How to Build a Cordwood House

Learn how to build a cordwood home and what benefits it has

Author: Charles J Zank Category: life
Updated on:

Cordwood construction is getting more and more popular around the world due to its simplicity and low building cost. No wonder people want to know more about this method and its specifics. 

Today, we will explain how to build a cordwood house, providing you with a detailed guide. You will learn what tools and materials you need to build your cordwood house, as well as what to consider to ensure the building is stable and durable. Also, we will tell you more about the benefits and downsides of this construction technique. And, of course, you will get step-by-step instructions that will help you build your own cordwood house!

<H2> How to Build a Cordwood House Step By Step

So, you decide to build a cordwood house. Great idea! Such homes look lovely, and besides, they come with a wide range of benefits that you will enjoy as an owner. However, if you have never worked with this construction method, you might feel puzzled about what to start with.

Firewood wall - the basis of a corwood house

First of all, consider you prepare all the tools you will need. Of course, your needs may vary, but you will anyway benefit from having the following items:

  • A good wheelbarrow
  • Shovels and/or scoops for mixing and measuring ingredients for mortar and insulation
  • Many buckets for mixing, storing, and distributing lime, sawdust, etc.
  • Non-toothed knives bent at the end for pointing/smoothing the mortar
  • Wood scraper for cleaning the ends of the logs
  • Soap, sponges, and access to water for washing hands and tools

After you get all of them, you can start building a cordwood house. The process is relatively simple, with each step requiring minimal equipment and materials. In general, you might not even want to hire professional builders! If you have several friends who are handy and physically strong, you will be able to cope with the cordwood house construction yourself. 

Select the Type of Wood For Your Future Home 

The type of wood you use for cordwood building is essential. Softwoods (for instance, pine and spruce) are the best options for this job. Hardwoods, such as oak and maple, can also be used. However, note that hardwoods will require more time and effort to work with! Also, make sure to select straight pieces of wood without any knots or other flaws.

Prepare the Mortar

Mix the mortar according to the instructions on the package. It should be the consistency of peanut butter when it is ready to use. You might also want to try different mortar recipes to find the one that suits your project, so consider checking them out with experienced cordwood builders and DIYers!

Cut the Logs

Cut the logs into short lengths. Usually, they should be around 4-6 inches long. Make sure to use a saw with a sharp blade to avoid splintering.

Lay the First Course of Logs

Start by laying out the first course of logs at the bottom of the wall. Also, make sure to leave enough space between each record for the mortar.

Apply the Mortar

Using a trowel, apply a thin layer of mortar to the top of each log, making sure you leave enough spare room for the next course of records.

Layer the Next Course of Logs

Place the next course of logs on top of the first course. When layering the second course, make sure to stagger the records so that the end of one register is not directly above the end of the log below!

Keep On Layering Logs and Mortar

Continue laying logs and applying mortar until you reach the desired height of the wall. At this stage of construction, you need to make sure you keep the logs level as you move on.

Finish the Wall

Once the wall is complete, smooth out any rough spots in the mortar using a trowel. Then, when the wall is smoothed out and even, allow it to dry completely before you proceed with painting or staining.

The process may seem pretty easy, and in fact, cordwood building is an easy and affordable way to build a structure indeed. However, we recommend you practice in advance if you want to build a cordwood house for the first time in your life! Start with smaller cordwood objects to get better skills, and constructing beautiful and durable walls with a few essential tools and materials won’t be an issue for you.

Finishing Touches to Add to Make Your Cordwood Home Look Complete

When building with cordwood, you get walls that are both strong and aesthetically pleasing. Besides, the cordwood can be arranged in various patterns, including herringbone, log cabin, and diamond.

However, building a house or another construction is not enough. One of the most essential parts of any cordwood building project is the finishing touches. These finishing touches often make a finished house look perfect and complete. Here are some tips for ensuring your cordwood building has the perfect finishing touches.

  • Seal the wood. Sealing the wood will protect your cordwood walls from the elements, as well as give them color. For sealing, you can use a clear sealer or a stain.
  • Install trim since trim pieces can enhance the look of your cordwood walls. You can use trim elements from various materials, including wood, metal, or plastic.
  • Add lighting to highlight the beauty of your cordwood walls. You can use spotlights, string lights, or even LED strips! Any of them will work great with cordwood walls.
  • Paint your cordwood walls to add color and contrast to the building. Cordwood walls welcome various colors, from bright primary colors to more subtle pastels.

If you want, you can also plant flowers or shrubs around your cordwood walls. With them, the house will look prettier and stand out among the other houses around. By adding these finishing touches to your cordwood house, you can create a home that is both beautiful and durable. Not only will it look great, but it will also withstand different weather fluctuations and elements, making your home last for decades!

Pros And Cons of Cordwood Homes You Should Know About

Before you choose the construction method to build your house, you must investigate its features, as well as figure out what pros and cons it has. This way, you can be sure the technique you choose will result in a long-lasting and safe building. Speaking of the cordwood construction method, it also comes with specific pros and cons. Let’s look at some of them in order to help you get a better idea of it.

Benefits of cordwood homes:

  • Building a cordwood house is simple compared with other construction methods.
  • You can use the local wood to build a cordwood house.
  • The method is relatively cheap since there is no need to ship the wood from a distant location.

However, there are also downsides to this construction method that you must be aware of! Below, we have listed the most common cons that can make you change your mind about using this construction method for building a house. 

  • The cordwood construction method requires a lot of wood.
  • The cordwood construction requires a lot of physical work, too.
  • You will need a lot of mortar for your house (the amount of mortar used for the cordwood home is typically between 30-40% of the surface of the wall).
  • Building a cordwood house is a time-consuming project since all preparations must be done a year before you plan to start building.
  • Cordwood construction comes with a lot of planning.

Now that you know all pros and cons, it will be easier for you to decide whether this construction method is suitable for your future house or not. You might want to consider it if you are going to build it in a highly-timbered area. However, if you plan to locate your house in a place with little to no timber sources around, you might want to consider another construction technique. 

Reasons For Choosing a Cordwood Home

Cordwood houses look nice and unusual. However, an eye-catching appearance is not the only benefit that cordwood homes have. This construction method has a few more positive features.

  • Economy. Cordwood walls are low in cost, mainly when there is a local source of appropriate wood.
  • Energy efficiency. Cordwood houses are easy to heat in the winter and keep cool during the summer.
  • The cordwood home is easy to build, so you might not even have to hire professional builders.
  • Cordwood construction is efficient. The logs can be laid up quickly without specialized equipment.
  • Cordwood is environmentally friendly since it makes use of wood which might otherwise go to waste.
  • Durability. Cordwood homes are very durable, being able to last for 100-150 years if built correctly.
  • Such houses can withstand various weather conditions, especially if you pre-treat the logs with a natural preservative, such as borax. This will also protect them from rot and decay.

So, if you are looking for an eco-friendly home that is easy to build and it doesn’t cost a fortune, a cordwood construction technique might be your best choice! It doesn’t require a professional team of builders, is relatively cheap, and provides you with a long-lasting and durable house.

Things to Consider Before You Begin Your Cordwood Project

To build a durable cordwood house that will last for decades, you must prepare everything in advance, and it’s not only about the materials, tools, and necessary measurements. There are a few essential nuances that must be taken into consideration before you proceed.

Consider Hiring an Engineer/Architect to Design Your House 

It’s necessary for taking extra precautions when designing the foundation because the walls of a cordwood house can be anywhere from 12 inches to 24 inches thick. If the house is not very big, a concrete slab foundation will be ok. However, if it's a large house, you may need a professionally poured foundation!

Make Sure You Use the Right Type of Mortar 

For cordwood houses, a lime-enhanced cement mortar is typically used. However, you can add sawdust to the mortar to enhance it or opt for a high-quality cob. If you are not sure which type of mortar to use, you might want to make several mixes of mortar and test them. This way, it will be easier for you to choose the best type of mortar for your project. 

Go For Seasoned Wood For Your Home

Use seasoned wood since greenwood will shrink as it dries. Depending on the type of wood, it may shrink just a bit or develop a significant shrinkage. Remember that shrinkage is dangerous for this type of home! It will result in gaps around the cordwood, which will serve as entryways for water.

Use the Right Type of Wood for Your Cordwood House

When you build a cordwood house, you must always select the right type of timber for the project. Cordwood construction experts recommend using pines and softwoods rather than hardwoods. Softwoods have much better-insulating properties than hardwoods like maple, oak, and elm. 

Moreover, hardwoods tend to shrink and expand significantly more compared to softwoods. In particular, we recommend you use soft cedar wood, which has been cured for six to 12 months and from which the bark has been removed.

Make Sure Your Cordwood House Has Proper Foundation

Since cordwood walls are pretty heavy, your house requires a strong foundation to help the whole building remain stable. This is why having a strong foundation is a must. It is also essential to make sure that the foundation raises the first layer of cordwood, keeping it up off the ground. It will prevent your cabin walls from rotting faster.

Of course, you must also obtain all the necessary building permits and make sure you have the proper materials.

As you can see now, building a cordwood house is not very difficult. To a certain point, it might even be easier than building a house using traditional and more common techniques. However, the cordwood method comes with certain pros and cons, as well as specifics and nuances. But since we told you more about them, you won’t face any complications on your way to an ideal home! Besides, now you have a detailed guide that will help you build a cordwood house easily.

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