Shed for All Reasons

The beauty of ordering an a-la-carte meal is that you get exactly what you want, customized to fit your culinary desires. If you don't like vegetables, you're not forced to pay for them. If you prefer a baked potato instead of fries, there's no fuss over substitution. Now imagine applying that same concept to a storage shed.

Rather than accept the one-size-fits-all approach of most ready-to-assemble kits, you can take a basic design and incorporate only those elements that fit your needs. You can create a structure that is the right size, boasts the amenities you want and matches the style of your house and its surroundings.

Building an attractive shed such as the one you see here is not a complex project — if you can cut 2x4s, you can build this design. With its fully sheathed and sided walls, our shed is exceptionally sturdy. The treated timber foundation is very stable and simple to build. And the use of cedar throughout the structure gives the shed a very high-end, upscale appearance. But what makes this shed so easy to customize is its modular nature. Each stud wall and truss is assembled independently; then the units are joined together to form the whole. If you need a larger structure, just increase the length of the stud walls. If you want more (or fewer) windows, simply incorporate the appropriate framing into the stud walls. If you need a steeper roof to match the pitch of your house, just change the angle of the truss members and truss gussets. In short, you can easily transform this design into the exact structure you need.

Design considerations
Before you begin construction, think about how you'll use the shed. If you plan to store large power equipment such as a lawn tractor, you'll need a door wide enough to accommodate it. Thinking of using your new structure as a potting shed? Make sure you incorporate windows to let in natural light. Do you have a lot of tools that you plan to hang on the walls? If so, be careful where you place the doors, as you'll want as much wall expanse as possible. Will you have enough clearance for swinging doors, especially if they're large? If not, you can use a sliding door. By anticipating your future needs, you can maximize the amenities your shed will offer.

Also consider how the shed looks on your property and incorporate features of your house into its design. By copying the siding pattern and roof pitch, duplicating trim details or installing similar windows, you'll create a shed that looks like it belongs on your property. And as always, check with your local code authorities for any rules that may govern the shed's design, overall size and placement.

Once you've decided on a design, you'll need to create a stable foundation. You can choose from several methods for foundation construction; one of the easiest is to use stacked 6x6 treated timbers set on a bed of compacted Class V material (see illustration in the PDF below). Simply dig a 12- x 12-in. trench centered on the shed's perimeter and backfill it with 6 in. of compacted Class V (photo 1). Remember to call utility companies before you dig so they can mark the locations of any underground lines.

When building a tiered timber foundation, you'll need to create a stable base by compacting a minimum of 6 in. of Class V material using a hand tamper.

Position the first tier of 6x6 timbers; then backfill around them to lock them in place. Use countersunk 8-in.-long landscape-timber screws to fasten a second tier of 6x6 timbers to the first, and stagger the ends so that this layer overlaps the first. (If your building site is on a slope, you may need to trench deeper or use additional 6x6 tiers so that the foundation is slightly above-grade on the uphill side.)

For the floor, you can use brick pavers, concrete, gravel or wood decking, or you can follow our lead and use 12-in.-sq. patio pavers that rest on a bed of compacted Class V. Whatever material you choose, it's essential that it provide proper drainage in case water enters the structure.

It's also important to choose a floor material that's appropriate for how you intend to use the shed. For example, you probably wouldn't want a gravel floor if you plan to park a lawn tractor in the shed, as the weight of the vehicle would dig into the gravel and make it difficult to move. If you plan to use the structure as a potting shed, you'll want an easy-to-sweep surface such as patio pavers for cleaning up soil spills.

Stud wall construction
Because sheds aren't typically required to follow the building codes that govern houses, there are no set rules for framing. However, we followed standard framing practices and placed the studs 16 in. OC. You could save some lumber by setting studs 24 in. OC, but it isn't worth the loss in overall stability. When framing for windows, rough openings should be 1/2 to 1 in. larger than the outside dimensions of the window unit in each direction (not including the nailing flange); these gaps let you adjust the window so it's square in the opening.

The most important aspect of this construction step is to make sure the stud walls are plumb as you set them in place and fasten them to the foundation and to each other. Use a level to check the first stud wall, and have a helper secure it in place with diagonal bracing (photo 2). Use 6-in. hotdipped galvanized lag screws to secure the sill plate to the foundation; then erect the remaining three walls. Don't assume that the other walls will automatically be plumb just because the first wall is locked in place. Boards can shift or be bumped out of alignment, so check each one before securing it.

Always get help to raise a stud wall into position. Trying to do this solo can be unsafe and damage the wall. Once the wall is vertical, check for plumb and secure it with a diagonal brace (photo 3).

Framing the roof
Rather than frame the roof using traditional rafters, we opted to build and install trusses. Besides the benefit of having a greater load-bearing capacity than rafters, the trusses lock exactly over the top plates of the stud walls and allow for rapid and accurate placement.

Cut gusset stock to width with a circular saw before cutting the gussets to shape with a jigsaw.

If you build a shed with dimensions similar to ours, you'll need to assemble seven trusses (photo 5). Apply polyurethane glue to the gussets before nailing them to the truss members; then lift the assembled trusses atop the stud walls and toenail them to the top plates (photo 6).

Each truss is made of three gussets and three lengths of 2x4s. The notches at the ends of the bottom gussets lock in place around the stud walls' top plates.

When placing the trusses, set them directly above a stud whenever possible so that the roof weight is transferred down the stud.

In addition to the trusses, you'll need to frame the gable ends. These short triangular stud partitions provide a nailing surface for the upper wall sheathing and support the 2x4 lookouts that provide a nailing surface for the gable end fascia and soffits. You'll lift the assembled gable ends into place at each end of the shed and nail them to the top plates (photo 7).

The gable ends not only provide a nailing surface for the upper wall sheathing but also lend support for the 2x4 lookouts that hold the gable-end fascias and soffits.

Sheathing, roofing and windows
The first step in cladding the shed is to sheathe the walls and roof (photo 8). We used 1/2-in. treated exterior plywood, but other materials such as oriented-strand board (OSB) will work, depending on your climate and needs.

Treated plywood makes an excellent sheathing material for a potting shed, though depending on your climate and needs, other materials such as orientedstrand board (OSB) can be used.

To get the most accurate results when you're cutting the plywood to size, you'll need to either set up a straightedge or do as we did and use a saw specifically designed for making long, straight cuts (see photo 4, above). We used a Festool AT 65 E-Plus plunge-cut circular saw guided by an optional extruded-aluminum guide rail.

If you plan to install windows, do so before you apply the building paper to the sheathing. Different brands of windows have specific installation instructions, so it's important to thoroughly read all of the directions before starting construction (photo 9).

It's important to follow the manufacturer's instructions when installing windows. As directed, we applied self-adhesive butyl window wrap around the rough openings. To ensure proper fit, always buy the windows before starting construction.

To prepare for roofing installation, first attach the fascia boards so that you can fasten the roof's drip edges flush against them. (We used cedar 1x4s for the fascias.) Because the house we were emulating used architectural shingles as its roofing surface, we took a similar approach. Depending on the look you're trying to achieve, you could swap the shingles for any number of roofing alternatives such as metal, cedar, terra cotta or even slate.

Trim and siding
One of the easiest ways to customize the look of your shed is with the trim and siding. We used cedar 1x4s for the trim boards and 6-in. cedar laps for the siding, though you could also use fibercement lapboards, cedar shakes or even T1-11 exterior plywood, depending on the look you're trying to achieve. (In the case of T1-11, you would not need to install any sheathing.)

When cutting the trim boards, precision is essential. You want the trim to fit snugly against the soffits at all points, and any miter joints need to be as accurate as possible for the cleanest, most professional look. Use scrap plywood to make templates of any tricky areas, and repeatedly check the fit as you go.

If you opt to use lapboards for the siding as we did, you can speed the placement process by following this simple procedure. First, mark on the building paper the locations of the studs, and nail the first lapboard in position. Then create a lapboard-placement jig by cutting one corner off of a plastic speed square so the overall length of the square is equal to the amount of reveal you want the lap siding to have. (We used a 4-1/2-in. reveal.) Position the lip of the square against the bottom edge of the first lapboard; the top cut edge of the speed square will serve as an indicator for the placement of the next course (photo 11). Be careful when attaching cedar laps, as they can easily split if nails are driven too close to the ends.

Final assembly
Just as you choose lumber that's appropriate for constant exposure to the elements, you should choose hardware that's equally durable. We used an extruded-aluminum door track and heavy-duty nylon rollers from Johnson Hardware. To hang the Dutch door, we used heavy-duty gate hinges from Stanley. Finally, we applied two coats of Zar Rain Stain to the entire structure, but you can use exterior paint if you prefer. Once the finish cures, you'll have the pleasure of filling the shed — organizing can be fun when you have made-to-order storage.

Building the Doors
Your choice of doors can have a dramatic impact on the shed's overall appearance. For example, if we had outfitted our shed with simple plywood-clad hinged barn doors, they would've looked out-of-place and detracted from the visual appeal.

The complexity of the door design is up to you. You could simplify the design by eliminating the side door, by building the side door as a one-piece unit rather than as a Dutch door, or by building only the side door and eliminating the large sliding door. But if you'd like to duplicate our doors, you'll find it easy to achieve professional results.

To create the basic door framework, start by milling the rails and stiles from cedar 2x6s to a dimension of 5-1/4 x 1-1/2 in. Use a router to cut a 3/4-in. groove down the center of one edge of both the rails and stiles. (During assembly you'll orient the groove to the inside.) Finally, cut 3/4-in. tenons on both ends of the rails.

For the door panels, use 1x8 tongue-and-groove cedar car siding. (The car siding fits into the 3/4-in. groove.) Use 3/4 x 2-in. milled cedar for the window grid's rails and stiles and 3/4-in.-sq. milled cedar for the dividers. You can use a few different methods to create the framework's lap joints; we made repeated passes over a table saw blade until the appropriate amount of waste was removed.

Two considerations went into our design for the door window. First, we wanted to use a single piece of acrylic rather than multiple small glass panes. Second, we wanted the acrylic to be easy to replace if it broke. But the groove that runs around the inside of the window opening would have trapped the acrylic and rendered it impossible to replace without cutting the door apart. To remedy the problem, we turned the groove into a rabbet by removing the inside profile with a router and a flush-trim bit. You can set the acrylic into the modified opening, followed by the dividers and a second sheet of acrylic. Mitered strips screwed to the back of the door overlap the rabbet edge and keep all three parts in place.

Use a flush-trim bit to transform the groove into a rabbet.

Test fit all door components before you glue and clamp the assembly together. At each point where a rail and stile meet, drive two 8-in. landscape-timber screws through the stile and into the rail. Counterbore the screws' pilot holes 2 in.; then cap the holes with wood plugs once the screws are installed.

Test the fit of all door parts before you begin to glue them together.

Countersink two 8-in. landscape-timber screws into the rail-and-stile joints.