A film of house-building in the woods

This winter, we made all sorts of things from the wood around us. When we arrived, we had some rudimentary hand-tools, but nothing electric or powered. Good axes were brought from home, and a boot fair provided us with hand-drills and bits, an iron digging stick, a good shovel and a bow-saw, the best of available technologies.

us in zone

the finished job

Materials-wise, we were coppicing, so hazel rods were plentiful, and standards (timber trees) were also being felled, so ash and oak were available too. Everything but the roof of our house (which was of secondhand canvas) was made from immediate resources – except for parts which we liberated from the local tip. We prided ourselves on using no metal or plastic in it, until the perspex slabs were donated for window use. The breaking of resolve on this point meant that we did finish one window with 10 little metal tacks. It was 20 times quicker than carving hazel pegs ourselves, and by then we were really getting tired.

Rose and Ayla were driving forces in the ‘free-time-equals-craft-time’ paradigm, and we are well grateful for all they taught us this winter, in practical and motivational terms.

Here is a short video compilation of the house, as it pops up to nestle us. Please enjoy.

Press MORE to see more crafty details of the house, built from ideas, sweat and hazel.

The House

Our first big challenge, which had to be done before the cold really kicked in, was the main house. This needed to be temporary, but strong enough to withstand anything the unknown winter ahead could throw our way.

Thankfully, we were between hillsides and treelines, so the wind’s worst lashes were avoided.

We had various plans, and they were all adapted in situ, for pragmatism overwhelmed all. But stage by stage, we got there. The hazel dome on stilts took 1 month to create, with the four of us working full time (alongside all the other necessary doings of woodland life…).

While it was being built, we all lived either under thin plastic sheets, or in the A Frame. Neither option was off the floor, so we became pretty savvy about the nocturnal habits of the wood mice (apodemus sylvaticus).

A platform was the first adaptation we made to our general hazel dome plan, as the woods were damp, and the millions of wood-mice wanted to sharpen their ever-growing teeth on anything we valued.

But a platform needed to flat, and we had no access to machine-made plywood. So we had to improvise, with hazel hurdles.

hurdle platform

platform is strong

sub house storage

hurdle undersides make great waterproof storage

This was a learning process all of its own, which we discuss here.

The next step was in creating the upright structure, to hold the canvas and straw insulation off our heads.

bender frame on hurdle plat

dome arising

We then needed to weave the structure with long hazel rods, cut and trimmed with the billhook. This made the dome structure strong enough to support the canvas, and our weight. It is amazing how a single piece of flexible hazel wood can be woven with others, to create something many times stronger. Weaving seems to be a core human technology, for baskets, hurdles, fabric and clothing, and even computer information is woven (010101101100).

Anyway, next the canvas was draped and arranged, with twine from side to side, to encourage it to stay in place. It is pretty heavy stuff, so there was little danger of it blowing away, but better safe…

canvas house dressing

ed grapples canvas

Rose grapples canvas

Rose gets comfy

A hurdle foyer then provided the transition space between outside and inside, somewhere to remove shoes (which were never worn indoors).


the foyer gets made

Straw was then stuffed, by the slab, into the space between the canvas and the interior blanket layer. This kept the heat in, and made the whole thing look like a puffa jacket.

house platform legs

puffy with straw

The next step was in fixing the windows, which Rose decided would be best done with cob.

When i’m cobbing Windows

The perspex window panes were donated by a kind lady, and they were framed with hazel sticks, gouged out and pegged with hazel to hold all together. The gaps between these windows, which were bound onto the main house hazel frame, were decided to be best plugged around with cob.

Heavy clay subsoil, dug from the compost loo pit, was mixed with straw and rainwater in a tin tub borrowed for the task. The straw supplies the lengthy fibres which bind the clay together, and stop lumps dropping off. We mixed in as much straw as we could, Rose’s hands almost falling off with this job, but a surprisingly small amount of straw could be persuaded to mix in.

Old bottles were added to the mix, to allow light transference, and a splash of good morning colour.

bottle cob for coloured light

free coloured glass

This was all done, and an overhang designed to protect the cob from the worst of the driving rains – a good hat and boots, they say, ensures cob will endure.

house and cobbed windows

good cobbed windows

The old wood burner we installed in a corner of the house helped greatly in drying the cob out thoroughly, and likewise in keeping us alive during the chillier snaps.

It would have been cleverer to cob in the summer months, when there is no danger of freezing. But no such option existed.

cob in ice

cob and ice should be kept well seperate

Some sand in the mix would also likely have helped, as the clay has little sand in it. But, with the materials at hand, the job was bodged sufficiently well, and the windows let in light, while the cob kept out draughts.

optical window illusions

what do you see?

This technology worked very well, and it is no surprise that as a temporary shelter, cob and hazel has such a solid ancient reputation – wattle and daub, they call it, and in places it has lasted many hundreds of years.

2 Responses to “A film of house-building in the woods”

  1. foon says:

    You’re absolutely great guys!!
    What a super structure!
    Is it still standing? Could you use a different type of wood – still flexible enough yet strong enough to last longer and bear the weight of heavy snow?
    Well done!!

  2. Jakki says:

    Thank you for these great little vids – especially the one that showed the gradual construction of the house – absolutely fascinating to see it from the ground-up….it’s really beautiful too.What happens when you leave…will it stay there?

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