Saturday, July 21, 2007

How to take an Idea and put it on paper?

One can only doodle on paper what you'd like to build for so long, and unless you're an architect it will stay just that, scribbles on paper. So how to take an idea and get some sense of what it will look like in a 3 dimensional world?

I've tried Google Sketchup, Punch! 4000, and now Chief Architect.

Google Sketchup is a very basic 3d modeling program. You can from basic to somewhat complex shapes and place textures that you find on the shapes. In other words, you could make a box and stick a stone texture.jpg you found online on the box and it will work just fine. The render quality isn't great, and you can't do a "floor plan" per se (you could create a box and place "walls" in it just to get a layout idea...) so it's not great for serious planning purposes. The good thing about it is that you can produce shapes and buildings quickly and they look reasonably good after a little learning of the tools. This helps in laying out different shapes and styles of building rapidly. You also can't beat free.

Punch! 4000. What a disappointment. This is one of the most popular programs out there for designing a home. Well, if you're designing a standard suburban McMansion, this will do just fine. If you want a structure that is in the slightest way unique, forget it. Round or semi-circular rooms with matching roofs are all but impossible. Additional tools such as terrain or calculator feel like separate programs, and the data must be saved separately sometimes. The zoom with scrollwheel is a big pain in the butt, it re-centers the cursor in the screen and skews your zoom. Frustrating design. Limited structure options. I could go on and on about what this program lacks along with poorly designed and integrated features. The 3d renderings are acceptable, and the fly-around options work pretty good once you get the hang of it. But that's just my opinion. I can't recommend this software.

Chief Architect (Demo). This is a pretty complex piece of software, and expensive too. I wish I could save my designs and refine the designs a bit more to get a better feel for the program, but the demo limits what you can do. I have difficulty with making a deck on a upper floor that also is a roof, the program doesn't like that, and making a round roof also escapes me but it does seem possible. The building material types are much better than Punch!'s, the most recent version has ICF walls available as an option. The camera tools are poor, I can't figure out how to control them. If I had the cash, this'd be the program I'd get; along with a few tutorial videos as well. If you're on a budget, this program wouldn't be worth it unless you took the time to learn how to use it properly.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

One brick at a time...

To build a structure that fits in the range of one might call a castle on a human budget (in other words, no "rich uncle" or winning lottery ticket), there's just no way to build it all at once. Your lender would laugh you out the door, perfect credit or not. That leaves one option: build in sections. Build what you can, when you can. Start with a small structure that may be the core or a building that is part of the layout you want to have in the end. Most of the best castles I've found online were built over a decade or more and started small. There's no reason you can't build a modest structure to live in, say... just a box shape with a high roof that you can have a large open living space below and use the high roof for bedrooms or whatever. Keep it simple, just as an old building would have been; open beams, white stucco or stone interior, stone or wide rough plank flooring, not a lot of extra walls or cabinetry. Not a lot of finish work, period. A box is completely buildable for 50K not including land or permits, even using ICF. Get that done and start building equity. Now that you're on the property, you can build the rest as you can, not so much rush anymore.

Add Rastra to the list of construction materials.

Rastra is halfway between AAC and ICF; it apparently has the layered quality of ICF (at least what I can gather from the website it looks like gridwall ICF, except uses recycled materials) and is workable like AAC: only normal hand tools are necessary to cut it into any shape you want. The Rastra website is minimal at best and offers almost no information on the type of construction units available to the builder. They mention that they have blocks and pre-fab walls. No sizes, costs, distributors, R-values, structural strength ratings, nothing. Just a lot of links to other people's sites that have used or tried some of the product. I hate to tell the Rastra folks, but if I can't get pertinent technical information and a list of distributors from a potential supplier right off the web, I'd probably look elsewhere. All they have is a "request information" form online.

It ranks right up there with those websites or catalogs that have the item you are looking for, but place the words "CALL FOR PRICE" in the price column. No thanks, all I need to do is talk to a pushy salesman.

*Please note: The schematic is of Rastra, the picture is of Blue Star ICF gridwall.

EDIT: Scratch the lack of tech specs. You have to find it under "contents", no hint that that's where one needs to look. Bad site design.

EDIT#2: As of my re-visit to the site on 11 Aug, they've changed the whole thing. No more schematic pictures of the Rastra Block. Sorry.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Drafty Manor: A modified house

Drafty manor is a house that has been modified to look like a castle (they're not done yet!) So far, they've got a tower up and are going to finish the rest of the job at some future time.

Darkling Castle: In Planning

Darkling castle is a"wish" castle found via the owner-builder forums. If one scrolls back to the beginning of the main post, you can see the originally planned castle. As time has gone by, due to budgetary reasons possibly, the plan has been really scaled back to a somewhat normal home that includes some narrow, Gothic arched windows.

Good luck with the project.

Owner-Builder Book

One of the books I've listed over at the discussion group, "The Owner-Builder Book: How You Can Save More than $100,000 in the Construction of Your Custom Home, Third Edition" by Mark A. and Elaine M. Smith has it's own website. I'm already hooked. It's essentially a list of blogs from people who are building their own homes. The site is really a mess, slow, poorly laid out and you can't really tell what level or segment of the site your are in, but - the information is good. So far, I haven't found anything on AAC block construction, but there are quite a few ICF homes being built by the owners.

The good thing about reading information from this site is that you get a feeling for the trials and tribulations that the owner-builders go through. You can learn from their mistakes, the difficulties in dealing with subcontractors, and basic "how we did it" information. If you can deal with the cluttered site layout, it's definitely worth checking out: The owner builder book website.

AAC block, ICF and CMU, oh my!

I spent some time the other day looking for "cost per square foot" calculations to have a guess as to what it might cost to build a structure yourself. Starting from the bottom, my assumptions were that a professional would have to pour a slab foundation, but that you'd do most of the site prep work on your own. So for a 6" thick, 3000 square foot slab it would cost around $4200 for the concrete (professionally trucked in and poured) and around $12,500 for the labor. One could see immediate cost savings if there were ways to eliminate the labor costs, but I figure most folks lack the ability to successfully pour, screed and float 3000 square feet of monolithic slab themselves. I'm sure one could pour sections, but still...for the square footage of floor space needed, you'd have to mix a LOT of bags of concrete by hand. If you had a lot of friends that you could rope in for a slab-pouring party, that could be a lot of fun too and save some cash, but I guess that depends on how much food and beer they consume!

On to the walls. I had a little difficulty here. Calculating wall costs using materials like AAC, ICF, and cement block using the information on the internet isn't very easy. Most places want you to call or submit your plan for an estimate, and considering the structural numbers I'm using for guesstimates is completely arbitrary at this point, I have nothing to submit. Many places don't list cost per unit, cost per foot or cost per cubic yard for their materials anywhere on the site; they want you to call or talk to a local distributor who also wants the same info - how big is your structure? How many doors/windows?

I wasn't able to come up with what I thought might be a reliable estimate for ICF construction. I was quite interested in it and thought it might be the way to go, but after seeing that the builder will need to purchase the block forms (these forms come in a limited number of shapes) that are the outline of the structure, and that the form must be complete in order to bring in a ready mix truck every time you need to fill the form, it doesn't look so attractive. Not to mention that the ICF form blocks vary widely in cost, and all seem to have different methods of assembly and unique hardware that would take some learning for a DIY builder. Not to say this still wouldn't be an option, it all depends on your build timeline.

Then there's AAC block. After looking at several sites, this material looks to be a good possibility for the DIY builder to use with good results. No specialized foam block forms. Cuts with regular hand tools (no special stone saws like you'd need for concrete block), so you could make curved doors or window spaces fairly easily. Builds like cement blocks. Don't need to hire professionals and a truck to pour cement in your walls. Lighter weight block. Very good insulation qualities, though not quite as good as ICF. (8" wall, AAC=R-22, ICF=R-22-46, climate dependent) You could assemble your structure one block at a time, as you have time. Cost for plain 12" thick AAC block seems to be around $197 per cubic yard of block. Plain cement block (CMU) is around $190.

There's another option as well; sort of an in-between - insulated concrete block. Couldn't find a whole lot of information about it. It's similar to regular concrete block except that instead of having empty, hollow cores in the block, the structure of the block is altered to incorporate an insulating foam insert, or the block itself is foam filled. While this does provide better insulation than standard block, it still has "thermal bridges" (where heat or cold can travel through a wall due to the exterior surface being connected by material directly to the interior surface) that reduce the efficiency of the structure.

Edit: I found a site here that has to do with educating consumers and builders about ICF construction. Good information, somewhat hard to wrap your mind around at first, but an eye opener. I also discovered that not all AAC blocks are created equal; one site mentioned the difficulty an owner-builder had with her AAC block- they weren't milled true! She couldn't get her walls perfectly straight, and upon calling the manufacturer to find out why, discovered the fine print: block size "nominal".

*Pictures: The colorful ones are ICF blocks, the string of blocks are AAC, and then there's the regular CMU or "cinder" block.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Ashlar Stone

This would be the ideal construction method for a "real"castle, pure stone. There aren't many of us that have the knowledge, time, or money to purchase this stone and build with it. While it wouldn't be hard to use, you'd have a lot of mistakes and it would probably look pretty rough if you didn't have the help of a stonemason to keep you pointed in the right direction. There are several options available to those of us that are less able to make use of this method. There are ashlar stone veneers that look very realistic and cam be applied easily to concrete block or ICF structure. The building with blocks or ICF will eliminate most code difficulties because they are known, safe construction methods (to the inspectors, anyway), and you'll have less difficulty with inspections should you choose to build in an area where they are necessary. Building the structure rapidly to get some living space and temporarily ignoring the exterior finish allows you to move in and keep initial costs down, you can add the veneer over time. I looked around for sites offering veneers and was surprised to see such a variety of finishes available. Everything from pebble to block type finishes can be found, and the best part is, modern veneers don't have to have that cheap, monochromatic, and repetitive pattern that really make it look fake.

The point is affordability and DIY-ability. Take a look at veneers from Boulder Creek Stone. They look great.

Castle? Folly?

There are several bulletin boards out there that have castle-centric discussions, and a few that leave room for people to discuss the building of modern castles. There is always a debate (sometimes nasty) on what constitutes a real castle, and a folly.

Well, after learning a bit more, in my opinion: A real castle is one that was built prior to the 1600s and the primary use was defense and domestic living. The naming of modern built structures with the term castle isn't quite correct, as these structures are not purpose built for defense; they are simply very unique homes. That said, use of the term "castle" to describe them doesn't bother me in the least.

A "folly" is pretty much what most people will build nowadays, and that is a home that has some castle-like features. I guess if I were to build one, it would be a folly; a structure not made of pure stone, having a stone facade, and primarily being a residence. There are some folks out there putting together structures that blur the line between castle and folly, they are well constructed of pure stone (ashlar and/or rubble) and could possibly be used for defense. Therein lies the debate. As far as I'm concerned, the debate is academic; if it looks like a castle, it'll still be called a castle, regardless of the purist's ranting.

EDIT: After learning a bit more, my definition of a folly isn't right, a "folly" serves no real practical purpose other than fancy or artistic design. A home that is in the style of a castle is exactly that, a home that looks like a castle. The Germans have a word that describes those structures much better: "Schloss".

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Any more castles?

Well, I griped about there being a lack of owner built castles on the internet and promptly found a few more. Maybe I can re-create the effect... I spent the better part of the day looking for castles and have found no more. I imagine there are a few more out there, I just have to adjust the search terminology. Until they are found, I'll attempt to dig into the building aspect of them; areas such as energy efficiency and possible construction techniques available to the builder.

As always, this site would be happy to take submissions or links of anything related to building a modern castle.

Backyard Folly

This isn't really a castle, but it could be the full beginnings of one. I'm not sure who put this site together, but the construction photos are great. Take a look at how the "ruins" were built and put together. The construction of the spiral staircase is great to see, and pretty much how you'd do it yourself if you weren't using cut stone. The arch supports that held up the stone and brickwork during construction is precisely what you see in some of the construction photos over at Seeing the progress of the construction is great; while this is a simplification , you'd obviously need to take all of the other parts of homebuilding into consideration such as plumbing, code, and such, this is pretty much how one would go about building a castle with a spiral staircase and arched doorways.

EDIT: I discovered that the site owner builds beautiful suits of armor.

Kracht's Castle, Kansas

Kracht's Castle in Kansas is an owner built bit of fun.

A sprawling owner built fit of imagination is Kracht's Castle. A lot of imagination went into the construction of this folly; it has a bridge, "moat", pools, a cannon and a house attached. It was built over time using stone locally by Don Kracht, and the tours are available; call ahead though.

Mother Earth News Article

An article of from Mother Earth News on a couple that throws urban life to the wind and heads off into the woods to build a "castle".

Well, it's not exactly a castle, but they did build it themselves. They've gone to the extremes of living without many modern conveniences, but that does not detract from creating their own home. It's a short article but interesting.

Freeman's Castle, TN.

On a roll here, one site seems to lead to another; the owners have guest books or links where I can search the messages left by other castle fans that have been to or know of other castles. Sort of following a trail of bread crumbs.

Freeman's Castle (or Castle Gwynn) is a castle that has been built over several years, and continues to grow. It is the centerpiece of the Tennessee Renaissance Festival which is held on the castle grounds every year. Talk about ambiance! The castle owners live amidst jousting and all other sorts of medieval festivities for part of the year, and the Ren Fair folks have a great castle to hang out around. There are tours of the castle available, but only at certain times of the year. Not sure how this castle was built, will have to see if the owners are amenable to an "interview".

Castle Duncan Forums

Castle Duncan an owner built castle that has been in progress for over a decade. The site has several interesting links just for fun, and a page showing the planning and future site of the castle itself. There is also a castle bulletin board attached to the site.

Rickman Castle

Rickman castle is a normal home modified to have castle like features.

Taking a look at the website, the builder has taken a normal home and put quite a bit of effort into creating the facade of a castle. It looks like a combination of wood, split faced concrete block along with a little bit of regular stone. Quite the transformation from the home it was before.

Dane Castle

Dane Castle is an owner built castle in PA.

This is the second owner built castle I've located in Pennsylvania (the other one here). This one appears to be constructed of what appears to be the current popular trend in owner built castles: Split faced concrete block. It's hard to tell from the site how much they might have done themselves though. A visit to the site shows that the owners have an impressive collection of reproduction medieval arms and armor, and do have the occasional tour available to interested party. There's more information on their website.

EDIT: I've emailed the owners of this castle at the address on their site a couple of times to see if they'd be willing to share info about their castle. I have received no reply. Sorry there isn't more information to share with readers out there.

Castle De Couer (site only)

Castle De Couer is a "wish" castle site.

Another would-be castle builder's site wishing for a castle. Not much on the site; the usual donations link, the story behind the wish, and some dreams.

Good luck.

Falkenstein Castle

Falkenstein Castle is a residence/special event castle located in Texas.

Another castle that has come up while searching the internet. I can't tell if this was self-built (as in, they laid the stones and built some of it with their own hands) by the owners or not, but from the size and complexity of the structure, it likely may not have been. It's very nicely done though, based on Neuschwanstein. It is available for a limited number of special events, there's more information available on the castle's website.

Lubeck Haus Castle Survey.

I happened across this survey while looking for castles. Someone is trying to gauge the interest level of people who would like to build castles. I can't really tell if this is a preliminary step in a business venture based on building castles, or just for fun. You can find the survey here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Castle sites on the web.

More websurfing on search engines other than Google has netted a few new sites that I'll post shortly. It's amazing these sites even truned up, some are only a page or two long and almost no other links to drive traffic to them . They're "wish" sites; they're a lot like this site, they wish they could build a castle but lack the (insert necessity here: time, money, knowledge, etc...), and are usually asking for donations.

I fully appreciate their frustrations and desires. If I had the spare time, I'd pester one of the folks who really build castles and see if they needed an employee for a while so I could learn about stone working and the building of the structure. It'd be hard work, great excercise, and good fun. So many folks out there wish and let it just hang out on the web, I hope not to fall into that trap. The more I find, the more determined I am to build something evenually.

A little off topic...

I signed up for Google Analytics just to see where visitors to this site are from (if any). I was halfway surprised to see that there was actually traffic above and beyond the very few people that I'd mentioned the site to (other castlebuilding websites). It's fun to know that people are actually looking, though their thoughts about what they've seen are unknown due to the lack of comments posted.

As one would expect, the majority of the visitors are from North America as well as a few from South America. There are quite a few visitors from Europe, though I'm sure they get a chuckle out of us Yanks building "castles" for homes. A visit to a castle-related BBS at one point showed me that some folks definitions of a "castle" are fairly rigid.

Well, it's nice to see that this site isn't completely laid out in the wastelands of the blogosphere, though I'm sure it qualifies as the odd shop at the edge of town that few have reason to visit. Hope everyone enjoys their visit.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

DuPont Castle

DuPont Castle is an owner built castle in W. Virginia.

I'm kind of surprised that, despite my giving credit to James D.'s DuPont Castle website for the inspiration to start this website, I haven't given the site the good post it deserves. Well, here it is. DuPont Castle is a truly large castle with an impressive long range plan; the castle and grounds will be quite the attraction in its finished state. A main keep, apartments, workshop, outbuildings and a skirt wall are all on the drawing board, and a computer created concept picture shows the end goal of the project. About as close to a real castle design as one can might be willing to build on their own.

One of the other great features of DuPont Castle's website is the amount of information regarding other castles around the US and Canada. The "castles" vary from water towers to civic buildings, private residences to mansions. The list contains more than 300 structures and also has links to other modern castlebuilders websites.

DuPont Castle's construction progress is very well documented with lots of pictures of the structure as it is being built; from the foundation to the framing and roofing of the building. You can really see the progress. The owners have been building the castle mostly themselves but have had the help of friends and few donations as well. Stop by and take a look at the site, you can really see how a modern castle is being built, one block at a time. I'd bug him for an "interview", but most of the questions I'd ask are already answered on his Dupont Castle FAQ.

Best of luck to to James D. and Castle DuPont, thanks for the encouragment!

Monday, July 9, 2007

AAC block construction

Information shamelessly lifted from the Rittersburg Castle website.

AAC block looks similar to standard cement blocks (in material) but has slightly different shapes. It appears to be something that an owner builder could use. Looking around on the internet and checking various cement block or other construction methods (such as ICF), the cost per square foot of wall doesn't seem to vary more than a few dollars ($9-$13/sq.ft.). Multiply a few dollars by a few thousand square feet though and it adds up. I think some of the variables are dependent on how much you do yourself, the quantity of material ordered, where your nearest supplier is and the experience level of your work force.

Rittersburg Castle

Wow, two castle builder's websites in one day!

Rittersburg Castle is an owner built castle in the planning stages.

A visit to this website shows a castle in the early design stages of design. The site owner has done some preliminary design work in what appears to be a "3d architect" type program. It looks very impressive, and would be even more so should it begin to be built. I'll stop in once in a while to check and see if there's any progress and keep this site updated.

Good luck to the builder!

A dearth of modern owner built castles...

Well, weeks of searching in my spare time has landed very few modern owner built castles, at least ones with a website. It appears that the "heyday" of castlebuilding in the US was during the late 1800s and early 1900s, and generally done by those with large quantities of discretionary income who built massive multi-room mansions, ostentatious dwellings or odd little structures that weren't practical as residences. This is interspersed with a few nice examples of what I'll call "hermit" castles (ones where some guy disappears off into the hinterlands only to be discovered later that he's been building a small castle-like residence) and the ones that were built as homes with a castle like feature or two.

Some of the modern "castles" I've found aren't much more than a standard home, usually in a box-like shape, with crenellations along the roofline; many not even made of stone or even possessing a stone facade. Others are built in keeping with the early American castlebuilders, folks with a lot of spare cash having someone build it for them. While I applaud these homeowners for pursuing their dreams, these types of results don't really fit the type of structure that fits this site's goals.

It seems I'm able to locate about one castle website a week. It just goes to show you what a unique pursuit it is to build a castle of stone (or cement block) these days. Getting in touch with the owners of the sites is an entirely different story as many of the websites do not have contact information, or the ones I have queried simply do not reply; so relaying any helpful information to the rare potential modern castlebuilder is not looking too good. I was counting on a little more "geek" factor, here... Honestly, you've just got to be a little geeky to be so into things medieval that you'd want to build a castle, and usually geekyness and the internet go hand-in-hand, so ergo, geeks building castles would be sure to put them online.

I'll just have to keep looking!

Glade Castle

An owner built castle in Georgia.

Glade Castle may still be under construction, but the site is a a little hard to follow and doesn't appear to have been updated recently. All the same, the photos on the site show how they built the foundation and created a structure to build the walls.

Not an owner built castle, but wow!

Castello di Amorosa, a winery in Napa.

Not exactly an owner built castle in the sense of the purpose behind this site, but it is a modern castle. The level of detail and finishing is incredible. A must see for inspiration.

Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs or SIPs).

I've made repeated mention regarding insulated concrete forms but had little luck with finding a way for an owner-builder to DIY a structure like this. There are a lot of benefits to ICF construction such as a rapid build time, very high energy efficiency, and good structural strength. Well, look no more; I found this site: BuildBlock building systems. They offer DIY homeowners avenues to financing and building their own home using BuildBlock's ICF system while making no payments during construction on their secondary site called BuildMax. Now, I'm sure there are strings attached such as the structure needing to be completed within a certain time frame and similar restrictions, but this does sound like a pretty good deal.

Here's a quote from the site:

"With BuildMax support, you can be a successful project manager, even if you're not handy with tools. We don't expect you to build your home yourself. You only have to manage the building process. But if you want to cut costs even more and build more equity, you can choose to do some simple jobs yourself, such as painting and clean-up. And if you're an experienced do-it-yourselfer who can handle substantial work on your own, you'll keep costs at rock bottom. Whether you stick to supervision or get right in there and do the work, you're building more than a house. You're building "sweat equity," a critical part of the owner-involved building plan to help you get a home of your own."

EDIT: After doing some research, BuildMax is not the way to go. Poor customer support, your loan is low priority if compared to the sure-fire high-credit loans, and is essentially a middle man fee for the very same loan you could get someplace like IndyMac.

Modern thatched roof.

I can't think of a castle offhand that has a thatched roof, but maybe this will do for an outbuilding for your castle:

They offer a selection of synthetic thatching material that can resemble traditional cottage roofs found in the UK. As with any specialized material though, it isn't cheap; plan upwards of $12/sq. ft.

Thoughts on castle construction.

After spending a lot of free time using Google to scour the internet for current owner-built castles I've come to the conclusion that the most popular method to build a castle is using cement blocks (or "CMUs"). I discovered that we don't actually have a lot of cinderblocks available anymore, apparently not since the 50s. I guess it's just a term that has become the common usage for any structural cement block. I found some information that said castles shouldn't be built with cinderblocks due to the strength of the block, but that doesn't make sense now that you're likely to be buying cement blocks anyway. Obviously it would be wise to make sure that whatever material you choose is strong enough to bear the weight of the structure you plan to build.

I suppose building with cement blocks makes sense, as very little specialized equipment is needed to use these. Really, what is necessary? To simplify: get a building plan approved, get the foundation built correctly, and then start stacking blocks one at a time...lots of time and hard work. You can erect a large building "rapidly" with this method. Without any further treatment to the structure the drawback is that it looks like exactly what it is: stacked cement blocks. One of the ways to get a better finished look is to take a look at what T. E. Breitenbach did (bottom row, next to last pic to get an idea), and that was to build with cement blocks and add a stone facade. Took a lot longer, but looks great. One thing I'd like to know about that method is how to bond the stone facade safely to the structure. Essentially it's a "cold" joint between the structure and the mortared stone. There are treatments available to use on a cold joint, but I'm not sure when they are necessary.

Another method would be to build using the "ashlar" method; basically building with pure stone. That'll take a while, and probably cost a fortune if you aren't able to DIY or find a free source of good stone. An even greater expense would be to have the folks over at Castlemagic do it for you. Their method appears to be a combination of ashlar, and rubble stone and mortar, but you can't argue with how it looks. I have yet to see examples of someone building a castle with the slipform or ICF method, but I'm still looking. Slipform is a perfectly acceptable DIY method of homebuilding, but unfortunately the ICF method takes some seriously heavy equipment to implement. So, for the vast majority of modern castlebuilders, it'll probably be cement block, slipform, and/or stone facade.

Just for gee-whiz factor, here's a calculator for the number of blocks or quantity of cement necessary for a wall or square footage. Here's another calculator for all kinds of structural component measurements, from blocks to walls and stairs. It even has a wall segment with different types of blocks shown, plus their positioning and uses. There's another site with an ICF calculator as well. Worth a look.


I've spent a couple of days searching the web for books that might be useful to a modern DIY castlebuilder. There's a lot of information out there, some useless, some too technical, and unfortunately very little that is relevant to those individuals seeking to build their own castle; at least at the skill level I imagine many of them to be: good with tools, but likely little or no experience with contracting.

I've added a list of books, all available at, to the discussion group page "books" section (link towards top left of main page). These mostly have to do with being a DIY homebuilder and how to do the contracting yourself, or at least save money on it. Some books have to do with DIY stonebuilding. As time goes by hopefully the books can get sifted through by myself or others and given a thumbs up or down as to their usefulness.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Construction Technique

EDIT: I've noticed this article has risen though the ranks of Google searches. This is only part of a Blog and there is much more information available if you view the main Blog for this article. There are owner built castles, stoneworking links, castle builders in the US, and a host of other links that have to do with building your own modern castle. Otherwise, this blog is musings of my own quest to build a castle someday as well as what I've learned along the way.

On to the original article:

Slipform method.

More information on using the slipform method to build stone walls. The slipform method doesn't appear to give you the tightly packed stone look for a wall, but from reading and viewing as many pictures as I could, I guess it depends on how you lay the stone and mortar. The slipform method is a perfectly acceptable method of building a castle wall once the necessary code and engineering factors have been followed, such as wall thickness and reinforcing measures. Our state has the building codes online, and after only a few minutes I was able to find that a stone and mortar wall would need to be 16" thick. The code does have information on reinforced cement as well as insulated concrete forms (ICF) as well; I'd be curious to see what would be necessary to put a stone "veneer" on an ICF wall or other construction methods and have it pass code. The other question that comes to mind is the amount of work that needs to be done beyond just the wall. What sort of additional structural work needs to be done? What sort of framing is necessary to support a second or third floor? How will the base thickness have to be adjusted for wall height? If using ICF, will a builder have to basically stick-frame the structure inside of the ICF, essentially building the walls twice, to create a multi story building? So many questions, so few good resources... If we actually get around to building something ourselves, authoring a book on the process may also be in the works.

At any rate, here is an example of slipform being used to rebuild a section of basement wall. The author cites Tomm Stanley as a good source of information on using the slipform method; Tomm S. also has a book on using the slipform method.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Good Time Stove Co.

I've had these folks bookmarked in my browser for years...

Good Time Stove Co. is in the business of restoring antique stoves. I don't necessarily mean the type that you cook on, though they do sell those, but the beautiful cast iron, nickel trimmed with isinglass parlour stoves that were used for heating a room in times past. The stoves are completely functional and totally restored. The GTSCo will also convert them to run off of gas instead of woodburning if you should so desire. One of these stoves would look beautiful in a castle room equivalent to a library or some other cozy area. A stove from this company has been on a mental "wish list" for a really long time. You may also remember seeing a similar stove if you've seen the most recent "Harry Potter" movie; they hang their towels to dry by a cylinder or parlor stove.

On a Wrought Iron Roll...

Yet again, I've found more wrought iron. Except this time it's actually cast iron...

I don't know how many folks have gone to the UK or other places where many row-type houses and other old structures have these fantastic heavy solid iron fences. I do mean solid! Usually in the US you find most vendors installing "iron" fences that are made of easily assembled and quickly installed thin steel tubing that has a minimum of ornament. It generally winds up looking pretty monotonous and cookie-cutter, though for those of us on a budget it'll do just fine.

On the other hand, If you had some cash to spare, I'd recommend These folks have some beautiful Gothic cast iron fence materials as well as other items that would be absolutely perfect for a castle. I was genuinely surprised to see what they had. The featured picture is of 30" high fence segment that is around 6" long, it costs just over $12, so the fence would cost arond $25/ft, not including posts. The have other forged and cast items that could also be useful to the castle builder, but the fencing seems to be the most pertinent.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

More Wrought Iron

Wild West Hardware has a good variety of less expensive wrought iron hardware. It's probably comparable in cost to much of what you'd find at the hardware store, but more unique and probably with a better heft. The dummy hinge here is $17.95/ea.

Castle Construction Technique

Consider a slipform technique.

Mother Earth News is a "Green" site that can border on the far reaches of the "granola" lifestyle. Depending on your personal philosophy, it may or may not be your cup of tea, but take a look anyway. They have lots of information that really doesn't apply to castle building ( a castle made of cob is asking for disaster due to collapse...). That doesn't mean they don't have something good and useful to say that could be used by a potential castle builder. Featured in this article is a woman who built her own house using the slipform method and stone using a book from Mother Earth News as a guide. This is an alternative to the standard cement block wall or the cost of a pure stone wall.

There are lots of good and informative articles as well as videos and books for purchase on the Mother Earth News website that pertain to building with stone, various methods of construction, and how to maximize the energy efficiency of your project. I'd recommend taking a look around and checking on different methods available that you can do yourself, may reduce the initial costs of construction, or may reduce the cost of environmental impact and cost to yourself in the long run.

Colonialworks Wrought Iron Hardware

I've been looking for items that may be useful to the castle builder again, and I've come across more "decorative" items in wrought iron. Normally, you could just go to your local mega hardware store and by some cheap stamped steel items; they do the job, they're cheap, but they just don't look right. Searching for better hardware results in lots of very expensive but nice items along the lines of a $400 door handle. You want to put as much of your assets as you can into maximizing the size and structure of your castle, you don't have a lot of dough left over for the decorative end of things.

Well, here's a nice compromise: Colonialworks Wrought Iron Hardware. These guys produce some really nice stuff for a pretty good price. For instance a similar fancy Gothic door hinge (#818) strap in the photo might cost several hundred on another site, but here it's less than $100 for a pair. The stuff isn't polished looking, but that's great; it adds to the hand -forged and -made look that befits a castle. The overall cost of the items on the site aren't that cheap, but are still a better value than many other sites.

Castle Anam Cara

An owner built castle in New Hampshire.

The owners of Castle Anam Cara have built a nice castle tucked into the woods of New Hampshire. They offer it up as rentable for various functions and parties. Along with these offerings, they also sell their own handicrafts that include wrought iron and jwewlry, offer entertainment for hire such as bagpiping and juggling, and even have "gourmet mushrooms" available! Quite a bit of diversity. The picture is a sample of the wrought iron work.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Added Eagle's Nest Castle

Added a new castle being built by the owner, Eagle's Nest Castle. They appear to be using the services of to design or build their castle. Unfortunately, the website hasn't been updated very recently, but at least you can get an initial feel for some of the difficulties they've encountered acquiring financing for their castle and what they're doing to get over that hurdle.