It is a fact that sometimes I stretch the definitions of words, almost to their breaking points, to try and take part in the Daily Prompt. It’s a fact that sometimes I look at the prompt and think “How on earth can I wheedle that word into a sentence ? What does it even mean ?”. However, it is also a fact that today I had no such difficulty. Over the last week I have been working hard simply because of the fact that good foundations make good sheds.
Because kidding and lambing are soon to start (my neighbours have had their first lambs already) I have been getting ready. This year we will need more bays for the goats and this had meant we have to move half of the barn’s content into a nice new shed. Now I have a lot of experience in knocking up sheds and know that this can be a lot of fun. But there is a first fundamental step which is no pleasure at all – building the base. It is an easy step to omit or to bodge, but when I have I have always regretted it. The shed is never really robust, and always ends up rotting, when I skimp on this step. So, in lieu of a new year’s resolution, this year I was going to do it properly. This means about weeks preparatory work for a small shed.
The first step is digging. It is necessary to dig out a level area about a yard wider and longer than the shed you intend to erect. In our land this is no fun as we have a very clay rich soil – indeed we have thought about abandoning growing vegetables and try pottery instead. With a mild damp winter the soil has been very wet which made digging a real chore. It is best to start from the lowest, easiest corner then dig back into the deepest area. All the time you do this use you spirit level and a large plank to try and create as level an area as possible. I found for a 12×8 foot shed this took me two days.
Next is a good idea to insert pegs, made from scraps of wood from an old pallet, at approximately a yard apart. Use the spirit level to tap these in so that the tops are all level one with another. This is also a good time to check that you can create straight edges to work with. I use long lengths of 4×3. Once you have these in situ check that the corners are at right angles with a square edge. Another check, at this point, is to measure the two diagonals – these should be exactly the same if your corners are true.
The next stage is to spread aggregate (half inch to dust as it is called) to a depth of about 3 inches. I needed just over a ton to cover the base of this shed. Spread the aggregate and level it with a rake. Then walk all over the area to tramp it all down. At the end it should be level with the tops of the pegs and the sides of the planks. I found that this was a fairly slow job as my aggregate could only be delivered to an area about 300 yards away. So it was innumerable trips with a wheelbarrow and this stage took about a further two days.
The next stage was laying concrete slabs. I have found that using 600mm square slabs are easier to use than the smaller versions. It is much easier to keep things level when using a larger slab. I use large dollops of cement under each slab to hold it in place. As you site each slab check that it is level in both directions and level with its neighbours.
Work along one of your straight edges first to get good straight row to start to follow. I use a gap of about 1cm between each slab. I have found a mortar mix of 1 part cement to 5 parts sharp (not building) sand gives a good result. Be careful not to over water your mix; you want it slightly on the dry side to keep its shape as you manouevere your slabs. Again I found I needed two days for this step. After a full day to let the mortar dry I used the same mix to fill in the gaps between the slabs.
The next stage is optional but worth considering if you are in wet area. If you omit this step then consider creating a gutter around the base to stop any chance of the water pooling and encouraging he base of the shed to rot. I put 5 old railway sleepers evenly spaced across the slabs. These are treated with creosote and, although I treat them as sacrificial, will last for longer then the shed. We had the same fun shifting these as the aggregate as, again, we could not have them delivered that close to where we were building. Another day of heaving and swearing – be prepared these are heavy.
By the end of the week we had our base ready. It took about 3 hours to assemble our shed on top of it. In three hours I had hidden all of my work. The shed feels rigid and dry and I think nothing will shift it. But, no matter how good the shed looks, the fact is I am happiest about the base, that was the important part of the job and that’s a fact.