Building a hut with a kiln-fired tiled roof, underfloor heating and mud pile walls.

I built a hut with a tiled roof, underfloor heating and mud and stone walls. This has been my most ambitious primitive project yet and was motivated by the scarcity of permanent roofing materials in this location. Here, palm thatch decays quickly due to the humidity and insects. Having some experience in making pottery I wondered if roof tiles could feasibly be made to get around these problems. Another advantage of a tiled is that it is fire proof. A wood fired, underfloor heating system was installed for cold weather. A substantial wall of mud and stone were built under the finished roof. It should be obvious that this is not a survival shelter but a project used to develop primitive technological skills.

Time line: 102 days (21/5/15-30/8/15)

Chopping wood, carving mortises, putting up frame:  10 days (21/5/ 15 -31/5/15)

Using a celt stone axe I had made previously (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BN-34JfUrHY) I harvested the timber. 6 posts were put into the ground. The floor plan of the hut was a 2 X 2 m square. The 4 corner posts stood 1 m above the ground and buried 0.25m below ground. The 2 ridge posts were 2m above the ground and buried 0.25 m below ground. The ridge and wall beams were 2.5 m long. These had 2 mortises each at 0.5 m from the ends made using a mallet and stone chisel. These were then fire hardened to prevent the wood splitting. The top of the posts were carved into tennons for the mortises to fit onto. Rafters 1.75m long were lashed together and laid onto the frame and then lashed to it. Saplings for the tiles to sit on were harvested later as needed after each firing.

Building kiln and tile frames: 5 days (3/6/ 15- 8/6/15)

A simple kiln was built with a removable (replaceable) kiln floor or grate. The grate was a clay disc about 0.25m in diameter with 19 holes in it to let flames through it. A 0.25m wide, 0.25 deep trench was dug into a slope and a stone lintel was used to cover over it. Onto this the mud wall of the kiln was built. The inner diameter of the kiln was a bit wider than the grate (about 0.3m) and the height of the kiln was about 0.5m tall. The kiln wall was about 0.12m wide. A fire was then lit in the trench or firebox to dry the structure. Originally the fire box of the kiln had 2 stones with a broken tile resting on it as a sort of grate bar. Wood was fed over the bar while air entered under it. This caused the air to come up through the burning wood so that efficiency was increased. Later 2 rows of mud were put into the fire box and a few purpose made grate bars were put in place to make a permanent version of this. Having grate bars that raise the fuel bed off the ground so air goes up through it increases heat production and fuel efficiency several times. 20 tile frames were made. These were split strips of lawyer cane that were kinked and bent into rectangles. They were 25cm long and 15cm wide.

Rain delay: 36 days (9/6/15- 14/7/15)

In what would normally be the dry season we had over a month of unseasonal rain. Work completely stopped on the hut. Unfired tiles left in the open dissolved in the rain, large amounts of dry firewood were impossible to find and the wooden frame of the hut lay exposed to the elements with mould growing on it.

It was during this time I built the wood shed (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZajpkwDeEYg) to store fire wood and unfired tiles in preparation for the firings to come. Despite the weather I managed to make and fire 20 roof tiles as a test.

Tile making and firing: 28 days (14/7/15-11/8/15)

To make a batch of tiles, clay from the creek bank was dug, mixed with old crushed up pottery or broken tiles and made into 20 balls per batch. A flat stone was dusted with wood ash to stop the clay sticking to it. A lawyer cane tile mould was placed on this and the ball of clay pressed into it and flattened. The surface was dusted with ash and the tile flipped over. The other side then had a tab made into the upper end for it to fit onto the batten. The tile, still in its frame, was then set upright near a fire to dry or left to air if no fire was available. Meanwhile the tiles made two days earlier were place into the kiln 20 at a time (10 at the bottom and 10 at the top) and fired until those at the top glowed at least red hot. Each firing took about 4 hours with the kiln only needing periodic feeding of fire wood allowing me to make tiles for the firing 2 days in advance. The semi dry tiles from the day before were laid against the kiln to become bone dry (slightly damp tile would explode if fired).

A typical day of tile making was divided into a morning and afternoon shift: The morning involved firing a batch of dry tiles while simultaneously making another batch and leaving it to dry. The afternoon shift involved mining, processing clay and collecting firewood.

In total I made and fired 450 flat tiles and 15 curved ridge tiles. It took 25 firings with 20 tiles per firing (the 24th and 25th firing made up for breakages). A 26th firing was done for the roof capping tiles.

The tiles above the firebox got the hottest glowing orange to yellow hot. Those near the top only glowed high red. Some days the wind blew into the kiln and raised the temperature to the point where the some tiles started to soften and sag with some minerals beginning to melt out of them. These tiles were like stone in hardness.

Stone footing for wall: 1 day (14/8/15)

A stone footing was built around the hut for the mud wall to be built on. If a mud wall is built on stone footing its longevity in increased as it cannot wick up moisture from the ground. This only took a day.

Underfloor heating:  2 days (15/8/15- 16/8/15)

A trench was dug into one side of the floor of the hut from front to back and covered with stone slabs. Gaps were sealed with mud and a fire was lit in the front end. The slight incline ensured that the smoke and flames travelled beneath the floor heating it. A short chimney was built at the back to increase the draft and the stones were covered in mud to form a level platform. The result was a slightly raised floor area that was heated from below. This is similar in principal to a Korean “Ondol”, Chinese “Kang” bed or Roman “Hypocaust”. Flames travel beneath the floor heating it and radiating heat straight up into the room.

Wall: (17/8/15- 30/8/15)

The wall was constructed of mud. Originally I was going to dig soil from around the hut to use for the wall but it became quickly apparent that the drain it would leave around the structure would be too large and lead to the structural instability of the hut. So instead I excavated a large pit in front of the kiln for soil. The mud was placed onto the stone footing so that the wall was about 0.25m thick. The first few layers were of mud alone but I started adding stones to the layers to cut down on the amount of mud needed. It took less effort to carry rocks than it did to dig soil and carry water to make the mud. Before building the wall the wooden structure swayed worryingly when pushed by hand. After the first few courses of mud wall however the posts were held rigidly in place forming a solid structure.

Summary

This was the most complex hut I’ve ever built because of the materials involved, the scale and planning and management of resources. The frame was an experiment in the use of mortise and tennon joints- the first time I’ve used them in a structure and it was justified, given the weight of the roofing material. Firing the tiles in small batches of 20 was inefficient in terms of fuel with one large firing being preferable to 26 small ones. If I were to do it again I might make the all the tiles first then stack them in a pile and cover them with mud- a clamp kiln. The advantage of firing the tiles in small batches was that they did not need to be stored before firing in a separate shelter but be made, fired and put in place on the roof as I went. The underfloor heating was an interesting experiment though here it would only be necessary during the coldest months of the year. It was easy to build and would make all the difference to comfort in cold locations. The mud wall was technically easy to build but required much more labour compared to a wattle and daub wall. The benefit of this though was the stabilising effect on the whole structure. The roof wobbled slightly before building the wall but after was held firmly in place. The finished structure is a little dark and needs to be lit using resin fuelled lamps. In future I may consider windows for better lighting. All in all it is a good, solid, fireproof structure that will not decay any time soon.

437 thoughts on “Building a hut with a kiln-fired tiled roof, underfloor heating and mud pile walls.

  1. This video is a blockbuster for my child, she watched it for a dozen of times already and asked me to ask you to make more! So please don’t stop, we need more primitive technology🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I would just like to let you know that your video has inspired me and a friend of mine and his older brother to attempt to replicate your creation. I’m fifteen my friend, Andrew, is 14, and his older brother is 19, and we are all very exited. Again I would just like to let you know how much we appreciate your hobby and wish to do similarly.

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  3. Hey,

    How did you find/ make the tool you used at 2:45 to hit the clay. It looks like it was turned on a lathe but you usually don’t use tools that are modern.

    As a woodsman myself I appreciate what you are doing. You are giving people the spark to have that interest and giving that taste of that the forests is not a it: the Forests is a he/she.

    Thank you so much. It’s people like you that make the world a better place.

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    • It’s an off cut of wood from the axe handle I made. Go to the axe video and see the tree it came from at about 1:40- I used the chisel to cut the handle to length. Thanks for the comment and that’s an interesting view of the forest- it becomes like home after a while.

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    • Not making any promises but for the new year in no particular order 1. iron 2. glass. 3. Stone dome. 4. tiled shed with it’s own kiln (barrel tiles this time) 5. bow. 6. Atlatl. 7. Cloth .8. Garden. 9-12 I don’t know yet. Some of these are technically very difficult and I have no experience with them yet. But it’s good to have goals. Thanks.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. You have my respect. I don’t know if I would be able to hang on this kind of project, it must be really hard work. I would love to try some of your building projects but unfortunately european enviroment isn’t the best one for it. No forrest is big enough to keep people away from destroing it and also no plants with big leaves nor any vines. I’m sure I’ll try some pottery in the spring but that will be probably all. Anyway thanks for all the great, entertaining/aducational videos.

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  5. Hi
    Your video of the tiled roof house really inspired me to try and do the same, i have sourced clay which is about 30cm underground and i have built a kiln. Firstly i bulit the kiln the same as you did using wet mud however after a few fireings it soon cracked and crumbled easily. A few days of research i found out that a clay/ hay mixture worked well and cracked much less and was able to deal with the intense heat on the inside the went a red colour and turned out to be very hard. I have managed to make some tile frames, i then went to get the clay from the ground however the clay was very impure and requried refining however now i have got a good refining process going and iam able to remove all organic material and stones. I then dried out the wet refined clay by hanging it in a bed sheet from a tree for a week depending on the weather. Then i use the refined clay and old crushed up pottery then mix these and then put it into the mold and created a tile i then dried them inside my house until they where bone dry.
    Now that i have explained what i have done so far. My question is when i have fired the tiles, before they have broken and i have heard them explode/pop inside the kiln early in the fireing process. I have a feeling that i have been heating up the tiles too quickly thus breaking them, however i only saw you filling up your kiln with tiles then putting the fire on straight away and have no problem with the tiles breaking. So do you gradually raise the heat in your kiln by controlling the amount of fuel you put in and if so how do you do it? Also how much crushed up pottery do you put into the clay and what size are the pieces? I also highly recommend the clay/ dry grass mixture instead of mud for future wall building. I am using tools and i am wearing shoes however i have a small garden, a limited amount of fire wood and i am living in the uk so weather is generally crap, i have been cheating a bit by using modern tools, however i am really amazed by your creations and i am looking forward to your next videos you have really opened my eyes to a whole new hobby.
    Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mine did this too to start with. So I lit a small fire in the kiln to slowly dry them- Then I stoke the fire up. Usually the kiln would be warm from the previous day and still have hot coals in the firebox that helped dry the new tiles. Also I’d force dry wet tiles near the firebox while firing a dry batch. The addition of grass to the kiln is a good idea too. Good luck with the project.

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  6. Hello Primitive Technology. I have tried all of your creations with no tools (except what I made) and then some more. I am sure you already know precisely what you are going to make in the future, but since I have tried some new things that work great, I think I will tell you them so you can maybe consider trying them out for yourself. here is the list of things that I made that you haven’t:
    – dugout canoe. I cut down a big wide oak with a stone axe (took a while) and then roughly chopped out the general shape of it. Lit a fire and placed rocks in the fire to become hot, placed rocks on log to burn out. Took many rounds of burning, but works great. I know there is probably no water bodies near where you live, and i live near a river, but it may be worth a shot.
    -treehouse hut. Wattle and daub hut placed on top of big beams between three trees and a tall ladder.
    -raised up garden. the water in the river where i live is poison, due to a tannery just up river of where i live many years ago. cannot drink the water or allow crops to grow in it. built a wattle floor and raised it from the ground, then fired clay tiles to lay on the floor and fill in with dirt. Surrounded by wattle fencing, grew an ancient form of wheat.
    – clay oven/stove in hut. In the tiled roof hut that I built, based on your design, I created a small furnace with a few clay tiles laid on top for cooking on. furnace made of mixture of mud, clay, and fibres. Earthenware may be placed on the tiles to cook. next to the furnace there is a small chamber made of the same mixture as above, but with a clay tile floor, for not putting food on mud. I have baked bread made from wheat I have grown in my elevated garden and eggs from my chicken coop.
    – chicken coop. I realize that this is probably not practical for you, as you probably do not get out into the bush enough to sustain a population of chickens. I built this as a simple smaller version of your wattle and daub hut, but with a rack of boxes for chickens to sleep in and lay eggs in. A chicken yard was enclosed by a wattle fence.
    -Hammock for sleeping. In my tiled roof hut I wove cordage into a net and hung it from posts. Comfier than the bed from the wattle and daub hut you made!
    -windows. The stove/oven makes a lot of heat, so I chipped away some of the mud in my tiled roof hut and put in a removable double-panelled wooden window with forest debris stuffed inside (it gets cold here)

    I hope that you do not overlook my ideas, though some may not be applicable to your patch of the woods, and think about giving it a shot. Thanks! you are brilliant.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Can you tell me if your locations is in a rain forest? I thought I heard a toucan. The reason I want to know is because I am located in Costa Rica, and I was wondering how the wattle and daub is holding up to the humidity and rain?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Men, you are my hero. My whole life I wanted to do the same thing. Sadly, I live in a country without an open forrest, so I can’t. But still, maybe some day, I don’t know.
    By the way, I have some ideas, after I see your videos, that maybe you will like. Some techniques (I dint do it of course, but I study arquitecture, so…) like a two floors hunt or two rooms, furniture, etc. If you want, you can contact me.

    P.s.: sorry for my English🙂

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  9. I love what you have done and have you considered making a dugout canoe or kayak or oven or anything?

    thanks for the great videos, I hope you will make many more.

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  10. also, where do you get your ideas? I wonder if you have a source where you get your techniques and then formulate a plan for a project? or do you come up with them of your own ingenuity, or do you read about things that people had in the stone age and replicate it. How much research do you do for each of your projects?

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  11. Great videos!
    The inside of the hut looks quite dark because the dark walls absorb all the light. Have you considered making some kind of a white paint out of powdered stones(minerals)? If you do you wouldn’t even need to light a fire inside, the light coming through the door would be enough.

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  12. hi🙂, your heating system is pretty clever, i would never’ve thought of that, i’d just make a fire place. do you have to dig out all the ashes eventually to make room for new sticks? that seem difficult to do without breaking the floor. if it rains, wouldn’t the water go into the tunnel and make it too wet for a fire?

    seems like the next step is to figure out how to make glass for windows. do you expect to get up to bronze or iron age technology?

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    • No, the wood only goes in the first 50 cm or so of the tunnel and can be raked out the front easily. It’s the smoke and flames that travel the whole length of the tunnel and up the chimney and they don’t leave any ash. Thanks.

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  13. These videos are so great to watch. So relaxing.

    Anyway, I wondering how does the clay roof perform in the rain vs. the older tree bark roof you had on the other hut? How do you handle the gaps between the tiles?

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    • The tile hut is completely water proof. The bark roof is starting to rot and leaks in heavy rain. The gaps in the tiles are covered by the center of the tiles bellow and above that layer. For water to get in a gap it would have to move 7.5 cm sideways on the tile below before getting into it’s gap and this is impossible. Thanks.

      Liked by 2 people

  14. What ideas do you have for integrating windows into the design? I have been hardpressed to find much information in the integration of natural light into the interior of structures such as this.

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  15. What an absolutely beautiful structure. It is an amazing work of art.
    I have a question concerning the attachment of the roof tiles. Did you find they were stable using the short tongue to hang from the rafters? Are you at all concerned with shifting,slipping, or movement in high wind activity? And lastly,if so what would you do differently for a more constricting attachment?

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    • The weight, tabs and friction of the tiles all work together to hold the tiles in place. We’ve had wind and rain but no problems with slipping tiles or leaks. This method of attatchment is ancient and was used in medieval castles. If you were worried about the tiles coming off still you could put holes in them and hammer pegs through them.

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  16. I used your design to build a brick hut. It has all the same features as this except made of bricks instead of mud. I was wondering if you used a ladder at all? I didn’t see one in the video but It seems like it may be easier with one. Also, is it possible to build a hut of any design with more than one level? I might try it but I want to know if it is possible, safe, or maybe difficult.
    thanks, love what you do.

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    • I made sure the hut was small enough not to use a ladder. Sometimes I may have used a rock as a step to reach a little higher but didn’t need a ladder.I once built a hut with an attic that used a wooden ladder. I put four posts in the ground and tied horizontal posts to these without a ladder. Then I laid logs on these to form a platform and built a simple ladder (2 long logs with steps lashed on 0.5 m apart) to climb up. Onto this platform I built a pyramidal roof and thatched it with palm fronds. If you tie it together properly it’s safe. Good luck.

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  17. My son (12 years old) is loving your videos and really wants to try making some of this when we move. I have some questions though. What if we live in an area where we don’t have access to a natural water source (except rainwater) to start out with making the mud? I suppose we could make something to catch the rain water and then use that to work with? Also, the mud you have looks more clay like, what if we don’t have that type of mud? Can it still work for making the walls and also the clay pots? Thanks so much, your videos are excellent!

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    • You may have to make a dam. Normally on farms they choose a patch of land on a slope and dig the soil out putting on the downslope side of the hole. If the bottom of the dam is excavated to a gravel layer it needs to be back filled and sealed with clay soil that may have been dug out. When it rains water runs down the slope and fills the dam. It’s better if you can find clay and it will depend on the area. As long as the soil has some clay content it should work. Other wise you could use the rammed earth method for earth walls as it needs very little clay to work. Good luck.

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  18. Great video man .Takes me back to 1975 when i built a mud hut on the back of Dunk Island with an axe and scrounge the local tips for roofing.earthen floors…you know the drill i was 18 and ful of it and running from capitalism and wanted adventure and got it
    I built a dome cross draught kiln into the side of the hill(using an upside down lawyer cane basket as the form which burnt out in first firing)i dug all the local clay(white brown and red) and would fish for coral trout each morning and eat pawpaw and grated coconut for breakfast.I made beautiful primitive pots and started selling them to the tourists…oh oh that was the beginning of the end,capitalism was back and i was doing it for money.
    Then i found Jazz… tenor saxophone and searched out the world for best teachers and mentors,found new york school,met Coltrane and rollins and Miles.Now i can escape in the music
    All the best man, really dug your videos so did my kids
    Love the fact there is no dialogue and no soundtrack,just the song birds and the wind and rain.
    Question is this in N.Q Aust?

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Hi, I’m interested in primitive town planning and society. With your experience:
    Freestanding primitive huts are mostly round, would it be easier, quicker or more efficient to build a round house?
    How much more efficient would building with a team be than building individually?
    (I’m thinking that 3 guys could build in less than 1/3 of the time with experience and cooperation)

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    • Round houses use less materials. However with a square hut and round hut with the same wall and roof height the square hut has more floor space and head room. If you want a round house with the same volume it needs to be wider and the roof taller (requiring scaffolding). Just make a simple tripod ladder to put the roof up if you need it. If you had helpers that got on well it would be less than a 3rd the time. Good luck with it.

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  20. Your builds continue to amaze and inspire me. I’ve been trying to recreate primitive technology from the past in my backyard, and I’ve decided to try and build the kiln you’ve made in your video. So far I have dug out the pit and created the perforated kiln floor. I saw that you dried your kiln floor, but did you fire it as well? It’s quite large compared to pots, and I didn’t want to waste the clay so I thought I’d just ask you for confirmation before attempting to fire it in my camp fire. I didn’t see you fire it in the video so I was uncertain. Thank you so much! I want to master these skills as well as you have.

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    • I did fire it before hand but not very much. I just did it to see if it would work well with fire going through the holes, not to make it stronger. You should have a fire in the kiln first to see how it goes. Good luck.

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