free standing roundhouse – notes

free standing reciprocal roundhouse

This free standing roundhouse is an 8.5mtr outdoor classroom for Brixham Cofe School. The posts sit on stone at ground level. The school hired me to build the timber frame and will be adding the turf roof and membrane themselves.

I recon the buried post method is in appropriate for turf roofed public buildings. Turf roofs are a heavy load to support over the heads of many people and need to be secure for a couple of decades. The buried post method will inevitably rot and fail. It is fine for personal use where the builder/owner is around to keep an eye on it but quite a risk if it’s a pubic building somewhere else. I have built buried post roundhouses for schools before, like the one pictured below for a school in London. This uses light timbers and a soft top. I have written a fact sheet for lili about roundhouses, which talks more about this issue. Download at

canvas covered roundhouse

All components in the Brixham roundhouse are larch. Larch is at the low end of the acceptable range of out-door durable construction timbers. Larch is however cheaper than chestnut and that is why we’ve had to use in on this occasion. There are 10 up-rights at about 12” thick at the top end to accommodate the ring beam tenons. These tenons are 5’x5”x3” and are pinned in place. The ring beams are about 12”x3”. Every up right is wind-braced with an 8”x2.5” beam mortised into the up right with a side shoulder tenon. Each primary rather is pinned at the apex and housed and pinned at the post end. I dropped this reciprocal roof in the conventional way. I set the rafters up at 18dec and after the drop ended up with 16dec. I tend to work out the roof geometry on paper first, (try it for real at ground level first if you are un-sure). I’m finding now that my roofs are quite predictable dropping about 6” so I can be fairly accurate in setting the final roof pitch. The secondary rafters are pinned to the primary rafters and to an up right mounted on the ring beam. The edge boards are 8”x3” and coach screwed and pinned. We have battened the roof with milling off-cuts.

Clay rendering a strawbale classroom

I’ve just finished teaching my usual slot on the London permaculture course. This course is mainly based Hawkwood run by Organiclea a community food growing coop. The 12 acre site is host to a bounty of amazing activities including this rather wonderful course. For the last two years the practical session of my green building slot on this course has been clay rendering of the strawbale classroom. We are using an experimental technique fixing split wood lathe to the stud frame and daubing this as if it were a wattle and daub wall. The daub is neat fresh dug clay mixed only with straw.

This technique though not commonly used fitted the brief of entertaining 20 people for 1hr only on each annual course, allowing them to experience a ‘whole’ process of digging clay from the site and rendering the wall. So far the process seems to be working and this second year we returned to plug the gaps and apply a second layer. It remains to be seen whether plugging smaller and smaller gaps on successive visits finally results in a smooth finish, and if the final man/hrs spent is much different that if we have mixed all the clay with sand first.

rustic outdoor classrooms

clay rendering wattle and daub

Outdoor classroom in Watford


rustic outdoor classroom queens school

Wow, what an exciting and heart-warming day I have just had! I‘ve just returned to Queens School in Watford to do a safety inspection of an outdoor classroom I built there with the children. I always re-visit building projects 6 months in to check that it has settled in and is safe to sign off. So much has happened since I was last there. The staff and students have really made this space their own. Wood chip paths have been laid through the spinney and logs have been installed for seating. Rustic seating also adorns the classroom and it is obvious that the students and staff are really enjoying the space. I’m really pleased with the way the structure has seasoned and settled in. During building we had worried that in the unexpected scorching sun the poles would season too quickly. Amazingly a small bird, yet un-seen has taken to using the structure as a place to hunt.

Roundwood Timber Framing – Stroud

This is our first roundwood timber framing project in Stroud

The cow byre needing a little love!

We are finally re-building the old 16th century cow byre at Hawkwood College Stroud. This project runs for Waldorf College as part of the ‘Bridging The Gap’ course, a BTEC in life skills. Our students will be involved in the process from start to finish, harvesting all the timber from the woodland and assembling the timber frame. The cow byre has been re-built several times over the years but has been short of love for a long time now. We are very excited to be breathing new life back into the structure which will now be used as an outdoor classroom.