A Child-Built Cordwood Masonry Clubhouse

Who didn't have a clubhouse when they were a tyke, or wished they did? Here's a cordwood masonry variation on the concept that you and a child can build together.

| May/June 1985

For ten years now, I've had a love affair with an ancient building technique called cordwood masonry, in which walls are made of short logs — called log-ends — stacked like firewood and bonded together with a strong mortar matrix.

My wife, Jaki, and I have built three houses utilizing this method, as well as a number of smaller buildings such as sheds and saunas. So we weren't surprised when, in the fall of 1983, our seven-year-old son decided he should have his own cordwood clubhouse. Rohan already had a working knowledge of the medium, having heard me speak to students at our cordwood workshops and having assisted in a small way in the construction of our present house, Earthwood. Also, cordwood is a simple (and not very strenuous) form of construction, appropriate for builders from age 6 to 96. At any rate, our entire family rallied behind his idea and designed a playhouse that would be in architectural harmony with the rest of Earthwood's buildings. During construction, in fact, Rohan's project became known as Littlewood.

The Earthwood group of structures consists of a round (38' 8" in diameter), two-story house, a 10'-diameter sauna, and a 20'-diameter shed. After pouring the floor for the shed, the driver of the concrete truck advised us that we had a little over a quarter of a cubic yard left. Without a clear purpose in mind, I asked him to dump this concrete about 150 feet to the south of the house on a thick vein of sand in the abandoned gravel pit in which we chose to build our dwellings. This impromptu site overlooks a pleasant little spring-fed skating pond and is close to Rohan's school-bus stop.

With a shovel and trowel, I flattened the concrete, producing a relatively smooth slab that's about 3 inches thick and just over 6 feet in diameter. A year later, this slab, protected from the effects of frost by the excellent percolation of the sand, became the foundation of Littlewood.

Childishly Simple

In building a permanent cordwood dwelling, a double mortar matrix is employed with the inner matrix separated from the outer by an insulated space. This assures that heat is at no point conducted directly from the inner to the outer mortar joint. Rohan's clubhouse, however, wouldn't be heated, so we felt that a single mortar matrix was sufficient.

Virtually any kind of wood can be used for cordwood masonry, as long as it's relatively dry, stripped of its bark, and not spongy (or "punky," as they say in the North Country). We had a number of 16" cedar log-ends left over from the house construction. Cutting each of these into thirds, Jaki and I produced a pile of little log-ends, each just over 5 inches in length. They varied in diameter from less than 2 inches to about 6 inches.

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