Does anyone know anything about building a hogan?

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Does anyone know anything about building a hogan?

Postby redharen » Wed Dec 28, 2011 1:06 pm

Me and my brother have been put in charge of 40 acres of forested family land up North and pretty much have free rein to do what we want with it. We've thought for awhile about building a cabin there but are now looking to do something more experimental. We are thinking of building a wooden hogan, covering it with earth, and making it into an off-the-grid hunting lodge type thing.

The site is remote and we would like to try building just with stuff we have on hand. The land has sandy ground for the most part, a lot of limestone rocks and boulders, and a deep stream that starts on the surface and goes underground. Half of the acreage is a mix of old pine and deciduous forest, and the other half was clear-cut about 20 years ago and is covered so thickly with aspens that you can hardly see or walk through that area. We don't really want to cut down the big old pine trees, but there are enough fallen ones that we could make an octagonal pine load-bearing frame. If it's feasible, I think it would be cool to thin out the aspen forest and use the straight poles to make a big corbeled dome roof atop the pine frame. Then we would cover the whole thing with a pond liner or multiple layers of roofing plastic, and bury it in sand and dirt.

Here are some images of a hogan being built in the American southwest. You'll see what I mean by the octagonal frame and the corbeled roof:

Image

Image

If any of you have any experience building something like this, I'd be interested in any guidance. I know people never usually build stuff with aspen wood because it's so soft, but I think the corbeled roof thing would work because the load would be borne by so many poles overlapping each other. I figured Woodsman and Hitoru might have some ideas, but I'd be interested in input from whoever. You're also invited to come wield an ax with us in August 2012 if you feel like it.

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Re: Does anyone know anything about building a hogan?

Postby vagabond » Wed Dec 28, 2011 6:35 pm

Don't know about that (using wood) but looks similar to the structure of the superadobe, which uses dirt only:

http://calearth.org/building-designs/what-is-superadobe.html

Image
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Re: Does anyone know anything about building a hogan?

Postby nowonmai » Thu Dec 29, 2011 12:32 am

Up North? North of what?
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Re: Does anyone know anything about building a hogan?

Postby coldharvest » Thu Dec 29, 2011 6:17 am

nowonmai wrote:North of what?

the south
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Re: Does anyone know anything about building a hogan?

Postby redharen » Thu Dec 29, 2011 7:46 am

North of the 45th parallel.

I'm not really into that superadobe/earthbag construction stuff. It would be cool if you built something out of it in the desert, plastered it over, and made it look like Luke's folks' house on Tatooine. Actually I visited a place this weekend down South (29°59′7.79″N 35°5′17.87″E, to be specific, nowonmai) where they snap geodesic domes together out of metal frames and then layer them with straw bales and adobe. It was cool to see and could make for a nice place, but in the woods I think I'd go for something different.

If you read Lewis and Clark's description of their journey West and the earthen dwellings they saw in the Mandan villages, that's also along the lines of what I'm envisioning.

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Re: Does anyone know anything about building a hogan?

Postby Kurt » Thu Dec 29, 2011 12:19 pm

To prove how little I know about this topic, this is what I thought of when I read "Hogan"

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Re: Does anyone know anything about building a hogan?

Postby vagabond » Thu Dec 29, 2011 4:38 pm

Ah...I guess from the pictures and your mention of the American Southwest I thought the superadobe thing might be worth a look.

The place 'down South' sounds pretty neat. I'm not sure what Jerusalem has in terms of architectural / design bookstores but there's quite a few books out there on sustainable and nature-built houses. With something as American-sounding and seeming as a hogan you might need to find some folks that still do that sort of work in the US and get in touch with them.

Neat project though. Best of luck.

redharen wrote:North of the 45th parallel.

I'm not really into that superadobe/earthbag construction stuff. It would be cool if you built something out of it in the desert, plastered it over, and made it look like Luke's folks' house on Tatooine. Actually I visited a place this weekend down South (29°59′7.79″N 35°5′17.87″E, to be specific, nowonmai) where they snap geodesic domes together out of metal frames and then layer them with straw bales and adobe. It was cool to see and could make for a nice place, but in the woods I think I'd go for something different.

If you read Lewis and Clark's description of their journey West and the earthen dwellings they saw in the Mandan villages, that's also along the lines of what I'm envisioning.

Image
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Re: Does anyone know anything about building a hogan?

Postby redharen » Fri Dec 30, 2011 8:00 am

vagabond wrote:Ah...I guess from the pictures and your mention of the American Southwest I thought the superadobe thing might be worth a look.

The place 'down South' sounds pretty neat. I'm not sure what Jerusalem has in terms of architectural / design bookstores but there's quite a few books out there on sustainable and nature-built houses. With something as American-sounding and seeming as a hogan you might need to find some folks that still do that sort of work in the US and get in touch with them.

Neat project though. Best of luck.


Thanks, vagabond. There isn't as much material available here on this kind of construction, but there's quite a bit of it going on, especially in the Negev, which has always been sort of an experimental design/construction laboratory for Israel.

Ben-Gurion, you know, the country's first prime minister, said on numerous occasions that the future of Israel hinged on its ability to render the Negev a livable space for millions of people; "making the desert bloom" wasn't just a Zionist talking point, but a project of existential importance, since the desert takes up half of the country. And Ben-Gurion was willing to join the experimenters -- a lot of people don't realize that the prime minister of this country, while still in office, packed up one day, moved out of his house in Tel Aviv, and started running the government from a two-bedroom hut in the middle of the Negev, in a time when the desert still lacked modern infrastructure. Nation-building and strategic planning took place during the country's formative years in a building that housed little more than a bunch of books; a phone; a radio; and two pictures on the bedroom walls: Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi.

So yeah, learning by doing is a possibility here -- maybe not the exact construction methods I'd use back home, but at least some relevant skills. And you learn by seeing, too. The last couple of times I've been out researching trails I have gotten to see amazing examples of dry stone wall construction, some of it constructed in ancient times, and still standing in its original place after a couple of thousand years. The stone walls of agricultural terraces on hillsides around Jerusalem, the foundations of Arab villages destroyed during and after the 1948 war, and the retaining walls the Romans built on switchbacking footpaths ascending into the Judean Desert from the Dead Sea are all examples of an art that has been all but lost in an era of concrete walls and cut-limestone facades. Doubt I'd ever be able to duplicate that kind of stuff in my lifetime, especially from the kind of stone available on the property up North, but I would like to learn enough to at least make a humble attempt.

A buddy of mine here loaned me a couple of books, though, that are pretty cool -- Shelter by Lloyd Kahn, which is almost too weird to be useful, and its more mainstream sequel, Home Work. If you're interested in stuff like superadobe, earthbag, straw bale, rammed earth, recycled material construction, etc., then you'd probably enjoy those if you haven't read 'em already.
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Re: Does anyone know anything about building a hogan?

Postby Woodsman » Fri Dec 30, 2011 11:23 am

Yep. I built a small one (hunting blind) earlier this year. It isn't octoganol, but pentagonal (technically) to fit between the trees I built it into. The doorless hut actually sways with the trees when the wind blows. It has a thatched roof with a pine duff & needle roof. I made it mostly out of dead Red pine trees, but did cut a few live ones down to finish it. It's just a hunting blind, but easily big enough for four people to hang out and play cards in. The roof is low and since it is meant for shooting out of, it's not insulated, but its unique. I did have to shore it up with (2) 2x4s (one hidden behind a 1/2 log ripped w/a chainsaw, the other is a rectangular entryway. Most of the structure is held together by friction or gravity and pieced together like Lincoln logs. The roof is made with 15# felt over log purlins spaced about 2' apart, then 2x4 welded wire fencing across the top, then about a 4" thick layer of pine duff & pine needles atop that. The roof does not leak. The trees will grow into the structure over the years and the roof will just continue to get thicker with pine needles dropping in time. I took a decent doe this year out of the structure with my Glock. :)

What I would recommend is NOT to use the Aspen. You can use Aspen for lumber, but the logs will rot much too fast. Almost any other species would be better, but don't use Birch either. Pines are nearly ideal. Hardwood logs would be okay too, but they are heavy when green. It's no problem using green pine logs, but the beetles will be in them soon after. My neighbors built a octagonal hunting blind 20' in the air that is very similar in construction to what you have in mind, but they used dimensional lumber. It looks cool!
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Re: Does anyone know anything about building a hogan?

Postby Woodsman » Fri Dec 30, 2011 11:38 am

A couple other ideas... Look up "cob construction", "ferro cement" and "cordwood" design. Wanna heat the thing free? Look up passive annual heat storage and passive solar designs. Straw bales are also an excellent considerationon in this cold snowy (usually - not this year so far) climate. Also consider cob stoves. You can make a kick ass small home that is nearly fully sustainable and energy efficient structure that will last for hundreds of years with almost no money. Two ways to go; legally, through the permit process which will prove a total pita, maybe not even worth doing, or guerilla style, which means you build into the landscape and use a good camp tarp in the process. These days most residential building codes cover sheds 160 square feet or larger and alternative buildings may require a variance or two..food for thought. That parcel sounds really cool!
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Re: Does anyone know anything about building a hogan?

Postby vagabond » Sat Dec 31, 2011 9:23 pm

redharen wrote:
vagabond wrote:Ah...I guess from the pictures and your mention of the American Southwest I thought the superadobe thing might be worth a look.

The place 'down South' sounds pretty neat. I'm not sure what Jerusalem has in terms of architectural / design bookstores but there's quite a few books out there on sustainable and nature-built houses. With something as American-sounding and seeming as a hogan you might need to find some folks that still do that sort of work in the US and get in touch with them.

Neat project though. Best of luck.


Thanks, vagabond. There isn't as much material available here on this kind of construction, but there's quite a bit of it going on, especially in the Negev, which has always been sort of an experimental design/construction laboratory for Israel.

Ben-Gurion, you know, the country's first prime minister, said on numerous occasions that the future of Israel hinged on its ability to render the Negev a livable space for millions of people; "making the desert bloom" wasn't just a Zionist talking point, but a project of existential importance, since the desert takes up half of the country. And Ben-Gurion was willing to join the experimenters -- a lot of people don't realize that the prime minister of this country, while still in office, packed up one day, moved out of his house in Tel Aviv, and started running the government from a two-bedroom hut in the middle of the Negev, in a time when the desert still lacked modern infrastructure. Nation-building and strategic planning took place during the country's formative years in a building that housed little more than a bunch of books; a phone; a radio; and two pictures on the bedroom walls: Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi.

So yeah, learning by doing is a possibility here -- maybe not the exact construction methods I'd use back home, but at least some relevant skills. And you learn by seeing, too. The last couple of times I've been out researching trails I have gotten to see amazing examples of dry stone wall construction, some of it constructed in ancient times, and still standing in its original place after a couple of thousand years. The stone walls of agricultural terraces on hillsides around Jerusalem, the foundations of Arab villages destroyed during and after the 1948 war, and the retaining walls the Romans built on switchbacking footpaths ascending into the Judean Desert from the Dead Sea are all examples of an art that has been all but lost in an era of concrete walls and cut-limestone facades. Doubt I'd ever be able to duplicate that kind of stuff in my lifetime, especially from the kind of stone available on the property up North, but I would like to learn enough to at least make a humble attempt.

A buddy of mine here loaned me a couple of books, though, that are pretty cool -- Shelter by Lloyd Kahn, which is almost too weird to be useful, and its more mainstream sequel, Home Work. If you're interested in stuff like superadobe, earthbag, straw bale, rammed earth, recycled material construction, etc., then you'd probably enjoy those if you haven't read 'em already.


Thanks for the book recs and interesting story about Ben-Gurion.

Learning by doing is probably how all those ancient walls got built in the first place so maybe worth a shot. One would think in a country so obsessed with history and land that there's some documentation out there as well that you might be able to refer to, either in Hebrew or Arabic. Even better if you can find someone with a bit of old knowledge of how to do the same. Methusaleh is from that neck of the woods right? ;-)

Best of luck.
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Re: Does anyone know anything about building a hogan?

Postby diamondcutter13 » Sun Jan 01, 2012 1:37 am

I had lookd much into incorporating the octagonal dome structures into an earth insulated home/cabin and most of my anthropological references showed the logs built into a dug-in earthen pit with a log ladder down the middle hole. The part exposed above ground would be minimal and the design has many advantages in strength, insulation, and concealment. Unfortunately all my books on this are at home right now.
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Re: Does anyone know anything about building a hogan?

Postby diamondcutter13 » Sun Jan 01, 2012 5:31 am

Found one of the books I was looking for and most of it is available online.
Image

Shelters, shacks, and shanties written in 1914 gives a great start point for classic old time shelter building. The Navaho style hogan is detailed and so is the western style dugout like you see in the original version of "True Grit" where the Duke smokes out the bad guys.

http://www.shelterpub.com/_shelter/sss_book.html

Image

One of the interesting construction methods I'd seen in the Middle East along the Litani in your neck of the woods Redharen involved building a roof structure or frame covered in chicken wire or other material and then soaking burlap sacks in a thinned concrete mixture. You can then drape it over the frame overlapping them like tiles. Its a poor man's version of the method used for Gunite or shotcrete dome construction and could be used to modernize many of the classic shelter designs intended to be covered in birchbark, sod, reeds, or whatever.
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Re: Does anyone know anything about building a hogan?

Postby redharen » Sun Jan 01, 2012 5:57 pm

Woodsman:

Thanks for that info, especially the stuff you said about aspen not being good wood to build with. You never see anything built with aspen, but I figured that was just because it was so soft, and because it sort of feathers out when you try to cut it or mill it. I see what you're saying about it rotting quickly, but what about if it was only used for the interior of the building? I figured I would make the top layer of the hogan out of aspen logs, but before burying it, seal it all with plastic or pondliner, so you'd see it from the inside, but it would stay dry and clean, and would probably dry out even more over time. What do you think -- feasible or unrealistic?

Congratulations on the deer you got and the blind you built. It sounds cool and one of these days we still have to meet for a beer somewhere north of Clare.

vagabond:

It's true that the kind of construction I've seen here that interests me isn't completely a lost art. It's just been supplanted by more modern and cheaper methods. In the area where I live in Jerusalem, there are a lot of cool stone buildings that were put up during the 19th century, and they are the work of master masons. More recent buildings emulate the style, but are constructed first from concrete, and then pursuant to city building codes first established under British Mandate rule, are covered in limestone facades. A lot of the stone buildings you see in Jerusalem, then, aren't really stone buildings, but they look pretty nice. Since I have other work to do, I'm not going to be able to learn too much by doing, but I'll do my best to take note of what I see and figure out as much as I can. Then maybe I'll be able to build a decent rock fireplace or something.

Diamondcutter:

My grandpa's hunting cabin used to have that Dan Beard book on the shelf, and I would read it by lantern light when we were there on vacations in the summer. I can't remember if it's that book, or a similar one on cabin construction, but I think there's a part in there on warming your cabin that includes a huge treatise on how women are fundamentally inept at building a proper fire because of their hardwired problem-solving approaches. I haven't looked at the parts available online yet but maybe that section is in there. Anyway, I remembered that book when I got a little older and stayed at a backcountry site named after Dan Beard at the Philmont Scout Ranch when I was a teenager. Funny thing about it was that it was kind of a terrible place to pick for a shelter since it was situated on the side of a steep hill.

And thanks for bringing up the idea of burlap bags soaked in concrete. I've never noticed or heard of anything like that but there might be similar stuff down here south of the Litani too. Next time I'm up near the Lebanon border I'll pay attention.
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Re: Does anyone know anything about building a hogan?

Postby suwon fish » Mon Jan 02, 2012 1:37 pm

That Daniel Beard book is free on Gutenberg in a range of formats. It not only covers the Hogan and the True Grit shack, it also covers the Beaver Mat and Fagot Shack...

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/28255

Your plot sounds awesome. Right now I'd swap my right nut for a rural retreat.
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