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What is cob?

If you would like to skip the introduction and go straight to the chapter on cobbing, click here.

The dictionary lists one of the root meanings of cob as a 'lump' or 'mass'. One definition of cobble is 'to make'. And a cobber is 'a friend'. So let's cobble a cob house with our cobbers!

Cobbing is a process best described as mud daubing. Earth, sand and straw are mixed together and massaged onto the foundation, creating thick load-bearing walls. It's like hand-sculpting a giant pot to live in.

Earthen homes are common in Africa, the Middle East, India, Afghanistan, Asia, Europe, South and Central America. Easily one-third of the world's population is currently living in homes made of unbaked earth.

The three most common forms of earth buildings are adobe, rammed earth and cob. In the southwestern United States, the five hundred year old Taos Pueblo, as well as many homes and churches, are made of adobe. Adobe is a form of building using unfired earth. Dirt, straw and water - the same ingredients as in cob - are made into bricks which are then sun dried and built into walls with a "cob-like" mortar. Some very old Native American structures like the Casa Grande ruin in Arizona are made out of cob. These are described locally as being built of "puddled or coursed adobe".

There is evidence that cob building began in Europe about 800 years ago. Some buildings that were built in the 16th and 17th centuries are still standing today. In England, there are approximately 50,000 cob buildings still in use today. Most of these were constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Unfortunately, with the advent of fired brick construction, and political alliances between brick makers and the masons, the skill and art of making homes out of cob almost died out in Europe over the last century. Since 1980, the traditional craft of cob building has been enjoying a revival, mostly in the form of repairs or additions to existing buildings, with some new structures being built as well. In 1996 in Britain, four new cob buildings were under construction with building council approval.

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