Building My Very Own Geodesic Dome

November 1-15, 1984

Thu, Nov 1
I was up bright and early and on my way to Front Royal to pay my bill. Then I drove back to Commonwealth building materials to ask about some quickcrete with which to finish my holes. It looked like it would be a pretty simple project so I resolved to take care of that soon, but not yet.

Then I drove up to the mountain to work a little. I soon realized how apt the phrase "set in concrete" really was. That concrete had set up harder than any rock. The column bases were not going to move anywhere. I started to remove the forms. I discovered that some of them were set in concrete also. I was able to remove most of them but a few of them I could not budge in any way.

Then I tried to figure how tall to make each of the columns that I would need. I had brought along one of my struts for the purpose. I laid the strut on top of two adjacent column bases with the level on top of it. I raised one end of the strut until the level indicated that the strut was level and then measured the distance to the top of that base. I figured that would be how much longer that column should be than the previous one. I hope my logic is right because some money and effort rest on the correctness of the measurements. Using that method I at least came up with a number for each column.

When I got home I called Lowes of Manassas and made an order for what I hoped would be my complete flooring system less the subfloor. I arranged to have most of it delivered except for the columns themselves which I planned to pick up the next day so I could cut them to size.

Fri, Nov 2
Went to Manassas this morning to pick up my columns and pay for the order. All went well. The columns were big and heavy. As soon as I got home I tried cutting them to the sizes I needed. I had great difficulty at first. The columns were just too heavy to push through the blade of the Shopsmith. Finally, I tried the circular saw so I could move the saw instead of the wood. It worked like a charm. Soon I had all the pieces cut. Hopefully tomorrow I would be able to have them all set up. The rest of the lumber would be delivered on Monday and I would hopefully be off to the races.

Sat, Nov 3
Peter helped me load the Shopsmith and all of the posts into the station wagon and drove with me to Front Royal to help me set them.

We arrived about 2:30 and I figured we had about 3 hours of daylight to work with. We got the Shopsmith down to the site and I went over to Charlie Cox's to plug into his electricity. It took a couple of attempts with the drill to get my holes reasonably centered but all in all the work progressed pretty smoothly. Sometimes the holes wouldn't mesh quite right with the holes in the column bases but usually a few blows with a hammer would get the bolts through alright. A couple of times we had to go back and redrill the holes and that would do the trick. Fortunately, the columns fit into the bases just loosely enough that we could get them in and out without too much trouble. A couple of columns needed trimming to make them the proper height to assure the levelness of the proposed floor. I had brought the circular saw to do that job. On one of the columns I miscalculated badly and as a result that particular column is about six inches too short. Unfortunately, darkness came as quickly as I had feared and I really didn't have a change to see why the calculation was so far off or how it might be corrected. The fast approaching darkness also made the last bits of work kind of hasty. I had not measured for the three center columns before because I didn't have the measuring tools I needed. I came up there hoping that the pieces of column I had allowed would be enough to provide for the columns I needed. I measured them as darkness approached and it appeared that I would have just enough. Peter and I hastily cut and drilled those pieces and tried to secure them in the holes. We didn't quite get them in but I hope we came close enough so that when I get up there on Monday I will be able to finish the job.

Mon, Nov 5
About a quarter to 8 a phone call came from Lowe's saying a driver was ready to leave for Front Royal and wanted to check the directions. I was up and dressed and on my way in 10 minutes. When I arrived the truck was there but the driver said he hadn't been there long. It had rained pretty heavily the night before so the driver said he couldn't drive down close to the house to drop the load because he wouldn't be able to get the truck out. After the experience with the cement mixer last Wednesday I knew he was right so I had him dump the load just off the edge of the road. I knew that would mean a lot of extra hauling to get those heavy boards down to the house but there wasn't anything to be done about it. After he left I putzed around a little bit but it was too wet to do much. One of the posts had not been set at all yet and I had hoped to take care of that but the hole had a good deal of water in it so I decided to wait until I could remove the water some way.

Went shopping this evening to pick up some things I needed to get on to the next phase. That included nails, tie down straps, sheet aluminum to make column caps, and three bags of concrete mix.

Tue, Nov 6
I started off by mixing concrete. Charlie Cox had his hose out so I was able to just turn on his water and use it. The three bags of mix I bought weren't really enough to fill the hole but I packed it in pretty well around the post and I think it will do ok. That particular post won't be carrying much of the load anyway so I don't think the concrete will be critical. Next I set out to finish setting up the posts. I sponged water out of the last hole and trimmed about an inch off of the bottom of the post to make the holes line up. They lined up beautifully. Then I forced the bolts into the last two uncompleted columns and that finished that job.

Then I started setting the girders. Each girder was to be 6x12. I intended to get that size by nailing three 2x12s together. The first girder was easy because it was only about 8 feet long. I could nail the three boards together and then lift them onto the columns which were also very low. The second set of girders were not going to be so easy. There would be two sections, each about 17 feet long with the posts getting progressively higher until the last one was about 6 feet high. I knew I would not be able to nail the lumber together and then lift it off the ground so I would have to lift the pieces one at a time and nail them while they were on the post. I also thought that by making the middle board about 2 inches longer than the outside boards I would have a tongue sticking out that would give me something to brace the next set against. I set the lower beams first without too much difficulty again because the posts were relatively low. Then I tried to set the next length which was getting higher off the ground. I was able to lift one end of a board onto the lower post (about 4 feet) and then raise the other end to the taller post. It was very difficult to control the boards. They had to be standing on end and the post was over my head. The tongue that I had made on the first section saved the day. I was able to brace the wood against the tongue until I could get a nail into it to hold it in place. It was somewhat of a struggle getting the first two in place but I managed without any undue problems. The third one was much more trouble. I was working now from the downhill side so I was reaching about as high as I could and hardly able to control the board. Several times I almost got it up but it would start to tip over. There was no way I could prevent it from crashing down, it had to weigh about 150 pounds. The third time it crashed down I wasn't quite able to get out of the way and it glanced off of my nose and bloodied my lip just a little. But finally I managed to get it up long enough to stabilize it a little. That was all I needed. Once I got a couple of nails driven it was easy to tie it down for good. Speaking of driving nails, it is amazing how heavy a hammer can get after a few minutes of driving 3 inch nails into 5 1/2 inches of lumber.

As that set of girders was finished the sun was getting pretty low as was my store of energy so I called it a day.

Wed, Nov 7
I arrived about 10:30 this morning to tackle the rest of the girders. The next set would be shorter so that would make them a little easier to lift. They were still about 13 feet long though so they wouldn't exactly be light. And they would be much higher. In fact I would need a ladder to get to the last two posts. I used the same technique of making the center board so that I could have a tongue for support. The work went smoothly even though it was quite strenuous. I did have to shim the center posts up a lot (4 and 6 inches). That was probably because Peter and I were really racing to beat the setting sun when we cut them and in our haste erred quite a bit.

That brought me to the last girder which I knew would be a toughie. Sixteen feet long. Just one section and it was high, the short end was about 5 1/2 feet off the ground. I dragged the first board down. With much effort I was able to get one end propped on the taller post. Then I lifted the other end up to the shorter post. The only way to get them up there was to lay them flat on top of the posts. Once it was up then I had to set it on end. I carefully moved the board over until most of it was hanging over the edge. Then I could raise that edge until the board was standing on edge. I had hoped it would stand up by itself long enough for me to secure it in some way but as soon as I would start to release my grip the board would start to topple. I was trapped. I knew if I let go the board would come crashing down. I was desperate to find some way to secure it. I looked around and saw the hammer laying a few feet from me. I couldn't reach down to pick it up. There was a 4 foot piece of 1x3 that I could reach with my foot. I managed to drag it to me and raise it enough with my foot so I could grab it. Then I used the board to reach the hammer. I managed to get it close enough to manipulate with my foot also and soon I had the hammer in my hand. I got a nail out of my pocket. Then I had to try to figure out a way to drive the nail without letting go of the board. I was able after a while to stick the nail a little with my hand so that it wouldn't fall when I let go of it. Then I tapped it very gently with the hammer to try and set it. It fell to the ground. I tried with another nail and this time I was able to tap it more firmly into the board and it didn't fall. So I was able to toenail the board to the top of the post. I let go of the board and it stayed in place, precariously. I looked about for something to brace it more securely. A slight breeze came up and the board came crashing down, ripping the nail right out of the post.

I noticed how warped the board was and thought maybe a straighter piece would work better. Also I thought if I could balance a board on one of the completed girders and extend it towards the one I was working on maybe when I got a board up I could reach out for the piece that was balanced, pull it over to the girder I was trying to place and by bridging the gap between girders hold the new one in place. So I balanced a board on the complete girder. It looked like I would probably just be able to reach it while I was holding the new one in place. Then I went to drag a straighter piece to the posts. I got the piece on top of the posts and managed to stand it on edge again so there I was again holding onto a huge board looking around for some way to stabilize it. It was more steady than the other board but I still did not dare to let it go. This time though there was stability just a few feet away. If only I could reach it. I reached out but couldn't quite make it. I stretched a little more and was just able to get a hold of the balanced beam. I pulled it toward me hoping that as it became more and more unbalanced it wouldn't become too heavy to handle. It didn't. I was able to get it on top of my new beam. From there I was able to secure it temporarily with a nail. The rest was relatively easy. When that girder was finished I decided to call it a day.

Thu, Nov 8
Managed to finish cutting the yellow triangles in the garage in the p.m.

Fri, Nov 9
I had to make time to get to Front Royal because I was meeting Ralph and the settlement attorney on Monday morning to close on the land. I still needed to finish the title search. I got to Front Royal about 3:00 and was able to finish the title search by about 4:30. I stopped by the property for a while but didn't accomplish much because it was getting late.

I talked with Larry, Toney and Peter and they all agreed to come out to the property on Saturday and work a little with me.

House 02 Sat, Nov 10
Just before Toney and I left for Front Royal the phone rang. It was Tommy from Rappawan. He was ready to come up to the land and install the septic system. I was afraid of that. I still hadn't been able to clear the trees. But there wasn't much I could do about that. So I told him to come on up and that I was on the way up there myself.

Toney and I got there about 9:30 or so and started cutting 2x6s and nailing up joist hangers. We made good progress and enjoyed ourselves. About 1:00 we broke for lunch. By then we had enough joists installed that we could make a little platform for ourselves and have our lunch in the middle of our future living room.

About 2:00 Larry and Peter arrived and very shortly thereafter a dump truck arrived with a load of gravel. Before he could actually start dumping me and the boys had to move a few piles of wood and other debris out of the way. When that was done we got back to hanging joists. Work went really well with four of us working. Darkness came all too soon but it had been a good day.

Mon, Nov 12
Settled on the property today.

Drove to Front Royal where I hung a few more joists. The men from Rappawan were hard at work putting in the septic system. I thought I would check a few measurements. I located the center of the house and drove a nail there to which I attached the end of my measuring tape. I went to the first post and was surprised and concerned to learn that it was several inches short. I went to several other posts that I could reach handily and they were all several inches short. What had happened?

What I think happened is that when I originally measured to each point I held the tape along the ground to make the measurement. The problem is that the ground was sloping. Now when I measure along a level path the measurement is different. I can only hope that the difference is not so great that I won't be able to fit the house on the platform once it is built.

By the time I finished work I was pretty well frozen. The weather was quite chilly and windy which left me exhausted.

Tue, Nov 13
The weather was expected to be windy and chilly again so I thought I would arrive late and leave early.

When I got there the back hoe man was putting on the finishing touches on the septic system. I took a few pictures. I was able to get in several good hours. The weather was a lot nicer than I expected.

Dome 03Wed, Nov 14
Spent the day hanging joists and perimeter beams. The perimeter beams have posed some minor problems because of the need to shape them to fit at the corners. Some of the corners are looking pretty sloppy but they look like they will hold together which is the important thing.

Thu, Nov 15
I had wanted to complete the floor framing as much as possible with the idea that on Friday I would lay the sub-floor and on Saturday I would rent a truck, get as much help as I could and haul the kit out there. I did manage to finish most of the floor framing with the exception of the lower back corner. It was just too high and precarious for me to handle alone. There were also just a couple of other spots which I figured I could handle the next day.

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