Rammed earth

Rammed-earth walls are truly lovely. Here are brief instructions for building a wall with this material. First build a foundation (see the earlier section "Building a solid foundation"). Then set up two low, very strong wooden forms parallel to each other on top of the foundation. Use 2- x 12-inch wooden boards for the forms, placing them horizontally on top of the foundation. Limit the height of your form to 24 inches (to build a higher wall, move the forms upward on the finished portion of the wall). Fasten the forms together by screwing them to vertical 2 x 4s placed every 4 feet along the outside of the horizontal forms. Brace the forms using 2 x 4s set at 45 degree angles from the ground up to the top of the horizontal form boards; there should be a brace every 2 to 3 feet. Secure the braces to the ground with strong stakes driven into the soil. Your forms have to be sturdy to resist the forces of tamping.

Next, place earth in the forms and compact it by hand (very sustainable, hard work) or with a pneumatic tamper. (In ancient China, people whacked it with giant baseball bats.) Be sure the corners get compacted, but avoid hitting the sides of the forms. Compaction is adequate when the tool bounces off the soil surface. Let the soil sit for 24 hours before removing the forms.

Finally, raise the forms on the finished section of the wall and repeat the process until the wall reaches the desired height. You can add layers of different colored earth for a striated, geological effect.

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