Traditional building methods for garden shed/workshop

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Atellus

Member
Jul 15, 2007
45
0
Warrington, Cheshire
Hello. It's been the best part of a decade since I was last on here... wow, looking at my old posts, it's like a glimpse back at another world. Oh, 2011, whatever happened to you? Come back! All is forgiven!

Back in 2011 there was not a Homesteading forum! How very cool :cool: I suppose this, then, would be the place to post the question which finally drew me back to this nest of ratbags! I want to build a log cabin. Or at least, I think I do. Something vaguely traditional, anyway, and preferably not needing any nonsense like vapour barriers or van-loads of OSB boards. I want to have fun building it, and then have fun being in it, because part of me thinks this is the only chance I'll ever get to build something like it, while another part says well, you never know, you might win the lottery and get the chance to buy a piece of woodland, somewhere. And this will have been useful practice for building an even bigger and better one to live in!

But enough fantasising. Time for some details. If you carry on reading, be aware that I talk a lot, so make the tea now. I may also solicit an opinion from you at the end, so take notes! Plus, there might be a quiz. Multiple choice (hint: the answer is C). And if there's a quiz, there might be pork scratchings and a pint... but only if you're buying!

I'm planning a fairly large shed/workroom/gym/office at the bottom of the garden. I am fortunate in having a long enough garden to accommodate such a thing, one with several large trees that ends on the bank of a wooded brook, and that is almost completely private, not being overlooked to any significant degree by either neighbour. This has been one of the perks of living in a circa 1920s house! They used to lay out the new estates properly, back then. None of this modern philosophy of cramming them in so tight the breeze blocks have to hold their breath, and the local kids grow up with a surveillance complex.

So, with the requirements of Planning Permission in mind, I'm relatively free to do what I want down there. At least I felt that way, until I saw the price of wood at my local timber yard o_O

Until I started pricing things up, I was planning a more or less modern build with CLS studs, OSB, plastic sheeting, PIR insulation, some kind of cladding, and a pent roof, all sitting on a poured concrete floor. Then I realised that I could only really afford the studwork and the concrete :confused: My next plan was building it out of blocks, buying a pallet or two as I needed them/could afford them. But that added more expenses like the mortar, and some backbreaking labour like digging a foot of foundations into clay (I mentioned the brook, earlier. Well, that brook was once a prehistoric river on a vast flood plain and everywhere you go around here, two inches down is clay).

Also, I've never laid a straight brick in my life, and I didn't relish getting seasick looking at a wall of wobbly courses!

So then I got miserable for a bit :frown: Then I started watching Youtube videos about Canadian outdoorsmen building log cabins. Then I got insanely jealous and started wondering if I could emigrate to Canada... or maybe even Sweden (I hear Swedish is pretty easy to learn, and I can tolerate Abba). And then I started wondering if I needed expensive items like vapour barriers, or construction methods that involved frames, and OSB boards...

Why? Why are OSB boards so expensive? They're junk! You throw this stuff away! And they charge you the price of a good second-hand kidney for a pallet of them!

But I digress...

So, I thought, surely the four walls of a log cabin, laid out Swedish style, would actually use fewer planks to climb to the same height, because you've got gaps in between that can be filled with chinking (cement/mortar on metal mesh). So the wood outlay is a bit less, and the chinking can even be home-made. And you don't bother with a vapour barrier.

Alternatively, I could do a version that was insulated by butting the planks together, separating them from a layer of rock wool with battens to create a breathable air gap, then cladding the interior as cheaply as I want. There's a guy on Youtube called Mr Chickadee (... nope, I don't know, either) who built his wooden cabin with wool insulation using an air gap and in the years since, has not suffered any rot or moisture build-up. So really, for a wooden construction, one that will typically be heated by a solid fuel stove in winter, and well ventilated in summer, what's a vapour barrier except a way of subsidising the fossil fuel industry?

Anyone still here?

Don't worry, not long now. Just three more paragraphs, then you can have your pork scratchings.

The structure I'm planning will be about 25 square meters internally, will need 2.4m free clearance under the joists, and will need to sit at least 300mm off the ground to stay dry from the brook (which floods about once every ten years) and from the accumulation of leaf litter and other tree junk. It will be a P shape in plan view, with the workshop/tool storage forming the spine and the gym/workroom/play area/office sitting in the head of the P. This will complicate the roof, but the shape cannot be avoided without significant tree felling... and the tree in question is big, fluffy and evergreen, so it's staying!

I'm going to need planning permission for this, for at least 3 metres in total height, if not 3.5m (depending on roof design). The spine of the P will be about half a metre from the boundary. If I don't get planning, it will be very unfair. The neighbour has already blighted my view over the fence with a silly plastic Wendy house, and right next to it a crappy old shed with a bright blue tarpaulin roof tied on, so it's not like I'll be making anything worse!

So, I am on here to ask the hive mind for its collective advice. Is a log cabin a silly idea for anyone not in the North American sticks? Is it, in fact, a potentially cheaper and simpler way to build? Is there a better alternative to the log cabin idea that doesn't incur the costs and complexities of modern methods? Has my brain leaked out of my ears over the past ten years and formed a puddle in my shoes?

Answers below...

And the barman says they've run out of pork scratchings. And also, it's lockdown, so home and sit at the computer and read long, tedious threads about log cabins! ;)
 

demographic

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Apr 15, 2005
4,436
446
-------------
For me I think I'd be using SIPS panels. Strength, and insulation all in one.
Look for info on Youtube and for pricing look on Ebay.
 

C_Claycomb

Mod
Mod
Oct 6, 2003
6,615
1,554
Bedfordshire
I cannot answer your questions directly, but...I too have been watching quite a few UK based workshop builds, dreaming of doing away with the flimsy summer house that came with my property and in part of which I have what I call my workshop.

Warning...:rant:coming...

According to the chap that sold me the house, the summer house cost him somewhere between £3500 and £4000. I bought the place about nine years ago, and he must have had it up for at least five. The construction is CHEAP :vomit: and wrong in so many ways! I knew a lot of this when I moved in and I did what I could but it will always be a pig's ear.

Stuff it already had:
  • 30amp (I think) consumer unit with separate switches for lights and sockets
  • Insulated walls (100mm glass wool)
  • Lined walls (plaster board)
  • ....um...roof, walls, door, windows, floor.

Its built like a shed, but just stretched bigger, too big for how it is made, about 3m x 6.5m, walls of 45mm studs, no noggins, spaced 1.5m or so, clad with rounded tongue and groove, 45mm studs used for rafters, also on wide spacing. All single glazed. No window sills. Sits on 45mm studs laid on paving slabs. No gutters. Two sections, a store area, which was totally unlined, and a "summer house" area that had lined walls.

Problems:
  • Floor bounced like a trampoline
  • Damp
  • Black mould on walls under windows. No window sills, water ran down windows and straight behind cladding, into glass wool insulation:aargh:
  • Foundation studs rotting - no gutter, and slabs carried run-off straight under the shed, soaking timbers.
  • Two corner of external wall in store area rotting
  • Cold/hot depending on weather - no roof insulation
  • Walls have 1" plus wave between studs, nothing long and straight can be butted to the walls flush. 45mm stud gap, packed with 100mm glass wool, compressed with plaster board, which didn't match up with stud widths, so not all edges screwed down.
  • Dark
  • Roof sags, 45mm studs are NOT stiff enough to span a 3mm roof. In the places they used 2, they put them "oo" rather than "8".
  • Later, the roof leaked LOTS into store area, 2 layers of the cheapest felt, the under one positioned so it did nothing if the top one failed, as it was bound to with a sagging roof stressing the felt.

Things that I had to do to make it useable:
  • Insulate the roof (43mm Celotex)
  • Board the floor (18mm construction ply over top of plastic vapour barrier)
  • line the ceilings (5mm ply)
  • Line storage area walls 9mm OSB
  • Paint all walls and ceiling white
  • Install strip lights / switches and add more sockets
  • use lots of window sealant to stop water getting behind walls
  • Install guttering
This summer I needed to move a bench and wall mounted shelves and there were no studs in the new location, so I ripped out the plaster board in that area...and found that where the two halves of the shed met, there was just two "oo" 45mm studs, nailed together, with a 3mm gap between them, through which I could see daylight from floor to roof apex! There were also gaps in the :censored: cladding, through which water had come and about 2 sq ft of cladding was going sort of dark, brittle and crunchy.

The problem now is that I have all my stuff and tools in there. It was a real PITA to rip out even a section of one wall and re-insulate and line it, but it wasn't possible to really fix the gaps in timbers, the inadequate weather proofing, foundation, or structure. I could have done more before I moved into it, but it was 2012, and I missed all the amazing spring sun and started work as the long rains began. I had a house full of workshop tools and boxes waiting to be moved out, and which needed to be moved out before I could start work in the house. I knew that the whole was really irredeemable, that short of tearing it down and recycling the timbers, I would never be able to make it "right". At the time I didn't know enough and wasn't brave enough, to do that. It HAS surprised me, it hasn't fallen down yet, but I wish it was built properly! Nearly every time I am out there I wish it was better built.

So...if you build something, you or the people you sell to could be using it 15-20+ years later. When you have moved in and fully inhabited it, it will be a lot harder to re-work unless you have built it with that intent from the start. Building cheap can cost you money long term, or at least mean you cannot use what you build to its full potential.
 
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C_Claycomb

Mod
Mod
Oct 6, 2003
6,615
1,554
Bedfordshire
Planning permission and building regs. From what I have seen, if your structure is close to a boundary you need to look at fire-resistant materials.

For my shed work (and a roof boarding project) I priced around about half a dozen places for materials. Multiple builders merchants, on-line specialists in insulation, timber yards. Buying everything from one place was a good way to pay a lot because there could be significant price differences. The place that sold the cheapest OSB would not be the place with the cheapest insulation, or maybe timber.

In my loft boarding project, the former owner had just had 6" glass wool put down, covering all the joists. I wanted storage, so wanted to board. I didn't want to waste all that new glass wool, so decided to add a grid of 6" joists over the existing ones. Oh boy. I could have bought Kingspan laminated chipboard panels, slapped them down and been done. Instead, I endured a winter with no roof insulation while I struggled with wall plates, 3m 2x6 timbers. Started in September, finished in March! And I know that what I did wasn't structurally right. Would have been better to spend the money and save all that time and work.

Just be careful about choosing a route because it looks cheaper rather than easier. I bet I didn't save money on that loft job. OSB and milled timber is easy to work with, compared to handling logs in the round.

To my way of thinking, the best structures will have a frame over which you put separate membrane and cladding, and inside you have lining with insulation somewhere between. My shed relies upon the cladding to give it shape. If the cladding is damaged it isn't easy to replace, and if water gets past, it straight into the insulation.

This might be an interesting video. I would expect that real logs are more expensive in the UK than spruce studding and OSB. unless you can hijack a logging truck ;)


 

TLM

Native
Nov 16, 2019
1,883
860
Vantaa, Finland
Hmmm ... first in some respects I know what is required on the Misty Isles in regards to constructing houses of various kinds in some I don't have the experience I have here in Finland. "All" log houses here use Scots Pine not spruce, there is some indication that Aspen could be used but one should use seasoned logs (stored properly). Houses are built with the horizontal gap insulated with mineral wool or PP batting. There are several methods using adhesively built "logs" that are machined to shape or just machined from large logs, building with them is relatively easy, a LOT easier than with raw logs.

The main purpose of a house is to keep rain out and heat in (or sometimes out). All construction details should be decided based on those. The number of wrong details is infinite and the number of working ones is very large.
 
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Atellus

Member
Jul 15, 2007
45
0
Warrington, Cheshire
I cannot answer your questions directly, but...I too have been watching quite a few UK based workshop builds, dreaming of doing away with the flimsy summer house that came with my property and in part of which I have what I call my workshop.

Warning...:rant:coming...

...

So...if you build something, you or the people you sell to could be using it 15-20+ years later. When you have moved in and fully inhabited it, it will be a lot harder to re-work unless you have built it with that intent from the start. Building cheap can cost you money long term, or at least mean you cannot use what you build to its full potential.

Wow, sounds like a real horror story. Very appropriate for Halloween! That guy must have got a discount on a lorry load of 45mm studs and decided to build everything out of them! I've seen a boat shed with long timbers laminated out of short lengths. It's a couple of decades old, now, and rock solid. So if you've got the right wood and know what you're doing, you can make stuff out of little bits... but I don't think CLS qualifies as the "right wood"!

I hear and understand the lesson of your story. My motive here is to get the job done well, but obviously cost is a factor as it has been since the pyramids where built. My thinking was that if I went with a traditional build I could kill several birds with one stone: I could have fun doing it as a sort-of bushcrafty, historical project, I could have a really solid construction at the end (log cabins seem to be bomb proof compared to flimsy sheds you buy from garden centres), and I might save money by simply accepting a lower tech, less sophisticated construction method that won't be as comfortable as the house. But then, I don't expect it to be! I ain't living in it!

But I also don't want to build a pile of crap, so we're on the same page, there!


Planning permission and building regs. From what I have seen, if your structure is close to a boundary you need to look at fire-resistant materials.

For my shed work (and a roof boarding project) I priced around about half a dozen places for materials. Multiple builders merchants, on-line specialists in insulation, timber yards. Buying everything from one place was a good way to pay a lot because there could be significant price differences. The place that sold the cheapest OSB would not be the place with the cheapest insulation, or maybe timber.

...

Just be careful about choosing a route because it looks cheaper rather than easier. I bet I didn't save money on that loft job. OSB and milled timber is easy to work with, compared to handling logs in the round.

...

This might be an interesting video. I would expect that real logs are more expensive in the UK than spruce studding and OSB. unless you can hijack a logging truck ;)



Thanks for the video. That's my lunch time viewing.

My understanding of the regs so far is that you only need a fire resistant boundary-facing wall if you plan to comply with building regulations, which you need to comply with if you might use the structure as a habitation, not just as a garden room/shed. I don't think planning permission requires fire resistance. A lot of people seem to do it anyway, as a nice-to-have, but my neighbour certainly didn't bother and he's got 240v in his shed, under that leaky roof! That, and a serious rat problem. The rats are one of the reasons I certainly wasn't going to use plinths for the foundation, but a poured concrete perimeter, maybe with bricks on top of that, including an air brick here and there.

Suppliers: I have a growing list of websites. Some of the best prices I've found furthest away, often with free delivery anywhere in the UK over a certain price point, so in order to save money I'll end up killing the planet!

I had an email from the Mr Chickadee fella who has also built log cabins. He said the best method was to use squared timber, by which he meant bulk timber that was squared off. He also recommended dimensions of 10"x6" which I could handle. One of his most interesting methods is to use scorching to weather and rot proof his timbers, especially the foundations. He carbonises the outer layer of the wood with a blow torch. This seems like an interesting approach to use on those parts of the logs that would have chinking in contact with them, as well as anywhere low down or exposed to potential water run-off in heavy rain.
 

Billy-o

Native
Apr 19, 2018
1,743
791
Canada
300 sq ft is not a small exercise. I'd get an architect or talk to one of those companies that build garden offices for you. At least to discover what is possible. I went through the same dilemma about building a little place in the back garden. Spoke to an architect or two, having some experience of self builds and renos. Then I talked to one or two of those companies that will build you a little garden office. Then I thought F this and I moved to Canada.

If I was going to build on a stream bed, I'd probably think again ... or use concrete piles and a raised, wood construction

Try here for ideas: https://www.thegardenoffice.co.uk/

The one I was hoping to build was going to be made with blue/black engineering bricks and big reclaimed industrial steel windows ... it was a picture (well, it only got as far as a picture)
 
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TLM

Native
Nov 16, 2019
1,883
860
Vantaa, Finland
Concrete is not really waterproof in most ways and it raises capillary water fairly high, that is bad news for the lowest log, burning the surface does not really help that. A log cabin stands about as long as the roof does. Norway has log buildings (stave churches) that are 700 years old. The one secret to that is tar, lots of it often enough.
 
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Atellus

Member
Jul 15, 2007
45
0
Warrington, Cheshire
300 sq ft is not a small exercise. I'd get an architect or talk to one of those companies that build garden offices for you. At least to discover what is possible. I went through the same dilemma about building a little place in the back garden. Spoke to an architect or two, having some experience of self builds and renos. Then I talked to one or two of those companies that will build you a little garden office. Then I thought F this and I moved to Canada.

If I was going to build on a stream bed, I'd probably think again ... or use concrete piles and a raised, wood construction

Try here for ideas: https://www.thegardenoffice.co.uk/

The one I was hoping to build was going to be made with blue/black engineering bricks and big reclaimed industrial steel windows ... it was a picture (well, it only got as far as a picture)

You make a good point about the size. This did occur to me early on, when my first draft topped out at close to 30 sq m. But looking at the layout, no part of the building involves a very long span of joists. Basically, I was treating the building as too separate buildings in close proximity, with the spine containing storage and the workshop being between 2.5m and 3.0m wide, and quite long. The head, the top of the P, is only 4m across at it's widest. The design was inspired by the topography, the presence of a good tree, and by something a marine architect once told me: that after a certain point, you do not significantly increase useful space by adding more width, but you get a hell of a lot more useful space by adding more length. So I added length. I think this is why the overall floor space seems quite large and impressive. But as it's not a single room, a big square or a rectangle, I thought it would remain within the bounds of amateur construction. It seems the hardest part of building big is spanning big gaps, like across a sports hall or a warehouse. I don't have a big single volume, I have a long narrow shape with a bulge at one end.

I think my description of the stream location and the nature of the ground gave the wrong impression. The garden is raised significantly above the water level, which is generally very low and only flows vigorously after heavy rain, and local drainage is very good. It hasn't flooded in a very long time thanks to a lot of enhancement of the water management system in recent years... but I remember when it did and so am going to err on the side of paranoia. I'm happy about building there, with sensible precautions, like electrical sockets a couple of feet off the ground, and so on. Just in case.
 

Atellus

Member
Jul 15, 2007
45
0
Warrington, Cheshire
Concrete is not really waterproof in most ways and it raises capillary water fairly high, that is bad news for the lowest log, burning the surface does not really help that. A log cabin stands about as long as the roof does. Norway has log buildings (stave churches) that are 700 years old. The one secret to that is tar, lots of it often enough.

Good point. I'm agnostic about what the foundation is made of so long as it's not going to break the bank. That recycled plastic wood, for instance, is too pricey, even though it's waterproof. I'm just as happy with a concrete or gravel base supporting a row of stones... just have to find a supply of similar sized stones!
 

TLM

Native
Nov 16, 2019
1,883
860
Vantaa, Finland
A log building is going to be fairly heavy, which means that you calculate the weight then look at the ground how much that supports and start to design the foundation from that. Not really all that complicated once you have done it once. ;) The buildings I have done had foundation blocks at every major floor joist, which was about every 1.5-2 m. Floor design is actually somewhat more complicated as light weight floors are designed for stiffness not strength. One does not want to walk on a drum head. Roofs are designed for load, here it is the snow load but I have no idea what your local codes might say. The good thing about log walls is that they basically can take any vertical load you throw at them.
 

demographic

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Apr 15, 2005
4,436
446
-------------
Concrete makes a good foundation as long as people remember to put a damp proof membrane into its construction and don't put holes into it before the concrete is laid.
 

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