6 February 2012

Geodesic Domes and Africa Burns

At last, back on line. It's been a couple of weeks since I was last able to publish a blog post, mainly because of computer glitches. Firstly my computer went haywire then the Internet service provider that I was using got changed and all of this has resulted in my having to completely rearrange my home in order to get a signal.
Now I have a good signal and data at a reasonable price plus a seriously upgraded computer with more than double the memory it used to have. Cool, so here's what's been happening off line since my last post.
Most of you have already met James, my son, through my previous posts, well he came around the other day with some drawings of a geodesic dome he wanted to build.
You may ask, what on earth a young man, involved in the IT industry, would want with building a geodesic dome?
You've probably heard of an event that takes place in the US called Burning Man, some kind of free thinking arts festival. Now James is into the arts, he sings and does stage productions and is generally very creative with whatever he takes on, and since there is a festival like "Burning Man" here called "Africa Burns," to which he has, as of yet, not gone. He decided that this year he and a friend of his were going to get something together.

This event takes place in the Great Karroo, a hot dry and windy area near the middle of the country dominated by sheep and goat farming. Nice place to camp away from any cities and far from pollution and so on, amazing at night. Of course camping involves taking your own water and all sorts of things and of course a tent. I offered him my tent but, as this is an arts festival, his thinking is to make his own, the geodesic dome is going to be the support structure through which they are going to express themselves. Fair enough.

This is how we started and the progress we have made so far. Of course it's always great to have a father and son working on a project, not everyone gets that kind of opportunity and so I consider myself blessed. Thank you Lord. James, after getting all the drawings and dimensions from the Internet, went ahead very cautiously, at least from a financial point of view, and build a scale model from drinking straws and toothpicks, cool hey?
I really like the spikes on top, they give it such a cactusey type feel. Anyway, this gave him something to study and to get his head around since he was going to be buying all the bits and pieces. We came up with various ideas like aluminium tubing and cistern ball ( the float balls in a toilet cistern) joiners but since both these two items were going to be quite pricey, quite a few thousand Rand actualy, the head scratching went on unabated. He went to various hardware stores looking for ideas and of course prices and eventually settled on PVC conduit as the straight pieces.

As the whole thing is getting covered in fabric, flattening the ends wasn't going to work too well, kinda bumpy and not very attractive so the search for the most cost effective and practical method of joining the tubes went on.
He was visiting on of his clients when the solution presented itself. Fence post caps. Almost the right angle and easily fastened to the conduit. There was going to have to be some engineering done before they could be used but as we all know, that's what dads who are set builders are for, right? And so he arrived at my place with 36 metal domes and a drawing of what was going to be required.

Unfortunately I don't have a picture of what they looked like before they had been worked on so you will just have to imagine what they looked like without holes. Before I could start drilling them I first had to work out how on earth I was going to do this. We made a drawing, or should I rather say we drew around the perimeter of one, and then divided the circle into 60 degree segments. Then I had to mark a few so that I could make a jig in order to get them all the same. Easier said than done.

I started with those domes that were going to need six holes, the middle one wasn't part of the calculation, it was so that spikes could be attached if wanted or lights or anything else that they may want to suspend from the dome.
As I said, I marked a few in order to see how to do this but found that the best way was in fact to mark the jig itself as opposed to the plates. I put only one mark on each plate and then turned it after drilling to the next mark on the jig. That meant they all turned out more or less identical.
One other thing I had to do was to set the jig at an angle in the drill press. As this was going to be a one drill operation, I didn't want the drill bit to wander and so needed the area, where the hole was going to be, to be square on to the direction of the drill bit. I know that sounds really badly written but what can I say? Fortunately I have a drill press so this wasn't a train smash, all I had to do was find the centre and then set the angle of the drill platform accordingly.
 And so the great drill operation began. 30 plates each with 7 holes, drilled through once, drilled again on one side to remove the burr, turned over and drilled again to remove the burr on the inside. Then another six plates each with six holes and the same process repeated. Man that was a lot of drilling, 246 holes drilled three times, 738 operations, in fact the drill press was taking a bit of strain. It took almost a whole day. And there was still the conduit to be cut and drilled on each end. I must admit it was fun.
And James found a new toy! It was so funny, I've been using a pipe cutter for years but for James this was something completely new, he was entranced. I did the first three cuts and showed him how to use it and then heading back to my drilling left him to it.

He came back to me a few minutes later, "You make it look so easy." Ha Ha Ha. I went back outside and gave him a few tips and he was off. As I said, he was like a kid with a new toy, No wastage and so quick and accurate, he was having a blast. By this time the sun was heading for bed so we got as much done as possible and left off assembling the whole thing for the following day. There were a few lengths of conduit to be drilled and a few plates to be sorted out but we were both satisfied that tomorrow we would have the whole thing up, or at least the support structure.

Friday afternoon rolled around and we began assembling the bits and pieces into what we hoped would be a pretty good representation of a geodesic dome. It wasn't as easy as we thought it would be, not difficult but you have to keep your head together or you land up with all sorts of strange shapes that just look really odd.
Fortunately James was on the ball and before long she was up. There were a few lengths missing because James was still trying to work out how to put a doorway into one side but he decided to get a few more lenghts of conduit on Saturday to complete the structure and to cross the doorway bridge at a later stage. I must say it didn't take long for the wild birds to discover this amazing new perch in the garden. We left it up overnight to see what would happen in the wind, of course nothing did. And then It was Saturday, time for James and his friend to bring some fabric around to see how they were going to cover this thing.
They started by draping some white cotton across the top, I of course grabbed my camera and started taking pictures, this wasn't my department. We found that by not tightening the bolts too tight it made it easier to assemble and to disassemble but it also allowed us to rotate the joiner plates and so lock the whole thing together nice and tight. It also looks so much mor elegant.
The theme of this year's festival is "Mirage", Not nessarily the easiest impression to create over a dome but James had a plan and brought out this amazing blue fabric. See for yourself.
So there you have it, a geodesic dome in keeping with the theme, "Mirage", lightweight, easily assembled and easily transported at a total cost, excluding covering, of only about R500.00 or about $70.00. Not bat for a father and son project or should I rather say a son's project where dad can help.
I'm sure there will be more posts about this particular little fun tent coming up but since the actual festival isn't untill the end of April you will have to wait for the pictures James will be taking at the festival itself.
Thanks for your patience with my lack of posts and supposed dissapearance, I'm still around and hopefully I'll have fewer hassles with my computer from now on.
Bless you all, Geoff.


  1. That is so cool Engelsman!Wow!Please send James my way so that i can get a carport done!!!I wondered what kept you busy this weekend.We went to Simonstown by train & had lunch there and traveled back later the afternoon.No pics though ...bleh! Battery were flat!Take care.

  2. Hey Mighty Mouse, I was thinking about you this afternoon, wondering where you were. For those of you who don't know about a mighty Mouse, even the largest land creature can be taken on by this tiny creature, not sure a whale would bother too much unless of course Mighty Mouse was wearing scuba gear, ha.ha.ha.
    Hello my ou vriend, dis goed om van jou te hoor, moenie so skaars wees nie. Niks van jou gehoor nie vandat ons by Wynand saam gekuir het.
    Seenings en liefde aan u gestuur, Geoff.

  3. Oh good, a nice long post. I'll be back to read a little while later. Lots of pics too, I need pics. What the heck did you shave your head for, Geoff?? Don't you need those feathers in that hot SA sun?

  4. brilliant...the geodesic tent and that you and your son were able to work together on a "creation"! Well done both of you!

  5. I thought the same exact thing as Mighty Mouse, that is so cool!! I'd love one in my yard!
    What a great dad you are Geoff, but then I couldn't imagine you NOT helping! Father son, mother daughter projects are great.
    You should both be very proud!!
    Love Di ♥

  6. Geoff, here is a link you might find interesting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climatron This is about a geodesic dome structure called "The Climatron". This structure is within a botanical garden in the United States, in the state of Missouri, where I grew up. I have been to the Climatron and the Missouri Botanical Gardens many times, one of my favorite places that I miss. I believe the author of the design is Buckminster Fuller? (not quite sure on that.) At the bottom of the article, under 'See Also', there are other interesting links.

    Like you said, a great Father-Son project. I am glad that you had the time to spend with James. When you two put your heads together, great things happen! Your project appears to be a success, very ingenious. The PVC pipe and conduit are one in the same? Handyman is also an electrician, and he has used the PVC pipe to run wiring underground (moles had chewed the wires when it was underground). I clicked on the photos to try to see how you are connecting the pipes, but just could not get a good look. I'll trust you, though.

    I have heard of the Burning Man festival, did not know there were ones similar in other parts of the world.

    Now for some other questions: Is that the interior of your home with the wooden screen? Very nice. I didn't know you had such a good eye for decorating.

    Why are there iron grates on your windows? Surely they don't keep Cape Cobras out...

    I noticed Marmaduke in one of the shots. Is that your VW in the background of another shot? I like VW's.

    I was rolling on the floor laughing about your comment about the cactusey looking spikes. Also, you listing all the tedious steps and then admiting that it was fun. You are definitely in your element here!

    Just had to ask some minor questions, hope you don't mind.

    What happened to your fine feathers, my South African friend? ;)

  7. Awesome! This is something my son would love. Talent runs in your family.
    The first thing I thought when I saw this was, this would make a great greenhouse.

    Thanks for sharing your talent with us. I sure did enjoy reading this post. :) My dad loved to build and as a little girl I would sit for hours watching him. Even up to his last year living he would be doing something that involved 'putting together'. I thought I would have the knack for this but it turns out I am all thumbs and none of those thumbs are green. I have an indoor greenhouse that just isn't doing much but making me cry.


  8. Hey Joy.
    What do you mean; " What the heck did you shave your head for?" I always do, silly girl or haven't you noticed in my profile picture, No Hair.
    It's just a lot easier this way, no fuss.
    Now you will have to call me your fine featherless friend though ha, ha, ha.

  9. Theanne and of course you little Baron, welcome.
    I thought so too. I love working with my kids on things they are trying to sort out, its fun to be with them, especially since I work doing things like this all the time, they are so easy to impress :)
    Thanks for the visit, both of you, Geoff.
    May my God reach out his hand and touch the two of you this evening.

  10. Diana, hello my friend.
    I also thought so, now if we could only make a whole lot of money out of making them ha, ha, ha. Just kidding.
    We were just having fun really. Great Dad, not really. there are so many fathers in this world who do so much more for their children than I have and as far as being proud is concerned, we were playing, nothing spectacular. But I do agree with you as far as spending time with our children. We are only here for a small percentage of their lives and what they go through so every moment spent with them is of the utmost value. Time with loved ones will be remembered for years to come and what we gain from each other will enhance our lives and those with whom we come in contact too.
    Thanks for the visit, you are always welcome and your input is valued.
    Bless you girl, may you heal really soon, Geoff.

  11. http://www.afrikaburn.com/
    A link to the Africa burns website.

    Joy, you remind me to be more exact in my blog posts, thanks.
    OK so I've posted some pictures on my next post, you reminded me I needed to. Thanks again.
    Your Climatron was built in 1960, WOW. Hey I was only 5 years old at the time and here I was thinking I was involved in something on the cutting edge, silly me.
    Yes that is the interior of my home. the screen was given to my father by the Shah of Iran some time in the sixties and I've inherited it. It is amazingly beautiful and the workmanship is of the highest quality, fit for a king, and of course Geoff, he, he,

    the burglar bars aren't there to keep the slithering type of snakes out, I can assure you of that.
    His name is actually "Archibald Marmaduke Lyon", he was named after my Grandfather of the same name. My other dog, Minnie was given that name because she moaned so much. You know, moaning Minnie. About a year after I named her I found out that my Grandfather called my Grandmother Minnie because she moaned so much. How about that?
    The Beetle belongs to my friend Wynand, he asked if he could leave it here for a while because he had nowhere to store it. Unfortunately it's just rusting away. Oh well, we will see what eventually happens to it.
    I like the spikes, no really I do, promise I DO! :)
    With regards to the hair: I used to have to go to the barber shop at least once a month, if I didn't when I got up in the morning my hair, or should I rather say what little I had, would stand up in the most ridiculous ways making me look like one of those nutty professors. One day I had had enough and decided to sort this thing out once and for all (kinda the way I do things)so I bought an electrical hair clipper. At first I used to clip the hair and then shave but this was such a schlep that I left off the razor and eventually went with the clippers only. That was about thirty years ago and I've been doing it ever since. Damn hard to keep your hair all beautiful when you live alone without the bucks to go to the barber shop. This was a lot easier. And of course you know that bald men are far more sexy than hirsute men don't you? Now you know ha, ha ,ha.
    Bless you my fine American (well we know that is accurate) friend. :)

  12. Child of God hello there.
    How on earth can you have an indoor greenhouse? Plants need light in order to synthesize, as far as I know. This particular one was decide upon with the intention of turning it into a greenhouse for vegetables, here on the farm, after it's usefulness as a tent had expired. Put yours out side, who knows it could still make you smile.
    Yeah I used to watch my father build things and, thanks to God, it rubbed off. :)
    Blessings to you my friend, Geoff.

  13. Lol! It's a really cheap greenhouse that would never survive our winters here. We just came through -32 C and now are having -15 C nights. ;P I have grow lights surrounding it, excellent soil, watered when needed yet the poor things just are not doing well.

    I won't give up though for I am determined to make these guys grow!


  14. I'll have to look up 'hirsute'...

  15. I am so pleased I have found your blog. I enjoy reading your posts. I know Melkbos well, it holds a special place in my heart. Your post on Loneliness is so touching. Thankyou.

  16. hello,

    i was looking for hubs i could make for my geo dome. i love this idea. however i cant find any post cap that will work in my area.:(. i live in an apartment so there's not much i can do. would you be willing to make some and sell them to me?


  17. Hi Geoff

    Like your idea of using these covers. I want to have a go at building one of these using steel/alum conduit as I have seen some great ideas on google. Any ideas where I could buy cheap (recycled) conduit? Not tried the scrap places yet but don't know which one I ought to visit to take a look. (Not very safe places to start poking around in unless they are prepared to sort some out for me). Anybody got any ideas? Any advice very much appreciated.

  18. Nice build. Novel way of doing the hubs. I don't have a drill press so I used an ordinary drill to drill 2 holes at each end of each PVC cut bar & attached a roof truss repair plate. it is about 10 CM long by 10 mm wide pre drilled holes.
    Not as elegant as your hubs but it works. Used gutter bolts as they have rounded heads.
    Thanks for the post

  19. For those of you who are looking for these fence post tops I suggest you first try a steel supplier in your area. If you still can't find them they are readily available here in South Africa. If you contact me it is possible for me to get some and courier them to you, un-drilled of course. I could drill them if needed but that's another story, Geoff.

  20. Hi. I find you most interesting in what you do, I want to make a pond cover that I can lift off, I was trying to find a six point hub, I found one on Sonostarhub but wondered if I could make up one myself? any suggestions? my hubby can help, he's a cabinet maker & has all sorts of tool that may help :o))
    Jackie T x