Shrinkage of Wood in Cordwood Construction

The best option is to prevent the issue of shrinking before you build.
By Jack Henstridge
May/June 1983
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When building a cordwood structure, how do you judge the shrinkage of the wood so that future air leaks are prevented?

It is best to eliminate that problem before it can develop. The amount of shrinkage in wood varies according to the age, moisture content, and species of the logs you're working with. The basic building blocks should have time to dry, shrink and stabilize before you start construction. To make sure they do, cut all of your wood and then allow it to air-dry like firewood. Debarking and splitting the rounds will speed up this process considerably, and the chores are well worth the extra time and effort.

— Jack Henstridge, the director of the Indigenous Material Housing Institute 

Post a comment below.


Lived Legna
7/18/2012 8:17:18 PM
Well said Doug - My wood was ends from cedar logs that had been kiln dried, split and then stored in an enclosed building in broad sunlight for two years. I have 20 + yr of experience in cement work, jam packed the crevice with sawdust mix, carefully tuck pointed cement around logs repeatedly, covered the work to create a harder cement. The first winter my daughter and I slept on couches pulled up to the wood stove, with stocking caps on. Most of our "spare time" was spent stuffing gaps. I love my house and will someday getting around to covering the spray foam that encircles more than half of the log ends - I am just too busy sweeping up minutae cement 7 years later.

2/4/2011 10:34:21 AM
Read about my cordwood experience here- Wood expands and contracts with humidity changes, mortar does not. So, even if well dried, there will be gaps between the wood and mortar. I will never build with cordwood again, and do not recommend it. Too many wood to masonry interfaces, leading to even more labor trying to seal the gaps-chinking, caulking, covering the exterior, or building a double wall. Consider what an energy efficient wall would be like- exterior insulation, no thermal bridging, thermal mass inside, water, vermin, rot, insect, and fireproof. Now look at cordwood- lots of interfaces where gaps are created, labor intensive, continuous wood thru the wall (thermal bridge), thermal mass divided between inner and outer surfaces,and little of it. Mold may develop in cordwood, it is difficult to run wiring in(My inspector would not allow it), difficult to modify, and you can get a lot better R value in a thinner wall using "advanced framing techniques" and cellulose.

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