Along with the challenge of owner building comes the freedom to do something different.
Had we not chosen to manage this project ourselves we would have not ended up with anything like what we planned or what we have ended up with. Before I am mistaken, I mean for the better. At this stage in the project we are having no regrets. It is exciting and rewarding seeing it all coming to fruition. I read a quote referring to owner builders the other night that said “The harder you work, the luckier you get”. I wonder if this is true?
The main slab of our house combines a multitude of features which we believe could never have had happened if we did not do it ourselves. During the researching phase of the slab, after we decided to go for polished concrete, we began to realize the truly phenomenal array of options that are presented. If you are keen to put the extra bit of effort in, the final appearance of a polished slab is only limited by the imagination. So the idea to put a brass inlay into the floor came at an early stage. This sounds like fun! We both decided it was worth trying but not so long ago we didn’t know where or what we were going to put in.
The conclusion was that something in the entrance area would be best. Something that was personalized, that represented us, that gave our project (and our home to be) a point. The initial idea to mark the Latitude and Longitude in the entrance didn’t take straight away, not until I was writing the position in the log book on watch one night. (Something I have done literally thousands of times before and yes, we still put an hourly position in the deck logbook by hand.) There is something about physically writing your position… It’s a very old custom but also remains definite, timeless, distinctive and inimitable.
Within a couple of emails to and fro between Alice and I in January 2013, we had a plan. What followed were numerous scans of hand written Latitudes (Alice’s handwriting) and Longitudes (Greg’s handwriting) in various (commonly and un-commonly expressed) formats, a bit of playing around with the photocopier’s zoom function (keeping it old school) and we produced a “stencil” for our brass inlay in about a week.
In order to transform our hand written design to a language that could be understood by a brass cutter we turned to the unquestionably invaluable tool of facebook to ask for help. Low and behold, a long time mate of ours Chris came forward and was able to convert our PDF’s into DXF’s like magic (it actually took Chris many hours of labour and late nights). Are you still with me? DXF is a “Drawing eXchange Format” for CAD “Computer Aided Drawing” (I bet you’re glad you asked that question!)
With those three letter acronyms and few more, the guys at C-tech engineering used a high pressure water cutter to cut our design out of 6mm brass plate. The result was 25 pieces of brass in a box that , when arranged in the right order gave an exciting insight, and the first taste of what our design will look like in full size.
The process of casting or “puddling” the brass into the wet concrete required a fair bit of research and consultation with the granno’s (concrete layers) and the guys who were going to polish it. There was much debate as to how the numbers were going to be introduced to the concrete so that they would not sink or set out of square or be damaged by the grinding machine or be polished right through. Despite the vast amount of research required to get us this far, there were still plenty of questions that arose through the process that we had to sort out a solution for along the way.
We settled on the idea of brazing the numbers and associated notations together with the use of some brass 6mm square bar. Two horizontal “spines” supported some spacer brass blocks with the numbers braised on top. My younger brother Brad stepped up to the challenge and brazed all the pieces together over a hot and marathon 4 hour session. The result was two rigid structures, a Latitude and a Longitude, ready to be puddled into the wet concrete on the pour day.
There was a lot going on the day we poured the main slab. I mean a lot. So when the concrete in the entrance area had been poured , leveled , screeded , seeded , floated and had been left for a while to harden the time had finally come where the brass inlay could be placed. Timing was important. If the concrete was too soft our brass inlay would risk sinking or if it was too hard we could not easily push it into the mix or worse, not be able to push it in at all. We also risked disturbing the even distribution of the aggregate that will be visible once polished so in effect we really only had one small window and one chance to get it right. Once placed, the top surface of the brass was measured with the laser level to within 2mm and then, once we were happy, the concrete was “closed up” with a hand trowel. Two hours later it was set in for good. Only the polishing could reveal if all our work so far had been a success.
Polishing day…17th April 2013. I think the guys on the polishing machine were more excited than I was to see the brass emerge from the slurry of the machine as it was vacuumed away. They do have a pretty satisfying job. The first few cuts with the machine are quite harsh and the diamonds left quite course gouges but a flat finish on the brass. From then on, the area around the brass was polished and faired with a hand tool.
The result? So far it has worked and so far it looks great. We still need to cut in some brass strips to indicate the actual corresponding meridians and the final polishing of the concrete and brass will take place later in the construction once the walls are up but from the indications of the combined hard work from a lot of people, it looks like we might get lucky.