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    Understanding Adobe

Architectural Conservation  
2019 Galisteo Street, Suite N-10 A  
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87505  
505/ 982.2448  •  877/ 982.2448  

"Soy un Zoquetero": Why We Need a Glossary
Edward Crocker

A few years ago an organization I know printed up some t-shirts that had, emblazoned across the back, the words "Soy un Zoquetero." Supporters wore them proudly believing that they were identifying themselves as mud plasterers. The terminology was, no doubt, the handiwork of a local wit who cleverly exploited a double entendre (see the last two entries below). The misuse use of words, particularly those whose derivation comes from another language, can be rather annoying. In the interests of clarification, I offer the following glossary in hopes that the difference between a corbel and a zapato, a latilla and a raja, a viga and a beam be at least temporarily noted.

Adobe. A sun-dried earthen block that has been cast in a form using mud containing roughly 20% clay and silt and 80% aggregate and a small amount of straw. The size varies regionally with the standard in northern New Mexico being 10 inches by 14 by 4 and weighing approximately forty pounds.

Adobero. Mason who lays adobe.

Amendment. Any of a number of compounds or synthetic materials used to "stabilize" adobe and mud mortars. These range from water resistant materials such as asphalt emulsion, to binders such as cactus mucilage and latex, to hardeners like Portland cement, to electrostatic repellents composed of modified polysiloxanes.

Aggregate. Sands and gravels, often very hard silicates that are the resistant components of adobe and mud and are bound to together by clay.

Alís. From the Spanish alisar, to smooth or polish. Polished surface often of gypsum (yeso or jaspe) on mud plaster, traditionally achieved through the use of a smooth stone.

Atierras. Spoils from an excavation such as a footing from which adobes may be made.

Banco. Bench, interior or exterior, often made of adobe.

Barro. Clay.

Beam (Madero). In cross section, a square or rectangular wooden structural member supporting the roof; as opposed to a viga, which is always round in cross section.

Bond Beam. Traditionally a continuous wooden element (now often Portland concrete) at the top of an adobe wall that ties the corners and provides a sill upon which the roof structure rests.

Cal. Lime.

Calcimine. Lime-based paint tinted with naturally occurring or manufactured pigments.

Caliche. Deposit of calcium carbonate found just below the surface in many Southwestern locales. Used to strengthen mortars and plasters.

Canal. Scupper or drain extending some distance from a roof.

Cedro. Split cedar used as decking between vigas and beams. See latilla and raja.

Chiminea. Fireplace.

Chiflon. Flue.

Compressed Earth Block. Earthen masonry unit with all of the physical characteristics of adobe but made in a hydraulically driven machine.

Contrapared. Literally "against the wall" in Spanish. Method, usually detrimental to the building, of casting concrete against the base of an adobe wall resulting in a bench-like cross section.

Contrafuerte. Buttress.

Corbel. Carved structural and decorative support for vigas and beams with one end  embedded in the wall. The motif is usually a scroll design protruding one to three feet from the vertical plane of the interior surface of the wall. See "Zapato."

Dispensa. Store room.

Enjarradora. Mud plasterer. The word is in the feminine form reflecting the tradition that women usually performed this work.

Espadaña. Tall parapet forming a prominent part of a façade.

Gatera. Cat door. An opening commonly found in historic buildings to help keep rodents under control.

Gosne. Large, hand carved wooden pintle hinge-pin and socket seen in many historic doors.

Hydraulic. Material that has the ability to set under water due to the incorporation of the water molecules into the new crystalline structure of the compound. Portland cement is hydraulic, as are some types of lime.

Jacal. Vertical posts set together and often plastered over with mud, usually comprising a temporary structure.

Jaspe. Whitewash, usually of gypsum or lime. (This is local vernacular. Elsewhere in the Spanish-speaking world the word refers to the mineral jasper.)

Latilla. Narrow post, often of aspen, spanning the space between vigas or beams.

Madero. Beam.

Manta. Cloth drapery hung beneath the ceiling to catch fines from an earthen roof.

Mortar. Material used between courses of block to bind them together. In the case of adobe, the mortar should always be mud.

Mortar Joint. The layer of mortar between blocks. Bedding joints are horizontal, header joints are vertical.

Mud. Combination of clay, silt and aggregate used to make adobe blocks, mortar and plaster. The ratio is typically 18% clay, 2% silt and the balance aggregate.

Nopal. Prickly pear cactus, the mucilage of which is used as an amendment in lime and mud plasters.

Petate. Woven mat traditionally used above the latillas, cedros or rajas over which is laid the torta, or mud roof.

Plaster. The protective covering of a wall. Both the mortar and the plaster should be softer than the masonry units (adobes) used as the substrate.

Portal. Porch.

Raja. From the Spanish for rip or tear. Split posts serving the same function as latillas.

Render. Plaster or decorative surface.

Rammed Earth. Pisé, or the method of building an earthen wall by compacting the mix between forms or "shutters" in courses.

Stabilized Adobe. Adobe with an amendment to harden or make water resistant. Most locally manufactured adobes are termed "semi-stabilized" and contain roughly 6% asphalt emulsion by volume in the water used for mixing.

Talco. Pulverized mica used to highlight slips and alís finishes.

Tapia. Short wall or parapet.

Terrón. Block cut from sod and laid like an adobe.

Tierra. Earth. Tierra amarilla, yellow or golden earth used decoratively. Tierra blanca, white earth. Tierra colorado, red earth.

Torta. Mud layer of an earthen roof laid just above the petate.

Viga. Log used to support a roof. In cross-section a viga is always round, or nearly so.

Yeso. Gypsum used as a slip or finish on earthen walls.

Zapato. Literally "shoe" in Spanish. A double ended, carved structural/decorative element often found at the top of portal supports. Similar to a corbel which is carved on only one end and is embedded in the wall.

Zoquete. Mud. From the Nahuatl word zoquitl. Also, a short ugly man; a chump.

Zoquetero. Wallowing pig.

Crocker Ltd
2019 Galisteo Street, Suite N-10 A  •  Santa Fe, New Mexico 87505
tel 505/ 982.2448  •  fax 505/ 995.9877
toll free 877/ 982.2448

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