Build a Waterproof Shelter for Under $10

Learn to build a waterproof shelter with found materials.

| January/February 1972

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    You too can build a waterproof structure for less than a dinner out.
    Photo by Tom Story
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    You too can build a waterproof structure for less than a dinner out.

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  • 013-066-tab1

While in Arkansas this past summer, we constructed a sturdy and waterproof shelter for a truly small cash outlay. Our building is a United Nations-type structure built of burlap, poles and cement. The materials and cost are as follows:

  • Portland Type I cement (2 bags); $3.80
  • Burlap; free
  • Cane poles; free
  • Copper wire; free
  • Darning needles; $0.30
  • Kite string; $0.40
  • Tar; $4.00

The cement we used is the ordinary Portland variety that comes in 94 lb. paper bags. We found the burlap at town dumps or acquired it from rural neighbors who always seem to have an abundance of extra feed sacks on hand. The cane poles were scrounged from down by the river. They resemble bamboo, grow in clumps and often reach over 14 feet in height. Store-bought bamboo or any other flexible poles could be substituted for the cane we used, but ours were native to the region and the price was definitely right.

Old refrigerators and electric motors from local dumps supplied the copper wire for our shelter and we bought the kite string and darning needles at a dime store.

Construction: Foundation and Uprights

The first part of the building to be constructed, naturally. was the foundation. We built ours by digging 16 holes in the ground in a circle which formed the perimeter of the shelter. We then rammed one of the longest cane poles into each hole and firmly tamped the cavities full of 6-3-1 (gravel, sand, cement) around the slender uprights. If you try the idea, don't let your cement get too wet and remember to really tamp it firmly. Then, as we did, cover each chunk of fresh concrete with wet burlap and let it "set up" for 24 hours.

The day after we poured the cement, we bent the cane poles over and tied them together in the center with copper wire. This formed the framework into a cone shape and we "broke up" the really wide spaces by wiring on shorter horizontal poles. We also framed in door, window and chimney openings at this time.

The Membrane

Once the skeleton was completed, we cut open all the strong burlap bags and—with the darning needles, kite string and copper wire—stitched the coarse fabric onto the frame.

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