Loaded down with logs, couple roll with punches

Virginia pair make crafty use of fallen trees

August 15, 2004|By Kathy Van Mullekom | Kathy Van Mullekom,THE DAILY PRESS

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - You work with Mother Nature, even when she hurls a hurricane at you.

That's the philosophy that guides Barbara and Ed Parsons on their 6-acre homestead just outside Williamsburg, Va.

When Isabel left the couple with about 20 fallen trees in September, they chose to put them to good use instead of hiring a tree company to haul the wood away. "We really try to work with what we have," Barbara Parsons says.

They used a chainsaw to cut major trunks and smaller limbs into usable lengths.

Small logs terrace a dirt path that slopes to the lake that fronts their home. Pebbles and grass edge the walkway.

Larger logs accent plantings that help prevent soil erosion on the bank. Major logs form benches, where the couple sits and watches woodland creatures at sunset. Other logs are layered with soil to fashion a bridge across a ravine.

A wood chipper also was an indispensable helpmate, turning branches into wood chips for paving pathways.

Their biggest and best recycling project is tucked in the wood. There sits a child's playhouse made with 500 pine logs cut into 8-inch lengths.

To make the playhouse, the couple used a method called cordwood construction. Books such as Cordwood Building: The State of the Art by Rob Roy and Sheds by David Stiles detail the process.

First, Ed Parsons laid a simple cinder-block foundation and put up four corner support posts made from pressure-treated posts. The roof is corrugated vinyl, the floor sawdust and dirt.

Before the logs could be put in place, each had to have its bark removed.

"That was the kids' job," says Barbara Parsons, referring to her five grandchildren ages 2 to 14.

"I gave them a putty knife, and they went to work."

Then, Barbara laid the logs horizontally, each one secured into a mortar mix made with cement, lime, sand and sawdust.

Getting the first bottom row of logs straight was important. Then it was just a matter of choosing logs for the size hole they could fit. Even though the lengths of the logs are the same, their diameters vary, so the finished product features a random look instead of any set pattern. Instead of putting windows in the playhouse, the couple ran screening around the top to let in light and air.

There's nothing too difficult about cordwood construction. Mostly, it's a matter of committing your time and energy, says Barbara Parsons, who figures she has about 100 hours in the project. "Kids can do this because the 8-inch logs are so light," she says. "But you can't be faint of heart because you're cutting a lot of logs."

Inside, the playhouse is furnished with child-size wicker chairs, sofa and table, all painted in a woodland green. Shutters painted green double as doors.

"It's an experiment for me," says Barbara. "I love it. If the kids get tired of the house, it's my potting shed."

The Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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