Introduction: Build a Cabana

About: I like making things out of items that would have otherwise been discarded. Check out my other projects!

I have been fascinated by cabanas since my first trip to Mexico.  I kept staring up at the ceiling at the "primitive" building materials, the simplicity of the construction and the luxury of building things that don't have to ever handle any snow load.  Living in Alaska, building one was never a real option - at least not one with a thatched roof.  So when we moved to India and ended up with a large open flat rooftop patio I instantly knew I wanted to build a cabana.  Some people said you could have one built for just $250.   Of course, what would the fun be in paying someone to make one?

Step 1: Materials and Tools

This project doesn't require many tools.  Your material list will depend on the size of the cabana you make.  Your prices will vary.

  • Hand saw
  • Tape measure
  • Pocket knife
  • Large bamboo - we used 12 pieces that were about 20 feet long.  (350 Indian rupees each.  Total of 4,200 rupees or about $67.75 for the stack.)
  • Smaller bamboo - we used 20 pieces.  (900 rupees total or $14.50.)
  • Roofing - we purchased woven palm frond for the roofing.  (350 rupees total or about $5.70)
  • Rope - A bundle of 100 pre-cut natural fibre rope.  (550 rupees or $8.90)
We spent about $100 on the materials (including delivery).

Better pillars and beams will be added later.  We can't decide on if we want wood, concrete or carved stone.  We don't know if we want something to take with us when we move (not the bamboo or roofing - just the nice pillars).  So for now we settled on using bamboo for the upright posts.  

Step 2: Prior Knowledge

Before taking on a project like this you should be very comfortable with ropes.  Know your knots and how to lash.  I won't teach you how to tie knots or do lashings in this project but there are some very good resources already available.  

Here are some other Instructables that will help out...

Clove Hitch

Square Knot

Square lashing

I also think that the diagonal lashing and two half hitches would be good to know because I used them a bit.  Everything I know about knots and lashing I learned in Boy Scouts.  The Pioneering merit badge booklet is a good resource for people new to lashing.

Step 3: Cut Bamboo and Make the Frame for the Canopy

Use the hand saw to cut the bamboo to lengths for the frame.  I used the largest and fairly straight sections of the bamboo.  It cuts easily with a hand saw.  Use square lashings to lay out the roof.  (tKeep in mind where your pillars will go.  We went with a 9x11 foot shape.

Step 4: Frame the Roof With Bamboo

This part was a little tricky.  I didn't do many measurements - just sort of winged it.  Whenever in doubt I just cut a piece long and then later trimmed off the extra.  You could go very simple with just a shed roof as long as you orient it so that it will give shade when you most need it.  Or a gable roof would be a step more complex but we opted for the hip roof - as complex as we could get with our materials and limited skill.  It also made the most sense for the structure because of the orientation we wanted and the predominant wind direction.

Step 5: Small Bamboo Purlins

Next we lashed on small bamboo to the rafters so that the roofing has something to attach to.  ( I just found out that this is not the way it is normally done here - they have far more rafters and use stems of the palm fronds as purlins that are already attached to the thatching.)  We looked at some of the roofing and decided to use a one foot spacing between the purlins.  In hind sight I think I should have gone with 5 or six inches and put more layers on.  However, I'm only using this as a sun shade and don't plan to sit on the roof in the rain.  

Step 6: Attach the Thatched Roofing

I then doubled up the palm fronds with the leaves going in opposite directions and then stitched them to the bamboo purlins with the cord.

Step 7: Secure the Roofing

I then used lengths of small bamboo that were trimmed from the purlins to run perpendicular and were tied in using a bundle of natural fiber that were first soaked in water than then pliable enough to be tied.  This makes it so that the roofing won't blow off.  

Step 8: Lift It Onto Place

As a temporary measure, we constructed a couple of tripods and a frame that connects to the roof of the building.  This will allow us to enjoy the canopy of shade and finish adding the roofing on the sides that are easily accessible by ladder (we didn't want to add it all and make it too heavy to lift so only put it on the sides we wouldn't be able to get to without risking falling off the roof.)  While we decide what type of columns to use we can still appreciate that now we can be on the roof at noon and enjoy the breeze while not being chased off by the scalding heat.

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