Tightening Bale Ends in the Wall – StrawBale.com

One situation you are likely to find yourself in when building a straw bale house is the ends of bales sticking too far into a room or beyond the plumb line of an exterior wall. As you know, when you build a bale house, you interlock the corners by placing one bale East-West and then the next bale course North-South as you turn the corner. In doing so, it is easy to stack one of those bales out of plumb and not notice it until the whole wall is stacked.

Another place this is common is around window and door openings. I have seen many folks terminate the bales too far into the window opening to create the shape they want when meshing and shaping. Those bales need to be cut back to allow for proper shaping. Here we cover the topic of tightening bale ends in the wall.

Exactly how to fix this problem can impact the quality of your walls and the ability of those walls to anchor mesh properly when you shape corners, etc… In the past, the simplest fix was to cut the twine on the bales that were out of plumb and pull out the excess stuffing to get them back in line. This works well because the bales, once stacked tightly to the ceiling, can handle the cut twine without falling apart.

The problem comes during the shaping/meshing portion of the build. When you stretch the mesh back across the bales and then landscape pin it, you are asking the bale to hold the pin; however, you are also asking the mesh to hold the bale since you cut the twine thus limiting the strength of that bale. Therefore, both cannot happen. The bale cannot hold the mesh because it will be too weak from losing the twine and the mesh cannot hold the bale without an anchor point for the pins. Oh what to do? 🙂

turning wire fencingThe answer comes from an old farm fencing trick. Have you ever looked at barbed wire fencing on an old farm? If you check out the last section, at the corners, you will often see a rotting old stick wound up in the wire. That stick is the answer. It is called an apron tie. The stick is used to twist the wire tight and then is left in place to hold the fence tight. This same concept works with bale ends.

I use a bale hook to scrape away some of the straw on the ends and then pull out the rest of what I need out by hand. Then using either a stick, a piece of rebar or bamboo, or a nail, I twist the baling twine tight with the apron tie. A 20d nail works well because once it is twisted tight, you can stick the nail into the bale to hold it in place. The larger items like rebar and sticks are a bit stronger and often easier to twist, but require additional anchoring to hold them in place. If you use the larger twists then use a landscape pin to hold the tie in place.

This concept will provide really strong bales to attach the mesh to and will easily clean up those “growing corners” as I like to call them. Of course, keeping your corners plumb and in check from the start is always the best plan, but it is good to know you can fix them if they are not set up properly.

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3 Responses to Tightening Bale Ends in the Wall – StrawBale.com

  1. Warwick Rowell Tue, November 3, 2009 at 2:45 pm #

    We found a way to prevent this “bulge at the corner” problem was to lay the corners of each course first, and then fill in the flemish bond to the middle of the length of the row. As we got close to the middle, we would select the last two or three bales from the short, medium or long pile to ensure a comfortable fit without squeezing. We used to make the three stacks as the bale came off the truck; our bales varied from 825 to 1050mms long. This saved the work of half or quarter bale preparation, the most time consuming task. As long as the bale joins on each row were offset from those above and below, where they occurred is not an issue, as they will be covered with stucco in due course. The key is NOT to squeeze the bales in – those pressure will gradually result in a bulge or curve in the wall, or this bulge at the end problem.

  2. Warwick Rowell Tue, November 3, 2009 at 2:46 pm #

    this pressure in the last sentence please

  3. Andrew
    Andrew Wed, November 4, 2009 at 7:59 am #

    Thanks Warwick. The problems I have with this concept are that if you start in opposing corners and build towards the middle, then the middle of the wall will always be a weak point because the bales will not be fully locked together. In other words, it will be somewhat of a solid line up the middle of the wall where the two ends meet.

    Secondly, the pressure that’s created by making the bales fit tightly works really well to shore up the walls and create really good backing for the plaster. If the bales are placed gently in the wall, it won’t be as strong without taking additional steps to tightening things up. In the homes where I’ve used this tightening technique for the “bulging bales” I’ve only had 1 or 2 bales that actually needed it. That’s minimal work for a strong wall.

    If I’m missing something in my assumptions here, I’d love to hear more about how you do things. I’m always open to learning new techniques!

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