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Natural Building & appropriate technology’s blog 26

Article 26 of Natural Building and Appropriate Tech Internship


Here is the last article about the Natural Building and Appropriate Technology internship at Kotare Village, home of the Koanga Institute. And at the same time that I am writing, a gentle grasp around my heart.

The internship finished Friday the 26th of April. Some left and some stayed, a moment of separation where each one of us goes on their own road. But none of us will forget that we spent 10 weeks living together, sharing our joy and sorrow, learning about each other.

So what have we been up to in this last week?

Plaster Party number two! Silus and the plaster crew organised an other event in the seed room to lay down the second layer on the walls. Prepared as always we had a bunch of different kind of plaster to spread. This time they where the finished layer so we had to be neat and clear, trying to do the most beautiful job possible to leave a nice harmony on this place, protecting the seeds. And how impressed we where by the work of Shelly and here natural paints! For us she prepared a whole lot of different colours made with available natural material and we painted the wall with it.


Colours and creativity at place

And after a few days, the plasters still holding we discovered a nice surprise of Mother Nature.


Sprouting out f the wall.

We did spend a lot of time trying to finish the on-going projects which now will be relayed to the people staying at the Kotare Village. Specially the building, we have not been able to finish the sleep-out and it is all right. We all learned a lot about building techniques definitely and for me the main learning was beyond the techniques but to grasp the patterns of humans interactions and our ability of working together. As written in one of the first article:

–       It takes always more time than planned

–       It takes always more money

–       And we can always make a better job

I am sure that it is a never ending cycle but also I am sure that through a good management of people, we can infinitely tend to perfection through creativity. It has been such a pleasure to experiment collaboration with such a diversity of people.

In the last week we also saw new personal project like tanning and smoking skin in a natural way. The smoke is meant to water proof the skin and be an insect repellent.


The colour is also amazing.

A lot of weaving with flaxes, I found myself very enjoying this craft. And people ended up creating beautiful baskets and even a back pack!


Beautiful and useful

A big satisfaction of this internship was the learning and the doing, the theory and the practice. To actually understand something and the build it. And the real pleasure arrive when people are using your creation. When you can feel that what you have done is useful. A direct connection between the creator/producer and the customer/user.

Such as :

–       The ram pump

–       The solar ovens

–       The rocket oven

–       The Biochar stove

–       The rocket barbecue


Thank you Koanga institute for this life changing opportunity where we have been able to live a simpler lifestyle, to learn and make beautiful instruments that can make a difference in someone’s life and to allow this environment to create amazing relationships.


The last picture of the internship crew with the community members!

It has been a real pleasure to write down this blog.

I hope you enjoyed.


 ~Oscar Morand, 1 May 2013, Natural Building and Appropriate Technology Intern

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Natural Building & appropriate technology’s blog 25

Article 25 of Natural Building and Appropriate Tech Internship


Super Sunny day! It is hard to believe that we are in the middle of April here at the Koanga Institute. It hot and even during the night I have stopped needing three layers of blankets.

Friday, Enlighted Ben is leaving the internship, he is going back to Japan one week earlier. So today we had a special workshop biochar day leaded by Ben! As every morning we begun with our morning check-in and went into the classroom where Ben gave us an amazing lesson on Biochar, underlying perfectly the main principles and goals and also a few different design.


Super interesting class. Everyone is captivated.

Then, direction the workshop to spend the day building Biochar. Luckily Yotam donate to us a whole bunch of pipe that he was going to use for a rocket mass heater but it never happened and it is a perfect material for us to use. So like little bees in the hive everyone took the tools they needed and begun build their own.


Silus and his simple pipe design

It was a very noisy day at the workshop having everyone using tools everywhere. Sadly the oxygen bottle on the oxy-torch was empty! Poor of us! But Tom showed us some incredible skills with the angle grinder to cut into a gas bottle a perfect circle.

And as we go through our design and then to the practice it doesn’t always work as excepted.


Ben blowing to increase the primary air into the system, which is… quiet smoky.

Myself I worked on a very simple design. The biochar retort, which is basically a container with the material inside and a few holes. The concept is that you can chunk this container into a fire, this pyrolizes the material, splitting of many gases and living behind the carbon.  The gases comes out of the holes and get burned in the fire, which helps it’s process. I did my container with two equal size tin can. I crimped the top of one to make it fit into an other.


The container getting heated in the fire, you can guess that in the middle of the container the flames that shows up is the gas from the inside of the container coming out and getting burned.

And I was very surprised to see how well it worked!


Here is the result. Beautiful biochar made out of pine needles. And you can see how I crimped one can to fit into the other.

This biochar workshop has been a really good success. We also had the chance to have Big Ben and Shelly finishing the barbecue that is just a beautiful piece of art.



Tom has been working hard on his own little project, the rabbit system. I really enjoy passing by and seeing him working steadily on his structure. Step by step, beam by beam it is going up.


There will be rabbit soon!

And always the building, the team has now a cement mixer to mix our light earth and it works great. It able us to go way faster.


Big Ben on the mix!


 ~Oscar Morand, 17 April 2013, Natural Building and Appropriate Technology Intern

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Natural Building & appropriate technology’s blog 24


Article 24 of Natural Building and Appropriate Tech Internship


And one more big week for us at the Koanga Institute.

So what happened this week?

Guess what? The roof is done! And it really change the aura of the building. So let’s go and begin the walls. For that Big Ben with the advice of Bob and the helps of the team created the perfect mix that we can work with. The Idea is to create a light earth mix with pine needles and some silty clay coming from the bottom of the pond. It has to be quiet aerated. We don’t want thermal mass but insulation. Which means that we just dip the pine needles in the “sludge” for them to be able to stick together but at the same time we don’t want it to be too soggy and heavy. The goal is to have a lot of air gap between the needles.

First, pine needles harvesting! Going in the pine forest and being sure to take only the top layers of the needles. They are the one that have not begin the decomposition process now so their tensile strength is way higher than the rotten one. Logic you would say.


The crew coming back from they hard work.

And then collecting sludge. The dam is empty, the syphoning worked well and now let’s jump into the mud!


Cold mud, up to the knees, nothing better for the skin!

And finally beginning the wall. Figuring out the right ratio of pine needles and sludge and here we go. Handful by handful it is going up.


The very beginning of the wall, the mix seems to work!

During this week we also had the plaster party. And what a show! Silus, Sarah, Shelly and Shaz (the S team) organized themselves very well. The previous day the created enough of the three different mixes that they used for us to play with and prepared the space for us to work, all the conditions where perfect.


Silus wetting the hessian the night before the party for the plaster to have a good grip.

We had a introduction about what different mixes are made of. One is a clay slip, one is a mix of clay, silt and paper pulp and the third one is a mix of clay, silt and fermented cow dung (which was a little bit smelly but had a great colour). So we rolled up our sleeves and begin to spread these plaster on the walls. I tell you, it is great fun.


The best way was really to press with the palm for the plaster to grip on the hessian.

And what a final result! For the moment none of them has cracked and it really change the energy of the seed room.


From the left to the right we have the paper pulp mix, the fermented dung mix and the clay slip.

Now let’s check the other project. Tom has begun to build the structure for the rabbits to go in. It will be part of the urban design and implemented garden simulating a backyard space of a usual family in the suburb and how can they feed themselves.

Shelly is working on the rocket barbecue. A big learning experience about how to build something efficient and convenient at the same time. For example, which material are we going to use for the insulation? For it to be efficient we need a very good insulation but for it to be convenient we want something very light to be able to move the barbecue around. And from what I have seen they found a perfect answer to this problem. The whole design will come in a later article when the barbecue is fully done and functional.


Shelly using the oxy torch. What an amazing pattern.

In the last article I showed the Biochar cooker that I have build for people to use in the village. We runned it a few time and see what was working well and what was not. There is a lot of variable depending on the material you use for how long the stove is going to burn. But generally it was quiet quick. So firstly I set up a sliding door for us to be able to manage the air flow going in and notice that it help making the process slower and still having enough air to have an efficient combustion that burn all the gases. But even with this extra time it may not be long enough depending on the fuel you are using. So the idea now is that if you need some more cooking time you can just burn the charcoal that you just created. Nothing wrong with that as long as you are able to have a decent cooking time. We did face a problem in the design of my biochar cooker. The chemine is to high and the coal inside are too far apart from the pot. So we inspired ourselves from the Japanese culture and saw that they use a lot of ceramic pot to cook with where they burn charcoal inside. So I transformed my biochar maker cooker into a biochar maker cooker charcoal burner!


That’s the first step of the process, where the fuel gets burned and we need the chemine effect to have a decent draft.

And now we can easily transform this unit into a charcoal burner.


Second step, the unit open in two and you just need to put a grill with your pot on top to harvest the energy of the charcoal burning.

As you can notice the sliding door is almost closed during the first step, where we want the fuel to burn at the slowest rate possible and then in the second phase it is totally open for the charcoal to burn well enough to be able to cook with it. Seeing at the ceramic charcoal burner of Japan I will still need to insulate the bottom part very well. We saw that we were loosing a lot of heat through the steel walls.


 ~Oscar Morand, 12 April 2013, Natural Building and Appropriate Technology Intern

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Natural Building & appropriate technology’s blog 23

Article 23 of Natural Building and Appropriate Tech Internship

Change of time this last weekend. What a change! Now it is dark when we have dinner. So we light up some candles and seet all around the same table to have some more body heat because it is soooooo cold.

Hopefully after a rainy weekend we have the sun again for this week. And with the sun, the motivation comes!

So three weeks left, we have work to do! Lots of project and we are all working like little ants everywhere. Hard to keep track of what has been achieved and at which stage everyone is.

As usual, firstly, the roof is going and going. All excited about to be under this awesome roof working on the next step of the sleep-out, the walls and the floor.


Simon on the roof

And tomorrow we have the plaster party! Organized really carefully by the plaster crew they will present us all their different mixes and share the knowledge with us. We will lay down the plaster on the walls of the seed room as a preparation for the sleep-out. Plaster? Where? On the walls for sure! So to set up the wall we need material. We already have the pines needles now we need the silty clay to mix them with. And for that we are going to take from the bottom of a dam. So we have to syphon it! What an epic moment trying to syphon a whole dam. First time for me and it may takes a few days. I had the chance to see biointensive Bob showing to me the way to do it.


The dam being emptied

Last week we had the chance to have two presentations. Sarah on the solar water heater and Enlighted Ben (previously Angry Ben but he cut his beard which bring a lot of light on his face) on the biosand filters. Thanks to both of them for their presentations. We learned a lot and give me confidence in future designs. The idea is also that after their presentations their two projects will be done. Sarah is already working on her solar water heater and I hope to begin soon on the biosand filters.


Sarah presenting the principles of a solar water heater

And myself I have spend the day working on something that passionate myself. FIRE! I have created a biochar maker cooker. So we can create our own biochar and cook at the same time! The idea is that people who use a rocket stove could create biochar instead, and still cook their food. And how surprised was I after seeing that it actually works greatly.


Biochar maker cooker unit!

And just for the beauty of the eyes, the seed team harvesting all the pumpkin’s and squash’s seeds.


What a pile!


 ~Oscar Morand, 8 April 2013, Natural Building and Appropriate Technology Intern

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Natural Building & appropriate technology’s blog 22

Article 22 of Natural Building and Appropriate Tech Internship

One week without article? Sorry guys but finally after one week here are the updates.

In the last article I told how Angry Ben did an awesome job of listing all the projects to empower us to lead each one of them. So every morning after our little check-in we have the projects check-in. Where every leader of each project tells the other students at which stage they are and what are the next steps. This allow us to split ourselves more efficiently.

So let’s have an overview of what has been done in the different projects over this last week.

First big main project, the building! We are at the stage where the main focus is the roof. It is a slow and precise work. Only two to three persons can work on this and it is important that nobody is under them while they are working. We would not like a hammer or a saw to fall on someone’s head.

Our super structure is getting more and more complex. We now have three more poles at the back of the sleep-out to support the four rafters. And the rafters themselves are there to have the purlins on them. A few more purlins to go on the back and very soon the roof will be put into place.


The super structure.

More bracing is needed also to reinforce the tensile strength of the building to be more resistant to the earthquake. So a few more bracing here and there are being put into place. For the purlins we have been using a metal bracing system. As shown on the picture.


While all the work was in process in the air some more jobs have been done on the ground like filling in more material to raise the floor and also a big job was to paint the whole bond beam to protect it from the moisture. The bottoms of our studs have also been painted which is going to allow our super structure to stay as dry as possible.



Shelly painting the first layer on the bond beam.

So now let’s move on on the other projects.

The plaster crew. They did a nice job of creating different plaster and yesterday they used their special cow dung fermented plaster! It may sounds occurred at first sight and it does smell a little bit but the result looks really nice on the wall. I am definitely waiting for the little presentation that they are preparing about all their experiment and different recipes.


Laying on the wall their different mixes.

And since Monday a new project on the horizon, the human powered bicycle washing machine! This is exciting. We have been washing our clothes in a bucket these last weeks. Is it going to be more effective than our hands in a bucket? For how long are we going to pedal for our clothes to be considered “clean”? I am really looking forward to find the answers of these questions. It is also a challenge of physics. Where are our forces going? What are the good ratio between the gears to be effective? And so on… Lot’s of good stimulations for the brain.


The team discussing some possibility for the project to be.

Now time for my favourite project, the ram pump! The first design is working and we are really happy about that. Now how can we improve our design? Basically we are pumping water from a little muddy creek. We take water from this place because it as a sufficient height for the ram pumps to work. But this creek is joining a stream that has a higher quality and cleaner water. Ideally we would like to drink this water, not the muddy one! But the stream has not a sufficient height for the ram pump to be pumping.


Here is the challenge: how can we pump the clean water using the forces of the muddy water? It is tricky but possible. And here is our design.



The magic piece!

Basically we transfer the force of the water from the creek through a diaphragm which is going to pump the clean water of the stream. And guess what? It is working! This was pretty amazing. But now we face another challenge. Our concept is working but it is not efficient. The amount of water that we are able to pump is very small. This is the time where and engineer can become very useful by calculating the good material that we need for a diaphragm (we used a car tube) and the size of the chamber allowing water to be pushed forward. 

But we don’t have one. So we are checking different possibilities that we will discuss in a future article.

 That’s quiet a few projects running at the same time. And on top of that during the week-end we had the construction of a rocket mass heater and a mud floor in the tipi. It was great to do this all together and I am looking forward for next week-end to see how the final result will be.


The Rocket Mass Heater being built in the tipi.


 ~Oscar Morand, 2 April 2013, Natural Building and Appropriate Technology Intern

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Draft: Natural Building & appropriate technology’s blog 21

Article 21 of Natural Building and Appropriate Tech Internship

So frankly we have a lot of different projects and sometimes we aren’t very well organised. Sometimes we begin one project and don’t finish it or want to begin a project but don’t know where to begin. So Angry Ben created a list of all the projects and how they are link to each other. Then he wrote down basics steps to take the leadership of one project. Like speaking to Bob and Tim for the brief, locating the materials, checking how many people are associated to the task etc. It is a very empowering process to have created this project poster. It directly had an impact on the motivation of us all. Boosting our will to take more responsibility of the projects.


Angry Ben’s posters. Thanks you so much!

A group went on the plastering of the seed room. They created a number of different mixes to see which plaster works the best. They used paper pulp for their mixes which seems to have done a real good job.


Paper pulp getting mix.

Another group is the building group. Time to set up the rafters! A big step towards the roof. Standing on the floorboards of the mezzanine, they lifted up a big log to put it from the front wall to the back wall. It has been very enjoyable to see how the structure is advancing step by step.


The first rafter being set up.

Today, I went with the ram pump group! A perfect sunny day to set up our pipes to see how well it is working. We went to the creek and lay down the pipes. First we had to build a little dam in the creek to raise the head of the water. Then connect the metal pipes that are bring the water from the dam to the pump. This is the primary check in and…

Water Pump

It is working!

Then we needed to climb the slope with a pipe and see if the water is going up. So we climbed approximately 30 meters higher than the top head of the water and it is also working! Amazingly well. I definitely advise any one reading these articles to check more info about ram pumps on internet.


You can just see an orange and a blue shirt on the picture. It is the very bottom of the creek where the pump is. And just with the flow of the stream it is pumping the water all the way up here.

~Oscar Morand, 25 March 2013, Natural Building and Appropriate Technology Intern

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Natural Building & appropriate technology’s blog 20

Article 20 of Natural Building and Appropriate Tech Internship

I spent almost the whole day with Simon. Our mission was to create some floorboards. For this we took some long boards from the old cattle yard. An amazing timber. I have no idea what kind, but it is definitely some hard long lasting wood.

 After taking the nails out of the boards we passed them through a machine call a thickener. Basically it takes out a really thin layer of wood. We removed the very first layer that has been damaged due to being exposed by the elements. And amazing! Under this layer of moss and lichen we discover these beautiful shining reddish boards.


On the left, the wood before, on the right, the wood after!


With all these little shavings it pays to wear glasses and scarf!


 ~Oscar Morand, 22 March 2013, Natural Building and Appropriate Technology Intern

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Natural Building & appropriate technology’s blog 19

Article 19 of Natural Building and Appropriate Tech Internship

Rain on the forecast, but not much, so let’s keep going with the house! As usual we had a morning check-in where the different projects are discussed and the students can choose whatever they want to do.

Todays Options are:

  • grey water system implementation with Bob
  • finishing the rocket barbecue
  • and the sleep-out

I spent the day working on the sleep out. We had to dig out some pumice. It was amazing to see the different layers in the soil. First there is a top soil, very smooth and dark and straight after a layer of pumice, all crumbly and orange yellowish. And if we keep going we find some white silt that sticks together. The idea is to use the pumice to create a insulation layer. First, two inches of pumice, then a sheet of plastic and one more layer of pumice. Then it is time to raise the level of this floor. We don’t have a vibrating plate anymore and we are going to create our mud floor after we have a roof. So by laying all the material now we will compact it the next weeks only by working and walking on it.


Shelly and Tim, the compacting crew!

And now time to create the mezzanine. This means that we are not going to work on floor level anymore. Everyone climbs on the building, secure themselves, and begin to assemble the poles to have an amazing mezzanine. It is going to be huge but still inside the council regulations.


All in the air

Standing on a pole at 2 meters high and working with timber at the same time is not easy, however, some found tricks to stabilize the work being done.


Rafa stabilizing the timber for Big Ben to cut.

The other team are still working in the shed and we are looking forward to hear what they have achieved for the day!

~Oscar Morand, 21 March 2013, Natural Building and Appropriate Technology Intern

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Natural Building & appropriate technology’s blog 18

Article 18 of Natural Building and Appropriate Tech Internship

It rained all night and my mattress is wet! Otherwise life is pretty good at the Kotare Village. With water pouring from the sky, it has definitely been a day to spend in the workshop and do some undercover work.

Every student had their own project.


Silus painting his solar oven with a waterproof paint layer


Tom and Sarah processing the skin of a possum that has been caught this morning by one of the trap.

Oscar Weld

One of the projects was to finish our rocket barbecue and do some more oxy-torch to adjust the steel g-shape to have a better draw.


And as soon as the rained stop we had two super motivated persons to jump on the building and keep work going!


Thanks heaps to Simon and Rafa.

 ~Oscar Morand, 15 March 2013, Natural Building and Appropriate Technology Intern

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Natural Building & appropriate technology’s blog 17

Article 17 of Natural Building and Appropriate Tech Internship

And we begin the fifth week. Already halfway through the internship! As it is well known, time flies when you’re having fun!

Even as time goes quickly Monday felt like a pretty slow day. Two interns took Monday off to spend a longer weekend with their family. And when they came back they looked really happy and motivated to keep going. We missed them during this weekend and are glad that they came back.

During this weekend we had a special event. We helped Yotam, Niva and Lily to set up their new home, a tipi!

picture 1

Seven metres in diameter. It is a big one.

Very enjoyable experience and it gave me ideas for a future habitation.

We spent they day on the building site. The building is looking good and the walls are standing strong, all bolted at the base. Time to do the side walls and our team has installed the bracing. A big brace on the west side and two others on the east side.

The roof is going to extend the back of the sleep-out to create a veranda. So the poles to create the roof will need to sit on some others studs at the back. This means more foundations to create. Thankfully, Rafa and Big Ben look like they are in charge of the process, and have begun to create the different necessary parts to put the foundations in place.

I went with the group for installing a ram pump. We left the Institute and it begun to rain. Under the rain we surveyed the site, thought a little bit about the different options and fixed the ram pump. In the next few days we will go back there and install all the pipes. And we will see how well this ram pump is functioning. It is definitely an exciting moment!

 picture n°2

The Ram pump bolted to the stone under it.

~Oscar Morand, 19March 2013, Natural Building and Appropriate Technology Intern