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Keep wooden granaries in working order

When I drive by one of those farms with long rows of hopper bins, I wonder what some of those farmers would say if they saw our old wooden bins. Over the last 10 years my son Ben has encouraged me to gather up some of the old plywood round bins to make our grain storage a bit easier. Thank goodness for his prodding. We now have a row of about 20 round wood and steel bins. If it was left to me we’d still be storing all our grain in the quonset.

Is it worth repairing them? Well, Ben bought a bin for $500 eight or 10 years ago. It’s a 2,200 bushel wooden bin with a few holes in the roof and skids that won’t skid it anywhere. Every year we say it’s time to junk it, but come harvest it gets a one hour patch up and it gets filled.

When we emptied it out last winter, Ben said he lost about an ice cream pail of wheat. So let’s do the math: 8 years x 2,000 bushels (it’s not full every year) = 16,000 bushels stored. Divide that into $500 and it works out to a little more than $0.03 a bushel. Cheap storage! Of course we’re in a drier area of the West. If you get regular rainfall, you may lose more if your roof leaks.

But what do you do with some of those old plywood bins that are just about at the end of their useful lives? You’ve seen them. The skids are rotten, the roof is leaky, and the walls bulge ominously when they are full. Here are a few repairs you can do to get the most out of them. Don’t be too hard on my methods. This isn’t fancy carpentry — just a way to patch things up cheap and fast so you can get a few more years out of your bins.

Some bins are better than others. We have some with good skids and roofs that could give us another 10 to 20 years with proper maintenance. Others are in poor shape. Used steel bins are getting more plentiful and the prices are reasonable, so some of our old wood bins will get a match some year soon.

Patching materials and tools:

Here’s a list of materials you’ll want to have on hand.

Plywood is better than oriented strand board for this job. Use five-sixteenths or three-eights for walls and half an inch or thicker for floors.

  •  Caulking
  •  Light metal — old galvanized heat ducts are okay or you can use lighter stuff such as metal flashing material
  •  Good tin snips
  •  Wood screws, drill and driver bits
  •  Wood glue
  •  Roofing tar
  •  Assorted scrap lumber
  •  Cardboard cereal boxes and scissors (not for the patches! For patterns.)

Roof repair

If you want to get really fancy, you can buy custom made galvanized roof panels for wooden bins. We have one like this and it’s great. However they are a bit pricey. For an old bin it’s probably not worth the expense.

If a plywood panel needs replacing, use a good grade of plywood with few knots. Give it a good coat of primer and a coat of paint. Check the existing panels to see if they need to be renailed. The odd little hole can be patched with a dab of roofing tar. If it’s a bit larger, screw a patch on from the inside using wood glue between the patch and the panel. Use short screws that won’t poke up through the roof.

If one of the rafters gets a bit wobbly, cut a new one to match and nail or screw it to the poor one. Use your cardboard to make a pattern of the rafter angles if necessary. Make sure your roof ladders are in good condition.

Patching walls and holes

If you’ve been blessed by the presence of an ambitious rodent you might need some wall patches. This is best done with a thinner piece of plywood that you can bend to fit against the wall from the inside. Again, use wood glue and short screws that won’t poke through to the outside.

Don’t be cheap with the glue! Buy the big container and put lots on.

Holes in the middle of the floor are a nuisance. If it’s small, a piece of tin with a few small nails is okay, but it’s going to catch on your shovel and make you say bad things. The best way would be to section out a piece of the plywood and replace it (and also some of the planks below as needed).

If the hole is at the edge, use cardboard and scissors to make a pattern of the edge of bin. Transfer this to the wood and cut a patch with a jig saw. Use plywood at least half an inch thick. Screw this to the floor with caulking to seal the edges.

If rodents have chewed a hole in the floor, put a patch of metal over the hole before you put the plywood patch on. This will discourage the little guys from gnawing through in the same place.

Skid repair

The best way to look after the skids is to put them on railway ties to keep them off the ground. They will last many years like this. However if the skid is half rotten and you need a quick fix here are a couple of ideas.

If the skids are shot and the floor is sagging, jack it up as best as you can and stuff some blocking underneath. It won’t last forever but it will give you a few more years. You can also put blocking on the ground under a rotted section of the floor. Jam it under tight and patch the floor from the inside. It ain’t pretty but it works.

Band problems and breakage

Some of our bins were made with bands that weren’t galvanized. They rust and can break. We had a full bin pop a band last year.

Our lumber yard in town has a banding machine we can rent, but we didn’t have time to go to town and get it, so a tow rope and a large ratchet strap held it until spring. Make sure to use galvanized bands. We have a couple a bins that are getting a bit potbellied so we’ll put on an extra band on these this year.

One of our bins was bulging at the middle of the door. We couldn’t put a band there, so Ben made iron brackets for each side of the door and attached bands to the brackets.

Rodents

Rodents can chew their way through wood floors and leave holes. The first priority is to keep the weeds trimmed around the bins to keep them away. Spray glyphosate or some other poison around the bins to keep them tidy. Also, keep bait out in proper bait boxes.

Paint and siding

It looks nice if the bins are painted and they definitely last longer. Some paints and stains are better than others for plywood. We never seem to do much painting on our bins, so I don’t have expert answers on this subject.

I’ve seen bins with coloured metal siding on the walls and it looks really nice. I don’t know how long it would last, but it might be an excellent long term solution for wooden bins. If you had to do some wall repairs you could just unscrew the panels if needed.

There you have it. First aid for aged bins. Hopefully this will help you get a few more years of useful storage out of your bins. †

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