3-Week Dome Building Progress

With this dome build I'm trying to take pictures of all the key steps involved and include basic explanations in a series of articles. If you're just interested in the process or are considering this option, these articles give a good overview of everything involved. But if you were going to build a Superadobe or Hyperadobe dome, you would want a lot more details.

Superadobe is super flexible. With three people working 2-3 hours a day, averaging four days a week, we're making pretty good progress (compare pictures from three weeks ago). It's all done without heavy machinery or electricity. We're just ordinary people using ordinary hand tools. The point I'm getting at is that pretty much anyone, anywhere in the world can build themselves a shelter. With some extra design, you can build a home with any modern conveniences and as much square footage as you'd like.

With more people working on it and/or working longer each day, you could build a dome this size from start to finish in one week. We would welcome more help, but we start shortly after sunup and only lay one course per day. The reason why is that we're in the middle of the hottest month of the year and we've been getting temperatures in the 90°s. All of us have suffered heat exhaustion to one degree or another, so that alone has slowed us down some.
I mentioned in the last article that making the adobe mix is probably the hardest work in the whole process. We use a masonry hoe to mix the lime, dirt, and water. If you were just wetting dirt that had the right clay content, “chopping” it up with a flat tipped shovel would probably work just fine and be easier. Lime has to be mixed thoroughly. This is one area that an electric power tool could make it a little easier: A concrete mixer could be used.
You might be able to see the shims underneath the arch form. When you’re ready to remove the form, you first remove the shims, which then gives you wiggle room. The PVC fittings aren’t glued so it can be disassembled as much as necessary. The length of bag and barbed wire changes and has to be measured for each course. The easiest way to measure is to simply walk it off, counting your steps.
Spools of bag and barbed wire are setup for easy unwinding. Once you get your measurements for each course, you can walk off and cut the correct lengths.
The secret to simple dome building is the compass. Before you even begin digging out the foundation trench, a stake is put in the ground wherever the center is. A chain is attached (or rope as long as it’s not stretchy) with key rings which are also used for length markers at correct intervals. Before tamping a freshly laid bag, you check its position with the compass. A second compass chain is used for adjusting the length of the first chain as the dome is built so it corbels correctly (ie. it forms a lancet arch rather than a weaker spherical dome).
Look through the form to the far wall and you might be able to see permanent coat hangers that have been anchored in between bags. Shelves, stairs, hooks, counters, and all kinds of other things can be embedded – limited only by your imagination. But it must be planned in advance so it can be installed at the right time. Lime turns back into limestone over time, so it’s a bit difficult to add things like this later.
On this dome we installed a small bench on the right buttress and a shelf on the left. They should be convenient right outside the door.
Whenever we end up with extra mix, we add a little more water to turn it into rough-coat plaster. This is used to fill in all the gaps between bags and start creating a smooth surface. My daughter is packing some into corner gaps here.

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  1. Pingback: Finished Dome Build Report – Sabbatical Ranch

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