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How to Disassemble a Grain Bin: Picture Tutorial

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

This article provides an explanation and picture tutorial for disassembling grain bins.

This article provides an explanation and picture tutorial for disassembling grain bins.

I have received many e-mail requests from people all over the U.S. asking how to dismantle a used grain bin in order to move it to a new site. Here is the step-by-step tutorial I've promised you all.

A Note on Weather

Weather can easily make or break your grain-bin moving day. The slightest breeze can turn a bin hung from a crane into a wrecking ball or a mashed-up piece of trash. A slight shift in a bin, hung six inches from the ground, can cut off a foot or crush steel-toed boots right into your toes. Therefore, we recommend that you use extreme caution when deciding whether this is the day to get your bin moved.

If you should start disassembly, and the breeze comes up, the safest thing to do is set the bin firmly on the ground, put the crane or boom truck arm on top of it, and drive 4' metal fence posts into the ground at intervals close around it. How many you'll need and how deep to drive them depends on the size of the bin and on how soft your ground is (or isn't). Hopefully, this will keep your bin from blowing away (and maybe taking your boom truck with it) until you can return when the weather is nicer.

Besides all this, you should consider humidity. A grain bin is shaped like a water bottle and acts much like one, with condensation forming easily and water vapor finding it hard to exit. Even fairly dry weather outside can mean a sweltering atmosphere inside a bin. If you are doing your bin-moving project in the summer, we recommend working in the early morning(s) as much as possible before the sun hits the bin full force.

The bin in this article is a 5-ring, 6,000 bushel Butler brand from the 1950s.

The bin in this article is a 5-ring, 6,000 bushel Butler brand from the 1950s.

The Tools You Will Need for Grain Bin Disassembly

  • An impact wrench with the correct size socket (most grain bin bolts are 1/2" or 9/16")
  • Box-end wrenches (2) the correct size
  • Vice Grips
  • Boom truck, or crane
  • Lifting ring (see Step 3, below, for images and details)
  • A trailer suitable to the weight and dimensions of your bin, or its parts

You May Also Need:

  • Wonder bar (flat crowbar)
  • Hammer
  • Wrecking bar
  • 10 lb sledgehammer
  • Torch
  • Grinder
  • Sawzall/reciprocating saw
  • Screw gun with the appropriate sized bit(s)

About Lifting Rings

There is such a thing as a "professional" lifting ring. But they seem to be scarce, so unless you care to weld your own, you're probably out of luck.

Most often, we use an old semi-tractor wheel with the tire still attached. On the semi-wheel, we used a round plate that is placed under the wheel that is of a size so that it cannot fit through the center hole of the wheel. On that, we have welded a large-diameter rod in a semi-circle, to which we attach the boom truck hook.

You can also make a lifting ring out of a large-diameter spoked iron wheel. Just wrap a length of log chain around it where it will stay level on its own and be easy to hook up.

Step One: The Foundation and Accessories

Foundations vary in quality and the details of what may need dealt with to separate them from the bin. On some, it is necessary to go around the outside and "cut" sealing tar with a crow (wonder) bar and a hammer, while lifting the bin.

Foundations vary in quality and the details of what may need dealt with to separate them from the bin. On some, it is necessary to go around the outside and "cut" sealing tar with a crow (wonder) bar and a hammer, while lifting the bin.

This one appears to be loose, but isn't on the inside. We will therefore finish dealing with it last. If you could easily get the bin loose, you would start the dismantling process with this bottom ring.

This one appears to be loose, but isn't on the inside. We will therefore finish dealing with it last. If you could easily get the bin loose, you would start the dismantling process with this bottom ring.

Since we couldn't, we climbed to the roof and removed the lid. (Not the collar!) There are a variety of attachment methods for lids.

Since we couldn't, we climbed to the roof and removed the lid. (Not the collar!) There are a variety of attachment methods for lids.

Toss the lid to the ground. You won't want to try to climb down with it.

Toss the lid to the ground. You won't want to try to climb down with it.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Dengarden

Separating Ring From Foundation

If the bottom ring is heavily cemented or is rusted severely, cut it off with a torch, grinder, or plasma cutter in an appropriate place to bolt on a new base angle.

Step Two: The Door

Next, start on the door and doorframe. Expect the bolts to fit tightly.

Next, start on the door and doorframe. Expect the bolts to fit tightly.

On many older bins, there are a variety of fasteners. Sometimes, they are rusted past loosening. You may need a torch for situations like this.

On many older bins, there are a variety of fasteners. Sometimes, they are rusted past loosening. You may need a torch for situations like this.

Sometimes, vice grips placed snugly on the inside of the bolts will hold them enough to allow the impact wrench to loosen them.

Sometimes, vice grips placed snugly on the inside of the bolts will hold them enough to allow the impact wrench to loosen them.

Using a box-end wrench outside and vice grips or another wrench inside is another possibility.

Using a box-end wrench outside and vice grips or another wrench inside is another possibility.

If you have someone on the inside, attempting to hold the vice grips, be careful! Hand and wrist injuries are very probable, should the vice grips slip, or get twisted out of the user's hands.

If you have someone on the inside, attempting to hold the vice grips, be careful! Hand and wrist injuries are very probable, should the vice grips slip, or get twisted out of the user's hands.

For not-so-tight bolts, a regular wrench will do.

For not-so-tight bolts, a regular wrench will do.

Leave one bolt at the top until last, so you can control until the last second how stable the doorframe is.

Leave one bolt at the top until last, so you can control until the last second how stable the doorframe is.

After romoving these bolts, the doorframe should be ready to come out. It may fall on its own...

After romoving these bolts, the doorframe should be ready to come out. It may fall on its own...

...or it may need help coming out. Lay it out of the way, outside.

...or it may need help coming out. Lay it out of the way, outside.

Step Three: Position Lifting Ring

Position lifting hook in exact center of bin roof opening.

Position lifting hook in exact center of bin roof opening.

Lower hook nearly to floor of bin.

Lower hook nearly to floor of bin.

Attach lifting ring. There is such a thing as a specially-made lifting ring, but the one we commonly use is a large truck tire with a securely fastened log chain around it.

Attach lifting ring. There is such a thing as a specially-made lifting ring, but the one we commonly use is a large truck tire with a securely fastened log chain around it.

Attach the chain or lifting apparatus to the crane hook, and lift toward roof.

Attach the chain or lifting apparatus to the crane hook, and lift toward roof.

This part is best done with two people, as it is important...

This part is best done with two people, as it is important...

...to center it exactly.

...to center it exactly.

Step Four: First Sheets Off

Since we cannot easily loosen the bottom ring from the foundation, we start with Ring 2. Unbolt the first two sheets to the right of the door (reference point inside the bin).

Since we cannot easily loosen the bottom ring from the foundation, we start with Ring 2. Unbolt the first two sheets to the right of the door (reference point inside the bin).

Finish unbolting Ring 2 all the way around. You will need one person inside with an impact wrench, and other person outside with a box end wrench (or two, depending on how fast you move).

Finish unbolting Ring 2 all the way around. You will need one person inside with an impact wrench, and other person outside with a box end wrench (or two, depending on how fast you move).

Next, spray paint a #2 on all the sheets on this ring (sweep dust off, as necessary). This will become important during re-assembly. If you screw up and put a sheet that goes on Ring 3 on the bottom ring, your bin will most likely collapse.

Next, spray paint a #2 on all the sheets on this ring (sweep dust off, as necessary). This will become important during re-assembly. If you screw up and put a sheet that goes on Ring 3 on the bottom ring, your bin will most likely collapse.

Break the rings away from each other, so the bin moves freely and doesn't bind on the bottom ring.

Break the rings away from each other, so the bin moves freely and doesn't bind on the bottom ring.

The tool shown is available at many hardware stores, but a large crow bar will work as well.

The tool shown is available at many hardware stores, but a large crow bar will work as well.

The tool is about five feet long, and is made of steel. The ends are shaped for prying and wedging.

The tool is about five feet long, and is made of steel. The ends are shaped for prying and wedging.

Stack all the sheets from Ring 2, either out of the way or in your trailer. You may wish to adjust the height of the bin before proceeding, depending on whether it is swinging too freely in the breeze.

Stack all the sheets from Ring 2, either out of the way or in your trailer. You may wish to adjust the height of the bin before proceeding, depending on whether it is swinging too freely in the breeze.

Step Five: Removing Most of the Sheets

Proceed as with Ring 2, beginning counter clockwise...

Proceed as with Ring 2, beginning counter clockwise...

...with someone with impact wrench inside...

...with someone with impact wrench inside...

...and box-end wrench(es) outside.

...and box-end wrench(es) outside.

Take off brackets and stubborn bolts any way you can (don't destroy brackets, though). Try the simplest, less destructive way first (unscrew them).

Take off brackets and stubborn bolts any way you can (don't destroy brackets, though). Try the simplest, less destructive way first (unscrew them).

That failing, reciprocating saws...

That failing, reciprocating saws...

grinders, or torches are all good options.

grinders, or torches are all good options.

Proceed removing sheets according to how they are lapped, prying or kicking them loose once unbolted, and stack.

Proceed removing sheets according to how they are lapped, prying or kicking them loose once unbolted, and stack.

For Ring 4 (2nd to last ring), start on sheet above door: (inside vantage point) do left seam, then right, then top. Proceed counter clockwise (from inside), then next sheet clockwise, then next two counter clockwise (according to seam laps).

For Ring 4 (2nd to last ring), start on sheet above door: (inside vantage point) do left seam, then right, then top. Proceed counter clockwise (from inside), then next sheet clockwise, then next two counter clockwise (according to seam laps).

It takes two experienced people only about 20 minutes to disassemble a ring on an 18' diameter grain bin. If you use your head about stacking sheets, you can use a tractor or forklift to load them onto a trailer, in the order needed to re-assemble.

About hardware: Do not try to re-use the hardware! The water-resistant washers on the bolts may not be good anymore. Bolts and nuts are cheap compared to a bin full of wheat or other grain—or a leaky cottage—if you plan to use the bin for a residence. Trash the used nuts too, as they are frequently rusty and a bit rounded.

Step Six: Reposition Roof

Finish removing any sheets attached to the top ring.

Finish removing any sheets attached to the top ring.

Lift it well clear of the rest of the bin...

Lift it well clear of the rest of the bin...

...and set it down in an appropriate place for disassembly.

...and set it down in an appropriate place for disassembly.

Now you are ready to begin removing the roof sheets.

Now you are ready to begin removing the roof sheets.

Roof Disassembly Cautions: Outline of Process

Disassembly of grain bin roofs can be tricky. Some common-sense precautions must be observed. Let's start with scaffolding.

Scaffolding is recommended if the diameter of your bin is more than 18 feet (6 meters). You will want to figure out the height to set your scaffolding before you get it in place. It is a good idea to put in the scaffolding as soon in the disassembly process as possible, as it will normally fit through the bin's door, but not through the roof manhole.

Next, even if you don't need scaffolding to work safely, place a ladder inside the bin before starting disassembly for a potential escape route through the roof manhole, should you need to stop bin disassembly unexpectedly (weather comes up, etc.)

Lastly, once you start removing pieces of a grain bin roof, it becomes extremely unstable. The roof as a whole is relatively strong—but as soon as you take it to bits, it's nothing but some pieces of easily crumpled, easily bent metal. For this reason, it is important to work in a specific pattern while removing roof sheets.

You will remove the sheets in opposite pairs, to maintain the integrity and balance of the roof as long as possible. When you get down to just a few sheets, it is extremely helpful to have a third, strong person, even if you have managed the rest of the bin with just two workers.

First, assess the hardware and accessories. If there are support irons bolted and/or hanging from the bottom of the roof sheets—i.e., under the roof ladder - remove the hardware and support irons in a manner that won't give you injuries.

Next, leaving the top (collar) and bottom bolts intact, remove the rest of the bolts and nuts from the roof. From the top side, using an electric impact wrench, you should be able to reach about three roof sheets at a time.

After all bolts except for the top and bottom have been removed, the person on the ground removes the bottom bolts from a sheet (do ladder sheet first). Then, the person on the ladder removes the top bolt and assists in sliding the roof sheet down. Do this in a pattern of 12:00, then 6:00, then 3:00, then 9:00, until there are only 4 or so sheets left. You must remove the sheets in opposites so the roof doesn't collapse. Use extreme caution on the last four or five, using a stepladder or scaffolding as a platform. You will need a moderate amount of strength and leverage to handle these last sheets safely.

Step Seven: Disassembly of Roof Sheets

My kids, who have been on grain bin building sites nearly all their lives, can't resist a lowered roof.

My kids, who have been on grain bin building sites nearly all their lives, can't resist a lowered roof.

Carefully assess any damage to roof sheets, and determine whether you should fix the sheet(s), or replace them.

Carefully assess any damage to roof sheets, and determine whether you should fix the sheet(s), or replace them.

You will need one person inside with vice grips, and another outside with an impact wrench (this picture was taken about halfway through the roof disassembly process).

You will need one person inside with vice grips, and another outside with an impact wrench (this picture was taken about halfway through the roof disassembly process).

Remove all bolts except top and bottom ones (collar and bottom lip). Start with door sheet.  Tool needs vary. Some bolts will be stubborn (or possibly of an odd make), and require different tools.

Remove all bolts except top and bottom ones (collar and bottom lip). Start with door sheet. Tool needs vary. Some bolts will be stubborn (or possibly of an odd make), and require different tools.

Next, you will remove the sheet which was lapped under that one, before moving to the opposite side of the bin. You can take two per space, generally.

Next, you will remove the sheet which was lapped under that one, before moving to the opposite side of the bin. You can take two per space, generally.

Remove top bolt only when ready to remove sheet, then slide sheet down and out, placing it on your roof sheet pile.

Remove top bolt only when ready to remove sheet, then slide sheet down and out, placing it on your roof sheet pile.

While his co-worker continues to work on bolts, my husband begins removing the collar. My son Billy helps unscrew bolts.

While his co-worker continues to work on bolts, my husband begins removing the collar. My son Billy helps unscrew bolts.

Continuing to remove collar.

Continuing to remove collar.

Some bolts are best ground off.

Some bolts are best ground off.

Remove the lifting ring if it is in the way...which it eventually will be. Some bolts are tricky to reach, from either inside or outside the bin.

Remove the lifting ring if it is in the way...which it eventually will be. Some bolts are tricky to reach, from either inside or outside the bin.

You may sometimes be able to take more than one sheet at a time. It depends on the size and weight of the sheets, and their general condition.

You may sometimes be able to take more than one sheet at a time. It depends on the size and weight of the sheets, and their general condition.

Once you are down to a few sheets, you will need to rest the centers of the roof sheets on the ladder.

Once you are down to a few sheets, you will need to rest the centers of the roof sheets on the ladder.

Unbolt the last bolts on the second-to-last sheet...

Unbolt the last bolts on the second-to-last sheet...

...and carefully lower the last sheet with collar to the ground.

...and carefully lower the last sheet with collar to the ground.

It is fragile, and can be quite heavy! Rest second-to-last sheet on ladder, until there are two sets of hands free to support and unbolt it.

It is fragile, and can be quite heavy! Rest second-to-last sheet on ladder, until there are two sets of hands free to support and unbolt it.

Grain Bin.
 Finish unbolting sheets, and you are done with the roof.

Finish unbolting sheets, and you are done with the roof.

Step Nine: Remove Foundation Sheets

First, loosen bolts down each seam with impact wrench.

First, loosen bolts down each seam with impact wrench.

Bang sheets away from foundation, and each other, if necessary.