As it turns out, building a hut, even a small one, is pretty hard… especially if you’ve never built an enclosed structure of any kind before, and you just sort of sketch together a design using Google SketchUp and your imagination and no other reference, then decide to improvise the rest as you go. But it’s also a ton of fun, and I’m sure my helpers for the weekend, Keith and Josh, would attest to this fact.
We all met up in Chico on Friday night, then spent most of Saturday buying supplies and figuring out logistics. After making a brief stop at Keith’s parents’ house to talk to his dad (an actual engineer) about the rough design I had, we headed over to Lowes to pick up supplies. Based on my rough design, I’d estimated that we’d need something like four 2x6s, at least a couple dozen 2x4s, and twelve sheets of 4 foot by 8 foot plywood boards. Since we weren’t sure how much would fit in each car, we initially bought all the 2x4s and 2x6s, somehow fit them all into Josh’s Prius, then bought six sheets of OSB and six sheets of cheap pine plywood, all cut in half so that they’d fit in Keith’s SUV. In addition, we bought paint, painting supplies, several tubes of caulk, cement blocks, nails, and a roll of asphalt roofing material, at a total cost of around $304.
The two cars heavily laden with lumber, we returned to Keith’s place to chop as much of the 2x4s as possible into their final dimensions using the miter saw I’d brought up from storage in Mountain View the previous day. We then loaded all the lumber back into Josh’s car, packed up our gear, and headed out.
It was dark by the time we got to Serenity Valley, and slowly made our way up the dirt road. Josh left the Prius by the paved road, and we walked ahead of Keith in his SUV, the dark woods ahead of us pierced by the stark light from the car’s headlamps. Fortunately, the dirt road didn’t prove to be too much of an obstacle for the truck, even in the darkness. Before long, we were by my campsite, sitting by a roaring fire, with cups of hot chocolate in our hands. Despite the frosty cold, we spent the hours away staring into the fire, wandering away into the darkness only to gather more fuel. It wasn’t until close to 1am that Josh agreed to stop adding more wood to the fire, and with the flames dying down and the cold setting in, we retreated into our respective tents for the night.
On Sunday morning, after filling our bellies with hot oat meal, scrambled eggs, and bacon, we started off the day by moving my camp another 30 or so yards West. Unlike my previous solo-trailer-moving adventures, with a little huffing and puffing, the three of us managed to push and pull the trailer into place with out any mechanical assistance. And with that task completed, we moved on to our primary task: hut buildin’.
I don’t know much about construction, but I know you generally build from the bottom up. So that’s what we did. Sort of. Normally, you’d start with a foundation. Except, in my case, since the hut is so small, I decided to build the floor first, then plop that onto cinderblocks instead of putting down an actual foundation. The floor is basically a 2×6 frame, with 2x4s and 2x2s supporting sheets of OSB on top, and mylar emergency blankets sandwiched between for insulation and weather proofing.
With the floor completed, we assembled a couple of wall panel frames, and put together the rafters. The rafters are my original design, and somewhat unique. Since I’ve never built a roof before, I tried to optimize for ease of assembly, and for the most part, I think I succeeded.
We ended the first day of construction by taking a hike through my property to my supply cache on the northern end, to pick up some spare lumber. By the time we got back to camp, light was fading fast, so we cooked up some rice and chili for dinner, and shortly after that, Josh headed out on his long drive back to San Jose.
With Josh gone, it was just Keith and I the second day, working on perhaps the most challenging part of the whole project: the roof. We spent most of the morning putting up the 3rd set of rafters in the middle, and reinforcing them all until we were satisfied with their strength and rigidity. The ultimate test was for the two of us to climb onto the frame of the hut, and hang from the rafters, to make sure nothing moved. Satisfied, we then moved onto the difficult task of putting up roof boards. Unsurprisingly, things didn’t seem to line up quite right, and our work was further hindered by the fact that we were working 7 or 8 feet off the ground, with one not-quite-tall-enough ladder between the two of us. But we managed, and by the time we wrapped up around 3pm, we had the entire roof covered, with all the seams mostly sealed. Unfortunately, we didn’t get around to putting on the waterproof roofing material, but that will have to wait for another time.
There’s still more work to be done, but I’m very pleased with the progress and quality of the work so far. And when I say I’m pleased with the “quality” of the work, what I really mean is that I’m happy there’s a structure that probably won’t collapse. That doesn’t mean the walls are straight or square, or that there aren’t big gaps everywhere, or that the whole thing is even on level ground. But for three first timers, I think we’ve done well. Now I just need to go back and finish putting up the siding, paint it all before moisture seeps into the plywood, and put on the roofing before the wet season starts in earnest…
(Also, see more photos from the build. I also shot hours of video, but it’ll probably be a while before I get around to editing it…)