How to build a wattle and daub house

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How to build a wattle and daub house
Half-timbered houses were constructed with wattle and daub. (Carausius/iStock/Getty Images)

Building a wattle and daub house recreates a historical method of building. Wattle and daub are a method of incorporating a basketlike wall (wattle) with an earthen layer (daub) that is plastered into and around the wattle. This method was combined with other methods to form a house. Though the wattle and daub did sometimes form the structure of small houses for the exceptionally poor, the method that was preferred for hundreds of years was to use this method to build walls around a timber-framed home, giving rise to "Tudor" style architecture.

Skill level:
Easy

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Things you need

  • Timber frame
  • Drill with 5 cm (2 inch) bit
  • Willow (or other suitable wood) for wattle
  • Hatchet
  • Knife
  • 5 cm (2 inch) diameter braces, 15 cm (6 inches) taller than the frame
  • Clay
  • Sand
  • Straw
  • Plaster

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Instructions

    create wattle posts

  1. 1

    Start with a timber framed building that has beams 15 cm (6 inches) thick (or greater). The timber framing needs to have both a header and a footer in the walls made of timber. The header in the walls needs 5 cm (2 inch) diameter holes drilled in that are 15 cm (6 inches) deep and 10 cm (4 inches) apart. Repeat the process in the footer so that the holes in the footer line up with the holes in the headers, but make sure the holes are only 7.5 cm (3 inches) deep. In the vertical side posts, make sure that you cut a dado groove that is 2.5 cm (1 inch) deep. Consult a professional before cutting or drilling these beams.

  2. 2

    Gather the materials. You will need strong but flexible materials for the wattle (woven sticks) that will go into the wall. Cut the sticks so that they are as long and as straight as possible. Select thinner sticks (smaller than the diameter of your thumb). They should be flexible enough to weave without breaking and thick enough to hold up the daub.

  3. 3

    You will need thicker sticks -- 5 cm (2 inch) diameter -- as the supports. These do not need to be as flexible, as they will serve as structural support for the wall. Cut these thicker sticks 15 cm (6 inches) longer than the space you are going to put them into between the timber walls.

    Construct the building

  1. 1

    Insert the 5 cm (2 inch) sticks into the header holes all the way up, then drop the sticks into the bottom of the footer holes.

  2. 2

    If the sticks are too large or irregularly shaped, whittle the tip to a smaller diameter. Cut into the bark all the way around to the depth that you desire and tilt your knife to split the wood off towards the end.

  3. 3

    Cut a small wedge or "shim" to hammer between the 5 cm (2 inch) sticks and the holes they are in (top and bottom) so that they are in tightly.

    Fill in

  1. 1

    Weave the smaller sticks in and out of the ones that you just set. Alternate the side that the weaving starts on, as you weave one layer at a time, stacking the layers until you gradually reach the top of the wall. After each layer is placed, spank the top of the weaving with a mallet. This helps to pack the wattle down, making a tight basket.

  2. 2

    Deal with the ends of the weaving by trimming and inserting the weaving into the dado you cut. The trimming can be done with limb clippers or the ends can simply fold over and be woven into the surrounding wattle, which is then slipped into the dado.

  3. 3

    Test the weaving to make sure that it is strong by carefully pressing with your open palm on the weaving. The weaving should (ideally) hold when you press on it but remember that the daub will add reinforcement.

    Daub

  1. 1

    Make daub from clay and sand (70/30 mixture ratio). Mix the clay and sand with an equal amount (by weight) of straw. Sometimes animal blood or manure is added to the mixture. Mix it together thoroughly by walking around in a pile of it on a hard surface. Press the mixture into the weave of the wattle so that the daub oozes into the nooks and crannies for a good grip on the weaving. Pack the entire wall like this so that the wall starts to take shape.

  2. 2

    As the wall starts to approach 10 cm (4 inches). make sure that the wall is flat and even. You will have to do this in 1.2 cm (1/2 inch) layers, allowing the wall to partially dry between applications, so that the wall is strong enough to stand. Make sure that the wall dries completely before plastering (2 to 3 weeks or more if the weather/climate is moist).

  3. 3

    When the wall is thick enough, add a layer of plaster on top of the wall to smooth it out. The plaster can be waterproofed with the addition of various ingredients to the plaster to prevent water breaking down the wall. The wattle and daub part of the construction is done.

Tips and warnings

  • Add a wide roof and a layer of stone to the bottom layers of the wall to protect it from water. If the wall shrinks and cracks as it dries, this is normal and will be remedied by adding a little more material before the plastering starts.
  • This method is based on the traditional method to a high degree and should not be used without consultation of building practices in your area. Familiarise yourself with and follow all building regulations. Hire a licensed general contractor that you can work under, experienced in "alternative" building and knowledgeable about the planning and safety requirements. Check with an engineer before cutting or drilling into structural supports. Water-proof the wall and any associated members (including wood timbers).

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