Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tractor Shed

I recently completed the construction of a shed for the tractor. This has been on my to-do list for quite some time, and is the biggest project I've undertaken. Luckily I had my dad to help, else it would never have gotten built.

We initially considered having one of those metal frame 'carports' installed. After talking with my dad, however, we decided that building a wooden shed was a much better option, even though it would require a great deal of work.

I started prepping the spot for the shed even before we decided to build it ourselves. Levelling the area required digging down the high side, and using the resulting dirt to fill in the low side. I was able to do all of this work myself, using the tractor with a box blade attached.

I created the design for the shed using the 3d modelling software SketchUp. Having a 3d model of the structure really helped me make some key decisions regarding dimensions, etc. I also found it was very useful when putting together a material list, since I could see where each piece of lumber needed to go, and figure out what to purchase to reduce waste. The overall design was mine, but I did have some very helpful input from my dad.

I scheduled an entire week off from work to build the shed. My dad came down Monday morning, and we got started right away. The task for the first day was to determine where the holes should be drilled for setting the posts. I was afraid this might take up most of the day, but after a couple of hours of measuring and marking we had it figured out. The post hole auger I had schedule to rent wasn't going to be available until the following morning, so our first day on the project turned out to be a short one.

On the second day we left early to pick up the auger. I had hoped to get a PTO-driven auger for the tractor, but the equipment rental place did not have one available. We ended up with a towable post hole digger and 12" auger. On the third pull of the rope, when trying to start it for the first time, the rope broke. I called the rental place, and they said they could fix it quickly if I brought it back in. That was going to kill another 2 hours, or more, though, so we decided to find a way to get it to start on our own. Luckily we were able to do so. Unfortunately, though, the machine was not well suited to what we needed it to do. I thought the ground would be fairly easy to dig, since it had been worked recently, but that was not the case. The auger would stall when encountering even fist-sized rocks or tree roots. After an hour we gave up, and finished the holes up by hand. The auger had given us a good start, which made finishing them up go easier, but I suspect we could have completely dug them by hand in the time it took to drive to and from the rental place, figure out how to start it with the broken rope, and then do the little digging with it we were able to do. My set of Fiskars Post Hole Diggers and Truper San Angelo Bar cost less to purchase than the auger did to rent, and were much more effective.

On day three, after returning the auger, we started setting the posts. To ensure a minimum clearance of 8' I had purchased 10' posts for the high side, and 12' for the low side. We used treated 6x6s for the posts, which are quite heavy. In most cases we were able to slide them off of the trailer into the holes, but they often required being repositioned once we had them in the holes. The 10' posts weren't too bad, but the 12' ones were very nearly more than I could lift myself.

Physically setting the posts in place wasn't very time consuming, but ensuring they were square, plumb, and in line was. Once we had a post positioned exactly the way we wanted it, we attached two 10' long 2x4s as braces. Once the eighth, and final, post was set we took diagonal measurements to check for square. I was concerned that we would have to make adjustments, and was starting to consider just how out of square the posts would have to be for me to suggest we reset one or more of them. You can imagine my relief when we found that the measurements were within half an inch of each other, which was certainly close enough to square for me.

Instead of building beams to use as top plates to tie the posts together, I decided to use an approach I had seen on another similar shed. We attached 2x6s along both the inside and outside of the posts, so that the tops of the posts we sandwiched between them. This was much easier than building and installing beams, although I'm not sure how they compare in terms of strength.

On day four we were able to install the trusses. This was the task I had been most dreading, but it turned out to go fairly easily. We were able to transport the trusses with the tractor, by sitting three at a time on top of the box blade, and strapping them in place. I thought we'd also use the tractor to lift them in place, but we found that setting them in place by hand was easier than trying to use the tractor.

As is always the case with trusses, since they are top heavy, we had to turn them by hand and hold them upright until they were attached. Initially I tried doing this completely by hand, from a ladder, but found that I was not comfortable enough on a ladder to be handling so much weight without something to help me balance. After considering a couple of options, I finally came up with a solution that worked well. I was able to use the tractor's front end loader to raise the peak so the truss was close to vertical. I then positioned the ladder so that my body would be square to the truss when I was standing on it, allowing me to hold onto the tractor bucket with one hand if I needed to steady myself. With the other hand I was able to raise the truss on into place, with the comfort of knowing the bucket would catch it if I lost my grip or had to let it drop for some reason.

Since we used the 6x6s in place of a top beam on the posts my Dad came up with an idea for making the trusses easier to attach. We cut some 6x6 scraps into 18" to 24" lengths, and positioned between the 6x6s, perpendicular to them, so the trusses could be screwed into them. Once attached, this helped the trusses to remain upright without the need for additional bracing.

Once the trusses were set we began installing the laths. We didn't make much progress, though, and finished that up on day five. To save money I chose to space the trusses four feet apart, and then use 2x4s for the laths instead of the typical 1" thick lumber. It took us most of the day to install the laths, partially because we had used some of the 2x4s for bracing and so had to install some permanent bracing so we could take the temporary bracing back down. I also had some 8' 2x4s from a previous project which I dug out and used for the laths, so we didn't have to remove more of the temporary braces, which we really wanted to remain under we were completely finished.

Once the laths were installed we began installing the metal on the roof. I am not comfortable walking on a roof in the best of conditions, and the slick metal and distance between trusses was far from good conditions. My dad handled all of the on-roof work, while I helped from a ladder. Progress was slow, while we figure out a good process. This wasn't helped by the fact that he had trouble keeping his footing on the slick metal. We managed to get six of the seven pieces on one side installed before calling it a day.

We had hoped to finish in five days, but we had realized a couple of days prior that it wasn't likely. We woke up on day six to a heavy frost, which prevented us from getting an early start, especially since the the moisture would cause the metal to be even harder to walk on than the previous day. We were able to do work on some other tasks while everything heated up and dried off, though, including installing the rest of the permanent bracing and pre-drilling the holes in the remainder of the metal.

Once the time came to climb back onto the roof, my Dad changed into a pair of tennis shoes with clean soles. This made a tremendous difference, and allowed him to much more easily walk on the metal. The first few pieces of metal went up much more quickly than the pieces on the previous day. I asked Andrea to help me carry the remaining pieces to the shed, so my Dad didn't have to climb down and risk dirtying his shoes. I had tried carrying a piece by myself, but at nearly 14' long I wasn't able to get a grip on them that allowed me to easily carry them. The remaining pieces went up just as quickly as the first ones of the day, and it wasn't long until I was cutting the final ridge cap to length so it could be installed.

The entire build took my Dad and I approximately 30 hours. In idea weather, and without having to wait to rent the auger, we could probably have finished in three days, or four at the most. The total cost for the project was approximately $1650. Around $200 of this was spent on tools, including the rental of the auger, and the purchase of the digging bar and drill bits for the metal, of which some will be returned since they were not needed. The purchase of a metal carport, on the other hand, would have cost $1500-$1600, and would have been slightly smaller, without the flexibility of being able to easily add a section onto the side later and without the overhead storage provided by the trusses.

At 24' wide and 20' long the shed provides 480 square feet of storage. That should easily be enough to store the tractor and all of my implements, plus the big mower, four-wheeler, and wood chipper with plenty of room left for stacking some bales of straw. I plan to later add a 16' by 20' shed off of one side, which we'll partially enclose for storage and possibly as a summer kitchen where Andrea can do some canning.

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