Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cordwood Masonry

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Link of the Day:

Cordwood Masonry

I know that a lot of you dream about that backwoods cabin.  I certainly do.  I took a building course in late September of 2009 with Rob and Jackie Roy, the king and queen of this alternative building method. If you're one that is good at tracking down recycled or repurposed materials, this building method may be for you.

I'm not going to cover every detail here,  just the basics.  Then I'll leave links to Rob's website and leave it open to questions.

The idea behind cordwood masonry is to trade labor for cost.  Let me explain. The main components in cordwood masonry are (obviously) cordwood and portland cement.  Mix in a little lime, sand, sawdust and time and you have a roof over your head!  Actually, it isn't that easy.  You have to skin the bark off the logs, mix the mortar, etc. 

The class that I took was in Del Norte, Colorado.  It is in the southern part of the state and it is a beautiful area, as you will see.  I camped in the back of my truck that week and I might add that I darn near froze to death the first night.  Always go prepared.  I didn't.  But I figured it out quickly.

I took this class because my wife and I had been following Roy's work since the turn of the 21st Century.  Her goal was always to live mortgage free.  I thought she was crazy at the time and we, like most people, saddled ourselves with 30 years of debt.  It is one of my largest regrets in life.  Roy, in his book Mortgage Free, points out that the literal definition of mortgage is "death contract" (derived from the french).  If you had time and the skills, which are minimal, you could make yourself mortgage free through this process.  I highly recommend Rob Roy's books for the very reason that he has practiced what he has preached for about 30 years.

Come with me, to Del Norte, or "The North", which is actually located in the southern part of the state. :)

Day Two:  I didn't take any pictures of day one.  Here are the posts used to support the structure.  They are 10x10, but could be smaller.  Their mass made them very commanding to look at and fun to work with.

Here, Rob and Jackie taught us how to raise a beam with two people and no equipment.  Just teeter-totter the beam and add blocks!

Here is Bryan, attaching the beams to the posts.  This required screws that were about 15 inches long.

Timber frame complete.

Here, they add the decking for the roof.

Here, Bryan adds the metal drip edge.

They begin applying the plastic membrane to water proof the roof, which will be a living roof.

After the membrane goes down, you add Styrofoam board for insulation.

Here, they've placed rocks on the styrofoam to keep it from blowing away.

Rob Roy, instructing us on mixing the mortar for the walls.

Here is our cheat sheet, giving us the proper shovel ratios of mortar, lime, sawdust and sand.

Jackie mixes the mortar by hand.  Behind ever great man is an even better woman.  Jackie Roy is amazing.

Here, Rob lays the first batch of mortar.  As you can see, there are two lines of mortar with dead space in the middle.  In that dead space goes a mixture of sawdust and lime - to keep the critters out and for insulation.

Applying the sawdust.

Then the wood....

Put a log on, put the mortar on, then dump the sawdust in the cracks.

Here, Jackie is "pointing" or smoothing the mortar joints.


Here they applied rocks over the styrofoam for good drainage.

Spreading the rock.....

That night we took a break and went to eat at the Piece of Art Cafe in Del Norte, which is also made from cordwood masonry.  The lady who owns the cafe was also hosting the workshop.  She found Rob's book, read it and built the cafe with her friends.  Be prepared - it is BEAUTIFUL!

As you can see, glass bottles can be added to the wall to let natural light through.

Back to work!

The window buck.

That was as far as I got.  The owners continued to work on the structure for a few more months, part-time..  I don't have any pictures of the outside in the day light, but the owners were kind enough to send on pictures of what they had completed.

I hope you enjoyed this.  There are a few different schools out there that teach cordwood masonry.  I highly suggest Rob Roy's Earthwood School.  Check out his website and search the web.  Cordwood Masonry is very, very cool.  Check out his website! .

Pax Domini Sit Semper Vobiscum,

Mike, Oscar, Hotel.....out.


  1. Very interesting. I think Mother Earth News has some books on the subject, at least one by Roy, if I remember.

  2. I built a large shelter like this once, only without the mortar. It worked very well. I find this post very inspirational, it has got me thinking!
    Thank you.

  3. Do they give an estimated cost of the entire structure?

  4. This is an interesting building method I've never seen before. Thanks for sharing!


  5. TWT - I'll have to look the book, but I think it is pretty cheap. The problem is that it is LABOR INTENSIVE. Really. I might try a straw bale class. I've heard it is a bit easier.

  6. love this...thank you