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How to Build a Grain Bin: An Illustrated Overview

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

Lovely Grain Bins at Sunrise

Bins at sunrise are among my favorite views. My husband and I built or worked on most of this cluster, and many others.

Bins at sunrise are among my favorite views. My husband and I built or worked on most of this cluster, and many others.

Is This a Project for You?

This is the first in a series of articles showing the fine points of grain bin construction (called by some a metal grain silo). This is only an overview meant to illustrate the process in a compact way, so you can understand whether this is a project for you . . . or whether it is better left to a professional grain bin contractor.

Other articles follow which break up the steps, detailing how to do each job and which tools are required.

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.

Jacks

One requirement is a way to lift the bin during construction. In a following article is a discussion of different common methods, but for now please understand that you will need either a boomtruck, 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. For even a small 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.

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

At the end of this article are videos showing the use of two common styles of grain bin jacks.

Cement Pad

A carefully planned and poured cement pad must be formed and cured prior to erecting the bin. If you are familiar with cement work and understand the needed strength of such a pad, you may do this yourself . . . but be aware that an unstable or improperly installed foundation is a hazard. At best it may crack, and at worst it may damage your bin or cause accidents.

If the bin is being installed with a hopper or perhaps over a pit, the cement process is even more exacting.

This Cement Pad Is Ready

 A 6 sack mix is as light a concrete mix as is recommended for grain bin foundations. A stronger mix would be better, along with plenty of reinforcement.

A 6 sack mix is as light a concrete mix as is recommended for grain bin foundations. A stronger mix would be better, along with plenty of reinforcement.

This pad has been carefully worked and cured in order to properly bear the weight of a full grain bin. The site was scraped, leveled, and filled with builders sand to provide a proper base.

This pad has been carefully worked and cured in order to properly bear the weight of a full grain bin. The site was scraped, leveled, and filled with builders sand to provide a proper base.

For bin going onto hopper: The single concrete segment on which this bin and hopper is being erected must hold over 100 tons when the bin and hopper are filled with wheat.

For bin going onto hopper: The single concrete segment on which this bin and hopper is being erected must hold over 100 tons when the bin and hopper are filled with wheat.

The weight is concentrated on the hopper legs, so extra reinforcement has been added into the concrete beneath each leg.

The weight is concentrated on the hopper legs, so extra reinforcement has been added into the concrete beneath each leg.

The concrete has been worked to a smooth finish, but has enough texture to ensure it won't be slippery under normal summer conditions. Blowing dirt, snow, and ice are both problems which may be encountered during different times of the year.

The concrete has been worked to a smooth finish, but has enough texture to ensure it won't be slippery under normal summer conditions. Blowing dirt, snow, and ice are both problems which may be encountered during different times of the year.

If You Prefer a Video Demonstration (Watch First 6 Minutes)

Start With the First Ring of Sheets and the Roof

When building a grain bin, you start with the first ring of sheets and the roof. Then you add on rings of sheets, working downward and lifting the bin as you go. The upper sheets are a lighter gauge than the lower ones, and must be put on in order. Bolts with neoprene washers are provided by the manufacturer, also nuts and most other needed hardware.

During construction, the roof is the most fragile part of the bin, and great care and forethought are needed when beginning it. After completion, its domed shape is calculated to withstand hail, high winds, and most other adverse conditions.

A Roof in Progress

Grain bin roofs are fragile while being built, though surprisingly strong once completed.

Grain bin roofs are fragile while being built, though surprisingly strong once completed.

The roof panels overlap and bolt together, while a collar and other pieces stabilize and strengthen the conical form.

The roof panels overlap and bolt together, while a collar and other pieces stabilize and strengthen the conical form.

Remaining Rings of Sheets

The lower sheets are installed one ring at a time, with proper lapping. A sealant in a rubbery tape form, called mastik, is applied at the seams. Drift punches are used to help lift and align the sheets. An impact wrench and box end wrenches are used to tighten the bolts. Tightening bolts is a two-person job, with the impact wrench operator inside the bin, and the other person outside holding the bolt heads still with the box end wrenches. This requires strong wrists and good dexterity, plus the ability to stand up and squat down repeatedly and quickly.

A Few Tools and Supplies

You will want at least two ⅝-inch box end wrenches with long handles, which save knuckles while tightening bolts (impact wrench is used inside the bin).

You will want at least two ⅝-inch box end wrenches with long handles, which save knuckles while tightening bolts (impact wrench is used inside the bin).

10-inch or longer drift punches are used to help carry and align the sheets.

10-inch or longer drift punches are used to help carry and align the sheets.

A punch is inserted through bolt holes in the wall sheets, providing a handle for dragging and lifting.

A punch is inserted through bolt holes in the wall sheets, providing a handle for dragging and lifting.

Mastik tape sealant is used on every seam between wall sheets.

Mastik tape sealant is used on every seam between wall sheets.

Tools

A complete list of tools and equipment is given in a following article. For now, understand that most required tools can be found or bought easily, but may not be in your household tool kit.

If you already have a working farm, or do some mechanic or construction work, you will have most of what you need.

Anchoring the Bin

Anchor bolts which can be bought from your local hardware store are used to anchor the bin to the cement pad. A cement drill must be used to prepare the holes.

Sealing the Bin Against the Elements

A foam spray sealant or tar pad is typically used to seal the bin from moisture in a farm situation. For housing or similar uses, methods may vary. I cannot give advice on transforming or modifying bins for housing.

Tar Sealant

Tar as a sealant between sheets and foundation has kept this bin serviceable for many years, and should continue to do so for many more.

Tar as a sealant between sheets and foundation has kept this bin serviceable for many years, and should continue to do so for many more.

This sealing job is more aesthetically pleasing, having been painted over, but is no more functional.

This sealing job is more aesthetically pleasing, having been painted over, but is no more functional.

Weather and Safety

Weather will strongly affect your grain bin building experience. Wind will make it difficult to safely lift or move the bin. Heat will make you miserable, transforming the bin interior into a solar oven. Please consider taking extra potassium when working in the heat. Extreme cold or needing to work with gloves will make the job almost impossible and very, very tedious.

Never allow anyone onto the jobsite who has a reputation for not paying attention. Doing so may result in loss of life or limb.

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

A Swinging Bin

Even a partially built bin swaying in a 10 mph breeze can easily become a kite, or clip a bystander and cut off a foot. Leeway of even a couple inches demands extreme caution.

Even a partially built bin swaying in a 10 mph breeze can easily become a kite, or clip a bystander and cut off a foot. Leeway of even a couple inches demands extreme caution.

Time Requirements

The bin shown in these photographs is 18 feet tall (6 rings), and 18 feet in diameter, plus the roof peak and hopper capacity.

It should take an experienced crew of 2 men about 2 hours to erect such a bin with a boomtruck, or 5 hours with jacks. This does not include site preparation, pit construction or hopper construction and installation, or anchoring and sealing the bin.

In reality, it took about 2.5 hours to erect with a crew of 2 experienced and 1 inexperienced members, and a couple more to attach to the hopper and finish. Set-up periods and delays made it a 5.5 to 6 hour job from arrival of materials through final details.

A larger 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 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.

A Completed Bin With a Hopper

A bin such as this one is a 5 to 6 hour job from first set-up to last tear-down, with a main crew of 2 experienced people.

A bin such as this one is a 5 to 6 hour job from first set-up to last tear-down, with a main crew of 2 experienced people.

Excellent Time Lapse of Complete New Bin Construction Project; Also Shows A-Frame Type Jacks (Power Driven)

Grain Bin Construction (New), Showing Hand-Cranked Grain Bin Jacks

Efficient Grain Storage System Set-Ups

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2020 Joilene Rasmussen