It has been variously called fibrous cement, paper
adobe, padobe, fidobe and papercrete.
Whatever you want to call it, papercrete is an amazing, low-cost
alternative to wood or cement construction.
in the Baja and especially in San Felipe makes one inclined
to believe urban legends about spontaneous human combustion.
It gets hot here. So hot you can't open your car door or grab
your steering wheel with your bare hands. And God help you if
you are wearing shorts and absent-mindedly stradle a motorcycle
with a black vinyl seat. You get the idea. The climate begs
a home building technique that lends itself to desert living.
But strangely, most people here build with cement block. This
seemed to me slightly deranged, not to say fevered. So I began
searching the internet for alternatives. And found papercrete,
Sands' wonderful dome creation.
I immediately set about to build a tow-mixer.
At a junkyard, I picked up the rear end of a small car for $20
and a 55 gallon drum for $8. The assembly, welding and painting
of the mixer took a few unhurried days. At the same time, I
built a large chickenwire and wood enclosure for the collection
of paper products. Pretty soon, through the generosity of neighbors
who saw the advantage of keeping their trash volume to a minimum,
I had enough for a 55 gallon test load. I presoaked the paper
in 55 gallon barrels overnight and fished the soggy paper out
with a rake and dumped it into the mixer. I also built a sand
screening device and screened a pile of the local ground sand.
I made block forms from 12 foot lengths of 2x6's,
rabbeting grooves to slide 1/2 inch ply partitions every 16
inches. Then I welded up rebar staples to slide over
the forms walls to prevent spreading. I made a rectangular press
from 3/4 inch plywood, a plate of steel with a pipe handle welded
to it. I drilled a series of holes through the form walls to
allow water to escape. I also made a drain tray from a sheet
of corrugated steel placed under a screen mesh and held inside
a wood frame. Two short legs were fixed to one end to pitch
the drain so water would run out.
The first batched turned out fine. Towing the
mixer a short distance made it plain a lid was needed to prevent
the mixture from jetting out of the barrel. It took a surprisingly
short time to reduce the pulpy paper into a slurry of greenish
brown porridge. The
large ball valve I put on the bottom didn't work properly. The
recess filled with big lumps which couldn't pass through. I
eventually settled on unhitching the mixer and tilting it onto
the lip of the drain tray, rather gingerly because of the weight.
But this worked well, although I had to put on rubber gloves
and hand-shovel the remaining mess out. A fair amount of water
drained off the tray. I then shoveled the slurry into the form
pockets then squeezed more water out with the plywood press,
jumping up and down and rocking it back and forth.
The climate here is quite dry most of the year.
It was only a matter of hours before the staples could be pulled
and the form walls knocked free.
Later, I had the idea of searching out construction
sites and asking the crews to save their empty cement bags.
I would drive to several sites on a Saturday and fill the pickup.
These bags were great for making bricks as they already contained
a certain amount of cement powder in them. And there seemed
to be an almost endless supply as the construction industry
in the area was booming.
The next experiment was with sand bags and papercrete.
I brick-layered a six foot high wired-together sandbag base,
wrapped with chicken wire. Then I mixed papercrete and trowled
it on by hand. The base turned out fine and held a ton of water
with no problem.
I am now going to build a 250 gallon mixer and
try to pour or pump the papercrete into forms for monolithic
||Recently I welded up a few wireframe 'hives'
with open front and a little tilted visor. I covered with
with papercrete with a slightly higher cement content and
sprayed it black. I am using it as a laptop shade on a sundeck.
You can take a peek at it HERE.
The links below will take
to other sources of papercrete
how-to's and information.