A Best Design for Bale Battens

Written by Andrew Morrison

wood battens on straw bale wallI am not a huge fan of using battens to strengthen my bale walls. I much prefer to use welded wire mesh as I believe it not only provides a stronger hold, but also a superior “all around” structure for the walls. There are, however, specific cases where battens are needed and if you find yourself in one of those situations, this is the system I suggest you use.

One of the major problems with battens is that they sit proud of the surface of the bale wall so plastering around them is difficult. For starters, it’s all but impossible to get plaster behind the batten so to fully seal the wall in the scratch coat application. This leave the wall susceptible to air infiltration later on. Secondly, the battens, once covered with plaster, become a weak spot in the finish because the plaster is obviously thinner over the top of them and it also does not have as strong of a key as it does in the bales themselves. So how to fix this issue?

view down a triangular wood battenUse an angled batten. The battens that we used on a recent workshop build are shown here. Notice the profile is such that the triangular shape helps to pull the face of the batten flush with the face of the bale walls. This still leaves plenty of surface area to tie them to the walls (inside and out) and it also leaves a flat surface to be covered with roofing felt (all wood should be covered with felt if plaster is to go over it). It may take a little effort to work the battens into the bales so to get them flush with the wall, but it is well worth it and your plastering will be significantly easier as a result.

The last trick to an easy installation was given to me by John, a recent workshop participant. He created “the ultimate batten needle” which I have shown here as well. It is a simple wood jig designed to automatically space two needles to fit around the battens with ease. Plunge the batten needle through the bales (one needle on either side of the batten) and then have a friend on the outside attach the twine to both needles.

As you pull the needles back through the wall, the helper inserts their batten in between the twine and their side of the wall which is then pulled tight to the wall. Once you have the twines back on your side, tie them off in a tight miller’s knot. Simple and efficient. Thanks for the great jig John!!!

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2 Responses

  1. Another idea with batten is to use them temporarily to help stack your bales plumb. I used some straight 2×4’s I had at the site and nailed them to the floor plate and the top plate, every 5 or 6 feet around the house. Then I could stack my bales and know my wall would only find tuning to get it plum. Once i finished stacking and packed in straw along the top plate, the wall was solid and the battens could be pulled off. I’m assuming installing wire mesh on one side of the wall before stacking would achieve the same result?

  2. Hi Todd. I have installed the wire mesh ahead of time like you suggest and it works pretty well; however, you can’t weed whack the walls on that side because of the mesh. I prefer to simply stack my walls plumb by eye and using a plumb stick every now and again. By referencing the frame on the exterior at every intersection (bale to frame) I can keep a straight line pretty easily. A few whacks with the tamper around the house to get the unruly bales into place and I’m good to go. I like this because it allows me full access to the bales for trimming, electrical, and other details and it does not use excess materials (2×4’s that end up in a scrap pile, or another project). Furthermore, it is one less step in the process if done well. That said, I have used straight edges like you mention on more intricate jobs that make keeping the wall plumb during installation difficult and they have been very helpful. This is especially true at load bearing structure corners and bale wraps around exposed frames. Having a plumb reference in these situations at the corners is very helpful.

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