Category Archives: Yurt

What is a Yurt, an Overview of Parts

Seat the poles by hanging from the wheel is actually recommended! (www.thedelmeryurt.blogspot.com)
Seriously strong! And it seats the poles- recommended! (www.thedelmeryurt.blogspot.com)

A yurt (Turkish) or a ger (Mongolian) is the basic catch-all phrase for a round-ish portable structure, traditionally used by the nomads of the Central Asian steppes, that has found modern popularity due to it’s simplicity and durability of design. For more on traditional yurts go to the resources page. It’s round, squat shape allows it to withstand strong winds and storms, while the central wheel and hyperboloid wall design distributes weight so effectively that the roof can usually support people walking on it (and snow loads).

The yurt I built was a modern riff on the traditional Mongolian style ger, which is a popular variety and most like the ones you’ll see for sale. There are a lot of varieties, but I’ll be covering the basics of the one I made for the sake of this blog. There is a blog post later about alternatives, unique ideas, and the upsides/downsides of each.

An exploded view of a yurt from www.simplydifferent.org
An exploded view of a yurt from http://www.simplydifferent.org

The wood frame “skeleton”:

First is the flat timber lattice wall (khana) made of lath, poles, etc. that are tied together in a diamond pattern which creates the ability to stretch out and condense the wall pieces like an accordian or those small dog/baby gates for doorways. When it is stretched out, a tension rope or band keeps it from stretching out any more and causing the yurt to collapse. The ends of these meet and are tied to the door frame (nars) which can be as simple as a square of 2x4s screwed together if you don’t plan on a proper door (khaalga).

Flat lattice wall section condensed (www.thedelmeryurt.blogspot.com)
And stretched out for walls, before tension rope is applied (www.thedelmeryurt.blogspot.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roof poles meeting up with the wall, you can see the small rope loops holding the uni in place (www.simplydifferent.org)
Roof poles meeting up with the wall, you can see the small rope loops holding the uni in place (www.simplydifferent.org)
A traditional Mongolian painted and carved crown and poles.
A traditional Mongolian painted and carved crown and poles.

Second up, the roof is made of poles (uni) which can be straight or bent at the ends, sit at the top of each open cross of the wall and have a loop of rope to hook it in to the wall poles. The other end is inserted into the crown-wheel (toono or tono), which as a keystone to counterbalance all the roof poles. The toono is definitely the most important component and usually the trickiest to build. It can be as simply or as fancy as you are willing to make it. Over it will either go the crown cover (oerkh) which is just a square of canvas, or a skylight of plastic or some sort of material.

The cover:
The roof and wall covers are pretty much the same with outer covers that are usually some form of canvas, inner layers are insulating like wool felt, and sometimes there is also an inner cover, all of which can “breathe”. Of course, everyone plays with this design. You can have an inner cover layer of mosquito netting to roll up the sides of the tent without letting bugs in. An outer cover made of waterproof tarps. Inner layers of wool, hay, carpet, insulating material, or whatever else you can get your hands on to stay warm. It’s all been done before, and the flexibility of design makes it easy to augment your yurt for whatever you want for whatever purpose.

yurt-aglow_reise_snowyurt

Yurt Resources

(* = resources I predominantly used to create my yurt)

The best yurt building resource in the world:

*Simply Different: Yurt: Seriously, this site is amazing. Especially the yurt calculator, that calculates dimensions/costs/etc. based on your preferences and creates auto-displays. It was put together by a math geek and there are suggested angles/proportions/ etc. for maintaining structural worthiness within what dimensions you want. There are more handy calculators hidden away in sections, like for the constructing the tono, plus many suggestions. Only downside is it’s all in metric (alas), and missing anything really useful on flat lattice timber walls.

Books:

*Paul King “The Complete Yurt Book”: The long-running bible of yurt makers. A bit sparse on details or alternatives and focuses more on authenticity, but contains 7 or 8 different totally workable, flexible yurt plans. Mainly what I used since it was recommended to me by a friend.

Becky Kemery “Yurts: Living in the Round”: Read this, but didn’t use it. Lots of pretty pictures.

Dan Frank Kuehn “Mongolian Cloud Houses”

David Pearson “Circle Houses: Yurts, Tipis and Benders”

Blogs:

The Del Mer Yurt: Awesomely useful example of building a 12′ yurt in sections very similar to mine. Though a little skimpy on technical details, it makes up for it in really handy pictures!

For the Love of Yurts: Seems kind of abandoned, most recent blogĀ  posts mainly focus on selling the book and workshops, but there is plenty of random good stuff on here.

Rocket Mass Heater Yurt: Not technically about building the yurt, but about building it around a rocket stove, and it’s awesome! They made quite a large one too. Inspired me to consider doing my own rocket stove.

Tiny House Blog: Some yurt-related stuff, plenty of great material on living in small dwellings and off the grid, leads to many other great resources.

Directions/Examples:

The Mongolian Yurt DIY

Burning Man “Yurt Without Steel”

Misc. Arcticles:

Mother Earth News “Everything you ever wanted to know about a yurt but were too afraid to ask” : nice little concise article about yurts in North America, many links to yurt companies

Gertee: A Yurt Made from Scraps! : sweet article about how seriously cheap you can get with your yurt making. AKA free.

Living in a Yurt in Alaska “Broadband, Yes. Toilet, No”: Couple sets up an expensive yurt in Alaska, interesting but mostly someone from the city going “oh I can’t even IMAGINE”

Materials:

Yurt: Ease, Planning, and the Time/Money/Quality Constant

Before I started this project I basically had one book on yurts, set one up once, and a handful of common sense. All the tools I rented or borrowed, and my workshop is a small one car garage in a government worker bunkhouse crammed full of junk and old furniture. I’ve some basic experience with power tools, enough to stay safe and not need supervision, but not enough to remember what that doo-hickey was called. Everything else I picked up through some quick research in blogs or a few forums, and, I have absolutely no knowledge of Mongolia, Turkey, nomads, or anything relating to the long, illustrious history of these nomadic shelters. Don’t get tricked by the fancy titles and commercial companies selling them for thousands and thousands, this shit is easy.

IMG_4150
But boy oh boy did I spent a ton of time planning! And drawing comics, but mostly planning!

Seriously, it’s been my experience so far that as long as you’re willing to put in the time to pick out decent materials and be consistent, the yurt structure itself is pretty frickin’ forgiving. On top of that, you can make this project as cheap or as expensive as you want. You just have to keep the “time+money=quality” constant in mind. Basically, if you want a certain level of quality, you’re either going to have to put more time or more money into the project. I’ve seen people haunt the “free” section of craigslist for months salvaging and scrapping enough materials of good or bad quality to put the project together. They’ve had to do a lot of running around and more work to get their materials ready than say someone who just goes down to the Home Depot to buy everything outright, but their costs are nil. I’ve seen people pay a thousand dollars to get the same amount of wood I get for a hundred dollars but they are buying nicer stuff that is probably knot-free, pre-sanded, and less likely to rot (hardwoods like oak, beech, etc.), while I’m buying the cheapest stuff possible (softwood pine strip) and having to take time to fill-in knots, varnish, and will probably need to replace parts after 5-10 years. It’s a balance. Since I’m saving up money, have long 3 day weekends, but a limit on how long before I have to move out, live in the boonies where there’s less easy salvage, and this is my first (less tears if I fuck it up), I went the cheapest route while still paying for all my materials outright.

So don’t get daunted! Just do all your planning in advance, which will be easy since there are tons of resources and materials to help you out without having to subscribe to “woodworkers usa” magazine or bury yourself in a pile of books on yurts, unless you want to. Did I mention I did a lot of planning? I did so SO much planning.

Anyways, good luck!

Building a Yurt (Finally!)

So, I’ve begun building a yurt. It’s been a mental pet project for a little under 2 years, and has resulted in much teasing from folks who’ve heard me gabble on about it. Which has been warranted, I’m very aware that I love the IDEA of something but often do not follow through on the more arduous end of it: creation. Several factors like time, money, and workspace did undermine me for awhile, but finally I found myself in the perfect combination of extra cash, 3-day weekends, tool availability, and a small garage with work surfaces for storage and building. Oh, and the fact that within a month or two I might not have a place to live or much income. That’s been a big factor!

It will look *something* like this.

SO it has begun! Honestly, it took about 3 weeks of calculations with suggestions from many resources to finally decide on exactly the dimensions of my yurt, with ongoing adjustments and fiddling. The end result however is that not only have I maximized the efficiency of lumber and maintained portability, but I should be able to turn my roomier 16ft yurt into a sportier 12~ish ft one with little effort. HAHA! Win.

I’ve been taking endless pictures and notes so far, so hopefully very soon I’ll update this with a true-blue idiots guide to making a cheap, sturdy yurt. Exciting!

This isn’t me, but I wish it was!