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Grain Bin Building Tools, Techniques, and Cautions: An Illustrated Guide

Joy worked in construction for 7 years alongside her husband (25+ yrs. experience)—working on pole barns, grain bins, and barn repairs.

Grain Bins in Morning Mist

My husband and I erected all of the bins in this row. I look forward to the serenity of an early-morning job site, and count grain bins among our happiest projects.

My husband and I erected all of the bins in this row. I look forward to the serenity of an early-morning job site, and count grain bins among our happiest projects.

Requirements

Erecting a grain bin is typically not a job for construction weekend warriors. It requires specialized tools and a great deal of common sense. Mistakes are expensive and possibly fatal.

A knowledge of tools and applied physics is a requirement, especially if you are not working alongside an experienced person. Do not put your wellbeing, or the lives or limbs of others, at risk through ignorance.

To do this job safely and efficiently, you will need equipment which is typically only available to grain bin contractors. You will either need to rent this equipment, or make your own.

Above all, you need to have abundant common sense. Many serious errors have been made by those who lacked sufficient sense to understand the building process.

Never allow anyone onto the jobsite who has a reputation for not paying attention. Doing so may result in serious injury.

Make sure that all equipment is properly serviced and in good working order prior to beginning.

A Big Project

This bin is 18 feet tall (walls only), and 18 feet in diameter. It holds over 4,000 bushels of wheat, or more than 100 tons.

This bin is 18 feet tall (walls only), and 18 feet in diameter. It holds over 4,000 bushels of wheat, or more than 100 tons.

Time Estimates

A bin 18 feet tall (6 rings), and 18 feet in diameter, takes an experienced crew of 2 men about 2 hours to erect with a boom truck, or 5 hours with jacks. This does not include site preparation, pit construction or hopper construction and installation, anchoring and sealing the bin, or adding components such as sweep augers or drying floors.

A medium-large bin may take 2 to 3 days, especially if other regular jobs must be maintained meanwhile.

Early morning is often the best time to build bins in warm weather, and is usually one of the safest as far as wind patterns are concerned. My husband and I have often started before sunup, and worked until mid-morning or perhaps 11 am.

Tools List

  • A bin and all components from a reputable dealer
  • Site preparation equipment and abilities, including concrete working skills
  • 6 sack concrete mix or better, with appropriate reinforcements
  • Proper grain bin jacks--must rent or buy these from a reputable grain bin tools source, or manufacture a set yourself if you're exceptionally handy with a welder
  • Alternate way to lift the bin, if desired--crane, boom truck, or large forklift (forklift for small bins only!)
  • Lifting ring, large truck rim, or bin halo--if using a crane
  • Lighting for working at night
  • Drift punches, medium length (10 inches at least)--1 minimum for each crew member
  • 9/16-inch box-end wrenches (2 at least), with long handles
  • High quality impact wrench, as you will give it a work-out
  • Hearing protection--preferably ear-muff or electronic type
  • Drill and appropriate metal bits, for correcting potential manufacturing errors on bolt holes
  • Scrap lumber for placing under parts to be drilled
  • Permanent marker, black wide tip
  • Work gloves which allow for dexterity (optional)
  • Comfortable work boots with decent tread, hard toes optional
  • Work clothes which will not snag or allow you to get hurt easily
  • Vice grips, high quality
  • Slipjoint pliers (optional, but can be handy)
  • Tape measure, standard
  • Tape measure--100' on a reel, for site preparation (optional but will increase accuracy)
  • Ladders, 6 foot and 8 foot tall minimum, depending on the size of the bin--for building the roof
  • Scaffolding--an alternative to ladders
  • Tool pouch/apron, or coffee cans/small buckets for hardware (a small pouch is annoying as it must be refilled often, and is hard to reach into)
  • Mastic (a sealant for between sheets).

    Mastic can be found using the search words: Single Bead Tape Roof Sealant Metal Sales

  • Silicone for hopper seams
  • Spray type sealant and/or tar pad.

    Keywords for looking up tar pad are: AST HI-acrylic Ash, ASH 50-25-04 Exterior Sealant Tape

  • Ropes or straps, for guiding the bin during placement
  • A way to block wind from swaying or sliding the bin during work (we often use a semi truck and trailer)
  • T-posts for driving in around the partially built bin during off-hours, or a suitable way to weigh the bin down at the peak (i.e. the boom of a boomtruck or crane)
  • Forklift, ATV, or another way to move the sheets and other materials on and off the jobsite
  • Storage building for bin components, if they must sit between building sessions

Notes on Site Preparation

A concrete pad which must hold the weight of a filled grain bin, home, or business is not the place to experiment with learning concrete skills. Hire a professional, or at least someone experienced, to see that the pad is poured and finished correctly.

If you have sufficient experience with concrete and understand what is at stake, by all means, make this part of your project.

If you are mounting the bin on a hopper, proper reinforcements must be made beneath the place where each leg will rest, or your pad will fail--cracking, buckling, and perhaps allowing your bin to topple or be seriously damaged. Ground water and run-off patterns must also be understood and considered.

Correct preparation of the site must be done prior to pouring concrete. This includes levelling the ground, removing dirt which will make a poor bed, and bringing in a sand mix. If you have neither the earth moving equipment nor the expertise to handle this, hire it done.

Above all, keep in mind that wheat (for example) weighs at least 50 pounds per bushel. A 4,000 bushel bin, such as those pictured below, will hold over 200,000 pounds, or 100 tons. This does not include the weight of the bin or hopper. You can see how this puts extreme pressure on the concrete slab.

Lighting for Nightime Work

Very hot weather, wind patterns, or nosy neighbors may make it desirable to work at night. If this is the case for you, good lighting is a requirement. Flood lights or similar are recommended. Lights designed to draw fewer insects are also helpful.

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Keeping Sheets Dry

It is necessary to keep sheets and all components indoors to avoid rust. During off-hours and any breaks of more than a few hours during construction, sheets must be kept inside. If possible, keep them near the jobsite so that minimum time and effort are spent during set-up and cleanup each day.

Transportation of Sheets Onto Site

What you need to move sheets will depend on the distance to be moved, and the size of your worksite.

A skid loader, forklift, or tractor with front forks is ideal for lifting whole bunks of sheets, and transporting them to a convenient spot on your building site. You can then lift individual sheets and place them where wanted.

After you have a stack of sheets handy, you can probably use drift punches inserted through bolt holes as handles to drag each sheet into position. If the sheets are enormously heavy and this is impractical, use an ATV to drag them.

Jacks

One requirement is a way to lift the bin during construction. In a following article is a discussion of different kinds of grain bin jacks, but for now please understand that you will need either a boom truck, crane, large forklift (small bins only!), or jacks designed for building grain bins. These jacks come in different styles, and may be hydraulic or mechanical. Depending on the size of the bin, you will need a minimum of 4 to 6 jacks. They are designed to make the process as foolproof and safe as possible. Other types of jacks, such as hydraulic floor jacks, must not be substituted, as their potential for failure is high.

Jacks make the building process slower than other lifting methods, but are safer in most conditions.

Boom Trucks, Cranes, and Forklifts

If you are not using grain bin jacks, you will need to lift your bin in some other way. Cranes and boom trucks are good, safe options for most bins. You can probably hire one of these with an operator through a local contractor. (Most owners are not going to allow you to try to run their crane or boom truck--the operator is part of the package deal.)