Something for the birds

Lorenzo Sivilotti,left, hammers in a nail as Andrew Millson keeps an eye on the progress of the bird house they were building in a Grade 7 outdoor education program Thurs., Dec. 2, 2010 at King’s Town School on Rideau Street in Kingston, Ont. The class has been building birdhouses to be put around their school and on farm property north of Kingston. MICHAEL LEATHE WHIG STANDARD/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

Today we’re going to be introducing a young person to the world of carpentry by constructing a bird house.

A bird house is an excellent first-time project because it’s carpentry 101, involving the assembly of four walls, a floor, the angling (or not) of a couple of panels to form the roof, along with a hole for an entry point. It’s essentially a simple process, involving a few concepts and some basic principles of assembly.

Plus, this first crack at carpentry carries with it a huge margin of error and forgiveness. You’ll never hear the birds complain the new condo you’ve provided for them is a little drafty, nor will passersby stop to comment on the workmanship.

“Did you happen to see the crappy looking birdhouse that little Jack fellow has hanging from the oak in his front lawn?” one neighbour asks the other.

“I know” the other neighbour replies, “the hole is off centre, and that perch couldn’t support a chickadee, let alone a nuthatch. Why that kid must have been on a Halloween sugar high when he put that thing together.”

That’s a conversation that’s not likely to occur.Plus, this first bird house may lead to other, more complicated assemblies, further honing their skills to the point where that addition or sunroom you’ve always wanted might get completed before they enter high school.

Or, this first litmus test of carpentry skill could demonstrate a serious lack of aptitude, whereby their inaugural attempt at nailing a few panels together ends up resembling some wooden contraption that’s been run over by an 18-wheeler. Or, the concept of a box is lost on them, with each angled assembly resulting in a series of bookends, a relatively obsolete item in our computer age.

If that’s the case, then it may be time to redirect the child to the less-stressful task of having to become a professional hockey player.

Regardless of how simple a birdhouse project is, it’s still going to require a shop filled with about $10,000 worth of equipment to effectively get this home for our feathered friends constructed within a few hours. So, if you’re existing shop isn’t so complete, consider borrowing, renting, or if this is something you hope to dabble in more yourself, buying the necessary tools for the job.

Please don’t attempt to make this project a teaching session based on the integrity and historical significance of the hand saw, performing the cutting tasks old school, with a few callouses the bonus to the child gaining this construction knowledge. Using a hand saw as a teaching tool would only make sense if next weekend’s parent/child life skills session was survivor related, and involved heading into the forest with a sling shot with the goal of bagging a few squirrels to cook for lunch.

Our computer and cellphone age have helped develop modern-day kids with attention spans that last about eight-to-10 seconds per moment. So, handing them a tool that’ll demand their precise attention for the 90 seconds required to saw through a plank of six-inch pine would be ludicrous.

Either they’ll end up cutting themselves 15-to-20 seconds into the procedure, or leave the cut half way through in order to check their cellphones for activity. If there’s a hand saw hanging in the shop, save it for arts and crafts day, whereby you and the young lad, or lass, could jointly paint a charming winter scene on the rusted blade, then hang this magnificent piece of folk art over the fireplace, or big-screen TV.

Very important— before any cutting or assembly begins, first review the function, proper use, and safe handling of each power tool. Novice woodworkers shouldn’t necessarily fear a power tool, but they must be taught that keeping their fingers long-term means showing the tool ultimate respect, and staying absolutely focused, for the duration of the cut.

So, draw or research a bird house plan with your young person and get building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Shed the lean-to; built yours to last

Garden shed exterior in Spring, for gardening and outdoor lifestyles. Not Released EDWARDSAMUELCORNWALL / GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

Today we finalize the plan for what will be your 10’x10’ backyard shed.

Even though this shed will not be subject to the scrutiny of a building inspector, due to it covering an area less than 105 square feet, and thereby not requiring a building permit, we’re not building a dog house.

In other words, we’ve eliminated the babysitter, and any professional advice an inspector could bring to the project, but this shed is going to be a whole lot more than just a few sheets of plywood tacked together.

Now, and after completing this fine shed, should you decide on a late night of carousing and mischief as a means to celebrate the construction of the project, inevitably bringing shame upon your once proud family, the fact this shed now provides you with a quiet space for somber thought, essentially defined as having landed yourself in the doghouse, should in no way be a reflection on the overall integrity of this structure.

First, decide on what type of platform your shed is going to rest on.

A concrete pad is best, but obviously quite permanent, and time consuming to construct, whereby a wooden platform can be assembled within a few hours.

Prepare the platform site by staking out the 10’x10’ space, then remove the grass and dig down about four inches. Next, fill the bed with four to six inches of compacted three-quarter-inch gravel. Now you’re set to either build a 2×6 form, then pour a 4-6 inch concrete slab overtop, or frame a platform using 2×6 lumber and three-quarter-inch treated plywood.

The pros to a wooden base is that it’s an easy build, while being strong and lightweight enough to make this shed somewhat movable. The pros to a concrete base is that it’s of course rock-solid, is there for the long-term, and can handle whatever weighty items you choose to park on it.

Furthermore, 100 square feet of platform will require anywhere from 80 to 100 bags of pre-mixed concrete, making the task of mixing an excellent occasion to initiate a couple of teenagers into the responsibilities of manhood.

As stated last week, the key to this shed being truly functional will be the inclusion of a roll-up, or sectional garage door. Essentially, that’s all you need as a point of entry.

Now, if the idea of a square building with one sectional door seems too commercial for you, then you can certainly make your shed look a little more homey, by adding a single entrance door and a couple of small windows.

Walls? Plan on framing your shed with 2×4 lumber, not 2x3s, and certainly not 2×2 lumber. When the big bad wolf threatens to huff and puff, we don’t want our shed blowing away, or developing a lean, should you happen to bump it with your riding mower.

Plus, walls remain square, while doors and windows tend to operate more smoothly when things are framed with 2×4 lumber.

Next, plan on ordering engineered trusses. Cost- and time-wise, there’s little to save by attempting to re-invent the wheel, so to say, by designing some lean-to type of roof system, or by figuring out the angles needed to arrive at a 4/12-pitchzaed truss.

The roof is a key component to any building, no matter what the size.

As a result, you need an engineered roof that’s designed to handling snow loads, thereby protecting what’s inside the shed, which at times will be you, as well as your precious tools. Plus, your roofline should look perfectly smooth and even, which is what you’ll get with a proper engineered truss.

Siding? Choose something that will complement what’s on your home. Smart panel, readily available in 4×8 sheets, is a good choice because it’s an outdoor, woodgrain panel that installs easily, looks attractive, and can be painted, so the colour choices are unlimited.

Otherwise, vinyl or composite sidings always look good, and offer the homeowner a variety of decorative stone, horizontal, or board-and-batten textures.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Building better backyard storage

Julie Oliver/Ottawa Citizen/Postmedia Network JULIE OLIVER/OTTAWA CITIZEN

The backyard shed is one of those projects that, similar to a backyard deck, every do-it-yourselfer should attempt once.

The assembly is pretty straightforward and allows the qualified homeowner the opportunity to dabble into a few areas of construction, such as siding and roofing, that they most likely wouldn’t have encountered in their previous decking project.

Bonus to building your own shed? One, everybody needs more storage space. Two, this wooden structure will be far superior to one of those plastic or aluminum jobs that assemble quickly, look pretty, then tend to crumple up and fly away with the first strong gust of wind.

Not that our wooden structure can’t be stylish, with perhaps a window flower box and a few gingerbread moldings along the roofline to soften things up a bit.

However, our 2×4 framing will provide us with rock-solid construction, allowing us to more efficiently divide the interior of our shed into shelving, pegboard, and if required, a few heavy duty hooks and brackets as well.

First, understand we are building a shed, which is somewhat defined as a structure equal to, or less than 10 square metres (about 105 square feet) in area. Any structure larger than 10 square meters falls into the category of garage, or warehouse, which will require a building permit, and preferably the hiring of a professional contractor.

So, look to build something in the 8’x12’ or 10’x10’ range. If you run out of room, which always happens, either build something bigger next season, or build a second shed.

Actually, a homeowner can have up to three accessory buildings. Check your local zoning bylaw, which will spell out how many you can have for your home.

Now, creating this type of shantytown decorum in your backyard could draw the ire of your upscale neighbors. Regardless, they’ll certainly understand your desire for more storage space, and hopefully accept the general construction opinion that the value of gardening and green space is grossly overrated.

As always, start with a plan.

Restrictions? Besides the 10-square-metre floor space confine, the only other shed bylaw restrictions are those relating to spacing within your lot, and building height.

Essentially, your shed will need to be distanced at least 0.8 metres (2.62 feet) from your property line.

So, know the exact location of your property lines. Otherwise, you could end up having to share your wall of rakes and shovels with your neighbour.

Plus, don’t attempt to maximize your 10-square-metre shed footprint limit, by building this structure three stories high, somewhat adopting a Dr. Seuss type of house plan.

Maximum shed height is five metres (16 feet), providing more than adequate room for a cathedral ceiling, or the very classy turret, should you have chosen a medieval theme for this structure.

As mentioned above, your best bet – and before starting this shed project – is to check with your building permit office regarding the local zoning and building regulations. They’re not the same in every city and township.

Things to consider? Your entrance will be key. A wide single door, or double doors are good, but a roll-up or sectional garage door is far better. It all has to do with convenience and accessibility.

When I’ve got yard work to do on a Saturday, my first task is to open our garage door. I don’t necessarily like opening the garage door for the same reason we don’t usually open all our closet doors when guests come over to visit. Essentially, you’ve got to have quite the organized and neat garage in order to proudly put it on display for the neighbourhood to pass comment on as they walk or bike on by your home.

However, when requiring access to a tool or garden hose, I’d rather walk through a nine-foot opening, than push through a three-foot swinging door.

As a result, and regardless of our garage’s state of messiness, the garage door stays open for the duration of the task. So, make sure to squeeze both a single entrance door, and garage type door (available in 4’, 5’, and 6 ft. convenient shed widths) into your shed plan.

Next week, more shed tips.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Raised gardens

A raised garden bed can be much easier on the back and knees. Postmedia Network

With spring in the air, the strategy of the raised garden bed will no doubt be the subject of discussion amongst those homeowners looking to grow their own prized tomatoes and zucchinis.

The raison d’être, or the “why’s” to building a raised garden bed, which is essentially a bunch of ground poured into a raised frame, lies primarily in the simple fact this structure raises, or elevates, the planted vegetables to a more accommodating height, thereby alleviating the knee joint and lower back pain normally associated with the task of gardening.

Psychologically, the raised garden bed, or box, is a good value because it makes gardening easier, with the good results rewarding the homeowner with sense of purpose and accomplishment.

Physically, the raised garden box delivers all of the health benefits associated with a person simply being outdoors, thereby allowing them to enjoy a little sunshine, while participating in a relatively light duty activity at their own pace.

Money wise? Well… and depending of course on several factors relating to the manor of construction, and the types of materials used, the ROI (return on investment) on the average raised garden box is not stellar. Essentially, you’d be better off putting your disposable income into a travelling petting zoo, the local Ponzi scheme, or a series of honor system, unmanned lemonade stand franchises. However, the pride associated with growing your own fresh vegetables usually outweighs the fact your cherry tomatoes are probably going to cost you about a buck a piece to produce.

If you’ve never built a raised garden box before, go small, making this first build something in the 4’ X 4’ or max 4’ X 8’ size. If this is your second or third build, then you’re obviously familiar with the process, and realize it’s probably time to go big, incorporating a screened-in, removable cage over a more permanent, beefier type of raised box made of 6 X 6 timbers. However, with this being your first attempt at a box, let’s not break the bank on this project, and perhaps choose a plan that’ll have you investing about an afternoon of your time.

A raised garden box could be made out of a number of products, including concrete blocks, stacked stones, or the very classy choices, and definitely worthy of front lawn display, old bathtub on legs, or tractor tire. Otherwise, 2” X 8” lumber is probably your best choice, due to it being lightweight, with a pretty easy assembly strategy. If this raised garden is to be something totally experimental, due to you being unsure of where to place it on your lot, your commitment to watering, or the fact you might be adding a deck or installing a pool in its place next summer, and all you might need is a couple of seasons out of this structure, go with spruce boards. If this is to be a longer term project, or more permanent structure, then cedar or BC fir would be the better choice. Although treated lumber would seem a logical choice, since the arsenic element in the treatment process has been replaced with a stronger copper content, which has been deemed an environmentally friendlier alternative by the powers that be, I would suggest avoiding the use of any chemically sealed or infused product around food. Retired railway ties would also be a poor option. Theoretically, treated lumber could be painted, or sealed from the ground with a plastic membrane, but why risk the chance of contaminating the soil.

Using 4” x 4” lumber for the corners, and pieces of 2” x 4” lumber every few feet along the perimeter, create a frame by stacking 2” x 8” planks, 2 boards high. Using 2” x 8” lumber, create a triangular seat in every corner, which will also provide strength to the structure. This plan provides you with about 15 inches of raised bed, a good start. Any higher will require a lot more ground, and a doubling up of the framework.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard