Looking Out the “Door to the World”…

13 Jan

Greetings, campers!

I dropped off the face of the earth for a few days. I didn’t do it voluntarily.

Look, “Today” isn’t exactly the “Tomorrow” that I had hoped for, but…

It happened because we just couldn’t stretch far enough to keep the “cable company”  happy, and they turned off our internet connection.

They don’t care that we’re having a hard time. They don’t care that diapers and my wife’s prescription drugs for her cancer are more important than checking email and writing blog posts.

I know that it doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re struggling from month to month with cancer living in your house, everything gets put under the microscope, and last month… it was “medicine or bandwidth”.

As we rebuild, and as we teach other families to rebuild, we could use your help. I’ll continue this blog as long as “our wallet” allows  us to.

But frankly, when it comes time to choose between my family’s “We can’t live without’s” and the blog, the family will win, every time.

If you like the blog, if it’s helping you to rebuild, if it’s fueling your ideas and it’s making things easier for you, then I’m asking you to help us continue doing it. We set up a Paypal account for that purpose, and it’s easy and secure.  The button is up there on the right side of the monitor screen. Paypal spends millions of dollars to secure your transactions and keep your personal information safe.

And… we’ll never see your info,  just your donation to the blog.

We all have these struggles as the economy commits sepuku, and jobs disappear. So, like I said… we’re behind right now, and over the next few weeks, I’ll do what I can to try and get caught up.

While I was “away”, I received several emails from families who are trying to figure out HOW to cut a container up, like we’re doing in the “Dawg Trots of Dixie” experiment/project.

Now… I’m not talking about making boxes “shorter”, I’m talking about making holes in them to put doors and windows.

So, I’ll interrupt the series on “Finding a Federal Grant”, so we can spend the day talking about actual fabrication. No, not the “creative writing” kind… The “get the plasma cutter, Martha, we’s gonna do some whittling” kind…

If this sounds familiar, it’s because I ran a similar post last year. Bear with me, huh? Some things are worth repeating…

All you really need to turn a container into a house-frame, is a plasma cutter or torch, a welder, and a grinder.

I know what you’re thinking…

“Wait a minute. If that’s true, how come they make circular saw blades for metal?”

Well… pilgrim… you can use a circular saw with a metal blade on it, but you’re gonna be there all day, and you’re going to go deaf.

A good plasma cutter will cut through container panels like butter.

Now, a torch will do exactly the same thing, it’ll just take a little bit longer.

I bet you’re thinking these tools are going to be massive and unwieldy, huh? After all, you’re trying to “frankenstein” heavy gauge steel…

Well, you’re wrong. They’re so small, you can carry them around the shop, all by your “onesies.” Now, I wouldn’t make a habit of it, but… here’s what they look like:

And since my personal exposure to injury is directly related to my durational exposure to power tools, less is more… Trust me on this. If you don’t believe me, ask my wife… LOL!

Watch your fingers!

Doors and windows are easy to create…

… and the framing is done pretty much like on a “traditional” house. You just simply cut away the steel skin you don’t need, to get your openings. Depending on the size of your openings, you may add a structural support or two, but all in all, it’s not really difficult to get the “room of your dreams.” You’re welding steel to steel, so you don’t even need a special welder.

A small Lincoln welder will do just about everything you need to do.

Looks like THIS!

(I love name dropping, don’t you? After all, merchandizing is the name of the game!) LOL!

Once you have your opening, you just frame in your door or window using steel tubing, or even steel sheet. I frequently build window boxes out of 1/4th inch steel sheet, and then “screw” the windows into that treated opening.

For doors, I actually build a rough opening using square steel tubing, because I like the rigidity it creates. Once I have my door framed in, I just install it like a normal door… right to that new “frame.” SOLID.

Ever try to smash down a metal box? I bet that even the HULK has trouble with ’em!

Okay, so I threw that one in for Joshua… Sue me. 😉

Since I know what doors I’m using in advance, I can pre-build the door frames and then just tack them in when I’m ready to install my doors.

In fact, aside from the “extra” metal-working skills you’ll need… if you really look at it, you’re not doing anything out of the ordinary.

You can use use the same kind of stuff as the house next door, on your “Steel-built” house. In our house, for example, we’re using the same stuff you see at Home Depot or Lowes (how’s that for a blatant plug?),  just  “regular” doors, windows, sliding glass and French doors.

The containers you use have integral locking points built into them, allowing them to be locked together, for all those sea-going trips to wherever they go. A twist lock is inserted into that lock opening, and it allows other containers to be attached to it, in a big Lego-like honeycomb of steel.

This is a “fancy” twist-lock,  but they look something like this.

Those locks are stronger than anything you can imagine. They have to be, because these containers get loaded up to the brim with everything you can think of. A failure at sea would be a disaster. So, the guys and gals who build these boxes make them “Craftsman tough…” And we use those same connectors to allow these boxes to become houses. We can even use these same connectors to attach the boxes to the foundation of the house. Talk about tough!

Once you lock these puppies in place, they ain’t moving for anything.

Shipping Containers are designed and built to have forklifts race around inside them. The plywood flooring is massive. So, you’d think that you could  just put “flooring” over it. Tile, carpet, you name it…


In our case (and in EVERY case that I PERSONALLY get involved with), we’re gonna remove the plywood (you can never tell how much formaldehyde  and toxins were used in the creation of that plywood) and shoot a floor out a new floor of  lightweight concrete. That way, we can install a radiant floor system, to heat and cool the house. And, aside from making your house even stronger… it’s easy.

That plywood gets recycled, too.

Right into a dumpster headed for a safe hazardous landfill. In most cases, shipping containers are floored with teak or bamboo. Although that’s a very valuable commodity, it’s one to be reluctantly discarded.

It can’t be re-used. It’s TOXIC.

So, you have a customized steel shell, locked together like a two pit bulls fighting over a t-bone steak, ready for whatever weather comes toward it.

And, because you got the shell for a song (they average about $1200 bucks for a used 40′ container), the cost per square foot is way below the normal construction price of a new house. Even with the labor, the primer, the insulation, and the configuration, you’re still under $15 a foot. Way under…

Once you get to this stage, all you need is some creativity, and about four or five friends who can use hand tools. You’d be amazed how fast you can wire and plumb a container, before the sheet rock goes on (if you must) and the paint starts to dry.

At least, that’s the story I’m telling my wife…

Stay tuned… because next time, I want you to meet someone…

8 Responses to “Looking Out the “Door to the World”…”

  1. Madrigorne January 13, 2010 at 11:05 am #

    do you have a home phone line?
    does your computer have a telephone modem?
    if so – I think we can hook you up with free internet service… painfully SLOW but at least you would have some link to the online world. We miss you up here.


    • renaissanceronin January 13, 2010 at 11:43 am #

      Hi Madrigorne,

      Alas, we have no land line. Just a “minutes” based cell phone that we use for emergencies.

      The landlord is responsible for repairs to the phone lines “actually in” the apartment, and she can’t repair them without literally tearing the building up.

      I’d thought about that many times, as things got “bumpy.” But, thanks for asking. It’s frustrating “as all get out”…

      What does that mean? 🙂

      I hear that cliche all the time, and I say it too, but I’ll be darned if I know what it really means … 😉


      • Madrigorne January 22, 2010 at 6:54 am #

        I looked it up and it sort of means “in its entirety”.
        Crazy idioms.

  2. Dave January 14, 2010 at 12:07 am #

    Man, what an awesome post Ronin… you just answered about 3 questions, all in one fell swoop.

  3. Curt Cs January 20, 2010 at 11:43 pm #

    Any information on where to buy the shipping container “Lox” pictured in this article?

    • renaissanceronin January 21, 2010 at 7:03 pm #

      Hi Curt,

      I got it as a “sample.” I’ll see what I can do to find out who’s distributing them, and then I’ll pass it on.


  4. Jack January 22, 2010 at 1:58 am #

    Like the info on the plasma cutter and welder; Got Sawyer’s book and it gives some additional detail. Not exactly sure about connecting the containers with a roll of roof flashing, and roofing cement. I guess you would need to try it to know for sure.

    I however would dread the cost of overhead welding. Mig welding is pretty easy flat, but I think the code inspector and engineer might require stick, certified for any structural work. This would not require any overhead work.

    Don’t know what the going rate for a structural welder would be, but I would guess for the given number of welds per container, it would take only an hour or so per container.

    Particularly like using the containers as a roof application with a masonry (reinforced block) house. I would probably look to anchor/welding into pilasters, and give the house an 8-12″overhang.

    Comments are appreciated.

    • renaissanceronin January 22, 2010 at 10:14 am #

      Hi Jack,

      Thanks for the commentary!

      First, spend the time and money, and weld the containers together. It adds strength, and helps with shear and lateral force diffusion.

      I’ve even seen people just drop SIPs over them, but it makes me nervous to think that construction elements are just “floating around.” Roof flashing and cement aren’t my solution.

      Connecting the containers together by adding that “steel rib” takes less than two hours. It’s time and money “well spent”.


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