Hemp Building Materials

Food, clothing and shelter, could be called the big three creature comforts. Hemp can help in all three categories. Some building materials are relatively new owing to the machinery necessary to produce modern pressboard or plastics, but some are hundreds, some are thousands of years old. The use of hemp is thousands of years old.

Since the first woven fabric in antiquity was thought to be hemp, it is very likely that a hemp woven canvas tarp tossed across a hemp rope secured to two trees sheltered early hunters from the rain and made the first hemp shelter.

The new Adnams distribution center built with hemp.  Photo credit: Adnams. Suffolk, U.K.

The new Adnams distribution center built with hemp.
Photo credit: Adnams. Suffolk, U.K.


Tent CityTent City at the Hotel Coronado on Coronado Island, San Diego, Calif. Established in 1902, Tent City was a popular vacation spot until its closure in 1939. From a painting by Sue Tushingham McNary. Copyright, STM Editions. Museum postcard.

PCH Army Tents

Company J, Army tents at Leon Springs, Texas, date on postcard Sept. 9, 1916.
Museum postcard.




Tents WC Civil WarAll the white in the picture is from hemp wagon covers and hemp tents of this Civil War encampment, 1862.
Hemp Museum framed page, 14 X 16 inches.



From the paper room we know the Chinese discovered wallpaper, and that it was introduced into Europe from China by Spanish and Dutch traders. Cabinets, bookcases, chairs were made of paper in 1772. In 1788, an English patent was issued to Charles Ducrest for his invention of “making paper for the building of houses, bridges, etc.” Building paper was first used in America after the Chicago fire left thousands homeless. The building or lining paper was composed of waste paper and straw. In 1895, a church made of paper was built in the village of Downham-in-the-Isle, England. The building material was compressed brown paper reinforced with wire.

Chris Conrad, in Hemp, Lifeline to the Future, tells us that Compressed Agricultural Fiberboard (CAF) was invented in Sweden in 1935, using a combination of high temperature and pressure.

MDF StalksModern medium density fiberboard now made of tree wood pulp, can also be made of hemp (shown left). The museum samples were cut from a standard 4 foot X 8 foot sheet of 3/4 inch board.



Trays boardsCut and boiled hemp in trays, to be blended into pulp to make the boards in the foreground. Homegrown tomatoes and a hemp light-cord pull. The pulp was boiled eight hours, then put in a kitchen blender in small amounts for varying times depending in the application.



Press Bread moldThis bread pan was heavily perforated on the bottom, hot blended pulp was scooped into the pan as a liquid. Some of the water was shaken out gently, then the wood press was placed into the pan. Turned on edge the pan, press, and bottom board would just fit into my large vise. Turing the vise made the water pour out and press the board, which could be tapped out of the mold immediately to dry. Photo by Bill Bridges.

PressBwoGlueThese pressed boards are 100% hemp pulp with no binder added. Note how well the board went through a table saw. You would not believe how light this 4 X 8 X 3/4 inch board is. Photo by Bill Bridges.



press boardsVarious hemp boards home made for the Museum. Top, a 2 X 2 inch first board was not so strong, the brown board is coated with hemp glue. The middle board was equipped with a drawer handle. It drilled and held the screws perfectly. Photo by Bill Bridges.


 Pressed BallsThe three left balls are made of hemp pulp. The ball on the right is of Styrofoam, which could be replaced by the lightweight hemp ball to its left. Lower left ball is hemp cement and lower right ball is hemp pulp with Elmer’s white glue. Photo by Bill Bridges.


ReeferMagnetThe Curator made several hundred of these pulp disks, that he gave away on his travels. Diameter 1 1/4 inch X 1/4 inch thick.




CementPictured (left) is a ball of hemp cement. It was made of the finest pulp that went through the strainer, and captured with a cloth filter. This fine pulp was made into sheets of paper that crumbled into a fluffy powder. This powder was mixed with quicklime (whitewash) and water, molded by hand and dried. The results were a very light, very hard ball of cement.