Building My Very Own Geodesic Dome

by Bob Lauffer

Bob built his own dome house in 1984-1985. The following is an edited version of the journal Bob kept during the construction, with a few photos showing the progress on the house. The journal ends in January 1985, before the house was completed. Additional photos of the house near completion can be found on the last page of the journal.

Dome 10I am going to move to Front Royal and build a home with my own two hands. It is going to be a geodesic dome. About a year ago I read an ad in one of the popular do it yourself magazines. Build your own geodesic dome it said. Send in six dollars for a catalogue. I sent the six dollars and received my catalogue. The company was called Timberline Geodesics and it was based in California. The plans looked exciting. That, I decided, was the home I was going to build.

The site for my home has already been selected. I have one of those proverbial friends, his name is Ralph, who happens to own two building sites in a small resort community outside of Front Royal. He is willing to sell one of them to me. It is a nice piece of property at a place called Apple Mountain. Already in place at Apple Mountain are two man made lakes for use of the residents for swimming, fishing and boating; tennis courts; and a bathhouse. Soon to be constructed I understand will be a modest ski slope. And on down the line, as the association accumulates the money a swimming pool will be built. So that is where I will build.

The idea smoldered for several months until finally, this March I sent away for a complete set of blueprints. I was thrilled to death when they arrived. They cost me $175. When I first received the catalogue months ago I was pleased that the prices for the shells I wanted to construct were affordable for me. However, I soon began to think that if I could prepare my own building materials I could save enough money to build a bigger dome and also pay for the tool that I would need to prepare that material, a Shopsmith.

Years ago I had seen the Shopsmith in action. Its ability to cut, sand and drill in all conceivable angles sizes and shapes impressed me mightily at the time and now it impresses me as the tool that will enable me to build this house skillfully and economically.

As soon as I came to that conclusion I started keeping my eyes open for information about where and how I could acquire a Shopsmith for myself. It wasn't long before I saw an ad in a magazine with a little coupon I could use to send for information. Hardly a week had passed after I sent in the coupon when I saw an ad in the paper saying that the Shopsmith would be demonstrated at Tyson's Corner within a few days. Of course, I was at that demonstration and of course, I ended up putting in an order for a Shopsmith.

Wed, Apr 18
Events are now beginning to roll toward the time when I will actually start construction of this project and I am beginning to feel the excitement. I took time today to call around to a few lumber dealers to price my building materials. It appears that the cost of my materials for the basic shell should run under $3500 which should save me several thousand over the cost of having the complete kit sent to me. That saving should be enough to pay for the Shopsmith and part of the deck that I will use for the foundation.

Sat, Apr 21
Today a notice came from the Shopsmith company that they had shipped my new tool. It looks like it may come earlier than I expected. I had originally planned for it to come close to the time that I would actually relocate myself to the building site so I could set it up there and start to work. However, now I am thinking that I can do much of the work right here in the garage at Oakton. That way I can start work sooner, I won't have to worry about getting the electricity hooked up so soon out there, and I won't have to worry about protecting the Shopsmith out there in the open.

Sun, Apr 22 (Easter Sunday)
Sometime during the early morning hours today a brilliant money saving idea came to me. It occurred to me that on many construction sites a lot of left over lumber in short pieces is carted away to a landfill or otherwise disposed of. Lumber in one to three foot lengths is of little or no use in conventional home building but hundreds of pieces that I will use in my dome will be shorter than three feet. I hope that I will be able to get many of these types of pieces free from some local building sites.

Tue, Apr 24
Today I drove to a construction site I knew about near W-L [Washington-Lee]. There I saw just what I was looking for: a pile of scrap lumber which did contain some bits of 2x6 lumber. I found the foreman and asked if I could help myself and he was more than happy to let me do so. I drove away with 28 pieces of lumber about one and a half feet in length, a perfect size for my purposes. I now know that I will at least be able to fill my needs for the shortest pieces at absolutely no cost to myself. Now I am hoping that some sites will also have some longer pieces that I can use, maybe even up to four or five feet. If I can manage that I will be able to save considerable money on the cost of the house.

Fri, Apr 27
The last couple of days I have visited several construction sites without having near the luck I had the first time out. All the people I have talked to, or at least most of them, have been very willing to let me take whatever scraps they might have. Unfortunately, there hasn't been much to pick from. Also, in many cases the person who would really be able to give me the OK to take some pieces has not been there. I have managed to pick up a few pieces of 2x10 lumber which I can trim down to size with my Shopsmith.

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