Book Review: Earth Render The Art of Clay Plasters, Renders and Paints by James Henderson

Here’s a compact, easy-to-read and understand book on one of my favourite topics – finishing buildings with clay and straw. James, who has done extensive natural building work in Australia, takes the reader through the process of working with simple earth, the stuff found everywhere, and in many cases, underfoot. There’s no fluff in here, though there are plenty of good illustrations and images. While earth is everywhere, gaining a good feel for what’ll work and what doesn’t is a process.This is a topic of surprising breadth but James does a good job of introducing both novices and seasoned natural builders to the joys and process of working with these wonderful materials. 


You’ll find a good introduction to material selection, a section on testing recipes, and a fine overview of how to properly prepare surfaces (and detail them!!!) to receive earthen finishes. James covers finishing techniques and ways to scale up the mixing process to make mixing a little less onerous. I especially enjoyed his description of using a rototiller or rotary hoe as he calls it to mix large batches of plasters. A great tip when you don’t have 20 pairs of feet around. The final section covers tools from the simple to the refined.


And this book, like all plastering books I’ve read, gives recipes which I’ve come to take with a grain of salt. Recipes like 1 part clay to 2 parts sand to 1/2 part straw do little to build confidence in novice builders but I suppose you have to start somewhere. To James’ credit though, he does a good job of walking the reader through scenarios of what a particular mix should feel like and perform, and what to watch out for, not just a bunch of endless recipes.


All in all, it’s a nice addition to the library and a great read for those able to transition from the book to the project. If you’re the kind of person that really just needs to get your hands on the stuff, well, this book contains to magic.


Earth Render is available for $30 AUD from Python Press ( It is 88 pages long and available in paperback.

Paperback ISBN: 978-0-9757782-0-3


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