11 August 2020

Practising what you preach

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Photo: Finished shed awaiting long pull handles – which will tell you where the 2 doors are located!


Earlier on in the lockdown with schools shut, TRADA’s Rupert Scott suggested that parents might like to get into the garage with their children and have a go at making something creative out of wood.


Never one to shy away from a challenge, he decided to recruit his sons and build his very own shed. But what did he learn?


In May, you asked everyone to make something out of wood. What did you make?

I decided to build my own shed. It’s actually an over-engineered shed – I staunchly believe in hands-on learning and I wanted to try putting together a timber frame structure, cladding with a more involved design than just feather edged boarding, and make doors to match! I also wanted to involve my sons in something practical during the stricter periods of lockdown.


How did you find the experience?

It feels like making things uses a different part of your brain to my normal work! You have to put yourself into the shoes of a designer / maker for quite a while before you actually understand how to design. If you manufacture / install timber frame for a living and read my comments below, you will either be pleased that someone is recognising what you do or wonder what all the fuss is about because you don’t know any different!


I found it difficult teaching others whilst I was trying to learn for myself. It sounds obvious, but you have to be competent before you can teach others well. So teaching my sons wasn’t easy – but it was worth it.


How did you reach the point of being ready to build?

Taking the time to read up on the subject and making sure I was familiar with the principles before starting to design was absolutely critical.


For me, this shed is a stepping stone to a garden studio. So I’d recommend starting small and building up, taking it in stages in order to build up confidence. I’m certainly glad I did.


I had to relearn some things that I had known in the past. Because I hadn’t used the knowledge or skills a lot, I had to be reminded of them. A point proven that we must keep revisiting such things in order to reinforce them in our minds, and add further to them bit by bit.


So much of what absorbed my attention amounted to “getting things straight, plumb, or level”. It all seems simple when you’re looking at the drawing, but the rubber hits the road when you try to make it happen and get it right.


What observations did you make?

You will make mistakes, so plan to do so and learn from them. For example, order more materials in than you need, with the view that some will be required for practice runs. Make a mock-up of a section or joint to practise the techniques you’ll be using. Plus, build in time for these practice runs – and stay relaxed when there doesn’t seem to be anything to show at the end of the day!


Training has to be applied to be truly learnt. That’s when the real transformation takes place – not when you just read or hear about something.


What did you find most challenging?

Junctions – it is difficult to think in 3D until you have made the components and can see them, by which time it is too late to make changes. (Unless you are making mock-ups, which I highly recommend.) Some people have a great brain for visualising in 3D (not me) – employ them!


I also struggled to get the sizes right to achieve a consistent pattern across the cladding and across the doors.


Creating a cutting list from drawings – this is a skill that needs experience.


Buying the necessary materials during lockdown also proved challenging.


Drawing up everything beforehand and deciding on the details, rather than trying to work it out as I went along. This is again because I am not experienced in drawing, so it made my brain work very hard! This was advice given to me and I tried as best I could to follow. It is true – it is so much harder to change things once you start.


Which resources did you most benefit from?

Thankfully I am the membership and marketing manager of TRADA, which gives me ample access to many, many online documents and publications, and several technical consultants who are highly experienced at designing and problem-solving timber products and buildings.


Read TRADA’s books and online resources before you touch a piece of wood. Call the helpline to sort out any confusion in your mind – there is usually some. Amendments to designs will take far longer down the road.


Your top tips for any other beginners looking to design and build their own shed?

It is best to over order, especially right now when supplies can be limited. You will make mistakes. Sometimes, you will find it is also necessary to experiment.


However, don’t cut all the materials for a process in one go: cut one or a few, then fit them and check that you have got all the dimensions and fixing methods right first. Sometimes I didn’t, only to face regret further down the road.


Plan everything with dimensioned drawings first – it does save a lot of time.


You will need plenty of space for storing materials and working, which is easy to overlook when you’re busy daydreaming about your finished shed / building.


Buy a big quantity of mixed size, high quality drill bits. Also, only use decent quality screws that screw in and out easily with a power driver.


Set aside a few consecutive days for the build. After a day or two, you start getting into the swing of it and working more efficiently.


Accept that there are times for experimenting and trialling – during which nothing appears to move forward – but these times are the most crucial for long-term achievements. They are also the times when someone will undiplomatically say: “you haven’t done much today!” Family members are good at doing this.


When doing something new, do so on your own so that you can think clearly. Involve others, e.g. your children, when you are more confident of what you are doing.


How do you feel now that you have finished?

Satisfied. While the UK shut down during lockdown, it was great to be able to do something with my hands. Put simply, you can’t stand back, look at your computer, and admire the Teams meeting you’re attending in quite the same way!


Rupert Scott is TRADA's Membership & Marketing Manager and is responsible for the strategic development and management of TRADA's membership strategy, events and exhibitions programme and marketing activities.


Find out more about TRADA Membership


Useful resources

TRADA Publication External timber cladding

The Wood Species database

Wood Information Sheet Introduction to timber frame construction

TRADA's Technical Helpline