You just don’t see a lot of good old fashioned building things with your hands these days, especially when it comes to constructing houses.
However, carpenter, craftsman, and the founder of John Neeman Tools documented the process of building an entire wooden house from beginning to end, which makes for an incredible 30 minutes and mesmerizing footage.
He describes the process below:
This is a documentary movie uncovering the process of building a wooden house with hand tools from local materials starting from forest till the living space.
I built my house from trees that I felled with an axe and two man crosscut saw in my own forest. I did it following the research of old carpenter’s calendar that coniferous trees should be felled in January’s first days when the new moon rises and the deciduous trees should be felled in the winter time during the old moon. In winter time trees are sleeping and the juice and moisture content is very low in them. As time passes timber felled in winter becomes light and strong.
In the building process I used mostly traditional carpenters hand tools – axes, hand saws, timber framing chisels and slicks, old Stanley planes, augers, draw knives and mostly human energy. All the ground work for fundaments and the basement earth digging was done by hand with shovels. The foundation consists mostly of bigger and smaller rocks and boulders. Lime, sand and concrete mixture are using only in small amounts – to hold the boulders together. The visible part over the ground level – boulder mosaic has been masoned with hand split local granite.
The House has been built based on the western part of Latvia – Kurland/Kurzeme (German influence) historical wooden architecture typical technique – Timber Frame construction with sliding log walls between the posts. House is two carpentry technique union – Timber Frame (that is typical in France, Germany, Great Britain, North America and other countries) and traditional Latvian log building technique, between the logs using moss from the local swamp.
In the walls, timber frame and roof construction there I used only wood joints and wooden pegs to hold the main construction together – no nails, screws or steel plates. Walls are insulated with 250mm thick dry pine and larch shaving layer (leftover from the local cabinet makers workshop). Overall exterior wall thickness is 50cm. In the walls (except wind vapour breathable membrane over the roof) has not been used any plastic or modern synthetic materials.
To preserve the wood from the spoiling, fame posts, sills, top beams and final cladding boards are treated with fire and pine tar mixed with Tung oil. This wood preservation technique was adapted from the Japanese traditional wood preservation technique Shou Sugi Ban (焼杉板).
Exterior cladding boards recoating each 10-15 years Tung oil and pine or birch tar mixture, the house can last more than 500 years. As an example is taken Norwegian stave churches that stands more than 500 years until nowadays.
Roofing is three layer white oak shingles (each 10mm thick, 120mm wide and 720mm long) laid in two directional technique. Overall amount of shingles used is 15 000 pieces. Roof walls are insulated with ecological wood fibre wool and wood fibre panels. Over the wood fibre panels are plastered natural plaster – mixture of sand, clay powder, lime, linen fibre, salt, wheat flour. Overall thickness of the plaster is 20mm and over all amount of plaster used on the walls are 5000 kilos. It works also as thermal mass and improves energy performance.
Exterior measurements of the house is 6.5 x 13 meters. Living space in both floors are 120sq/m. The house is being heated with clay plastered brick bread oven and smaller oven made of clay tiles in the kitchen. To heat up both floors of the house, when outside it is minus 10 degrees (Celsium) only small oven is heated once a day. When freeze gets below -15, -20 C, we heat up the bread oven. Once it is heated, because of it’s thermal mass of 5 tons, it keeps the warmth 2-3 days. To heat up all the house (120 sq/m) in the winter time we use not more than 4 m3 of dry firewood. This is 2nd winter we are living there and we still heat up the house with the leftovers of lumber from the building process. And it will be enough for 3 more years.
I have fulfilled my vision to a build natural, ecological house with high thermal efficiency, low energy consumption, sustainable, using local materials such as – wood, stone, old and new clay bricks, moss, linen fibre, clay, water, lime, wheat flour, salt and wood shavings.
Jacob, carpenter, craftsman and founder of John Neeman Tools.