Recently, expert artisans Bill Neff and Kenneth Tappan along with staff from The George Washington Foundation built a lime rick — a large crib of wood and oyster shells — at George Washington’s Ferry Farm. This past Saturday, the rick was lit on fire to produce lime for stone and brick work as part of constructing the Washington house.
In eighteenth-century Virginia, near the coast, oyster shells were abundant and commonly burned in one-time-use oyster ricks – different than lime kilns constructed of brick – to yield the lime required for brick and stone masonry. After heating, the burnt shells are slaked with water, causing them to break apart into lime. Mixed with sand and water, as well as sometimes brick dust, clay, charcoal, and bits of shell, lime was the binder in early mortar.
Here are photos of the building and the burning of the lime rick.
Bill Neff bundles together small branches and other kindling into the lime rick’s wick around which all the larger wood will be placed.
Firewood ready to be assembled into the lime rick.
The oyster shells that will be burned.
Placing the wick.
With the wick set, work to build the rick itself began the next morning before dawn.
The first layer of wood is placed.
The first layer of shell is added.
Kenneth Tappan throws a log…
…onto the rick.
Bill Neff adds some smaller firewood.
Spreading out the top layer of oyster.
9:50 a.m. – The lime rick is ready to burn.
10:05 a.m. – The wick is lit and slowly burns down lighting the ends of the logs on fire.
10:40 a.m. – A lot of smoke at first.
10:50 a.m. – Flames appear.
Burning a lime rick of oyster shells to make mortar.
11:30 a.m. – As the rick burns, it collapses in on itself.
12:30 p.m. – As the wood burns, the pile gets ever smaller.
3:00 p.m. – The shell would smolder for hours and remain hot into the next day.
On the next day, the burned and brittle shells were ready to be sifted to remove the ash and stored in barrels. Water must be added to break the shell down into lime.
Read more about the lime rick burn in this article by The Free Lance-Star. Learn more about constructing the Washington house interpretive replica here, here, and here.