Earthbag Building Techniques

Using this simple method and renewable resources, you can build a beautiful bench and arbor for a cozy backyard retreat.


| October 29, 2010


Benches and arbors can turn an ordinary space in your yard into a striking focal point. They’re ideal for relaxing and for special, romantic moments. Do you have a quiet area of your yard or garden that could be enhanced with a love seat and arbor? This project is easy to build and can be completed in about three days for about $125.

I tried to make the earthbag bench and arbor affordable, easy to build and easy on the environment. You can use recycled wood for the arbor because it will soon be covered in plants and no one will notice slight imperfections in the wood.

The bench consists of a stone foundation and plastered earthbags, which are polypropylene rice bags filled with gravel.

After you’ve gained experience building this small bench, you’ll be ready to take on larger earthbag building projects, such as the Low-Cost Multipurpose Minibuilding Made With Earthbags.

Arbor Materials

  • 4 8-foot 4-inch-by-4-inch posts (10-feet-long for windy areas)
  • 2 8-foot 2-by-6 beams
  • 5 8-foot 2-by-6 rafters (cut into 1 1/2-inch by 2 5/8-inch pieces)
  • 8 8-foot braces, (2-by-2 or 2-by-4) or wood poles
  • 9 1 inch-by-2 inch-by-12 inch wood stakes
  • 2 to 3 buckets of gravel
  • 50 pounds of cement
  • Cedar or redwood lath
  • Deck screws, brass screws, nails (a handful or less of each)
  • 80-grit sandpaper
  • 2 quarts tung oil, exterior stain or paint

Bench Materials

  • About 2 to 3 wheelbarrows of gravel (with dust or washed — either works)
  • Stone for base, enough to cover an area 18 inches by 55 inches by 6 inches high. The best stone is often flat and about 2 1/2 to 3 inches thick. Two layers of stone this size with mortar between the layers creates a foundation about 6 inches thick.
  • Builder’s lime or cement mortar for stonework: smallest bag available, or use cement from arbor
  • Washed sand (several buckets full)
  • 6 polypropylene rice bags, about 20 inches by 30 inches (when empty)
  • 50-pound bag of builder’s lime or cement plaster
  • Optional cement pigment

Tools

Hammer, string line, shovel, wheelbarrow or buckets, post hole digger or spud bar (a heavy metal bar, usually with a small, wedge-shaped head), circular power saw or handsaw, extension cord, level, tape measure, pencil, paint brush, saber saw, drill, drill bits, screw bit, two ladders, garden hose, flat trowel, brick trowel, hawk or hod (something to hold mortar as you’re working), sponge, optional brick jointer/striker tool for striking masonry joints. If you fill the earthbags with gravel, which is my preference for this project, there’s no need for an earthbag tamper. If you use earth or road base (a special clay/gravel mixture used to build roads), you will need one. Tampers are available from some large building supply centers, or you can build one using the free plans on the Earthbag Building Blog.

Getting Started

The first step is choosing an appropriate site. The ideal spot is somewhat out of the way, not too windy, and with a pleasant view. A cozy site in a flower garden would be ideal. We were fortunate to have just the right-sized space on the side of our yard, but it required adding some backfill to help drain water away. We also added about 4 inches of gravel under the bench to further improve drainage.





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