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Old 06-09-2009, 05:57 PM
Backwoods_Bob Backwoods_Bob is offline
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Inland Empire
Posts: 105
Default Bob's New Ferro-Cement Tool Shed

Well, it was time to replace the old tool shed.
Despite all the framing I'd added, the serious snow loads we get up here had finally damaged our old Montgomery Ward metal garden shed beyond the point of no return.

The wife wanted to throw up a simple pole shed, using up all the scrap lumber we have laying around. I wanted to add on to the cordwood wood shed using more cord wood and mortar.
I didn't want a crappy metal clad pole shed in my back yard, and the wife didn't want to put the effort in needed for mortared cordwood.

Also on our list of things to eventually do is build a ferro-cement dome for use as a guest cabin, and my wife was bugging me to get rolling on that project. So, we decided that a ferro-cement tool shed would be a good introduction to this building technique, letting us learn ( read that as make mistakes ) on a smaller scale non-critical project. If this shed holds up to our snow loads and is water proof, then next year we'll build the dome.

My contribution to the art of ferro-cement building is the use of inexpensive 16' long cattle panels for the frame work.
Ever since I first transported a few of these panels bowed up in the back of my pickup truck I have been fascinated by their potential as building material.
The steel is stiff and springy, easily bowed into useful shapes.
Barrel vaults! Domes! Covered wagons! Simply had to try it out.

The cattle panel frame -

We used the better part of three full panels to frame the shed up.
I'd intended to weld it all together but simply wired it up instead, because I couldn't get the welder I'd borrowed started!

We had a small cracked 7' x 12' concrete pad where the old shed stood. I dug a trench around three sides of it, maybe four inches wide by six deep.
The cattle panels were cut to length with bolt cutters. One end was shoved down into the trench, the other was nailed to the woodshed. The trench was filled with concrete to lock the panels in place.

The doorway presented a problem. It simply had to be sturdy enough to maintain it's shape when the cattle panels were nailed to it. I framed one up of 2x4s and that didn't do it. The next I framed up of 2x6s, and that didn't work. Finally I set two cedar posts in concrete, and that worked fine.
The rear window frame simply rests on the cattle panels and is wired in.

The cattle panel frame is covered on the outside with chicken wire, and a layer of 2.5 pound lath on the inside.

We soon discovered that the job of tying the chicken wire down and the lath up was a real chore!
First you cut a pile of short lengths of stiff wire, bend them into a U, and someone pokes them through from one side while the other person twists the wire up with pliers. Because of the huge number of ties needed this is a big job. It takes a long time and your always poking yourself with sharp bits of wire.

My wife had the wonderful idea of using plastic wire ties instead of bits of wire. Once we started doing this the tying went several times faster.
So, this handy tip is her contribution to the art of ferro-cement building!

Tying the top portions of the covering was difficult because you can't walk on top of the frame. We had to lean off ladders, or lay on the roof of the wood shed to get the job done. I have no idea how to do this with a barrel vault or dome, unless one uses expensive scaffolding.

Ties everywhere! -

The finished frame, chicken wire outside and lath inside -

Now it was time for plastering. I used a standard ferro-cement mix of about one part Portland cement, one part water and three parts sand. I used 1/8 inch minus sand that was available locally. Masons sand would probably work better. I was hoping we could get away with one layer on the exterior, so we dribbled some red cement coloring into the water as we mixed.
Yet more ties had to be added here and there to prevent the chicken wire from sagging.

The adults on my volunteer plastering crew thought I was crazy, and complained of to dry a mix, to wet a mix, it isn't sticking, dropping more on the ground than getting on the wall, and why-can't-you-build-normal-stuff-like-everyone-else-anyway? In other words, all the usual adult hang-ups.

The kids had no trouble and dove right in. Being kids, they still knew how to play with mud and have fun.
I had three adults and two kids plastering, and a lady measuring out water and Portland.
Naturally I just strutted around, swilling coffee, waving my arms and shouting "Plaster me hearties plaster!!"
OK, so I was really shoveling sand and mixing the whole time...

After about a hour we stopped for a coffee break. When we got around to getting back to work the crew went into overdrive and I didn't turn off the mixer once, I could barley keep up with them.

At one point the weight of the wet plaster started to buckle the cattle panel frame. "Shhhh, don't tell Bob!" was the instinctive reaction of the hardworking, dedicated and professional crew, but my loyal wife, who also had to live with the finished product said "Go get Bob go get Bob!!
We had to shore the interior up as we went along. I had really thought the stiff bow of cattle panels would hold the weight.

Plastering the top was just as hard as tying the top portions had been, because you can't climb on the surface. But toweling down the plaster got easier the flatter the curve got.

But eventually the job was done.
This is what the interior surface looks like. I had originally experimented with using burlap material for the inside covering but couldn't make it work out, so used the more expensive metal lath. I'm glad I did. The walls were flexible enough as it was which made plastering difficult on the vertical walls.

It rained that night, perfect weather for curing cement, but the shed proved to be full of holes. I'll have to add another layer to the outside.
The shed is now nice and rigid.
The inside gets a layer off stucco if I can mix stucco that will adhere upside down, or gypsum plaster. Then a coat of whitewash to brighten things up.
I have a nifty semi-circular window to build into the door.

My new mud hut -

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Old 06-09-2009, 07:26 PM
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jen_in_southtexas jen_in_southtexas is offline
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Default Re: Bob's New Ferro-Cement Tool Shed

What a wonderful family project Backwoods Bob!! It looks great. Thanks for sharing the photos.

'In life I have learned that making a living is not the same as making a life.' ~Maya Angelou
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Old 06-09-2009, 09:08 PM
Anon001 Anon001 is offline
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Default Re: Bob's New Ferro-Cement Tool Shed

I like that. Thanks for showing it to us...
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Old 06-09-2009, 10:48 PM
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flatwater flatwater is offline
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Default Re: Bob's New Ferro-Cement Tool Shed

Do you have a cost estimate of what that shed ran ? and how many bags of cement ?
know God or no God
always walk a mile in your enemy's shoes , that way your a mile ahead of them and you have their shoes
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Old 06-10-2009, 02:19 PM
Backwoods_Bob Backwoods_Bob is offline
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Inland Empire
Posts: 105
Default Re: Bob's New Ferro-Cement Tool Shed

Your welcome folks, just thought I'd show ya another hairbrained project I've been up to!

So far the material list looks like this -

The better part of three cattle panels were used for the frame.

Six 90 pound bags of concrete mix went into the trench around the slab, and for the two upright posts.

One roll 36" x 50' of chicken wire went over the outside.

The better part of twelve 27" wide by 8' long sheets of lightweight 2.5 point metal lath went up on the interior.

I used the better part of a ton of sand, and a little more than four 94 pound sacks of portland for the exterior coat of plaster.

We used a bundle of plastic wire ties from the Dollar Store, another from Harbor Freight, and two fistfiulls I stole from work...

Total cost so far is about 200 dollars.

I need to add another, lighter layer outside, and plaster the interior. I'll update this post when I'm finished!

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Old 06-18-2009, 08:37 AM
SPIKE Male SPIKE is offline
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Location: west TN
Posts: 352

Nice job Bob.
Thanks for the pictures. I may have need for that technique.

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Old 06-18-2009, 02:14 PM
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DavidOH Male DavidOH is offline
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Playing with mud! Now that looks like fun.
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Old 08-03-2009, 06:12 PM
Backwoods_Bob Backwoods_Bob is offline
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Inland Empire
Posts: 105

Well, I thought I'd update this post to show the finished tool shed.

After the first coat to cover the wire, we put two additional coats of cement on the barrel, and one additional coat on the vertical walls.
After an all day rain storm moisture will still seep through in spots and dampen the interior plaster. I reckon I'll paint on a concrete waterproofing compound of one type or another to solve this problem.

Plastering the interior wasn't to bad, except for the fact that the Red Top gypsum plaster I purchased must have been to old and exposed to damp storage conditions. Instead of about an hour working time, I got fifteen minutes to work with each batch before it hardened. So we did small batches.
Plastering up-side-down was interesting. The plaster consistency is rather like a thick frosting. Ever frost an up-side-down cake?
The plaster adhered well, but hardened so fast I couldn't get a very smooth finish. When done plastering, I white washed the interior with lime and water.
The little Harbor freight solar shed I installed light isn't very bright, but because of the angled wall and bright interior it works just fine in this application.

I'm glad we built this little shed and I think it will last a lifetime, but I do not think I will be building a guest-cabin-dome out of this stuff.
I find that the ferro-cement structure is very hot in hot weather. The thin shell absorbs the heat of the sun and re-radiates it into the interior. It's also cold and damp in cold and damp weather. Not good for a structure to be inhabited. The roof, though strong and fireproof, isn't as waterproof as I'd wish it to be, and the amount of labor needed to construct one is excessive.
I think I'll stick to stucco for walls, and sheet metal for roofs.

Pictures -

I see that I can no longer post the number of pictures I wish to.
Also, I do not want to resize them.
In the past the forum software resized then for this particular application, which I feel is an appropriate way to manage things. I'd rather not duplicate my photos, and keep one set resized just for this forum.

What this means is that in the future I will no longer bother to post my projects on this forum.
But, to complete this post, if ya wanna see what the finished product looks like -
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Old 08-09-2009, 01:01 PM
kawalekm kawalekm is offline
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Location: Sierra Nevada foothills
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Great job Bob. Excellent pictures. By the way, is that your cabin in your cement mixer pic's background? I had to ask because it's construction looks almost like mine. Cement walls, a 9/12 roof pitch, and steel roofing. Also, I went to school in Pullman, so I started to wonder where you're located as soon as I saw the hemlocks.
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Old 08-26-2009, 02:53 AM
StatHaldol StatHaldol is offline
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Farmerville, Louisiana
Posts: 166

Awesome job, Bob! I've always been curious about ferro-cement construction! Good quality pics too.
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Old 08-26-2009, 04:55 PM
bookwormom bookwormom is offline
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Location: Kentucky
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thanks for sharing. Have to show this to my husband. How thick is the cementwall? Your house looks so nice.
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