Monday, September 5, 2011

The Top 10 Shed Improvements

These are the improvements to the Shed that actually made things better.  Not that there have ever been any misguided, botched efforts that made things worse.  At least none that I will admit to.  In fact, I never have failures.   I have  "learning experiences."   Lots and lots of learning experiences.  But the results of that lifetime of "learning" are the following accomplishments, listed in order from the meager to the spectacular.

10.  Work benches. Doing everything at ankle-height is fine if you have really long arms.  But for me, it became hard on the back after a while.  Fortunately the previous owner of this land had left a fair amount of scrap building materials, presumably the beginnings of his own shed.  Among them was a stack of 3" pine fence slats, still nailed together in 8' square panels, and a remarkable collection of used doors.  The slats were stacked on top of some old tyres, so the termites had not yet gotten in them.  Pine slats might not be good for much, but they're still Sticks, and in the hands of a competent Aerospace Engineer, there isn't much they can't do.  With a bit of "eyeball" mitering learned from grandpa Jacob, and using just a hand saw and a cordless drill, I turned a few decrepit slats and a couple of abandoned doors into sturdy work benches and shelves.  The set of mobile drawers was a Bring Out Your Dead lucky find.

9.  Awnings.  Had I known how good these were going to be, I might have put them all around the Shed.  As designed, they protect the windows from the blazing summer sun while giving me an unobstructed view of the block.  But because I designed them to be self-supporting, they were the very devil to get up.  The buttresses that hold up the awning are in turn held up by the awning, so I had something of a chicken-and-egg situation.  Fortunately, I also had some sticks and string on hand, which as usual saved the day.

8.  The Mezzanine.  By adding an elevated floor spanning one of the Shed's four "bays," I increased the amount of useless junk I can store in the Shed by 25 percent!  I'm not sure if that was entirely a good thing, but it also created a comfortable space below it, which I was eventually able to wall off, insulate and air-condition.  Summer was nearly impossible in the Shed before that.  On a technical note, working with these Rolled Structural Steel Profiles is quite easy and a lot fun too, but it has one or two delightful engineering challenges. When a "C" beam is loaded, it tends to open up and twist away from the open side of the "C" in a mathematically predictable way (some of the bending moment becomes torque due to asymmetry of the cross-section).  However, if you pair them such that two of them face each other, they can be strapped together like this, and therefore carry more than double the load of either one alone.  And they don't have to be close together.  I spaced them 650mm (about 26") apart to produce isotropic loading capacity of the structure.  That's an engineers' way of saying it has the same strength whether loading the floor along or across the floor joists.  The floor decking is 25mm (1") Sturdifloor tongue-groove particle board (nothing flimsy about the Shed!).  As a bonus, the decking itself is capable of distributing shear from one joist to its neighbors, thus making the floor even stronger decked than bare.  Typically, decking due to its weight reduces the load capacity of a platform, but in this case, due to careful engineering, it is actually increased.  In all, this platform is incredibly light, stiff, strong and inexpensive. The very definition of an engineering success.

7.  A Fridge.  Before this came along I relied on ice chests and a portable 12V refrigerator that runs off a car's cig lighter. The portable fridge was fantastic and now I wouldn't think of going camping or on a long road trip without it, but it was also heavy and I got tired of schlepping it back and forth to the Shed.  Plus I like being able to turn up at the Shed and find some supplies already there such as frozen french fries (chips) or a steak in the freezer, single-serve butter and jam packets, and an ice-cold Ginger Beer waiting for me.  The sort of things that can quite happily stay there for several months untouched and still be fit for human consumption (to the extent that they ever were to begin with). But before the fridge would be of any use to me whatsoever, I needed:

6.  Electricity.  This was a major undertaking.  It required the use of hydraulic, diesel-powered men driving rugged, manly machines to dig a 100 foot trench 4 feet deep to bring the cables up from the road.  It also required licensed, manly electricians to install a power board, outlets, lights and switches.  Fortunately I have a friend named The Paulinator who gave me "mate's rates" on the materials and work. People call him that because they assume he is really a machine from the future.  Also he has a lot of kids.  

Because it was such a major financial investment, I naturally had to have a very good reason for going through with this.  I was trying to have more time with my son, in particular I wanted at least the time to which I was already legally entitled, but which was being denied to me on various flimsy excuses.  Improving the Shed with electricity, a fridge, lights, a TV, video games and other amenities would remove some of the excuses for the denial of regular weekend contact with my son.  I happily invested many thousands of dollars (a big chunk of my remaining life's savings) and many, many hours of difficult, strenuous, hot and sweaty labor in this good and worthy cause.  

But in the end, other even flimsier excuses were found to keep my son and me apart.  "Honolulu?  What's so great about Honolulu?  No, I can't in good conscience consent to that. A boy needs a father.  Fine, see you in court."


  1. Is that an AC unit perched next to the window in the last awning picture?

  2. Dude, John, I about died when I read about your mezzanine. Did we go to the same engineering school or what? My shed has a mezzanine too! I've been made fun of for years for calling it that. My kids just call it 'the big shelf'.

  3. G'day Mick! Did you also go to USU Mech Eng? My "big shelf" is 12 ft x 24 ft and 7'3" off the floor. If it's trafficable above and below (you can walk on it and stand under it), then it's a mezzanine. No matter what your non-engineer kids say.