Exploring cob

When the walls have dried, it’s time to give them a shave. An expert hand – like Saminadhan’s at pointReturn- can achieve a great result. The dramatic difference between a lumpy wall and an evened out one can be seen in the picture. After a shave, a wall is vertical, and just rough to receive a finishing coat. This is also the time to correct the shallows, of which we had several square feet of in the kitchen walls.

The walls were then ready for finishing. Traditional stucco is a very plastic clayey, sieved earth. To that I added some hydrated lime. This was trowelled on and finished. It will be nowhere like the plaster of a modern home, all flat and uniform- only better. Cob walls have their own unique personality; sometimes each area has its an identity like an art work has. The combination of texture and light on the never flat wall is unpredictably attractive.

Cob Day parties are wonderful events to organise. People come over and help with building, eat brought over or site cooked lunch and learn about cob. Most fall in love with it. Hands on one another’s shoulder, they sing and dance as they trample the mud and walk around all day with caked mud boots.

For me personally, building with cob was a series of lessons on life itself. The corners where the walls meet are never square or precise as in a machine. They are as free as the heart that led the hand. Cob teaches you patience, as you cannot rush with it. Cob is forgiving; no error is terminal, no repair catastrophic. It brings the artist out of you; you identify with the wall you helped build. It brings out the inquiring spirit- the rebel even!- from within you, asking a series of ‘why not try this?’. Cob also encourages frugality of living, informs you of nature’s simplicity despite its potential, and leads you to modesty. Cob is a metaphor for life as a teacher.

When the walls have been shaved and plastered, they already acquire a seductive look. One final smoothing finish can make it irresistible. Velliyamma brought her burnishing stone over. The previous day she had prepared the final coat: a mixture of sieved red earth and cow dung. She laid on a thin layer of it, spread it with her hand, one small area at a time. Then before it began to dry – that happens quickly!- she went over it with her burnishing stone. And the walls were done.

3 thoughts on “Exploring cob

  1. Nice blog ! Currently I am building a house in my native village . Completed upto the basement level with stone masonry. Decided to continue with cob for super structure. The one mistake I have done is I have made a 7′ high door frame. And I have the design of having an open space in the middle of the house similar to the old “Agraharam” house and so I Have to raise the centre to 10′ and the walls are going to be around 8′. I have very little space left out in the outside ,so having longer eaves is not possible.

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