The old wood shed was melting into the ground faster than the Wicked Witch of the West. Our mission for the summer was clear: build a replacement wood shed. But we had no building experience, and more importantly we had no surplus cash to blow on such an enterprise. But we did have time, and 25 acres of raw materials to work with. So we got resourceful.

The plan was simple: build a structurally sound shed out of materials gathered entirely from the property, save nails of course. We both admired vernacular building methods, their organic feel and their sensitivity to the surrounding landscape, so we decided to try our hand at building a "natural" structure. This is the story of that project.

Felling the Posts

The first thing we needed were posts. The most obvious candidates for these were the pine trees at the front of the lot. There were thousands of them planted back in the early 1980s and now on average about 20 feet tall. Several of them had died recently but had not rotted, providing prime dry building material. These we selectively felled, at first with a tiny hatchet and a lot of will power, later with my little Husquavarna chainsaw.

Jen assaults the limbs of this dead pine, preparing it for felling.

Plotting the Footing

Meanwhile we had cleared the vegetation and humus off of our prospective site, nestled beneath a maple stand near the cottage. Then we plotted out the dimensions of our structure using stakes and a measuring tape, and tied ropes between the stakes to ensure squareness. Then Alex got to dig postholes and set the posts into concrete.

The posts are secured according to our rope layout.

Measuring Vertical Dimensions

Next we measured how high we wanted each post and again tied ropes to make sure we were plumb. Then Alex got to very carefully cut the excess height off with his chainsaw. This is kind of the reverse of normal building, but due to uneven footing depths it proved by far the easiest solution.

The vertical dimensions of the posts are measured.

The Frame in Progress

After squaring off the vertical posts we cut notches in our beams and then nailed them to the top of the posts. Don't worry, the levelling ropes were redundant by this point.

The frame takes shape.

The Finished Frame

The completed frame featured roof joists and cross beams that added considerable stability to our structure. We could both swing off the frame at the same time and it wouldn't even shake.

The finished frame.

Jen Weaving the Walls

At this point Jen began weaving the walls. The idea was to build a "wattle" frame out of Dogwood, and then "daub" between the cracks like they did in Medieval times. For daub we planned on using a mixture of grass clippings, clay and dung. Because I'm a medieval history freak I seized on the fact that they used dung in construction. Jen was a little more skeptical...

Jen weaves her Dogwood walls: a tedious task!

Wattle Wall

A finished section of wattle wall. We hung the wattle from the frame with nails. We didn't actually get to daubing the walls over the summer, but it's on our to do list in 2005!

Jen's Wattle Walls add a whimsical feel to the structure.

Alex Chopping Shingles

In the meantime Alex put his mighty brawn to use chopping shingles. Our chosen material was cedar, known for its weather resistant properties. We also chose cedar for reasons of supply: several large cedars had been felled by a windstorm at the back of the lot. Alex sawed them into equal sized logs with his chainsaw, then painstakingly split them into shingles.

Alex flexes his manly muscles as he splits shingles.

A Pile of Shingles

The project took an enormous amount of shingles. By that I mean many hundreds -but that's still a lot!

A pile of shingles await a roofer.

Jen Shingling the Roof

We cut maple saplings for roof joists. They were heavy and hard as rock -hence the term "hardwood", I suppose... -but they were just the dimensions we needed and we were damned if we were doing any more splitting! While Alex continued to manufacture shingles Jen meticulously fit them onto the roof by first drilling holes through the shingles (so they wouldn't split lengthways) and the maple (so it was possible to get a nail through it), and then nailing the two together.

Jen happily shingles the roof.

The Shed in Autumn

The project took a bit longer than we anticipated! But the end result, we think, will be well worth the effort. I would attribute our lack of completion to the fact that the project kept on increasing in scale -not only in the planning phase but during the building phase as well! All of a sudden a lawnmower had to be accomodated, and room for other tools in future... We're thinking another week or two of "liesurely" work will polish the whole thing up nicely in the summer of 2005. But then what would we do with the rest of our summer....?

The shed is mostly complete by late autumn.