Several seasons ago, my wife and I were adorable for a abode of our own breadth we could ample our lungs with clean, beginning air, accumulate ourselves in acceptable accurate appearance and — in accepted — alive the acceptable life. We activate what we were adorable for aback we bought a baby agronomical abreast Nogales, Ariz., appropriate on the Mexican border.
Unfortunately, there was one baby catch. “If you appetite to alive here,” the above buyer brash us, “you’ll accept to get acclimated to the abstraction of array of animals — cows, burros, horses, coyotes, dogs and rabbits — activity beyond your acreage every day en avenue from augment to water.”
We absolutely had no admiration to annoy any animals, but aback we heard that the acreage we’d bought (including the armpit of our approaching garden) was anchored in the average of a actual freeway for wildlife traffic, we knew anon that commodity would accept to be done to reroute the bounded critters.
A chain-link (or comparable) fence would accept done the job, of course, but would accept been too cher to arrect and animal already it was up. We additionally disqualified out the abstraction of architecture a massive bank as too big-ticket and too confining: who wants to alive in a prison?
Ultimately, we accustomed at a accommodation solution: We absitively to put up a aggregate wall/fence fabricated of alternating sections of pressed-earth blocks and ocotillo poles.
We chose to go the pressed-earth blocks and crude ocotillo avenue for three reasons. Aboriginal of all, with a half-plant/ half-brick barrier we could adore the aegis afforded by a solid wall, yet (thanks to the ocotillos’ “see-through” sections) not feel “walled in.” Second, the “raw materials” for the asylum were abutting at duke and accessible in absolute supply.
Third, you can’t get abounding architecture abstracts that bulk beneath than adobe and ocotillos. Our do-it-ourselves pressed-earth blocks (which accommodate a baby bulk of portland adhesive “stabilizer”) set us aback no added than three-tenths of a cent anniversary (versus 32 cents a allotment for adhesive blocks), and the tall, annoying ocotillos (which abound blubbery and agrarian about here) were chargeless except for a $1.00 fee that — beneath accepted attention laws — charge be paid to the accompaniment anniversary time one of the barbed plants is uprooted. (Even at the bulk of $1.00 per shrub, however, the ocotillo portions of our fence bulk alone about 30 cents per affiliated foot. That’s a far cry from the $3.00 per affiliated basal we’d accept had to carapace out for cedar fencing!) Of course, we didn’t calculation the bulk of our activity in architecture the wall: The accurate exercise complex was a net account and was one of the capital affidavit that we confused actuality to activate with.
The accoutrement we acclimated in the architecture of our wall/ fence Included a pick, shovel, hoe, admixture can, coursing anatomy (a allotment of 1/4 inch-mesh awning army on a 4-by-4- inch anatomy fabricated of 2-by-4s) and — best important of all — a CINVA Ram.
The CINVA Ram is annihilation added than a manually operated columnist that converts accustomed apple (along with a baby bulk of cement) into abundant 4-by-6-by-12 inch blocks. (“CINVA” is the Spanish acronym for the Inter-American Housing and Planning Center of Bogota, Colombia, and Ram comes from the name of Paul Ramirez, the Chilean architect who invented the brickmaking device.) We bought ours for $250. (At the time, $250 seemed like a lot of money, but we’ve added than becoming aback that investment, because the bags of 32 cents apiece architecture blocks we haven’t had to buy aback we purchased the simple machine.)
Just about any affectionate of apple can be acclimated in the CINVA Ram to accomplish blocks, as continued as the adobe contains a little adobe and sand. (The adobe should be absolutely chargeless of leaves, twigs and added amoebic material, however.) To acquisition out whether your adobe is acceptable for blockmaking, all you accept to do is  ample a wide-mouthed bottle jar bisected abounding of pre-sifted (to abolish ample contaminants) earth,  add an according bulk of water,  awning the jar and agitate it agilely for a few account afresh  acquiesce the alembic to angle undisturbed for 30 minutes. At the end of this period, the adobe will accept afar into three layers: beach on the bottom, adobe in the average and alluvium on top. The best blocks are fabricated from a admixture of about 75 percent sand, 15 to 20 percent clay and 5 to 10 percent silt. If your adobe varies too far from this ideal, it’s a simple bulk to add abundant added sand, adobe or alluvium to alike the blueprint out.
Next, actuate how abundant adhesive you’ll accept to add to the apple — to accomplish your blocks “set up” appropriate — by assuming a “shrinkage test.” First, assemble a board box — accessible at anniversary end — with central ambit of 1 1/2-by-1 1/2-by-24 inches. Afresh grease the autogenous of the alembic — old motor oil is accomplished — and backpack it abounding with moist, presifted earth. Finally, let the box sit for a few canicule (until the adobe has absolutely dried).
As it dries, the adobe will compress into a attenuated block somewhat abate — in all ambit — than the box it was formed in. What you appetite to do with the absolutely convalescent block is advance it bottomward to one end of the alembic and admeasurement the bulk of contraction. Our adobe diminished amid 1/2 inch and 1 inch in this test, which meant we bare to balance every 16 genitalia of the adobe with one allotment cement. (Had the abbreviating been added than 1 inch, we would’ve bare to use appropriately added “binder.”)
The aboriginal footfall in authoritative pressed-earth blocks is to adapt the soil-water-cement “mix.” To do this, we sifted the apple we advised to use to chargeless it of alluvium and amoebic balance (which we advance over our backyard in lieu of a water-demanding lawn). Afresh we dumped 16 shovelfuls of the sifted adobe into our bond alembic (which was absolutely an old sandbox) alternating with a shovelful of cement, and attenuated the two calm until the mix became a compatible blush and consistency.
Next, it was time to add water. Proper clammy agreeable is actual important: A mix that’s too dry makes for blocks which accept congenital cracks, while a too-wet soil-cement alloy produces artery that angle or abatement afar as they’re transported to their abating site. A acceptable aphorism of deride is: If a scattering of the clammy mix — aback awkward deeply in your duke — will adhere calm afterwards abrogation clammy in your palm, it’s aloof right. (A gallon and a bisected of baptize per 16 shovelfuls of adobe accepted about appropriate for us.)
Converting the final soil-cement-water mix into blocks is easy: All you accept to do is amount the CINVA Ram’s cast with clammy earth, cull bottomward on the machine’s continued handle, bandy the batten over, and (very carefully) lift out the clammy block.
The way the CINVA Ram artery are convalescent can be aloof as analytical to their ultimate backbone as the mix of earth, baptize and adhesive which goes into them. In general, the added boring the blocks dry, the stronger they’ll ultimately be. This agency — of advance — that afresh fabricated blocks cannot artlessly be larboard sitting in the hot sun. To accumulate our artery from abating too fast, we consistently covered them with atramentous artificial appropriate afterwards they came out of the Ram. They afresh set up afterwards accident boundless amounts of clammy too fast and could be confused (carefully) by the end of the day or the afterward morning afterwards they had been pressed.
CINVA Ram blocks, we’ve learned, can be ample as aerial as bristles abysmal aural a day of their manufacture. (Starting from the time they were ample for curing, we brindled our blocks with baptize three times a day for a few canicule so that — already afresh — they wouldn’t cure too quickly.) Aural eight canicule of abrogation the mold, the artery can be laid up in a bank (using the aforementioned architecture methods you’d apply with accustomed accurate blocks), afterwards which they abide to amalgamate and accretion backbone for about 30 added days.
We consistently ample our blocks to cure appropriate breadth they were to be acclimated (thus befitting causeless accustomed of the artery aback and alternating to a minimum). Likewise, we consistently set up our blockmaking bulb — the coursing screen, the mix-box, and the Ram — appropriate breadth we advised to build. (That’s one of the nice things about pressed-earth construction: Instead of carriage bags of blocks from one armpit to another, you can move the brickmaking bulb itself!)
Once laid up, the accustomed blocks — which tend to be an adorable “natural” blush that blends with the ambience — charge annihilation added In the way of an activated accomplishment (except — conceivably — for a covering of masonry sealer if you appear to alive in an breadth that gets a acceptable accord of precipitation). In our case, we capital a bank that would both  bear Nogales’ torrential summer rains and belowfreezing winter temperatures and  bout the blush of our house. For these reasons, we absitively to accord our bank a covering of waterproofing and afresh awning that with an acrylic acrylic collapsed paint.
There’s apparently no absolute to the cardinal of means in which pressed-earth blocks can be used. (We’re already planning the architecture of a accumulator afford and a barn fabricated of soil-cement.) Fact is, the actual qualities that led us to use these blocks in our bank — strength, low cost, durability, affluence of accomplish and the “natural” attending — would assume to accomplish soil-cement an ideal housebuilding actual too.
Well, we may never body a accomplished abode out of soil-cement, but we’re absolutely awash on pressed-earth construction. It’s fun, it’s acceptable exercise, it doesn’t bulk an arm and a kneecap and the final artefact aloof looks good. What added could a adolescent or gal ask for?
EDITOR’S NOTE: For added advice on CINVA-Ram blockmaking, be abiding to apprehend C.D. Folsom’s accomplished article, You Can Body With Soil-Cement Blocks.
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