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This manual is intended for both professional and amateur. Many of the smaller details and tricks
of the trade will become more evident with an actual tank in progress. The reader is urged to
have the manual available for reference during tank construction. Durable waterproof-ink field
manuals from ferrocement.com have proven to be welcome on the job.
Versions in other languages may sometimes be more complete.
Chapter is not necessary to read if the builder has no interest in calculating strength or
estimating materials prior to construction. This chapter will be useful! however! when building a
tank of different si"e than the si#ty cubic meter e#ample. $t is also an important chapter for those
interested in building ferrocement tanks as a business.
Chapter % contains a short e#planation of how to finish an open tank. The model tank
photographed for this manual was built as an open topped tank and then finished again as a
roofed tank starting with chapter si#. &n open top tank is useful for anything from animal water
troughs to a'uaculture. (arger and deeper open tanks may be used for swimming pools or sewer
Chapter ) summari"es some of the key aspects of plaster application. $t warns about leaving
voids! and finding them by lightly tapping the newly applied plaster with a hammer. There are
sufficient instructions to accomplish a finished tank yet one should reali"e that description of the
art of plastering is an entire subject.
*eginners are often most comfortable with rubber gloves and hand application! which is actually
the best method for complete penetration of plaster into the armature. The hand can push plaster
into the armature with greater force than a tool! this is important to keep in mind. The amateur+s
main disadvantage is making the finished job look professional! it+s mostly timing! and
something only practice can provide. (ess than perfect appearance does not reduce longevity or
,errocement is the best choice for a reservoir. The author has witnessed young amateurs
harnessed to a wheelbarrow hauling plaster up a hot mountain side to build a reservoir. -trong
people pulled downhill on a long rope that passed through an uphill pulley and back down to pull
the heavy wheelbarrow upward. That tank was plastered with hands and finished with brushes
instead of trowels! it was built in )./ and remains in continuous use.
-hould you have additional 'uestions after reading this manual! email ferrocement.com
Armature: 0ire! reinforcing steel and fibers which reinforce concrete. May be tied! sewn or
Center Post: & post in the center of the reservoir which may be temporary or permanent.
Concrete Mortar: 1laster! mortar! concrete plaster 2herein3. Cure: 4ardening process. &
chemical reaction occurs as the mi#ture becomes hard. This process re'uires time and water.
Twenty-eight moist days is the standard. The time period is effected by temperature. 0armth
accelerates the process. The process stops if the concrete is dry5 it will not start again.
,erro Cement6 ferrocement! ferrociment! ferrocemento! ferrocimento! ferro"ement.
Hog Rings: 7C7 shape which is compressed with a tool to 78.7 (arge rings are used in
agriculture to pierce pig nostrils in order to lead them by the nose. &ppro#imately two
centimeters is the si"e used used to attach wire layers together. 9sually found at wholesale
upholstery supply stores.
Layer: -trata of wire or reinforcing steel. Metal lath: &lso called e#panded metal. $t is used on
one side of a vertical wall and the surface of a ceiling. $t can be used on both sides of a vertical
wall but is difficult to force plaster through. Thin gauge! painted metal lath is best for
ferrocement work. :alvani"ed e#panded metal is less convenient but holds wet plaster e'ually
well as thin gauge lath. This material is very sharp where it has been cut.
1neumatic hog ring gun cannot attach heavy gauge! galvani"ed e#panded metal.
Plaster Proportions: ; - < dry measures of sand to one measure of cement. Test to for %%= - /%=
Approximate reinforcing steel diameters:
?; @ =..= centimeter
?< @ =.)% centimeter
?A @ .;% centimeters
?% @ ..= centimeters
Reinforcing steel: reinforcing steel rod! re-bar! reinforcing steel bar 2herein3 elded ire:
Manufactured in many wire si"es and spacing. Ten gauge wire creating fifteen centimeter
s'uares is common for ferrocement. Ten gauge @ =.<%B centimeters.
ire Cloth: :alvani"ed welded wire available in various widths and grids. & grid of
appro#imately .;% centimeters is used for vertical ferrocement walls! on one side. This grid
allows easy penetration of plaster yet holds it well.
1remium 'uality welded wire is also available in this si"e. This wire is better steel and is not
!ponge float: & trowel with a sponge surface. & wood float is a trowel made of wood.
!tanchion: & supporting post or pole.
Ceservoir manual. :lossary. 2edited versions on this website6 -panish! ,rench! 1ortuguese and Dnglish3
#$uipment: 1laster mi#er! small truck! welding torches! roof support rafters! masonry tools!
hoses! cutters! hog ring pliers! and benders.
%ptional e$uipment: &rc welder! pneumatic hog ring gun! concrete pump no""le 2Though
manual work --- mi#er to cargo to application --- is the best method3. & rented concrete pump
facilitates lifting concrete to large roofs.
,eli# Candela! photo section
3 Construct water reservoirs! a'ueducts! animal shelters! and work area shade. ,ire safe
structures. Darth'uake safe homes.
Ceservoir Manual! Chapter B
&dd to business use and sales inventory 2between jobs36
;3 1refabricate reservoir hatches 2for water and septic3
<3 1refabricate various si"e septic reservoirs 2for sale and installation3.
A3 1refabricate road drainage catch basins 2for sale and installation3.
%3 (arge plant containers 2for hotels and parks3.
.3 0ater for animals.
B3 D#pand roof brace inventory.
4ouse *ook! Chapter .
Chapter %ne: !ite Preparation and Calculations
&' cu(ic meters
0ater is heavy. *e sure to locate the tank on solid ground. Cut enough room for the entire tank
to sit on solid ground if the tank is going to be on a hillside. D#cavated soil is not good for a tank
site because it will settle over time. ,errocement water tanks last for decades and stable ground is
Dnough area for working is also important! especially on the uphill side. Make the site large
enough so dirt and rocks donEt fall into the steel armature. Contamination entangled in the
structure is a problem to avoid during construction. The area made up of e#cavated fill is a good
place for the access road to terminate and to store materials. $f this is a large tank and the
e#cavated material is a mountain of dirt poised to cause damage below during a flood year! then
it should be placed on a cut bench cut of its own and be compacted for stability and safety.
h @ volume 2where F @ <.A! r @ radius! and h @ height3
The following e#ample is for a tank of si#ty cubic meters5 height is ;.< meters.
2;.<3 @ .= cubic meters 2si#ty thousand liters3
@ .= cubic meters G 2;.< # <.A3 @ /.)B m
r @ radius @ < meters
;r @ diameter @ d @ . meters
-i#ty cubic meters is used in this e#ample because many ferrocement tanks have been built of
this si"e and there have been no problems! even after twenty-five to thirty years. Tanks of this
age in the ;== to A== cubic meter class have likewise shown no problems. Two hundred cubic
meters is somewhat more difficult to build and A== cubic meters is the beginning of a heavier
construction project si"e.
Convert the depth into pressure! measured in grams per s'uare centimeter and calculate the
circumference in centimeters.
Fd @ <.A # . meters @ circumference @ //A centimeters.
The pressure on a s'uare centimeter 2kg>cm
3 @ the depth of ;.< meters @ =.;< kilograms per
This means that there is =.;< kilograms of outward pressure on a one centimeter s'uare at the
bottom of the tank wall. -ince the wall is //A centimeters around! the total outward force on the
bottom centimeter of wall is =.;< # //A @ A= kilograms.
The ne#t step is to determine the strength of the wall as it resists this outward pressure. The
concrete plaster is only considered as waterproofing for the steel in this calculation. &ll the
strength is assumed to be in the steel. &dd up the hori"ontal strands of welded wire and the bars
which encircle the tank. Count the welded wire and the reinforcing bars separately since they are
different strengths of steel. Ceinforcing steel is <%% kilograms of tensile strength per s'uare
centimeter and the welded wire is .<;/kg>cm
There are five hori"ontal wires and two reinforcing bars in the bottom thirty centimeters of this
si#ty cubic meter tank. $gnore the welded wire bent to come up and out of the floor until further
along the discussion. -tandard welded wire is ten gauge wire on B.% centimeter s'uares. Ten
gauge wire is =.<%. cm diameter.
@ =. s'uare centimeters of steel times five wires @ =.% s'uare centimeters. Multiply this by
.<;/ kilograms per s'uare centimeter @ <.A kilograms of tensile strength in the bottom <=
centimeters of wall. Divide by <= to compute the welded wire strength in an average centimeter
of wall. <.A G <= @ =% kilograms of hori"ontal welded wire tensile strength per average
vertical centimeter of wall. The same calculation is done for two hori"ontal wraps of ?A bar 2.;B
multiplied by ; multiplied by <%% kilograms of tensile strength per s'uare centimeter @ B=<=
kilograms of tensile strength in the reinforcing bar! in the bottom <= cm of wall. Divide by <= to
find the average strength in a centimeter of wall. B=<= G <= @ ;<A.
The total wall steel strength is ;<A H =% kilograms @ <<) kilograms of tensile strength in the
steel. There is an additional ?A bar in the floor-to-wall key which brings the steel strength figure
to A%. kilograms.
The final step in comparing steel tensile strength to water force is to draw a circle and 'uarter it
as pictured below.
$magine all the water force as concentrated in one direction along arrow *. The small circle at &
is an anchor. &rrow * pulls with a force of A= kilograms! which is the total outward water force
on the bottom centimeter of wall 2calculated above3.
$magine ne#t that the tank wall is infinitely strong e#cept where the line CD cuts the tank in half.
&t points C and D the wall is the tensile strength of the steel calculations5 A%. kilograms at C and
A%. kilograms at D. Total wall steel strength the water must break is thus ); kilograms. -teel
tensile strength divided by water force is ); G A= @ ;.<5 the wall steel is ;.< times stronger
than the water force.
Iote 6 The welded wire coming out of the floor adds enough to bring the steel strength figure to
almost ;.% times stronger than water force! assuming that all the wires are at A% degrees.
Iote ;6 &n impression of just how strong ferrocement is for structures other than tanks is gained
by reversing arrow *5 push instead of pull. 0ell cured ferrocement easily has %%= kilograms of
compression strength per s'uare centimeter. $f a structural wall is eight centimeters thick! points
C and D would add //== kilograms to the ); kilograms of steel strength. &rrow * must push
with a force greater than )B== kilograms to crush a one centimeter wide arc of ferrocement! at
points C and D.
#conomics *cost analysis+:
&rea calculations for .=m
tank6 ,loor or roof area @ Fr
@ ;/.;. m
0all area @ ;Fr2height3 @ ;F2<32;3 @ <B.% m
Coof6 The roof steel e#tends down the wall and the roof is also an arc.
,loor6 To estimate floor steel add ten percent for waste and ten percent for the steel which
e#tends beyond the circumference line before bending it to vertical position.
The result is 2.;3Fr
@ floor area calculation for steel. &dd a little more for roof arc and use
@ roof area calculation for roof steel.
,loor or roof area multiplied by ; 2two layers of welded wire3 @ %..% m
. Multiply this figure by
the factors discussed previously. %..%2.;32floor3 H %..%2.;%32roof3 @ </.A J </m
wire in the roof and the floor.
Conclude the welded wire computation by adding the wall.
There are two layers of welded wire in the wall. <B.%m
multiplied by two @ B%m
5 add = m
wire overlaps and waste @ /% m
The total for welded wire is </m
for roof and floor plus /%m
for the wall @ ;;< m
wire. The price of welded wire per m
multiplied by ;;< m
@ total cost of welded wire.
Calculation of reinforcing bars depends upon the spacing chosen between the bars and the length
of a standard bar. Chapter two uses the grid space of <= to A% centimeters. -i# meters is used
further on in this book as a standard length. The method used to calculate reinforcing steel is to
visuali"e a s'uare with e'ual to the standard length of reinforcing steel. $n this e#ample it is a si#
meter s'uare with an area of <.m
Iineteen bars creates a spacing of <<.<< centimeters across si# meters. This e'uals thirty eight
bars total. Divide </ bars by <. m
@ .=% reinforcing steel bars per m
. &dd ten percent for
waste and overlaps and there are .% bars per m
2roof3 H ;/.;.m
2floor3 H <B.%m
2wall3 @ )Am
multiplied by )Am
@ =/ bars of reinforcing steel at a <<.<< centimeter spacing.
This calculation at a A% centimeter space between bars is . m divided by A% cm! plus one bar @
A.<< bars. multiply this by two for the total bars @ ;/.... Divide by <.m
@ .B) bars>m
. &dd ten
percent @ .) bars>m
. Multiply by the total area 2)Am
3 and the reinforcing bars re'uired e'uals
Multiply the price of one reinforcing steel bar by the number of bars to compute the total cost of
reinforcing steel bars.
D#panded metal for the inside of the roof and wall is wall plus roof areas multiplied by their use
factors. ;/.;.2.;%3 2roof3 H <B.%2.3 2wall3 @ B..% m
Concrete is best estimated at B.B% centimeter thickness multiplied by the total area plus
appro#imately five percent for waste. The floor is estimated separately and done first.
& small volume factor 2=.;3 for the joint between wall and floor is added to the floor estimate.
2floor area3 multiplied by =.=BB% m 2thickness3 multiplied by .; @ ;.. m
Coof and wall is 2;/.;. m
H <B.% m
32=.=BB%32.=%3 @ %.<% m
!ummary *&' m
0elded 0ire...................;;< m
D#panded metal..............B..% m
Thin welded wire...........A= m
Chicken wire 2roof3.......<= m
Ceinforcing steel bars..../% to =/
roof and wall.................%.<% m
Tie wire........................; - < rolls
0ater seal 2inside36
Cement product...........B= - == kg
glue.............................; - . l
4og rings....................< - % kg
4inge and (atch
Color pigments! e#tra cement water seal product! and glue 2if the outside is to be colored3.
Chapter .: /an- Floor
Mar- the circumference of the tan-:
-mooth and compact the actual tank area with hand tools when the tank site is completed. 1lace
a stake in the center. (oosely tie a rope or a measuring tape with a wire loop on the end to the
stake and scratch a tank-si"ed circle into the ground. $t can be helpful to mark the circumference
with flour or other white material. This circle will become a long-lived ferrocement tank.
The following steel layout is for up to si#ty cubic meters. 9se ?A bar or larger and reduce
spacing with increases of tank si"e and height.
1lace one layer of fifteen centimeter s'uare! = gauge welded wire on the circle. This is a
standard construction grade welded wire which has almost twice the tensile strength of standard
reinforcing bar. 1lace more pieces of welded wire until the tank floor circle is complete with the
first layer. 8verlap pieces of welded wire at least one s'uare. $f the welded wire is from a roll!
flip it over so it can+t roll back up! reinforcing steel bars will hold it down.
& grid of ?< bar is placed on top of the first layer of welded wire. & grid spacing of <= to A%
centimeters has proven sufficient for this tank si"e. Ceinforcing bars should e#tend forty to si#ty
centimeters beyond the circle on both sides. The bar can be cut with a torch! saw! or large bolt
cutters. 8verlap the bars at least thirty centimeters.
Trim the first layer of welded wire when the reinforcing bars are all in place and the grid is neat.
The trimmed welded wire should e#tend <= to A% centimeters beyond the circumference line.
Make trim patterns in s'uares. Do not leave sharp tails on the welded wire. -harp wire can cause
injury and blindness.
4og ring pliers 2above3 and pneumatic hog ring gun are both are very helpful. They are
purchased at wholesale upholstery supply stores. The regulator shown below can be used to
deliver compressed air from a tank! purchase at welding supply store.
Iote the absence of sharp wire tails when the welded wire is neatly cut in s'uares.
The wire e#tends less than <= to A% centimeters in the e#ample because it is a small! B.% cubic
meter tank. D#tend beyond the circumference more fully for tanks above fifteen cubic meters.
& decision about roof construction is made before the floor steel is placed. $f the water tank is
the only one which will be built! that is! if no roof supports which can be used more than once
are also being built5 it can be helpful to dig a hole in the center of the tank to receive a center
pole of at least five centimeter pipe when the floor concrete is placed. <hough a wooden post
sitting on the concrete floor is ade'uate! a strong center pole securely mounted in concrete is
convenient! especially as tank si"e increases5 build a tempory center pole hoist economically.
The reinforcing bar grid only needs to be tied enough to keep it in place until the second layer of
welded wire is tied on top. The second layer is unrolled at a right angle to the first layer and
offset over the first layer to create B.% centimeter s'uares.
<ernatively! the second layer of wire can be placed on a forty-five degree angle. The object is
to make smaller and smaller areas of concrete without steel reinforcement.
,asten the the first and second layers of welded wire together with tie wire or hog rings. 0ork
from the center outward. (eave the outer thirty centimeters or so untied until the reinforcing bar
and the welded wire are bent to vertical at the circumference line.
*end the top layer of welded wire to vertical by placing the side of one foot to the circumference
line and about two centimeters inside it. 1osition so the curve to vertical results in the upper layer
being bent upward just inside the circumference line. $t can become difficult to force the
hori"ontal s'uares into a vertical circle. &dditional material may be cut from the welded wire
where resistance develops. ,or e#ample6 remove fifteen centimeters from every meter of
circumference! this leaves shorter pieces to bend into vertical position. The finished vertical wall
bend for this first layer should e#tend upward a minimum of thirty centimeters.
Iow bend the reinforcing steel to vertical being careful to keep the bends just inside the
circumference line. This bend can be done with hands and feet or with a piece of pipe slid onto
the bar steel to bend it upward. & standard bending tool is also good to use for this bend. $f two
vertical bars are closer than about fifteen cm! cut one off at fifteen cm above the floor steel.
Tie a hori"ontal ?A bar to the verticals about nine centimeters above the floor steel. This is the
hori"ontal key steel and will be cemented into a wall key when the floor is plastered. &fter this
first hori"ontal wall steel is in place! go around the tank floor and make the bend of the inner
welded wire as neat and s'uarely bent as practical. (ight hammer blows can assist this task in
occasional places which are difficult. ,inish the wire ties which were left undone around the
outer thirty centimeters of floor to make bending the reinforcing steel easier.
*end the remaining layer of welded wire upward and vertical. The lower layer of welded wire in
the floor becomes the outer layer in the wall. 0hen removing s'uares from the outer layer it is
important to do it so no gaps go through the now vertical layers. $f a gap is inadvertently created!
patch it with small pieces from the scrap pile.
$nventory clean scraps by si"e for rapid retrieval of often perfectly cut pieces.
Tie or hog ring all remaining steel and lift the finished floor armature onto <.B% cm thick support
blocks made of concrete.
Iote6 &ll usable scraps should have sharp tails removed before being placed in scrap inventory.
This will eliminate frustrating tangles and possible injury. -craps too small for use should be put
into a a recycling container after being cut into small harmless pieces. -ome scraps can be made
into very fine welding rod and stored for later use.
Floor !teel !ummary:
3 *ottom layer welded wire
;3 Middle layer reinforcing steel bar
<3 Top layer welded wire
To make the floor .% centimeters thinner6 -upport the steel armature with two centimeter
support blocks. &dd a fourth layer of poultry wire on top of the three layers shown.
Chapter /hree: Plum(ing and Floor Concrete
The outlet and the pipe for cleaning the tank are installed just prior to placing the floor concrete.
The pipe for cleaning the tank is shown passing through the wall to floor key. It should be seven
to ten centimeters in diameter. This pipe is positioned sloping downward gently and with its
inner surface slightly below the finished top of the concrete floor surface. The outlet pipe is
usually placed 5 -10 cm above the floor. ediments which settle on the tank floor are then left
behind. !utlets can be installed with the wall. " domestic water outlet at mid wall height leaves
the bottom half full for fire emergency #through a second pipeline e$iting near the bottom%.
1lace plastic pipe in the shade of the tank because sunlight decomposes plastic and makes it
brittle. $t is a good idea to glue one centimeter s'uares of pipe material on to the pipes so they do
not spin if wrenches are used to connect threaded pipe fittings. 9se a clamp and let the glue cure
for a full day before removing the clamp. *rass pipe should be scored or have bumps bra"ed on
it for the same reason.
$f plastic pipe must be located on the sunny side of the tank! cover it with thin wire mesh or
poultry wire mesh. 1laster it when the wall is being plastered. This will add many years before
sunlight makes the plastic pipe brittle.
&n alternative method of installing the pipes is to purposely spin the pipes periodically! before
the plaster has become hard. Moisten and then remove these pipes when the plaster is hard
enough to hold its shape. -tandard tank fittings with a rubber washer on the inside can the be
slipped through the holes and replaced whenever necessary. This option re'uires room for the
gasket flange all the way around the pipe. 4ave the parts on site before the floor concrete is
placed in order to be sure of a proper fit. Check the ne#t day to be sure the concrete has not
shifted and the tank fittings will pass through the holes. The holes can be made a little larger by
using a piece of reinforcing bar as a rough file! before the concrete has become too hard.
&ote' (ipelines and temporary water storage above the tank site are prere)uisite to starting the
The photo above shows the inlet pipe and a larger! screened and vented overflow pipe. & piece
of window screen covers the hatch hole. 8nly half the sanitary hatch screen was placed for this
photo so the hatch and hinge structure would remain visible. The screen is held in place with a
rope or twine cinch and the weight of the finished hatch cover 2shown opened and laying on a
piece of plastic on the tank roof3. &n air gap of % cm below inlet and above over flow pipes will
help ensure that possible tank contamination does not reach the inlet pipe or the water source. &
third pipe at about the level of the inlet pipe would be used for electrical water level sensors.
*efore discussion of placing the concrete it is good to understand that the floor can be made
thinner than described when using two centimeter support block for the steel. This is an option
for smaller tanks under si$ty cubic meters and is most important when the tank site is difficult to
reach or the wet concrete plaster must be hand carried. To reduce the volume of concrete in the
floor use two centimeter support blocks and add a layer of poultry wire on top of the last layer of
welded wire. Inspect for wires that may protrude above the finished floor surface and fi$ them.
The finished floor can be made as thin as 5.+5 centimeters.
The cement to sand ratio is ;.B to < sand measures for each measure of cement! e#cept in a small
area of the Iorth Dastern 9nited -tates where the author has found the ratio should be a
ma#imum of two sand for each cement. $t is always good practice to cure a series of varying
sample test mi#es to establish the ratio which yields hard plaster! paper cups are good for this.
The concrete plaster must not contain e#cess water5 for ma#imum strength and reduced shrink
cracking. 0hen a finger mark in the mi# settles very slightly! and slowly! the water portion is
correct. Mi# the concrete plaster well5 use a plaster mi#er! wheel barrow! mi#ing tray! or have it
delivered by truck.
$t is not necessary to smooth the floor to the perfection of a slab in a garage or a dwelling! though
if one has this e#perience it is 'uite easy to make the floor perfectly flat. Visuali"e dragging a
long board across the concrete to level it. & long board slides on preset wood supports. Cemove
support stakes from the wet concrete at the correct time! fill the stake holes and trowel smooth. &
tank floor need only be as smooth as one can make by raking the concrete flat and smoothing it
with a trowel.
Ce-trowel any shrink cracks. 9se a stiff broom and water mist on shrink cracks when the floor is
too hard to work with a trowel! if there are any cracks left. Keep the tank floor wet always.
,lood the tank floor when the concrete is hard to the touch and as soon as water wonEt erode it.
,ill it up to the top of the floor-to-wall key. 1lace black plastic over the wall key so it wonEt dry
in the sun. 4old the black plastic in place with shoveled dirt outside the tank and a few rocks
inside. Tie the plastic to vertical reinforcing steel if it is windy. 0ait three or four days to start
the wall steel if possible. Then keep the floor wet during construction of the rest of the tank.
Twenty-eight moist days is the standard for a perfect concrete cure.
Chapter Four: /an- all !teel
-traighten uprights to perfect vertical with a level. This seemingly minor task is important for
maintaining as close to a true circle as practical.
The wall starts out as a flimsy single layer of welded wire. Minor irregularities become part of
the tank and tend to grow into unattractive flat spots or bulges. ,lats and bulges are often ne#t to
each other and thus even more noticeable! especially on larger tanks.
"ottom Hori2ontal Reinforcing !teel "ars:
The first hori"ontal steel is a number four reinforcing bar. 1lace it as close to the wall key as
possible and make sure it is level. & few of the highest spots in the key might need to be chiseled
off here and there in order to place this first bar absolutely level. 9se a sight level or a water
level for best results. Mark the level line on the wall key vertical steel with soapstone. These first
hori"ontal bars guide the placement of welded wire. -light up and down variations in the first
layer of welded wire translate into places where the welded wire is forced to lean in or out to
compensate for any up or down variation of the hori"ontal wires. (arge tanks re'uire more
precision than small tanks.
$nspect for verticals that are too far in or out even though they are vertical. *end out of line
verticals in or out and make them vertical again after the first hori"ontal reinforcing bar is in
place and completely tied. The idea is to adjust vertical bars to meet the circumference without
distorting a smooth circle. Vertical bars that were bent to meet the circumference are adjusted
vertical with a level after the first hori"ontal circumference is firmly tied to all vertical
reinforcing bars. Cepeat this hori"ontal circumference bar procedure twenty centimeters above
the first hori"ontal with ?A bar 2.;% cm3. Check again for level and vertical.
8verlap the hori"ontal reinforcing steel bars thirty centimeters or more. ,or larger tanks! when
the first bar is harder and larger! it is easier to lap weld and work with twelve to eighteen meter
lengths. Manually bend the final lap joint to position the steel flat against the wall. Dven the
smaller bar si"es will occasionally resist all efforts to make a neat overlap which is flat to the
wall surface. Manually bend protruding bars into the circumference arc with repetitive small
bends rather than one bend.
The first tie of hori"ontal reinforcing steel is always made at the center of the bar. -tart at the
center of an eighteen meter bar and do the same with a one meter bar. (eave the last .= to ==
centimeters of each bar untied. The loose ends of the overlap are then tied together5 starting at
the center of the lap joint.
0alk each end of the reinforcing bar toward the tank circumference! hold the ends in loosely
with a two meter length of wire! then go back to the center and tie the hori"ontal steel to the ne#t
vertical bar on either side of the first tie. 0alk the ends in toward the wall further and hold them
in place by moving or shortening the long wire. Then go back toward the center and make more
ties to vertical steel. This job is either for one or three people5 a person at each end of the
hori"ontal reinforcing steel bar can replace the loose wire ties and make the job 'uicker.
$nspect for verticals that are too far in or out even though they are vertical. *end out of line
verticals in or out to maintain a smooth circumference line. &djust them to vertical again after
the first reinforcing bar is in place and completely tied. Iow repeat the circumference wrap
procedure twenty centimeters above the first hori"ontal with ?A bar 2.;% centimeters3. Check
again for level and vertical.
The above procedure is somewhat different than the accompanying pictures of a small open tank.
The main difference is that the floor concrete is not be placed separately for this small project.
The first inner layer of welded wire is attached to the floor steel. 4igher walls and a roof will be
added in later chapters.
&n old partner and good friend once built a forty cubic meter tank without cementing the floor
first. 4is plan was to cut down on e#penses and he would have done so but for a strong wind
which blew the almost finished tank armature off the mountain top. 4e and his crew eventually
hauled it back up the mountain! banged it back to round! and plastered it. The tank is a good one
and has been in service for many years with no problems.
3nside layer of welded wire *tan- height of .45, meters+:
9nroll and cut a piece of welded wire long enough to make a circumference plus an overlap.
This is a nineteen meter piece for the si#ty cubic meter tank. & good practice is to cut the fifteen
centimeter wire tails off as you go. $magine one of these rolls winding back up out of control!
with wires fifteen centimeters long stabbing from the end.
,lip the nineteen meter length of welded wire over and roll it up loosely backwards to relieve
wire strain from the factory roll 2one meter plus diameter roll3. 9nroll and flip back over again.
Ce-roll even more loosely in the original direction and stand the roll up inside the tank! ne#t to
the wall. (oosely tie one end of the roll to hori"ontal steel. 9nroll the standing welded wire
around the inside of the tank wall until the appro#imate mid point is reached. Tie the welded
wire to the upper hori"ontal bar. 9se a vertical on the welded wire so it can slide up and down a
9se imagination to view this roll techni'ue as welded wire inside a tank which is bein unrolled
and attached to lower bars.
1lace the fine steel metal lath inside the tank before the wall circumference of welded wire is
completed. Iow is the time.
(oosen the first tie and let the first half of the welded wire roll to a stable position. This step is
crucial to tank roundness. 0ork in both directions from the center of the welded wire as pictured
above with fine mesh instead of welded wire. $f the key steel is vertical and the inside layer of
welded wire is unrolled and attached level! the finished wall will be vertical and free of flat areas
or bulges. Do not hurry this first layer of welded wire. Make sure it is tight against the vertical
bars! which are inside the hori"ontal bars! pull the welded wire only to within .;% centimeters of
the hori"ontal steel bars! which are .;% centimeters outside the vertical bars in the key. This will
avoid distortions in the plane of the welded wire.
Center cut the bottom wire every one meter between verticals to relieve inward pressure from the
key. -lightly bend these cut tails toward the key so they do not protrude from the final plaster
Do not tie the inside layer too tight at first and avoid ties of vertical welded wire to vertical bars
until the first layer is neatly in place. This step provides for slippage5 when verticals are tied
there can be no lateral slip. (ateral slip facilitates correct position. The task here is to avoid
stressing the wire. 1lace it smooth. The main problem at this stage is introduced by unrolling the
wire ahead and securing it with a temporary wire. Do not forget to loosen the temporary wire!
which becomes too tight very 'uickly. The shortest distance between a temporary wire and the
work area is a straight line5 the tank is supposed to be round.
)ertical reinforcing steel:
Cut enough standard reinforcing steel bars into thirds. -pace these bars between thirty-eight and
fifty centimeters. -i#teen standard bars yields forty-eight two meter verticals spaced at about
thirty-eight centimeters for this si#ty cubic meter e#ample tank. Iumber three bar is sufficient
for finished tank strength but number four is better for supporting heavy! wet plaster with
minimum sags and bulges. The same reasoning applies to spacing the verticals closer rather then
further apart. The additional cost of a few e#tra bars si"ed a little larger than necessary is not
-traighten any verticals which are slightly bent before placing them on the wall. Tie the verticals
securely inside the first two bands of hori"ontal steel and against the inner layer of welded wire.
These bars do not need to be spaced perfectly. Ior do they all need to be tied to the vertical bars
in the key. Tie verticals firmly to the first two hori"ontal bars. 1ut a loose tie to the welded wire
at appro#imately %= centimeters of height.
6pper Circumference "ars:
The remaining hori"ontal bands of reinforcing bar are at thirty centimeter spacing. 1lace the
highest bar just below the start of the wall to roof curve.
-kip one position upward. 1lace the first hori"ontal reinforcing bar si#ty centimeters up from the
first bars that were attached to the vertical steel in the key joint between floor and wall. Then go
back down thirty centimeters and place the skipped bar. Iow finish the higher hori"ontal wraps.
Iever try to pull reinforcing bar steel into round with a tie to the welded wire! this will cause a
distortion in the welded wire which will create a bulge or flat spot somewhere else in the tank
%utside Layer of elded ire:
9nroll and cut three pieces of welded wire which are ..B% meters long. Cela# the tight factory
roll by reverse rolling as was done for the inner layer of welded wire. These three pieces are
si"ed for the si#ty cubic meter tank. 8ne may wait until two ..B% meter pieces are in place and
then measure to be sure the third piece is the correct si"e. 8ne piece all the way around cannot be
used because the difference in radius between the inner and outer layers causes the pattern of
fifteen centimeter s'uares to creep into alignment! instead of being staggered at B.% centimeters.
&djust the fifteen centimeter s'uares of the inner and outer layers to make B.% centimeter
s'uares. 1osition the outer layer down B.% centimeters relative to the inner layer. Center cut the
bottom hori"ontal wire every one meter to relieve the outward pressure of the wall key.
0ork from the center and tie the outer layer pieces only enough to hold them in place at first.
Measure and place the last piece so that it overlaps forty-five to si#ty centimeters on each end.
Complete the ties after the last piece of outer welded wire has been minimally secured in
position. 0ork in a pattern similar to tightening the lugs of a tire. ,or e#ample! divide the
circumference into fifths and temporarily mark these locations with stakes. Tie the layers
securely together at each spot starting at center height and working up and down. Call the first
spot one! after it is complete! go to number three! and then five! before finishing number two and
four. :radually fill in untied areas from the center after all five division spots are tied. $t is best
to do this in the same five spot pattern and go around the tank several times 2five is an arbitrary
number! si# or four is fine! too3.
Do not tie the top fifteen to twenty centimeters completely because tails from the roof steel will
e#tend into the wall steel thirty to A% centimeters. 8ccasional ties may need to be removed at that
time. Iote that the top of the outer layer of welded wire is B.% centimeters below the top of the
"ending !teel Circles:
9se caution when bending steel into circles. $f the end escapes from the form it will be with a
violent motion that can cause serious injury. 8bservers step back.
$nsert at least fifteen centimeters into the bending form. Iever let go of the steelL -lowly walk
one way to bend the steel reinforcing bar around the circular form. 0alk slowly backward to
relieve the tension. *e carefulL DangerL
Chapter Fi7e: /op of %pen /an-
,inish off the top of an open tank with an edge which turns outward. This gives e#tra strength
around the top edge.
Iotice that the hori"ontal wires are on the outside. This position gives ma#imum tank strength as
well as a good place to wedge the B.. centimeter form board! which is used to bend the wires to
hori"ontal. Center cut the top hori"ontal wire every forty-five centimeters! leaving three vertical
wires to bend to hori"ontal together. These center cuts are a rare circumstance where the wire
tails are not removed! there is a B.% centimeter tail on each side of each section. They will soon
be covered by reinforcing bar.
*end and trim vertical bars to fit the lip. Then place =.. or =.) centimeter bar around the outside
of the lip. -i#ty millimeters is ade'uate for the small tank pictured. Iow cut enough fifteen
centimeter wide strips of welded wire to go around the tank lip. The strip lengths should overlap
at least B.% centimeters. *end the fifteen centimeter wide strips over the same form board. 9se
the long wire as a catch to hold the wood board.
The board is of no further use when the fifteen centimeter strip has reached a ninety degree
angle. Complete the bend by hand. 0ork along the strip two or three times to gradually complete
the bend. 9se a bouncing pressure with the palms of both hands. (isten for a click when the
wires contact at the bottom of each downward push.
The short side of this piece is placed on the top. The long side goes down and forms the
hypotenuse of a structural triangle.
Metal lath of thin gauge is painted black. $t is much better for ferrocement work than the heavier
gauge galvani"ed. :alvani"ed should only be used if the thin gauge is unavailable. Thin gauge is
The height of this open top tank is set so that a standard piece of metal lath can be cut into two
functional pieces. 8ne piece fits the inside wall up to the outward lip curve. The second piece
covers the inside wall plus the lip5 top and bottom 2see last photo3.
The bottom half of the lip is covered with lath. Thin welded wire is placed on top. *eware of
sharp cut ends of metal lath. ,latten them inward with a tool.
Chapter !ix: Roof !teel
Check and measure a good curve before cutting a center post. The eye can see a good curve as
well as it sees color. & curve which is pleasing to the eye is usually a strong curve. 9se a length
of bar across the tank. 4old the center of the bar up and tie the ends loosely at the walls. (ift the
center until the roof curve looks right. Measure the distance and cut a temporary post to fit.
Visuali"e curves under bridges and the curve will be good. The roof should be comfortable to
work on. Don+t make it too steep. The post should be about thirty centimeters higher than the
walls for a si#ty cubic meter tank with two meter walls.
*alance and temporarily tie a s'uare meter of welded wire on top of the center post. This step
was omitted in the photographs because the e#ample is small enough to be self-supporting. Cut a
piece of number four reinforcing bar which e#tends si#ty centimeters past the center post and
forty-five centimeters past the wall. *end the reinforcing bar so it enters about thirty-five
centimeters into the wall. 9se fifteen to twenty-five centimeters for the bend radius. Cemove
wire ties where the bars enter between the layers of welded wire. -lightly bend the top of the
inner layer of welded wire inward to fit the curve.
The curve starts at the top of the outer layer of welded wire5 that is B.% centimeters below the
inner layer. The distance from the floor is two meters M. This height is perfect for reaching onto
the outer portion of the roof from low scaffolding. (ow scaffolding is about seventy-five
Cepeat the previous step and e#tend the the radius into a straight line diameter across the tank
which is supported by the center pole and tied into the walls. 9se thin sticks or bamboo and wire
for temporary supports between the center pole and the walls. Do not tie too much at first. The
reinforcing steel overlap must be loose enough to slide and adjust the circle at the top of the tank.
Cepeat again and make a second reinforcing steel bar rafter perpendicular to the first rafter bar
The tank roof is now divided into 'uarters. &djust the walls to as vertical as practical by pushing
and pulling the roof bars in the center before tying them. The goal is to make the tank cylinder as
vertical as it can be. $f forcing the wall to vertical under one of these first roof bars causes the
wall to be less vertical elsewhere! split the difference so both areas are as vertical as possible.
8ne should understand that this compromise is not a mark of poor work unless the tank is so
visually crooked as to catch the eye. This somewhat imprecise nature of ferrocement is a key
reason for its absolute price advantage within the si"e range of fifty to five hundred cubic meters!
Iow make three circles of number three bar. The circle diameters are <=! B%! and ;=
centimeters. They do not re'uire perfection. Tie these concentric circles on top in the center. 9se
number four bar for larger tanks.
This is the time to put some pre-cut lengths of welded wire inside the tank! and the inner lath if it
is not there already. Then cut four pieces of welded wire three meters long. This will cover much
of the tank ceiling. D#tra pieces of are better than less. D#cess material can be easily removed
through a temporary door cut in the wall after the roof steel is in place. $t will be easier if all the
pieces are reverse rolled to relieve the tension from the tight factory roll.
The roof grid is thirty centimeters or less. -i#ty bars of steel e#tend out of the wall and into the
roof of a si#ty cubic meter tank! space them at thirty centimeters. 8nly four bars reach all the
way to the center5 they are already in place. Iow cut eight pieces of number four bar which are
ten to fifteen centimeters short of the center. These pieces e#tend fifty to si#ty centimeters past
the wall. *end and test one before cutting the rest5 it should e#tend thirty or forty centimeters
into the wall and be ten to fifteen centimeters short of the center.
Divide each roof 'uarter section into appro#imate thirds with two of the eight roof bars just
made. These bars are placed on the nearest thirty centimeter circumference mark. They will not
divide the roof 'uarter sections into precise thirds. -lide the bars under the reinforcing bar rings
and over the s'uare meter of welded wire sitting on top of the center support post. Twist and
push the bent tail ends into the wall. Cemove any wall ties which makes this difficult. $f too
much steel crowds into or over the center! trim in place with a cutting torch! or! working on the
ground with a metal saw.
Temporarily support the arc of each radius rafter with thin wood! bamboo! or small plastic pipe.
Iow make three circles with diameters of ./! ;.A! and < meters. 1lace these circles on top of the
tank radius bars. $nspect once again for perfection at the top of the tank. $f one of the radius bars
is problematic! loosen and re-tie it. Dach pie shaped piece in the si#ty cubic meter e#ample is
now about .% meters wide at the tank circumference.
Continue filling in with larger rings and shorter rafters until the roof reinforcing bar steel is a
thirty centimeter grid. Iotice that some remaining rafters are much shorter. 9se reinforcing bar
from the scrap pile to finish the shorter rafters and larger rings. The shorter radius bars only
e#tend far enough toward the center to maintain the thirty centimeter grid.
*end the inner and outer welded wire in the wall to fit the curve. 1ut a 7N7 shaped bend every
forty or fifty centimeters along the highest hori"ontal wires. This reduction in circumference will
pull the top hori"ontal wires into the curve and can be precisely controlled. The 7N7 bends can
also be undone slightly as needed. Keep these bends in the plane of the tank wall so bumps of
steel do not protrude toward the finished plaster surface. 7N7 bend maker is illustrated below.
1lace the welded wire on the ceiling now. -tart at the center of each piece and work outward.
8verlap the original s'uare meter of welded wire about thirty centimeters. Cemove the
temporary supports to make room for placing the welded wire. Ce-install the temporary supports
when each section of welded wire is in place. This will maintain a uniform roof curve. The first
pieces of welded wire should divide the tank ceiling into 'uarters. Continue until the interior
ceiling is complete.
The ne#t step is to put a top layer of welded wire on the roof. $t is difficult to maintain an even
spaced pattern because of the roof curvature and the patch method used to place the ceiling wire.
$t is best to position the top roof layer of welded wire at a forty-five degree angle to the inner
ceiling wire for these reasons.
Cut a piece of welded wire long enough to go all the way over the roof and e#tend down the wall
at least thirty centimeters on either side. Tie a piece of rope to the end of the cut piece and roll
the rope up with the wire. This rope is pulled from the far side of the tank to unroll the welded
wire and place it on top.
Cut a door in the tank wall when the welded wire on the roof is complete and well supported.
The door should be larger than pictured.
Dach layer is rolled back and tied to the tank wall! rather than cut completely out as pictured. The
outer layer of fine wire should be cut on both sides and bottom and then rolled upward. The outer
layer of welded wire is cut on one side! top! and bottom to be folded to one side. The inner layer
of welded wire is cut at the top! bottom and on the opposite side as the outer cut so that it folds
open in the opposite direction of the outer welded wire.
Ceinforcing steel bars are then cut out of the way. 1ieces of wood can be tied to the door sides if
the tank wall distorts e#cessively when the door is cut open. The door is folded back into place
and patched at the seams at the last moment during plaster application5 proper si"ed replacement
reinforcing steel with sufficient overlap should be ready for that event! bend the hori"ontal pieces
slightly to match the tank wall curvature.
*e sure to remove sharp wire tails that will cause minor cuts or serious injury to those using the
door during tank construction.
Chapter !e7en: /hin !teel and Hatch
Metal (ath 2Thin :auge D#panded Metal36 *egin with the wall. &ttach the lath to the wall with
wire or hog rings. This is not the final tie. -ecurely in place is enough for now. Metal lath sheets
are about ;.A meters of length. -ince the wall is slightly less than two meters! the metal lath will
curve up into the interior ceiling. The radius is smaller approaching the center of the tank! this
causes the top corners of the metal lath to overlap too far. $t is nearly impossible to force plaster
through two layers of metal lath. Cut the top corners to make overlaps of two centimeters. ,inish
walls and then do the ceiling. 9se the temporary supports to help hold the lath in place. 0hen the
interior lath is complete! put a layer of poultry wire on the outside roof! e#tend it down the wall
about thirty centimeters below the curve.
8uter layer of fine wire6 The outer layer of fine wire may be welded wire with .;% cm s'uares!
metal lath! or two layers of poultry wire 2with the wires of the second layer bisecting the holes of
the first layer3. $f lath is used! try and keep all the opening directions going the same way. This
seems a small detail yet e#amination of the openings will reveal that one direction is wider and
will thus allow for easier plaster entry than the other direction. $t doesnEt matter structurally
which way the lath is placed but it is convenient during the rush of plaster application if the holes
Cut the outer layer of fine steel to reach the beginning of the roof curve. The poultry wire on the
roof is sufficient to hold the wet plaster in place at the curve. & roll of B% centimeters wide and a
roll of ;= centimeters wide fine wire cover the outer wall! for e#ample.
,inish Tie the -teel &rmature6 (oose outer layers of fine wire are e#posed by sags and bulges of
heavy plaster. Iot much can be done at this point. There are two ways to secure the fine steel so
it wonEt bulge. 8ne is with hog rings. 4og ring pliers or a pneumatic hog ring gun are re'uired
using this method. These may be obtained from an upholstery supply store. Tie the underlying
welded wire! where it is loose! with loops that go all the way through the tank. $f the outer steel
is tied well to the inner welded wire and the inner welded wire is loose! there will be a large
sagging thick spot where the inner wire is loose. *ulges absorb many kilograms of cement.
$f hog rings are not available! stitch the seams of metal lath. 9se a slightly thinner wire than tie
wire if it is available. 8ne person passes the wire through at an angle and another passes it back!
also at an angle. Tighten every third or fourth stitch. &fter all the seems are tight! stitch around
and around the tank. 0ork upward to the wall curve. -pace each pass around the tank ;= to ;%
centimeters above the last. <hough this method takes the most time! the result is e#cellent when
the stitching is tight.
-titching also works well for the roof! reduce the spacing to fifteen centimeters or less. ¬her
procedure is to tie a third layer of welded wire tightly beneath the inside ceiling lath. The metal
lath is supported well by an e#tra layer of welded wire underneath it. ,inish plaster the ceiling to
cover this layer of welded wire.
(ocate the hatch near the inlet pipe to facilitate maintenance of plumbing parts and observe
water flow. Make the opening large enough to remove the ladder. $f the ladder base is B= cm
make the finished hole si"e B. cm and the rough opening /= cm. To accomplish the e#ample
si"e! start with a /< centimeter circle of ?< bar wired to the roof. Trim steel and bend welded
wire in a convenient way. 1lan for at least a four centimeter cement curb around the finished
& ferro cement hatch can be either hinged and locked with a hasp! or locked down with two
hasps. $f hinged! use a large hinge. 0eld or tie e#tra welded wire and steel to the hinge where it
attaches to the roof and hatch! do the same thing to the locking hasp. The hatch begins with a
circle of ?< bar which is about ten centimeters larger than the completed roof hole. Then
fabricate a small version of the tank roof with hinge and hasp attached. The dome shape of the
hatch will accomodate the plaster curb around the roof hole. Tie hinge and second locking hasp
part to the roof. Ceinforce these areas with welded wire patches and reinforcing bar scraps. &
ferrocement hatch is heavy! the hinge and locking hasp should be large. The hatch is plastered
after the tank has cured for a few days.
The tank is ready for plaster when all the fine steel has been placed. 8bserve the stiffness of the
armature. $t is strong enough to fill with water. The plaster waterproofs the tank and protects the
steel6 when it shrinks during cure! the roof will lift upward and the supports will hang from the
ceiling. This power marks the tank strength and illustrates why ferrocement is so strong.
& A% by .= centimeter piece of welded wire is the inside lowest layer 2in the above photo3. $t has
been darkened to make it more visible. & person on top of the tank ties wires carefully passed
upward by a companion working below. $t is an effective way to support the inside layer of
e#panded metal in the ceiling. This method creates a thin roof without sags! it can help save
many kilograms of cement.
The hinge mechanism is made of plastic pipe cut in half. $t is taped to surround ?A reinforcing
steel as shown to directly the left. The hinge bar is shown bent into the ceiling in the above
photo. & prefabricated hatch can be plastered and cured before building the tank5 it would also
be installed at this point of armature construction.
The stake of wood supports the hatch lid two centimeters above the curb. This distance simulates
cement thickness 2&ppro#imately one centimeter over steel3. Complete the hatch and curb
similar to the pictures in the last half of chapter five.
Chapter #ight: Roof !upport
*race the roof to hold the wet plaster when everything else is finished. ,ive by ten centimeter
posts pushing ; #% cm boards against the ceiling will hold the wet plaster when there are
enough supports to make the roof rigid. There will be several people working on the roof to
plaster it. The roof should feel hard! almost like standing on solid ground. $f it is soft! it will sag
when the plaster is applied. The roof supports also help hold the walls vertical and straight.
(eave enough room between the outer supports and the wall for plaster work. 0ire the supports
up so they stay in place during construction.
Iow is the time to make a strong center post if one was not cast into the floor concrete. & = #
= cm post is strong enough to hold up wet plaster! % # = is sufficient to place the roof steel. &
base is re'uired to hold the center post vertical and steady. This is easy enough to nail together.
Make the center post easy to remove when the tank is finished.
$t is not uncommon to return to a tank the day after it has been plastered and find the supports
hanging from the ceiling. This occurs because the cement plaster shrinks as it cures. The
shrinkage around the walls can cause the roof to lift upward as much as five centimeters. Tie the
support structure loosely to the ceiling so nothing falls and damages the fresh and relatively soft
plaster wall. This effect is not so obvious in smaller tanks but is an indication of the live strength
within the composite material known as ferrocement.
1lace a circle of forty-five to si#ty centimeters of steel or plywood on top of the center pole. ,or
those who venture into construction of tanks as a business! this top piece for the center pole
should be steel made in two halves which bolt together through a hole in the top of the center
pole. 1ut holes in the circular plate for tie wires to secure the long rafter supports which e#tend
as spokes from the wall to the center support. ,or smaller tanks or construction of a single tank! a
; # % centimeter board will work fine. These boards also bend nicely to the shallow roof curve
and make good support rafters when wedged upward against the roof steel with stronger support
wood such as % # = cm. *e sure to secure them to the roof with loose wire ties so they donEt
damage the wall if they fall.
,errocement tank construction is a good business in areas where tanks are needed for water or
grain. There is no way to make a tank better or less e#pensive in the si"e range of %= - %== cubic
meters. This is especially true in areas where the water is highly corrosive and steel tanks last
only a few years. 1rice your product near what installed steel tanks sell for and there will be
enough profit to build a good business enterprise. -maller ferrocement tanks are more e#pensive
than other construction methods but are still competitive when the replacement cost of other tank
types is included over their life cycle. 8ne ferrocement water tank will last through replacement
of several steel or plastic tanks even in areas with minimally corrosive water.
Iote6 & very thin ferrocement covering can be put on plastic tanks to shield them from the sun
and they will last indefinitely.
Those who plan construction of numerous tanks or other structures with roofs will eventually
make adjustable metal roof rafters and support stanchions which are removed and taken to the
ne#t project. Visuali"e a wire umbrella frame with the support stanchions e#tending straight
down to the floor. -tanchions are made of s'uare steel tubing which is supported by a screw
jack. -uch jacks are easily made from ;.% cm threaded steel stock. 0eld a seven to ten
centimeter s'uare of plate steel welded on the bottom for a foot. & nut and washer push upward
against the bottom of the stanchion to make a tight fit of the rafter support spokes against the
The center post for larger tanks is simply a larger version of the one pictured. The stanchions are
made of a lower piece using three centimeter s'uare tubing. & piece of ;.% centimeter tubing
slides inside for course adjustment and is set to the desired length with a pin e#tending through5
this secures the adjusted length. ,or larger tanks use three centimeter s'uare tubing inside <./
centimeter outer tubing. There are many combinations of outside measurement and tubing wall
thickness such that a smaller si"e will slide inside a larger si"e! some steel supply stores have the
right si"es and some donEt 2the oneEs that donEt often say there are no si"es that fit3.
-'uare steel tubing is usually supplied in lengths of ..% meters M. -hort stanchions are made by
cutting these lengths into 'uarters! cut the lengths into thirds or even halves to support higher
ceilings at the center of large tanks. Combinations of these s'uare tubing si"es are also used to
construct the rafter support system. & pin of ?< bar at the top of the stanchion fits into a hole in
the bottom of the rafter to maintain a secure lock on position. The roof weight can be 'uite large
during plaster application.
& complete discussion of rafter support systems is too lengthy for this small book! yet it is worth
mentioning that the rafter supports can be assembled with circumference chord connections.
These can be straight pieces which slide over smaller stubs of s'uare tubing welded to the
rafters. 8ne or two of these circumference connections should be of adjustable length. The
pattern of the assembled support structure will look very much like the reinforcing steel bar
pattern in the roof armature. &ll support rafters need not reach to the center when building very
large tanks but it is simpler to do so on si"es below ;== cubic meters M! assuming three meter
walls in the ;== cubic meter range.
Iotice that when the single rafters are connected to each other there is a structural integrity to the
rafter supports which is independent of the tank armature.
4inged tubing tails at the outer circumference of the roof support system are helpful for tying the
rafters to the wall steel armature. This complete roof support design introduces a major cost
saving since most of the roof armature can now be built on the ground and lifted as a single piece
on top of the rafter support structure. Coof armatures which are pre-built on the ground are
upside down because the ceiling metal lath is placed on top. The only remaining work when the
pre-assembled roof armature is placed on the roof supports is to join it to the wall steel with short
reinforcing bar pieces in the wall to roof curve. These pieces should e#tend forty-five
centimeters into the roof steel and be tied securely. Cover the reinforcing bars inside and out
with welded wire to complete the wall to roof curve and the union of roof and wall. ,inish the
inside of the curve with metal lath making sure lath overlaps are not too large and then the
outside with poultry wire.
This roof construction techni'ue efficiently utili"es the e#tra layer of welded wire beneath the
ceiling metal lath discussed previously. The tank builder who has roof support technology is
ready to build roofs for just about anything. -upport stanchions are placed two meters M apart
around the outer circumference. Two meters is a good place to start for spacing stanchions along
the rafter toward the center. &ll this depends entirely on how one designs the overall support
system! how large the tank is! and how perfect one wishes the roof to be. -afety is also a
consideration. Io workers should be inside large tanks when the roof is being plastered.
&dditionally! for very large tanks! the roof plaster can be placed for about one third of the top at
the center and then .= cm wide plaster spokes can e#tend into the walls. This way re'uires a
second plaster day but is safer if one has doubts about the support structure.
& final note about the roof rafters and building very large tanks involves the floor. (arge tanks
are 'uicker to build if the floor e#tends underground like a bowl. The amount of water in the
bowl shape of the floor reduces the si"e of the tank but introduces the problem of a slippery slope
under the stanchion feet. Dliminate this problem by casting flat topped steps which ring the floor
at the proper radius measurement for the stanchion feet. $t is easier to make entire circular steps
on the proper radius than to figure out where to place a small step for each rafter stanchion to
3nstalling hinged rafters
This method illustrates applying the metal lath to the first layer of welded wire before placing it
on the rafters in factory widths. This techni'ue is simpler than making the entire roof on the
ground before putting it on the rafters.
Chapter 8: Plaster
Plaster Material: :ood plaster depends on clean sand and water. $f either contains reactive
chemicals! plaster 'uality is reduced. 9se sand that e#perienced plasterers know produces a
'uality product. Cefer to page B for mi#ing proportions.
Roof: -tart at the roof top center and work outward. 8ne person stands inside the tank to watch
progress for those working on top. Io plaster can be applied from below at this time. D#cess
water flows and drips down and will cause fresh plaster to fall. 0ait until the ceiling has become
stiff before attempting to plaster it. *rush roof top with a stiff broom to remove shrinkage cracks.
&pply water to the roof as a fine spray. DonEt let the roof become dry in the sun. Concrete pumps
make roofs easier.
all: *egin the wall plaster on the shade side. 0ork both directions around the tank. 4and
application is from both inside and outside the tank. Ouality control at this point is a wall without
voids. Do not apply a thin layer of plaster which does not penetrate and surround all the steel.
D#perienced plasterers are more likely to work too fast and leave voids than less e#perienced
people who pack the plaster in with their hands. 4ave e#tra gloves available so that workers will
use there hands for packing. 4and pack means use the hands to pack the plaster into the steel
armature. Discover the full e#tent of voids by tapping the wall with a hammer and observing
how the plaster settles and makes the void visible for hand pack. Do not finish trowel the wall
too much at first! e#cessive vibration causes water to work to the surface! this! in turn! causes the
plaster to slide off the wall.
Plaster Finish: ,inish the inside ceiling when the plaster is firm enough to sponge float
irregularities and accept more plaster. ,or wall finish! wait until the plaster has become firm!
then use a wet sponge float to finish and smooth the surface. -tart where the wall was first
plastered. 9se a plain sponge to brush off larger grains of sand and small pieces of gravel. The
sponge float and sponge work best if they are rinsed and cleaned fre'uently. This techni'ue is for
both inside and outside. &pply more plaster in areas where steel shows through the surface. 9se
sponge float and sponge techni'ue on any shrink cracks which may appear.
$f the plaster is finished well! the tank should be water tight. & good routine is to seal the inside
with a cement based sealer before the tank is filled. 9se a push broom and a mi#ing tray to apply
the sealer coats. These materials re'uire one day to cure. &pply in the early evening and start on
the shady side of the tank. -mall leaks will eventually be sealed by minerals in the water as the
water evaporates and leaves the minerals behind.
Cure: There are many ways to keep the tank wet until it cures 2;/ days @ ==P3. 8ld blankets
and a hose work well if someone is present. & battery powered water timer can be used to turn a
sprinkler on and off. *lack plastic over wet blankets holds moisture well! it also brings the
temperature up and increases the rate of cure. The idea is to maintain moisture in the plaster.
8nce the plaster has become dry! the state of the material changes and it will not absorb water.
Typical concrete used for a floor or foundation has a compression strength of about ;= kgf>cm;.
,errocement cured well ranges from a low of A%= kgf>cm; upward to as much as /A= kgf>cm;.
These strength figures are a good indicator of how long the structure will last. :ood concrete
protects the steel from the elements and the structure lasts a long time with no maintenance. The
effort put into a good concrete cure will be appreciated for generations.
Mechanical Application: 1umped ferrocement is a mi#ture of %=% kg of cement per cubic meter
of sand. The mi#ture is pumped through a rubber no""le. Compressed air throws the plaster
against the steel armature. This is the tried and true mechanical techni'ue used in the trades!
though there are smaller plaster sand pumping systems available. & strong! active crew on the
inside holds sheets of plywood up to the steel as a backing so the plaster doesnEt simply pass on
through. & second crew is re'uired to clean and rotate backing plywood as it grows heavy with
deposited plaster. The no""le operators must also be fairly strong. Concrete sand has some grains
that are almost gravel si"e. -ome of these bounce back and accumulate as waste.
-upervision is a more intense part of the job as application speed increases. Clean up is also a
bigger job. The 'uantity of voids decreases with no""le operator skill and attention. Mechanical
application becomes more practical with project si"e and where trained labor is either too costly
or simply unavailable. The pros and cons of mechanical application are subjects of debate.
1umped plaster yields a fine tank.
Chapter 5': Coloring 9 ater seal
$nner waterproofing and outer coloring are both done with a cement base product which cures in
one day. 8ne such product is known as Thoroseal! it is available in grey or white. :rey base is
best for earth tone colors.
Two to four liters of white glue are diluted and then mi#ed with each bag of sealant 2;;
kilograms M3. 2Don+t use late# glues in sunlight areas3. &bout three bags are re'uired for a si#ty
cubic meter tank. Two bags should be sufficient for a second inside layer. This project is possible
without the glue but occasional bonding problems may occur.
& white or colored first layer inside a water tank makes it easier to see a second grey layer. The
inside seal of colored open reservoirs or swimming pools starts with a first coat of grey! then a
second color layer. Do not work too hard on colors in swimming pools as they will change over
The following paragraphs describe a multi-colored! single outer layer! to visually blend a water
tank with the environment! for e#ample. The same procedure is used to apply a second layer!
which is timed for as soon as the first layer is sufficiently durable to be unaffected by broom
bristles or other application tools 2. to ;= hours3.
Mi# the main batch of grey base in a paddle wheel plaster mi#er. -eparate appro#imately >A
into various buckets 2for multiple colors3. (ighter colors without red are mi#ed with a wand
propeller on a drill motor in these buckets. 20hite base Thoroseal isn+t 'uite right for rock colors
but will make pastels! if desired3.
The main color is then mi#ed in with the material still in the plaster mi#er. 2,inger paint on a hot
muffler or something else hot to see a 'uick dry appro#imation of cured colors3.
0hen the base color looks right! pour >A to >< of it into buckets. Iow mi# blacks! dark browns!
and other dark colors with the electric drill motor and mi#er attachment. 2& stick will work but
some colors resist mi#ing and turn into lumps! a few unmi#ed lumps burst under the broom or
brush bristles and add interesting streak effects3.
The color pallet now contains buckets of non-reds! a mi#er loaded with base color! and
additional buckets of darker colors! which were mi#ed on top of the base color. 9se kitchen
measuring cups and other measuring containers. Take notes! write all colors and measurements
on paper. ,ile the notes in a safe place. 9se standard colors if possible.
-chedule the work to begin application during late afternoon! approaching evening. & foggy or
cloudy day is ideal. 1our some base color into a wheel barrow and begin working on the shady
side of the tank or other structure. Dip the stiff bristle push broom in base color and begin the
fun. 0ork both ways around structure toward the sunny side! hold off working on the roof until
the sun is very low.
9se a mi#ing tray and a second push broom if there is a second base layer color. The mi#ing tray
is placed near the wall and brooms are used in the same way to seal the inside. The large push
broom 'uickly moves material up and out of the mi#ing tray and onto the wall. 9se smaller hand
brushes for other small volume colors and to work the material into rough spots.. 2&n occasional
green or brown 2etc3 pure pigment in glue or dry should be e#perimented with here and there3.
Ceturn to the starting point and mist with water to keep the thin layer moist. &void rivulets of
e#cess moisture which will wash away the newly applied material.
1igments are best from barrels. These colors have names like 7raw umber7! 7sienna7 or other
familiar artist+s paint names.
Maintain moisture until the night becomes too dark to see. Ceturn early in the morning and apply
moisture until evening. Iow the waterproof layer is permanent 2at least for <= M years3.
The finished water tank may show some minor leaking even after application of water seal layers
on the inside and outside. Tank builders often refer to this as! 7sweating.7 Do not worry about
minor leaks. The water is moving so slowly that evaporation leaves minerals behind which
gradually solidify into cement like material which eventually stops all moisture from escape and
makes the tank totally water tight.
Iote that the natural seal of evaporating water does not occur on outside rooftops. Cainwater
rinses microscopic cracks clean rather than plugging them up with deposited minerals. &
completely waterproof ferrocement roof can be accomplished during construction by fog misting
the top and continuously using a stiff bristle broom on any shrink cracks until the plaster
becomes too hard to effect with mist and broom.
& simple method of spraying the water seal and color layers is available for those who make a
business of building ferrocement structures. Dighty (iter M agricultural chemical mi#ing tanks
are available. Tanks of this type have a wide mouth hatch for pouring in material and can be
pressuri"ed with compressed air! which pushes the thin sealing material through a garden hose.
8ne person sprays the material on walls and ceiling while others spread it with push brooms and
D#panded metal is a sufficiently fine screen for separating out lumps which might plug the
sprayer. 1our mi#ed material through e#panded metal to remove lumps before attempting to
pressuri"e and send li'uid through a % to ;% meter garden hose. & two centimeter diameter
garden hose is sufficient if the plumbing bend out of the bottom of the pressure tank is ;.%
centimeters in diameter. :arden hose with a ;.% centimeter diameter is available but not
necessary. Cun water through spray apparatus to clean tank and hose.
-pray material onto structure surfaces using the thumb on the end of the hose! just like spraying
water on a garden. 0ear a thin dish washing type glove to avoid abrasive wear on skin.
There are several commercial products to accomplish this job! many have official stamps of
approval. The web caretaker knows of individuals who have used ferrocement tanks
waterproofed as described since the ).=+s! with no apparent problem.
Chapter 55: !eptic /an- :esign and Construction
These design graphics illustrate a ferrocement septic tank which was built in )B%. $t has been
used continuously and remains in perfect condition. Contrary to the e#perience of many well
respected sewage plant engineers and operators! the cement has not deteriorated. 1erhaps this is
due to the hardness of the mortar! described in chapters one and nine5 %%= to /%= kgf>cm
ferrocement plaster mi# versus B% kgf>cm
for standard concrete mi# 2/!=== to ;!=== psi vs. ;!%==
pounds per s'uare inch3. The oldest ferrocement septic system known at ferrocement.com was built
0all thickness varies between <./ to B.% cm 2 >; to <73. The light grey area represents floating
organic matter. -ludge is mostly composed of microbial remains heavier than water5 it is a darker
grey color at the bottom. (arge arrows indicate water flow direction. -mall arrows indicate flow
direction for gasses of decomposition.
This septic tank did not receive grey water from laundry! sink! or bath drains. $t was emptied in
the year ;===5 estimated remaining capacity was appro#imately fifty percent after ;% years of
use. The bottom sludge was used for garden fertili"er and the top mat of organic matter was left
in the tank. *iodegradable toilet tissue was always used and no chemical or bacterial products
The first chamber is %% percent of the empty volume. The second chamber is <=P and the third
is %P. 0hen the first chamber is half full of sludge and floating organic matter! the relatively
clear water in between is appro#imately the same volume as the clear water volume in the second
Most septic tank designs include only two chambers. The third chamber adds to protection of the
drainage area! which is an e#pensive and difficult part of septic system construction.
-ewage water remains in this tank for an average of A% days5 it is held in the first chamber for an
average of two weeks when the chamber is half full. Most codes re'uire only one day retention
time of clear volume in the first chamber 2at %=P full3. This insufficient time limit has caused
contaminated ground water in many urban areas of the 9nited -tates. 4ome owners are re'uired
to install municipal sewer systems after this occurs. & new source of domestic water is also often
-eptic systems are not practical in areas of dense human habitation unless the discharge is
directed to community treatment facilities rather than individual drainage areas. There is almost
always enough area to use grey water for garden and landscape irrigation where septic systems
are successfully utili"ed.
(ocal codes do not usually re'uire mi#ing of grey water and sewage water within the plumbing
system before it leaves the structure. 1lumbing systems that do not pollute grey water with
sewage are environmentally wise. :rey water is a larger 'uantity than actual sewage water. The
additional plumbing cost to keep them separate is not large. Check local building codes for grey
Discharge from individual or community septic tanks can be directed to a municipal system at
much less cost than sewer systems which carry all grey water and organic matter. -ewage
collection accounts for B= to )= percent of municipal sewer system installation when all waste
water and raw organic sewage are combined and then sent directly to a central location. To#ic
chemical dumping through the sewage system is also easier to locate when sewage sludge is
harvested from individuals.
$ndividual septic tanks overflow to a drain field as illustrated below. The width 2Q3 times the
length 2R3 provides an area of percolation! which is determined by soil tests for absorption rate.
The distance 2N3 indicates the gravel bed beneath the drain pipe! = - % cm is common. The
trench is filled with gravel to a similar distance from the surface. Connected arches are often
used to create a cave at the bottom of the trench. This techni'ue replaces both pipe and gravel.
1lastic arch pieces sufficient for a residential septic system easily fit in the back of a small truck.
Depth to the drain pipe 213 must be sufficient to position the drain pipe below roots which will
clog it. The leach field cannot be in an area of deep rooted trees. The depth 213 is also related to
the slope of the terrain! a hillside leach field re'uires greater depth so that water does not surface
on the downhill side 2Ferrocement House Construction! p. ;3.
1ercolation tests for soil absorption rates follow procedures which may vary in detail from one
locale to the ne#t. The basic idea is to determine an absorption area that will be sufficient for the
planned usage. This is usually accomplished by digging a preliminary hole large enough to work
in. The preliminary hole is located near point 2(3 on the drawing. $t is dug to full depth and is
large enough to work in. & smaller test hole is then dug in the bottom of the work area. This hole
is filled with water and the absorption rate is measured. $f there is variation of soil type in the
computed length 2R3! additional absorption test pits are dug at either end.
The primary reason for varying methods of calculating a total absorption area is that anaerobic
organisms grow on the bottom and walls of the leach area as it matures to e'uilibrium with the
area soil life. These anaerobic organisms die and are consumed by aerobic organisms in the soil.
The growth of this living layer is on the trench bottom and walls! where gravel meets soil. $t
slows water flow out of the leach field and also accomplishes final purification of the waste
water. -oil temperature and biology have a large effect on this layer and e#plain much of the
regional differences in formulas employed for calculating the total re'uired leach area.
$f leach area calculations are based on a usage factor which includes all grey water and raw
sewage! the leach area will be larger than necessary 2should grey water be subse'uently utili"ed
for irrigation3. & method of dividing the water flow so that half the leach area is 7rested7 while
the other half is used can be installed then if desired. $nstall an outflow pipe from the septic tank
so that water can be directed to drop pipes for either separated half at the leach field mid point
2R3. & clay barrier in the gravel between the two halves improves separation efficiency.
,errocement.com advises using grey water for irrigation in the surface soil and in sunlight
whenever possible. -urface soil life and sunlight rapidly convert grey water to biological
usefulness. &s long as this water does not pool and breed mos'uitos it is relatively safe. (ocal
building codes will provide detailed information for each locality.
Construction of a septic tank in the ground is similar to the open top tank e#cept there is no need
for an outer layer of fine wire. Corner pieces are made as shown on page ;/. 4aving a supply of
these ready will greatly speed up fabrication of the armature.
Iumber three bar on a <= - A% cm grid between two layers of % by % cm s'uare welded wire is
an ade'uate steel schedule. The reinforcing steel bars in the chamber separation walls need not
be bent so they overlap into the outer walls! the welded wire corner pieces are ade'uate
attachment for inner chamber walls.
Two centimeter thick support blocks! with wires in them for attaching to the armature! are
sufficient to keep the steel from being in contact with the soil. ,errocement objects with straight
walls are easiest to build using welded wire sold in flat sections rather than rolls5 this eliminates
the need to straighten pieces cut from a roll.
& two coat cementiscious water seal product that cures in one day was used inside the septic tank
illustrated in this chapter
-anitary tee can be inspected and cleaned through small hatch from above.
The small ledge deflects strong currents so the bottom sludge is not disturbed.
(ooking down on the entrance plumbing and the dispersion ledge below it.
The s'uare opening at the top is the hatch! it can be wood or ferrocement.
4atch covers are very simple! they only keep dirt from falling inside.
The upper white pipe is for return flow of gasses to the venting system.
& secondary small hatch for manual clean out of the entry fitting is recommended.
& turned down ell for water flow to the second chamber helps keep downward drifting solids
from passing through.
-teel is omitted on the near side for photography.
The estimate table has been filled in during various correspondences. & materials list for the %= -
.= cubic meter range 2%!=== 9.-. gallons3 can be found in chapter one of the tank building manual.
The estimate table has been filled in during various correspondences. & materials list for the %= -
.= cubic meter range 2%!=== 9.-. gallons3 can be found in chapter one of the tank building manual.
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