Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lessons Learned

I'll try to consolidate my "lessons learned" in one post though I can already confide there was much more knowledge gained than I'll remember to post here today. FYI, I used Paul King's book "The Complete Yurt Handwork" as my major reference when building the yurt.

What to use for materials if you do not have indigenous wood from the "steppe." - I liked the beech and maple woods that Paul recommended in his book for the Khana (side wall latticed sections) but didn't have access to this at a reasonable price. I found second-hand trim boards, mostly maple and oak, at the Habitat for Humanity store which I ripped into 2"x3/8" slats. This provided a VERY sturdy base but in the end proved an over-kill. Looking back, I think using doug fir, which is plentiful here in the inland northwest, would have been less expensive and would have held up fine. Keep in mind, my yurt, an 11' diameter size, would most likely get by with less reinforcement than a larger yurt. That said, I think I'd still cut back the size of the wood slats. An 1 1/2"x1/2" would probably have been fine, maybe even smaller dimensions.

If I want a "traditional" style yurt, what do I use for tying the khana together when the mongols use strips of leather tied on either end of the joint? - I felt the closest I could get to replicating the traditional way, was to use nylon cord instead of leather. The process: I'd tie a knot in one end of the rope and string it through both holes and tie another knot keeping it as tight as possible the whole time, then cut off the excess rope. Since it was nylon cord, I'd burn the knots in order to keep them from unraveling (something I hated doing with the toxins and all but I knew the pressure on the joints once stretched would easily cause the knots to fray and slip apart. Lessons learned besides not burning again? I have mixed feelings about this point. On one hand, this process was incredibly time consuming (there were hundreds of joints), hurt my hands, and don't seem to hold the wall together as tightly as it should. ON THE OTHER hand, the time and effort, yes sometimes including pains, was highly meditative and as close as I got to replicating the hands-on/homemade experience I was hoping to find with this project. There were so many times I felt, "there has to be a better way," but kept on tying. Kept on going... This is my personal approach but sometimes it feels so good to climb that mountain just to feel the pain. Also, staying aware of my senses and self made it easier to guess how that guy tying the leather probably felt. Some empathy requires a more in depth approach. Speaking to the "don't hold the walls as tightly as it should," one could easily also say, "it's very strong and could stand for years without a faulty hinge." I picture the alternative to nylon rope being a bolt/washer/nut combination. Using doug fir, the wood would stretch better and be able to take the stress of the bolt-combo and yes would probably be stronger. So there you have it. If I did this again, I'd probably use the bolts but mainly because I have a family now, less time, and because I've already climbed that mountain. I'm ready to satisfy my curiosity of another way.

Natural wood or painted? - Many yurts being built today in various yurt-nations, paint the wood after milling and shaping it. Enjoying the look of natural wood I decided to leave mine unpainted. I applied two liberal coats of linseed oil but decided to wait to treat the khana until after I assembled the walls. Big mistake! I should have treated the wall slats before I put them together. I know, sounds so simple and obvious now but I made a decision at the time and sometimes you just have to go with it. The crown (tono) started to split apart after months exposed to the elements. I will fill the cracks and paint the crown before I set the yurt up again. If you do go with the natural look, be sure to seal it very well and/or live in a dry climate. The inland northwest is probably not the best for a natural wood yurt. Especially when resting directly on the ground. A deck underneath would also help with mildew and water damage but I will paint next time.

Traditional covering is felt, the "big boys" use Sunbrella©-like vinyl fabric, cotton canvas seems the most economical? - I went with untreated 12# cotton canvas. I should have either sprung for the vinyl or found a pretreated canvas. I thought the 12# would be easier for my sturdy old sewing machine to handle. It did better than I thought but the reality of sewing your own cover is pretty far off. Unless you have a lot of space and know what you are doing AND have an industrial machine, I'd have someone help or just pay them to make it. I like to sew but did end up paying someone to sew up a few big seams. Still the cover is not finished. I have the seams pinned and ready for thread and finally have a lead on a business that could finish it for me.

That's the major things that come to mind when I consider doing this a second time. In all, it has been a great experience and I'm actually ready for another, bigger yurt project. Thanks for your interest and patience with my first shot at technical writing. :) Happy Yurt Building!


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Sunday, March 15, 2009

My goodness

For those of you who still check back every now and then... I still have the canvas cover to finish sewing but the yurt is now being stored in my garage to keep it safe and out of the weather. I hope to make some adjustments soon and will keep the blog in the loop. Something I'd like to do with the blog is post a "lessons learned" or something which might prove a little more useful to fellow yurt builders than posts of the past. If you are looking for more information on yurt building I recommend checking out Becky Kemery's site


Wednesday, January 16, 2008


So, a couple weeks ago we had a good dump of snow over three days. It started with a hefty 4 inches. The snow didn't concern me, but the wind storm the night before did. The cover had flown off the yurt during the wind storm and I learned the real meaning behind the old Mongolian proverb, "Look up the weather forecast when there's no cover on your yurt." The yurt was filled with snow the next morning. To make a long post short, I decided to turn the horror into a good thing by changing my plans for the future of the yurt. I bought a roll of heavy-duty transparent plastic and some cheap rope. The yurt has been turned into a rotund greenhouse. We have three raised beds that will need starter plants in the spring and we plan on using the greenhouse to grow the starters. For now, the canvas cover will stay dry in the basement until I can finish the sewing job and water proofing. I must admit, I almost took the whole thing down for the rest of the winter but the new cover works well as it covers better than the canvas and wicks the snow better as well. So that's that. There's there. Until next time. Over and out.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Happy Holy-Days!

I can hardly believe it has been more than a year since my last post. However, it feels about right seeing as how much has happened the past year. Just after my last post, I asked Janelle to marry me and the wedding quickly took shape as we wedded just a month later on Dec. 24, 2006. After that we started looking for a house and found one as we moved in March '07. I started working 5-days a week, instead of the desireable 4-day schedule, at the end of the summer and have finally been able to complete the second issue of the Banquet and now find myself at a comfortable place with the yurt.

After much deliberation, I found an upholsterer, story to be told in person, in town to help sew the large pieces of the "lid". I wrapped the wall cover and sized up the top the day before it started snowing. Perfect timing. I plan on insulating it at some point but with the snow, I might wait a bit. The canvas along the wall is kept a few inches off the ground to resist rot and mildew. After lining the floor with a tarp, I will wrap the edge under the wall and up under the canvas to close the gap at the base.

It's pretty exciting to see it take shape. I am reminded of why I got started so long ago. I also feel eager to try building a second one, a little bigger, as I anticipate putting one up for sale. For now, we'll enjoy this weekend yurt and see how it works this winter. You should come over for a soak in the sauna once I figure out how to convert it! ;)
Happy Holidays! Happy Winter! Happy Yurting!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Back to Business

Dear Yurt Friends,
Life has been a bit crazy these last few months. I have been juggling yard work (see photo) and work, work AND the second issue of The Banquet, all while still trying to spend quality time with J and C. Though progress on the yurt has ceased for quite some time, we now have a patio, a sprinkler system and with the help of some great people, a YARD! Sod laying was the solution to a late in the summer approach to end with grass. It still looks great and some frequent rain showers have helped it stay green. The yurt is still constantly on my mind... The patio is large enough that once the canvas cover is finished, I'll be able to set the whole thing up on solid ground. The sticker noted here was a gift from Corbin when he was living in Japan. I love it's message. ;)
I'll be writing more in the near future. Happy Winter! and stay warm out there.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Yurt Lid

Starting work on the canvas cover for the yurt... My sewing machine wasn't working as well as I was hoping though a local quilt shop totally helped me out. This lady was so cool and walked me through all the steps of troubleshooting the vintage machine. "Oil here and there," "turn this like this," "if the top is messed up, make an adjustment to the bottom." The only snag that left me temporarily out-of-order is the discovery that I am short on fabric. I have to buy more canvas to cover the top of the yurt. One step closer and in a way the sewing is reviving my drive to work with my hands. Sewing is challenging, but feels great when it works out. The canvas will evidently shrink up to 20% so I'll have to try to account for that when sizing the material over the structure. Hummmm... we'll see. Ta Ta For Now.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Dishes are Done

I set up the whole shabang two weeks ago! Awe-some. Awe-some. I still need to determine what the best covering will be. Don't really want to spend hundreds of dollars, but to do it right might require I break down and buy the good stuff. I had to take it down and the only picture I got of it standing is on my phone. Soooo, I'll post a pic asap. Fun stuff.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Crazy Times

Boy oh boy. I have been gone for far too long. Since I last posted, much has been happening. I decided to "redo" my lawn. Unfortunately, the project is still in my midst. Simply put, I failed at an attempt to till my lawn to prep it for new grass. I now know the answer to "Why are you tilling your lawn?", which so many people asked before the dark day. The answer is, "Because I didn't know what I was doing." That's it in a nut shell. I didn't know what I was doing and for some reason thought this was the best route. I now of course realize it was not the best way. In fact, I will never. NEVER. Do that again. By the end of the day of the pitiful experience, my arms quite literally felt as if they were not attached to my aching body anymore. Even though I was out of commission for a few days, the worst part was knowing the job had failed. By the time I reached the front of the yard, my body was so beat that I was not able to spend the required time and therefore left enough of the ground unchurned that I may as well have not done anything. For this plan to have worked, the end result would have produced a few inches of loose dirt across the whole yard. Instead, there is pockets of loose dirt and islands of sod remaining. Some islands a bit bigger that others that really shouldn't be called islands at all, more like... Continents.

Despite my current state of knee deep in... Dirt. I was able to get a bit done on the yurt. (I did not mean for that to rhyme.) I now have all roof poles cut and lightly sanded. I have the holes drilled in the base of those poles. I also started work on the crown that will be placed over the roof ring. I went with a design that can be found among the traditional yurts of Mongolia. I would like to setup the structure to begin cutting the canvas, though my yard is not.. Well, it's "not." SO, while I'm waiting for a professional to come and fix the lawn, I am seriously considering moving the yurt in order to work towards it's completion. If I waited for grass to grow, I may not be finished with the yurt for a very, very long time. I think it's time I put the nomadic purpose to the test. My next post can be expected to be from somewhere that offers a nice soft resting place.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

"Long time, no yurt"

Pictures really jazz things up. I finished tapering the ceiling joists today. Meaning, I now have 35 poles that will fit into the crown. The picture gives you an idea of how it would look to have the crown suspended above the center of the yurt. I'm still undecided on decoration of the interior. Traditionally the wood is painted with bright colors and ornate designs. A "high class" yurt will have more carving. It's hard to resist wanting to fancy up the wood work, especially me being a high class sort of guy and all. On the other hand, I'll be lucky if I get the cover sewed together by June!

I was browsing the web for yurt building companies and found one that donned a catchy motto. "You must be square if you aren't in a yurt" At first I though it was kind of clever. However, it seemed they used it as a crutch. It was pasted that all over their website. Now I don't like it anymore. My critique begs to ask the question, "What would you say yurtman?" Well. I'm not sure. I was thinking "Yurt Hyurts" or "Do you really want to yurt me?" or "Something, something yurt dirt" but I can't really get that one together. Any suggestions?


Monday, March 13, 2006

Overdue Post

To those who leave comments, thank you. It is wonderful to hear from all of you.

My respite from the blog postings may lead you to think I've been slacking a bit. And... I have been. However, progress ensues on the yurt. The past couple of weeks, I have been working on and finally completed the crown's ring that acts as the keystone for all of the roof rafters. Today, my body once again feels the stress of using new muscles. I shouldn't whine, but my jaw aches as well. Not from some manly injury incurred by bubba's fist. My jaw was pushed back as a result from the dust mask. It scrunched my nose and cheeks reducing my once proportionate facial features to resemble a Pug dog. But that's ok! Because I have conquered another fine day of progress on the yurt.

I now have all of the rafters cut with beveled corners and 5 of them tapered on one end to fit inside the holes on the crown. Tomorrow, as I have the week off, I will finish tapering the rest of the rafters and start drilling holes in the opposite end that will then receive rope loops. These loops will hook onto the top of the lattice walls supporting the base of the roof. It'll make more sense with pictures later. Right now, I'm going to shower and see if 'adding water' will restore my face back into it's proper shape.


Monday, February 20, 2006


As you can see, I have finished the base level! Also good news, I realized I did not screw the door frame up. The plans call for the door to be a little higher than the wall height. Everything works pretty well. I set it all up in about 15 minutes. The completed walls are a little bigger than I was hoping so it'll be a tight fit in my car for weekend travels, though not too big of an issue. Now that I'm thus far, my hands will rest for a few days. I purchased the wood panels to make the crown. Next week I will take advantage of a circle cutting machine at one of the high schools to start the shape of the keystone. I'm becoming a little obsessed with finishing this thing. I never thought a project would consume my attention to this extent. I think this may be because I'm beginning to see a real market for the consumer to desire a yurt. It may be a false spin my yurt world has my in, but I'm seriously wondering what it would be like to build a yurt or two or three for other people. Only time will tell...


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Yurt Talk

A while ago, during a busy yurt day, a random telemarketer called me in the garage. It turned out being the sweetest telemarketer I have ever had the pleasure to speak with. It was a short discussion. I answered on speaker phone and said, "Hello?" while I continued to tie joints. The caller started by pointing out he was calling for Star Communications. I happen to remember this name and immediately cut him off trying to be as cordial as possible "Oh! I already had a call from you guys." He had a nice voice. A soft Indian-Pakistani ring to it. He tried to continue to discuss his position while I kind of talked over him explaining that I really wasn't interested.
I worked as a telemarketer for a summer. As a result, I have no problem cutting people off as I can totally relate to their situation. While I was contacting strangers, I would have always preferred uninterested people to cut me off early.
Usually the callers respond the same way I would, they move on. I think this guy had some hope of changing my mind. He must have been convinced that his sales skills are so tuned that I would surely buy in to whatever he was selling. We spoke over one another a few more times but he finally saw I wasn't going to budge. With no hard feelings in his cute accent, he said "Ok... Have a good night sir. Sleep well. Bye-bye." I was taken aback. By the way he said "sleep well," I had no doubt I was going to have a very nice rest that night. Ironically, just before I said "Thank you" and hung up, he probably could have convinced me to buy a plunger.


Monday, February 13, 2006

Trouble for the Yurtman

My patience has been tested tonight as I made my second mistake.

The Moment of Truth:
After tying the second wall together for about two hours, I ran out of rope. Deciding to end the evening of hard work on a productive note, I began putting my tools away. I was walking towards the door to leave the garage when I took one last look at the first wall to fill in the missing piece in my mind. Looking back at the wall I just worked on, I aimed to complete the imaginary circle with the walls interlocking to finish the base level of the yurt.... Instead, I stopped in my tracks. I did a double take like you see in the movies, or a slower version of the Cheetos "CRUNCH!" cartoon commercial with the tiger character going, "aaiaaiaaiaaiaaiaai." I couldn't believe it. All that I had done for the past two hours... Two hours that had my hands cracking from dry, robe burn... Two hours that put me in such a hopeful place... Two hours that lead me in the wrong direction to end in complete humiliation and utter loss... Actually, I just dropped my head and shook it a few times with a slight smirk on my face with the realization that I'd have to do it all again.

The Problem:
Basically, for the technical people out there, I fastened the slats in the wrong direction. The way these slats were running would make it impossible for the first wall to interlock correctly. My solution!, as I always find a solution, is to completely redo the first wall. I will have to do more tying, but, two things:
1) The rope I used on the first wall is not ideal for the job. SO, I get to do it this time better than before.
2) The direction the second wall runs is actually the proper Mongol way. Traditional yurts have the slats running from bottom left to upper right. I actually started the first wall incorrectly as the slats went from bottom right to upper left. Sooooo, for those who are counting, I guess this would be my third mistake. Still not bad for never actually seeing a yurt in person, if I do say so myself...

"On the second day, he had rest." I will not fix my mistake tomorrow, as my hands need to heal. Plus, it's valentines day! I have to perfect my recipe for yurt soup for Janelle's special romantic valentine dinner!


Friday, February 10, 2006

Making Progress

I just took this picture. There is still sawdust on the back of my hand as I write this. The base structure is more than half way there. I finished the door frame and one wall. I will start tying the other wall together this weekend. You may notice from the photo that the door frame is a little higher than the wall height? That's because I screwed up. :) In fact, I'm probably going to have to cut the side poles down a bit for a more consistant height. The low wall height, about 4 ft., might strike you as too short, but as this will now be a sauna-like dwelling, the low height should add to the success of making the inside hot, hot, hot! I have to say that after tying one wall together, I'm tempted to rivet future yurt walls. Yes, it would save time, but I'm also a little concerned about the gap between wall rods in some places. I'm thinking rivets would hold the wood nice and close to one another. Did I say 'future yurts'? Yes I did. I'm thinking I need to build one that is large enough for at least three spaces; a table area, a sleeping area, and a space to just hang out around the stove. Doesn't that sound nice!!? I got some good advice from wood shop teachers at two high schools yesterday. There are definitely some benefits for working for the public schools... Anyway, I could see having some students do a bunch of cutting for me. OOooo that'd be nice. Nothing like a little slave labor to take care of the dirty work. Time for lunch!!


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Another Fine Day

One is a shot of the first wall all closed up in the garage. The other photos give you an idea of the yurt taking shape. I have to square off the sides of this wall, fasten the other wall together and the make the door before I can lash it all into a complete circle. I underestimated the number of rods so I'll have to buy more hardwood to finish the second wall. I'm thinking to help with cost I might use doug fir for the ceiling posts. By the way, for the language buffs, the wall is called a Khana (pronouced "Haan"). I will introduce more terms later.