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TOOLS OF THE TRADE

Posted by Michael Thompson on February 12, 2012 at 3:45 PM

Mixing

You will need some type of mixing machine; I used a regular cement mixer, which I bought second hand for around £100. These mixers can handle nine shovels of earth at a time. This is a good quantity for ramming by hand; it takes around 15 to 20 minutes to get the earth to a suitable dampness. It also takes around the same amount of time to ram this quantity by hand, so if you have a two-person team you will be working to the maximum efficiency.

You could use a rotovator instead, if you have the floor area to operate it. These are handy if you need to mix bigger volumes of earth. If you plan to use pneumatic ramming then you may well need to get one of these, as mechanical ramming can be up to twice as quick than manual ramming.  Second hand rotovators can be picked up for around £100.

 

Water

When the earth is processed, it usually requires the addition of water which should be blended slowly and evenly throughout the mix.  If you plan to use rainwater then you will need to use a watering can with a sprinkler rose, if you use mains water then get a hosepipe gun with a sprinkler setting.   

                              

Material handling

Do not underestimate the power of the rubber bucket!  You will need to transport your materials around the build site and they are invaluable in the rammed earth construction process. They cost around £4 but last a long time. You will need about six of them.

Wheelbarrows are also invaluable. You may well already have one knocking around but you will need at least two. They are quite expensive at around £35, but most people have one that they rarely use, so ask your friends and neighbours if you can borrow theirs.


Ramming

When it comes to the matter of ramming, you have two options: mechanical or manual. I originally intended to go down the pneumatic route; I managed to find a couple of secondhand pneumatic rammers for £46 on eBay, one worked and the other had seized up. Then I went to look at a trailer compressor at a local farm that was up for sale. They wanted £650 but when it was started up I couldn’t believe how noisy it was, so I didn’t buy it.  Instead, I went to a local tool hire depot where they had new ones for rent. However, when they started one up for me, it was even louder!  Being overlooked by five other houses, I realised that I would not be very popular with my neighbours if I used the pneumatic method.

So, I went down the manual ramming road.  It takes around twice as long to compact the earth this way, but it’s a lot quieter.  Get a hand rammer with a long handle (ideally, as tall as you are); the shorter ones may well look easier to use but your back will tell you otherwise at the end of the day! Look to pay around £20.

          

General tools

Most of the other tools you will need are readily available from your local hardware shop and you may well own many of them already or be able to borrow them from friends and neighbours. You will need a couple of builders shovels, some spirit levels and an adjustable spanner to get your form work set up straight, a lump hammer for general bashing jobs and a scraper to keep the bottom of your rammer clean. Finally, don’t forget your gloves and goggles!

 

Get some trestles to enable you to work safely at height as your building grows. These are quite expensive to buy new at around £30 each but look out for second hand ones. I got hold of a dozen for just £26.  I had to oil them up and some were a bit bent, but on the whole they served me well and I could easily sell them and recover my money, as I could with much of the other equipment I used.

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