Tag Archives: natural building

Cordwood in California

What good fortune to find an excellent timber framer who infills with cordwood.  Nick Kautzer is that framer/builder and is located in Tuolumne, CA.

Nick Kautzer is a fine craftsman and cordwood mason. He has a wonderful “eye” for detail and his buildings flow into their surroundings.
Nick’s website lists the following:  “We specialize in timber framing, custom furniture, and stone masonry to cultivate timeless, naturally beautiful craftsmanship.  We  are dedicated to utilizing sustainable and locally sourced materials to create long-lasting quality products.”


Interior corner with framing, bottle ends and red cedar.
This is also from Nick’s website.  “Hello, I am Nick Kautzer, designer and builder of timber framing, stone masonry, furniture, rock walls, patios and doors. I also create cordwood structures such as Cupolas, green houses and additions to existing structures. Custom designs for furniture to homes are always welcome. Talk to me about your ideas or share some pictures with me to explore the possibilities. My passion for building with natural materials stems back to my father who is a master of fine cabinetry.”

As you can see Nick is an artist with his framing, window placement and cordwood.

Cordwood when done properly, is such a visual feast.

The door sends a warm and inviting message.
If this appeals to you and you want to use Nick’s services, please contact him at:


Email: :kautzercraftsmanship@yahoo.com

“If you have a project in mind that is not listed above you are welcome to contact me.  I am happy to collaborate on unique projects.”  -Nick
For more information on Cordwood Construction go to


Cordwood Construction Best Practices is the latest book on cordwood construction and has over 259 color photos, diagrams and drawings to lead an owner/builder from floor plans to occupancy.

Cordwood Construction Facebook Page


Idaho City Cordwood 22 acres

Here is a 22 acre mountain parcel near Idaho City, Idaho that has two cordwood cabins, a yurt-sized, timber-framed cabin with built-ins, 2 tepees, a spacious and luxurious wall tent with wood stove and great southern mountain views. [Thanks to friend Geoff Jordan for telling me about this parcel.]<a I don’t really know anything about the property, so please don’t consider this an endorsement.   The reason I am showing it, is because of the visual attractiveness of the cordwood buildings.

There are many more pictures and information at the Real Estate link


For additional information about books and articles on cordwood construction go to  http://cordwoodconstruction.org/

Or email me at   richardflatau@gmail.com

Kinstone Chapel July 13-14, 2013; Cordwood walls continue their ascent

Kinstone Chapel July 13-14, 2013; Cordwood walls continue their ascent

Kinstone Chapel

Kinstone Chapel

Another group of talented, interesting and wonderful folks attended the Cordwood Workshop at the Kinstone Chapel near Fountain City, Wisconsin on July 13-14, 2013 to continue the building of the chapel’s cordwood walls.  As you may know, this Chapel is being built using the symbols/motifs from the Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon.

Here are a slew of pictures of mixing mud, screening sawdust, building walls, tuck pointing, covering walls, conversing, concentrating, eating and generally having a grand ol’ time.

Mixing a good cordwood mud...chop, chop, chop went the hoe.

Mixing a good cordwood mud…chop, chop, chop went the hoe.

Some people are all smiles and giggles when they are cordwooding!


Some people are all smiles and giggles when they are cordwooding!

Even certified organic farmer's get a kick out of tuck pointing.


Even certified organic farmer’s get a kick out of tuck pointing.

Folks got serious about building a best practices cordwood wall.


Folks got serious about building a best practices cordwood wall.

A time for learning...

A time for learning…

Screening the sawdust to weed out the big pieces.  This will be for insulation and the mortar mix.


Screening the sawdust to weed out the big pieces. This will be for insulation and the mortar mix.


A time for demonstrating...


A time for demonstrating…


A good perspective of a cordwood wall under construction.


A good perspective of a cordwood wall under construction.

Some folks take to mortar mixing like ducks to water!


Some folks take to mortar mixing like ducks to water!

"It's getting to the point..."


“It’s getting to the point…”

A thousand designs are rolling around in that pretty little head:0)


A thousand designs are rolling around in that pretty, curly little head:0)

Discussions over excellent meals lead to plan improvements.


Discussions over excellent meals lead to plan improvements.


John brought his solar telescope so we could see sun spots and his evening telescope so we could view Saturn and the craters on the moon.  Amazing!  Thank you John.


John brought his solar telescope so we could see sun spots and his evening telescope so we could view Saturn and the craters on the moon. Amazing! Thank you John.

Mixing mortar, adding the right amount of water is critical.


Mixing mortar, adding the right amount of water is critical.


Every one has a choice of a dust mask or a bandana  when mixing lime insulation and mortaring, most choose the bandana.  I feel like the Lone Ranger when I wear mind:0)


Every one has a choice of a dust mask or a bandana when mixing lime insulation and mortaring, most choose the bandana. I feel like the Lone Ranger when I wear mine:0)


We even had snacks on site!  Here Cook 'Par Excellence' Dorothy receives a hug from instructoress Becky for a delicious piece of Mona's fresh baked bread with Joerg's home harvested honey!  Ummm Good!


We even had snacks on site! Here Cook ‘Par Excellence’ Dorothy receives a hug from ‘instructoress’ Becky for a delicious piece of Mona’s fresh baked bread with Joerg’s home harvested honey! Ummm Good!


This is the bottle and log end wall that will surround the entrance way to the Chapel.  Our two cordwood wood mason's are very pleased with their work (and so are we!)


This is the bottle and log end wall that will surround the entrance way door to the Chapel. Our two cordwood wood mason’s are very pleased with their work (and so are we!)


A dragonfly...takes a bit of forethought. A dragonfly…takes a bit of forethought.Brother Fire is one of the design motifs.


Brother Fire is one of the design motifs.


Covering the walls at day's end is a very important practice to ensure a slow set and cure of the mortar.


Covering the walls at day’s end is a very important practice to ensure a slow set and cure of the mortar.

For information on natural building workshop and permaculture design courses go to http://kinstonecircle.com/

For information on Cordwood Construction books, workshops, consultations and literature go to http://cordwoodconstruction.org/

Or contact Richard Flatau, author of Cordwood Construction Best Practices at richardflatau@gmail.com or Flato@aol.com

German newspaper [Deutsche Zeitung] reviews Cordwood Construction

Over the past month I had the privilege to be interviewed by a Romanian newspaper woman (Nina May) about Cordwood Construction for the German newspaper Deutsche Zeitung.  The article covers existing cordwood in Europe and North America and its potential uses in Romania and Germany.   Nina was very perceptive about building techniques and was interested in translating the current cordwood craze in North America to her countrymen and women.     Here is the article in German and the fascinating translation is below.

Deutsche Zeitung article 4.21.2013


An eco-house firewood?

Aesthetically, solid, flexible and incredibly cheap – a nearly forgotten Civil Engineering conquered new territory

By Nina May    Sunday 21 April 2013   Who has not dreamed of in any phase of life, to build with their own hands a house somewhere in the countryside? Ideally, a spacious and comfortable family home, with rural charm and personal touch, warm in winter and cool in summer. Or at least a romantic summer residence on the lake or forest, a rustic mountain hut on a flower meadow … No? Then at least a tiny writers retreat in the far corner of his parents’ garden. Of course the dream house should also be as original! How about some grass and vegetation on the roof? Or with colored glass portholes?  And ecological materials are more and more coming: wood, clay, straw. In addition, it should be easy to implement, best known as Do-It-Yourself. For anyone who has been to engage in leisure the nerve to supervise a squad worker, or the money, a professional construction company? If you loaded with all of these criteria, surfing through the Internet, you quickly end up … in America! In fact, in Merrill, Wisconsin, Richard Flatau, teaches a construction technique which is called Cordwood. Both in Sweden and in North America in the 19th Century in parallel and developed without mutual influences method of construction is there for the “Habitat” exhibition in Vancouver in 1975 of a real boom because Cordwood houses not only meet all the criteria above, they are also aesthetically pleasing, have excellent thermal insulation properties, are relatively earthquake-proof, fire-resistant and suitable for all climates. than 1,000 magnificent Cordwood houses are to be developed in North America since then. Richard Flatau, builder and manager of some Cordwood building appropriate workshops, collects and documents all experience the same number of pages. Cordwood first attempts to find more recently in Europe: Sweden, Finland, England, France, Poland, Hungary, Russia. Most are even smaller huts with a few square meters – tentative steps on new terrain. Cordwood to Romania is not yet penetrated. About the idea of introducing this construction here, Richard Flatau, enthusiastically. principles for a solid home in America there are more than 100 years Cordwood homes that are still in perfect condition. Richard and Becky Flatau but only for 33 years living in their Cordwood home. The building has cost them two summers (1979/80) and $ 15,000 – a third of the price of a comparable conventional house, said Richard. Although known in the U.S. as “Poor Man’s Architecture”, it shows on its website a lot of examples for larger villas. Up to two stories can be built with Cordwood said Richard, if you follow a few basic rules irrefutable without a Cordwood house can quickly become a nightmare.  He explains in his 2012 book “Cordwood Construction Best Practices”.

Cordwood what does it really mean? To Germans “cordwood” betrays the concept already the most important basic substance: Firewood! Peeled firewood – one basic rule – because the bark would attract moisture and insects! Whole tree slices and split logs of ideally 40 inches long, possibly in different sizes, such as high masonry bricks, the ends protrude inside and outside of the wall. Under no circumstances should you remove them or plastered with conventional materials because the breathable fibers of logs act like straws that exude the moisture out of the house, said Richard.

A Cordwood house therefore always offers rustic look. then he reveals two basic rule: soft wood has to be, because hard wood swells when it rains too much, and can burst the walls. Suitable cedar, spruce, poplar, pine or fir. As dry as possible, because otherwise arise during subsequent drying cavities, which can, however, easily repaired. As a mortar, he recommends five variants of strictly natural clay-straw-sand (Cob) or lime-sand (lime putty) mixtures on newsprint borax, lime sand, cement-lime-sand sawdust and cement newsprint sand compositions , all touching in a certain ratio with water.

Swede Olle Hagmann, who has built a writers cabin in the woods, has tried all the variants themselves. He had very few cracks in the sawdust mixture and absolutely no paper with the cement composition. His house 3×3 meters of spruce and aspen cost him 500 euros. “Until now it is tight, no mold, no mice,” says Olle. “If we had not already a sauna, I would build one from Cordwood, because the technique is particularly suitable for this, especially when clad the interior of the fire with clay,” says the retired professor, who wants to be necessarily informed once in Romania the first Cordwood experiment running! Although suitable for humid climate, river and lake regions Cordwood houses, have direct contact with water – Principle Three – to be avoided, warned Richard. This means a slightly higher plinth of stone or concrete and an overhanging roof, which should be before the walls of the walls. The best is erected a wooden pier construction and then backed up between the posts. So round constructions can be realized as easily as square. For earthquake zones Richard recommends additional cross braces. For the future installation of windows wood frame must be supported as a wildcard.

Cool in summer, warm in winter The excellent thermal insulation properties, which were detected by the University of Manitoba (thermal resistance of a 40 cm wall: R = 24), Richard explained by the high thermal mass the logs to prevent temperature fluctuations. But also the technology that helps Bricklaying: The logs are only connected at the ends with a dab of mortar. Into the cavity between sawdust comes to insulation. therefore A Cordwood wall contains much less mortar than it visually gives the impression. How thick or thin plotting the mortar layer is a question of the desired look. To protect against insects and fungi can mix the sawdust in the insulation space with slaked lime or treat the wood logs with borax. With old wood to build, was not a problem, says Richard. Never, however, already infested wood may be used. Olle Hagman has opened another technique in his research in Sweden and Norway (1870-1930), in rectangular pieces of wood – such as brick walled with a clay-straw mixture – the operation of sawmills were. Cordwood walls that are even fireproof, shows an experiment at the University of New Brunswick. Five hours held the test wall was a fire, the wood charred only at the ends.

A personal piece of art you can let off steam yourself artistically in the Cordwood same technique in several ways. Firstly, by the shape and arrangement of the logs. In a project for the head of the bear clan in Ojibwa Indian Reservation Bill Paulson realized a stylized bear paw as a personal trademark. But are also attractive walled with glass bottles in all shapes and colors that provide charming lighting effects. shells, beads or stones can be pushed into the mortar, or applications of clay attached. If you like it very rustic, gnarled trunks can use for the base construction. A Cordwood wall can easily be adapted to uneven interfaces. Shelves or niches if you include long timbers that protrude inward or outward from the wall. “A Cordwood house provides a lot of decisions before,” says Richard Flatau. Although, as he says, not much can go wrong, it takes a little courage. So, who dares? ——————————————–

“Cordwood Construction Best Practices” by Richard Flatau, as an e-book at www.daycreek.com/dc/html/paypal_flatau.htm available. More info under www.cordwoodconstruction.org and www.daycreek.com

Cordwood Home in Spartanburg, South Carolina

Luke and Amy Metzger have built a wonderful cordwood home in Spartanburg, SC.  They have a basement, a post and beam framework, an open ceiling and a loft area,  beautiful porches and more.  They offer the “wood-be” cordwood builder some great and timely tips.  I will use quotes from Luke’s emails to share his (and Amy’s) knowledge and wisdom.

Nice shade, porches, beautiful cordwood walls, post and beam framework.

The following are Luke’s words. “The house although only 4 years old is holding up well.  We used red cedar that was debarked and seasoned for 1-1/2 to 2 years. Only the largest of logs shrink in the winter…but only 1/32″ max…we heat with a wood stove. And when the spring returns the logs expand back. We have front and back covered porches and the gables have a 2′ overhang. This really protects the cordwood and was a really good decision with the rain and humidity of the south.”

The post and beam framework. The roof went on before the cordwood infill.

“What we did was complete the entire structure first.  This was was done for two reasons.  First, the building inspectors had never seen cordwood masonry and they wanted to ensure that the structure and the integrity of the house would be sufficient on its own….the cordwood would simply be an infill.  Of course the infill with the logs and mortar gave increased strength, but they were concerned none the less.  Second, since it was just me and Amy doing the building, it took us alot longer than conventional construction.  So by getting the structure up in the dry, we had a nice place to dry store the cordwood and it allowed us not to worry about rain as we worked on each infill section.”

Luke used a special method of inserting his floor joists so there would be no deflection.

“One other design detail was the basement:  I did not want the weight of the cordwood walls to sit on a joist system. I was afraid that the joists (cross grain) would move with humidity which might cause additional cracks in the lime morter over time.  So as you can see in the pics, I created pockets between the cinder blocks on the last course for the joists sit down in.  Therefore a 2×10 sill plate was anchored directly to the foundation falls….hence the entire weight of the cordwood falls directly on foundation and not on the joists.  The wall were 10″ thick.”

The cordwood was dried and then stacked under the roof and between the posts. Very smart because it keeps your wood and materials dry and under shelter.
Coming down the steps from the second floor gives one a birds eye view of the cordwood walls. The section to the top left is cordwood siding!

“The cordwood coming down the stairs on the gable ends were 1″ thick slices glued and screwed to the wall (cordwood siding).  We painted the wall with a sand and paint mixture to match the color of the lime mortar first. ”

They heat with wood and love the natural feel of their lovely home.
It doesn’t snow all that often in South Carolina, but when it does, it sure looks grand.

All pictures are courtesy of Luke and Amy Metzger.  Thank you for sharing your wonderful story of having a goal, planning for that goal and reaching it with a most excellent result.  Congratulations.

To find out more about Best Practices with cordwood construction go to: www.cordwoodconstruction.org

Happy Stacking,

Richard Flatau

If you have any questions, please contact me at Flato@aol.com or richardflatau@gmail.com    or call 715-212-2870


Clarke Snell holds forth on Cordwood and other alternative methods

Here are some photos of Clarke when he spoke to our Cordwood Workshop at Love’s Organic Farm in September of 2007 near Marshall, North Carolina. We then followed him to his Building Green Cottage site where he gave the class a tour and explanation of the various wall types (cordwood, cob, strawbale, earthen plaster, and a living roof) and delineated their pros and cons. It was a very interesting visit.

Clarke giving an explanation of the cob and cordwood wall
The synergy of the cob and cordwood wall. Sweet!
The cordwood wall with large overhang
Clarke explains how to build a living roof like a fine cabinet maker
Which log end "face" should go here :0)
Creative cordwood wall building
Learning to build the right way using a best practices approach

Star pupils building a wall with smiles

Flowers & cordwood with Tulip Poplar

Folks had a great time learning alternative building in North Carolina

Hope you enjoyed the pictures. We have more workshops coming up in Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Please stay tuned to for further information.

Richard Flatau


Cordwood online bookstore

What is Natural Building, Or “Do I Have to Wear Dreadlocks to Build with Straw Bales?”

This article by Clarke Snell originally appeared in the New Life Journal.

Column redux: two months ago I delved into straw; last month I riffed on dirt. Add locally harvested wood, some stone, maybe a little bamboo, an enthusiastic attitude, and we are squarely in the realm of “natural building”. What’s it all about?

Before I go any further, I need to make a full disclosure: I took a lot of philosophy in college. Red flag! That means that words like “natural” really trip me up. What is natural? Some might say that “natural” simply means that which is in tune with nature. But aren’t humans natural, so wouldn’t anything we do be natural, too? I’m sure the makers of vinyl wall coverings will be happy to hear it.

Another approach is to say that natural building uses natural materials and that natural materials are those that are locally harvested and minimally processed. Okay, then is gravel natural? It’s local, durable, and doesn’t require a huge amount of energy to harvest. However, gathering it completely destroys the specific, local ecosystem from whence it comes. (Have you ever visited a quarry?)

Yet another spiel would be that natural is synonymous with indigenous. What is the indigenous building system for our area? Some variant on European wood construction, the wigwam or other native American technique? How about the rabbit hole or bird’s nest? Even if we could agree upon the representative historical composite system, what meaning would it have for us? Let’s face it, we aren’t indigenous ourselves.

My point here is that “natural” only has meaning when given a context. It used to be that the context was distinctly local. A small group of people using locally harvested materials interacting with a specific culture and single annual climatic cycle. Today our context is global. There are lots of reasons: billions instead of millions of people, communication in seconds rather days, travel in hours rather than months. People now travel from the Philippines to Dubai to get a job behind the counter at Starbucks. The CO2 my woodstove in WNC or your car in Atlanta puts off today may change the climate in India tomorrow.

To my mind, that means that being natural these days is a lot more complicated. When it comes to buildings, it can’t simply mean using local materials anymore. It has to mean taking the full impact of a building and the lifestyle it serves into account. There simply are no easy answers. All of us heading back to the proverbial woods isn’t a feasible option. How would 3 billion small huts each with it’s own fire for cooking and heating impact the global climate? How long would the burnable cellulose hold out? On the other hand, it’s hard to even use the word “natural” in the context that most of the human population now resides: the city. What is the natural way to build for people in a huge city that contains no indigenous resources for building?

This line of thought has led me to try and keep an open mind as I’m looking at the resources available for building. I’ve accepted that human dwellings have an impact, so my goal is to create the best building with the smallest impact. If in the full life-cycle of the building that means using some mass-produced materials, high tech systems, and heavy machinery, then I’m all for it.

It’s interesting then that even in this context, my focus is still on what are traditionally called “natural materials”. Part of the reason is the typical rationale that they are locally available and therefore create less pollution in harvesting, manufacture, transport, and installation (have a lower embodied energy). Just as importantly, though, they often provide much greater design flexibility than their modern counterparts.

Let’s take straw and dirt for example. We can use these two simple materials combined in different ratios and configurations to deal with a variety of different specific situations. Configured as a bale, straw can provide incredible insulation. Mixed with a clay/sand soil, the result is cob, a simple material with amazing structural strength. A different mix of the same ingredients creates clay-slip straw with more insulation than cob and more water resistance than bales. What’s more, all of these incarnations can vary easily in width and height and therefore don’t need to fit into cavities of predetermined size. This flexibility is important in the real (i.e. natural) world because every site and even every wall on every site is in some ways unique. Materials that can be modified and tweaked to deal with different incarnations of sun, water, wind, and life forms (mold and insects, for example) are often easier to match to a given real world scenario. It’s difficult to design mass-produced materials to have that kind of flexibility.

In the end, then, I wonder if the whole “natural” moniker isn’t really just confusing the issue. If we are trying to create buildings that work more efficiently with the realities of a give site, then materials and techniques commonly called “natural” can stand alone as solid, practical choices toward that end. You may not like dreadlocks. I may not like baseball caps. That doesn’t mean that we both shouldn’t consider incorporating some straw and dirt into the next building we build or have built.

(By the way, if you want to get into some down and dirty details on this topic, I’m teaching a WNC Green Building Council seminar on July 18th called “Natural Building: What Is It? How Do You Do It? Why Would You Do It?” Call the WNCGBC or check out this link for more info: http://www.wncgbc.org.)