Vernacular Shed Design

For most of human history we built without plans. We just put wood together and worked by eye. For the official definition, Vernacular architecture uses locally available resources and traditions to address local needs and circumstances. So, why spend money on sheds that are too small and too expensive? Sheds are basic utility stores that can evolve and fit your whims.

When we talk about local materials with regard to shed building we can expand our definition to include locally sourced materials. Second hand materials are my favourite. They often define the design. A strange shape or length or colour of a piece of wood may be the key around which the whole design evolves.

Planning your shed

The secret is to think about the large items (typically bicycles or ride-on lawnmowers) and ensure there is enough space to house them. We found that although 2 bikes will fit in a six foot long space, a seven foot space suddenly makes the whole process of getting the bikes in and out of the shed a lot simpler.

Build a couple of box frames of thick timbers for the walls and join them together to make the front and back. A pitched roof is the hardest part, but looks right and is less prone to leaks than a flat roof. Once a timber frame looks right, clad it in cheap wood.Overlapping timbers is a traditional technique, and if you have the time and patience and a router, then tounge and groove is a great way to create shed walls that are totally weatherproof.  Old palettes are a great free resource, once you have removed the nails, but go with whatever you have to hand. Look out for the smaller cheaper wooden palettes that have appeared in recent years. They are easier to pull apart and have good solid bits of wood to work with. Old sheets of plyboard are also a great quick solution for shed walls, but some people are put off by the finished appearance being a bit too ‘homemade’.  To cover the roof, felt is cheap and easy, ceramic roof tiles are excellent (although heavy, so only suitable for really solid constructions), thatch looks cool if you know how to thatch, wooden shingles are fantastic and a natural living roof of seedum gets you maximum green points.

So, why spend money on a mass produced shed when you can design and build your own. Since you built it you can change it, so get fancy with fretwork, windows, extra levels and so on. Let your imagination run riot and your shed evolve into something truly amazing.

Preparing a space for a shed

Start by measuring your area. A typical 6x4foot shed is found in many of your neighbours gardens and this is probably a good reason to try something different. however, for the sake of simplicity I will assume that a standard 6×4 is what you are going to build.

Prepare the ground. A solid dry surface is best to ensure your shed lives a long sound life. A complete concrete footing is fine, but might be overkill. Consider creating a base by digging holes where the four corners will sit. Then fill them level with concrete and when this is dry, kill off the greenery in the space beneath where the shed will sit. Next lay down a weed supressing membrane.

On the four corners lay four paving slabs to raise your shed slightly.

Now join 6x2inch joists together to make a frame. Lay the corners onto the paving slabs.

shed base

The corners can be screwed together using 100mm rustproof screws. You can often find them described as decking screws in diy stores. Also consider add a crossbrace across the centre and for larger sheds, a series of cross braces making a grid of 50cm squares is preferable. Fill in the gaps every 50 cm and add a few noggins down the middle for extra stability. You now have a rock solid base for your shed.

2×2 inch wood is strong enough for the uprights. Make each wall seperately as a flat sheet enforced at the edges. Go and have a look at a standing shed and you will see that they are all made this way. Just screw the four pieces together to create a shell. The roof is made again from  preconstructed sheets held together at the edges. 2 Sheets are needed for an apex roof or just one for a single slope roof.

apex shed

Assuming you will buy roofing felt, my tip is not to bother with felt adhesive. A good line of tacks along the join is all that is required to keep the felt held tight to the wood and will last as long as the felt itself. Also, when the felt does eventually need replacing it will be a lot easier to take the old stuff off if it hasn’t been glued to the wood.

Now, why settle for a simple shed? You made it and should be proud of it, so why not make it look special. Scrollwork, carvings, half moon cuts and all sorts can be added to make your shed more special.