The Pyrenees mountain range sits along the border of France and Spain – think Cadel Evans and Le Tour De France. As well as being a perfect spot to cycle, soak up some sun, and ski, Just Screw Its’, Lucy Minter found it a great place to build. This is her story from a two week working holiday in 2011.

“I was working on a large 19th Century stone farmhouse in a property called Soulana in a mountain town in the Pyrenees.

The client’s brief was to keep as much of the original structure as possible. Many of the existing rafters were the original 300mm x 200mm chestnut beams that spanned each room. These massive beams transferred the load of the heavy roof timbers and snowfalls to the external walls, doing away with the need for a structural wall in the middle of the room. Unfortunately they were rotted out in part and sat at a very low head height.

It was a complex and interesting job as the house was built from traditional materials that were beginning to break down. The walls were made of slate stones held together with dried mud and the property needed a complete new roof, and timber structure.

The major components of the project were modifying the stone earth and mortar walls to accommodate the new higher roof and installing structural timber, lining boards, insulation and roofing batons.

We replaced the existing chestnut timber beams, with laminated pine beams and added insulation to battle the harsh mountain storms. The previous roof had no insulation and would’ve been a hard place to live during winter months.

By erecting a scaffolding tower on either side of the beam and placing a heavy timber brace across both towers to hang a chain hoist from, we were able to salvage parts of the beams and recycle them to use as window and door lintels. The hoist was used to lift the beam out of its housing. From here, we could chain saw the ends off and lower it into two further braces to cut the desired sections to the right size for lintels. Once we ran out of beams to use, we used prefabricated concrete lintels.

The work was hard going, but winding down each day at the town pool with cold beers, chocolate croissants and a game of ping pong made it all worth while. I thoroughly enjoyed my time building in the Pyrenees and would recommend this experience to any prospective travellers or builders. After all, its not everyday that you get to live and work in the mountains!”

Lucy Minter is a fourth year carpentry apprentice. After working for a building firm that did only luxury residences, Lucy came to Just Screw It to get more hands on experience. She’s worked on all kinds of jobs from large scale renovations to fixing gates. While she enjoys working autonomously on small projects like hanging doors and windows, building staircases and other modifications, her favourite jobs are renovations and extensions involving framing and structural changes in a team environment.

Great at problem solving and coordinating a team to get the job done efficiently, Lucy plans to work as a construction manager in the future. Equally important to this professional goal is her aspiration to work in partnership with Aboriginal communities in Australia and skill up young people to build houses for their communities.