Saturday, October 01, 2011


While living among the pines of a forest east of Austin in a tipi I'd made of heavy canvas sailcloth and cedar poles thirty years ago, I began working on an all wood version. I abandoned that start to the silver fox family living under the hill on which it sat, but it never left my mind.

Those  memories and a growing dissatisfaction with occupying a defunct RV whose warranty must have expired the moment it was driven off the lot prompted me to renew efforts to bring the idea into reality, first in Illustrator for the planning stage and then in Home Depot for the physical realization through shop tools and material..
Planning stage
The initial parameters were to use 4'X8'X1/2" plywood sheets to cover the 16' diameter hole I'd dug earlier, in which to raise tilapia for consumption here at the the Dawgranch, before I discovered the intrusive government regulations into private fisheries. These resulted in 12 triangular panels leaning toward the center around a 15 foot perimeter, more than enough room to do anything I've ever done indoors.

I ripped twelve 2"X4"X12' boards with two 13.1° cuts on the outer edge to accommodate the plywood sheet's lying flat against both cuts of the two 12' 'poles in each frame.  This made 6 complete wooden frames which I then linked with struts cut the same as the ones within the completed frames, resulting in the complete skeleton of the finished form hovering over the hole.

twelve foot rips started at the west end of my porch-cum-woodshop and finished out the east door
single frame in a jig to build all six
One frame launched and another one on the way
Putting the floor of the tipi three feet below the ground is an adaptation of the cliff dwellers kiva to the plains tribes' tipi. On the good advice of my rock mason friend, Cyrus, the hole was enlarged a foot or so beyond the intended living space diameter and a foot deeper than the floor. Eleven 4"X4"X4' posts were sunk a foot deep in concrete and spanned by 1/2"X3'X4' plywood walls at a diameter of 170". Outside the walls and at least a foot below the floor level was filled with 12 tons of one-inch river gravel to serve as a drainage barrier against the occasional flood that has approached within a foot and a half of the top of the wall several times in my seven years living here at the Dawgranch.

Cyrus increases the diameter
Cyrus and Jose set the wall posts
The digging of the hole and setting of the posts (above) I ceded to fitter men than I to complete a job in one week that would certainly have taken my feeble frame at least two months in the constant 100°F+ drought we experienced this summer.

Wall wrapped in three layers of tar paper
Gravel filled into the outside of the wall holding cinder blocks spaced at 4' and level with
wall as footings for the bottom of the twelve foot frame sides (tipi poles)

Instead of buffalo hides, I spanned the poles of my tipi with Autumn Orange colored plywood panels, the North, East and South tops of which hinge out to be horizontal rooves extending four feet beyond the base to form porches in the summer, to be eventually screened in. In the winter these panels will be snugged in and the small smoke flaps at the top will be closed on the windward and opened on the lee side for a draft to pull the smoke out when the fire pit is used.

Triangular frames linking around the kiva perimeter.
Smoke flap windows around the top

To cover the smoke  flaps I devised a 45° conic cap that hangs over any open ones, designed on the same principle as the 60° tipi, but made with lighter 1"X2" strips and 1/4" plywood. After it was in place it occurred to me that I'd incorporated another indigenous home design into the mix, a yurt.

Peak Parasol
Looking north through the south porch-to-be
Smoke flaps and Parasol in place.

And now I have moved in so far as I have finished facilities to operate in the style to which I have grown accustomed. I have yet to build the kitchen, fire pit and winter sleeping loft (7' ceiling over the kitchen).

Computer station "Outback"
At home with Monty and Hettie


Brian Miller said...

dude...that is so cool...def want to see the finished product once complete...

Garth said...

Superb - Keep us updated ;]

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting these progress shots Dood. Fun and inspirational.

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