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Mongolian Cloud Houses

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Putting it All Together

The Sweatlodge

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Putting it All Together

You did it! You’ve assembled all the various parts and you’re finally ready to erect your own cloud house and move in. But first take inventory to make sure you’ve got everything, including the bagana, the two forked poles you’ll need to support the ring while you attach the first rafters.

Then prepare the site. It’s up to you how many conveniences you’ll have, but even if you’re really roughing it, you’ll want your spot level and trenched.

With a little experience, the yurt can be erected in less than an hour, though it’ll probably take a good deal longer to get things arranged inside just so.

The Yurt Kit

Got everything? The drawing at left shows:

the yurt kit
click for larger image
A. Roof Skin
B. Wall Skin
C. Lacing Pins (4)
D. Smokehole Cover
E. Latticework Wall (4 sections, or khana)
F. Rafter Poles, or uni (45)
G. Door Posts (2)
H. Door Lintel
I. Smokehole Ring, or tono
J. Rubber bands (150)
K. Rope (42’)
L. Door Blanket (6’ x 8')
M. Safety Pins (25)
N. Forked Poles, bagana (2)

You’ll notice that in addition to the things you’ve made, the list calls for rope, a door blanket, safety pins, and two forked poles. The rope will only be needed temporarily, until the cover is on the frame. The door is a heavy 6-by-8-foot blanket. The safety pins are the large, nickel-plated kind.

Forked Poles

The forked poles, the bagana (N, opposite), are used to support the smokehole ring, or tono (I), while attaching the first rafters, and will be removed after all the rafters are in place. It’s not unheard-of though, in Mongolian yurts, for decorated bagana to remain in place all the time — definitely a good idea where the load from heavy snows are a problem.

The two long forked poles that hold up the ring in this yurt, are my own simple solution. The two legs of the fork should be about a foot long each, and when standing on the forked end, the poles should rise 9½ feet into the air. If the legs are level at the top, you’re assured of a level smokehole ring. Any kind of wood will work, but should be fairly straight.

Preparing the Site

The more level the ground is to begin with, the less work you’ll have to do.


Use a 6-foot string looped at either end, as a radius to mark your site (A, opposite), but you should level the ground at least a foot beyond that. Clean the area of any large brush, then move dirt from the uphill side to the lower part.
preparing the site
click for larger image

If you want raised or sunken places, this is the time to make them. It’ll be easier to leave dirt on the uphill part than to move it someplace else.

Once the ground is close to level, use a rake to get most of the rocks and pebbles out of the top layer. If water is available, wet the site thoroughly and move dirt to the low places, where water collects. You can use a level and a long 2 x 4 to smooth the surface. This will give you a flat and level floor that can be finished with rugs, stone, wood, or whatever you like.

Post Holes

When the site is level, pound a stake into the center, and draw the circle again (A, opposite). Decide where the door will go, and mark the two door post holes (B). The centers of the holes should be 39 inches apart along the line that indicates the wall. Dig 1-foot-deep holes.

Frame Rest

To keep the bottom part of the frame and canvas from ground moisture, which would eventually rot them, I put a circle of 2 x 6 mill ends down for the frame to rest on (C). You can get mill ends, which are 2-foot and shorter pieces of planed lumber, at your local sawmill for a few dollars a truckload, but any scrap pieces of uniform width will do. Redwood or cedar, if available, will resist rot.

This frame rest should be slanted down and away from the yurt, for drainage. The circumference of the yurt should be re-marked onto this frame base. Flat rocks, bricks or pavers could also be used.


Two trenches on the uphill side of the site are necessary: one to allow water coming downhill to pass around the site (D, previous page), and one for water coming off the yurt itself (E).

The first trench should go above the back wall, uphill from the site. Dig a trench 6 inches deep and a foot wide (bigger if your weather warrants), piling the dirt between the trench and the top of the back wall. Bring the trench around the site until it’s below floor level, then angle away from the yurt (D).

The other trench (E) goes between the bottom of the back wall and where the yurt will be. Dig it the same as the first, but remove the dirt so that water can flow to the trench easily. Follow the back wall until it can join the upper trench.

Other Preparations

If you want a loft, a refrigerator hole, or a stove platform (“Luxury Extras,” p. 82), now is the time to install them.

Connecting the Bones

It’d be handy for you to invite a friend to the yurt erection, particularly at the point of adding the smokehole ring and the first few rafters. Other than that, you can do everything yourself.
connecting dem bones
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On this particular yurt, all connections are tied with the inner tube rubber bands. See “Old Ways,” and “Bones II,” for other ideas.

The Door Frame

Put up the door first. Set the two door posts into the ground so that they stand 6 feet from floor level, and fill in around them with rocks and dirt. Secure the lintel to the top of the posts, on the outside, with rubber bands, at each end (A, opposite).

The Latticework Wall

From the latticework wall sections, select the two that you cut specially to go on either side of the door (see p. 24). Expand each of these sections and tie them to their respective door posts (B, opposite). The top corner pole of the wall section should come just to the top of the door post, and the bottom corner should be at floor level, so that the wall is exactly 6 feet high. Tie each place where the wall meets the door with inner tube rubber bands.

To connect the wall sections to one another, first study the drawing (C). Notice how the inside poles of both sections stay on the inside, and note the four points across the top where two parallel poles rest together.

Take one of the remaining wall sections, expand it and slide it into the section tied to the door, keeping the inside poles on the inside. Along the untied edge of the right-hand wall section, the inside and outside poles will spread apart slightly to allow the tied edge of the section on the left to slide through.

When it looks like (C), tie the four places at the top where two poles sit together, then the four corresponding places at the bottom, and finally the untied middle intersections. Tie the other wall-to-wall connections in the same way.

Set the wall frame on the frame rest bordering the floor and adjust it so that it’s 6 feet high all around. Tie one end of the 42-foot rope to one of your door posts, about two feet down from the top, and bring it all the way around the outside of the wall. Tie it to the other door post. (See top right drawing.) The rope should be a little loose and easy to untie for later adjustments.


We have numbers on the tubes around the smokehole ring, and numbers on the rafters. Now we’ll number the pole intersections at the top of the wall, to help us get the poles in the right position. The numbers correspond to the numbers on the smokehole ring tubes and the rafters.

Standing at the outside of the door, number the three notched places in the lintel 1, 2, and 3, from right to left, with a permanent marker or crayon. Then number the left door post 4 and continue around the frame, numbering each top “X” until you get back to the right-hand door post, which should be number 45.

The Smokehole Ring and the Rafters

Now is the time to put your friend to work. Get the smokehole ring, the two forked poles, and the rafters. Find the first five support rafters (numbers 4, 13, 22, 31, and 40) and put them where you can get to them easily. The other rafters should be laid out close at hand, in numerical order, with the next ten poles you’ll be attaching set forward a bit, so you won’t have to fumble around for them later. These are numbers 1, 7, 10, 16, 19, 25, 28, 34, 37, and 43.

Bring the smokehole ring inside the completed wall frame and secure the forked poles to the ring with rubber bands (D, p. 66). Carefully raise the ring and, making sure it’s level from all angles, turn it so that the numbers on the ring line up more or less with the numbers marked at the top of the wall. Have your friend continue to support the ring in the center of the floor, while you begin attaching the rafters, the uni.

Working on the outside of the frame, do number 4 first, next to the left-hand door post (E). Slide it into the tube numbered 4 on the ring. Note that it goes outside the lintel, then between the poles of the latticework below it. Tie it twice: to the top of the lintel, and, at the bottom of the rafter, to the frame and door post.
Then take rafter number 13, slide it into the proper tube on the ring and tie it to the “X” numbered 13 on the frame. See in the drawing (F) how the rafter goes outside the top “X” of the frame, then between the two poles at the intersection below. Tie it twice, at each of those junctions. Attach the other three support rafters in the same way.

You may have to move the frame out a little at this point to match the length of the rafters. Adjust the tension rope so that the wall stands straight up from the floor.

Now, add two more rafters between each of the support rafters. These are the ones you set forward when you laid them out on the ground. Work around the frame, tying them the same as (F), starting with 7 and 10, 16 and 19, and so on. Number 1 is tied to the door lintel with a loop of rubber band (G). By now, your friend’s work will be done.

Add the rest of the rafters in one more circuit of the frame, and remove the forked poles. See “Bones II,” p. 31, for more ideas and other ways.

Witness the Bones!

Stretching the Skin

Safety pins and lacing pins are an important part of this yurt, safety pins connecting roof and wall, and tipi-like lacing pins joining the ends of
stretching the skin
click for larger image
the wall skin at the door. (The outer canvas skin on East Asian gers is commonly made in one piece, wall and roof pieces sewn together, held tight to the frame with horsehair ropes.)

Wall Skin

Unfold the wall part of the skin and bring it around the frame so that the ends meet at the door. At this stage there is really no top, bottom, inside or outside to it, unless you’ve specially waterproofed the edge closest to the ground.

Lift the top edge of the wall all the way around, taking out any twists in the canvas, then lift the two top grommet patches and slide a lacing pin in (“Wall Skin,” p. 48, B-6). You might have to compress the frame, using the tension rope, to do this.

Lift the wall skin up into place on the frame, centering the door on the cover with the door on the frame. The top edge can be temporarily safety-pinned to the rubber bands at the top of the latticework. Slide the rest of the lacing pins into place at the top and bottom of the door.

Roof Skin

Find the outside of the roof skin. This is indicated by the seam holding the roof overhang on, which should allow water to run down over it and not into it. With this side of the roof up, throw an edge of the skin up onto the roof frame so that some of it hangs into the smokehole ring. Then, with a 6-foot pole (safely rounded at the end), you can maneuver the roof skin into place (as shown opposite). Line up the hole on the skin with the smokehole ring on the frame.

Fasten the roof to the wall with safety pins, keeping the roof on the outside and the smokehole centered. Again, there are other ways.

Stretching the Skin

To stretch the skin tightly, push the bottom of each rafter up snugly against the canvas, as shown here.

snugging the skin
After your first rain, or after waterproofing, the cover will stretch and sag. This is the time to make your skin as tight as a drum. Just push up the bottoms of the rafters and when the canvas dries you’ll have a custom fit. (Adjustable rafters are a feature of this rubberized yurt only.)

The Door Blanket

Fold the door blanket in half, to a 4-by-6-foot rectangle. The top edge of the door goes between wall skin and roof skin, where it is pinned around the rafter poles with large safety pins. It should hang just to the ground, no more.

The Smokehole Cover

Throw the smokehole cover up into place, adjusting it with the 6-foot pole from inside the yurt, letting the three ropes dangle to the ground.

At each of the three places where the ropes come to the ground, drive a 2-foot wooden stake into the ground and fasten the rope to it. This will not only hold the smokehole cover on, it’ll also secure the yurt in strong winds. Decorate your stakes and tie-downs with stones and colorful flags so you don’t stumble over them by accident.

The Summer Door

The door hole on the skin can be folded to the inside at the bottom, where it is tied to the latticework, creating a summer door (previous page, A), allowing readier access and more circulation. You can use mosquito netting if bugs are a problem in the summertime, on the door, and/or over your bed.

Some Winter Notes

Winter is your great opportunity to get your act together. You’ll find that once you work out all the details, you’ll be even more comfortable than your “civilized“ friends in their stuffy, dark, cave-like homes.

If you’re set up in an exposed and windy place in the wintertime, you’ll want a tight door with all the lacing pins in place (see “Wall Skin,” p. 48, B-6). A full liner and a second inner door will stop just about all drafts. A solid wooden door is described in “Old Ways,” p. 7.

Three or four ropes tied to the top of the wall frame, up under the roof skin, and then to stakes at the bottom of the wall secure the yurt in the wind (p. 8, B). Under very harsh conditions, you might consider the heavier, nearly impervious felt yurt described in “Traditional Skin,” p. 9.

It should be noted that because of its lightness, this frame can’t hold a heavy snow load. A broom can be used to gently beat most of the snow off the roof from inside the yurt, while the rest can be swept off from the outside. If you’re going to be away for more than a week or two when heavy snow is a possibility, you should set up the bagana (the forked poles you used in the yurt erection), and tie them in place before you leave, for extra support, just in case.

Moving the Yurt

This entire yurt weighs under 200 pounds, making a compact load for ox, truck, or station wagon. If you’re only moving a short distance, say out of the sun and into the shade for the summer, here’s an idea: You (and four or five friends) can carry the whole yurt, frame, and cover to the new site!

To pull off this trick, dismantle the loft (if you have one), taking everything out of the yurt that can’t be stepped over easily. You’ll also have to put a temporary brace across the bottom of the door, and make sure the rope around the latticework wall is snug, so that the bottom of the yurt can’t expand. Remove the smokehole cover, loosen the door posts, and you’re ready.

moving the yurt

Station yourself and at least five friends around the outside of the yurt. Teamwork, not brute strength, is what’s important here. Just all lift on the rope at once and march to the new site, where, if you’ve planned ahead, you’ll find a 13-foot circle scratched on the ground and the door post holes already dug.