T-shirts accumulate in our lives through all the usual channels: the impulse buy at a sporting event, the staff shirt from your old summer camp, the badge of honor from each 5k you’ve run, and maybe even the occasional shirt you caught at a parade (or is that just me?). No matter how they arrived, they’re here now. With only seven days in a week and a boss that may frown upon casual Monday-Friday, how do we get enough wear out of t-shirts we can’t seem to throw out?
Two projects aimed at repurposing these wardrobe staples can help you get your old favorites out of the closet and back into daily life. These projects are designed for a beginner or novice sewer, with a minimum of tools; stuff your homestead probably already has.
The Market Bag
For this project you’ll need:
A sewing machine (or needle and thread)
1. Lay your shirt on a flat surface. Iron if necessary to remove most wrinkles (some are okay).
2. Following the sleeve seam, cut off the sleeves, leaving the seams intact.
3. Cut U-shaped hole, centered on the neck opening, into the shirt. Make this as wide and deep as you prefer. I like about 8 inches wide and 10 inches deep.
4. Turn the shirt inside out. Use straight pins to hold bottom of shirt closed.
5. Stitch along bottom of shirt following closely to hem. I used a double zigzag stitch, but your preference is fine.
6. To make handles thicker, fold open arm hole (handle) onto itself, facing inward. Stitch together. This will create a natural pleating, which I left as it folded. For a more finished look you could run a stitch all the way around the handle/arm opening.
7. Use and enjoy at the farmers market, library, carrying picnic supplies or as a great scrap bag for leftover fabric and yarn.
The Bed Buddy Pillow
For this project you’ll need:
An old bed pillow (standard works best for most shirt sizes)
Sewing machine (or needle and thread)
1. Lay your shirt on a flat surface. Iron if necessary to remove most wrinkles (some are okay).
2. Starting at the bottom of the sleeve, measure a straight line up the side of the shirt. Cut sleeves off on this line to create a (mostly) rectangular shirt.
3. Turn the shirt inside out. Use straight pins to hold sides of shirt closed. Pin neck hole closed along a straight line just below the collar.
4. Stitch along sleeve line of shirt and neckline. I used a double zigzag stitch, but your preference is fine.
5. Turn shirt, now a mostly closed rectangle, right side out. Stuff with bed pillow.
6. Pin bottom hem closed and sew (carefully) using machine or hand stitch.
7. Sit back and relax with your new fluffy companion. This technique would make an excellent dog bed, too.
Bringing order to your dresser may be the biggest benefit of crafting with T-shirts, but these two projects are just the tip of the iceberg. From market bags to pillow, quilts to rugs, there’s really no end to what you can make with the (seemingly) never ending supply of T-shirts we all have lying around. Pick out an old favorite and give it new life with a 15 minute transformation. Who knows what uses you’ll find for them on your homestead?
Candis Calvert is a (sub)urban homesteader seeking ways to use what she already has to create useful and fun new things. Never content to buy new when old is available; she hopes to wring all the life out of everyday items through creative repurposing.
See more of her adventures at www.adventuresofcactusandfuschia.blogspot.com.
Just what do you do with all those wool scraps you end up with between harvests? If you have sheep, alpacas, angora rabbits, or goats, you know what I’m talking about. Those short trimmings and brush clumps from grooming can be put to good use… by felting them! The simplicity of wet felting lends itself to being a great project for kids.
For this project, you can use any wool scraps, sheared or plucked, as long as they are at least one inch long. First, you will need a few supplies: a big handful of wool scraps from any wool producing animal, water, dish soap, and cookie cutters of any shape.
With your cookie cutter laying flat, take a clump of wool and shove it into the center of your cookie cutter. Stuff the center of the cookie cutter full of wool. Wet the wool down and try to fit a little more wool in. Next add a drop or two of dish soap. If you are working with small children, watch out, because as we all know-- kids like to use more dish soap than they really need.
Now all you do next is poke it. You heard me right folks. Poke. It. I know, it seems like it should be more difficult, but what you are doing is you're creating friction. Friction makes wet wool felt. You can’t really over-do this step. Keep poking and squishing the wet wool until the soap is well distributed and and the wool feels like it has matted up. If you’re careful, you can even flip the wool piece over and back into your cookie cutter so that you can felt the other side. Just be sure to tuck in the edges if you do so.
When you feel that you’re done, carefully rinse the soap out and squish the wool flat to squeeze out the excess water. Try your best not to crumple it. Let the wool thoroughly dry and you’re finished! Feel free to do a little embroidery or add a ribbon to hang it from. The sky is the limit here.
The great thing about a simple project like this is that anyone can do it and you are using up scraps that may have otherwise been thrown away. Good luck, happy creating, and get messy!
Sarah lives with her husband and young daughter in an old Californian gold-rush town and is learning to be more self-reliant though gardening, animal husbandry, and by making things from scratch. Join her journey from the very beginning and learn along with her on her family’s farm blog, Frühlingskabine Micro-Farm.
Some things in life are certain: death and taxes. Add to that list laundry. The never-ending chore, laundry is a labor and resource intense process aimed at keeping people the world over smelling fresh and looking nice. Since forgoing laundry isn’t an agreeable option (for most), steps must be taken to make it more pleasant. Enter a little chemistry project: Creating Laundry Detergent.
Laundry detergent and fabric softener can be both shockingly expensive and chemically scary. Most mainstream brands contain ingredients not easily understood or pronounced by the average consumer and the companies that make them strive to convince you it’s the only way to clean your clothing. Not true! Simple, safe and cheap, homemade detergent and softener can be yours for an investment of around $10 and 15 minutes. Ingredients can be found at most big box stores, small general stores or grocery stores.
In addition to mixing ingredients, you’ll need a food processor or cheese grater, a spoon, and two storage containers (one needs to be liquid safe). You may also want to label your creations, which can be done any way you like: chalkboard sticker and chalk, duct tape and permanent marker or white sticky label.
DIY Laundry Soap
For this project you’ll need:
½ cup borax
½ cup of washing soda
1 bar natural soap (suggestions: Dr. Bronner’s or Fels-Naptha)
3 drops essential oil (optional)
- Shave bar of soap. Using either a food processor or cheese grater, shave entire bare of soap into flakes.
- Mix ingredients. Pulse lightly in food processor or mix with hands in bowl, ensuring even distribution of all ingredients.
- Store and enjoy. Store indefinitely in an airtight container. Use 2 tbsp. per load of laundry.
No laundry cycle is complete without detergent’s constant companion: fabric softener. Often eschewed by people with heightened environmental knowledge, homemade softener can be as “green” as you like. To give this solution the smallest footprint possible, use ingredients without sulfates, phthalates or parabens.
DIY Laundry Fabric Softener
For this project you’ll need:
3 cups white vinegar
2 cups hair conditioner
6 cups hot water
- Mix ingredients. Stir the hot water and conditioner together in a large container (with lid). DO NOT SHAKE! After well mixed, add vinegar, stirring to incorporate.
- Store and enjoy. Store indefinitely in an airtight container. Use ½ cup per load of laundry, more if washing whites, towels or sheets.
While the drudgery of washing, drying, folding and putting away can’t be taken away, this simple homemade detergent and fabric softener can make laundry a pleasure. While you may not see the massive suds quantity of conventional detergents, rest secure that yours is working. Don’t be surprised when every houseguest asks about the soap you’re using and wants the recipe! Enjoy the fresh scents of your low-cost, chemically simple, and “green” replacements, and feel great (at least a little) about your weekly laundry.
Reposted with permission from Instructables.
I recently helped my father install a 275 gallon rainwater collection system.
The system is based on an industrial 275 gallon container known as an IBC. You can buy them used, or if you really look around, you can even find them for free. One problem with typical rain-barrels is that they can only collect 55 gallons. This rain storage container collects five times that volume, while not taking up all that much more space than a single rain barrel.
In my area, you can buy used IBCs through Craigslist for about $85 each. Those come with a metal cage around them that allows them to be stacked.
Instead of buying them, I found a local bottler who throws them out because they are plastic containers without the metal cages. These containers come to the bottler full of 275 gallons of high-fructose corn syrup. I got several containers from them for free, for just the elbow grease of going to pick them up. Some were wrapped in heavy cardboard. I recycled the cardboard into a clubhouse for my little girl.
After washing the container out well, it is ready to be repurposed for rainwater collection. I really like the irony of using GMO corn syrup containers to recycle into a conservation project!
Besides the water container, this project requires other materials, including:
- Miscellaneous wood to build a simple pallet or platform
- Garden hose spigot and hardware
- Gutter screen and fiberglass bug screen
- Gutters, downspouts and elbows
- Silicon or other appropriate caulk or sealant
In our case, nearly all the materials were already on-hand, reusing old components, and recycling and repurposing materials. Total out of pocket expenses were under $20.
Beyond the typical DIY and handyman tools, you will need tin snips, utility knife, pop-riveter and rivets, sheet metal screws, and related aluminum metal-working tools and skills.
Let’s get started with the rainwater storage setup.
Step 1: Locating the Storage Tank
The first thing you need to do is decide where you want the container to go. It needs to be located near the building where you want to collect rainwater, and it also needs to be elevated if you want it to work on gravity flow.
In this case, the building is a 100-year-old barn that was remodeled into a home office. The roof is a fair amount of collection area, and the building is on the top of a hillside — it's basically the highest point on the property. Because of that, the container was not put on any kind of a stand.
There was a small rock garden right outside the barn that was slightly elevated. We leveled off a 4-foot-square area there for the tank.
That corner of the barn is also right where the downspout from one side of the roof is. That will make it a short distance to route the downspout to the tank of our rainwater collection system.
Next, we built a pallet out of scrap pressure-treated wood for the container to go on. This gives the container a solid base and gets it up just a little higher, making it easier to access the garden hose spigot we will add.
The front of the pallet has a notch around the drain port, which will make it easier to access the garden hose spigot later.
View a video demonstration of Step 1.
Step 2: Modifying the Tank Fill Port Cap
Next, we need to modify the inlet of the tank so that we can get the rainwater in, without letting in leaves or anything else.
The fill port in the top of the rainwater storage tank is a 6" screw-on cap. Just removing the cap leaves a nice big hole to let things in, but even animals could get in there if you did that!
So, we decided to modify the cap to include a screen, make it self-cleaning, and keep out mosquitoes.
First, we notched out the edge of a 4" PVC pipe cap wide enough for a gutter downspout using a jigsaw.
Next, we centered the 4" pipe cap on top of the 6" cover. We then drilled holes around the inside edge so we could use pop rivets to connect the two. After trying a rivet, we realized the rivets we had were exactly the wrong length, so we used some sheet metal screws instead.
Then we drilled through both the pipe cap and cover with a 3" hole-saw. That kept a half-inch lip all the way around the inside of the pipe cap for the screws that held both parts together, AND as a place for our "Coarse-Filter" to rest.
To keep large items out of the storage tank, we needed some sort of screen. Since we had some aluminum "gutter-guard" around, we traced the 4" pipe cap onto it with a marker, and the cut the inside of the line with a tin snips. We then had an aluminum circle that fit inside the pipe cap, and would rest on the ledge inside. I friction-fit in place just fine, but you could add some sealant to make it more permanent if you wanted.
Lastly, we cut some scrap fiberglass bug screen to a little bigger than the cap. We simply laid the screen over the 6" hole, and then screwed the cap back on top right over it. That way, there is both the aluminum coarse filter to keep leaves out and screen to keep out mosquitoes.
View a video demonstration of Step 2.
Step 3: Converting the Drain to Garden Hose Connection
The 275 gallon IBC features a 2" drain port on the front bottom. It has a cheap plastic ball shut-off valve, and a 2" plastic cap that gets screwed on to keep it from leaking.
Rather than use a number of PVC pipe adapters to get down to a garden hose, we reused the 2" cap and some spare plumbing parts we had kicking around.
To start with, we had a brass spigot with 3/4" NPT (National Pipe Thread) male connection on it. Standard threaded pipe is tapered, so the farther you screw it in, the bigger it gets. This helps make solid, water-tight connections.
We drilled a 3/4" hole through the center of the 2" drain cap.
Next, we stuck the pipe end of the brass spigot through the cap, added some sealant at the joint, and then threaded on a nut from the back side. Since the hole was the right size to start with, the sealant and tightened nut made a solid connection on the cap.
We then headed back outside. Using plumbers putty (you could also use teflon tape) we threaded the drain cover with spigot onto the drain.
We decided to have the brass spigot rotated clockwise part-way, because the open big drain valve made it harder to grab the knob on the spigot.
Then we connected a garden hose, ran it downhill, and tested our flow from the rainwater collection system.
View video demonstrations of Step 3, Part 1 and Step 3, Part 2.
Step 4: Gutter Work
Now for the tough part — modifying the gutters and routing them to the rainwater storage container.
For the gutter closest to the rainwater storage container, it was pretty straightforward. We cut the downspout a few feet above the container, and then set the cut-off piece to the side for later use.
We also wanted to collect all the water from the other side of the roof as well. To do that, we added two elbows to snake the downspout around the back of the barn, and then a long section of angled downspout sloping downward, towards the rain container.
We had to figure out the best way to connect both gutter downspouts together to combine the water going to the rainwater storage container. After a little thought, we decided that the best way to do it was to use another short piece of gutter. Not only did we need to combine both downspouts, but we also needed to move the water sideways a couple of feet and then send it to the IBC. A short piece of open gutter could accept both downspouts and extend to the IBC tank. It would then have an elbow and short downspout going directly to the the fill port on top of the tank.
I had never worked on any gutters before, so I got a lesson on working with aluminum, sealing it, and in the mind-set of how water flows. About half an hour later, I had created my very first custom gutter. I then attached it to the wall of the barn with some long screws, and a slight slope towards the rain container.
We now had a rain collection system — two gutters, whose downspouts combined into a short gutter, which lead directly to the rainwater storage.
View a video demonstration of Step 4.
Step 5: Learning Experiences and Future Improvements
A little back of the hand math, ball-parking the size of the roof compared to the volume of the container, told us that one inch of rain would be enough to fill the whole container. Sure enough, when we finally did get some rain, less than an inch filled it most of the way up!
After we installed the gutter modifications, we cleaned the gutters real well. This is a typical asphalt shingle roof, and the grit from the shingles does come off. We flooded the gutters, and rinsed the entire roof, with the output of the gutters diverted from the storage tank. Next, we are adding gutter-guard screens to the full length of both gutters, as well as our short section that combines both downspouts.
Although a metal roof is ideal for rainwater collection, this building was re-roofed not long ago with the asphalt shingles. The water will be used for general irrigation, and not for watering animals or human consumption.
Because of the angle and direction that the downspout goes into container, it makes a good point to add an extra section of downspout to just "overshoot" the storage tank. For example, that's what we did when we washed the roof and cleaned the gutters. Some people use a "roof-wash" system — that's a way to divert water away from your rainwater storage container at the beginning of a rain storm, so that the water washes the roof clean, once it's clean, the system then allows water to go to the storage container. This is often accomplished with a spring-loaded bucket contraption that uses the weight of the water filling a bucket to then connect the diverter to the water storage container.
If we want to add a "roof-wash" diversion device to the system, we will most likely add it right before the tank's fill port.
One thing that I learned the hard way on this project: DON'T fill the tank all the way up with water for experimenting! When I was putting up the short section of gutter, I had to work around the tank. I didn't have a good place to lean the ladder, and I was working at odd angles with the screw driver to put up the gutter. If I had just left the tank empty, we could have simply moved it out of the way!
After the first big storm and some hot weather, we noticed that the shape of the tank bulged and distorted a bit. It's not that it was going to rupture or anything — mostly it just looked really bad. Many of these tanks come "caged." which helps them keep their shape and makes it possible to stack them when full in warehouses. Since this container isn't caged, we are thinking right now that we will box it in with wood, to not only help it keep it's shape, but also make it match the barn and chicken coop. The wood boxing could also keep out sunlight, to prevent algae growth.
This is the first large rainwater collection system I have worked on. It is slightly experimental, and I expect that we will add some improvements in the future. In the meantime, I hope that our work on this system gives you some great ideas on how you might want to collect your own rainwater!
UPDATE: Early Summer 2013
We are increasing the size of the rainwater storage system to TRIPLE the original capacity and building it on a raised platform for better water pressure and gravity flow.
For more photographs of this rainwater collection system, visit my project page on Instructables.
This article was originally posted in Instructables and is reposted with permission from Dewey Lindstrom.
We recently moved from the remote North Woods of Wisconsin where large lakeside fire pits were simply dug into the ground and lined with large rocks, creating great campfires. We now live in a residential neighborhood in the Central Valley of California. Campfires here are confined to well-defined containment systems and small controlled fires. These can be easily extinguished with no sparks or embers and can continue to burn or blow into neighboring combustibles when left unattended.
Even with these restrictions, our family still loves to sit around an evening fire. But we didn’t want to spend a small fortune on a pre-manufactured fire pit or a contractor-built unit. We were also not sure where we might want the pit permanently located. So, we needed something we could take down and move to a different spot without a lot of trouble or expense.
Fortunately, while cruising the aisles of Home Depot recently, we saw concrete tree rings on sale for $2 a section. We borrowed a tape measure and quickly determined the rings might make a dandy low-cost fire pit that would incorporate a small Weber grill (which we already owned) as an inner firepot, allowing a very controlled burn and positive air shut-off to extinguish the fire when we were ready to call it a night.
Weber Smokey Joe Portable charcoal grill or equivalent 14-inch diameter grill. ($30 new)
4 sections of 14-inch inside diameter concrete tree ring ($2 to $3 each = $8 to $12 total)
6 sections of 24-inch inside diameter concrete tree ring ($2 to $3 each = $12 to $18 total)
2 cubic feet of small stones, pebbles, road gravel or decorative rock ($0 to $20 depending on how fancy)
Total cost: $50 to $80 depending on your taste in stones.
Step 1: Constructing the Inner Ring
Find a nice level area of your yard or create a level circle approximately 3 feet in diameter. It's not absolutely necessary, but we sprayed our pit area with weed/grass killer to make a bare spot. You will notice the ring of browned grass surrounding the pit in the final photos.This is due to the weed killer and not the result of heat from the fire.
We also placed a layer of weed barrier cloth under the pit to prevent grass or weed from growing up into the pit.The tree rings will be more stable on bare earth than on grass, particularly if you have Bermuda grass like we do. Also, you should have no problem if you want to place your pit on top of a concrete or brick patio.
The trick to turning tree rings into a decent looking fire pit is to make the ring two sections tall by turning the fluted top sections upside down so they interlock with the fluted bottom sections. The first photo shows what the 14-inch tree ring sections look like when you buy them from the store and the second photo shows them stacked. They don’t fit perfectly, but the small air gaps look sort of decorative in my estimation and are barely noticeable once the unit is being used.
Step 2: Adding an Outer Ring
We thought the 14-inch tree rings looked a little puny by themselves so to give the fire pit more mass, we surrounded the inner ring of 14-inch tree ring sections with an outer ring of 24-inch diameter sections. The sections are 2 inches thick, so the outer diameter of the completed fire pit will be 28 inches.
Note that the 24-inch outer rings have a very convenient tab locking design. One end of each section has a tab and the other end has a slot. This helps a great deal to stabilize the rings when they are stacked two high.
Step 3: Filling the Void
You will quickly notice that when the 14-inch rings are stacked inside the 24-inch rings that there is a 3-inch gap between the inner and outer rings. You will also notice that each 14-inch ring is about an inch shorter than each 24-inch ring.
To solve both of these problems, the outer ring is erected first and then filled approximately 2 inches deep with small stones. The inner ring is then set on top of those stones. You’ll have to do a bit of trial and error to ensure the tops of the inner and outer rings will be level when they are completed. Once the inner and outer rings are in place, fill the 3-inch void between the rings with more stone.
Step 4: Installing the Weber
The Weber Smokey Joe grill may come with legs attached. If so, unscrew the three connecting screws and set aside the legs. In an amazingly beneficial coincidence, the Weber grill is perfectly sized to slip right into the inner circle of the pit and just enough lip remains above the surface of the pit for the cover to fit tightly in place.
Once the Weber is in place and you start a fire, it would be difficult and perhaps hazardous to adjust the lower air vent of the grill. So, set the vent opening however you want before you put the grill in place. I set ours about half-open and it works great for creating nice, small fires.
And when the cover is put on and the top vent closed, the fire will go out in very short order. If you want or need more or less bottom air for your fire, you can easily remove the grill to adjust it between fires when the unit is cool.
Step 5: Light It Up
Get out the graham crackers, marshmallows and Hershey bars. It’s time to enjoy your fire pit.
You can view more photos of this project on my original Instructables post.
Photos by Dewey Lindstrom
Reposted with permission from Instructables.
Built from nothing but scrap plywood and spare or recycled hardware, this innovative swing-door trap will help you catch backyard pests without harming them.
Step 1: Tools and Supplies
1/2" x 1/2" strip
2 small washers
Bailing wire / metal hanger
Twine / String
Drill / Driver
Step 2: Measure and Cut
Measure, layout and cut the following pieces of plywood:
(1) 12" x 48" for the base
(3) 12" x 40" for the walls and ceiling
(2) 10 7/8" x 11 3/4" for the doors
(2) 3" x 10" for the locks
(2) 5" x 10" for the triggers
and cut the 1/2" x 1/2" strip into:
(4) 3"L for the door jams
(2) 6"L for the lock plates
Step 3: Assemble the Doors
(Do this step twice: once for each door.)
Attach one end of a hinge to the lock. Center the lock side to side and 1 1/2" in from the 11 3/4" side of the door. Attach another hinge to the other 11 3/4" side on the back or edge that will allow the door to be both open and closed without binding the hinge.
Step 4: Build the Body
Screw the walls to the ceiling (assemble upside down).
Step 5: Attach the Doors
(Do this step twice: once for each door.)
Line up the door with the lock right next to the ceiling and attach the door hinge, then, holding the door in what will be the closed position, attach the door jams.
Step 6: Attach the Base
Attach the base so that the walls are centered.
Step 7: Space and Install the Lock Plate
(Do this step twice: once for each door.)
Check that the doors swing freely without binding against the walls or base. If you used a larger hinge, you may need to shave a little more off the door.
With the door in the closed position, lift up the lock and set the lock plate next to the door. Then slowly pulling the door open, find the point at which the door swings without moving the lock plate, then pull the lock plate another 1/4" to 3/8" further away and screw to the base.
Step 8: Making the Sear
(*Some parts of this step require you to do them twice: once for each door.)
Drill a hole in the middle of the ceiling. Using the drill bit as an anvil, bend the wire around it to make a loop. If you’re using a coat hanger, it's a lot stiffer, and you'll need to use the cutters or a pair of pliers to bend.
* Loosen one of the screws on the lock hinge and tie the twine around it and re-tighten the screw. Run the twine behind the lock.
* Prop the door so that it is about 1/2" from being all the way up. Tie the other end of the twine to the washer at the length needed to line the washer up with the hole.
Stick the sear in the hole from the inside, put the washers around it and let the weight of the doors hold the sear in place. Make sure the sear is all the way against the ceiling and that the washers are all the way down in their natural resting position. Trim the wire so that there is an extra 3/8" over the washers.
Step 9: Making the Trigger
Set the two trigger boards on top of each other and drill a hole through both boards about a 1/4" in from the edge, centered from side to side.
Then tie a semi-loose loop through the two holes so that the triggers can hinge freely yet still pull immediately on the twine.
Tie the other end of the twine to the loop in the sear at the length needed so that the top of the sear clears the top of the ceiling when the triggers still have another 1/8" of travel down. This roughly equates to the trigger plates being a 1/2" off the base at the underside of the peak.
Try to keep the triggers low as best you can. If they are too high, there will be too steep of an angle and will reduce the sensitivity of the trigger. The lower they are, the more sensitive the trap will be.
Step 10: Adjusting the Sear
Now that the weight of the triggers helps pull down the sear, we need to adjust the pull weight. While holding the sear up with your hand, set the washers into place and, using your thumb, gently push on the sear in the opposite direction of the top washer until the trap stays set. If you’re using a coat hanger, it's a lot stiffer, and you'll need to use the cutters or a pair of pliers to bend. You're not trying to put a hard bend in it – just a slight arc to help overcome the weight of the triggers. Bend it too much, and the weight of your prey may not activate the trap. The less you can bend it, the more sensitive the trap will be.
Place some bait (dry cat food) on either side of the peak of the triggers right next to the twine and a little on either side of it just inside the door jams. This will entice the animal to walk further in for a better chance of attracting and trapping.
You can see more photographs of this project on my original Instructables post.
This article was originally posted in Instructables and is reposted with permission from Michael Warren.
Papercrete is just what it sounds like: concrete made with paper. I tell people to think of it as industrial papier-mache. It’s inexpensive to make, amazingly sturdy, lightweight and insulating.
Step 1: So, What Is Papercrete, Anyway?
Making papercrete consists of adding a certain ratio of paper and/or cardboard to water and then adding portland cement. The mixture is then stirred with a blade to re-pulp the paper and mix everything together. When properly mixed, it has the consistency of lumpy oatmeal, which can be poured into forms and cast into shapes, such as blocks or beams or dome sections. You use the same stuff as a mortar to glue the blocks together. It can also be used as a plaster to make a smooth finish coat on the inside and outside of a structure. Papercrete has an R value of 2 per inch so a 12" wall has an R value of 24. Not bad!
• It’s sturdy but lightweight. A block only weighs a few pounds but can hold up a car!
• It’s weatherproof. I’ve had blocks out in the elements for four years, and they haven’t changed at all. It does absorb water like a sponge so if they are going to be used for walls they need to be protected from moisture. Similar to wood they will decompose if buried underground so they need to be up on a raised foundation.
• It’s easy to make. As long as you stick to the rough proportions of water, paper and cement, you’ll end up with a usable product.
• It's easy to work with. You can use regular woodworking tools to cut or drill holes in papercrete blocks.
• It’s green. I use all of our paper trash for the year and then quite a bit more. It’s fun to go to the recycling center and see their faces when I ask for paper rather than dropping it off. Now we even grind up all of our plastic trash in a paper shredder and mix it right in!
• It’s cheap. It costs about a quarter to make an 8″ x 12″ x 5″ high block. I spent about $250 total for the whole project.
Step 2: Papercrete Mixer
The McCain mixer is sheer genius in its backyard engineering brilliance and simplicity. It consists of a trailer made from a truck rear axle with a stock tank mounted on it. The axle is rotated up 90 degrees so that the end where the drive-shaft would normally attach is sticking up through the bottom of the tank. A lawn mower blade is mounted on the differential stub so that as the trailer is towed it turns the lawnmower blade creating a giant blender.
First I gathered up my materials, which included:
A four foot diameter metal stock tank
A full sheet of 3/4″ plywood
The rear end from a Land Rover (I think I have the classiest trailer in town)
A trailer hitch
The rubber inner tube from a large truck tire
A couple hinges
A lawnmower blade
A small can of bondo
A tube of silicone and liquid nails
Assorted nuts and bolts and some wood screws
The first step was to assemble the trailer. I needed a contraption that could securely carry several hundred gallons of water. I used galvanized I-beams that were way heavier duty than I needed to build the trailer with, but hey, they were pretty cheap at the scrap yard and about the length I needed already. I welded them together along with the rear end from a Land Rover to create the framework.
Next, I cut the plywood sheet in half and glued and screwed the two halves together to make an inch and a half thick platform to hold the stock tank. I cut a hole in it where the end of the differential would stick through. I cut the plywood to fit snugly around the differential so that it would be relatively easy to seal later. After that, I cut a hole in the stock tank as well so that it sat on top of the platform and fit over the differential, too. Once everything was aligned I drilled through the tank, plywood and trailer rails and bolted everything together.
In order to get the papercrete out of the mixer I needed a drain. I took the tank off and cut a hole that was the circumference of the truck inner tube. I cut a third of the inner tube off and slid it through the hole in the plywood and secured it with a couple screws. It looks like an elephant’s trunk sticking out of the bottom! I cut a matching hole in the stock tank but made the hole an inch smaller so that I could cut tabs and bend them down to secure the tank over the drain. I bolted everything together and sealed the joint between the differential and the tank with bondo. I also made a flap under the trailer to hold the drain shut. All that remained was to attach the lawnmower blade to the differential, and I had a mixer.
Step 3: Making Papercrete Blocks
Making blocks is super easy. After mixing up a batch you just cast it into forms.
Block molds — mine are made from 2-by-6s and scrap siding
Bathroom scale — for measuring out the paper
Paper (used of course)
Shredded plastic (if you want)
95 lb. bag of cement (cement, not concrete — no rocks or sand in the mix)
1. Set out your molds. You will need enough flat space to drive over them and pull your truck and the mixer in all the way in front of the molds.
2. Fill the mixer 3/4 full with water. I just eyeball it.
3. Put in the paper/plastic. I use about 75 lbs.
4. Add the bag of cement. You don’t need to open it, just toss it in.
5. Cover the mixer securely. This is very important. Just think of what happens when you have a blender top malfunction and multiply it by 100… I use a canvas tarp with a cargo strap.
6. Drive slowly- 5-10 mph for one mile. The mixer will chop up the paper into a pulp and mix it with the water and cement.
7. Empty the mix into the molds. If you got the mix right you should be able to open the drain, fill some blocks, close it, pull forwards a bit, repeat. If the papercrete is too thick you've got some shoveling to do. The type of material you are using can make a difference too. Cardboard makes for a thicker, chunkier mix where newspaper is finer and smoother. Sometimes I use a plunger to force it through too. I get about 45 blocks per batch.
8. Remove the molds. I do this right away. I want as much air flow around the blocks as possible to help them dry.
9. Wait a few days for the blocks to dry.
10. Stack the blocks under cover to dry further. I like to wait a couple weeks before using them.
11. Do it again and again until you have several pallets stacked with bricks and your year’s supply of paper trash is gone. That’s 10-15 batches for me.
Step 4: Building Time!
You built the mixer, saved the paper and made the blocks. Now it's the fun time- putting them together to actually make something. The first step is digging a trench and casting a foundation for the building. I used a metal stake and a piece of string as a giant compass to scribe a building sized circle in the dirt. After shortening the string to match the inside of the building I drew a second circle. Now I knew exactly where I needed to dig. The foundation was one foot wide and six inches deep. It was filled with (real) concrete and had rebar reinforcing inside of it. I also cast a small front entry stoop at the same time. The foundation didn't need to be too heavy duty since the papercrete is so lightweight.
The door frame from the yurt was attached to the stoop and a ring of cinderblocks were put down as the first course on top of the foundation. The exterior of this initial ring was coated in roofing tar to waterproof it. It will act as a water barrier and keep moisture from wicking up into the papercrete blocks. Next it was just a matter of stacking and mortaring the blocks together. It was a lot of labor but went pretty fast. I was able to complete the wall ring by myself in just a couple days. I also used the papercrete to start to plaster the inside of the walls. After the walls were up I made a double layered ring of plywood that went all the way around the top. This ring is called a bond beam and it ties all the blocks together at the top so that the weight and pressure of the roof doesn't spread the walls apart. It's screwed into the walls with 6" long screws.
I wasn’t really sure how to build the roof. It needed to be self supporting and not have any columns holding it up because the original yurt structure needs to fit inside of it. It also needed to be very sturdy. We've gotten three feet of snow in a single storm and the roof needs to be able to handle that as well as our 50-60 mph spring winds. We started by making a central ring out of a couple layers of plywood that all the rafters would connect to. The ring was about 5 feet in diameter with a large hole in the center for a skylight. Next, we needed some way to hold this ring in the right place to attach the rafters to it. We erected some scaffolding and spent quite a bit of time getting the placement of the ring correct. It needed to be at just the right height and exactly in the center of the building. Oh, and level too.
You can see more photographs of this project on my original Instructables post.
Photos by Michael Warren