Third Time is the Charm OR Fallen Arches

Earthen well house window and its creators.

After Charles and the kids built the arched window for our well-house , they pulled the wooden arch form out of the opening. We had ourselves a window! Here they are, posing in a totally (or should I say “toats?”) teenager fashion for the photo.

So with this good memory glowing in my mind, when Rachel and I finished this interior arch on the house, I said, “Let’s pull out the form and see the arch!”

The form caught a little on the earthen brick, so I tapped it gently with the hammer. Slowly it moved out from under the arch. Finally it came free from the arch and…

…the arch tumbled down!

Suzann and Rachel fill in around earthen arch

Okay, okay. That was bad. I think the problem was that we tapped the arch form out instead of lowering it and then pulling it out. Well, we did lower it as much as we could, but it was catching on a little lip of earthen block at the bottom, so it wouldn’t lower enough.

Stoically, we vowed to rebuild it and do it right next time. A couple of days later, we finished the new arch just as Charles brought a couple of colleagues over to look at the house. “Charles, will you help us get this form out?” we asked. Having more than two people is best for that job.

We removed the shims, we unscrewed the frame from the uprights and removed them. Charles gently lowered the arch form. He quickly realized he had better step out of the way, because…

…the arch tumbled down!

Earthen arch in progress

Charles’s colleague, Alex, has read widely about early Mexican and Native American building techniques. The literature of the time describes how people would glance up and scuttle hurriedly under freshly-built arches.

“I can see now why they might have done that,” he commented.

Next time we built the arch, we left the form in for a couple of weeks. The arch is fine. The mud we used as mortar to hold the arch bricks together just needed time to cure. And here it is, sometime later, finished and ready for us to pour the bond beam on top of the wall.

Earthen arch success.

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