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.

      • I’m new to this idea. Can you go over why you need to fire the tiles. I’m offering they will not melt in the rain this way, but I don’t know why or how. How hit sobriety need to get in order to have the properties you want? What properties are you trying to bring out if the clay? What kind of clay is best for this and what type/consistency of clay is ideal and not? So interested.

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      • That’s right- to stop them melting in the rain. The tiles need to glow at least red hot to become ceramic. The best clay forms strong shapes when dry and can be found in creek banks but you need to experiment with different clays till you find one that works. Make small pots from clay first then fire them in a camp fire. This will give you a good idea of weather the clay is suitable or not. Thanks.

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    • Thanks Erin. I have a garden at home but live in a regular house etc. I’m growing a sweet potato garden at the wattle and daub hut and have got two small potatoes from it. When it’s ready to harvest properly I’ll make a video of it. Thanks.

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  1. Hey dude!
    You are crazy u know that?
    Awsome job u did there.
    I would like to see how u would make a shelter in a rocky area or may be some the shelter inside or next to a small cave .
    Also why not built something with clay briks?
    Waiting for new videos
    Greetings from Greece!!

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  2. There’s a show here in the US called Naked and Afraid. You more then anyone would laugh at it. One thing. You rock at tools, structures etc. But, you might want to do a show on how to combat mosquitos. In the mentioned show, the bugs seem to get most to quit before the 21 day mark.

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    • smoke keeps some species away but not all. On a show like that I think it’s best to build a dome shaped hut and have a fire pit in the middle to keep the pests away. Any spare time could be used making a bed off the ground. Food, water and fire wood would probably take up the most time and effort. Thanks.

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  3. I love your project. I guess you have a lot of knowledge about pottery, plants and minerals. Are you gonna smelt some bronze in near future? First step from the stone age to the bronze age?

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    • I might go straight to iron if I can build a furnace to get hot enough. This might be done in an elongated kiln called a reverberatory furnace. It can reach temperatures of 1400 c using wood as fuel and natural draft to draw in air (no bellows needed). Iron ore could be placed on the floor of the kiln with charcoal powder (for reduction of iron oxide to iron metal) and wood ash (flux to help the slag flow). Temperatures of 1200 c would be reached and solid lumps of Iron would appear in the slag. We’ll see. Thanks.

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      • I like that idea! I myself did a paper on how to extract iron from ore with wood chips and other wastes. But I doubt I could build the equipment required in the wild 🙂

        Anyways, I wanna say your blog is a huge inspiration for me to resume my own – will keep looking for new posts here!

        (My blog – ideament.wordpress.com if anyone’s interested)

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      • I reckon it would work. A small kiln similar to a reverberatory furnace (anagama kiln) reaches temperature approaching 1400 c with wood fuel and natural draft alone. 1200c is needed to form iron blooms from ore. To get around the oxidising atmosphere of a kiln, charcoal powder (say) and maybe also flux could be mixed directly with the ore. The result would be no different to that of a bloomery furnace operated with bellows and lump charcoal. Thanks.

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    • It is water tight so far- we had 16 mm of rain in a day and no leaks. Also those gaps you see are looking on a downward angle out of the hut- if you look directly up at the tiles from underneath, you can’t see gaps. In other words for water to get through the gaps it would have to flow up the tile instead of down. Thanks.

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      • How did you perfectly seal the tiles over the crest of the roof. It seemed like they were just lain side by side?

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      • The gaps between the cap tiles go over the centre of the tiles underneath. This way water that gets in needs to travel 7.5 cm sideways before getting into the gaps in the tiles underneath (not going to happen). By this time the water has already fallen onto the next tile below and so on. Thanks.

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  4. Simply amazing! I know humans existed this way forever but it’s inspiring to see. I feel better knowing that someone is keeping it alive and that I can learn via this medium. Definitely curious to see more. Maybe farming skills. Hint hint. Great work thank you!

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  5. people are going to post your videos no matter what cuz they are cool, thanks for sharing btw. so, maybe think of a way to work with them? if they share you-tube don’t you get monetary value / credit? just a thought 🙂 btw, i think an one of those that got shut down is how i found you. pretty sweet man!

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    • True. But it is still wrong. Facebook itself is the real thief. They are slow to act on copyright and all the while they make money off stolen material. If a bunch of YouTubers got together and filed a class action we could sue Facebook and get our money back. Thanks.

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  6. Saw this video on Facebook..it was sped up though. I had to google it so I could see the original video. Absolutely amazing! You are very talented. Now on to watch your other videos 🙂

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  7. Hey just wanted to say love the videos and had a few quick questions; What do you do with the shelters when you are done making them? (Destroy them/leave them) and have you ever ran into the problem of people finding and messing with the shelter?

    (Also if your familiar with reddit at all I think you would make a fantastic AMA and people would love it if you did one! http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/ if unfamiliar)

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  8. Hi, i was wondering (sorry if someone ask this before) but how do you “refuel” and clean the underfloor heating ?
    Also, what do you think about adding some ventilation (it’s just a question, i trully don’t know anything about construction ) ?

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    • The underfloor heating is fueled in the firebox at the front of the hut (wood doesn’t need to go all the way under the floor) . Ash is taken from this in down times and spread on the garden at the wattle and daub hut or stored for some other use. I don’t think it’s necessary to add windows or vents- the hut can be heated to get rid of dampness and the hut is so small air doesn’t go stale in it. I just added a fireplace in the new video and so this, in a way, acts as ventilation. Thanks.

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  9. Amazing!….Really Amazing….This is the first Shelter made with NO TOOLS that actually wouldn’t blow away or be torn apart during first storm…Wow…I’m building a nice shelter myself but do not know what to use as roofing material as I don’t have any Pine/Palm or even debris in my woods….I live in Indiana….Just a bunch of maple, oak and locus trees….all small leaves?….If I made a A FRAME hut thatched it with vines and woven branches….could i pack it with mud and clay?…Would that work….instead of using deb re just use the mud/clay?

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  10. I like the way you keep primitive technology alive im 13 and learning of your video ill like to get in contact and get advice so could we get in contact and i hope you keep up the good work

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  11. I have watched every video (repeatedly) and just want to know how a man can get into this hobby? I want to give some of this a try honestly

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    • First find some wilderness, then start with the basics- fire, shelter and stone tools. Everyone should have a basic idea of how to do things it’s just a mater of trying. It is a lot of trial and error though. Good luck.

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  12. I would marry u and live out in the woods, just for being primitively smart n resourceful. I was born n raised in rural area but spend half if my life in a metropolitan city. After years of living in Asian city, your knowledge is a breath of fresh air. Keep posting videos, might be useful for me someday

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  13. Excellent work. Only suggestion would be to try to combine a sheltered fireplace for cooking into the structure, maybe using the underfloor heating fire. Cooking in the rain is not pleasant. Congrats.

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  14. Very interesting and productive research.
    An internal chimney would make better use of fuel, loosing less heat.
    It may be stated somewhere, but what is the location?

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  15. But what about privative mortar? Everything out there all says mud, but that washes away. What is the most basic permanent choice for putting brick walls together?

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  16. Great videos, been following the youtube channel for a while now just stumbled across the blog. A couple questions: 1) How far from the road or from ‘civilization’ do you generally travel before arriving at a construction sight? 2) Roughly how far apart are the tile and wattle huts? Looking forward to more videos, glad to hear that you’re choosing quality over quantity.

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  17. How did you make the object that you used to beat the clay at 2:30. Please answer. Also I love your channel. Keep doing what you do. It’s because if people like you that all of the ways of old aren’t lost.

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  18. Wow, this whole project is freaking sweet. Major kudos on your creativity and persistence.

    Question: I didn’t see any adhesive or mortar put down during the tile-laying process. Have any of them blown off, or do they seem to be sufficiently wedged in there?

    Like

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