, unboastful, very helpful videos on a number of topics related to masonry and stringed instrument playing.

Here, lime mortar mixing is demonstrated and, there is an interesting discussion on the role of air pockets in calculating total volume of mortar.

We are considering trying to make our own lime putty, particularly for refurbishing the Hall's plasterwork.  This might be a resource.  Here, Gerard Lynch (whom we cited with a video last week) demonstrates.

Thanks for reading and watching,


Monday, October 20, 2014

Mortar and Brick Testing

Pictures by T. Westfall, Sam Osborne, and Kathryn Young

This weekend, we focused on preparing the brick door opening to begin repair next weekend.  We cleaned out chunks of old mortar and broken bricks lying between us and more healthily bonded bricks.

We also scrubbed the dust out with brushes and sponges.  

Graduate Student T. Westfall scrubs some dusty bricks
Graduate Student Kathryn Young scrubbing bricks
We collected samples of each of the four types of mortar we observed on the wall, crushed them into powder and dropped them into a muriatic acid solution, to see what the binding agent was and what the different types of aggregates were.  Below, some aggregate on my fingers. 

Discussing the mortar experiments with Archaeologist Darlene Applegate and Archaeology Research Student Katie O'Grady

We learned that the mortar we are most confident was applied by the owner had small pebbles of unslaked limestone in it, whereas the best restoration match, for color and texture we could find on the wall did not have these unslaked limestone pieces in it. 

Note the small, white flecks, especially in the upper left corner of the picture.  I originally thought they might be Mussel shells, but Dr. Applegate confirmed they were unslaked lime/limestone.
This best match sample also did not have as much total lime as the original.  We know this, because the chemical reaction (fizzing) when the mortar dust hit the acid was much stronger in the “original” mortar.  We also learned that some of the repairs made to the wall, including ones that placed chunks of broken brick out of sequence with the Flemish Bond pattern, and used gobs of mortar to fill broken brick holes in the wall, were made by an owner, using the old formula.  To the right of my finger, you'll see a gob of limestone-flecked mortar.

A second restoration mortar sample was tested, which matched the texture of the first, but not the color.  It also seemed to be heavier on sand and lighter on binder/plasticizer.  It too had less total lime than the “original” mortar.  The fourth total mortar looked to be at least partially comprised of Portland Cement.  

This sample produced the “cloudy” effect on the water characteristic of cement based mortars, but it also bubbled significantly, at a more steady rate, easily as much or more than the more aesthetically pleasing restoration mortars.  We originally thought this was 20th century mortar applied by an occupant, with Portland Cement.  We now think that this was at least related to the mortar recommended to us by a local specialty brickyard, and by a preservation masonry text (Published by the National Preservation Trust), where standard modern mortar ratios are modified with additional sand, and double the lime content.  We tried 1 part Portland Cement, 3 parts Hydrated Lime, 8-10 parts sand. 

Testing some mortar bonds on cheap bricks.  Its a little sandy.
Not only did this experiment teach us that we don’t want to use the brickyard recommended recipe, but it also taught us that some of the most visually problematic mortars on the house were applied in good faith, with an effort to soften the mortar and preserve the building, regardless of who applied them or when. 

We also prepared our materials: we practiced cutting different kinds of bricks to the correct sizes and shapes we’ll need.  We experimented with different types of mason’s chisels, different cutting angles and rhythms, on different types of bricks.  

T. chops up a brick into various pieces.
The shirt helps cushion the impact and prevent spider-cracking.

We practiced mixing mortar in different consistencies and ratios.  We acquired a second type of sand, in addition to our builder’s sand.  It was dug from a riverbed near Bonneyville and was given to us by Biological Preserve Facility Manager, Curtis.  We think it will be superior to our builder’s sand because it will have less air pockets between grains, as well as softer edges, which will make a softer, more workable mortar.  Additionally, as an aggregate, the sand’s color is closer to the original color. 

When we realized the mixture we were preparing to use definitely had the wrong color and might be too strong, we stopped and cleaned up.  It was time to do some research.

Here’s what we found:

According to Brick Mason/Material Culture Scholar Gerard Lynch, in the UK, much of the historically re-worked recipes for lime-based mortar (with or without Portland Cement as a binder) recommend some form of a 1:3 ratio of lime to sand.  This is consistent with what we found in available literature.  He states that this information was culled from journals, letters, ledgers and other primary source documents without an eye to the actual technological process that was used to create hydrated lime (which is what we intended to use).  He states that prior to WWI hydrated lime was delivered to building sites as baked quicklime and “dry slaked” or “hot slaked” on site to avoid having to carry heavy, expanded, wet hydrated lime.  This meant that the 1:3 ratio reflects lime pre-dry-slaking. (Check out Dr. Lynch's videos on Youtube.) During dry-slaking, lime expands 60%-100%.  So, the final product was significantly larger in volume than what has been the general practice in Europe and the US for re-creating historic lime mortars.  This argument is strongly supported by our muriatic acid analysis, where the oldest lime had significantly more lime content as well as incompletely processed limestone pebbles.  

He also recommends using more mature “fat lime putty” as a plasticizer, which we may experiment with in the coming weeks.  

Thanks for reading.  Let me know if you have questions, concerns or want to come help/watch on Saturday.  


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Project: Measuring the Brick Opening. Pictures by Ashton Ray, Words by Nick Schaedig

1.  Establish Reference Points

Since the Frame and Door fit already, we needed to measure where the door opening is both smallest and true-est.  Sometimes what looks flat is not flat.
2.  Identify Problems and Barriers to further construction

-Uneven mortar.  Will challenge crisp brick laying.  Note the mortar lumps intruding.
-Decomposing wood timbers/nailing surfaces: masons laid wood pieces into the brickwork provided a nailing surface.  Some wood pieces are in great shape.  Some are decomposing, like the one below.

-Unevenly broken bricks, irregular shapes
-Inconsistently applied Flemish Bond wall construction.  Note the pattern on the first three courses, from the upper right corner, down.  We think that is the pattern and the bricks at the center/bottom of the picture are laid out of sequence.  The top bonded bricks are also the true-est.
-The wall is surprisingly not true.  We are not sure if this is consistent across the building, or if this is particular to the damaged and repaired door opening.  

3. Learn about the anatomy of the temporary wooden jamb. (pictures coming soon)
4. Learn more about the anatomy, dimensional challenges regarding, and damages to the door. (pictures coming soon.)

To Do:

1.  Clean bricks:  dirt, messy mortar, irregular wood pieces.
2.  Mix mortar: try different ratios and consistencies
3. Practice cutting and breaking bricks
4. Practice laying bricks away from the house
5. Complete missing photo documentation of the door.
     -Flooring/sill decomposition
     -Damaged door
     -New and old individual brick measurements: do they match?
     -Dimensions of the door timber (appears to be a rough-sawn 4X8)
     -Jamb construction picture
6.  Make a plan to anchor mason string to the concrete sill.  I think using mason screws/nails is not ok, for the sill or for the arch.  Tape?  What do you think?  The string would be in this position:
Thanks for reading this, thanks for being involved.  It should be a fun, challenging, intriguing weekend of problem solving.


Community Open House

Thanks for stopping by the Gardner Historic House blog! If you'd like to visit the actual house, now's your chance.

The Gardner House will be open to the public THIS SATURDAY, September 27, 2014 from 9:00am to 3:00pm. SEE YOU THERE! For more information, go to

We look forward to seeing you there!