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Course information



In the summer of 2003 we held a 'Hands On' Practical Course at Trafford Hall - on how to build with the Segal Method using environmentally friendly timber frame construction. Geoff Stow, self builder, site manager, and one of the trainers, tells it how it was ...


The two types of weather I find hardest to build in are extreme heat and rain. So it was not surprising then that the Practical Self Build Course at Trafford Hall began on what was later to prove the hottest day of the year.

The course was sponsored by The Glasshouse Trust, and was the second course we have run at Trafford Hall Tenants Resource Centre, near Chester. The first was a 2 day theory course which set out to explain the fundamentals of site finding, finance, group working and use of environmentally friendly materials, and now we were about to embark upon a second, challenging, follow-up course in Practical Self Building, with the aim of constructing a complete building in just under two days!

We are often asked to run practical courses but the logistics of finding a site and covering the costs make them very difficult to organise. So we were very pleased that Trafford Hall had invited us to undertake these courses, and were prepared to subsidise the costs through The Glasshouse Trust. The lucky 25 participants were from groups from all over the country, and were proposing to undertake their own self build projects. Many had already undertaken the theory course and now wished to try their hand at the 'real thing'. Some had a lot of building experience while others had very little experience of using tools or reading plans, never mind actually building things.

So as to make the project real we agreed with Trafford Hall that they would provide a site and act as the client for a small eco-shelter in the grounds of the hall, overlooking a community garden. This would produce a useful resource for the centre, and give the trainees a taste of the range of skills needed and to get a feel of how the various building elements fit together.

We decided to build a Segal Frame structure so as to have minimal foundations of paving slabs bedded on to compressed hardcore pads (which were laid prior to the participants arriving). Fortunately we had a clear space in the woods to build so although very hot it was not in the blistering sun. We started out by building the two frames which were each designed slightly differently, with the beams inset into the posts so as to give the group practice at using the circular saws and chisels. While the frames were being built the site levels were taken and 2 wall panels were prefabricated.

As is the way of all self build schemes we got a bit behind the ridiculously tight programme we had proposed. The frames went up very easily and were spot on level which, as always, seemed to amaze everyone. Once the frames were all lined up and checked, the floor and roof joists were screwed into pre marked positions (we had decided to screw all the major elements together to allow for the building to be dismantled if necessary at a later date). The wall panels were offered up and fitted well after a little tweaking.

The structure was up and safe by tea time on the first day, and a couple of us came back in the evening to tidy up a few details and get everything ready for the Sunday morning session. The group showered, relaxed, ate a good 3 course dinner - and then went off in various directions ... some to sort out Chester itself, some to relax in the Trafford Hall bar, and some even came to the evening slide show which we put on to show and discuss the construction implications of using the Segal Method on previous self build schemes.

Sunday came and with it a lot of rain. I'm sure it was good for the garden ... but we had to get the pond liner for the grass roof on to the roof deck in torrential rain. It started filling up straight away and it was like trying to work in a paddling pool. Once the membrane was fixed we covered it with old carpet and compost. While some worked on the roof others started screwing down the oak decking and another group were nailing on the feather edge cladding.

By lunch time (the end of the course) the building was almost complete and certainly ready enough for the group photos which took almost as long as the frame building.

The feed back was mostly very positive with everyone getting involved in using the tools and materials. Most people 'had a go' at all the processes involved. There was a general feeling that the course was a bit rushed with the pressure to finish, and it has been agreed that if the course is to run again it should be designed with a little longer programme.

The building is now complete and will hopefully prove to be a popular bolt hole for hot visitors on a warm summer day. Have a look at some photos of the shelter being built by clicking here.

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