Q: I've put off building a small garden shed for too many years. After the wretched winter I endured, I deserve something that will lift my spirits. I don't know where to start, but I do know I want it to be an asset to my property. Should I just buy a pre-built shed or is it possible to build my own with limited skills and tools? I'm up for a challenge, but I don't want to find out I bit off more than I can chew. What would you do if you were me? --Andrea T., Blue Earth, Minn.
A: Each spring I get questions like this. Spring as a magical time of year that unleashes pent-up energy and creativity in many things, including humans! It's the favorite time of year for my ham radio mentor, and I enjoy seeing him soak up all the wonder of the season.
I'm a big fan of addressing challenges. If I had been asked this question 15 years ago, I might have hesitated to recommend the DIY approach. But technology has allowed many people to do things they never dreamed of doing. Just two weeks ago I was approached by a Japanese television show asking permission to use part of one of my past videos. It turns out a 70-year-old Japanese woman built her own home using lots of videos she saw on YouTube, and the show producers told me one of mine was key to her success.
Six years ago I created over 100 videos showing the process of building an outdoor shed. The methods apply to any shed no matter the size or shape. You can watch these for free and become empowered make your dreams become reality.
The first step in the process is to step back and really ponder what's going to happen in the shed. Is it a shed for work or for storage -- or both? The biggest complaint I get from my subscribers and readers is that sheds are almost always too small.
It's easy to determine the right size for a shed no matter what you intend to do with it. As you might expect, I've created a video showing you how to solve this conundrum. All you need is some string and the things you're going to store in the shed. I put the things out on the grass next to one another the way I envision them in the shed. I then surround the items with the string, creating an outline of the exterior walls. This tells you quickly how big your shed needs to be.
You'll have to meet with your local building inspector and get up to speed on the frost depth for the shed foundation. The frost level is very likely 5 or 6 feet deep in that part of Minnesota. It's important to realize you need to protect all your hard work from frost heaving. You may have to hire out digging the piers, as doing that job by hand is mind-numbing and back-breaking work. It's possible to rent a very small excavator to dig the holes yourself.
I'm not a huge fan of the pre-built sheds. I've looked at many near my home, and most are built to minimum standards. If you decide to buy one, absolutely get one that has treated lumber floor joists and a treated plywood floor. Yes, you can buy treated plywood, and it has the same wood-rot prevention chemicals in it as treated lumber.
Be sure to think about natural light. Simple skylights or light tunnels will bathe the inside of the shed with natural light so you can see what you're doing on cloudy days.
I prefer traditional overhead garage doors for sheds. You might not realize that you can get small overhead doors as narrow as 6 feet and sometimes even smaller. An overhead door won't blow open on windy days and they seal very well against driving rain and frigid wind.
The good news is you don't need lots of fancy tools to build your own shed. While fancy tools will allow you to save time, carpenters from 50 or 100 years ago didn't have them. You'll have success building with just a simple circular saw, a framing square, a tape measure, a hammer and a few other tools.
Q: I've got a bedroom door where the handle latch that extends from the door barely makes it to the metal keeper in the door jamb. Depending on the outdoor temperature and humidity, my cat can push against the door to get in. Once inside the room, he frolics about on the bed messing it up having a good time. Is there an easy fix so I can ban this feline from his play palace? --Molly S., Fredericksburg, Va.
A: You can fix a door problem like this in a matter of minutes. The easy fix isn't the most elegant, but it will work.
Door latch problems like this usually happen because the gap between the door and the door jamb is much too large. The gap is supposed to be 1/8 inch but I've seen them as big as 5/16 inch or more!
Another key point is the keeper. The face of the keeper is supposed to be flush with the door jamb, but some installers make the recessed mortise in the jamb too deep and the keeper is farther away from the edge of the door than it should be.
A typical interior door latch extends out from the edge of the door about 1/2 inch. It's possible the latch needs to be lubricated and checked to make sure it's not binding if yours is not extending out that far. That might be all that's needed to solve the problem.
The fastest fix is to just shim out the keeper 1/8 of an inch. It's not pretty but it solves the problem. If the gap between the door edge and the jamb is greater than 1/8 inch and you want the best-looking repair, then you need to remove the trim from the latch side of the door and pry the jamb out to get it closer to the door.
You'll need to install more shims to keep the jamb at its new location. Reinstalling the trim will require precision, spackle caulk, and paint. It's all a matter of how much work you want to tackle.
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