This is one of the most iconic natural homes in the world...


This stunningly beautiful tiny home with sculpted cob walls looks out over the banks of a small stream in Somerset, England where the local dialect still has remnants of the Anglo-Saxon language. The home is the work of Lisa and Rich who built the house with clay from the stream that runs just out of view in this picture. They collected roundwood of Pine and Hawthorne thinned from the local woodlands to build the frame of the home.


What do the locals of Somerset sound like?

If you were to meet someone with a local Somerset accent they might sound something like this: "Whirr be gwain to? Tiz getting dimpsey, zo cummin yer an wet thee's whistle". Which means, "Where are you going? It's getting dark, so come in and take a drink". If you're interested in English accents you can listen to the Somerset accent on the BBC


How do you make cob?

If you want to build with cob then you must test the quality of your clay. Cob also depends on the coarseness of the sand. This is how to do a snowball test. Combine your clay soil and sand in different proportions: 3:1, 2:1, 3:2, 1:1, 2:3, 1:2 and 1:3. For each, mix the sand and clay thoroughly and add just enough water to make the grains stick together when you squeeze a double handful very tightly.

Make compact balls of the mixes about 6cm diameter. Then while holding a ball between thumb and index finger of one hand squeeze the ball with the thumb and index finger of the other hand at right angles to the first.

A ball made dry enough from the ideal mix should not distort by more than 0.5cm and be hard enough not to break. Then hold each ball 1m above soft ground e.g. a grass lawn, and drop the ball. If the ball breaks it is too dry or contains too much sand. If the ball deforms it contains too much clay or too much water. The ideal mix will maintain its shape on impact.


When you have discovered the correct clay, sand and water mix use a tarp to mix large batches of clay and sand. Mix these dry in the tarp until you can't see patches of clay or sand then add water little by little treading and rolling the mix in the tarp. Once lumps are broken up begin to add the straw. Tread the straw in until it is covered with the clay/sand/water mix and then turn in the tarp. Repeat adding more straw and turn in the tarp from different corners making sure the centre is also turned. Continue adding straw until the mixture feels like a tough substance rather than a loose (squishy) mud. The cob in the tarp will now turn as a single mass. Adding more straw now is very difficult so this is when the mixture is ready.

How can I learn about building with cob?

One of the best books available about building with cob is 'The Hand-Sculpted House' [right] by Ianto Evans, Linda Smiley, Michael G. Smith. A cob oven is a good first project. Ziggy at Dancing Rabbit ecoVillage has a good guide to cob oven building. And when you've tried your hand at that join a workshop at Cob Cottage to learn how to build a cob home. You'll find many cob workshops in our natural building workshop listings hosted in Facebook. Below are some more cob homes around the world, click the yellow refresh button to see more.




The roof of Lisa and Rich's home is tiled with cedar shingles. The walls are straw bale on the north and east  with sculpted swirls of cob on the south and west. Below (right) show shingles being cleaved with a froe including a short video of how wooden shingles are made. A shingle roof can last between 50-80 years. Rich is an artisan woodsmith and made the  unbelievably beautiful window (below left) and the door (above). He now runs a natural building company called notchmakers specialising in high quality bespoke doors, windows.


how to make shingles



More on Natural Homes...

Take a journey into the natural building world by visiting one of the natural builders pictured right. You can see many more beautiful homes on the Natural Homes Timeline.

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