A Century (or More) of Cordwood Homes

No one knows just where or when cordwood homes originated, but there's plenty of proof that cordwood construction can pass the test of time!

| November/December 1978

  • 054-106-01_01
    A wide angle and detailed view of a Chippewa County, MI barn, builder and date unknown. Not a stackwood home per se, but the same building concepts apply.
  • 054-107-01_01
    A barn near Gimli, Manitoba.
  • The Micikalski saloon and boarding house, built in Lennox, WI about 1900.
  • Detail of 1848 Williams Bay House constructed by David Williams.
  • Closeup of Alfred Rosera cordwood barn constructed in Lena, WI in 1909.
  • Wider view of the Rosera cordwood barn.
  • Old cordwood house in Camp Morton, Manitoba.
  • Norris Miller cordwood house fabricated in Decorah, Michigan in 1855 of 1856.

  • 054-106-01_01
  • 054-107-01_01

In the year and a half since this magazine began singin' the praises of cordwood homes ("Building a Low Cost Economical House"), we've been asked a lot of questions about this type of low cost construction. Most of the folks who've written to us have been curious—and some of 'em downright skeptical—about the durability of these easy-to-construct, wood-and-lime-mortar dwellings. So, we've prepared this little "history lesson" to show you the kind of life span these structures can have, and to maybe give you some "brand-new old" ideas on how to build your own house or barn out of cordwood.

Cordwood construction (also called stovewood, stackwall, stackwood, etc.), you see, isn't a new development at all. In fact, structures of this kind have been around for so long that the origins of the technique have been forgotten.

Some very old stovewood buildings are still standing, however, and many interested groups and individuals have begun to look into the history of the form.

For example: The University of Manitoba's Northern Housing Committee—which advocates stackwall construction—believes that the idea came to North America from the Scandinavian countries, where lime and/or clay were supposedly used to mortar short lengths of wood into extremely low-cost but durable walls. Most other "authorities," however, including Milwaukee architect Richard W.E. Perrin—a part-time stackwood historian—feel that "woodmasonry" is a Canadian invention.

Wherever the construction method came from, however, we know that it was practiced in the United States in the mid-1800's, thanks to the discovery—by the Reverend Paul B. Jenkins—of a stackwood home built in Walworth County, Wisconsin in 1848. Mr. Jenkins described his find, saying "the remarkable feature about this house is that it is constructed entirely of 'stovewood'. That is to say, instead of brick or stone, David Williams [the builder of the house, and a descendant of Rhode Island's founder, Roger WilliamsBW] prepared with infinite labor an immense amount of wood, cut, sawed, and split into sticks fourteen inches in length, exactly such sticks as are used for all kitchen cookstoves where wood is burned today."

Unfortunately, though there were several attempts to preserve the Williams home, it was torn down in 1950—a century and two years after it was built.

10/3/2008 7:28:10 PM

I would like to know more about cord wood/stackwood building techniques and if there is any updated information. It all seems to be 30 yrs old.

Mother Earth News Fair Schedule 2019


Next: April, 27-28 2019
Asheville, NC

Whether you want to learn how to grow and raise your own food, build your own root cellar, or create a green dream home, come out and learn everything you need to know — and then some!


Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Money-Saving Tips in Every Issue!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters