The Hand-Sculpted House
A Practical and Philosophical Guide to Building a Cob Cottage
Ianto Evans, Michael G. Smith, and Linda Smiley
Summary: A bible of radical simplicity. A cob cottage is the ultimate expression of ecological design. Made of the oldest, most available materials imaginable, cob houses are not only compatible with their surroundings, the are their surroundings.
A Cob Cottage might be the ultimate expression of ecological design, a structure so attuned to its surroundings that the authors refer to it as "an ecstatic house". They build a house the way others create a natural garden, using the oldest, most available materials earth, clay, sand, straw, and water and blending them to redefine the future (and past) of building. Cob (the word comes from an Old English root, meaning "lump") is a mixture of non-toxic, recyclable, and often free materials. Building with cob requires no forms, no cement, and no machinery of any kind. Builders sculpt their structures by hand.
Cob houses (or cottages, since they are usually efficiently small by American construction standards) are not only compatible with their surroundings, they ARE their surroundings, literally rising up from the earth. They are full of light, energy-efficient, and cozy, with curved walls and built-in, whimsical touches. They are delightful. They are ecstatic.
The Hand-Sculpted House is theoretical and philosophical but intensely practical as well. You will get all the how-to information to undertake a cob building project. As the modern world rediscovers the importance of living in sustainable harmony with the environment, this book is a bible of radical simplicity.
You won't want to miss The Hand-Sculpted House:
- The definitive guide to Cob and Natural Building.
- Authors Ianto Evans, Michael Smith and Linda Smiley are top authorities in the field.
- 346 pages, 8 x 10, 8-page color section and almost 100 black and white photos, plus 230 drawings by Deanne Bednar. Source lists, bibliography, the only full glossary of Natural Building, seven appendices including Codes and Permits, Earthquakes, Research Needed and Training Opportunities.
- 10 chapters of step-by-step how to do it, 9 chapters of background, including design, siting, budgeting and site preparation.
- Explains how to make a durable, snug, fireproof, bugproof house with cob, a handmade composite of earth, straw and water.
Join the hundreds of people who are already building their own earthen greenhouse, courtyard walls, sauna, oven, cottage or house with cob, the easiest and oldest hand-building system.
excerpted from Part II: Building the Cob Cottage
EVERY COB BUILDING IS UNIQUE, but most require the same basic steps. The order of some of these steps is critical; others can be rearranged as desired. For a first-time builder, it can be very useful to map out the sequence of all construction tasks. Following is a sample sequence to help you think through your project to completion before you begin. The next ten chapters walk through each of these steps in great detail.
- Select your building site very carefully, for best exposure to winter sun and for good drainage.
- Decide in advance roughly what spaces, shapes, and features you will need, both indoors and out, based on the scale of your own activities. Make many sketches and models. Keep the building as small as possible. If you need more than 400 square feet, consider phasing the project to complete the most essential sections first.
- Work on a scale model of the building, including site features such as trees and slope.
- Decide the wall plan in detail, especially where doors connect the indoors with outdoors. Design the roof at this point, including the roof and how it is supported. Make a full-sized mock-up of the building on the site. Spend time in it, and imagine what it would be like to live there.
- Assemble on-site all building materials you will need for enclosure, including glass, lumber, rocks, hardware, pipes, wires, and so forth. Gather your tools, scaffolding, and water storage.
- Check your soil, and assess by making test mixes and test blocks what needs to be added for the best cob mix. Measure your proportions and calculate the amounts of sand, clay soil, and straw you will need. Plan out and prepare mixing spaces close to the building.
- Arrange delivery of sand, clay soil, and straw as needed. Store deliveries close to and uphill from the building, in locations that won't impede work. Make sure straw is stored under cover, off the ground.
- Stake out your design and finished levels precisely on the site using many strong, firmly driven stakes. Adjust for the last time.
- Clear and level as little as possible. Grade away from the building so that water runs away on all sides. Set aside excavated soil for gardening or making cob.
- Dig drainage and foundation trenches, lay in drainpipe, insulation, plumbing, and wire connections; backfill trenches immediately with drain rock.
- Build the foundation stemwall, setting in door frames or frame anchors and joists if floor will be suspended. Leave openings for utilities and water lines in and out.
- Tamp the subfloor, lay several inches of drain rock, and, if you will be using an earthen or other mass floor, lay the floor base coat.
- Frame the roof, either on permanent posts or on temporary posts that will be removed when the walls are complete. You may also wait until the cob is nearly finished before framing the roof.
- Experiment with cob mixing techniques -- for speed, ease, enjoyment, and different numbers of workers. Concentrate on gradual improvements. Apply your mix, probably at first by fork, trodden, then using "Gaab cob" or cob loaves. Sew it all together solidly with your fingers or a "cobber's thumb." Try to raise all the cob walls at the same rate.
- Make sure you build vertical or tapered walls; don't leave big bulges or hollows.
- Pare each new part with a machete or handsaw before it gets too hard, leaving it ready to plaster as you build.
- Set pipes, wires, outlets, junction boxes, and so on into the walls as you build.
- Build in windows as you go. Bury "deadmen" in the walls, wooden anchors to which you can later attach door frames, shelving, countertops, and so on.
- Sculpt built-in furniture, bookshelves, niches, and alcoves.
- Let the walls dry and settle somewhat, then build loft or second-story beams, joists, and ledgers directly into the cob if the wall is loadbearing.
- Locate roof deadmen one and a half to two feet down from the rafters. Complete the walls.
- If the roof is on, you can now enclose and heat the building. If not, now is the time to build the roof. If the roof will be heavy, allow the cob to dry throughout first.
- Do final ceiling work.
- Finish interior built-in woodwork, counters, cabinets, interior door frames, and plumbing fixtures.
- Apply interior plaster.
- Lay a finish coat on floor. Seal an earthen floor with linseed oil and beeswax.
- When interior plaster is dry, apply natural paint, lime wash, or alis.
- Plaster the exterior, if desired.
- Have a big party! Invite everyone who helped you build.
Acknowledgments Introduction by Ianto Evans What This Book Offers You About the Authors QUESTIONS & ANSWERS ABOUT COB
PART I: PHILOSOPHY, BACKGROUND, AND DESIGN
by Ianto Evans (What You Need to Consider Before You Start to Build)
Ianto's Story Peasants and Farmers The Importance of Housing Yourself
Chapter 1: Natural Building
Learning from Nature The Rise of Architects Natural Laws Learning from Conserver Cultures What Are Natural Materials Unprocessed and Uncombined Primary and Secondary Processing Component Assemblies Why Build With Earth and Other Natural Materials Health Psychological Well-Being Financial Empowerment Comfort Democracy and Empowerment Tradition and Heritage Durability Environmental Impact STEEL ROOFS IN KENYA The Natural Building Resurgence WHERE'S THE DUMPSTER
Chapter 2: Oregon Cob
A Brief History of Cob WON'T BURN DOWN, BUGS CAN'T EAT IT, AND IT'S DIRT CHEAP by Kiko Denzer The Birth of Oregon Cob Cookstoves As Inspiration Our First Cob House Characteristics of Oregon Cob What Cob Does Best MASS COOLER Where Oregon Cob May Be Inappropriate Cob in Hybrid Natural Buildings COB AND STRAW BALE COMPARISON CHART
Chapter 3: Creative Economics
Building for Yourself THOREAU ON SHELTER Trading Money, Skill, and Time Cheap Housing for Those Who Need It Most Getting Free from the Trap Finding Inexpensive Places to Build EDWARD'S ALMOST FREE HOUSE Borrowing Money Checklist: How to Keep Costs Down Interview: Brigitte and Elyse's House
Chapter 4: Tilt and Spin
WATCHING EARTH TURN Some Cosmic Fundamentals A COSMIC QUIZ Let Your Home Reflect Cosmic Awareness
Chapter 5: The Site You Build On
Choosing a Suitable Property Consider the Local Bioregion Spend Time on the Land Selecting the Precise Site Create a Master Plan Minimize Ecological Disruption Consider Soils and Drainage Determine the Microclimate Look for a Far Horizon Look for a Dominant Permanent Feature in the Landscape Build on Slopes If Possible Respect Your Neighbors TAKING TIME Testing Your Choice Dealing with Problem Situations Short of Sun No Trees on Site Noise INVISIBLE ARCHITECTURE Not Enough Privacy NOT A SITE FOR A COB BUILDING Interview: Eric Hoel's House
Chapter 6: Designing with Cob
The Box Police WHEN THE MATERIALS DESIGN THE HOME A Currency of Pennies Cob's Natural Geometries FOR YOUR EDIFICATION Thermal Mass Essentials of Passive Solar Design Heating and Cooling Your Building Be Stingy with Glass, Unless Your Climate Is Mild Natural Lighting CATNAP RESEARCH IN A COB GREENHOUSE The Heart House
Chapter 7: Redefining "House"
Intuitive Design Dispense with Convention Brainstorm a Lot The Site Was There First! Share Your Home with Nature Keep It Small1 Places, Spaces, and Rooms CURVED SPACES FEEL BIGGER: THE CASE FOR ROUND FEET Banish the Old Noun-Rooms Act Out the Dance of Your Daily Life Think Gloves Not Boxes Your Workplace Outdoor Rooms Orient to Earth's Tilt and Spin Make a Model Make an Outline Plan Adjusting the Time-Depth "I DESIGN OLD BUILDINGS"
PART II: BUILDING THE COB COTTAGE
by Michael G Smith
Michael's Story BUILDING A COB COTTAGE STEP-BY-STEP
Chapter 8: Materials and Tools
Raw Materials and Where to Get Them THE GEOLOGICAL HISTORY OF YOUR SITE Composition of Soils Determining a Soil's Suitability Sand Clay THE ISLAND WITHOUT CLAY Straw How Much Raw Material Will I Need NUMBERS ARE NOT SIZES Finding Other Building Materials Scavenging in the City Scavenging in the Country Tools A Cobber's Tool Kit Hand Tool Reflections by Jan Stürmann
Chapter 9: Site Respect and Preparation
Respect the Deep Ecology of the Site Don't Clear Any Trees Yet Work Slowly, Carefully, by Hand BACKHOE MADNESS IN CALIFORNIA Work Out the Best Routes for Deliveries Protect Sensitive Areas Walk-in Buildings Site Preparation Dig Test Holes Transfer Your Design onto the Ground Build a Full-Scale Mock-up jDrive in Foundation and Datum Stakes Finally, Begin Clearing the Site Erect a Temporary or Permanent Roof Interview: Site as Sanctuary
Chapter 10: Drainage and Foundations
Site Drainage Rubble Trenches Other Drainage Techniques Digging Trenches THE IMPORTANCE OF GOOD DRAINAGE Filling Trenches Foundations Building a Stone Stemwall Experimental Foundations
Chapter 11: Making the Best Cob
How Cob Was Mixed Historically Preparing Clay Soils for Mixing Testing Your Mix The Snowball Test The Crunch Test Test Batches and Test Bricks Mixing Cob on Tarps Notes on Tarps The Pit Method Using Machines for Mixing MUD, LABOR, PLEASURE Tips for Speed and Efficiency COB MIX TROUBLE-SHOOTING GUIDE Custom Mixes
Chapter 12: Building Cob Walls
Cobs, Gobs, and Blobs Trodden Cob Cob Loaves Gaab-cob Creating a Monolithic Structure Connecting Two Cob Walls THREE CONTAGIOUS CONDITIONS Wall Thickness Drying Settling Getting It Straight Tapering Walls Trimming Off Excess Tools for Trimming Pipes and Wires Incorporating Other Materials Reaching Higher Scaffolding Second Stories and Up How Fast Can I Build
Chapter 13: Sculpting with Cob
Sculpting a Whole House Remodeling Built-in Furniture Corbelled Shelves, Arches, and Niches Starter Projects: Garden Benches and Walls LEARNING AND GROWING WITH GARDEN WALLS Earth and Fire: Cob Hearths A Heated Cob Bench Rumford Fireplaces jjA Lorena Cooking Stove An Earthen Bread Oven Mass Heating Stove
Chapter 14: Windows and Doors
Keeping the Wall Strong above Openings Connecting Cob to Door and Window Frames Installing Nonopening Windows Replacing Broken Windows Window Placement Windows for Magical Light Windows for View Windows and Solar Gain Windows vs. Ventilators Doors and Doorways Half-Doors
Chapter 15: Roofs for Cob
THE PARTS OF A ROOF Roof Design The Shape of a Roof Building a Roof Structure Ceilings Roof Sheathing Living Roofs Thatch Metal Roofing Tiles, Shakes, and Shingles Roof Insulation Wool Straw and Straw-Clay
Chapter 16: Natural Floors
Mass Floors Preparation for a Mass Floor Poured Adobe Floors Tamped Cob Floors An Adobe Block Floor Oil and Wax Finish Other Materials Hydronics and Hypocausts Suspended Floors
Chapter 17: Plasters and Finishes
Exterior Stuccos Don't Use Cement Stucco Interior Plaster Materials for Stuccos and Plasters INNER LIGHT Tools for Plastering and Mixing Preparing a Wall for Stucco or Plaster Earth Plasters GENERAL TIPS FOR PLASTERING ONE-COAT KAOLIN PLASTER Litema Clay-Dung Plasters Gypsum Lime-Sand Plasters Washes and Paints Limewash or Whitewash ALIS by Carole Crews Other Natural Paints Water-Resistant Finishes
ONWORD: BRIDGING THE INNER AND OUTER WORLDS
by Linda Smiley
Linda's Story Sculpting Sacred Spaces for Well-Being Intuitive Design and Magic Spots Intuitive Design Exercise WRITING IN A MAGIC SPOT Make a Model Cob and Health-They Belong Together Mud Dancing Cobbers' Stories about Delight and Quality of Life: Joan, Mike, Elisheva, Tricia Relationships and Cob Love Stories A Match Made in Mud: Misha and Elisheva Rauchwerger EARTH, OVENS, ART by Kiko Denzer A Mud Artist Soulmate
Appendix I: Common Errors in Cob Construction Appendix 2: Codes and Permits Appendix 3: Cob and Water Appendix 4: Cob and Earthquakes Appendix 5: Research Needed Appendix 6: Wildlife in the Home by Ianto Evans Appendix 7: Teaching and Learning
Resources on Cob and Natural Building
Keywords: Hand-sculpted, cob, cottage, natural building, Ianto Evans, Michael Smith, Linda Smiley, plaster, adobe, earth
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