Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Sundials

Sundial Print: Umbra Solis 1975 Ian Hamilton Finlay 1925-2006 Bequeathed by David Brown in memory of Mrs Liza Brown 2003 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P11953

Sundial Print: Umbra Solis 1975 Ian Hamilton Finlay 1925-2006.

On my long bucket list is the construction of a Root Simple sundial. Towards that end I’ve begun a short Sundial Pinterest board that, as of today, is entirely made up of Ian Hamilton Finlay sundials. Finlay’s poetry, art and gardening deserves greater recognition. The print of one of his sundials, above, is a clever meditation/pun on the distinction between the map and the territory.

You can own an original Finlay print for a modest sum. The perfect gift for the gardener in your life!

Office to Kayak

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Root Simple reader Kate alerted me to a boat building project that is both resourceful and poetic. London-based artist John Hartley figured out a way to turn some crappy office furniture and used suits, what he calls “post-industrial, post-bureacratic flotsam,” into a smart looking Greenlandic-style kayak. He has thoughtfully posted the project as an Instructable so that we can all make our own “Contingency Research Platform.”

Judging from the huge amount of post-bureacratic flotsam at my local Habitat for Humanity store, there’s a lot of potential in turning office furniture into building materials.

You should also check out his hilarious low-fi, DIY GoPro.

For more thoughts on building Greenlandic kayaks, Hartley suggests taking a look at Yostwerks.org.

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How to Build Walls with Pallets

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Adding 2x4s to the ends of a pallet.

Los Angeles is famous for its flotsam and jetsam. Mattresses, rotting couches and headboards accumulate, forming urban coral reefs under the blistering sun. It’s difficult to figure out a use for these objects other than as art. For utilitarian needs, such as building walls, we must turn to the many pallets that also litter our streets.

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Sketchup model by Ron S.

But pallets can be tough to work with. The wood splinters easily making disassembly a tricky proposition (watch the Garden Fork TV pallet breaker video if you want to go down that route). Famed internet pallet guru Michael Janzen, of Tiny Pallet House, proposes leaving your pallets whole and adding a 2×4 to the end to make them into a kind of building block. The 2x4s can be new or salvaged from broken pallets.

With the added 2×4 you can construct walls, fences, compost bins etc. It’s an elegant solution to the pallet conundrum.

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Sketchup model by Ron S.

Cutting pallets and staggering them with whole pallets adds to structural integrity in a wall.

Not all pallets are equal. Some are odd sizes and some are made out of better wood than others. For a wall building project like the one in these Sketchup illustrations, it would be best to find a stack of similar pallets.

Have you built with pallets? Tell us what you’ve made in the comments.

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Shou-sugi-ban: Charring Wood as a Preservation Method

Shou-sugi-ban 焼き杉 is a Japanese method of charring cedar boards. The method is simple. You char the surface of the wood, scrape it with a metal brush and apply a sealant. The charring creates a protective layer and also, surprisingly, makes the wood more resistant to fire. The technique extended the life of exterior cladding in a country where wood was a precious commodity.

The technique fell out of favor with the advent of modern materials but has seen a revival of late in the contemporary architecture scene. Designers, I think, are drawn to the dark color of the wood as well as the sustainability of the practice. I defy you to find a recent issue of Dwell Magazine without a Shou-sugi-ban wall.

The video above shows a modern method using a propane torch. You can see an alternate method, based on the traditional technique, here. Like most exterior wood projects, it’s a good idea to apply new oil annually. I’ve seen two recommendations: tung oil and Penofin.

I’m pondering the method for some upcoming backyard projects and am wondering if any of you have tried Shou-sugi-ban. If you have leave a comment!

Nanotecture: Tiny Built Things

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Nanotecture: Tiny Built Things is a tiny book of big ideas. It’s 336 pages of objects ranging from bird houses to sheds to temporary art installations. The unifying theme is clever design and a less than house sized scale.

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This is the kind of book to thumb through if you’ve got a creative block, are curious about materials or just looking for inspiration.

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And there’s lots of dog and cat architecture.

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And saunas, like the bike propelled mini sauna above.

I don’t know if I need to own a copy of this book (I’ve got a library copy), but I’ve spent a many evenings leafing through the pages. On a side note, many of the objects in this book are temporary outdoor art installations, something you see a lot of in Northern Europe in the summer. I don’t know why we don’t see more of these types of art and design shows in the U.S. They’re popular and a nice use of public space.

The book has inspired me this morning to cut the blogging short and head to my workshop and build something.