Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Open Sesame!

Mike starts drilling out the mortar.
When we eventually install our steam engine under our verandah, we will need easy access to the solar system control equipment in our battery room. Up until now, direct access was only possible if we could magically pass through the very solid (250mm thick) mudbrick wall that was in the way!

As the “Open Sesame” spell did not work, we were left with no other choice but to make a big hole in the wall. This project had to be done carefully, because we didn’t want to upset the stability of the wall; especially the many tons of mud-bricks to the side of and above the proposed doorway. Therefore the starting point was obtaining two heavy duty steel lintels to support the wall above.

A brick is removed from our "holey wall"
We carefully drilled out horizontal slots in the mudbricks for the lintel to fit into on each side of the wall. The lintels were then placed in these slots and bolted together, forming a strong support for the weight above. Although this sounds quite simple the process took many hours of drilling, checking for straightness and the correct depth, and cleaning out the slots to get a good fit. If there was any sizable gap above where the lintel was going, gravity would cause cracks to form in the brickwork above.

Brick by brick the hole expands
Once the lintels were in place, it was time to make the hole for the door in the wall. The circular saw didn’t have enough depth and would have created a dust storm inside and outside the house. Therefore we used a drill with a 200mm masonry bit on the end. Luckily our WOOFERS, Tim and Mike, had arrived by now (see our earlier post), and they helped drill nearly 300 holes in the mortar joints. This enabled us to recover the bricks for future re-use. By the time they had finished, our place looked like it had been strafed by machinegun fire. In fact it was suggested that this was a technique one could use to make decorative patterns in mud-brick walls. One could drill holes in whatever pattern appealed and then fill them with a contrasting coloured mortar – hmmm another project to add on our to-do list one day!

Even with all those holes, going three quarters of the way through the wall, the bricks didn’t look like they would budge. It really was a very solid wall that we reckon would have withstood a sizeable earthquake. However, careful banging with a hammer and bolster loosened a few of the top bricks. This then made it a relatively easy process to loosen the others.

The frame goes in
After all bricks were removed, the edges of the hole were straightened up and measurements checked. It was now time to build the heavy duty wooden door frame. Fortunately we could draw on a fairly large supply of leftover and second-hand building materials. However, one upright piece of the frame was bowed. This was fixed by using it on the side adjacent to a main house post. It was straightened out by screwing it tightly in place with large coach bolts at the top and bottom to bring it into a vertical position. The small gap between the cut mud-bricks and the frame was then filled with a cement mortar to finish off the seal around the doorway.

We bought the door at a second-hand building supply place in Mt Evelyn for $30. It was in pretty good condition and even came with its own hinges. However it was (like our wall) a very solid door (unlike the hollow core doors they mass produce today). It was a bit too big for our purposes so we took off 50mm from the bottom and 50 mm from the sides and it fitted perfectly.
Open Sesame!
The final job was to fit the door handle and locks. This was the most expensive part of the whole job. Luckily the door set we chose was on special at $130, and with an extra $30 we were able to get the locks changed to match our other external doors.
So the whole project wasn’t as easy as “Open Sesame”, but we can now move in and out of the battery room, our workshop area and the woofer room without traipsing through the whole house.

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