Garden shed design

So there is no shed here. There’s a long, narrow space under the house that we use to store all the garden tools and various bits, but it’s also used for woodwork and making and it’s very crowded down there.

Our composting solutions are also ad hoc. We’re mulching garden waste and putting it into wire cylinders which we have dotted around the orchard and near the water tank where they’re kind of out of the way but not really.

A greenhouse of sorts would also really help to get seedlings started a bit earlier in spring, and lengthen the growing season.

It would be great if we could combine all three things, so that’s what we’ll do: a garden shed with greenhouse attachment and composting bays!

We have a spot for it figured out already, down on the western fence line at the orchard level. It will extend away to the north (downhill), so we will use the fall of the hill to make a space under the northern half for the composting bays.

This structure is a good chance to do some proper design work before tucking in to the actual job. We cracked out Sketchup and built up the shed piece by piece, making sure that everything we are going to need is included. Later, we can read off the design the components we need to buy, and do a pre-build costing.

After a good solid week designing this is what we came up with: a 4mx2.5m shed that anyone would be proud of.

This view is looking from the north back towards the house and up the hill. We have a concrete slab with rammed earth walls on top creating two big composting bays. That structure will provide six stumps for the north end of the shed and across the middle. On the south end are three more concrete stumps.

On top of that are a layer of bearers, joists and chipboard flooring. A timber framework will go on top of that, creating 2.4m high walls to partition off 3m of the 4m length for shed space and 1m for the greenhouse. We’ll finish the floor using some of the left-over blackbutt floorboards from the lounge room.

Timber rafters and a tin roof cap off the shed portion, while standard-sized 10mm shower screen glass creates the greenhouse, held in place by aluminium channel. Under the eaves we will put shiplap western red cedar for a touch of luxury.

The shed portion is clad in western red cedar weatherboards that we’ll paint black. We have a cute colonial style window in the eastern wall and the greenhouse to provide light inside. We’ll run power and water down the western fence line from the house to provide a spot of civilisation.

Inside will mostly be space to hang tools and house garden bits like the wheelbarrow and mulcher; we’ll see if we can figure out a way to have the mulcher’s outlet feed directly into the composting bay. There’ll be a sink inside for washing (something desperately lacking in the yard at the moment), which we already have, picked up from hard rubbish a good two years ago. It used to be in next-door’s kitchen. We’ll have a bench run across the eastern wall and plenty of space and shelves for storage.

While there are some details to be worked out, all the critical structural ideas are sorted. Some things are easier to figure out once the main structure is in place, and you can get in there and figure out the best way to use the space.

For the moment, we can do the composting bays without too much outlay. We can use our SketchUp model to tell us how much dirt we’re going to need:

That 36000-lotsofzeroes mm-cubed is 3.6 cubic metres. Using the 2.2 compression ratio we learned from doing the little wall, that means nearly 8 cubic metres of raw material.

We’re going to change up the rammed earth mix a little for these walls. There was too much clay in our short driveway wall, and it developed a few cracks as it dried. We found a research paper online that indicated a mixture of 10% clay, 25% silt, 18% sand and 47% gravel stabilised with an additional 5% of cement had much stronger characteristics than other mixes. We can supply the 35% clay and silt from our own site but will need to import the sand and gravel. So we’ll need about 3 cubic metres of our own sifted dirt. Better get cracking!

Backfilling the little wall

In the race to get the lounge room floor done other things have fallen by the wayside. The little rammed earth wall has been waiting to be back-filled for a while now, so it was high time to get onto it.

We had a bunch of broken-up concrete lying around, mostly from digging up the trampoline base while constructing the orchard. That went in. Also a bunch of little rocks that aren’t any good for wall building. Then a pile of dirt.

Finally it was off to the hardware to get some gravel.

We have little spaces on either side, which are waiting for us to extend things later, so we made them into little garden beds for the time being.


Lounge room skirting boards

The skirting boards that used to be around the lounge room (and the rest of downstairs) were quite narrow and cheap-looking. We wanted something a bit more lush going forward, and came up with a taller board with a simple, elegant angle on top.

Modern skirting seems to be made out of MDF. Which just doesn’t seem hard enough for something that’s going to be banged into. We saved some of the old hardwood floorboards from the lounge to get turned into new skirting.

We had to remove the old varnish and trim off the tongue and groove. Some of the boards were warped, so across all seven 135mm pieces we had we were able to salvage a final height of 100mm. We did a tester board first, cutting the angle at the top with the plane in increments and then setting it against the wall to see how it looked. We settled on a 30mm deep angle and made up a jig for the plane to make sure they were all consistent.

The floor is not perfectly flat, particularly where the slate tiles are, so we put some effort into preferentially shaving bits off the bottom of the boards to reduce any gaps between the board and the floor. Some gaps remain, but we will fill those later.

We’ve left them raw for now; we’re waiting another 5 weeks for the floor finish to harden before painting (walls and skirting) and affixing the boards.


Finally it’s time to put the oil on the floor. We have enough oil for two coats. It was painted on with a brush, left for a bit and then rubbed back with an old pillowcase from the rags bin.

In hindsight it would have been better to have more oil, apply it with a roller, and use a squeegee to remove the excess. There was only just enough oil to cover the floor, and I ended up using it more sparingly that I would have liked. Doing it in the middle of winter is also a bad time. The wax in the oil can precipitate out when it’s too cold, leaving a sort of fog in the finish. There’s a few spots on the floor where this can be seen if you bend right down. We tried leaving the heater on in the room but obviously it wasn’t up to scratch.

The floor will want another couple of coats of oil to be truly finished, but we think it’s best to wait for warmer weather, so we’ll leave it as is for the moment and return to it in spring.

Filling holes

The floorboards we got for the lounge room are what’s called “utility grade”. Which is pretty much the lowest grade, full of knots and sap lines and holes here and there and quite a few with machine marks in them. We wanted the sap lines and knots for interest, but not the ones that were graded as such just because they were crappy or damaged in some way. Quite a few boards went into a reject pile, and we’ll use them for the shed floor which will be going in down by the orchard.

At any rate, we don’t want to spend the rest of our lives digging dust out of knot holes, so all those imperfections have to be filled so that the floor can present a smooth surface to our feet and broom.

We’ll be using a Livos oil to finish the floor, and the lady at the shop recommended just putting black putty in the holes, since she was certain my suggestion of using epoxy would result in black features anyway. This was all a bit confusing, so I got 1 black putty, one “hardwood” putty which looked to be around about a matching colour and a small amount of epoxy in one of those double-syringe setups. I got a couple of spare boards and filled some holes on each one using different methods, then finished them with a couple of coats of the oil.

The epoxy was far and away the best solution, so we went ahead and got a larger 1L container of the stuff. This involved a special trip to a sailor’s shop in the city. The holes did go quite dark, but there was still detail visible under the epoxy which was the effect we were after. The black putty just ended up looking pasted on, and the wood-coloured putty made it look like a mistake had been made.

It took a whole day in the end to epoxy up all the cracks. Some of them went all the way through the board and the epoxy just kept leaking through. Some holes needed 3 applications with drying time in between before the holes closed up. I’ll be taping the underside of any boards we do in the future before they’re laid.

The epoxy is by West Systems, and doesn’t smell or shrink upon drying. It went hard in 24 (cold) hours and sanded easily. 1.2L (1L of resin and 0.2L of hardener) was $54. We found that using a 10mL syringe was a quick and neat way of applying the epoxy to the holes, although it wouldn’t go into some of the smaller wormholes. We used a slow hardener that has a working time of around 45 minutes, and did 3 batches of about 200mL. I went wandering off while doing the first batch, rummaging in the shed for something, and I actually left it too long. It went hot in its container and then hardened up over the course of a few minutes. It must have been something to do with the amount that was in there, and the heat of the chemical reaction. The little bits on the floor stayed liquid for much longer. The next couple of batches went well, but the syringe and container can’t be re-used.

We came back the next day and sanded the epoxy back, then refilled any holes that weren’t flush with the top of the wood.

When the epoxy is being mixed it tends to get full of air bubbles. It’s best, when applying it to the wood, to pop the bubbles as you go. I was a bit lax and a couple of the holes end up with bubbles inside them, which catch the light and give a “cloudy” effect. Others that migrate to the surface leave a small indentation behind once the blob has been sanded back. It’s not a big deal, but it’s easy enough to circumvent.

A blackbutt floor

Our floor guy spent four days doing the lounge room floor. Day 1 was a lot of laying out of lines and the addition of some shims to even up the wonky subfloor. About 1 metre of it was done by the end of the day.

Each board is screwed into the joist with long screws that have a small square-drive head. No glue or nails and, should someone wish it in the future, it will come back up again without too much fuss. One of the things we learned when we pulled up the last set of boards was that the below-surface nails are terribly hard to get out, and the boards can be ruined while trying to retrieve them. That doesn’t help anyone.

Day 2 and day 3 were spent filling in the rest of the boards. Day 4 was dedicated to sanding.

One of the guys we had in to quote assured us he could do it in a day, and gave a pretty cheap price. He would really have to have slapped those boards down to get it done in that time. We’re glad we went with someone a little more measured.

Lovely! Just what we were after.

A bit of taping

We had a couple of days before the floor guy came, so we did our best to tape and stop up some of the gaps in the lounge room ceiling. We won’t get it all done, and it will have to wait a while for the floor to be ready to receive ladders and dust again.

Had to finish up just doing first tape and bog on the north-south joins between boards.

Moving old lounge room floorboards

The floor guy is coming soon to do the lounge room floor properly. We needed to get the old boards out of there. S had already ripped up the carpet in the bedroom, so it was just a matter of pulling them up, giving them a little trim and putting them down again in the room next door.

“Just” meaning it took pretty much a whole day.

We were expecting to have quite a few boards left over, but as it turned out there was just enough to make some skirting boards for the lounge room, with a couple of scrap bits surplus.

Go for plasterboard

Furring channel: check. Light sockets: check. Flue shroud: check. Insulation: check. Now we can finally get onto lifting the plasterboard!

We did a “pre-back blocking” where we glued one half of the back blocks onto each piece while they were on the floor. I think this made it a lot easier to put up piece after piece, knowing that the back blocks weren’t going to move behind the board where you can’t see them.

The first board to be lifted the next day was the trickiest. It wasn’t clear that the lifter was able to tilt to the angle of the roof in the direction we needed it to, and attempts were made to prop it up at one end. The board was bending, too, and popping its screws. What a mission!

For the next one we just kept on turning the wheel, even when it became quite hard, and the lifter did indeed just make the angle. So the next lot went on a lot easier. Bottom row first and then we cracked out the extended boom to reach the top row.

The top ones where tricky. While the board is relatively horizontal it’s longer than the distance between the beam and the lower row of boards, so it had to be finangled around the beam then pushed or pulled “uphill” to get it to slot in, all while turning the wheel to increase the angle. As it happened, the angle of the roof is just the angle where the board wants to start slipping down hill. A couple of the board were very frustrating indeed.

The last board went in and we were straight back to Richard’s to give him his lifter back. We had to wait for the next day to get the last slim bits stuck on at the end.


Work continues apace on the lounge room ceiling; we had some sockets installed for the two lights, so that we could come by later and just plug and unplug the light itself as needed. With that done we could go ahead and put in the rest of the insulation.

We’ve also go the two bits of plasterboard around the flue shroud screwed on. Pretty happy with how that turned out.