The Building of Mother's Wooden Dome

The following is an account of how MOTHER EARTH NEWS erected a wooden dome, the front half using a standard geodesic form and the back half using an experimental stackwood building technique.

| July/August 1980

You may not need an entire 44-foot-diameter, 21-foot-high, geodesic-dome-fronted, wood-wall-backed solar greenhouse like the one that now graces MOTHER EARTH NEWS' Ecological Research Center ... but if you're looking for an inexpensive way to construct a solid, well-insulated, wooden dome-shaped structure, the stackwood building method illustrated here is certainly a quick (and easy) one.

When stackwood expert Jack Henstridge set out to experiment with the low-cost construction technique as a part of last summer's Earth-Sheltered Homes seminar—a whole crowd of folks pitched in, barn raising style, to help create what is (to the best of our knowledge) the world's first stackwood dome.

Needless to say, since our project was a "first," we did a lot of learning as we went along, and there are things that we'll do a little differently when we build our next structure of this type. But we'd still like to tell you how an untested idea (with the help of MOTHER EARTH NEWS' wonderful summer visitors) became a reality.

Starting Out

Our dome began, of course, with the construction of its 44-foot-diameter foundation. This was built on a gravel base ... and the outer three feet (that area which would actually support the wall) is composed of 18-inch-thick cement strengthened with five half-inch reinforcing rods, while the rest of the floor is only four inches thick and firmed up with wire mesh. (Other dome builders might want to make this layer as much as six inches thick, depending upon the load their structure's foundation will bear.)

While laying that "groundwork," we made our first mistake. The drainpipe that channels rainwater away from the "roof" was dug in around the perimeter of the substructure, when actually it should have been put on the foundation itself. The runoff created some slight undermining, which caused small cracks to appear later. (The problem isn't very serious, but it definitely is avoidable.)

Our next requirement was some 45 cords of wood. Since we decided to use the green logs we had at hand, the timbers had to be split (which, by the way, made for a very interesting and pleasing design on the inner surface of the building). Again, we later discovered that it would have been better to quarter the logs ... to keep shrinkage to a minimum as the wood dried out. (If we had used cured wood, this step would not have been necessary at all for any logs smaller than ten inches in diameter.)

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