The Beauty of Cordwood Masonry

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Our “Down Under” panel has a variety of keepsakes brought back from New Zealand and Australia.

The Beauty of Cordwood Masonry

Cordwood masonry is an inexpensive, environmentally sound method of building both exterior and interior walls for houses and outbuildings.  Done correctly, these walls can also be very energy efficient, combining good insulation and thermal mass characteristics. I cover these points in my two latest books on the subject, Essential Cordwood Building: The Complete Step-by-Step Guide and Cordwood Building: A Comprehensive Guide to the State of the Art.

But in this article, I want to speak of the creative or artistic aspects of cordwood masonry, the things that make the work fun and visually striking. Sometimes these design features are an isolated part of a cordwood wall; sometimes they may comprise all or most of a cordwood wall panel. The designs might involve log-ends by themselves, or might be created in combination with bottle-ends or special artifacts.

When we first started building with cordwood, at Log End Cottage in 1976, we went with the barest simple design features: a stained rectangle in the middle of a rectangular panel, star constellations in panels made from all round cedar log-ends, a terrarium made from a gallon jar with a stained glass butterfly design in its cover.

As the years went on, we became more creative with our work, while trying to avoid “busy” or garish designs. At our octagonal Stoneview Guesthouse at Earthwood, we would put different designs in the various panels, being sure to tack a note to the panel’s vertical post – with a pointing arrow – to remind us to do the design! (Yes, it is easy to forget.)  Also, while designs are usually put at eye level, sometimes a design will take some advance planning lower down in the cordwood panel. Details of how to create your own guest house are in my book, Stoneview: How to Build an Eco-Friendly Little Guest House.Here are four designs out of 6 or 7 that we did at Stoneview:

Magic mushroom growing out of a log.

Magic mushroom growing                           out of a log.

 

 

 

Diamond-shaped design made from 21 4” by 4” wood samples and 5 bottle-ends. The “slab-ends” at the bottom created the shape.

Diamond-shaped design made from 21 4” by 4” wood samples and 5 bottle-ends. The “slab-ends” at the bottom created the shape.

 

The two baby dragons , natural stains on hardwood log-ends, were born of the egg to their upper right.

The two baby dragons , natural stains on hardwood log-ends,  were born of the egg to their upper right.

 

A simple design made from 4” by 4” timber samples.

A simple design made from 4” by 4” timber       samples.

At our Earthwood Sunroom, we did several different designs, using bottle-ends, wine bottles from Chile, special log-ends, even geodes:

A cubby hole provides a little cave for a carved wooden dragon; a log-end shelf supports an artifact; a large red pine log-end next to a geode.

A cubby hole provides a little cave for a carved wooden dragon; a log-end shelf supports an artifact; a large red pine log-end next to a geode.

 

This is our Easter Island panel. Three moai (two glass, one stone) stand on their ahu. A log-end at right is the shape of Easter Island.

This is our Easter Island panel. Three moai (two glass, one stone) stand on their ahu. A log-end at right is the shape of Easter Island.

At Mushwood, our summer cottage, we incorporated a variety of bottle-end designs.

 

Our “Down Under” panel has a variety of keepsakes brought back from New Zealand and Australia.

Our “Down Under” panel has a variety of keepsakes brought back from New Zealand and Australia.

 

Making a fish design from a wine bottle and six clear glass jars.

 

The fish is laid up in the wall. The wooden shingle will keep mortar out and let the light through.

 

Two fish are installed in a design which will be a map of the lake.

Two fish are installed in a design which will be a map of the lake.

 

Map of the Chateaugay Lakes Outlet, with dam, beaver log-end, location of the Mushwood Cottage … and two fish.

Map of the Chateaugay Lakes Outlet, with dam, beaver log-end, location of the Mushwood Cottage … and two fish.

 

The crystal skull is set in a large hollow cedar log-end. An L.E.D. light inside is controlled by a wall switch.

 

The two pointer stars of the Big Dipper, made of clear bottle-ends, point to Polaris, the North Star, extreme upper right,

The two pointer stars of the Big Dipper, made of clear bottle-ends, point to Polaris, the North Star, extreme upper right,

 

This walnut carving of a dragon from the Book of Kell is an inch thick, and is mounted on a shortened log-end of the same diameter.

This walnut carving of a dragon from the Book of Kells is an inch thick, and is mounted on a shortened log-end of the same diameter.

These designs were put into our garage at Earthwood.

 

Flower design with petals made from unbarked basswood log-ends. Basswood does not have to be barked.

Flower design with petals made from unbarked basswood log-ends. Basswood does not have to be barked.

 

One of our cordwood students created this sunrise design on the east wall. Stars are going out as the sun rises.

One of our cordwood students created this sunrise design on the east wall. Stars are going out as the sun rises.

 

Cordwood trees are popular. Here are three examples from different parts of the country.

A beautiful apple tree created by cordwood builders at their home in Ohio.

A beautiful apple tree created by cordwood builders at their home in Ohio.

Two fine trees in a cordwood panel by someone whose contact we have lost. Please contact us!

Two fine trees in a cordwood panel by someone whose contact we have lost. Please contact us!

Our son Darin Roy built this tree in his home called Driftwood, West Chazy, New York.

Our son Darin Roy built this tree in his home called Driftwood, West Chazy, New York.

 

A few years ago, we did a 5-day workshop with Kim Cellura and Mike Shields near Del Norte, Colorado, comprising Timber Framing for the Rest of Us and Cordwood Masonry. After the workshop, Kim and Mike took the ball and ran with it, creating the Mermaid Cottage BnB. Jaki and I have stayed in this beautiful building, and counted, I think, 26 mermaids incorporated into the walls in one way or the other. Kim loves bottle-end designs.

 

Guests are greeted by a sunrise design at the Mermaid’s Cottage.

Guests are greeted by a sunrise design at the Mermaid’s Cottage.

Upper right: Part of the bathroom area at the Cottage.

Upper right: Part of the bathroom area at the Cottage.

The Mermaid’s Cottage sits at just over 8000 feet altitude, in beautiful southern Colorado.

The Mermaid’s Cottage sits at just over 8000 feet altitude, in beautiful southern Colorado.

 

With a little imagination, the design possibilities with cordwood masonry are almost unlimited. And if you’re having fun, the build quality improves. Want to learn more? You may find our Cordwood Masonry Special Effects slideshow of interest.