Maine Homesteading: Building a Dome Shelter

The author shares their venture into Maine homesteading, earning a living as a carpenter, and building a dome shelter to live in.

| September/October 1975

Hi. Back in 1970 I was inspired by MOTHER EARTH NEWS efforts and decided to make it back to the land (though this meant rejecting college, society, and my parents' pleas). Some seasons later, after many adventures in city slums, on reservations, and in communes, I'm homesteading alone here in Litchfield, Maine — a mile down a dirt road — and working part time as a carpenter. Some of what I've learned along the way during my Maine homesteading is, I think, worthy of other readers' interest.  

First, you might like to know about a technique I used when I built my shelter . . . a 14-foot, 2-frequency dome. The dome shelter's struts are 1 by 1 hardwood stacking sticks which I got free from a sawmill, and its skin is various types of plastic cut to fit and joined with wide silver conduit tape. (If you doubt that such construction is solid enough for winter use, you should come up here some time after a sleet storm when frozen chunks are dropping out of the pines overhead. There's quite a rattle on the plastic, but no punctures or cracks. )

Well, anyhow, what I started to tell you about was my contribution to dome framing . . . the idea for the hubs. I bought galvanized steel discs 6 inches in diameter as scrap from a sheet metal shop ($1.25 for 24) and formed them into cones as follows: On each round I marked off the face angles of the vertex given in Domebook II. That left a wedge-shaped segment which belonged to no angle, and I simply overlapped the leftover area with the rest of the disc and fastened the cone together by vice-gripping, punching a dent, drilling, and pop-riveting. (If you use such hubs in a dome of higher frequency, you'll need to weld rather than rivet them because the wedge of extra metal will be too narrow for strength.)

This system, of course, eliminates the sawing of axial angles on the struts. I cut slots 1-1/2 inches deep in the ends of the 1 by 1's to allow the connections to be made, drilled holes through wood and metal at right angles to the slots, and inserted bolts to hold the whole business together. (One strut of each cone is fastened with two bolts for stability.) The total cost of the frame — cones, bolts, and nuts — was about $3.50.  

The dome is raised and set up on a 4-foot-high wall to allow for an indoor loft (storage and extra sleeping space) and to give me standing height near the circumference. I've piled bricks around the sheet metal stove to set up air currents and help keep in heat, and have also installed insulated walls under the edges of my built in bed . . . an old logging camp trick. If I'm going to be away overnight in winter, I tuck my food in that compartment and add a lighted candle lantern to keep the supplies from freezing.  

Another gadget I'm rather pleased with is a rugged homemade sulky/cart (of welded scrap iron and the front wheels and spindles from an old Renault) in which my pinto pony hauls firewood, old bricks, cow manure, and — often — me. Ponies cost less to feed than horses and seem more suited to my scale of homesteading. 

mother earth news fair 2018 schedule


Next: April 28-29, 2018
Asheville, NC

Whether you want to learn how to grow and raise your own food, build your own root cellar, or create a green dream home, come out and learn everything you need to know — and then some!