Build Structures Cheaply Using This Ancient Method


| 4/7/2014 6:15:00 PM


Partially daubed wattle, Photo courtesy of Wikicommons.

Houses take a lifetime to pay off these days, and even a prosaic shed, barn or coop requires a heavy investment of money, time, skilled labour and imported materials. For thousands of years, though, people around the world used an ancient technique to build homes and other structures quickly, using nothing but local material and simple, easily learned skills.

“Wattle and daub,” as it’s called, takes its name from its two components; a “wattle” was a wicker fence or wall, and the “daub” was the clay plaster – often containing hair and straw -- used to fill in the cracks of the wicker for insulation and privacy, until a smooth wall was created.

Even without the daub, wattles were useful by themselves; farmers could make them as modular, lightweight “hurdles” a metre or two high and across, and then uproot them, carry them to a new position, and stamp them into the ground where needed.

According to author Una McGovern, farmers usually began building wattle hurdles by putting the posts – called sails or zales – into place. Boards of wood with post-sized holes in them, called gallows, kept the posts steady while the farmer wove slim cuttings – “withies” – of willow or hazel back and forth between the posts. At the end of the hurdle the withy would be twisted for greater flexibility, wound around the last zale, and woven back in the other direction. Usually a gap would be left in the middle of the hurdle, called a twilly hole, which allowed a shepherd or farmer to carry a few hurdles as a time on his back.



McGovern writes that hurdle fences were vital to medieval agriculture; by keeping sheep confined without the need for permanent infrastructure, they allowed tenant farmers to graze sheep on a patch of land, letting them manure the fields one by one and deposit the fertilisers necessary for cereal crops. (1) Fourteenth-century woman using a wattle hurdle, from the Tacuinum Sanitatis. Courtesy of Wikicommons.

Kevin Haendiges
4/13/2014 12:22:57 PM

This isn't Africa, wattle and daub is strictly for cultures that haven't risen above the Iron Age. Try convincing a building inspector to sign off on such a primative construction.




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