Maine Homesteading: Building a Dome Shelter

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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.

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. 

I’ve also had good luck with a continuous-feed methane digester made from a 55-gallon oil drum. For a while I couldn’t figure out how to keep a digester warm enough to operate in our winter without incredible expense and/or complexity. Then my farmer neighbor suggested a possible site, and that’s where the barrel is right now . . . in his manure pile. Four feet down in the waste, the temperature is 120 degrees Fahrenheit even in December, and the system fills a truck tire inner tube with gas every day. Even in December.

Finally, I’ll mention a small but handy application of alternative energy: a Savonius rotor wind thing of large tin cans set in a wooden frame. I put this contraption out in the garden, where it turned most of the time during the summer and helped keep birds away.

One amenity I don’t have is insurance (other than a whole lot of faith in Christ) . . . a risk I just live with. It’s been working out for two years now, and carpentry ain’t one of the least dangerous sports, you know. Another lack is a camera, or I would have sent pictures of some of the devices I’ve been talking about. Such is the bliss of low life: you gotta use language to communicate.

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