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

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.

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