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«The Cob Builders Handbook You Can Hand-Sculpt Your Own Home Table Of Contents:  Acknowledgements and Warning INTRODUCTION What is cob? Why build ...»

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The Cob Builders Handbook

You Can Hand-Sculpt Your Own Home

Table Of Contents: 

Acknowledgements and Warning


What is cob?

Why build with cob?


Things to do to get ready

Think Small

Think Rounded

Make the Most of the Climate

Design with passive solar access in mind

Other things to think about when designing

One Story or More?


Plan for Future Additions Now Designing the Entrance Buttresses Permits


Here's a list of some things to consider when looking for land:

Finding your home site

Choosing the house site includes:

Put the house where it belongs Pick a site that is naturally comfortable Passive solar planning Harvesting your own wood Wind Noise Boundaries Getting the site ready to build!



Test Holes Making Your Drainage Creating drainage on a flat site Berms Ditch drains


Making the foundation Planning the foundation (Footing or Plinth) Designing the door area Setting up the door frame Tamping tips How deep do I make the foundation?

How wide do I make the foundation?

How high do I make the foundation?

Moisture barrier between the foundation and the cob?

Getting plumbing and electric wire into the house Stone Foundations Choosing stones Making a stone foundation To Mortar or not to Mortar?

Some Other Foundation Options Poured concrete Concrete blocks mortared together Railroad ties and gravel Earth-filled tires Agricultural bags filled with earth and tamped Foundation and drainage summary


General Info to Consider Make the floor higher than the ground outside Making the floor Tamping the ground Finding level for the floor Base (or layers of base materials) under the floor Floor base options Cob floor surface Floor surface recipe Putting down a cob floor Drying your earth floor Sealing an earth floor Caring for a cob floor Repairing a cob floor Some other floor surface options


Making Test Bricks More details about cob ingredients Sand Clay Straw Tools Here's how to make cob Putting the cob on the wall Cobbing by foot Cobbing by hand Tapering your walls and how wide to make the top of the foundation Putting the cob to bed at night Control the wall drying Sculpting cob shelves and furniture Burying in shelves, counters, and loft floors Scaffolds Electric wiring Other things to think about Termites and silverfish Planning for future additions Interior walls Tips for happy cobbers The cob builders checklist


Arches Lintels Putting the windows and doors in the wall Things to consider before putting in the windows and doors Passive solar design - getting the most out of your windows Ventilation Views Noise Magic windows Some glass safety tips Getting rid of unwanted windows Fun window ideas Replacing broken glass ROOFS Components of a roof system Beams Rafters Nogs or blocks Bracing Vertical Posts Roof sheathing Gutters Some common roofs Domes and Vaults Cone shaped roof Shed roof Gable roof Gambrel roof Hipped or Pyramid Organic shaped roof Roof design and planning Building the roof before the walls Putting the roof on as you build the top of the wall Roof surfacing Some roof surface options Insulation Ceiling Possible ceiling materials PLASTER (RENDER) Purposes of plaster Mixing plaster (render) Basic earth plaster Plaster additions Applying the plaster or render Other Plasters Alis and Paint Some ideas on adding color




ISBN (paperback) 0-9659082-0-8 Copyright © 1997 by Becky Bee The author hopes the information in this book will be shared with everyone. Therefore parts of this book may be reproduced and shared without the permission of the author, so long as the information is freely given and the source is acknowledged. No parts of this book may be reproduced for profit without the prior written permission of the

author. Send any such requests for permission to:

GROUNDWORKS P.O. Box 381, Murphy, OR 97533, U.S.A.

Illustrations by Becky Bee Book Design by Becky Bee, Alex McMillan, Mitch Spiralstone Book Layout by Alex McMillan Ordering Information

For additional copies of this book send your address and US$19.95 per book plus:

(within the US or Canada) US$4.00 shipping costs for the first book and US$1.00 for each additional book (outside the US or Canada) US$10.00 shipping costs for the first book plus US$2.50 for each additional book to: GROUNDWORKS P.O. Box 381, Murphy, OR 97533, U.S.A.

Contact us for bulk ordering details and overseas shipping prices.

Cob Builders Handbook Home Page


Mitch, Alex, The Yellow Pages Book Club, Sun Ray, Bella and Richard, Special thanks also to: Mitch, Alex, The Yellow Pages Book Club, Sun Ray, Bella and Richard, Ianto and Michael, Billie Miracle, Sequoia, Jill, Jean, Evelyn, The Steens, The Adobeland Galz, Ianto and Michael, Billie Miracle, Sequoia, Jill, Jean, Evelyn, The Steens, The Adobeland Galz, The Southern Oregon Women's Writers Group, and all the wonderful people who have encouraged and facilitated the birth and evolution of this book.

Please send in your comments and ideas. They may be included in the next edition.


Cob gets under your fingernails, into your bones and deep in your heart! If you build with cob, you will be transformed and you will never be the same!

Caution: Cob is addicting! Becky and all the people who have contributed to this book do not assume responsibility for the financial, mental, and physical health and happiness resulting from the use of this book. It's all yours!

Neither do we assume responsibility for damages, losses or injuries that may arise from the use of the information in this book. Every project and situation is unique.

Please use good judgment and common sense. Take care of yourself and Mother Earth.



The purpose of this handbook is to show you how you can build your own magical, practical, long-lasting home for very little money and have a wonderful time doing it!

Cob is in the early stages of being rediscovered in the modern world. Ideas and innovations are popping up all the time. I wish I could say I learned cob from the folks of the past generation, but I can't. I am sharing my "modern" cob experience and current thoughts.

Because cob is such a tactile kind of thing, I usually teach about it via hands-on workshops. It's easy to show people how to do it. When I sat down to write this book, I was amazed at how many words it takes to describe something that fingers can understand without a single word! Cobbing is easy. All the text makes a simple thing seem a lot more complicated than it really is. Try it! You can do it! Think of the words in this book as a reminder of what your common sense and ancient memory already know.

My intention in writing this handbook is to encourage the rebirth of natural building.

This book is designed to make it easy for you to join other pioneers in this wholesome adventure. It is written for people with or without building experience. I hope this is the kind of book that you will want to keep and pass on to young people to inspire them to build natural homes in the future. (I wish that it could be made out of cob so it would last for hundreds of years.) Building with cob is a powerful political action, greatly reducing the need for the mortgage systems, lumber and construction industries, and petrochemical companies.

Cob builders spend less of their lives working to pay for all of the above, and more time living. Making homes with natural materials gathered gently from the earth improves the likelihood of the survival of life itself.

Throughout history, women have worked together homemaking, farming, cooking and raising children. This is the glue of community. Today in the modern western world, most women are isolated from one another and are usually dependent on men and/or the patriarchal system for their shelter. Cobbing is a way for women to reexperience a sense of community and be empowered to make more life choices for themselves.

This book is put together by me, Becky Bee. I've loved building as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I built tree houses and designed underground forts. I grew up in Central America and spent a year in Africa. The beauty and serenity of the natural houses there felt like home to me. When I was living in New Zealand during the eighties, I was excited to find cob homes in the western world.

As long as I can remember I've had the vision of sustainable living - the garden, the handmade house, the little creek. I love the idea of being part of nature.

I've enjoyed creating lots of different kinds of buildings: log cabins, sweat lodges, tents, teepees, straw bale, adobe, conventional frame, recycled wood and cob homes. I was first introduced to cob in 1989 at a workshop offered by Bella and Richard Walker in New Zealand.

1 In 1993 I took a course in pottery, fell in love with clay sculpting, and found the artist in myself. Around that time, I again went to a cob workshop, this time being taught by lanto Evans and Michael Smith. I picked their brains and cobbed with them that year.

We learned a lot and had a lot of fun. Cob building brought together my loves: clay, people, health, beauty, home and building! I have been researching cob and teaching about it ever since. I love the feeling of being part of a team working together to create a strong, sensuous building. I am absolutely delighted to have found something that I love to do that makes sense, in a world where lots of things don't!

What is cob?

If you would like to skip the introduction and go straight to the chapter on cobbing.

The dictionary lists one of the root meanings of cob as a 'lump' or 'mass'. One definition of cobble is 'to make'. And a cobber is 'a friend'. So let's cobble a cob house with our cobbers! Cobbing is a process best described as mud daubing. Earth, sand and straw are mixed together and massaged onto the foundation, creating thick load-bearing walls. It's like hand-sculpting a giant pot to live in.

Earthen homes are common in Africa, the Middle East, India, Afghanistan, Asia, Europe, South and Central America. Easily one-third of the world's population is currently living in homes made of unbaked earth.

The three most common forms of earth buildings are adobe, rammed earth and cob. In the southwestern United States, the five hundred year old Taos Pueblo, as well as many homes and churches, are made of adobe. Adobe is a form of building using unfired earth. Dirt, straw and water - the same ingredients as in cob - are made into bricks which are then sun dried and built into walls with a "cob-like" mortar. Some very old Native American structures like the Casa Grande ruin in Arizona are made out of cob. These are described locally as being built of "puddled or coursed adobe".

There is evidence that cob building began in Europe about 800 years ago. Some buildings that were built in the 16th and 17th centuries are still standing today. In England, there are approximately 50,000 cob buildings still in use today. Most of these were constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries. Unfortunately, with the advent of fired brick construction, and political alliances between brick makers and the masons, the skill and art of making homes out of cob almost died out in Europe over the last century. Since 1980, the traditional craft of cob building has been enjoying a revival, mostly in the form of repairs or additions to existing buildings, with some new structures being built as well. In 1996 in Britain, four new cob buildings were under construction with building council approval.

Why build with cob?

It's fun and enlightening! It inspires getting acquainted with and connected to nature, oneself and one's fellow cobbers. Building with cob definitely enhances well-being.

Cob is gentle on the planet. Using cob reduces the use of wood, steel, and toxic building supplies.

–  –  –

It's fun to use your mind to figure out how moisture, gravity, heat, seasons, temperature, and water function in nature. Observe how nature creates form and beauty. Notice patterns in nature's structures, in plants, bones, a snail shell, bubbles, a cobweb, a nest, etc. Get to know your environment so you can treat it respectfully.

Notice how your actions affect nature. Gather what you need for building in places where you will cause the least damage/impact. Learn which trees to cut, and at what time of the year. Where does your home fit into nature gracefully? Cobbing is a fun way to get to know Mother Nature. Building with cob satisfies some ancient human urge and reminds you that you really are part of the natural world.

It's fun being in charge of the creation of your own home.   Cobbing requires defining what it is that you want. This process will give you a clearer picture of who you are! You will be the creator of your environment in every step of the process: designing, building, and decorating!

Cobbing connects you to the long forgotten memories of building with nature that have been stored in your cells and passed down from your ancestors. It will help you remember that you are a child of Mother Earth. You'll get to know the inventor in yourself, the artist, the inspired creator, the designer, the organizer, the homemaker.

Become familiar with your own ingenuity and intelligence. Stretch your ability to visualize and to answer questions. Cobbing will help you develop confidence in the many facets of your being.

Cobbing is good for your body! Watch as it gets stronger, harder and healthier!

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