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.

Roundwood Timber Framing – Stroud

I am working with Waldorf College students to build their outdoor classroom three days a week. We harvesting timber from the adjacent woodland to build this round wood timber frame which stands higher than the original cow byre, which would only have been high enough to house livestock. The budget here has been very tight so we have re-used old materials where possible and what local timber we have been able to harvest. This has of course meant that we have used species that I would never usually recommend for outdoor structures. However like pioneers we have used the materials available to us as best as possible. Successive years students will add to the structure completing one bay per year and after it is finished students on subsequent courses will be involved in it’s maintenance and repairs. Using some ‘perishable’ timbers brings opportunities if the building can be considered a learning opportunity rather than a finished product. Other than providing shelter the greatest benefit the structure offers is for the involvement of the students learning to build it. It follows therefore that it’s limited life span offers repeated opportunity for future students to get involved in maintenance and re-building. Quite a topsy turvy approach to building!

roundwood timber frame in Stroud

In progress – The roundwood timber frame in Stroud

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.

Pole barn – Tetbury

We will be adding another bay on the pole barn at our woodyard this year. This is our main work/teaching site on Duchy Home Farm. This build is a little un-usual for us as it is designed by an architect with very little input from us and so it not exactly what we would choose to build. However it is from local larch and is keeping us warm and dry which we love! It has also been attracting the local larch wasps one of which tried to lay eggs in Brian’s foot!

pole barn - tetbury - natural wooden building

Pole barn – Tetbury – Gloucestershire

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.