Watch The Curves –

Written by Andrew Morrison

straw bale curved trimOne of the most stunning aspects of a straw bale home is the shape that window and door openings take. The gentle curves flood light across the room and lend a sense of calm and peace to the occupants. Almost every person who walks through a straw bale home for the first time makes some comment about just how beautiful the curves are.

These very same curves that bring so much joy and serenity can also drive home owners crazy. That sounds unlikely; however, when the curves are not properly built, they can cause all kinds of problems as the home is finished. Obviously, knowing how to avoid such problems is important, so I’ve given you a quick description of how to stay on the right side of the curves.

The two main problems that occur are: 1) The shape isn’t consistent from opening to opening, and 2) the curve protrudes into the opening too far. I’ll start with the second issue because it is the most problematic. Imagine what might happen if your bale curves extend too far into the space around your windows and doors. Being that most windows slide up and down (double and single hung), swing out (casement), or slide left and right (slider), the encroaching straw is merely a visual imperfection. If, however, the windows swing into the room (European style swing/tilt windows), or we are talking about a door, the encroaching straw can actually stop those elements from functioning properly or at all.

straw bale finished interiorIf your design does not have any interior window or door casings (trim), then you have to be very careful when shaping your openings. Be sure that the curve originates at the closest point of contact with the window or door. In other words, don’t plan for the curve to move out perpendicular to the window or door for the first few inches and then start your curve.

There is too much room for error with such a detail. Instead, immediately start to move away from the window or door in the direction of the curve. This way, even an oddly shaped curve will at least still provide a functional opening. What’s more, a wall detail that starts to curve immediately will allow more light to filter into the room as well.

woman shaping straw bale wallSo what if the shapes aren’t consistent? In most cases, the curves will be somewhat organic in shape and trying to match each opening with a template from one window to the next will be an losing endeavor. That said, it is nice to have some symmetry from opening to opening, especially when those openings are in the same room. For this reason, I always suggest that people work on one window or door at a time and that they refer back to the first opening that they complete as a point of reference. Once you get one shape you like, you can try to match it each time you start a new one.

If, on the other hand, you each time refer back  to the last opening you worked on, you may be completely removed from the original look by the time you complete a few openings. Every play the game “telephone?” It’s the same concept: minor tweaks and changes each time, multiplied by the number of openings you work on, equals a large change from the original opening.

Take your time with each opening. Pay attention to the details that work for you to achieve the look you are after. Each opening you complete will get faster and easier to do and your level of consistency will also improve. Practice makes perfect. Just make sure that each practice session (each window or door opening) ends perfectly (within your tolerance for the organic nature of straw bale construction) before you move on to the next one.

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5 Responses

  1. Hi Andrew. It’s John Schwarz from down under , how are you going , Question on the Curved wall article the picture showing the curved wall between the windows , the skirting at the base is it made of timber or have you curved it to shape with the plaster ?
    Thank you
    John Schwarz

  2. Hi John. That is actually a recycled rubber material that is made to look like wood but is highly flexible. We used it around the curves and then scarf joined it back to traditional wood for the straight runs. It’s expensive so we only used it where necessary.
    Hope you are well!

  3. Hi Andrew and also John. The picture and John’s question brought to mind a technique of bending solid timber called kerf bending. A kerf is the groove left by a saw blade when a piece of timber is cut partially through. Kerf bending involves cutting a series of grooves (or kerfs) side by side, almost completely through the piece of wood. The timber can then be bent until the grooves close up. It’s a bit hard to describe, but a picture (and youtube clips) speak volumes, so google “kerf bending”.
    This technique would be ideal in strawbale construction as it will accomodate irregular arcs quite well. The gaps in the timber can be filled with a filler, or sawdust mixed with a clear drying glue for a colour match.
    Regards, Mike Hawley. (Also from downunder, in Adelaide.)

  4. Yes Mike. Great call. I have used kerf bending on several jobs. I’ve also bent wood after steaming it. Kerf bending works really well. I can’t remember why we didn’t do that on this job. I know there was a reason…

    Thanks for bringing it up.

  5. I carved curved kick boards out of some leftover timber frame material -they were huge, I did half the work with a chainsaw and the rest on a band saw and then a belt sander.
    took a long time, but the results look great and match perfectly with the timber frame structure.

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