As time goes by and earthbag building becomes more practised, more and more earthbag filling techniques appear. Probably every team winds up creating their own earthbag filling system, though it will differ depending on whether you are using tubes or bags. For the record, here are a few tested ways to stuff dirt into your sacks.
1. The Classic Single-Sack-With-Bag-Stand Routine
The tried and true technique for filling earthbags, is to gusset the bottom of the bag by hand so that the corners are turned in. Then you fill the first 10-15 cm with damp earth, tamp it so that the bottom of the bag is nice and square, before filling the rest of the bag.
You would normally measure the amount of earth that goes in the bag (using pots of some description or shovel-loads), this way you can adjust the bag size, so that your earthbags sit staggered in the wall like bricks.
In truth, you don’t have to too neurotic about the exact amount of earth in the bag. But the amount does need to be fairly consistent, so that when you tamp the bags flat, they are squashed to roughly the same level.
Why gusset the sacks? Because if you don’t, the corners stick out in the wall creating a very bumpy finish. This isn’t the end of the world and certainly not a structural issue, but it’s a devil to plaster over. So you’ll save yourself a lot of effort in the long run by making sure your sack-ends sit nice and flush.
2. The Alternative Sack Fill
In our last workshop in Turkey, we invented another bag-laying technique which allowed us to pre-fill a lot of sacks with dry earth, and then wet them on the wall. Details of that method are outlined here.
3. The Six-at-a-Time Multi-Fill
Naturally, people get impatient with the one-at-a-time bag stand routine. So they invent other, faster ways of filling multiple bags at once. Sometimes they’ll even resort to child labour. :)
4. Industrial Speed Filling
For those who love machines, this tractor earthbag-filling system is going to be the clear winner. The sack tie-up at the end is the icing on the cake. Personally, I would hate the fumes and noise. For me, the whole point of building your own home is to enjoy the teamwork process. But I accept I’m in the minority there.
Filling tubes is a little different from individual sacks, as you inevitably have to fill on the wall. Here are a couple of options:
1. Nice and Leisurely
Jehane Rucquoi and friends take things in their stride with this relaxed technique.
2. The Earthbag Boa-Contraption
Here is another system using a nifty wooden frame that squashes the earthbag flat as it goes. It bears a passing resemblance to a massive earthbag snake, which is totally besides the point, but anyway.
THERE’S NO SINGLE RIGHT ANSWER
It really is pretty much down to you and your team as to which technique you prefer, and no doubt there are many others out there that I haven’t yet heard of. Feel free to tell us about, or add a link to, your own method in the comments. I always like to learn a new way.
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16/7/2018 07:11:18 pm
Wow...all that ingenuity....I have another one!
16/7/2018 07:29:59 pm
17/7/2018 06:41:32 am
I used a piece of furnace duct as a rigid tube, and attached a cone dog collar (like for a dog that has had stitches). We squished as much tube on as we could, then proceeded to fill, as seen here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/PMuyATqGDx8Qq8ni9
18/7/2018 12:42:47 am
Thanks for sharing Kevin! This is such a lovely use of earthbag. Hope the tortoises are happy (they look pretty chuffed).
Mark in Ojai
19/7/2018 06:04:35 am
Great technique! How long did it take to fill all the tubes to make the enclosures, and how many people worked on it? A rough idea of man/woman-hours will be helpful. Thank you!
21/7/2018 02:43:08 pm
It was very labor intensive, but the hardest part was mixing the ingredients that we put into the tube. We had only very fine sand available around us, but a cement company donated a clay-rich mixture they washed from their product (it was a waste product for them that they trucked over to us). We also bought some coarser masonry sand to make a good cob mix (our native sand was super fine). On good days we had a lot of student labor and would put 3 or 4 people into mixing. The filling went quickly, so if we had 2 wheelbarrows full of material we could get that into the tube within 15 minutes, covering >100 ft. However, we had lots of pauses--we would run out of tubing and have to reload it, or we would finish a course and need to tamp it down and then add barbed layer (we had barbed wired between each course--and because the wall curved all over the wire would not stay in place except with rocks on top of it, which would get knocked out of the way as our snake came around). Some days we had only 2 people, and it was doable but slow. Some days we had 20 people and we had 2 full crews going at once! This was about 4 years ago and I don't remember how many linear feet per hour we could do, or anything like that. It was helpful to have 2 stove pipes with dog collars so one could be pre-loaded with tubing while using the other. About 4 feet of pipe could have about 60-80 ft of tubing squished onto it, if I remember correctly.
21/7/2018 02:52:27 pm
Looking at the pics again, I see our tube was not 4 ft, maybe 3 ft. There was a tradeoff between a longer tube that would hold more bag, or a shorter tube that was easier to handle. Whoever was holding the apparatus had to keep some pressure on the bag tubing at the bottom to prevent it from feeding out too quickly. I also recall that we settled on 1 gallon buckets because too much at once could get stuck in the metal tube or be awkward for the person to handle. It was a fun project and took several months of after-school, sporadic labor.
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