Are you Paul Bunyan or Norm Abrams?

7 Nov Pinus_taeda_loblolly_pine_large_crown

As Fall turns into Winter (it’s already snowing here in Montana) we’re working feverishly to get builds completed globally and to get projects phased for next Spring.

Here’s an example of how things work when you build with ISBUs;

Many families build their “structure” during the Summer and Fall, knowing that the containers themselves provide an opportunity to have a “weathered in” building by their inherent design. Of course this depends on how extensive the modifications have been, but some families actually set the boxes and connect them without removing the larger exterior openings (like doors and windows) so that they can work on the interiors during Winter.

This allows them to work inside without getting rained or snowed on and it protects the unattended building from theft or vandalism. If  you’re  building  your ISBU home using “sweat equity”, this can be a real advantage.

Some of the families we work with really push the envelope in ingenuity and craftsmanship. And some of them exceed our expectations by taking on large tasks that other families fear to face.

Like these guys;


Here in North Carolina we’re finally setting our (4) shipping containers on CMUs and the wrap-around decking is being supported by steel reinforced Sonotube pilings attached to footing forms just like you taught us to create. We didn’t end up setting the ISBUs on pilings as we’re building on top of a newly constructed concrete block basement.

For our decking support we used Sonotube Builders Tubes in 12″ diameter with Bell footing forms and in the ISBU structure we’re using 40′ High Cubes, just like you taught us.

It seemed so daunting at first, building 12″ pilings by hand. That is… until we actually started doing the work. After we figured out the first one, the rest of them were as simple as pie! An auger and a couple of strong backs made the work child’s play. We braced the piers (like you suggested) as they extend above grade 3 feet.

As you suggested, we insured that the concrete was the consistency of “the dry side of oatmeal” and then we used the agitator you urged us to rent to get all the air out of the pours. Prebuilding the rebar reinforcement frames and dropping them in before pouring concrete worked well. Heeding your advice to work “gently” with the agitator… well it worked tremendously.

As you recommended, we did install j-bolts in the pilings so that we can bolt steel plates into the piling caps to weld the container rails to. We left the casings on after the pilings set, as you suggested.

(FYI: Alex literally walked us step by step through the piling manufacture process. We sent him a photo of what we wanted to achieve and he did the rest. His advice made it so easy that we’re wondering why other families don’t embrace this. We saved thousands of dollars.)

You’ve talked extensively about using portable sawmills and even kilns crafted from Shipping Containers to “make lumber”. It’s always intrigued us and we’re ready to take on the challenge. We’ve arranged to lease a portable sawmill and we’re going to build a kiln on-site using an ISBU and a Wood Gasifier. The wood gasifier will later be used to heat the residence.

We have several (over 30) large trees in a variety of species that needed to be removed on the site to allow our home to find it’s resting place. We’re thinking about having the trees sawn into wide planking next Spring and then incorporating that into our build.

This is in part to re-floor the container after the removal of the existing flooring, which we understand  is toxic.  Additionally, we’re thinking  that flooring our ISBU home with planking crafted from local trees will (a) “bond us to the site” and (b) further our “repurpose and reuse” program which is making this entire build possible. We know how strongly you feel about recycling, repurposing and reusing and we want to follow in your footsteps.

Do you have any tips about the wood selection, preparation or even the flooring installation? We know the mechanics of actually installing the boards into the  box, but is there anything  that we might be overlooking? Selecting trees from the site and then making lumber is a mystery to us.

BTW: When do we remove the sonotube casings? Do we even have to? Will they just eventually rot away?


Corten Carolinas

Dear CCs,

Making flooring from reclaimed trees isn’t difficult. (We regularly drop, sawmill, kiln dry and fabricate flooring as part of our rural and off-grid projects.) Saying that it isn’t “difficult” does not mean that it’s “easy” however.

I can’t possibly explain the entire “lumber” process in an article, but I can touch on points that I think will be crucial to your success.

First, you have to identify the trees you have available. A good place to start would be this publication;

I’ve seen the site you’re building on and I’m betting that most of the trees you’re looking at are loblolly pine, a wood that is used quite frequently in commercial lumber applications.


Species identification is crucial as each species of trees has a different drying characteristic. It’s not best (or even smart) to simply cut whatever is laying around and kiln in the same passes. It rarely works that way.

Sawmill selection is really, really important. Sawmills are like Fords and Chevy’s. You have to select the sawmill for the task. You can see many different operations in work on Youtube and that’s a good place to begin your orientation of the “lumber making” process.

(BTW: I prefer Dodges or Chevys to Fords, hands down. Let the hate mail begin!)

Wide boards are quite attractive but not without peril for the DIY homebuilder. While they seems a no-brainer because it appears that less boards equals less labor, it doesn’t really work that way. The reason is simple; The wider the board/plank, the more potential for movement. Wide boards will “cup” and drift more frequently. When you’re making lumber yourself, think of this as “warp on steroids”. You really have to pay attention to what you’re doing and you’re going to need a local woodworking mentor to achieve your goals.

For example, after sawing, wide planks must be carefully “stickered” and sorted/stacked in the kiln to insure the best drying environment.

kiln stickering for charging

A kiln sticker is basically a long wood or plastic spacer that is inserted between boards to aid in the drying process. The purpose of “kiln stickers” is to separate each board surface to maximize air can flow over each board surface and increase the potential for the evaporation of water. There’s an art to stickering lumber in a kiln. Stickers must be selected and placed so that they give adequate support to the boards so that there is minimized warping of the lumber and decreased breakage.

And you’re not simply trying to create “2x4s and 2x6s”. Since your intent is to make flooring, you really need to pay attention to details. Stickers should also be chosen to minimize the stains that sometimes develop in the lumber where is makes contact with the stickers. Important consideration of stickering isn’t easy. It includes thoughts about the species and grade of wood used for your stickers, the moisture content of your stickers, the sticker size and the placement in stack, especially in areas of your load supports.

You can find a lot of information of stickering (and sticker selection) using a resource like Google.

Once you’ve sawn and kiln-dried your boards, you want to acclimate them in your home for as long as possible to get the adjusted to their new home. Place them in a spot that will get good air flow and stack tall and narrow. The idea is to use as little space as possible and maximize airflow to the center of your lumber stacks.

Once I’m ready to go, I set up a router and then start running my tongues and grooves in the flooring boards to begin my install process.

A pneumatic nailer and barbed nails work best for wood flooring in my experience.

And thanks for taking it easy with the agitator! While the use of an agitator isn’t recommended, I find that it does aid in creating strong pilings. The idea is to coax the air out of the piling without doing damage to it.

There are several manufacturers that make a snap on form footing that attaches to the bottom of a Sonotube casing to create a “bell” or  footed piling. Where applicable, I highly recommend them.  They look like this;

Footing FOrms attached to Sonotube piling tube

FYI: Here’s the original photo they sent me of the pilings that they had in mind to give me an idea of what they were tackling;

Sonotube Piling Example

Builder’s tubes are designed to be used without stripping the casing away. There are tubes that require removal, but builder’s tubes are most commonly used  by the DIY families for decking and fence posts, etc…

Until next time…


The Horrors of Halloween!

31 Oct


Okay, so it’s raining and the wind is blowing enough to remind you to put on extra layers, but…

Tonight our villages and venues get invaded by ghouls, ghosts, goblins and (gasp!) geeks!

Minion Boy - web

We’ve put down the welders, turned off the machinery and we’re eagerly awaiting the tribe of troublemakers that will show up in our yards tonight! Here at Corten Central, we want you to have the best Halloween experience ever! As you venture out with your little ones, please consider the  following tips:

Nothing beats “TRICK-OR-TREATING”!

Keep little ghosts and goblins safe with costumes that have closed toe shoes and some kind of reflectors.
As cool as they may look… leave the masks off for the trick or treating.
Stay on the sidewalks and out of  the streets.
Cross at corners and look both ways.
Only visit homes with their porch lights turned on
Carry a flashlight. Carry a big knife. Carry a taser. Carry a bazooka. Safety first! Your mileage may vary.
Parents, wear comfortable shoes so you can keep your little ones safe by walking with them.

If you’re at home handing out the goodies;

Resist the urge to jump outta the bushes and scare little kids. (It may be funny for a split second… but it ain’t kosher!) LOL!
Make sure there are enough outdoor lights on to let kids navigate your walk and porch safely.
While it’s fun to hide “Trick or Treat tripwires” and snares in the leaves…
Sweep the leaves from the sidewalks and the steps.
Clear the porch or front yard of any obstacles that a child could trip over. It could be your kid. Be responsible.
Restrain any household pets (or better yet bring them in the house and put them in a bedroom).

If you’re headed out to a party, remember this;
Every cop for a hundred miles is on duty tonight. They WILL be looking for YOU.
Be Safe! Be Sane! Be SOBER!
There will be idiots and sobriety checkpoints everywhere. Act accordingly!

Now get out there and get some candy!

Guys, remember to hide the goodies in your ManCave after trick or treating so that your significant other can’t find them and toss them out while she reminds you that you’ve lost your girlish good looks and figure. LOL!

Something old plus something older = Something NEW!

28 Oct

So, a funny thing happened to me on the way into oral surgery…

While dealing with the  pain of a shattered molar, I started  thinking  about a hillside on a mountainous piece of canyon that was giving me fits.

The heavily wooded hillside rolls down into a belly that holds a natural groundwater pond. Beyond the approximately 1 acre pond is a pasture that will hold a beloved Percheron Stallion that’s literally as big as a mountain himself. The property is SO untouched, the discovery of that big beautiful beast so inviting, that it seems only natural to keep it as natural as possible.

From the gate above the property and it’s accompanying  drive down the hill to the homesite, it’s essential to allow the casual spectator to bask in the wonder of all those trees, flora and fauna, without being confronted by a monument to someone’s ego.

And, I have an excavator… LOL!

So, the idea is to cut a pair of ISBU homes into the hillside by cutting into the existing hill and then shoring the cut up with a CMU (concrete block) retaining wall. They’re going to look something like this;

ISBU Hand Qtrs and Guesthouse for back 15

Think of it as “Montana Mountain Minimalist Modern”. LOL!

A 2,400 square foot 3 bedroom, 2 bath home with detached garage will face down the mountain across the stallion pasture.The garage and workshop are detached because of the severity of the  grade and the desire to keep some of the sounds of  machinery and tools away from the residential structure. Don’t worry, it’ll be easily navigated in spite of the difficulties of the site.

A small (approximately 800 square foot) guesthouse will be located on the opposite side of an enclosed courtyard framed by the  retaining wall and the building clusters. A  single ISBU container will form a “bridge”  between the pair of residential structures, allowing movement between the homes in the dead of winter without having  to actually “go out into the snow”. Think of this as a simple “Mother-In-Law” quarters arrangement. And that Corten created “pass-thru” (reinforced, insulated – with SPF of course –  and glazed) will actually serve as a small walk-through greenhouse supplying  fresh produce to both households.

The guesthouse will look out over the pond, which is framed by the trees and mountains behind  it. A stone patio and recessed firepit will allow guests  to bask  in the splendor of the Montana Mountains. One of the luxuries of living in a deep Montana canyon is that you’re  surrounded by breathtaking mountain vistas  on all sides.

We’ll close off the courtyard using reclaimed barn siding from a few old structures already located on the site and the stone for the fireplaces and retaining wall veneers will come from a local quarry.

You literally won’t see the residences until you round the corner as the grade drops. As you enter the property all you’ll see is trees, mountains, deer and elk.

Most of the materials and fixtures used in the construction of this hillside project will actually come from the “reclaimed and repurposed” piles. I can’t begin to tell you how happy that makes me. I love it when a plan comes together.

Once the pain killers wear off, I’ll give you a better idea of what we’re doing. It’s going to be incredible!

Stay tuned!


The Times – They are a definitely a’changin…

19 Oct

Okay, okay…

We’ve been SUPER busy lately and we haven’t posted an article for some time. I hope that this will serve as an update to our faithful readers and building families.

And yes… I know, I know. we’ve “been slacking”… but we have a pretty darn good excuse.

There simply aren’t enough hours in the day lately to get all of our projects and missions accomplished.

I’ve personally been swamped with planning new projects, the development of a brand new “CORTEN TECH” TV SERIES, and even rewriting a construction book that will help pave the road to “CORTEN Country”. It’s incredible and it’s a pretty big undertaking.

During this process and the reorganization of our teams, there have been some massive changes. Most of these changes make us better, stronger, more productive. Sometimes it’s better to take the long, hard look at your processes and then stop what you’re doing and change them. These changes for us have bordered on “radical”. We’re doing things a different way, a more productive way.

Here’s a hint at what we’re up to; We thing that Henry Ford would be very proud of us.

Alas, this change has also included a streamlining process that has removed obstacles to growth. We’ve been forced to take a hard line along the way and there are some projects that we are no longer involved or affiliated with. As in any endeavor, you sometimes find yourself  faced with projects that don’t participate in progress and growth. Those obstacles have been removed. Change is often difficult and there are those who hesitate to embrace it.

While many are thrilled at the new roads and opportunities ahead (if for no other reason than for the sake of disclosure) not everyone is happy about what we’ve accomplished. Our only solace in this is in the recognition that we must serve the greater good here. If you aren’t a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem. Enough said.

On our “teaching side”; To say that many are awaiting the arrival of our new book on ISBU Construction is an understatement. What happened in a nutshell is that the delay we were forced to endure at the hands of the publisher ran so long that essential tech and practices changed while we were eagerly/frustratingly waiting the distribution date.

As a result, after consulting with many building professionals and building families who were waiting for “Nuts and Bolts”… we’re actually reworking and rewriting the book to include information so vital to the construction of these incredible homes that it could not be ignored or excluded.

Sure, we could have saved this new information for the production of a third book, but it just didn’t seem fair to our readers and building families. We voted and the majority rules. From all the input and commentary we know that you wanted  answers and not just a buy-in to an expensive construction book “trilogy”.

If you’re on the distribution list, you already know all this. If you’re not, you need to know that you must exercise your option (located in the sidebar) to reserve a copy of “Nuts and Bolts” ASAP as the pricing is about to reflect all the current changes and costs incurred.

On November 1st, 2015, the price of “Nuts and Bolts” (as well as ALL the other data and tools directly associated with it) will rise. In fact, the price will almost double. There will be NO MORE discounted reservations for the book project.

It’s been a long time coming and we’ve spent considerable amounts of money (and legal time) prying the book (and related materials) back out of the hands of a distributor who dropped the ball. Those who are eagerly awaiting the arrival of this book will not be disappointed.

While all of that is happening we’re planning, plotting and beginning the building processes for a Sustainable Architecture Ranch project (located in rural Montana) that will essentially become a demonstrator for all the technologies we employ when building rural family projects and homesteads. Additionally, this ranch will actually become a teaching facility to help train new architects and crafts/tradesmen in the construction of ISBU related projects.

Corten Creek

Imagine a blissful life wrapped in a “CORTEN Cocoon” with a deck that looks out onto this little creek every single morning… Incredible! We can’t wait!

Ironically, we’re literally so busy that we’re negotiating fractional use of aircraft to stay on top of everything that is happening internationally.

If you’re interested in ISBU Construction, you’re going to want to stay tuned. There’s never been a series of Shipping Container projects like these ones in the history of ISBU construction. Several well-known development firms and major universities are going to participate in this process as part of their architectural extension programs to allow their students and tradesmen to actually experience “hands on” Corten Coolness while they actually use their experiences to develop Sustainable Architecture curriculum.

It’s going to become (quite literally) “Corten Construction Camp“.

We’ll keep you posted.


We seek “ISBU Independence”

4 Jul ISBU Independence

It should be noted that I cannot say anything today that will overshadow the majesty of the fireworks we will observe as our eyes and hearts lift to the sky tonight, as we remember all those brave men and women who stood… and those who fell… to carve out this great nation.

You have all heard the Declaration of Independence, complete with it’s majestic ending… a Declaration worthy of a long life measured in “forevers”.

It was a Declaration carved into stone by iron men wielding wooden sticks, men who used their sweat and blood to build this Republic by selflessly sentencing themselves to death as they drew lines in the sand… in the face of their oppressors.

This Declaration is still hurled towards the bones of long past monarchs, men like King George the III, a monarch long dead, a man like many before him who uttered such words as “better 50 year of English rule than all the cycles of Cathay.”

To those who sought to oppress, to subdue, to control, I say…

This is America. It is OUR land, our beloved nation, a land where once citizens built and Congress followed.

You have all heard the history of this nation from the first to present day… from our beginning… from the Revolutionary War through the days of great struggles and great triumphs.

There are many challenges ahead, both from within and without… but we will faithfully face them  with the determination of our ancestors, our forefathers… as we maintain and re-armor this cradle of Democracy.

ISBU Independence

CampCo’s Steel Farmhouse. A Home built BY Americans… for Americans.

May G_d bless this beloved Republic and… every one of you.

Alex Klein

July 4th, 2015

Fly me to Corten Country!

17 Jun

People have asked me how to approach Planning and Zoning authorities to test the waters when considering building an ISBU (Shipping Container) home.

Remember that to most of these “official” guys and gals, your ISBU home will simply be an “abstract”. Many of them will simply have no idea what you’re talking about. What they’ll visualize is those depictions of graffiti covered “Corten Shanties” so prominently displayed in apocalyptic Sci-Fi slasher films!  You know the ones that I’m referring to, those dilapidated steel shells surrounded by zombies and burning 55 gallon drums filed with trash… LOL!

You need an ice breaker!

Consider doing a series of renders of your proposed ISBU project and include a “fly-by” if you can. With the tools available to us now (even free programs like SketchUp, etc…) it’s pretty simple to do.

Here’s one that someone recently sent to us that was pretty slick;

Additionally, I never use words like “Shipping Container”, or “ISBU” when talking to Planning and Zoning guys. I prefer to use words like “prefabricated steel framing” or “modular steel frames”. Shipping Containers are simply steel building blocks.


Memorial Day – 3pm – Set your clocks

25 May

You! Yeah you!

Put down the burger and beer for a minute. I wanna talk to you.

While you spend the weekend frolicking under that flag with the kids and combating mosquitoes and loud music from the next campsite over…

Memorial Day
I want you to think about a different kind of “combat”.

It’s the one that made your weekend possible in the first place.

Lt Colonel Allen West (US Army) said it best, so I’m just gonna use his words. I could do my usual and butcher my intent and force you to suffer through it, but he nailed it;

“The United States of America possesses the greatest military force the world has ever known. Our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsman volunteer to protect and defend this country and all its citizens, and do so with honor, integrity and excellence. Our nation continually asks them to do more and more, with less and less.

We must never forget why we have, and why we need our military. Our armed forces exist solely to ensure our nation is safe, so that each and every one of us can sleep soundly at night, knowing we have “guardians at the gate.”

Those who serve today deserve our gratitude, those who are returning from the battlefield deserve our open arms, and those who will never return deserve our thoughts, tributes and remembrance.

Memorial Day Tribute4
In 2000, President Bill Clinton passed a resolution asking all Americans to observe a “National Moment of Remembrance” at 3:00 p.m. on each Memorial Day “to remember and reflect on the sacrifices made by so many to provide freedom for all.”

Like many others, I know what I will be doing at 3:00 p.m. this Memorial Day.

I know that I will not be alone.

For as General Logan once proclaimed, “Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.”

So at 3:00pm today, put down the brew and beef and shut the hell up for a moment.

Memorial Day Marker

This day is about those who have always known that there is no sale price for freedom. It is about those who were more than willing to discount their own lives for the ultimate benefit to others.

Those who fell gave you this weekend. Just so you don’t forget it…


Your “Normal” might be NUTS!

16 May CampCo1

It’s been said that “normal” is;

Getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work…

Eating a store-bought breakfast for as long as you can afford to…

Turning off all the lights and cranking the thermostat down to reduce your energy bill…

Driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need…

in order for you to be able to afford to pay for the clothes, food, electricity, car and the big mortgage on the house that you leave empty all day…

And, you do this in order to afford to live in it in the first place.

That’s just crazy. Maybe that’s YOUR normal.

It certainly isn’t MINE. And it’s not the life that my friends, families and crew live either!

  • Water comes from a well.
  • Hot water comes from the sun.
  • Energy comes from the roof.
  • Breakfast comes from chickens and the garden.
  • The big mortgage? Non-existent.

We build our homes using paychecks, barter, ingenuity and sweat equity.

Most of us even work from home so that the commute is to the office on the opposite side of the house.

And we do it in our jammies…

(Don’t wanna see it? Don’t SKYPE us…) LOL!

Not everyone can live this way admittedly. It’s a blessing to be able to do this.

But many of us can adapt some of these “ways” into our lives, regardless of where we call home.

Stick around and we’ll teach you how to do it. You’ll be amazed at the freedom that self-sufficiency, self-reliance and self-accountability yields.

And, sometimes the homes look like this one;


CampCo Steel Farmhouse

At least the cool ones do! This is one of my favorites, coming out of a fab barn staffed by a crazy bunch of Texans…

Stay tuned.


I’d like a “short stack” and Ice Water please!

7 May

First, sorry for the absence of new posts lately. We’re just getting swamped here at Corten Central.

As you can probably imagine, we are busier than bees right now, getting ISBU Home builds tracked out and running smoothly. It’s the time of year when building  projects pile up faster than Corten boxes next to a Container ship being unloaded!

Beyond that, there’s some very interesting news in store for you guys as we explore new opportunities that will allow us to spread the Corten Gospel across the planet!

I want you to stay tuned for that because it’s gonna blow your minds!

And since we’re talking about mind-blowing. what if you dropped a short stack of 20 foot boxes onto a CMU (concrete block) root cellar by a  creek? Just take (4) 20′ High Cube ISBUs and add water…

ISBU Micro-Condo - 1stISBU Micro-CondoNow add photovoltaic panels. solar hot water and a dish (for TV) and you have a remote retreat ready to sooth the aches and pains of city life!

RR Avatar

Texan Rocks the Corten!

5 Apr

Happy Easter, Campers!

Readers know that in the ISBU (Shipping Container) Home realm, we not only build a lot of ISBU Projects…

…we SEE a lot of ISBU Projects.

It should be noted that some of those “other” projects are a disappointment, honestly. We often find ourselves saying; “Why didn’t they do THIS or THAT? I mean, they were RIGHT THERE!”

But every once in a while we see a project that is so good… we just look at each other and smile.

Recently, we came across an ISBU Build in Texas that just begged for a second look;

This ISBU Guesthouse really is one of those ISBU Projects you have to take a hard look at. So, we thought that we’d share it with you.

We’re sharing it not only because it’s very well executed, but because we thought that you’d find this ISBU home quite inspiring. For a ton of small families hoping to build their own shipping container home. this just screams; “BUILD ME! Build me NOW!”

Builder: CampCo Texas
Single Story Family Residence \ Guest House
Approx. 1000sq.ft.
1 BDRM with a full bath that includes a composting toilet.
(The upper area of middle section has a “hammock floor” for lounging.)
Foundation; Pilings (sonotube) CampCo Render

Inspired by Containers of Hope, this Builder family is building an ISBU guesthouse in a similar style, to “learn even more about ISBU building”. You see, in Texas, they don’t just talk about it. they actually pick up their tools and DO it.

The builder is a Custom Homebuilder with 30 years experience. It SHOWS.

Still under construction, this wonderful ISBU project is already turning heads. Architects, Builders and interested families are already flocking to it to take in the Corten Goodness!

CampCo1After experimenting previously with ISBU based outbuildings, the light bulb literally went on and this Builder family decided to build an ISBU Guesthome as “proof of concept”. What they’ve managed to prove is that they not only know what they’re doing…

… they build a High Quality product that anyone would be proud to call home.

CampCo2If you want more information on this incredible ISBU guesthouse, please contact us and we’ll follow up with more details on an incredible ISBU home that will soon become a benchmark for family ISBU builds both nationally and internationally.

Folks, it’s just THAT good.

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