The Charm of Cordwood Construction

Rob Roy discusses fashioning a home using cordwood construction, includes advantages to building with cordwood, environmental benefits of cordwood and cordwood building styles.


| June/July 2003



Author Roy Rob and his wife, Jaki, built their home with cordwood construction using the age-old technique of cordwood masonry to construct the main living quarters and outbuildings on their homestead in West Chazy, New York.

Author Roy Rob and his wife, Jaki, built their home with cordwood construction using the age-old technique of cordwood masonry to construct the main living quarters and outbuildings on their homestead in West Chazy, New York.

PHOTO: ROB ROY

Learn about the advantages of building a home using cordwood construction.

Unabashedly, I admit to two great love affairs in my life: with Jaki, my wife of 30 years, and (this one is shared with Jaki) with cordwood masonry construction.

This ancient building style — many references date it back 1,000 years — has known a substantial rebirth since the first articles about it appeared in MOTHER EARTH NEWS a quarter of a century ago. In cordwood construction, walls are constructed of log-ends — short logs, 12 to 24 inches long — mortared up transversely in the wall, similar to the way firewood is stacked.

In Canada, it's commonly known as stackwall building. Log-ends can be cut from wood that is unsuitable for other purposes, such as fire-killed standing wood, ends and pieces from a sawmill, logging slash, and curved branches and trunks. Portland cement, mixed with sand, sawdust and builder's lime, generally serves as the mortar between the "courses" of cordwood.

Why Build With Cordwood Construction?

In 1974, Jaki and I bought land in northern New York to pursue our vision of a self-reliant lifestyle. In those days, the "natural building" structure of choice was the log cabin. We had helped with constructing a log home, and we knew from experience that fitting and hefting the large logs was a lot of hard work. We also knew that in our area, 15 miles from the Canadian border, we would not find logs thick enough to provide adequate insulation against the harsh climate. And building another internal insulated frame inside the log walls seemed to defeat the purpose of minimizing the use of materials.

About this time, we stumbled upon the April 1974 issue of National Geographic, which contained a picture of a cordwood home in Skowhegan, Washington. Immediately, we knew that we had found a method of building that satisfied our criteria. Building with cordwood masonry would be cheaper and more efficient than building with conventional methods, as we could salvage "unsuitable wood" to use for construction and we could build the home ourselves. Cordwood's thick, stalwart walls also would buffer this region's temperature extremes. However, it was probably the unique beauty of these buildings that sealed the deal for us.

chud
3/31/2015 8:16:55 PM

Richard, I would like to see the home you are building. I live near Harrison AR and am considering building a cordwood masonry home. you can get in touch with me at cody4grad at gmail


richard
3/1/2015 11:48:52 AM

With so many thoughts on building we set out to build a home/shop with a combination of building techniques seldom used in one structure. We started with 8x16" dry stacked block with 1/2" re-rod and 1/2" all thread rod to per-stress the block wall that is nine feet high then filled the wall and horizontal beams with grout. A hip roof on 16" centers sets on the walls. On the outside we installed 1" foil faced foam with brick ties that will be used to hold the 7" cord wood (red cedar). That gives us a 16" thick wall. Here in the country of northern Arkansas we do not need permits for building. I have been in the building trades for 50 years. It has been fun and a lot of work and as soon as it warms we will be back to work on our project.






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