Build It - Fix It: Save Money While Creating and Caring for Your Homestead

Published November 17, 2022 by Joyce
Garden shed wall with an electric fence
New garden shed wall with the electric fence wire that kept our bear at bay during construction.

Let’s face it - some things are better left to the pros. Electric, plumbing, roofs, foundations. You can get yourself into trouble fast! That said, the homestead is a perfect place to learn and hone some basic skills

One of the best things you can do for your homestead is learn some carpentry skills. My 20+ years experience as a carpenter has been a huge help in running  this late 17th century homestead. The things I have created and repaired outside my home have really shown me how useful, cost effective, simple and fun this kind of carpentry can be. 

Bear Swipe Garden Shed

Pan to a lovely spring evening not so long past. It’s Vermont in the beginning of June. Summer looming in the wings. I had just purchased two nuc colonies of bees - two wooden boxes with approximately 7000 bees in each. I installed them in the apiary protected from coons and bears by electric fence. I stashed the empty boxes in the garden shed where I have been storing extra equipment for years. These boxes were exceptionally clean of any wax, dead bees, drips. What happened next is a good example of the power of a bear’s nose!

The next morning when I strolled out to survey my homestead as I love to do in the morning (coffee in hand) and saw something amiss in the landscape,  it took me a second to even realize what I was seeing. 

Broken bee hives on the grass from a bear
If a bear doesn’t find a door, he makes one.

The bear had taken a big swipe or two and ripped the wall and window right off of my shed. The window lay inside the building and combs and bee boxes lay trampled in the grass.. 

I cleaned everything up,  bagged up the debris, stacked the window and the undamaged beekeeping equipment inside. Lacking the time and lumber needed, I was not able to get the wall closed up that night.

Well, that bear returned, just in case he had missed anything.  He dragged everything back out, stepped on the window and walked on everything he had somehow avoided previously.  THEN he dragged the contractor bag full of broken combs, gobs of smushed beeswax, bits of bee boxes, pieces of broken glass and wood down into the woods, tore it open and scattered it about the forest floor.

Sigh.

The basic structure of my garden shed is something like a pole barn. However, not much my dad built followed any sort of carpentry standards. He was very careful, smart, deliberate, and capable. But he had no training as a carpenter and this structure although quite rugged had something of Rube Goldberg in it. Some of the siding was on the inside, some out. Without completely taking the entire wall apart, I couldn’t see how to recreate what he had built. 

But, after all, it is not a house. It is a garden shed. Homesteads have lots of challenges like this that offer a lot of low risk opportunities to learn. The chickens are not going to complain if the trim is not perfect.. 

One thing I have learned over my carpentry career is that there is always a solution. You  stand there staring at the problem, looking to all bystanders like you are getting absolutely nothing done. But in fact, you are. You are waiting and just letting the problem sink in and sit there, you mull it over for a while til you get an ah ha. 

And sometimes that’s going nowhere and you just gotta do something, Even if it’s wrong. That was the case with this project. One step at a time, the process looked like this.

Clean up.

Demolition and cleanup complete of shed window
Demolition and cleanup complete

I first removed everything that was broken or showing rot at the bottom. I removed ALL the debris. The mess in the woods, on the ground in and around the shed. This step was critical because:

  • I had already accomplished something and was immediately less discouraged.
  • It gave me ease of moving around without the chance of stepping on nails, kneeling on glass or catching my power cord on a hunk of wood. 
  • I now had a safe, productive, inspiring workplace.
  • I could now clearly see what I was working with. 
  • I had rounded a corner of looking at  the problem. I moving forward toward a solution.

Secure the site.

 I ran a temporary electric fence around the entire building and baited it with peanut butter. 

Make a plan.

What is critical? What comes first?

Because of the costs of materials and the time required to replace the entire wall, I decided to repair the damaged section of the wall. 

Get some supplies

The entire wall and door were floppy and really needed some support. The window, although damaged, could be repaired. I would need a post and some hemlock boards (to fill in the wall).

 I dug a hole (deep enough that the post would fit in, right up to the top)  with a post hole digger and put a post in just to the side of the door. 

 3’ deep is advised in  a climate where the ground freezes.

 I slid the 2’ x 4’  post all the way to the top,  plumbed it and fixed it there with clamps.

 I screwed it to the sheathing boards  from the outside with 1 ⅝” exterior screws. (blue arrow). At this point, the post is still floating in the hole.

Then I filled in the ground around The post. When the hole was about half full. I used this little trick to settle the post.  Just as a bucket of water collapses a sand castle, the soil will settle in tight to the post when a quart or so of water is added. Then added soil to a little above ground level. Added water again and stomped it down, making sure to keep it plumb.   This  post will serve both to support the door and the wall and provide nailing for cross pieces and siding.

Framing on a shed opening
Creating a structure

Step 2: Establishing the structure

To repair this building I needed to let go of the standards and just do what worked. It was a creative process of asking what was needed and then asking myself how I could give that form, in this case, making a window opening. 

  • Installed horizontal window frame between the old post and the new one, leveled it and fastened it with screws into the posts. (arrow #1)

(The size of the opening allows for the height of the window frame plus 2-¼”. I installed vertical studs to support the sides of the window opening. 

  • Installed vertical side window studs, again allowing a 2- ¼” of space on all sides of the window frame(arrow #2). This space allows for trimming the window  opening using 1” hemlock and ¼” wiggle room for the window. 
  • Installed a horizontal nailer  (2X4 scrap of hemlock). I measured down from the window opening to make sure it was straight and screwed it  into the posts at both ends (arrow #3)
  • The studs around the window were made from pieces of 2X4 spruce scraps I had lying about.
Exterior sheathing boards on a shed
Exterior sheathing boards

Installed exterior boards to fill in the wall and rest just above ground level to prevent rot.

    These exterior boards are 1” hemlock boards from a local sawmill.

    The last board needed to be ripped (cut lengthwise) to size.

  • Added trim boards mostly for aesthetics, but also to help keep the rain out. 
  • Added a full sill. It is supported below by a horizontal 1X4” that is 2” shorter than the sill.
  • Added trim above, which matches the lower trim in length. This length is the window opening plus the width of the trim (4”) plus 2 inches for overhang. This is standard window trim and I was pleased with the effect.
  • Added side trim 1” thick trim. Measure carefully for an attractive fit. I now have an opening that is a generous ¼” larger than the window on all sides.

And Last but not Least!  I wrapped the entire building with electric fence with a gate on each door. I have found that having electric fence on every building, I have no problem with bears. They do not care much to go where they’ve gotten that kind of reception. 

At the time of this writing, winter’s coming and I need to get the window in. More soon on how I repaired the window that pesky bear stepped on.

Trimmed out window
Trimmed out window

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