Sunday, July 5, 2015

An interesting study in primitive techniques

The Primitive Technology channel on YouTube has put up this video clip of how to make a wattle-and-daub (stick-and-mud) hut, using only primitive materials and techniques.  The video blurb explains:

I built this hut in the bush using naturally occurring materials and primitive tools. The hut is 2m wide and 2m long, the side walls are 1m high and the ridge line (highest point) is 2m high giving a roof angle of 45 degrees. A bed was built inside and it takes up a little less than half the hut. The tools used were a stone hand axe to chop wood, fire sticks to make fire, a digging stick for digging and clay pots to carry water. The materials used in the hut were wood for the frame, vine and lawyer cane for lashings and mud for daubing. Broad leaves were initially used as thatch which worked well for about four months before starting to rot. The roof was then covered with sheets of paper bark which proved to be a better roofing material. An external fireplace and chimney were also built to reduce smoke inside. The hut is a small yet comfortable shelter and provides room to store tools and materials out of the weather. The whole hut took 9 months from start to finish. But it only took 30 days of actual work (I abandoned it for a few months before adding bark roof, chimney and extra daub ).

From a couple of hints in other videos, I think the author/creator is from Australia.  It's an interesting case study in how our distant ancestors in that part of the world made themselves more comfortable.

Given the inevitable impact of wind and weather, I'm not sure I'd build something like that in the northern hemisphere.  I'd rather use a tent or tepee during more temperate months, and look for a cave or build a log or rock cabin for the winter.  Even so, it's an interesting demonstration of using what Nature provides.



Anonymous said...

Here in North America that technic was used on a larger scale and somewhat different materials. The two most common were a small log frame with bark sewn on like shingles, and mud and stick, mud and straw (adobe) or "shake" walls with a "Shake" roof . { Shakes are split wood shingles} The "teepee" was only common west of the Mississippi river among the plains horse culture from 1600 until the end of the white conquest (1900). The bark or shake longhouse, roundhouse , or log or log and earth Ho Gone type structures were in the majority before the plains horse culture arose. In the eastern hardwood forest the sapling and bark/shake "wickiup" type round house is the fastest and easiest to build, and survives a winter well. (when I was a child my brother and I could put one up in a week, complete with a fire pit and play in it all winter )---Ray

Able said...

Wattle and daub (and cob and daub – what is called 'rammed earth' today) are both well-known historically here, and still being built.

There are medieval wattle and daub houses still standing (water-tight and intact) all over the British countryside.

The only real difference (wattle or cob) is that cob walls are usually feet thick, free-standing, load-bearing walls, whilst the wattle and daub is used to construct panels between wood beam structural members. Dung, lime and horse-hair were favourite constituents!

They are both, here traditionally, (lime) whitewashed to increase their weather proofing, and the houses all have much larger over-hanging eaves (many of the thatched variety) to protect the wall from rain damage – think all those Tudor and Elizabethan structures (like Shakespeare’s The Globe Theatre too).

So … as a technique it's viable, but not sure how well it would work in a temporary 'survival' shelter (I may be wrong, my incipient alzheimers excuse at the ready, but I think Ray Mears may have demonstrated something similar in the past, using a triangular wattle screen daubed with clay found in the area to close one end of a trap shelter – providing protection and structural rigidity. I may have just imagined it though).

Snoggeramus said...

Just in time for the collapse of the Euro. :-D

Jim said...

You might be surprised just how warm it can be in a tee pee.

Cedar said...

I took some photos this last week at Fort Ancient of the wickiups built in the Eastern Woodlands of the US by living history interpreters. They are covered in thatch mats and bark, and surrounded by a woven twig fence. said...

As Able noted, wattle and daub stands up beautifully in wet and cold climates. The absolutely critical thing however is the roof and join with the wall. Thatch roofs and overhanging eaves which are correctly shaped are even more important than the wall.

The neolithic people of Europe also built roundhouses, similar to the northeastern North American. In areas with plenty of wood, such as southern Scotland, they built them of the wattle and daub style. Sometimes out in the lochs quite a ways from the shore. These were not small huts either, but massive complexes. (There is a lovely reconstruction of one in Pitlochry) In the northern Caithness/Isles they built of stone. And some of the stone ones (the brochs) are still standing and still solid. Sometimes, likely by accident, they figured out vitrified fortification. If you have a stone/wattle/daub combination and you burn it, you can end with a wall that is essentially concrete. That doesn't appear to have been a commonly used, intentional building practice though! said...

oops, I meant Loch Tay, not Pitlochry. No brain. Anyway, crannogs!

Chris said...


LCB said...

Two minor quibbles: he should have found grass to mix in with his mud. doesn't show him trying to create any kind of chimney cap. First hard rain and his fire is going to go our or at least steam a lot... :-)

Other than that...brilliant.