According to Chinese Mud Brick Builder Lin Wei-hao (an expert from Kunming in South West China):

- Clay content can be as high as 85% -but if it is that high, straw or some such binding material needs to be mixed in to make the earth hold together.

- Soils with 25-40% sand are acceptable for mud bricks without using straw.

- If soil has less than 15% sand it can still be used for mud bricks provided it still has a reasonable level of plasticity (see test below)  and straw is added.

- If a soil has a high levels of sand or humus it will be better for mud bricks if some sand is added).

Dissolving Soil in Water

A simple way of getting some idea of the composition of a soil is to place a sample of soil in a screw top jar with some water. Screw the lid on the jar and shake it until the soil dissolves.  Now let it stand until the water settles. The coarsest inorganic matter will form a layer on the bottom. The medium sized particles will settle next and the fine clay particles will settle on top.  If there is a large amount of organic matter present, some if it should float on top of the water. (Soils which are black to dark brown in colour are likely to be unsuited for adobe. In most cases, other soils should be acceptable, though it may be necessary to add clay or sand or stray to improve the suitability of the soil).

Cake Test

- Moisten mud to a consistency that holds together.

- Take a good one or more hand full of mud and shape into a circle about 1 cm thick like a cake.

- Place this on a plate or board.

- Cut this cake in half with a knife.

- Pick up and shake the plate or board.

- If the cake joins itself together again it is suitable for brick making.

Reference:  Basic Mud Brick by Lin Wei-Hao edited by Ron Edwards.  Publisher Rams Skull Press, 1984.

Compression Tests

Compression tests are more technical tests that need to be carried out by scientists or technicians. Often building authorities will require compression tests to be carried out by an approved authority before they will approve a mud brick construction. Such tests are advisable for any high walled or multi storey construction, whether asked for by authorities, or not. If you need such a test, you may find help from a University (Building, Architecture or Engineering Department); a government authority (Building services or Scientific research authority), or a private engineering or architectural firm.

Study our Distance Education Course



100 hours (study at your own pace, the average time to complete this module is 5-7 months part time)

Course Aims

- To discuss the nature and scope of Mud Brick construction

- To gain some appreciation of the legal considerations which need to be met when building in mud.

- To determine the requirement for foundations for a mud construction.

- To determine options for building doors, windows and roofs into a mud building

- To consider options for coating or finishing the surface of a mud wall or other mud construction.

- To compare options for providing water, electricity or any other required services in a mud building.

- To describe a variety of mud construction techniques other than mud brick.


Mud Brick Construction aims to develop an understanding of how to approach building with mud bricks. Mud brick building is also known by the alternative name 'adobe'. There are other ways of building with mud brick apart from 'adobe'. These will be covered briefly in this course. For the novice, there is not a lot which can go wrong if you choose to build with mud brick.

The content of each of the ten lessons is outlined below:

1. Scope of Mud Brick

Covers history and types of earth building and construction. Also involves analysis of your soil with respect to suitability for mud bricks.

2. How to Make a Mud Brick

You will get to make a mud brick mould; test your soil, classify it, and check it for ability to withstand compression. You will also be expected to assess other soil types and their suitability for mud bricks.  

3. Planning and Site Works

Selecting a home site, designing a house to maximise energy efficiency. Introduction to building biology (ie. healthy buildings).  
4. Legal Considerations
Permits, specifications etc.       
5. Foundations
Strip foundations, slabs, earth floors.  
6. Laying Bricks
Step by step procedure, strengthening/reinforcing walls, load bearing compared with non load bearing walls, rendering finished surfaces.  
7. Doors, Windows, and Roofs
Roofing methods, fixing doors & windows, general fixing, joinery, plugs etc.  
8. Finishes
Alternative wall and floor finishes.  
9. Services
Electricity, gas, water etc. Designing & costing a small building (eg. store or workshop).  
10. Other types of Earth
Building Wattle & daub, rammed earth, cob.


Here are some examples of what you may do in this course:

- Get together a sample of earth which you might like to use to make mud bricks.This earth might be on a property where you wish to build a mud brick house, or it might be from a friend's property. Collect earth from at least a few inches below the soil.

- Find 6 different types of soil.Give your assessment on the suitability of each for making mud bricks. Send a sample of each soil type along with your assessment of it's suitability for making mud bricks

- Using three different types of soil make 6 test mud bricks. One mud brick should be made with each type of soil plus straw. Make another brick out of each type of soil without straw.

- Visit or contact your local council's building department. Find out from them where you can obtain a copy of `Standard Specifications' from.

- Explain step by step how you would go about putting down a concrete strip foundation for a small single storey mud brick workshop.

Click here to enrol in Mud Brick Construction


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