Building With Salvaged Wood Silos

John Jackson describes methods to buy and salvage wood silos at low cost to use when building on your homestead.

| September/October 1975

  • Barn and wooden silo
    A much better — and often overlooked — alternative (at least here in the Northeast) is to forget the barn and go for the wooden silo which may be attached to it.

  • Barn and wooden silo

Have you ever tackled a salvage operation on a tumbledown barn? If so, you know only too well just how much time and work go into such an undertaking (that is, if you expect to rescue anything more than splintered kindling). Even post-salvage cleanup is often a major task in cases where burning isn't feasible or a permit can't be obtained. If you and a partner managed to get the sagging structure down to a clean foundation within a week, you made excellent time . . . and, no doubt, expended a tremendous amount of energy. In fact, the ordeal may have left you wondering whether you shouldn't have purchased rough-cut 1-inch boards from a sawmill and avoided the hassle of extensive second-story ladderwork and careful removal of nails . . . all topped off with several trips to the dump.

Low-Cost Building With Salvaged Wood Silos

A much better — and often overlooked — alternative (at least here in the Northeast) is to forget the barn and go for the wood silo which may be attached to it. The old-time feed storage tank was (and still is) simply a large cylinder made of boards set on end, fitted together at the edges, and bound with metal hoops. The wood silos structure is usually 11 to 12 feet in diameter and 24 to 28 feet high. It may, in other words, have a surface area of 750 to 1,000 square feet . . . which breaks down to approximately 1,400 to 1,900 board feet of weathered 2 by 5 tongue-and-groove lumber.

The salvaged boards may vary in length from 4 to 20 feet — depending on the construction of the particular silo — with 8-and 16-footers very common. Nicer still, the wood — often fir or pine — is multi-purpose. Silo lumber is currently serving as roof, floor, and walls of my house, and each rafter of my 16 foot by 32 foot tool and animal shed is made of two staves spiked together.

The silo, incidentally, may also have a wooden roof . . . which will yield another 200 or so board feet of 5/8-inch-thick planks. The segments of roofing are trapezoidal and make very effective wainscoting when alternately reversed to form rectangles.

You might expect such a rich source of lumber to be expensive and hard to come by . . . but here in upstate New York, anyway, that's not at all the case. During the 1950's farmers began to buy concrete silos, and more recently they've taken to storing feed in huge metal tanks. Consequently, many of the smaller wooden silos have fallen into disuse and are available for salvage. In this neck of the woods you can generally find such a deal by advertising in the local paper or inquiring of neighbors.

Once you've tracked down a likely silo, you can either make its owner a flat offer or suggest a price per usable salvaged foot of lumber. The latter approach may be to your advantage, because the bottom two feet of the old vertical storage units are often rotten and worthless and — in any case — a few staves will probably break when the structure hits the ground. (Even broken lengths, though, can generally be put to some use.)

10/8/2010 7:01:26 AM

I love the e-mail magazine but I don't have enough hours in a day to read it all, plus I still have my magazine to commit to memory. Thanks, Rich!

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