Natural elements, such as repurposed steel wagon wheels, have been added to cordwood fencing for additional aesthetic effect. (Photo courtesy

A durable, decorative fence adds the final touch to a yard or garden. But finding a way to do so without adding substantial cost, labor, or upkeep can be a challenges.
A practical solution which won’t break the bank, or your back might be as close as the nearest stack of firewood or fallen timber.
Known by a variety of terms including “stacked wood,” “log end” and “cordwood,” the idea is to create a viable fence from cut natural wood or logs.
Richard Flatau, an elementary school teacher with no formal construction background, decided to build a home from cordwood 37 years ago in Northern Wisconsin.
Using the simplest of materials, debarked logwood and mortar, Flatau’s mortgage free dream was realized after several years of planning, building, and refining.
What he learned along the way eventually became a business, Cordwood Construction Resources LLC,; Flatau has since written books, conducted workshops, and organized conferences to further grow the niche building concept.
His home community of Merrill, Wis., boasts several examples: Cordwood Education Center Classroom at Merrill School Forrest, White Earth Cordwood Home, and Kinstone Cordwood Chapel.
With special appeal to those on tighter budgets, young couples starting out and downsizing retirees, what Flatau affectionately refers to as “the poor man’s architecture” also draws the interest of folks seeking greener lifestyles, starting with their own habitat footprint.
In 2015 he noted on his company’s blog the trending practice of building gates, fences, and signs, some incorporating mortar, others consisting of freestanding cordwood. Some have simply piled logs to form a basic barrier, while others have transformed seemingly simple piles of wood into fantastic artisan creations, configuring fallen trees, owls, giant pigs, and surreal spirals.
Sometimes other natural elements, such as repurposed steel wagon wheels, have been added, and sometimes the stacked wood has been curved to form a graceful garden archway.
Wonderfully sturdy by nature, there are nevertheless some pointers for ensuring the fencing’s structural integrity.
He cited two projects in particular, a fence segment anchored by three posts and one incorporating large wagon wheels.
“The mortarless fence with the three posts is built upon a tamped sand and gravel foundation, thereby allowing for adequate drainage. The things I would add would be a simple cover on top (wood or metal) to stop the rain from degrading the logs,” Flatau said. “The cover would be one-inch longer than the log ends. If you were to build this in a cold climate, it would be necessary to either use a grade beam with a drain tile underneath. Some of it depends on the climate and the longevity needed. It could simply be a firewood stack where the old logs are rotated ‘out’ to the fireplace or firepit each year.
“As to the metal wagon wheel fence:  those metal wheels are quite common in farming areas throughout the world,” Flatau added.“They were used in place of rubber tires because they lasted much longer.
“This one happens to be in Brazil.  I have seen similar wagon wheels in cordwood homes and sheds in Canada and in the western U.S.”
Such a project is essentially simple and can be created with or without mortar, he added, but would involve having a level tamped foundation that won’t collect water and heave in cold climates or sink in warm ones, plus pressure-treated posts and beams to stabilize the fence and provide a rot resistant foundation.
He said it’s also crucial to keep the wall level and plumb, like doing a dry-stack stone wall.
To add to the fence’s longevity, the wood can be treated with a borax solution, either soaked in or sprayed on, to keep out insects.
While it’s possible to apply sealant to log ends for added longevity, those usually are eroded after a certain amount of time by exposure to the elements, he said.
Emily McCafferty and her husband Mark are also self-taught adherents of cordwood building, having raised a homestead on 16 acres of land in Kentucky.
In 2015 the married couple, who also work professionally as educators (and musicians), decided to sell their suburban ranch home and create a back-to-nature lifestyle for themselves and their young son.
They’ve since become disciples of a sort, sharing their knowledge born of experience and extensive research on their website and blog, Accidental Hippies: Cordwood Building and Off-Grid Homesteading (
Asked about cordwood fencing, McCafferty seconded Flatau’s directive about the importance of using a base and a cover of some kind.
She suggested the following guidelines:
• “Cordwood should never be built directly on the ground. Building on the ground would lead the wood to rot. To prevent this, build a stem wall out of concrete blocks, stone, poured concrete, etc. and elevate it 12-24 inches off the ground (the higher the better). Then build the cordwood on top of the stem wall.”
• “The top of the wall should contain some sort of cap/overhang to prevent water from dripping down or from pooling on the top of the logs. Like the stem wall, it should ideally be made from stone, concrete, tile, or similar. I’d extend it at least 1-2 inches on both sides of the logs. For a high-quality bonus, run a drip edge along the length of the overhang. This can be as simple as cutting a notch along the edge running parallel to the wall.”
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