Everyone needs storage and sometimes that means building a shed to store family treasures. This is a shed we designed for a historic Puget Sound beach community where many of the beach cottages are over 100 years old. It would have been criminal to build a generic storage shed like those found in big box stores so we searched the area for inspiration and materials and we were able to develop a new and functional shed utilizing recycled materials that fits in with the historic character of the area. Obviously this is a small build, but because we were able to find and recycle so many parts of it our total cost was less than $100.
Step 1: Inspiration
The Puget Sound area is rich in maritime heritage and fishing traditions including old fishing sheds like this one found on Lummi Island. This one serves for holding fishing and boating supplies and over time they become magnets for various beach treasures like those hanging on here.
Our challenge was going to be making something weather beaten and historic looking but with new and found materials.
Step 2: Sourcing Materials
This is the single most important step in the process and will determine ultimately what your shed will look like and how it will function.
The most important thing to remember when using recycled materials is to be safe. Much older lumber is painted with lead based paint and can be toxic and pressure treated wood also has some nasty stuff in it. Reused metal can have some sharp edges and recycled wood can have hidden nails so its always important to be super diligent when using reclaimed materials. If you don't know for sure, assume the worst.
The second most important step is the be flexible with your design, be creative with what you have at hand and learn to work with what materials you are able to source. If you are buying lumber off the shelf than it comes in standard lengths and your building designs become predictable. With found materials you will be working with random sizes and you need to do your best to use your materials wisely and creatively. Our big breakthrough with this project came when we found some old weather beaten roofing that blew onshore during a storm, it was in rough shape but had a type of beauty that only comes from being weathered and old.
Our third great tip is to be your own best recycler. Save pieces and bits from other projects, even short lengths of wood can often be integrated into a shed design.
Our fourth great tip is the find the materials you need in a wide variety of ways. We are blessed to have some fantastic used house parts stores in our area like Habitat for Humanity, but we were able to source our materials in a many ways. Be patient and take your time finding what you need. Craigslist is an excellent resource as well as just finding stuff on the side of the road. Much of our wood was even found washed up on the beach. Be thoughtful, creative and resourceful and you will be rewarded with great materials and ultimately a great design.
Step 3: Tools
We have a lot of tools at our disposal and we used everything from a nail gun to a compound miter saw to speed this process. However most of this could be done with just a handful of tools and I would encourage keeping it simple.
Circular Saw with a carpenter's square
power drill with various bits
Step 4: Foundations
Foundations are important but try to remember that this is only a shed. There is something to be said for digging foundation holes below the frost line and pouring concrete footers reinforced with rebar. However we will probably want to eventually move this shed to work on the retaining wall behind it so we wanted to keep our foundation moveable. We decided to go with old broken cement chunks from a demolished sidewalk. Since they had one flat side they were relatively easy to keep level and design in such a way to keep the framing up off the ground. We gave ours a slight tilt away from the building on all sides to shed water away from our structure and it gave the old look we were going for.
One disadvantage to building on cement chunks is that they are susceptible to sinking in wet weather and frost heaves. The advantage is that they are easy to fix (just put a car jack under a sagging corner and place in some shims) and the shed can even be easily moved if need be. In this case we decided that the cement was sticking out too far into the walkway after the project was complete. A few minutes with the car jack and we were able to push it back and re-level the shed.
It is important to keep the shed up off the ground and away from moisture. We were able to build our base framing from pressure treated lumber that had found washed up on the beach, this not only gets you free wood for framing, but it takes pressure treated wood out of the natural environment where the chemicals are not good for wildlife or the beach. As a bonus they come with the weather worn look of a vintage shed already. Make sure you get your framing square and level on your cement blocks and measure from corner to corner to make sure your framing is square.
Step 5: Windows and Doors
Windows are extra important in sheds like this one that won't have any lighting. Luckily vintage windows are an easy find at recycle centers like this one we found for $5. Look for ones that are already framed out as this will save you a step in building a frame for them. We opted for one with privacy glass because we felt it would be more secure if people could not see inside the shed.
Don't forget to think creatively. We really wanted a vintage portal window to make our plain door more interesting and add some maritime flair but they are difficult to come by and prohibitively expensive. The ones we were finding were beautiful but cost more than our entire project. However we ended up finding these amazing brass fountain light covers that someone was throwing away. They have the same look we were going for but were free and we saved them from the landfill.
Doors are commonly available at recycle house centers. In this case we needed a fairly small one and as you can see we designed the framing to fit the door we found rather than framing a standard size.
Step 6: Framing
This is one of those areas where it is difficult to get appropriate recycled materials, we went ahead and purchased 2x3's and to frame out our walls and a few 2x4's to frame out the roof. 2x3's are plenty structurally sound for building shed walls in our climate and they offer the bonus of giving a few more inches of space on an interior and are usually cheaper than 2x4's. Since our shed is shorter than the standard 8' boards we used the extra pieces cut at 45 degrees to reinforce the corners. Normally this wouldn't be structurally necessary as the exterior plywood gives lateral stability. But since we were using very random sized recycled plywood I thought this would help add stability.
We found a plain wood door at a local recycling center and framed that in at this time since door openings are often tricky to work with and made a slight tilt to our roof for shedding water. Our climate is mild and snow is rare so you would probably want more of a tilt in other climates. Sheds are rarely very tall, our framing is 7 feet at the highest point. This will help keep your design more accessibly sized AND keep down any excessive use of materials. There are many great tutorials that can help you through basic framing, I liked the framing section in How to build a garage from the ground up by jmengel if you need to learn basic framing design.
Step 7: Sheathing
Sheathing helps give the structure stability and ties the whole thing together and even with a small shed you will need a fair amount of plywood for this purpose. Try to remember that you are your own best source for recycled plywood. There is often times leftover plywood from other projects or plywood that can be salvaged from other demo. Since this will be covered with siding it does not have to be perfect. Our sheathing had plenty of nail holes and flaws. We ended up using heavier 3/4" plywood on the roof and floor and thinner 1/2" stuff on the sides. As you can see from the photos we used a wide variety of different grades of plywood.
We wrapped the structure in tar paper starting at the bottom to help seal out any moisture and wrapped around the edges of openings like windows and doors.
Step 8: Siding
Siding is not only important because it keeps weather out, but it's the part that everyone sees so it's key to do a thoughtful job. In typical recycle fashion we didn't have enough of one kind of siding material for the whole shed so we pieced it together a few different things.
These photos are from when the siding was freshly installed. The lower half and corners were from a wrecked boat house that washed up in a storm. We were able to salvage enough and manipulate it to do most of our siding. The layers of paint that had warn off over the years only add a patina that only time and weather can add.
The upper half was sided in the lowest grade of cedar shingle we could find. Normally this type of cedar is reserved for areas like underlay that are not actually seen. But we knew that it would help give it that rough weathered look that we were going for.
Galvanized Z flashing was used at the different transitions to help keep the water out and the various other seams were sealed using exterior grade caulk just like on any other siding project.
Step 9: Roofing
Roofing is one of those areas that we just don't take any chances on. In the rainy Pacific Northwest having a good roof with a nice overhang can make all of the difference in a long lasting design. Corrugated metal is relatively cheap for a small build like this and can last a lifetime. It is important that any wood that will be exposed be either pressure treated or cedar or some other wood that has a natural ability to deal with extreme weather.
Step 10: A Note on Where We Don't Recycle
There are many areas here where we have demonstrated the use of recycled and frugal use of materials but one area we don't skimp on is hardware. Hardware is what holds this whole thing together and it's important to use the right piece and grade for the right job. Sometimes you can get lucky and find what you need at garage sales or recycle centers, but you can do your wallet a favor and stock up on the hardware like basic nails and screws that you will be using for many different projects.
The good news is that at the end of this project you should have an awesome vintage shed that will be a great place to store all of your extra hardware and tools for use on your future recycled projects!
Step 11: Time and Adornment
The one factor that this project needed that could not be bought from a store or manufactured in a lab is time. Time would add the character to the shed and strip away the newness of the cedar siding and tarnish the galvanized trim pieces that were necessary for our build. I'm happy to report that after a few years this does in fact look like a 100 year old fisherman's shack that has seen many generations off to sea.
Neighbors have helped the process by dropping off any beach treasures they find on their walks. It has become a community depository of sorts for the various abandon floats, fishing debris and random bits of ship wrecks they have run across over the years.
We painted the door a light blue to match the trim on our house and added a small vent to help ventilation, but otherwise this has been a solid little shed that will hold our families various beach treasures as well as becoming a proud member of a historic community.
If you like the idea of recycling but are looking for a more modern look, check out our Modern Recycled Shed tutorial. Or if you would like to add some solar lighting, check out our Super Simple Solar Lighting.