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The Hand-Sculpted House

A Practical and Philosophical Guide to Building a Cob Cottage

Ianto Evans, Michael G. Smith, and Linda Smiley

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.

Order from Cob Cottage Co direct  Authors: Ianto Evans, Michael G. Smith, Linda Smiley, published by Chelsea Green. 2002. 8.5x11, 346 pages, 230 figures, 100 photos. ISBN 1-890132-34-9. $35.00

The Hand-Sculpted House Cover


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:

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.

Excerpt: Building a Cob Cottage Step-by-Step

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.


Acknowledgments • Introduction by Ianto Evans • What This Book Offers You • About the Authors • QUESTIONS & ANSWERS ABOUT COB

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"

by Michael G Smith


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 •

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

Recommended Books


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