Modern Wooden Houses With No Glue Or Nails

Depending where you are in the world, the techniques used to build houses can sometimes seem to be stuck in another century. Bricks and mortar, for instance, we build with them because we are used to them and have a large workforce of people trained to work with them and not much else. But in the 21st century with more advanced building technologies sitting relatively unused and looming housing crises at every turn, does it make sense to still build houses the slow and expensive way our great-grandparents did? Probably not.

Wooden houses are a promising solution to some of the problems outlined in the previous paragraph, and indeed in large parts of the world wood is the housing material of choice. It’s eco-friendly, not too expensive, and can be applied easily to multiple different types of structure. If you think of a wooden house, does the image of a log cabin come to mind, or perhaps a weatherboard house? Both construction methods that would be familiar again to your great-grandparents, so perhaps you might not call it an advanced building technology.

It’s interesting then to see an innovation from France, a system of interlocking wood sections that can be built into walls that look very similar to brick (Here’s the French language original). These are short sections of board cleverly designed with dovetailing to engage with vertical sections that interlock between different courses and leave a gap between wooden inner and outer faces of the wall that can be filled with insulation material. The effect is to create a wooden building system that can produce a vast range of structures that can be assembled in a very short time indeed. This isn’t prefabricated housing, but it delivers the speed you’d expect from it.

They have a video shoving construction of a typical house in rather idyllic French countryside, which we’ve put below the break. It has French language annotations, however for non Français speakers the context is pretty obvious.

We have featured surprisingly few wooden building techniques here at Hackaday, and it’s probably safe to say that few of you are likely to build a house using this method. But it’s never to late to start. Give [Dan’s] woodworking for hackers a glance. If your interest is piqued by wooden houses though, you might wish to take a look at the Wikihouse project.

[via Boing Boing]

94 thoughts on “Modern Wooden Houses With No Glue Or Nails

      1. I guess you didn’t know in May 29, 2016 the supreme court ordered the entire US had to allow ‘lesbian construction’. Many county building permit employees have refused to issue building permits :)

    1. would cost a fortune like this. insulation is a major issue, floor, and roof.
      you still need a real roof on it, or you’ll be in a sauna in summer, and it
      really is no joke ! – but you can live very well in a wood house apart from
      that, i have done, 2 years in a row, in summer. very nice. not sure it would
      be so great in winter, with cold and damp, but you can hold those off with
      a good stove – and i’ve lived in a mobile home through winters quite
      happily, given a decent wood supply.

      1. but still slower than prefabbed masonry, with a lot of upkeep on top, bricks or stone are usually used in places where weather can be harsh or make upkeep uneconomical.

    1. You use bricks simply because you’ve always used bricks.

      Lafting is a very common building techniquer in the nordic countries, and they’re not infamous for having a particularily dry weather.

      1. Some parts of Britain have decent and easily quarried stone nearby, elsewhere we used heavy wooden frames with an infilling of woven branches covered with supermud, and maybe a nice coat of whitewash to make it look nice. Only when we had a large and efficient coal industry did it became economically possible to use fired clay bricks everywhere.
        Back on-subject, this wooden construction kit seems to be specially made for a DIY builder and the idea of using the waste wood-chips (if that is what they are) for insulation is very appealing, but with just a coat of paint on the outside it’s not a building to try to bring up a family in.

    2. you forget that almost all the interior studwork and subframe will most often
      be timber, and that’s to keep things dry and avoid rising damp. was surprised
      when i realised most London semi’s etc. rely on the subframe to keep the
      roof supported. you just have front and back façades in brick, separating
      walls with neighbours, maybe a supporting wall somewhere, but otherwise
      mainly timber.

      1. He’s probably referring to the fact that wood itself is not a great insulator. Sawdust would be better, but not by much, only because of the air pockets. A lot of modern designers are actually dedicated to removing “thermal bridges” from the walls and framing. Mostly in the form of 2×4’s here in the U.S. In some instances, they’re using the traditional wooden wall studs, insulating between them, and then laying a foam board over that,THEN putting Sheetrock over the foam, to keep the Sheetrock insulated from the wood, which tends to transfer thermal energy.

        1. Agreed. This is not a good design for colder climates. Structural insulated panels and super insulated concrete forms are a more energy efficient way.

          Bricks and concrete add thermal mass and better regulates inside temp. I’d prefer solid wood log walls over this lightweight lego design. Passivhaus should be the design standard for all new construction, especially in colder climates, considering 80% of the cost of a building over its lifetime is the energy cost to heat and cool it.

    1. Yeah, this construction will not last. You’re going to get huge gaps after a couple seasons. More joints = more gaps. There’s no reason to use such small ‘bricks’ here.
      The roof is going to get destroyed by this warping as one side will inevitably warp more than the other due to exposure.

  1. This is really interesting. With the dovetails glued, and most wood glues being stronger than wood itself, this welds the wall structure into a ridiculously strong monolithic unit. It also has the advantage that most of the wood is in relatively small sections that can be formed from relatively young trees if necessary. With the making of the “bricks” automated it’s probably cost-competitive with traditional stick construction and a lot more durable.

  2. 1. I see no house wrap or vapor barrier.Seals walls from drafts.
    2. why are horizontal wood pieces not 8 feet long? It would be stronger. Also where female part of dovetail joints are, they removed 75 percent of the wood (weakened the wood to much).
    3 Too many small pieces of wood to put together.
    4. sawdust for wall insulation???Too flammable.. Use aircrete.
    5. I see glue being used in at least one assembly shot. So your article title is some what misleading.

    1. 5. I see glue being used in at least one assembly shot. So your article title is some what misleading.

      It’s not glue but wax, oil or grease to reduce friction ;-)

  3. It looks really nice, but requires precisely machined pieces and a lot of manual labour. As Jeff Faust said, I’m afraid that warpage of stored pieces might be a huge problem.

  4. “We have featured surprisingly few wooden building techniques here at Hackaday”

    Yeah, because the peanut gallery screams bloody murder whenever anybody dares to build a house differently than the way every other house in the US is built. Or maybe that’s a good reason to post more.

    1. I think it’s more because wood is a pretty poor building material to start with (unless your primary criteria is low cost) and there are only so many ways of being innovative with it. Hacking a house together is also not a very good long term idea and those two things combined result in what we see here. There are some neat and creative but labor intensive wooden Japanese style builds out there but at the end of the day, you wind up building an expensive in price but overall cheaply valued home with no specific innovations if you do that. Particularly if you do so in an area outside of where such building methods are known or popular, which assumes that local building codes are comfortable with it and you are able to import an entire skilled construction crew.

      Also, most home buyers and realtors know nothing about home construction types and don’t know how to value anything other than cookie cutter homes. There is also the difficulty of repair work becoming more difficult and more skilled and therefore more expensive. Wood doesn’t age well and is attacked and broken down by common environmental items and homes typically are more ideally created to last more than a decade or two.

      That said, there are plenty of ways to innovate home construction. But part of the difficulty is that building codes tend to do things like specify exact materials needed to satisfy certain parts of the code. That’s great for things like electrical wire sizes and wire protections but not as great for encouraging new and innovative building materials and methods.

      Here is a neat video on nail free Japanese building construction, if you care to learn more about it.

      1. A few years ago the Chinese community in Seattle decided to build a garden (several pavilions and a surrounding wall) using traditional Chinese techniques. The entire project was designed in China and all the pieces were manufactured there – ready to be installed in the US without any additional modification. They were even going to bring skilled workers to do the assembly. The problem was that the Seattle DPD would not accept the project because of code noncompliance. The company I work for was hired to “convert” all project documentation to the IBC requirements. I had to redesign the entire thing, and believe me – a 3D wood frame is not something you can just model in ETABS and submit the printed output to the reviewer.
        Oh, and the DPD refused to approve any connections that did not feature nails.

    1. No no, we need that Russian machine that 3D prints houses, but filled with wood pulp and glue extruder! Bonus points if we can rig it up to print the furniture frames inside the house.

  5. Without building code compliance and mass production of the components this is just an experiment. I’m not familiar with the EU building codes, but good luck proving to the US local authorities that this structure meets the requirements in seismic an (relatively) high wind zones.

    1. Here in Europe we don’t have to care about earthquakes. Mind kinda boggles for us why you build cities on fault lines.
      We also don’t understand your wooden houses; we out it down to a young country and your disposable consumer culture… we have lots of houses here older than the US…

      1. Wooden houses more than 200 years old are still in use here. Yes they require maintenance just as any other type of house. If you don’t maintain a brick house it will fail, often before a wooden house.

        IOW stop being a clueless smuck…

        1. To give you a clue about our thinking over here in the old world we have, for example, Stonehenge which dates back four to five thousand years. Modern archaeology suggests that the stones replaced earlier wooden structures which rotted away. Much more recently we have, for example, Greenstead Church, only a bit over a thousand years old, which is considered the oldest wooden church in the UK. It has been maintained over the years of course so that, to my eyes at least, it has more stone, brick and tile in it than wood though there are some original oak beams still.

    2. In some parts of France the rules can be essentially it’s your house and if it falls on you it’s your problem (according to Grand Designs!). I don’t know the exact ins and outs because in other parts and for things like electrics they are far more backward than the UK (DIY forums with expat members).

      1. you know what the rumour is in France? that in the UK you have to be very careful
        what’s specified in the estimate, because if the roof isn’t mentioned, you might not
        get one ! i would take that with a pinch of salt, about the french being ‘backward’,
        as you say. i’ve heard a lot of stuff like that, but i still see brits doing some weird
        stuff when it’s so much easier to do it the normal way. (like bringing their own
        paint over because it’s ‘cheaper’ – but it isn’t when it isn’t adapted to the climate,
        or you suddenly need to get more, or the colour’s wrong.)
        i think you’ll find that standards have kept updating, and would follow US technology
        rather than UK. same with Spain, where i worked on lots of sites.
        you ought to get out of the habit of referring to other people as ‘backward’. really.

    1. More like too many people allowed to buy houses they could never afford, by banks that knew as much. When all those mortgages foreclosed, the banks were left with a bunch of collateral they couldn’t get rid of for the prices they were worth.

      1. the worth is largely arbitrary. Its set by desirability of the area which has been 100% social opinion for about 80 years. If u think the banks lost out you are kidding yourself. The banks make the fricken money. Its a number in their computer. Every dollar in allows them to loan out 8 new dollars. when they called themselves two big to fail they got their money back from us tax payers (sadly that doesnt always include the biggest earners like ge) and they kept the collateral. Now they divide and rent those homes through wholy owned subsidiaries. Im not seeing how anyone but people lost on that. Some people had a home with an artifically inflated value..they maybe shouldnt have been allowed to get that loan, but the value shouldnt have been that high either. Banks now make even more money while people who were in a home are on the street or renting a shithole after having their credit fucked

      2. the stupid thing was taking that junk back when they couldn’t pay the mortgage,
        and kicking the people out and leaving the houses to go to ruin. another more
        human solution would’ve had much less social and economic impact.

  6. the most lego-like way to build a house is . It looks like two EPS lego blocs with a metal frame in between you can pour concrete in. I saw walls built in less than a week by a guy and his wife alone with this thing. It’s probably much more insulated than this wood and as the insulation is outside of the concrete, it probably does not count toward the inner surface of the house, which is important for tax reasons. Also, concrete does not wrap.

    1. We used these blocks for a beach house on the Oregon coast. Not very nice weather pretty much any time of year. Super solid and very well insulated. We added concrete (hardiplank) boards to the outside with an asphalt water shield. I was so impressed with how fast it went and how solid the end result was! Wiring the walls was fun to as all you do is cut channels with an electric chainsaw…a little messy though…

  7. An architectural engineer on reddit had a great comment on why this is a really horrible design.

    Architectural engineer here, with a little extra insight. (Made some edits once I got to a real computer)
    First off, the best of comment is wrong about the building methods. They’re studs are spaced about 3ft apart. The 8″ studs we’re looking at are short pieces designed to hold the dovetailed slats on. What is clear from this is that this is only the exterior wall. All piping, wiring, etc is going to be done on the inside, probably in a furring, possibly built out of sheetrock.
    The slats themselves are pre-fabbed, and probably treated for water resistance, expansion resistance, etc at the factory. The entire post is based on the notion that these professional home builders are somehow not aware of building 101 stuff.
    Based on the captions, they aren’t just building a house. They’re building a “passive house” which is describes a lengthy certification process. A major part of that process is cutting down on wall infiltration and thermal bridges, which is very tough to do in traditional construction.
    Every nail, every framed opening, creates a thermal bridge or crack in the envelope. To account for these we need to spec all kinds of specialty insulation and joining methods, all of which are expensive and time consuming. Then after the envelope assembly is built, we do a pressure test to check for leaks, where we invariably have to do a bunch of it again, multiple times. Which means the contractors have to come back many days over to correct deficiencies. I shit you not, one of the things we do is, when the building is finished, we get it up to room temperature inside and then go to the street and take a fucking thermal imaging camera to it. The home should appear to be the same temperature as the ambient surroundings.
    See if you can spot the passive house!
    Now, Passive House cert doesn’t care about sustainable materials, but if you, as a designer do (like they imply in the captions), then suddenly most of methods I’ve alluded to above aren’t available to you as a building option. Which is how you get to what they’re doing now.
    Based on this design, I’d be pretty confident in passing a pressure test on my first or second try. There are no thermal bridges at all, which is crucial for achieving a passive house (it’s impossible to overstate how significant it is that no metal is being used here)
    So while this house costs, probably 5-10 times what a normal house costs to build (maybe more) it’s lifetime energy costs will be close to zero for hvac. Passive houses are so tight that you actually have to power ventilated the interior so residents don’t run out of oxygen.
    One more ninja edit: The sawdust insulation DOES seem like a fire trap, but there are lots of strict regulations about insulation in the NFPA and Building Code and the fact that they have permission to build this house at all means that the sawdust they’re using has had something done to it in order to at least meet the minimum requirements for fire safety.
    Tldr: don’t look at this like a normal home. The methods being used are to fulfill a very specific niche function and achieve a specific set of metrics. They aren’t making a cheeseburger, they’re making a kosher, vegan, zero calorie block of air that tastes like a cheeseburger.

  8. I don’t like it for reasons that it would seem to require a lot of wood of specific quality, i.e. causes a lot of a tree to go unused…unless you count the sawdust. Modern lumber processing in the interest of profit, has become highly efficient, very high percentage of a log used, so something to be said there for sticking with conventional lumber construction as it will use the standard sizes.

    However, there’s a method of using non-lumber worthy wood, that can be a method for a passive structure, called cordwood construction. This is also a fairly rapid method. It also leaves the wood able to “breathe” along its vascular system, avoiding rot and moisture problems.

  9. The reason we have been building with bricks at mortar for so long is simple – it works! Not because our parents did it – indeed people have been doing it for thousands of years – but for the fact that you end up with a very solid house that lasts. My current house is the newest I have lived in, and it is already over 100 years old…

    So yes, they can be slower to build, but are then (if done right) much less maintenance and last much longer that anything else we have come up with so far..

  10. Nice build! A very efficient use of wood as any off-cuts would be very small and even they can be shaved and used as more insulation.

    But … where could this sort of construction be used? It would disappear in a tornado or cyclone. The wood filled insulation would be prone to mold and bacteria in humid climates (god help you if you have a plumbing leak). The insulation quality is poor so climates that are to hot or cold are out and on a humid day I bet you cant even get the wooden pieces together.

  11. I think I know where all the sawdust came from!

    This would be the “model home” that we’re seeing. Fine cabinetry that you can live in. I can’t imagine the garbage wood you’d get if this idea were commercialized. Maybe even particle board.

    1. No. Well yes but that’s because many people commenting have no fucking idea but still like to comment.

      Wood is actually naturally protective against fire. Yes it will burn given enough effort. However what is a fire hazard in ordinary houses are the interiors, not the walls. The materials inside burn easier, produces poisonous gasses and contain more than enough energy to destroy the whole building (even bricks surviving the fire should be replaced).

      1. Quote [Megol]: “No. Well yes but that’s because many people commenting have no fucking idea but still like to comment”

        Well that or they live in a place that has bush fires. We even have fire tornadoes and that house wouldn’t stand a chance not even for a moment.

        We not all on the same continent here.

  12. I guess if land, labor and wood is cheap and plentiful. If not, stud building is more efficient.
    Here’s many fewer people, building a much larger stronger structure, using less wood:
    I guess this ‘new’ technique couldn’t be in a moist environment or heavy snow loads or strong winds or be in an earthquake area either.

    Looking on the map I actually see a few areas which tick most of these boxes. Not many though.

    The only real issue appears to be fireproofing to meet code. Fireblocking specifically.
    IRC2009+ would require each board be ‘sealed’ and overlapped with an approved material/thickness to prevent air from passing through. Oh god, that would be a nightmare.

    Also, each plank will shrink and expand slightly with time. After a few years the walls will more closely resemble a brick structure missing mortar.

  13. I had no idea there was a way to make the house without nails. My wife and I are trying to build a log cabin and were wondering if there was some way to have interlocking pieces instead of traditional wood setting. Thank you for giving some more information on this awesome house trend.

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