Make Your Own Bricks from Soil

How to make bricks to build a home: including the five basics of blockmaking, soil composition, and mixing the bricks.

  • 039-028-01using-CINVA-Ram
    Author's barn was built of soil-cement blocks using CINVA Ram. It has already withstood a rainy Pacific northwest winter.
  • 039-028-01-Blockmaking
    Making blocks is labor intensive, but not difficult per se. Children can sift soil and fill calibrated buckets for adult in charge.
  • 039-028-01-hearths-block
    Not only barns, but hearths can be made with soil blocks.

  • 039-028-01using-CINVA-Ram
  • 039-028-01-Blockmaking
  • 039-028-01-hearths-block

A few years ago—while reading Ken Kern's fine book, The Owner-Built Home, I came across something which brought me right up out of my chair: the CINVA Ram, a manually operated machine that makes ordinary earth into substantial 4 X 6 X 12-inch construction bricks.

Since I'm always on the lookout for inexpensive building supplies, I was (to say the least) intrigued by the idea of turning soil into concrete-like blocks. I confess I was skeptical, however, that plain old garden-variety dirt --for gosh sakes—could be used as a construction medium here in the cold, damp eastern edge of Washington State.

After reading more about compacted earth, however, I learned that its main limitation --vulnerability to attack by moisture --could be overcome through the addition of cement to the raw soil as a "stabilizing agent". Well, that was enough to convince me to give it a try . . . so I chipped in with some friends on a CINVA Ram and proceeded to build my barn, chicken house, and hearth entirely out of soil-cement blocks.

Now, two years later, I'm happy to report that the structures have all successfully weathered one reasonably severe winter and, in general, have lived up to my highest expectations. Soil-cement not only has excellent insulative qualities but is strong, durable, fireproof, easy to work with, and extremely low in cost. (My blocks set me back three cents each . . . and they wouldn't even have cost that much if I'd not been forced to buy clay and sand to add to our silty local soil!) In short, soil-cement is everything I think a building material should be.


In case you're wondering, CINVA is an acronym for the Inter-American Housing and Planning Center of Bogota, Colombia . . . while Ram is taken from the name of Paul Ramirez, the Chilean engineer who invented this brick making device in the mid-fifties.

The CINVA Ram consists of a box or mold which is filled with damp soil-cement, and a lever-actuated piston that compresses the earth-binder mix. Once the mold has been loaded with the proper amount of material, the machine's operator then forces its long handle down with a pressure of 70 to 100 pounds (exerting, in turn, 40,000 pounds of pressure on the soil that is being compressed). The brick formed by this procedure is then ejected, set in a cool place, and left to cure for up to three weeks.

5/11/2015 10:15:25 PM

I recently bought this property and am happy to say that it is still standing, in use and in good repair after 39 years.

12/2/2014 8:13:38 PM

great info! easy and helpful ideas to make bricks

1/23/2009 4:44:04 AM

Regarding the soil blocks, there is a hydraulic machine available that produces up to 3000 soil blocks in a day! The blocks are interlocking, therefore require no cement for the construction. The blocks have a lovely finish. The machines are from a South African company called Hydraform. Have a look. Cheers

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