Photo above by Flickr/carlfbagge. All other photos by Tom Keeling
Wattle and daub is a fantastic building technique that has been used to build internal and external walls in homes for centuries. It is great for the beginner builder as the more wattle you weave, the stronger the wall gets. Not only that, but you will always start with a wooden frame wall as your first step.
Wooden frame walls are simple to build and as you are starting with a strong, straight, square structure, the wattle, and the daub parts generally go on very easily.
Step-by-Step Wattle and Daub Primer
Framing. As mentioned above, the first step when building a wattle and daub wall is to construct the wooden frame. Your frame needs to be secured to the ground, the ceiling, and be 100 percent secure before you move forward. The strength of your wall is highly dependent on the strength of the frame you build.
Support bars. Next step is to fit your bars, which will hold the weave wood. It is best to make these strong bars in a vertical formation. As we did not have enough strong long wood, we fitted the strong bars horizontally, as you can see in the image below. In order to fit these bars, we drilled holes in the vertical joists and forced the bars in to place. They do not have to be 100 percent secure as the weaving wood will strengthen each piece as you work.
Weaving. Next is the fun part, the weaving. This is where the artistic feel of the wall comes in to play. Your wall becomes more and more beautiful with each piece of wood you place. We were fortunate enough to have a number of olive trees which needed the suckers pruning, and this provided all the wattle we needed. You just need to make sure the wood you are using is flexible enough to weave between the bars you have fitted. The closer your bars are, the more flexible the wattle needs to be. The Acacia tree ‘Mimosa’ was used a lot in Australia, and I am sure basket willow would also be perfect. Really though, any green wood at your desired thickness should work well.
Plug gaps. At this point you can really keep adding wattle until there is no more space left to weave. The more gaps and holes you have in your wall, the harder it can be to get the cob to hold in place. If you can easily push cob through from one side to the other, you are going to have problems with the other side of the wall falling out as you work on your side.
Apply cob. Next you are going to need to apply your cob. Some straw in your cob mix with help as you can push the straw in and around the wattle to hold it in place. It is generally best to work from bottom to top here as the cob you have placed below will support that above. Try to make the wall in to your desired shape at this stage as it will save you work for the coming stages. Make sure to work right up to the edges, leaving no air space between your cob and the wooden frame. Smooth off and mould the wall by hand.
And there you have it: how to make a wattle and daub wall. Check back to future blog posts from myself and I will explain how to make a cob mix, which can be used for wattle and daub walls, cob ovens, adobe bricks and more, and how to start rendering with clay to make your walls smooth and ready to apply a natural paint.
Tom Keeling is based in Portugal and has traveled throughout Brazil and Eastern Europe learning about natural building and farming. He’s working on a two-story stone barn renovation using clay and wood, and including a shower and toilet block built using rammed earth and adobe bricks. Connect with Tom at Fazenda Tomati and on Facebook and Instagram.