Dirt Cheap

Hi, I ran across an old blog "Building with Liteblok 2008/08/30" when I was researching compressed earth blocks (CEBs). I couldn't see how to add to the older blog, so I started this one. I am presently designing a manual CEB press for use in Nicaragua, and trying to incorporate some of the improvements since1976 and some of my own additions. It appears that the addition of cement or lime to CEBs is not to increase strength, but weathering capability. The strength relates to soil characteristics and compression. The use of stucco on the exterior, instead of exposed blocks makes plain earth an excellent building material. Incorporation of fiber reinforced surface bonding and properly secured rebar will provide a durable, economical, and earth friendly structure. If anybody knows of a good fabricator in the Esteli area please let me know. RWC

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I wish you all the best for your efforts and hope you will not think that I am trying to discourage you; but I would like to point out that there are several different models of Cinva rams now in operation throughout Nicaragua, and many of them are recent designs that have already developed track records of success. So, I wonder why you are trying to design a new hand-operated CEB press for use here.

What field research have you done on the models that are already operating in the field here today? What's wrong with them? What improvements do you plan to make to the current models?

I hope you will take my questions as being friendly rather than critical.

Hi Mike, Thanks for your

Hi Mike, Thanks for your reply, and I do take your comments as being friendly. I have not seen any of the rams that are in use here; I would like to. I have only heard of two in Nicaragua. From what I have "heard" they are pretty close to the original 1954 design. I would certainly prefer the 1976 improvement with the cylindrical guides providing holes in the blocks. These holes facilitate handling, rebar placing, and electric routing. Also, having worked with a great number of tools, farm equipment and prototypes, I feel that the design is somewhat dangerous. I also think that the process could be faster and provide better compaction. Some of the things that I am working on are depicted in videos on You Tube: the hinged lid rather than the swing lid, the fill box as opposed to hand filling. I would like to be able to load the fill box with a wheel barrow instead of of a shovel. Instead of a long bar with the operator bouncing on the bar for compaction and ejection, I am considering two of the things that I find readily available here, bicycles and barrels. Still haven't worked this part out, but envision the operator mounted bicycle style in front of a dolly holding a water filled barrel. propulsion toward the mold box would release the lid latch, open the lid and eject the block. The operator or fill supplier could then place the block on an adjacent cart. Propulsion away from the mold box would close and latch the lid and supply the compressive force. I,m still in the thinking stage, trying to make most of my mistakes on paper. I am also making a model mold box lid and latch mechanism out of a type of pressed board that I was able to buy in Somoto. I would also prefer not to use cement or lime as a stabilizer, and may experiment with sodium silicate (if I can find any). If you have any suggestions or critiques, I would welcome them. Thanks, RWC


as filler?

I don't know what your

I don't know what your question "As filler" means, Che. Please explain.

Again, obvious....Filler as in; what goes into the blocks?

In this area, SJdS it would be "Cascajo" which literally means any loose rock, gravel, rubble or fill but is used to describe the decomposed granite that is common here.

Austin Drill (NL member) uses a special mix for his adobe walls which would likely also be good for blocks.

Covered by guano

Since this subject seems to be covered by Guano, I will try to explain the obvious. Adobe is a different technique from Compressed Earth Blocks. Rocks in the compressed block vary the consistancy of the block. Rocks in the machine break the machine. In general: sand, clay, and possibly some type of "FILLER" or stabilizer are used for CEBs. "FILLER" could also be infill blocking in post and beam construction; much of the construction here seems to be laid up blocks, bricks, adobe, piedra, "AS FILLER" with formed concrete posts and bond beams formed after the filler is laid up. As to how the missionaries that were building with CEBs in Costa Rica, or how the missionary that robbed me in Honduras feels about me, I don't give a guano! RWC


Too weird.


Thanks Juanno. I have been

Thanks Juanno. I have been in touch with David Guillette, and he sent me a copy of the plans for the press shown in the picture. I am hoping to improve a little on that. RWC

Earth Brick Building Video

Hi Sball, I have seen this

Hi Sball, I have seen this video before, and didn't like it then either. While they are waiting for $8000.00 to be donated for the next house, what is the $8000.00 machine doing? I am probably prejudiced, having been robbed of three months wages by Rev. Wayne Ely, a failed missionary, in Sula Santa Barbara, Honduras. There are a number of issues in the video. 3000 pounds pressure: I believe that is the hydraulic pressure of the machine, not the pressure per square inch of the compaction from the machine, or of the stress that the block can withstand. I am also highly suspect of any claim of a building being earthquake proof (especially when the only reinforcement appears to be in the corners). All of the electric is surface mounted. Finally, all of the pictures of finished construction exhibit severe rising damp, which is devastating to earth block construction. Sorry to be so critical, but I see that project as spending a lot of money to build substandard and possibly dangerous housing. RWC

What would they say about you?

Just sayin...

Hi Juanno, I don't know

Hi Juanno, I don't know they are. Please explain.

I thought it was obvious...

They are the people your are being critical of in one of your posts...ergo, would they also be critical of you?


Instead of engaging in a discussion about who is being critical of whom, my personal opinion is that it would be more productive if Dick were to outline the shortcomings of Cinva rams currently in operation here, and discuss design changes that would improve their functonality.

Thanks Mike, There is a

Thanks Mike, There is a very good video of the original Cinva ram at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0UzTp3Mpok

Some of the things that I hope to improve are: 1. Lid swivels to side and in closing sweeps off excess earth. Manual twisting of this lid is eventually going to mangle someones finger, and there is some fussyness required to make sure that is properly aligned when open (so ejection doesn't break off a corner of the block), and also when closed (so the cam mechanism is properly aligned). A hinged top (with fill box) that opens like an army ammo box or a sliding top appears less dangerous and faster in operation. 2. The slowest part of the operation seems to be filling the mold box and making sure that it is evenly placed. A sliding fill box will accomplish this stage in a quarter of the time and hands will be out of the danger zone. 3. Compaction of the earth is accomplished by engaging the cam lobe and the operator bouncing down on a five foot metal bar. Automatic mechanical engagement of the cam should be possible. I would like to find another way to provide the compression, and also more of it. 4. Again, manual disengagement of the cam,engagement of the ejector, swiveling of the lid, ejecting of the block,and then go back to the shovel. I would like to keep the machine manual and relatively light weight (fit in pickup bed). As I mentioned before, considering bicycle for movement and barrel for compaction weight (water filled barrel and operator 500 pounds). Comments, critiques, sources of supplies, and fabricators in the Somoto, Esteli area are welcomed. Thanks for your interest, RWC

Does anyone know Dick?

I sometimes wonder...

I'm not pushing their charity

You said you're designing a machine and it should help you to see other designs.

Sorry sball I did not mean

Sorry sball I did not mean to accuse you of pushing their charity. I am trying to research as many designs as I can find. The way that I worded my post was wrong in bringing in old hurts. I did however, mean to comment on what could be looked at as inappropriate technology. The video gives very little description of the machine, and that description is misleading 3000 pounds pressure; where? The cost of the machine here is similar to the cost of a house here. Would anyone in the U.S. pay $200,000.00 for a machine to build bricks for one or two houses per year. I'm trying to build a machine for northern Nicaragua, where a laborer makes $5.00 a day. When maintenance, fuel, unskilled operators and mechanics are considered, this machine could never pay for itself in northern Nicaragua. Very possibly, the CETA ram (1976 refinement of the CINVA ram) may be a good option for this area. This ram can turn out around 400 bricks a day and provide labor for two or three people. Ten days usage would supply enough bricks for an appropriately sized house. It is small enough that it can be moved from job to job, simple, and sturdy enough to easily pay for itself. I'm just hoping to make it a little more user friendly; so those laborers aren't getting hurt. And also, provide stronger more durable bricks so the labor and cost of building is not wasted. Sincerely, RWC

When you said you were designing one

It helps to know your requirements up front, whether it's producing blocks on a large scale or producing the machines for others.

Probably blocks on a small

Probably blocks on a small scale. Produce the blocks for a house, build the house, move machine to the next place and do again.