Wednesday, October 14, 2020

0 Shred Shed - DIY Music Studio, Vol. 1 - Foundation

 Last July, we tore down a 100 year old barn in Lake Odessa, MI to be repurposed into a music studio. This is the first part of a long journey in creating our own music space.

As with anything, we had to start with a foundation. I had decided that instead of just rebuilding the barn as it was, I would take the pieces of it and add it on to our existing shed. The shed has a front section that is 12'x16', and a monopitch back section that is 10'x8'. The barn was 14'x28', so the plan was to create two 10'x14' "wings" off the sides of the shed, set 2 feet back from the front, and then use new lumber to just match the monopitch all the way across the back.

Let's back up a little bit. In April of 2019, I came across a listing for a couple pallets of old road bricks from a farm for just $90.

Jumping to September 2019, when summer activities had simmered down and I was ready to at least start something with the barn - in order to pull this off, I'd need to create a foundation both to hold the walls, and to contain the bricks. My friend Matt's dad has a loader, but borrowing it meant we had to re-deck his trailer - a fair proposition, so a full day, 6 broken drill bits and a makeshift ramp bracket made out of an old bed frame later, we were able to get the loader to the dig site. The hope was to make a wall that was 5 cinder blocks high -  2 in the ground and 3 above grade to raise the ceiling from 6' to 8'. The shed is built this way, with 3 layers of block in the ground, so it was nice to just use that as a guide as to how deep to dig. 

The best thing about it was finding all the crazy stuff buried back here. From manual lawn mowers to Taco Bell name tags, tee shirts to paint cans, and a lot of tile and broken concrete pieces, the kids had a riot sifting through the dirt pile.

As with anything on this project, I was determined not to buy new cinder blocks. I found some on Craigslist for cheap, so I drove out to yet another farm to pick them up. 

We measured, and measured, then measured again, then set a string line from the shed to start our first line of block. Raf, my guitarist in Charles the Osprey, and I traded off setting the blocks and cleaning the blocks. Because the bummer of getting used blocks is that they come with dried mortar all over them, so you have to break all that off. So for 120+ blocks, we had a system of just drumming on them with two hammers - mortar is brittle and doesn't bond to the block well, so breaking it without damaging the block is pretty easy, though tedious.

By the end of October, we'd set our first layer of block, but by that time it was too cold to use mortar, so we decided to leave the rest till spring. I was bummed we hadn't gotten further in the project, but had to admit that it didn't make sense to fight the cold and keep going.

As winter tore on, all the barn materials sat on trailers and pallets, all under tarps, under mounds of snow. All the while I hoped they would survive and not rot away. Also as winter progressed, and my job got busier, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was also ramping up, and no one had any idea what was about to happen. By mid-march, cases were ballooning across the world, and especially the United States, and we lost the last three of our shows of the season and were sent home to isolate from the growing threat of disease. Since EVERYONE experienced the pandemic, I don't need to spend time on it here, other than to say I suddenly was working from home, so working on the barn suddenly became a great distraction.

April 2020 became the start of an amazing transformation. 

I didn't take many pictures of the second layer going on, since working with mortar is a real pain, and I swore several times I'd just hire someone to do it cause I was no good at it, but luckily Raf and Becky were willing to do it as well, so by the end of April we had two layers done. By that time, I'd decided to just raise the ceiling height with lumber instead of block. Calculating the amount of wall stud I'd have left after building the wings, I'd determined we'd have enough to create that extra 2' extension.

Also not shown is us mixing concrete and pouring it into the holes in the block. You can certainly leave the block open, but considering the fairly poor mortar job we did, I didn't want to have moisture or vegetation problems seeping through the cracks, so I decided to just make it a solid wall. This also allowed us to put J-bolts in at intervals to tie the walls to the floor.

Next up was creating the brick floor. Something I'd been looking forward to for over a year. To create the base, I put dirt back into the frame, then had to add 4" of crushed concrete, and then sand on top of that. Now, to be honest, I forgot the sand part at first. So I ended up putting in about 5" of crushed concrete and then taking about 1" back out when I realized leveling just crushed concrete is nearly impossible. That's what happens when enough time passes between research and execution!

I ran my dimensions through a cubic yard calculator and ordered 7 yards of crushed concrete, delivered to our driveway.

We leveled and hand-tamped the dirt level in preparation for the gravel. I then measured and snapped a chalk line one brick depth from the top of the block wall so I knew what to fill to. Since we no longer had a loader, I moved the pile of crushed concrete by wheelbarrow, about 200 feet at a time, to the site, in about a week, just working on it a little bit each day.

By now it was nearly June, and the weather was great for working outside, so leveling and tamping and releveling was a chore, but it wasn't terrible. We started leveling with a magnesium screed board (borrowed from a landscaper friend, Corey) and a hand tamp. Then we rented a plate compactor to make sure it was REALLY compacted and ready for the brick.

Once we got a level ground, we were finally ready to lay some brick. I started with just a test row, to see how it would look before putting down the vapor barrier. With wanting to use a spray foam insulation and no venting, we had to make sure that no moisture from the ground would come up through the floor, so using a vapor barrier and eventually sealing the bricks will help prevent mold from forming.

Once we liked the pattern, laying the brick went very quickly.

Once the bricks were all in on both sides, the plan was to pour bags of dry concrete on top of the bricks and push broom it into the cracks, much like you'd do with sand on a patio, and then water it to set the concrete. It worked so much better than I'd hoped. I really thought it would sort of gray-wash the bricks, and it did a little bit, but the color still pops luckily, and they're all fully locked into place.

Now, I ran out of bricks so I couldn't do both sides fully, so the plan on what to do about that will shift over the coming months, but for now I just left it with the vapor barrier, needing to move on to bigger and better things. 



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