This is the comprehensive list of tools and items that we use when building with cordwood. The list aligns with everything we cover in our Building With Cordwood Masonry online course.
Cordwood Building Tools and Resources
1. Protective Gear
We went through a lot of these while mixing mortar and laying cordwood. After trying a variety of different types of work gloves, the long dish-type was easily our favorite. They last for several uses as long as you take care to wash them at the end of a workday, are inexpensive, and are pretty easy to find at grocery and hardware stores.
From cutting down trees to mixing insulation and mortar, you NEED safety glasses. I already had some cheap pairs from the hardware store, but whenever those break THESE are the ones I would get next. Small profile with a gasket to fit around the eyes.
You probably already have a healthy supply of masks at this point, but if you don’t, you’ll want a solid dust mask to prevent inhalation of powdered ingredients like Portland, lime, and fine sawdust. We had a stash of N95 masks way back when we started our first cordwood project in 2016, but with current events we have pursued other options. You can simply cover your face with a bandana or similar, but they tend to fall off and move around when you’re building. Having a proper mask will keep you safe while you work.
2. Log Prep
You’ll see us using this little tool in the course videos to shave all the little scraggly bits off the edges of the log faces. We tried using a palm sander and traditional rasps with more annoyance than success. These little shavers are the perfect tool to accomplish this small but very important job when building with cordwood masonry.
We have a straight drawknife and, compared to a hunting knife or hatchet, is our least favorite method of bark removal. It is a fine tool and you may find that you prefer it, especially if you’re peeling trees that have fewer little branches along the trunk than our eastern red cedars do. For working with straight trunks, draw knives are a fine option.
I found this curved option while searching for the drawknife we have. It could be a good option worth exploring if you’re adamant about using a drawknife.
This is a tool that I saw recommended several times when we were preparing our trees and looking for easy ways to remove bark. If you have a lot of trees where the bark is stuck tight and difficult to remove, this could be a good option. Some folks did mention that the furry nature of cedar bark made it clog more, so that is worth noting. But it could work well if you are preparing tree species with hardier bark.
I could only find off-brand versions of the meter we’ve used for the last several years. Dr. Meter has an upgraded version, linked above, that is most similar to what we use both in quality and price. It has two options for measurement, including the traditional pins and a pinless scanning option.
Treating your logs is optional, but is recommended if you are working with a wood species that isn’t naturally rot-resistant and/or you live in an area prone to insect infestation. If you choose to treat your logs, you can make an easy solution using borax and water. You can also look into commercial treatments like:
I discuss some of the pros and cons of different log treatments in the log prep lessons in the Building With Cordwood Masonry online course.
3. Mortar Mixing
Mortar hoes differ from garden hoes because they have two large holes in the blade. These holes allow the mortar to pass through and mix quickly and evenly. A mortar hoe is an excellent tool to have on hand even if you don’t intend to hand-mix all of your mortar. You may find yourself working on small batches for various reasons and appreciate having this tool on hand for those moments.
This is the exact model we bought in 2016 and it has been going strong while building our entire house AND the solar shed. I haven’t found anything truly comparable to link to on Amazon that I would feel comfortable recommending.
If you want a non-powered option and want to go beyond mixing by hand in a wheelbarrow, I found this nifty option called the Mix-Mat while I was searching for powered mixers. For working with ratios of dry powdered ingredients like Portland and lime powder, this could be a really interesting option to try out. If you give it a go, send me a message to let me know how it worked out for you!
4. Books and Print Resources
These are all books and resources that we had during the planning and building processes. We even left our physical books with our local building inspector for him to look through while we navigated the permit process. Having hard copies of these well-researched books gave us a real advantage when working with our inspector and giving him confidence in our ability to build.
These first three books are the three cordwood books we found to be the most helpful:
If you’re looking for Hempcrete information, this book was our favorite out of the few we looked at:
The books in this post include resources we used for plumbing, electrical, home plans, and more. If you plan to build a home or something more complicated than a simple shed, these are the books you should have on hand:
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