Building My Very Own Geodesic Dome

July-August 1984

Wed, Jul 4
Have been reading and studying a bit about foundations. The monolithic slab idea looks pretty good. If I make most of the south face of my dome into a vertical glass pane using the cement floor and underlying gravel as a massive solar storage medium hopefully I will have a pretty efficient passive solar system that will provide most of my heat in winter.

Yesterday I was trying to cut some of the studs for the dome kit and ran into a serious problem. The table on the Shopsmith would not tilt in either direction enough to form the sharp angles needed for many of the studs. I tried building a jig that would indirectly create the angle I needed but was unsuccessful because as the wood was progressively fed to the other side of the saw blade the table was not accommodating the angle causing the blade to bind. I may be able to solve the problem by cutting the angle as acute as the table will allow and then finishing the job with the more acute angle that I need.

Sat, Jul 7
On Thursday the 5th we drove up to Apple Mountain and attempted again to locate some markers on Ralph's property. We didn't meet with immediate success so I called off the search after a short time. Sooner or later I am going to find those markers (if they exist).

Today I spent a little time with the Shopsmith. My goal was to cut a piece with a compound bevel combining a 58 degree angle with a 6 degree angle. The 58 degree angle is the one that I can't cut directly with the saw. So I first cut it to 45 degrees which is the limit of the Shopsmith and then set up the sanding disk to try to achieve the final angle. The process looks like it will eventually succeed. However, this time the piece of wood I selected was so loaded with sap that my sanding disk became totally gummed up before I had finished the piece. I then spent considerable time with turpentine trying to clean off the sandpaper so I could still get some use out of it, all the time vowing that I would never use that kind of wood again.

Fri, Jul 13
On July 11 Toney and I drove to Front Royal to try and locate the boundary markers on Ralph's property. We picked the hottest day of the year and the hottest time of day to start our work. I took a length of string which I had measured at sixty feet. We used the string to measure fairly accurately the front corners of the property. Using hedge clippers, shovel and hatchet we cleared an area around the spot I had marked pretty thoroughly but never located any kind of metal post. I believe the original markers are probably gone which may mean a professional survey will eventually have to be made. I hope not.

We also used the compass to try and follow the side boundaries of the property toward the back. That gave us somewhat of an idea of the lay of the land, which sloped more than I had realized to the north. If I were to build anywhere except on the very front of the lot I would probably not be able to take advantage of the sun at all in wintertime. The front sixty feet however does seem to be high enough and level enough to fit into my plans. We also dug a hole down to a depth of a foot and a half or so to see what the soil was like. Except for a lot of roots it appeared to me that the soil would be firm, free of rocks (relatively) and good for a foundation. I hope so.

Thu, Jul 19
Tried cutting a few more pieces for the kit today but shopping trips and visits interfered so I had to leave the work half done.

Fri, Jul 20
Picked up where I left off yesterday. Cut most of the lumber I had on hand. Had quite a bit of trouble both yesterday and today with the saw blade binding. I overloaded the system so badly that I blew the circuit breakers several times. I am not sure of the cause. It could be that the angle was so steep that the saw couldn't handle the depth of cut. More likely I was pushing the wood unevenly or letting the wood shift in some way that caused a crooked cut.

I have worked out some more effective techniques for sanding some of the pieces to their final angle. Before I had been holding the pieces as best I could with the miter grip and feeding the quill feed onto the wood. The problem was that the wood was so top heavy and the table so narrow that the wood did not have adequate support and would lift off the table making it very awkward to work with. The new technique involves holding the wood with both hands against the miter gauge and sliding it down to the sanding disk. It works a lot better.

At this point I have sawed all of the T-blocking that I plan to use. That consists of 53 pieces for 53 triangles. Each triangle will need six pieces: a T-block, a bisect block, and two studs on either side of the bisect block. Six times 53 equals 312 pieces that I will need. I have cut the 53 T-blocks plus about 28 other pieces besides for a total of 81 of the 312. That's not counting the structural members or any of the plywood panels. I still have a long row to hoe.

Thu, Aug 2
I drove to Front Royal a week ago Tuesday. I [stopped] at a tool rental place to price the equipment I might need to clear the land. There was no place that would rent major equipment like that but they did recommend a company that would clear the land for me. I stopped by that company and made an appointment to look at the land with the contractor on the following Thursday. On Thursday I met the man and got an estimate of about $360 max to clear the land. I told him to put me on the list and he said he could do it in about a week and a half. A couple of days later he called to tell me that two of his tractors had broken down and he would probably be about a week behind schedule getting to my property.

I have been faithfully cutting wood and have now about 127 of the 318 pieces of stud work that I need. That is compared to about 85 pieces a few days ago. Today I also called to California to double check the price of my heavy duty connector package plus a set of beveled base plates. The total came to $1845 including a $175 credit for the plans that I had already paid for. I sent in the order for the package. Things are starting to move.

Sun, Aug 12
On Wednesday I drove to Front Royal to submit my application for a septic system. I had intended to tell them not to come too soon because the land wasn't cleared yet. When they told me it would be two weeks before anyone would get up there I didn't have to worry about the delay in clearing the land. I also went to see a surveyor about locating the corners of the lot. It was a pretty informative discussion. He said he could send someone up with a metal detector to find the corners and flag the lines. The cost would be 30 dollars an hour for probably about 2 hours. I think I may try to rent a metal detector myself and do the same.

On Thursday I received another surprise. Tommy called me from Rappawan Excavating Co. to tell me he had had a cancellation for the next day and he could come up then and clear the land.

On Friday, I was up at Apple Mountain by 8:30 and the tractor was there waiting along with the driver. It was really exciting. We discussed the job for a few minutes and then he got to work. I could watch the land being transformed right before my eyes. When he had cleared the front row pretty much we searched again for the iron pipes that mark the corners. They still eluded our search. After a couple of hours I had to leave. In that time I had seen a good bit of clearing done and the lot was looking great.

On Saturday the land looked even better than the day before. Rich black soil, and fairly level too. The driver had left a fine looking dogwood tree in the center of the lot which I hope can stay there beside the house.

Mon, Aug 20
By now I have cut almost 250 of the pieces that I need for the studs of the dome. I have learned a lot in the process. I have learned that some wood is a lot more difficult to work with than some other. Pressure treated especially is a real bear. It is heavier to begin with. In addition, the material which they use to impregnate the wood must be some substance based on tar because it tends to clog up the saw blade and sandpaper a lot.

Preparing some of the pieces has been very tedious work. I have been cutting them to the sharpest angle I can which is about 45 degrees and then using the sanding wheel to bring it to the final angle which is as much as 63 degrees. Believe me that is a lot of sanding. I soon wore out what little sandpaper I had and went to buy some more. I quickly learned something else, the 12 inch paper disks are not commonly available because most home sanding wheels don't have the capacity of the Shopsmith. I eventually found a place that carried the size I needed way down in Springfield. Trouble was they did not have the self-sticking adhesive on the back so I had to buy a tube of a special sticking compound to the tune of about $8. Then I got it home and it really didn't work very well. After a little sanding it would start to slip on the wheel so I would have to stop and adjust it. Also, due to the vast amounts of material I was having to remove with the sandpaper the project was progressing very slowly.

I had mentioned the problem to Stan and he kept saying there must be an easier way. I agreed but said I hadn't found it yet. He said the complementary angle of 60 degrees was 30 degrees so why couldn't I just set the saw for 30 and reverse my wood in some way to get what I needed. I had thought of that but the idea just didn't work out because no matter how you turned the wood you still got a 30 degree angle unless you could somehow stand the wood on end to cut it which was impossible. I invited Stan to come by my house [so] I could show him what I had done.

On Aug 12 Stan did come by. I demonstrated to him why it was impossible to cut the angle I needed with the saw and then I showed him how I set it up to do the sanding. The saw setup required that the blade stick up through a slot in the middle of the table while the sanding setup required that the table be beside the saw. I could set the table to the angle I needed in the sanding configuration because the blade and motor housing did not interfere. When Stan saw the sanding configuration he asked why I didn't just put on the saw blade and saw the wood instead of sanding it. Well, I had never thought of that. The idea had possibilities. It meant taking off all the saw guards, it meant somehow raising the table to get the wood in proper relationship to the blade (I accomplished that by using a short piece of 2x6 between the piece I was working with and the table as a spacer), and it meant cutting off just a short piece of the end of the board or the work wouldn't clear the end of the drive shaft. There was considerable danger to the method, from working at such an angle with a relatively heavy piece of wood. The miter gauge had a tendency to fall out of its slot and down toward the whirling blade. Of course the saw guards being removed presented an additional danger. I am sure any responsible carpenter would have been horrified. But it worked! I was able to cut the preparation time for each piece tremendously. In fact, without the method I am not sure I would ever have been able to complete the project. In the process I also discovered that turning the saw blade much slower enabled me to work much better. It seemed to have much more power that way so I was not continually blowing the circuit breaker. The blade also didn't heat up nearly as much.

On Friday I visited Front Royal with a metal detector. I didn't have the time to work as patiently as I would have wanted to locate the corner pipes of the property but I was able to locate one of them. That did pretty much confirm the positions that I had set so I was pleased with that.

Today I went to Front Royal again with the purpose of talking to some contractors about foundation work. From my conversations I have pretty much decided that the only foundation I will probably be able to afford will be the pier variety.

When I returned home I received in the mail notification that the hub set had been shipped. That should be coming real soon now.

<<Prev  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10  Next>>

Return to main page.