March 2008

A coworker recently asked me about finishing wood for outdoor use. I’ve gone round and round about this but have come to some conclusions I think are worth sharing. Here are some things that I’ve discovered that have helped me make decisions in this regard.



We went camping on our property this weekend. The weather was typical for an Arizona spring: highly unpredictable. After a week with highs in the low 80s, it snowed on us and got really cold Sunday so we had to come back to Tucson early (we had planned on staying through to Monday). But Saturday was fun… we had friends and a fire and s’mores, and we saw our first sunset (stunning!) and our first starry night (equally stunning!).

We were able to test out our latest project: the Potty House—christened so by our two-year-old. We built it in pieces at home out of salvaged lumber (total cost less than $200). Wifey’s dad and I took it to the land and put it up Friday. It worked extremely well, even with twelve people using it!

Potty House

The Potty House, by the way, is a sawdust toilet. It is not a pit privy, and no it does not smell or look bad when you lift the lid… it looks and smells like fresh pine sawdust. All deposits are composted into safe fertilizer in a separate compost bin (which does not smell or look bad either). It does a great job of taking what is often considered waste and turning it into a useful resource.

Wifey’s comment to her skeptical mom: “We’re saving the planet, one poop at a time!”

For more information about sawdust toilets and how they work, check out the Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins.

Wifey and I left the urchins with a friend and drove to Canelo this past Saturday. Canelo is a small community in southern Arizona where Bill and Athena Steen (straw bale construction gurus) direct the Canelo Project, a place where magical things happen with clay and straw. It was a fun time. We got to tour all their little straw bale cottages and outbuildings and learn a little about how it’s done. Bill and Athena looked at our home plans and we came away feeling pretty good about the direction we’re headed, at least as far as what we are building is concerned. Check out their site, there are lots of pictures.