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Monday, October 1, 2012

Cordwood Catch Up

It is time to play a little blog catch up...

On Labor Day weekend Denise and I headed 3 hours up the road to Plattsburg, NY to take a Cordwood Masonry class with Rob and Jacki Roy at Earthwood Building School.  Rob and Jacki have been building cordwood homes for over 30 years and have literally written the book(s) on it.  It was a great experience and well worth the time and money spent to attend the class.  There is nothing like hands on experience and being able to talk face-to-face with the people who can best answer the plethora of questions we have about building this way.

This is Rob and Jacki's home.  It is a two story, earth-bermed, round, cordwood home.  They built it on the site of an old gravel quarry.  Beyond having this one cordwood home there is also a cordwood sauna, bookstore, office, three guest cabins, a mess hall, garage, a children's playhouse, and a strawbale/cordwood guest cabin.  They are also helping their son build cordwood home next to theirs.  That is the house where we got our "hands on" training.

The strawbale/cordwood cabin that we stayed in.

Here is half of the interior....notice the great bottle-end window over the beds.

Some of the cordwood cabins making up a little cordwood village.

One of the interior walls of the "Hermit's Hut" cordwood cabin.  Look at all the fun stuff you can do with wood and bottles.

Rob and Jacki were gracious hosts.  Every morning we'd meet in their house for the classroom portion of the day.  Rob would teach and Jacki would supply an endless flow of coffee, tea, juice, and baked goodies.  Seventeen of us would squeeze halfway around their pool table, which was covered with wood samples, computer, books, diagrams, models, and teaching aids.  Rob would teach and generously answer our questions and put up with our interruptions as we bounced our ideas off of him.


Rob would use his own home as an example of different things he was teaching in the classroom.  Here he is explaining how he installed the windows.

After a lunch provided by Jacki, we would head over to the work site and start learning how to make this cordwood thing work.  We were taught how to mix two different types of mortar, how to lay mortar, sawdust insulation, and logs.  We learned how to "point" our work to get the mortar smooth.  We were warned about "pitty-patting" the mortar too much and causing excessive moisture to rise to the surface.  There were lessons on prepping the wood, making bottle ends, installing windows, and much more.

This is the home we worked on.  The first floor is a 20 sided cordwood structure.  The second floor will be a Geo-desic dome (in this picture it is covered with a tarp).

Learning how to lay M-I-M (mortar - insulation - mortar) and place logs in their cradles.

A bit more of the first row of logs and starting up the second course.

Denise and I worked on two different sections of wall.  The first was where they wanted some very specific patterning done with wood and bottles.  It was a slow go for novices but good experience.

Here's what it looked like when we left it.  All of the dark gray is what Denise and I did.  It wasn't much to show for for 2 days of work but like I said they were looking for something specific.

We also worked on a panel of bottle ends that went up next to a window.  This was done with a different type of mortar.  So it was good to work with both kinds of mortar and we're still deciding which we'd like to use in our house.  Here Nate is pouring sawdust insulation.

Denise is pointing around the bottle ends.  Bottle ends are usually two glass bottles put mouth to mouth in the wall.  The "butt" end of the bottle is visible at the wall's surface.  They let light in from the outside and makes some cool designs and colors.

Here Jacki gives Denise some pointers on pointing knives....specifically how to bend the end of a butter knife to make a good knife.

Here is a close up of some bottle ends.

The 2012, Labor Day Cordwood Masonry Class.  We were impressed at how diverse the class was.  From socioeconomic to geographic and religious perspectives, this class brought a lot of different types of people together around a common interest.

Jacki, Rob, Denise and Nate at the end of the school.  Denise is holding her MMS degree from earth wood Academy (Master Mortar Stuffer).


  1. I have been wanting to do the same thing for a while myself, but they are going to have to be additions onto my trailer, which is looking more and more like a cabin in the woods. I started out framing a tin roof-over using 2x4 rafters, into ripping out the original 1x trusses from the inside to add collar ties to my rafters. I replaced all of the rotted framing,ripped off the tin siding and replaced that with plywood siding and newer vinyl clad windows that I had picked up from a local habitat for Humanity store for dirt cheap. I already have plans drawn up for a cordwood addition in the front to extend my living room. I will start getting that ready probably in spring after I get my first part of my project finished. If I were not grandfathered in with my trailer, I would have just started new from the ground up and lit a match to the old trailer when done quite frankly. But I do not have much money to deal with red tape. So I work with what I have. Thank you for inspiring me.

  2. All the best in your adventure! We are learning it takes time...time...and more time...what better lesson to learn for us "hurry-it-up" and "get it McDone" folks