Building a Tiny Workshop

My teeny tiny workshop. Designed and built by me. 3.6m x 2.5m, timber framed, “hardiplank” clad, double glass doors. With just about all materials being moved in my little hatchback car! This opened up a world or new opportunities for woodwork and other projects.

So all this happened a couple of years ago, but I had a whole bunch of photos saved away, and thought it might make a interesting post. This has so far been the biggest project, by far, that I’ve ever done. Looking back at it I can’t believe I had the confidence to do this!

My previous “workspace”. Here using my home made and pretty dodgy mini-router table.

Prior to this point, my few projects were done under a carport, but basically out in open weather. So my timber would often warp with changing humidity. Plus every time I’d have sawdust thrown everywhere, much to my wife’s displeasure, often covering the car and clothes on our nearby washing line.

The Design

I must have gone through about 20 different design iterations on this one. Particularly because I’d never done anything like this before, I went into painstaking detail to model every piece of timber, and work out the construction sequence at each stage. I did all this is Google Sketchup, a program I can’t speak highly enough of really. It’s free for starters, and far simpler to use than full blown CAD packages I’ve used.

My design was small enough not to require planning permits in my area, but I still decided to follow the Australian Standard for timber framed houses to work out spacing of studs and material sizes to use. (Yes I know, a bit overboard for a “shed”, but that’s the sort of person I am). I wanted the design to look like it belonged with our 1960s weatherboard  home. Hence the weatherboard selection, pitched roof, and door styling I went with. I also particularly wanted something I could put together without very much help.

Some of the almost final Google Sketchup models, although I ended up going with a timber floor rather than concrete.

The Foundations

I’d given myself a budget of just $1500-2000, and quickly found that to get  a slab poured would chew up at least a quarter of that money, and I had no desire to do concreting work myself. So I compromised and went for a timber floor on concrete blocks. In the end I’m happy i did it this way as it’s more comfortable working on a timber floor anyway.

Foundations going in

I used just concrete besser blocks with a small amount of concrete to set them in the ground, rather than full sizes stumps, figuring my structure would weight a lot less than a full sized house.

I roughly leveled the ground, leaving a small slope for drainage, finding little surprises like random blocks of buried concrete, and massive tree roots in my way.  Yay to old properties.

The Flooring

Installation of the floor

To save on delivery fees I bought all my materials in lengths I could move in my hatchback, so the floor panels and timber were not ‘full length’ . Where I could I reused some old fencing timber for additional bracing in the floor.

My floor design was not conventional, again a compromise, this time to reduce the height of the building to keep within council rules. I had just one ‘level of timber’ rather than the traditional bearers + joist method. Yellow tongue flooring on top. My air gap under floor was not quite ‘to code’, so I went for treated pine, again this probably was not the most ideal choice, but I figured it would do the job.

The Frame

Frame construction

With the floor down, constructing the wall frames was actually pretty simple. With lengths cut, I just progressively nailed my pieces together, keeping an eye on the overall squareness by checking the diagonal distances with a  tape measure. A key design element I went with early on, was to use bracing boards to keep the frame square, which meant once assembled I could very easily lift up and put in place, without things twisting out of shape. Plus I intended this be my interior surface, rather than say plaster board, so I could easily screw brackets and alike on for storage.

I needed an extra hand to get the first two walls up and temporarily fastened, but for the rest of the frame I constructed and lifted into position by myself without much issue. Square to a few mm at any given point!

The Roof

For some reason I found the roof very visually satisfying, and was quietly chuffed with myself for working out a good way to do do this without a second set of hands.

Roof trusses all installed. Why is this picture so satisfying?

The frames were all assembled on the floor, and light enough that I could just lift them up my step ladder, and hold them down with some sheet metal brackets for just this purpose.

I used off-cuts of my ply as truss braces, rather than buying the normal pressed sheet metal style you would see on a commercial build, but that worked just fine to keep those frames rigid.

Not pictured were the battens, which I actually made out some old bed frame timber I found some time ago from someone’s hard rubbish. I cut it down to size and used a few different lengths to make up what I needed to support the roofing iron.

Insulation & Cladding

Cladding installation started

Given how small this workshop was going to be, I had to use some form on insulation or it would have been an unusable hotbox in summer. So under the roof and around the frame I used typical sarking/foil(?) insulation. I just managed to cover the whole thing with a single roll with only a couple of gaps around the doors.

The only deliveries I did end up having to get made was for the cladding. It was simply too long and heavy for me to move myself in the car. Although I even managed to move the roofing corrugated iron, which I ordered cut to length from a local supplier, but I almost broke my back getting them out of the car. (Perhaps I should have taken note that they used a forklift to load them in the car before I tried to lift it by hand!)

I used fibre cement cladding, as this is what our house has, but also it’s a good cheap choice that looks pretty good once painted and is just about bomb proof. Cutting and installing it was laborious but slow and steady got me there. I quickly discovered using a hacksaw to cut fibre cement is a bad idea! My blade was fully bunt within about 2 boards; I used the knife scoring method for the remainder.

Doors & Finishing

I didn’t photograph the door installation or painting, but you can see the end result. I’d never installed doors before, but it was straightforward enough. I made up my own hardwood frame, with door jambs and all. And found a nice set of stainless steel fixed pin hinges online to hang the doors with. With some spacers cut, and a few big clamps to hold things in place, I managed to get it done.

I’d fully exhausted my budget at this point, with the paint and the doors done. So for the time being I had to live with my little windows just covered with plastic and power fed through a hole in the wall with an extension lead. I also didn’t get to build in the eves, so there is still a breeze coming through under the roof, but I’ll get to that in time… (2 years on and I have put in better windows, but the power situation and eves are unchanged, perhaps in another 2 years??)

So end result? Absolutely satisfied with this cute little workspace! Heaps of natural light through those double doors, and it looks well at home next to our house. The space is only just barely big enough though, but actually that gives me good excuses to come up with creative ways of solving problems with such a small space. After a couple of years the frame has proven to be pretty stable, with just a little tweaking needed for the doors to close and lock consistently. But otherwise very happy.

The more or less finished structure. Could do with some steps, or perhaps a mini deck out the front? 🙂





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