Customize your garden shed to be a decorative focal point of your yard or garden.
Almost all of us need a little place to store outdoor stuff — garden tools, recycling bins, the lawn mower, bicycles or other outdoor gear — and building a shed is one of the best ways to create additional storage space. Our garden shed plans are simple and require only basic carpentry skills.
A garden shed can be strictly functional, but it can also be a decorative focal point around which you design your garden or yard. These plans will help you build a basic shed, but don’t stop there! To customize your shed, you could create a combination toolshed and greenhouse, put a martin house on top, or use part of the shed for a chicken coop or rabbit hutch. If you’re feeling even more adventurous, you could create a living roof of moss or succulent plants.
Build the Floor
The best spot for a shed is level, well-drained ground close to where you work in your garden or yard. The location doesn’t need to be perfectly flat; the foundation design shown in the plans allows for adjustments to make the floor level. Small sheds require only a top-of-soil foundation, even in locations with freezing winter temperatures. Precast concrete deck blocks work perfectly for this.
To eliminate the need for any kind of floor beams, you’ll need a deck block at each corner, with two more blocks equally spaced along the 8-foot sides and one in the center of each 6-foot side. If you expect to store particularly heavy items, consider installing three deck blocks between each corner on the 8-foot walls, instead of two.
Deck blocks include a central pocket sized to fit the standard 4-by-4 vertical posts that typically hold up a deck. In the case of this shed, pressure-treated 4-by-4s function in a similar way, but in short lengths — just enough to compensate for any variation in the shape of the ground (see the plans).
Start by setting deck blocks on the ground, positioned as shown in the plans. While the area doesn’t have to be perfectly level, you should make the ground roughly level where each block will rest. Temporarily place some straight 2-by-6 lumber on edge in the top grooves of the blocks to orient the blocks in a straight line. Arrange two rows of four blocks parallel to each other to form both long walls, then measure diagonally across the outside corners to determine how square the arrangement is. If the two long walls are parallel, and diagonal measurements taken across corners are equal, then each corner is guaranteed to be 90 degrees. Finish up by placing one deck block in the middle of each 6-foot wall after you have aligned and squared the 8-foot walls.
Remove the 2-by-6 lumber guides, then put a 12-inch length of 4-by-4 lumber into each deck block, positioned vertically in the central recess. These 4-by-4s will be slightly too long right now, but that’s exactly what you want.
The 2-by-6s that form the outer perimeter of the floor frame rest on the outside top edge of the deck blocks, tight to the outer faces of the 4-by-4 posts. Use a 4-foot level and an 8-foot 2-by-6 to determine the highest deck block in the group, then use this as your starting point for installing the floor frame. Use a single galvanized 3 1⁄2-inch deck screw to lock the 2-by-6 to the 4-by-4 on the highest deck block, then raise the other end of the 2-by-6 so it’s level before locking the other end of the 2-by-6 to its 4-by-4. The 2-by-6 won’t rest on all the blocks, but should rest on at least one. Continue working all around the floor frame in this manner until all perimeter 2-by-6s are in the same level plane. Trim all excess 4-by-4s flush with the top of the 2-by-6s using a chain saw or reciprocating saw, then add 2-by-6 floor joists running between the two 8-foot walls. Make sure each joist fits tightly within the outer edges of the floor frame, and then fasten the joists to the side of the 4-by-4s with screws.
Complete the floor frame by driving three 3 1⁄2-inch deck screws per joint, then custom-cut spacers out of 1 1⁄2-inch-thick construction lumber to fill the gap between the underside of the 2-by-6s and the top of the deck blocks. You can’t rely on screws alone to hold up the floor frame in the long term. Finish up by installing a pressure-treated, five-eighths-inch-thick plywood subfloor on top of the floor frame, secured with 2 1⁄2-inch deck screws driven every 6 to 8 inches.
Frame the Walls
This shed’s walls are built in the same way that the walls of most full-size homes are built. The plans show how 2-by-4 top plates and bottom plates extend horizontally around the perimeter of the building, with vertical studs defining wall surfaces. Notice that the two short walls fit inside the two longer ones, fastened together at the corners with 3 1⁄2-inch deck screws and overlapping top plates.
To build the framing for each wall, begin by temporarily screwing a 2-by-4 top plate and 2-by-4 bottom plate together face to face, then set this pair on its edge on the plywood floor. Next, mark the position of the wall studs on the edges of both of these 2-by-4s, spacing the center of each stud 24 inches apart. The plans show detailed layouts for all walls and how to frame door and window openings. The plans don’t offer measurements for these openings though, because this shed is perfect for using scrounged windows and doors, and these can be of any size. You can hinge doors directly onto the rough frame of the shed, but attaching windows will work a little differently.
A salvaged wooden sash can be fixed permanently into the shed frame, but beware: Fixed windows such as these attract and trap flies, making a buzzing, dirty mess. I suggest using another type of window. If you do, you’ll need to create a rough window frame opening large enough to accommodate the entire window unit, with an extra half-inch clearance on the sides, top and bottom for adjustment.
Separate the 2-by-4 plates, space them about 8 feet apart on the floor, and nail 92 1⁄2-inch-long studs between them.
Immediately after you’ve built one long wall, get some help to tilt it upright, then use 4-inch deck screws to fasten the bottom wall plate to the floor, positioning the screws so they sink into the edge of the 2-by-6 floor frame. Assemble and raise the other walls, adjust them so they’re plumb in the corners and fasten them with deck screws. Add a second layer of wall plates on top of the first, overlapping across the corners. Complete the walls by covering the frame with sheathing.
Exterior-grade plywood siding is an easy, inexpensive choice. It includes vertical grooves for decoration and accepts any kind of paint or stain. Regardless of what you use, don’t wrestle with the complication of cutting window openings before adding sheathing. Instead, apply sheathing to the walls from the outside, covering them completely, then cut the window and door openings afterward, following the framed openings from inside using a chain saw or reciprocating saw.
Build the Roof
The simplest way to make a roof frame for a small shed is to use steel connector plates made especially for the job. Using this hardware eliminates the need for fancy cuts on the rafters and will create a strong roof. Cut the 2-by-4 rafters at 30-degree angles (see the plans), then bring them together on top of the building using steel plates (peak brackets) and screws.
With the rafters in place, cut two triangular pieces of wall sheathing to close in the gable ends, fastening them both to the top of the wall and the faces of the outermost rafters with nails.
Notice how the roof frame sits on top of the walls and that there are spaces between the rafters. If you leave these open, birds, bugs and rodents will get into your shed. The best time to fill spaces between rafters is now, before the roof sheathing goes on. Cut 2-by-6 blocking to fit within each space. If you have access to a table saw, use it to angle the top sides of the blocks to match the roof slope. Fasten the blocks to the top plate with screws.
Even a small shed looks best with a roof overhang on the triangular front and back ends of the building. So, before you cover the roof with half-inch plywood, extend the roof frame by attaching three rafter supports to each end rafter with screws, then fasten the overhanging rafters to those supports.
It’s much easier to safely handle rafters, roof sheathing and shingles when you’re standing firmly on a scaffold than when you’re balancing on a ladder. Set up the scaffolding inside the shed for roof construction, then move it out next to the eaves as a shingling platform.
DIY sheds offer great value, great durability, and the opportunity to exercise your creativity. Build one yourself, and you’ll wonder why anyone would ever do it differently.
Garden Shed Materials List
14 rafters, 1 1/2 x 3 1/2” x 521⁄2”
12 rafter supports, 1 1/2” x 2 1/2” x 8 1/2”
8 rafter blocking boards, 1 1/2” x 5 1/2” x 22 1/2”*
10 deck blocks, precast concrete, for 4-by-4 posts
As needed floor posts, 3 1/2” x 3 1/2” x 12”*
As needed floor frame spacers, 1 1/2” x 3 1/2” x length*
2 long floor edge boards, pressure-treated, 1 1/2” x 5 1/2” x 96”
4 floor joists, pressure-treated, 1 1/2” x 5 1/2” x 69”
11⁄2 sheets pressure-treated floor decking, 5/8” x 48” x 96”
18 wall studs, 1 1/2” x 3 1/2” x 92 1/2”
6 long bottom/top plates, 1 1/2” x 3 1/2” x 96”**
6 short bottom/top plates, 1 1/2” x 3 1/2” x 65”**
1 door lintel, 3 1/2” x width as needed x length as needed
2 window studs, 1 1/2” x 3 1/2” x length as needed
2 top/bottom window frames, 1 1/2” x 3 1/2” x length as needed
6 or 7 sheets*** wall sheathing (plywood or OSB), 7/16” to 1/2” x 48” x 96”
4 1/2sheets roof sheathing (plywood or OSB), 7/16” to 1/2” x 48” x 96”
Metal rafter hardware
Note: All materials should be construction-grade lumber unless otherwise noted. Dimensions are actual — for example, 1 1/2 inches x 3 1/2 inches are the actual dimensions of a 2-by-4.
*Cut to length as needed
**Cut upper top plates to overlap corners
***Depending on the size of door and window you select
Great Garden Shed Showoff: Win a $500 Certificate for Tools of Your Choice!
If you have a shed that’s a beautiful focal point on your property, MOTHER EARTH NEWS invites you to enter our Great Garden Shed Showoff. Any small structure used to store garden tools and equipment or house livestock is eligible. We will choose grand-prize winners in two categories:
1. Most decorative and/or colorful
2. Best use of repurposed materials and/or most versatile
The winner in each category will receive a $500 gift certificate from Lee Valley Tools, which has a great selection of tools and hardware for woodworkers and gardeners. They offer many innovative hand tools that are difficult to find elsewhere. To enter, send a photo and at least 50 words describing your shed to Letters@MotherEarthNews.com by Nov. 1, 2011.
Contributing Editor Steve Maxwell has been helping people renovate, build and maintain their homes for more than two decades. “Canada’s Handiest Man” is an award-winning home improvement authority and woodworking expert. Contact him by visiting his website and the blog, Maxwell’s House. You also can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook and find him on Google+.