The Shack


When the dairy up the road closed down, they started to demolish the wooden buildings. We helped out, and got a whole load of wood in return. Plenty of square section pine, lots of tongue and groove boarding, and a fair heap of Malaysian hardwood. 

Me and my brother had been thinking for a while of building a shack in the garden as a sort of summer-house big enough to sleep out in. After a lot of work ripping down the cowsheds and carting trailer load after trailer load back to our place, we stacked it all up and organised the different types. 

We spent a while planning the size and general shape, and spent overly long worrying about where exactly to locate it. We finally agreed, and tallied up how much of each type of piece of timber we had, and decided which to use for what. 

After a few evenings spent ripping nails and fittings out of the timber, we finally began to put it together. We made the frame out of pine, and used tongue and groove boarding on the outside. The mitre pieces we used for triangulation were precut hardwood pieces. 
We made the outer frame first, then built up supports at more or less regular intervals around where we hoped to put windows and doors. We had to make sure the windows would be the right height. 
Waiting for the wind to die down, we lugged the made up back wall and the south-eastern wall, containing a doorway and a window, onto the plot we had prepared. We made sure it was fairly flat and solid by digging shallow trenches and filling them with building sand. We flattened this down and laid double supports of hardwood between the ground and the walls. This should stop the walls drawing water up from the ground. 
Windows will come later, but in the meantime, it is good to make sure they are the right height. Some of them aren't particularly square, but it doesn't really matter. We've put a small window at the top for the sleeping platform occupant to catch some fresh air in the mornings. This will be the only window that opens. 
We put up the north-west wall, and made sure they were all braced to stop them falling over. I estimate the side walls weigh between 150 and 200kg. We put some 6" nails through the corners to hold the three walls to each other. The single window in the new wall was placed specifically to get a view of the sunset across the river. 
We laid supports for the roof over the whole structure, and secretly hoped it would stop wobbling once they were up and triangulated, but it wasn't until the whole house was up that it became properly solid. 
Before adding a fourth wall (which we had decided to make in situ to hide the inevitable un-squareness of the finished product), we added pine rails which were to hold the roof. These were triangulated against the frame where possible, but there was still a lot of give in the structure. 
We used coroline for the roof. This is a corrugated material which is fairly flexible and comes in a variety of colours. We went for a dark green. We also added the bare bones of the front wall framing. 
It begins to look bigger all the time. The floor area is 3.6 by 4 metres, and is just over 3 metres tall at the high end, with a slight overshoot at the back and a larger one at the front. The height at the back is a few inches above 6 foot. 
Little brother Thomas and dog Jake are impressed. Once we decided to get it off the ground it all went very quickly. Plans for the interior include a sleeping platform at the front which will make a kind of loft space. There is a small window in the south corner where the sleeper's head will be. 
Checking the size of the door frame, and going over the structure for weaknesses… We are pretty chuffed with the way it has all come together so quickly. Dangerously low on tongue-and-groove, we finally resorted to pine planks for the very last section. 
We added a front wall, using up the last of the tongue and groove and finishing off with pine planks. We used shorter, wider pine planks for the sleeping platform, which was also bordered by a full-length piece of smoothened hardwood. Most of the hardwood was used in the floor. The whole floor is made of inch thick planks, and changes the shack from a four-walled enclosure to a house. It looks even bigger once we put an old sofa in the corner. Very cosy already, even without windows or doors. 
Eventually we ran an armoured cable from the nearest electricity box and fitted lights and plug sockets. Now I have a desk for work, and a rope for playing around. Also useful as a quick way into and out of the sleeping platform when you don't want to use the ladder. The platform is my brother's room. I sleep in a mexican hammock. 
We've been living in the shack since May '04, and now we have windows (bordered with mitred hardwood!!) and the back doorway temporarily blocked. Still no front door, but we sling a curtain across if necessary. It's still too warm to be shut up! Hammock is brilliant, but, possibly due to the heavy use, I have broken the strings numerous times. I've replaced them with nylon starter-cord which is, literally, indestructible. I would recommend the people I bought the hammock off none-the-less. It is a single-person size, but very spacious, and I got it from TropicART Exports on Ebay UK. Took a month or so to ship from the fair trade cooperative in Brazil, but it was worth the wait. Visit their Ebay Shop at: 
During the long in-between-Gap-Year-and-Uni summer of 2004, I put together quite a solid stable door. The top half uses gate hinges, so it can be lifted off altogether when it gets too warm. There's a wooden catch to hold the two halves together, a bolt on the lower door and a sprung catch at the top of the upper one worked by a bit of string sticking out of a hole in the front. 
Of course, come the end of The Summer, I was off to University (which, incidentally, is amazing - everyone should go), so the shack was left with only one occupant. Back for Merry Christmastime, however, I resorted to wearing socks to keep warm. Anyone who's tried spending the night in a hammock at -5'C will tell you it's pretty chilly. My breath used to condense on the roof above, then freeze...
Spring hath come again like wheat that springeth green… And with it has come the restlessness of The Wind in the Willows. Anxious to be up and doing, we have started on a Verandah - a sort of covered porch area just in front. It's the same width as the shack, so the hammock fits nicely. It'll be nice and cool for summer nights. 
Spring hath come again like wheat that springeth green… And with it has come the restlessness expressed so movingly by Kenneth Graham. Anxious to be up and doing, we have started on a Verandah - a sort of covered porch area just in front. It's the same width as the shack, so the hammock fits nicely. It'll be nice and cool for summer nights.
We built the bare bones of the verandah along with a roof extension above it quite a while ago now, but we didn't get round to putting a floor in till August 05. We made another trip to the old Dairy, and discovered quite a lot of hardwood still unclaimed, and a few other useful bits and pieces. So I spent a couple of hours preparing the ground and levelling the supports before taking a well-earned rest.
Then we brought the table saw round and got cracking with the flooring. Just over half the area is hardwood, the rest pine. But, from experience, even in a heavy storm, the pine doesn't get wet, so it won't be a problem. There are plans to put railings along the side, but as it is, it makes a very nice extension to the shack, and just feels like an extra room when the top half of the door is taken off (as in picture). I managed to spend a few nights with my hammock slung across the verandah before heading back to Uni, and it was lovely.
And of course, our ever-thoughtful mother brought out refreshments to keep us going throughout.


As my dad always says, never use the right tool if the wrong one is closer...

During the summer of 2007 we finally got round to adding insulation in the form of 50mm expanded polystyrene and lined the walls with OSB (Oriented Strand Board).  It makes it look slightly less like a shack, and will hopefully make it feel slightly more inviting during the cold winter nights.  

We also replaced the roof with overlapping sheets of OSB, coating them with resin, to fix the leaks once and for all.  Now we can leave papers and furniture inside without fear of damage during a rainstorm.  
Insulation and lining

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