Top 10 Cordwood Tips, Tricks and Hacks to help you build better with cordwood.

  1.  Keeping your wall level?  Try using a swinging plumb bob.

Usually, a plumb bob is hung on a string to show vertical plumb. This idea is courtesy of Don Gerdes (engineer) who devised it to help keep the walls in his cordwood home straight. The trick is to take a straight 2 x 4 and drill a hole in the top. Drill a deck screw into the top plate and hang the swinging plumb bob on the screw. Every row, swing the plumb bob & lightly tap the logs in or out. Saves time and gives you a quick way to keep it all in proper order. [“Plumb” is what you call a perfectly vertical line. Vertical means up and down. Something that is “plumb” runs perpendicular to the horizon—meaning that when it intersects the horizon, it makes a right (90 degree) angle. You can measure if something is plumb by using a plumb bob or a spirit or laser level.” [mtcopeland]

2.  Mason Lines let you level your cordwood by looking “down the line.”

Cliff Shockey (double-wall inventor) demonstrating how to build the inside portion of a double wall.  Note the masons lime for keeping the horizontal level, the vapor barrier, the grey insulation and the outside double wall.  Cliff will move the mason’s line up the wall as he makes progress (notice he has already set the roofing nails in 12″ increments).  

As you build the wall, you can site “down” or along the masons line. 

3.  Exploding Logs

Split larger logs into pieces and then put them back together in the wall. This will eliminate a primary check and reduce shrinkage. 

4.  Tuck-point with a paintbrush.

An excellent way to finish off a cordwood wall and smooth out all the mortar is to use a 2″ paintbrush.

5.  Peel wood like a Boss.

This peeling spud with a long handle allows you to put your legs and back into the peeling process.

6. M-I-M Sticks 

Mortar-Insulation-Mortar  Keeps your mortar beads even.  If you have a 16″ wall and you have a post framework, the measurements are 3 inches of mortar (outside and inside) and 10 inches in the center cavity.  R-value for a 16″ wall is R-24 as tested by the University of Manitoba Engineering Department. 

7.  Splicing and notching posts and beams. 

Two LVL’s spliced in the middle of a post for secure anchoring.  Notice how the post is notched to “take” the weight of the LVL’s and whatever might sit upon them. 

8. Mortaring “up” to a top plate or window box.  One of the most important places to stop your insulation from settling and creating a thermal nose bleed is when you are finishing a wall section that has been post framed.  Mortaring “under the top plate” is very putzy and necessary.  Here are a few ways folks have succeeded. 

In the picture above, a bead of mortar has been placed on the inside.  Then fiberglass has been stuffed into the insulation space and finally, a bead of mortar is placed and tuck-pointed on the outside. 

9. Closed Cell Foam to reduce air infiltration. This type of closed-cell foam allows the insulation cavity to be sealed tightly, so there is NO settling of sawdust.  The foam will grab and hold the sawdust and the wood.  You don’t need much, but it stops cold air from entering the building at the window placement sites. 

10. Setting up a work site for maximum efficiency. 

Tracy Lee master cordwood builder suggests the following for site prep.  “This setup has worked very well to keep Sun and rain off my walls and give me quick access to outside of walls for pointing etc.  I used the Tyvek that was around the house for the winter and just pulled it out and screwed 2 lattice strips on the bottom so I would have something solid to tie to scaffolding. Has been through several storms and barely flaps.”

 

Tracy Lee on her mortaring setup. “Here are some more tricks I use to speed up the cordwood laying process and make it easier on the body.  The pieces of blue foam board that are taped together I use to sit on for the first 2 rows on the floor. Then I sit on the roller bench. From there I can reach almost 3 feet high and roll around to get to mortar, sawdust, and cordwood without getting up. Huge back saver. I  then use the foam board to set my mortar pails on so I don’t have to reach down so far. Once the wall gets too high that I can’t reach it sitting I then put my mortar bucket on the rolling bench so I don’t have to reach down so far and I can roll along the wall with me. I realized that hauling the mortar buckets from the mixer to the work area was causing the most muscle soreness so I started using a dolly to haul them and that has been working out great.”

Should you wish to learn how to build a cordwood cottage, cabin or home, please visit www.cordwoodconstruction.org   While you are there, click on the pictures, read the brief articles, check out the latest workshops and newsletter and if you are interested click on the Online Bookstore to see all the cordwood literature available in print and ebook format.

If you have questions that aren’t answered on the website you can email me at richardflatau@gmail.com  

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Readers have requested a brief bio, so here goes:

“Richard & Becky Flatau built their mortgage-free cordwood home in 1979 in Merrill, Wisconsin. Since then, they have written books, conducted workshops, facilitated the 2005,  2011 and 2015 Cordwood Conferences and provided consultation for cordwood builders.  Cordwood Construction: Best Practices DVD,  Cordwood Construction Best Practices (print) and Cordwood Conference Papers 2015 are the newest publications available from their online cordwood bookstore.”  www.cordwoodconstruction.org

Here is a photo of the new Cordwood Construction DVD cover available at https://cordwoodconstruction.org/bookstore