Natural Building Basics – Part II: Natural Finishes

Learn how to both create and apply natural finishes to both natural and conventional walls for a toxin-free environment.

General Interest

Length: 2 hours

Instructor: Bryce Ehrecke


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Who is this course for?
Course length (start & watch when you want)
2 hours of video content
Lifetime access · Certificate of completion

Meet your course instructor

Bryce Ehrecke

Bryce Ehrecke comes from a line of weavers, builders, and explorers. His ancestors created textiles in Ireland, farmed in Normandie, and constructed in Germany, before coming to Canada to lead a different life. From his mother's side he has gained creativity and ingenuity, and from his father's side, he has gained craftsmanship and skill. He now weaves his heritage with place, and natural buildings with natural landscapes, honouring the relationship between human beings and all other beings. His education in natural building began by connecting and paying attention to the world around him and expanded while apprenticing with Pat Hennebery of CobWorks. He has spent the past decade working, living, learning, teaching and exploring with many different natural builders and natural structures. He now runs a Natural Building and renovation company based out of Victoria through Dreamweavers Collective. He specializes in rock work, earthen and lime plasters, roundwood, and using whatever design and materials best suit the environment and whom the structure is for. Bryce is a faculty member of the School of Permaculture Design at Pacific Rim College.

Course description

While many continue to look to new technologies to improve our environment, it’s important that we also look to the past. Houses have been made from the ground beneath our feet for thousands of years. In fact, many earthen homes made hundreds of years ago are still standing! Bryce Ehrecke has been building naturally for the past 10 years. Through step-by-step visual instruction, Bryce teaches the art of cob. Here,  he guides students through a comprehensive application of natural finishes in the second part of Natural Building Basics.

Light clay and cob buildings are sustainable, long-lasting, breathable,  non-toxic, and waste-free. They are also beautiful and create a sense of comfortability and warmth—a connection to the way our ancestors lived. This course will get you excited about getting your hands and feet dirty and will inspire you to delve deeper into the world of natural building.

You will definitely want to pair this with Part I of this series (Natural Building Basics: Part I – Wall Systems) where you will learn how to make the cob structures that you will paint your new finishes on!

You will learn about:

  • Wall preparation
  • Mixing and application of natural building materials
  • Site safety, flow, and preparation
  • Primers, basecoats, and finishes
  • Colour samples
  • Clay paint
Natural building materials including straw and clay can be used to build toxin-free homes.

Lesson plan

Section I: Introduction

  1. Introduction 
    Welcome to your course! If you haven’t taken Part I of this series: Wall Systems, we highly recommend it. In Part I, you’ll learn to create and build the breathable walls to put these natural finishes on.
  2. Course Guidebook
    Please download your full course guidebook so that you can take it into the field with you when you are building your first natural structure!
  3. Course Outline 
    In this section, Bryce goes over all the amazing techniques and skills you’ll learn as you move through this course.


Section II: Tools and Materials

  1. What Tools do I Need?
    Ever wonder what a hawk, or a trowel are used for? This is where you’ll learn!
  2. Materials 
    In this section, Bryce does an overview of common materials used for earthen finishes.
  3. The Jar Test 
    The jar test will help you determine the sand, silt, and clay content of the soil you’re using—whether it’s outsourced, or from your own back yard. Knowing the soil content will help in the creation of your materials.
  4. Additional Materials 
    There are many things you can add to a basic earthen finish to help improve its properties, or even to create something artistic. This section covers just that.
  5. Newspaper Pulp 
    This is helpful when using plaster, which tends to need filling. Shredded newspaper pulp can be added to plaster mixtures to give it a greater shrink/crack resistance.


Section III: Wall Preparation

  1. Wall Preparation and Safety 
    In this section Bryce goes over some safety precautions while prepping your wall.
  2. Site Flow and Preparation 
    Here, Bryce talks about the importance of comfort and ease of movement while working, which can help with consistency in your finish.
  3. Misting Your Wall 
    This portion will show you how and when to mist the wall for better adhesion between coats.
  4. Cutting Burlap 
    Burlap or other loose-weave natural cloth is great for keeping plaster tight, and for going over wood elements in natural buildings. Here, Bryce shows how to safely cut it into the sizes and strips you’ll need.
  5. Applying Burlap to a Wall 
    Who knew burlap was so useful! When plastering into window frames, beams, posts, or other elements, burlap can be used to keep the plaster from shrinking away from them, which can leave a gap. In this video Bryce demonstrates how to properly apply it.
  6. Mixing Flour 
    Though it sounds like a bland breakfast, wheat paste can be used as an additive in earthen finishes to create hardness and act like a glue. Bryce shows you how to make it here.
  7. Wheat Paste Primer 
    Sand/Wheat paste primer is great for bridging the gap between earthen finishes and conventional wall systems. If you’re working with both, this is a great route to take. You can also refer to the guidebook for more sand/glue/paint primer recipes.
  8. Wheat Paste Primer Application 
    Here, Bryce shows you how you can apply wheat paste primer (or other primers) to all kinds of surfaces to prep them for earthen finishes. This expands your application to conventional surfaces, which is a great skill.


Section IV: Base Coats

  1. Mixing Base Coats 
    This is basically the same as mixing Cob! Bryce covers different mixing methods, and goes into the balances of clay, sand, and straw in depth.
  2. Base Coats 
    The Base Coat is used to cover a raw natural wall which may have loose straw or undulations. In this section, Bryce covers how to seal the wall which prepares it for the leveling or finishing coat.
  3. Base Coats With Light Clay 
    Light Clay walls tend to have voids that need to be filled. Here, Bryce shows how you can use base coat to create a smooth, even surface on a light clay or straw bale wall.


Section V: Finish Plaster Mixing & Application

  1. Clay Finish Plaster 
    Clay-based plasters are great for both natural and conventional wall systems, which means they can be applied to any home! Bryce explains how they can be made with many different natural additives and pigments, but here we’ll be learning a simple sand clay plaster, which is a great place to start.
  2. Lime Finish Plaster 
    When working with lime, you must be cautious as it is caustic and can be unpredictable. However, it creates a versatile finish that is great for interiors and exteriors alike. It can be white or made to be colourful. It can also be waterproofed through a beautiful Moroccan technique known as tadelakt.
  3. Clay Paint Application Preparation
    Here Bryce will cover some tips for preparing to apply the natural finishes we’ve learned about.
  4. Applying Colour Samples 
    Here Bryce explains the importance of applying samples before plastering, applying a wash, or painting a wall. It’s also very important to record what’s in each sample.


Section VI: Earthen Paints

  1. Clay Paint Mixing 
    Clay Paints are a great alternative to conventional paints. If you use conventional paints on a natural wall, they will ruin the breathability, so it’s better to use clay paints. They also come in a variety of wonderful natural colours!
  2. Lime Wash 
    This is a watered-down lime putty that paint can be added to. It can be used to brighten a plaster, brick, or other wall system, and gives walls a soft look.
  3. Applying Clay Paint and Lime Wash 
    Bryce demonstrates how similar these are to conventional paints in that they can go on in several ways. This section will also cover other ways to finish naturally.
  4. A Few Final Words…
    Bryce shares some parting thoughts for you and your future projects.

Lesson preview

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