July 12/13th 2008 Yurt Wheel Making Workshop, CELT Summer in the Woods at Bealkelly Woods, near Scariff Co Clare
Come and make your own yurt wheel from steam-bent ash in the beautiful Bealkelly woods. Full instructions on making the rest of the frame will be provided along with the wheel to take home with you.
Yurt is the Russian word for a nomadic dwelling originating in Mongolia – where they are properly termed Gers – and across Central Asia, where they still provide traditional housing for millions of people.
In the West they have been popular amongst the alternative community as means of cheap shelter, whether it be as palatial camping, extra room in the garden or workshop or kids’ space, or serious long-term dwelling.
I made my first yurt in 1998 and lived in a yurt through all weathers in cos. Monaghan and Cork for a total of 5 years. I have been leading the Yurt-making courses for CELT since they started in 2000, and make yurts to sell using as far as possible hazel and ash from sustainably managed woodlands.
Making a 16-ft diameter Yurt
The walls of the yurt or Ger are known in Mongolian as the khana, consisting of three sections of criss-crossed hazel sticks drilled and knotted together in a lattice work frame that “concertinas” together when packed away. This is the simplest part of the yurt to construct.
Requirements: 80 x 6’6″ hazel poles approx 1″ diameter. They do not need to be completely straight, but avoid wobbly sticks that bend in more than one direction. Ignore doglegs; a gentle curve the length of the stick is ideal. When the poles are knotted together, always use the curve of the poles in the same plane.
Each stick should be shaved smooth using a draw-knife. A shaving break of some kind is needed to hold the poles still while shaving. It is not necessary to shave all the bark off; just the knots and any rough bark should be removed so there is no danger od the sticks rubbing against the canvas.
Drill 7 holes along the same plane of each stick, 3″ from each end and 1ft between each hole.
Strong nylon cord 3mm- 3.5mm diam is used to knot the sticks together. try to source cord that does not fray, but that it not too stiff to knot easily- there are several hundred knots to tie so it is important you devise a system that works easily with cord that is easy to knot. the knots need to be pulled really tight and not be liable to come undone. The cord may be burnt at the ends to make it easier to thread through the holes.
The ends of each section use 2x 5 holed-sticks and 2 x 3-holed sticks.
Roof Poles Requirements; 37 x 8ft poles thinning to no less than 1″ at the tip. Again they do not need to be completley straight but it is more important that they are than for the khana poles.
The tip must be no less that 1″ in diameter so that they have a nice snub fit into the holes in the wheel.
Nobbles and roughness need to be shaved off as for the khana poles; the tip shaped to fit the 1″ holes in the wheel. The Butt- the thick end of the pole- should not be more than 1 1/2″; the end is cut at an angle to leave a flush end where they sit above the cross at the top of the khana; a hole is drilled just in from this end and a loop threaded through to tie onto the khana.
Wheel Requirements: 1x 8ft length of clean straight ash approx 4-5″ diameter. this should be worked green while the wood is still fresh and soft. The ash can be cleaved first with an axe and wedges; if it is a very good piece, each half can be cleaved a second time with a froe.
Each half of the wheel is then shaped roughly with a side-axe and then finished with draw-knife.
The finished section is about 1″ thick with carefully tapered ends to make a scarf-joint. This is then steamed in a pipe for about 1 hour and immediately removed and clamped onto an iron former.
The two halves are then fitted together with bolts or oak pegs and braced with lengths of willow.
Door Frame A nice curved and arched piece for the top of the door frame is a nice feature; drilled and fitted onto tow uprights which fit into a simple board for the bottom. Full-size wooden hinged doors can be made for the finished yurt.
Pitching the yurt The khana sections are lashed together and placed in a circle, connected to the door frame. A cord or tension band is run through the crosses at the top of the khana or wall sections. Make sure this cord is at the correct tension as there will be a lot of outward pressure from the roof and it is essentially the tension band that holds the whole yurt together.
With a bit of dexterity and practice, the wheel can be hoisted up by one person using three roof poles as on a tripod. The other poles are then added in – it is better to add them evenly from all sides rather than putting in all the poles from just one side at a time.
Each roof pole should sit between the crosses at the top of the khana wall and the cord looped over one side of the cross.
The Base The yurt can be pitched onto a raised wooden platform that is made to the exact dimensions of the yurt, ie 16ft diameter. The bottom of the walls are set on the very edge of this base and fixed with hooks or eyes screwed into the base.
I often make the base by setting split wooden stakes into the ground with joists screwed onto them level; the tops of the stakes are then cut off afterwards. This is much easier than leveling the ground first or using blocks etc and makes it easy to set the base on a slope. Floor boards are then nailed a cross the rafters; the edge of the floor running the full circumference needs to be supported underneath.
The cover is made from waterproofed cotton canvas. Plastic windows can be sewn in to the cover. The cover consists of three sections: -walls -roof -hat which fits over the wheel.
I dont make the covers myself so I will not give details here- a good sail maker or anyone good at sewing will be able to make a cover.
The Complete Yurt Handbook by Paul King