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.

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

  1. So inspiring, as I said previously, that I’m presently building the same kiln. I dug the trench into a slope, placed the stone lintel, and now it’s raining heavily. It will soon be a cold and rainy season where I live. Of course, the slope of the trench leads water off the fireplace, I checked that, but …
    What about your fireplace during the rainy episode ? Was it soaked, wet, or could you keep it dry ? You fired a batch of tiles then. Do you think wetness noticeably influences the firing temperature, or the firing time ?

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  2. Very cool stuff. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and videos. I wonder if you could better describe the weather you encounter during dry and rainy months. I know you’ve said you’re in Australia but most probably aren’t familiar with your weather patterns. Here in the US on the east coast by Washington we have 4 very different seasons to adapt to. Maybe two ideas for future videos: One describing the weather and resources you have to work with (types of plants and such) and also one showing your failed attempts as you attempt your different construction methods and making tools. Everyone loves to see “bloopers” and it would probably encourage others not to give up so easily. Any which way keep up the good work.

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    • Here we only have the wet warm and cold dry seasons but they are unpredictable. My friends have said to do bloopers but when I film myself I’m really focussed and don’t make mistakes. The only one I did make the whole time building this hut was knocking a tile off the roof when walking past with some firewood- and that was off camera. Thanks.

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      • Ha yeah you do look very focused in your videos. Awesome. A few friends and I have since played around with fire sticks, inspired by you. I say played because I haven’t made real time for it yet. But I’ll have some questions for you about it. I’ll ask on your YouTube video with the fire sticks though. so maybe others will find it.

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  3. Hey I love the work you are doing, couple questions for you though?
    1. Are you currently working on another project?
    2. Do you have a specific type of stone you like to use that has longer lasting results for tools?
    3.since you are experimenting with clay roofs and kilns, would you ever attempt to make a multi -level?
    4. Last question. Do you use a primitive water filtration system while your out there or do you carry it in? And same for food? Do you catch/cook food out there. I spent some time in Australia while I served. Did you encounter a lot of wildlife out there? Thanks on advance your videos are extremely inspirational. And I plan to try it out my self.
    Would you be interested in a multi person built structure of the opportunity presented itself ?

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    • 1. Not a big one but smaller projects. 2. Basalt is best here.3. I’ve built a hut with an attic before but have no video. I might do it again but have no use for it yet.4. No I don’t live in the wild but I do drink creek water and have not gotten sick. I’ve eaten black bean after taking out the poison, some nuts, and shrimp but that’s about it. We’ll see- I generally work well by myself at my own pace and keep the projects small enough so one person can handle it. But in the future maybe. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent demonstrations. Look forward to more. I subbed you and shared a lot so you will probably get even more views. I even shared on the McPherson’s primitive wilderness living forum at prairiewolf.com.

    I am not into social networks like facebook either. I am on Google+ because I have to be with YouTube. I put my videos up on my channel to help folks that may be struggling with skills like I did. Its a practicing hobby I enjoy doing and I enjoy the Lord’s wilderness. Like you I learned by trial and error and research. I am not totally primitive though. There are no rocks for breaking into an edge where I live so a knife is a must. Nor do I have property or space to do some skills like you show that require it. My point is, I really don’t care if they break the copyright law and steal my videos (download and re-upload) as I am not doing it for a business or donations but rather satisfaction, learning, and if possible to help others. Not that anyone would care to steal my videos anyway. 🙂 Stealing identity is whole other matter. I understand the need for video protection for those like you who are doing it as a business and donations. I would be upset also if I was doing for a business. Take care and all the best.

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    • Thanks Robert.I would encourage you to monetize your videos and put out copyright complaints. Most people who upload don’t leave there chair but you and me are doing real work in the field and deserve every dollar we earn. Keep doing bushcraft and making videos whatever you decide and keep it fun. And thanks for sharing and subscribing, it is much appreciated.

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  5. First of all great videos! I really enjoy watching them here in Austria 😉
    Could you give me some pros and cons on the tiled roof compared to the palm thatched roof? It’s obvious, that the tiled roof is more long-lasting, but it does not look as rainproof as the palm thatched one. And would combining both make sense?

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    • It hasn’t leaked yet but we’ve not had the wet season yet. The light you can see through the tiles is because the camera is looking down and out- looking up from beneath you see no light. I think the tiles will work better than thatch and need less maintenance (thatch rots) but we’ll see. Thanks.

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  6. This is a fantastic project! Very well done. Just to let you know I have reblogged (using the WordPress function) this, if you have any issue with that please let me know and I will pull it down.

    Keep up the great work, I will be following from now and hopefully tacking some of your ideas with my son as projects.

    Thank you!! 🙂

    Like

  7. I am going to start in my back yard just making and firing clay/mud…items such as plates, bowls….
    Is there some special type of mud/clay combo we should use? Any tips on the mud?
    I am in GA, (USA) so should have some good red clay…as a kid, we used to make items from the mud and baked them in the sun….
    I can practice on making the ax in my house/back yard in the city also….
    Thanks , love your videos
    Betty

    Like

    • Use the clay that you did as a kid, make small pots to start with and fire them in a pit so they glow red among the coals. If they crack add plant fiber or crushed broken pots to the next lot. Good luck with the axe too. Thanks.

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  8. I asked this question in the comments on YouTube as well, but I figure I’ll catch you quicker on your own blog. I keep wondering about the foundation for those huts. Wouldn’t a strong enough wind undo all your hard work?
    It may just be because I live in Denmark, where the wind never really dies down, but I was thinking then your were building, “those walls look really heavy, but are they heavy enough to stand up to a few storms when the rain is slapping against the wall and washing the outer layer away?”
    I was thinking the same thing with the (also awesome) wattle & daub hut; especially the chimney. Doesn’t it ever storm in the outback?

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    • In this climate the walls dry hard and are very solid. A lot of water would be needed to dissolve the walls and what little blows in would not be enough. I’m not sure what it would be like in other climates though. Thanks.

      Like

  9. Hey,

    Cool videos!

    You didn’t describe the door at all and I was wondering if that with its more to protect against the elements or also against animals, snakes, insects, etc.

    How is it with other forest dwellers : do you see many animals when being so long in the woods?

    Also, is that something that you need to specially watch out for – poisonous snakes, ticks, spiders, predators?

    Thanks again for posting these videos!

    Stan

    Like

    • To be truthful I made a door because people kept asking for one- in this climate and terrain a door is not really necessary. If I were to make a door to keep predators out it would open out wards (animals can push better than pull). It would be narrow so nothing bigger than a human could get in. And it would be set in a door frame that was set into the wall. Thanks.

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  10. Trying to find the best ways to share your videos with my 19 yr old son who is into survivalist stuff. Friend sent me a video on facebook of the clay roofed mud hut you built. Your videos are well done and seem easy to follow. My sons going to love them.

    Like

  11. Hey,
    great videos this one especially inspired us to hurry up work on ours which will have a tin roof and the same mud walls that are on this one. this will eventually evolve into a small, sustainable camp which we will use when hunting etc.
    thanks for the great tips
    Andrew

    Liked by 1 person

  12. These projects are most interesting and I think might qualify the builder to teach a college course. This blog (I think) counts as publishing (in some respect). This could turn out to be a career. I hope to see new projects if possible. I suspect the world of prehistoric building might be somewhat limited either due to the lack of surviving elements of the period or perhaps discoveries not yet made.

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  13. I haven’t read through all of the comments yet, so maybe this has already been noted. The Korean system of under floor heating with hot air from a fire is dangerous due to carbon monoxide leaking into the dwelling. People were killed in Korea every winter, especially at night while sleeping with all the doors and windows closed. The system has pretty much been replaced in Korea by a system where the ondol fire heats hot water, which is then circulated under the floor.

    Like

  14. You, sir, are my hero.
    I’m into bushcraft, and learning a lot of stuffs via Youtube, but i gotta say these videos of yours are very well made and so inspiring! Keep up the good work mate, can’t wait to watch more of it!

    Like

  15. First I have to say that I am enjoying these videos immensely. I feel like I would just like to sit with you and ask you tons of questions about your skill set. They are truly a gift and thank you for sharing them with us. Second I wondered how your slate roof stood up to rain and water leaks and what type of maintenance it requires. Do you use any of your huts to camp in after they are completed? Sorry if I’ve asked things already brought out. Please keep making more. Your talents are appreciated.

    Like

    • There has been rain and without leaks but it wasn’t heavy. We’ll see in the wet season. I do camp out in them. I’ve slept in other huts I’ve built. This tiled hut I stayed in from dusk till 8:00 pm a few nights ago, but had to come home for something. I have installed a fire place and was testing it (now the hut has both underfloor heating and a separate fireplace). Thanks.

      Like

  16. I found your first video on Facebook several months back and I’ve been following your channel ever since. Thank you for your effort and time to video these projects and I look forward to seeing your next projects.

    Like

  17. I found your video this year in my interior design class at heritage (USA). My teacher asked if any of us could find out your name and where you live, because we were all wondering if you were allowed to keep the houses up and live in them. Everyone in my class loves your videos. A lot of us want to even try and build one ourselves. Thank you for sharing these videos with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I not speak english…Complimenti…Sei grande ! Io e i miei amici stavamo facendo un rifugio…con il legno, ma i tarli ci hanno distrutto tutto e dobbiamo quindi rimuovere tutto e rifarlo da capo…poi ho visto il tuo video su facebook condiviso da youtube! Allora ho guardato tutti i tuoi video!!! Nei giorni prossimi io e i miei amici inizieremo i lavori prendo spunto sulle tue creazioni! Bravo! Good Job man!!

    Like

  19. Hello,
    The video is very impressive. I have always loved the nature.
    You seem to have a hobby that I would like to try out!
    Can I ask you how you came out the basic knowledge and techniques?
    It would be appreciated if you could recommend a book or website.
    Thanks.

    Like

    • Most of it comes from internet research which is free. But the most important part is actual trial and error. Any bush craft book should do. The tile hut I came up with by myself there were no books on the subject and I just had to try it myself. Thanks.

      Like

  20. You are incredible!!! What an amazing concept. I’m a very outdoorsy girl myself, but this is taking it to a whole new level. What inspired you to start making these amazing builds out of primitive tools and technology?

    Like

  21. viewing this in australia, you are simply so much fun to watch, got to love those quick compilations, would believe you did it in a day, please make more, this is incredible!

    Like

  22. Very inspiring! How to create and make things using what nature give us and your own hands only is amazing! I am an artist and sometimes I paint my watercolors using fruit and spices with a great result! Thanks nature! 😉

    Like

  23. awesome, same as above, saw on facebook, low quality short (sped up version) of video, could just read your watermark and found your page, awesome skills you have and i enjoyed your proper 15 minute version of the video.

    Like

  24. This is brilliant stuff, mate. Glad to see it’s in Aus too – when I saw the video of roasting Moreton Bay black beans I figured it out 🙂 Where in FNQ is this? Do you do this on private property or public land?

    I’d love to attempt to do this sort of thing down here in Victoria but finding the land to do it on is the difficult part! Brilliant stuff mate and I look forward to seeing more in the future.

    P.S. the CO problem with the Korean floor-heater could be easily solved perhaps with small windows just below the ridge poles for ventilation – though the open-ness of the door would probably prevent any serious buildup anyway.

    Like

  25. Found this page through a Facebook link from the watermark. Before I start plowing through the archives, do you have video of a Canadian winter -appropriate structure? This site is fantastic, by the way, kudos!

    Like

  26. Hi there.
    You’re such an inspiration.
    I can’t get over how focused you are. You never seem to miss or get injured, is that really the case?
    How do you keep yourself from being eaten alive by all those mozzies in FNQ?
    I remember getting scratched and bitten as a kid around Port Douglas just after a short walk, fully clothed!
    Does your partner (if you have one) understand your hobby?
    Hollywood has gotta hunt you down.

    Like

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