Anyone want Clay for a Pizza Oven in South Wales?

As my plastering goes on, it’s becoming a little obvious I’ve got too much clay here. At least I know I won’t have to run out and source some, but when I finish the project I’ll probably have about half a tonne of clay left over!!
I’m likely going to make a clay oven in the garden once I’ve finished, so I’ll get rid of some that way, but I thought I’d post on here in case anyone in South Wales or nearby is looking for clay for a pizza oven (a growing craze!) and can’t source any. If so, give me a message below! [contact-form-7 id=”735″ title=”Contact Page”]

Clay Plastering. FUN.

This week I managed to find some time to get my first coat of clay plaster on the straw bale walls. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was looking forward to not having to wear gloves and safety goggles like I had to with the lime render.

I soaked the clay I had for 24 hours and hand mixed it into the sand per bucket. For my ratio of sand to clay, I went for a high clay content and didn’t worry too much about accuracy or consistency between mixes, as this is the first coat and the primary aim is to get it keyed into the straw well, rather than smooth and crack free. In fact, cracks will help the second course stick well to the first.

My initial reaction is that clay is very fun to work with! It’s messy and sticky, but mixing by hand is nice and relaxing and easy. It’s also very fast, at least for the rough coat I threw on. I managed to get the inside of the studio done in two days, where as the lime render took five days, with help.

I’m letting the render dry over the weekend, and as it’s inside, this is going to be a slower process than the lime render, but once it’s done I’ll get some test patches completed and start thinking about my specific mix for the thicker coats.

By the way, I got my information on clay plastering from here –

The power of the phone call

As the lime plaster goes on in increasing layers, I’m turning my thoughts ahead to the inside and the clay render. Managing time is important to keep things moving and I need to see if I can get the clay render here for my half term so I can take the time to mix up what I need and try it on the walls.

As it is, I’ve come up with a lot of trouble of trying to source clay render for straw buildings. It’s not something that’s obviously available, and you have to bear in mind, lime is the primary material for rendering straw, so when you do a search, most clay that is sold is not advertised as “clay render for straw”.

My lime suppliers at Ty Mawr ( sell a daub, which can be used as a base coat for render, and I also found a number of links at Low Impact’s website (here)

I have found that to save a bit of cash, clay requires a little more work that lime to put onto straw. The easiest place supplying render for straw is Clay Works, however when quoted, their cost of materials was far higher than I was willing to pay – whilst for a home, it might be OK, I’m just building a shed in my garden effectively, so I’m hoping to do this for a small sum of money.

Fortunately, I started phoning people, and got a lot more information when I was able to speak to someone. As a tech geek, I’m so used to finding stuff on the internet, it’s easy to forget that a phone call is faster, and easier to get information. As a result, I’m waiting on quotes for clay powder which should prove much cheaper, and easier to transport, which I can then mix on site to my desired texture and get onto the walls! We’ll see how this goes..

The perils of monolithic building

It’s just over a week until I hope to raise my straw bale walls and plonk a roof on them to finish the final stage of my building work. My decision to build without a wooden frame was made on a lot of factors, but primarily because once the walls are done, I don’t need a wooden frame. Trouble is, when you plan this way, I forgot one key element;


It’s a lovely country, but as any Brit will tell you, it’s bloody irritating when we have to rely on the weather. It’s one week until my straw will be arriving, and I couldn’t be more unsure about the possible forecast. It couldn’t be worse at the moment – snow, rain, wind and everything else except sunshine and those fluffy white clouds.

This is what this weekend looks like...

This is what this weekend looks like…

The long range forecast puts a tiny tiny bit of rain on the Saturday, and no rain on the Friday, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this stays this way, but here we discover one of the true flaws in building with straw bale – you need shelter on your building site and flexibility with your time. Two things I don’t have. If you are reading this, and you have a spare minute, please send a prayer my way!

Perhaps if I were to start this project again,I would consider a temporary roof, or a permanent structure that allows me to lower the roof onto finished walls, which would give me shelter whilst I built the straw. But for now, I just have to hold my breath and hope that I get two decent days where I can do the walls!

Going to Space! & Upcoming Volunteering

Despite the snow, I have commenced working on the garden this week – digging the back trench which will eventually be the back wall near my building.

I’m hoping I will be organising two volunteer weeks soon, one in the February half term (11th Feb – 15th Feb) and one in Easter (25th March – 5th April) where the straw bale will be going up! I’ll email a newsletter soon to confirm all of this.

In other news, I have joined a competition to go into space – this is not a joke! I need to be voted into the top 200 before I can enter the next stage, which is physical and mental testing. For this, I need your help. If you can spare one minute, vote for me here –

Your email won’t be used for anything other than the vote – my friends have not received any mail after voting, so please don’t let any worry about spam stop you from voting! Many thanks!

Post-Winter Blues

I had a few hours in the garden this morning, after a hours or so yesterday digging, and it gave me the chance to look at what needs to be done now that the days are once again getting longer and the evenings lighter.

I can’t remember when I last did a good days work on the garden, and the work we did yesterday was mainly clearing up after the very wet few months we’ve had – my telegraph pole wall could not stand up to the force of the water & mud, so that has collapsed, and the back walls where the shed will stand which I am building the tyre wall to cover have all collapsed into my rubble trenches. Fortunately, I saw the latter one coming, so I had prepared for it a little, and to an extent, the telegraph pole wall has not surprised me, but it can be a little crushing seeing the repairs needed.

Anyway, with the coming weeks, I will be hoping for a nice dry Spring, and looking forward to getting back to it! My arms ache after a tiny bit of work, and I need to work the muscles back into action! Hopefully I’ll get some photos up of the site as it looks currently.

Extracting Images from iTunes .itc or .itc2 files

All credit goes to Joe Walton for his rather handy Tools for iTunes Libraries (titl) Project –

In the last post I looked at how you can find iTunes artwork for a track from the library persistent ID and the track’s persistent ID. But that isn’t much use unless you can actually get the artwork from the *.itc or *.itc2 file. Below is a java method that I wrote, using code from the above project, which takes an artwork file and returns a BufferedImage which can then be saved to the hard drive, or stored into the ID3 tag of a track however you like.

You will need the rest of the itil library to use this code.

import org.kafsemo.titl.Input;
import org.kafsemo.titl.InputImpl;
import org.kafsemo.titl.Util;

 * A class to extract image data from an .itc2 file. Minimal implementation
 * using notes from <a href="">this article</a>.
 * @author Joseph Modified by Alun King to simply return the first image.
 *         Original code can be found at
public class ExtractArt {

	public static BufferedImage extractArt(File f) {
		Collection&lt;byte[]&gt; streams = extract(f);

		 * This method actually can return more than one image if there are
		 * multiple images stored in the itc file. So this code will only return
		 * the first, but you can loop through and get them all.
		byte[] image = streams.iterator().next();
		BufferedImage trackArtwork = null;
		try { ByteArrayInputStream(image));
		} catch (IOException e) {
			System.err.println("Image not read correctly.");
		return trackArtwork;

	private static Collection&lt;byte[]&gt; extract(File f) {
		Collection&lt;byte[]&gt; streams = new ArrayList&lt;byte[]&gt;();

		int remaining = (int) f.length();
		try {
			InputStream in = new FileInputStream(f);

			Input di = new InputImpl(in);
			while (remaining &gt; 0) {
				int bl = di.readInt();
				String type = Util.toString(di.readInt());

				if (type.equals("item")) {
					int ltd = di.readInt();
					di.skipBytes(ltd - 12);

					byte[] ba = new byte[bl - ltd];

				} else {
					di.skipBytes(bl - 8);

				remaining -= bl;
		} catch (Exception e) {

		return streams;

I hope that is useful! I’ll try and get the whole XML parser working soon and then I will be able to automate the artwork being embedded into the music file.

Merry Christmas

I’ve been quiet for a few months on here, as the nights have closed in and not a lot is going on in the garden. I’ve put a few paving stones down to make the path up to the shed a lot nicer, and laid some decking, so I do need to post but I’ll have to wait for a nice day to get some good photos!

Until then, I hope if you are reading this, you have the heating on, or even better a fire is lit and you are enjoying the warm feeling that being with your friends and family brings around Christmas time. Stay safe and don’t drink too much 😉

I’ll be updating with more posts as Easter approaches!

Winter is Coming

This weekend has given me some great weather, and it’s been a good opportunity to take stock of progress and look forward to wrapping things up for the winter. I’ve got half term approaching next week, and I’m hoping that I can finish the major work and have a well-earned rest over the winter, turning my thoughts towards the roof and walls design.

So, here is the progress that has been made. Lets start with a photo of the site back in July..

Coming forward three months, and lots of heavy work, the site now looks like this..

I’m actually a few tyres away from getting the site totally flat, and clear. Once thats done, I think I’ll have to have a little celebration! The tyres at the back will be six high, but for the moment, I’m doing them three high until I’ve got some rebar from the local steel company to strengthen the walls. They are solid enough, but to make sure they don’t wobble as the walls get higher, a solid bit of iron down the courses should do the job. I’ll post a blog on this when I add it.

Meanwhile I have noticed a problem with some of the tyres – no doubt an issue of rushing the first course. My piles of tyres which will act as retaining walls are ever so slightly leaning outwards, into the back wall. I’m not sure if this is an issue yet, but I am going to try and level it using some stone before putting the rebar in. The retaining wall will be filled with rubble so the tyres shouldn’t fall, but I need to make sure they won’t subside when the roof goes on, bearing in mind the massive weight that the roof will be.

One tier down from this, the first wall I built is pretty much completed, and looking good. I’m thinking about some creating finishes, but you can see here what it looks like.

So, I’ve got one week left now until half term. I’ll be sure to keep you informed about how it goes as I near completion for this year.

Rammed Tyre Foundations: Installing the french drain

So, this weekend just gone, I had another successful volunteer weekend. With a good lead up to the weekend, we had a scorching Saturday, and managed to get the materials in place for the french drain, which will serve the purpose of directing any run off away from the walls of the building, and prevent it from building up behind the retaining wall.

The general principle of a french drain is that you sit a perforated pipe in a trench, and cover it with gravel. Any rainwater will then filter down between the gravel, gather in the pipe and drain away. A good website showing how it is done well can be found here:

What made my installation a little more complicated is that I wanted to add in a waterproof membrane to ensure one side of the drain didn’t let any water through to the tyre wall. So I had an installation more like this diagram:

Installing a drain looks so clean and fuss free on other websites, but I found the practicality of it to be much more difficult!

measuring out the length

We first out had to measure the membrane, which was 2m high. We rolled it out along the trench line and gave some slack to be sure everything would fit.

folding the membrane

With the distance cut, we folded the membrane in half and tucked it down into the dug out trench. Because we were going around corners, and, on the front of the wall especially, the trench was not evenly supported either side, this was a lot more difficult than first imagined!

Laying the pipe

Finally, we tucked in the pipe and started throwing stones on top to hold it all down. Work on this is currently ongoing, so I’ll post photos when it’s all done!