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earth • ship - a dwelling designed to bring people into a more intelligent and sustainable relationship with their environment
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02.19.05   The Work Shed

The "rustic work shed" as I like to call it, was the very first large scale building project I completed on the land. I call it "large-scale" because it was bigger than me. My only prior experience was making sculpture that was usually no larger than myself. I call it "rustic" to cover for the fact that not everything came out square, since I was regarding the use of a level as optional. All in all, I like the way it came out, and it was an extremely necessary excercise for me to engage in prior to starting the hut.
Ok... now that I look at it I probably shouldn't be calling it a work shed. I'm using it as a work shed, but I wanted it to also be a simple shelter for enjoying the land and views, and a place where my friends and relatives could gather for a barbeque or picnic when they were in the area. The picnic table I built was an afterthought. Sturdy enough for working and pleasant enough for seating. But I digress.
I was torn at first over what kind of work shelter I wanted. I almost went with an adobe type shed, using earthbags, but then decided not too for some reason. I was maybe a bit too eager to get the Taos feel happening on my land that caused me to recall a simple shed I saw in town that used latillas. Of course, town is a lot different from the mesa, where it tends to rain sideways and blow pretty fiercely.
To start, I bought pressure-treated posts and lots of lag bolts. I made all the starter holes using a hand drill and large bit, which was not always fun. I had managed to purchase a damaged drill at first and spent a good hour or so before I decided there was something wrong with it! Oh well. Somehow I pressed on with it before I got a replacement.
The main vertical posts were bolted to two patio stone blocks using heavy lag bolts and extra large washers. Then they were set into the ground and earthbags were pounded on top of them. I did this for the sake of speed and because I wasn't quite ready to leap into (what was to me at the time) a mysterious world of cement. Considering I have yet to fish my shed out of the gorge, I think it worked very well.
It was quite strenuous to gather up all the latillas on 3 separate outings. During the first 2 trips, I cut them all by hand with a bow saw. I was exhausted! I took home close to 100 latillas in 2 days. If you ever do this, make sure you can get a vehicle real close to the source. Latillas are surprisingly heavy, ladened with all that water. Also, fetch them from a point higher than you are. These things seem so obvious in retrospect, but on your first outing, I think the tendency is to go where you first find them!
By my third trip, I owned a new chainsaw. It worked great for the first 15 minutes and then turned it off while trimming the first batch of latillas. Well it was either the heat or it became flooded with fuel because it wouldn't start up again for another hour. That day I came back with fewer latillas than my first day out with a bow saw! Go figure.
Anyway, to gather latillas, you must first get a permit at a Carson National forest office. There's one right across from my office on Cruz Alta Road in Taos. Each permit is good for 50 latillas, and you must display the permit card prominently or risk being stopped. You also have a very tight time limit during which to gather your latillas. If you don't make your target, or even forget, you're out of luck!
The roofing was done on the cheap using rippled tin sheets. In retrospect, I'd spring for the EPDM panels instead, since they seem to be more rugged and easier to work with. The ripples make it difficult to plan where you are going to get a solid connection to a roof beam, and trying to screw through a high ripple with nothing underneath it is not very fun.
I wanted a bit of color on these things, and a lady at Ace Hardware talked me into buying some special cleaner that takes the coating off of the surface as a preparation for painting them. I asked for a semi-gloss outdoor paint and she once again talked me into using a flat paint instead, arguing that I didn't want a shiny roof. Sounded like she knew what she was talking about! Well, all I can say is ALWAYS listen to yourself! The cleaner seemed to do absolutely nothing, and on top of that the paint began peeling less than a month later! Ugh. Another problem arose when the dimensions the Ace Hardware rep gave me for the sheets were off by a foot! So my pre-planning had to be scrapped and I just started playing it by ear at that point.
To fasten the tin sheets to the roof structure, I used special roof screws with a sponge padding that's supposed to prevent leaking. Well, not for me! About half of them seemed to be doing their job and the other half were on vacation. Not a huge deal considering this was an open-air shelter meant primarily to get me out of the sun once in a while, but nevertheless annoying. I spent the next few weeks gradually plugging things up with foam insulation and silicon caulk.
In spite of all the frustrations of my first significant building project, it was nevertheless very satisfying to sit under it for the very first time and look out at the Sangre de Christo Mountains across the gorge. Then, when I built the picnic table, it was even more pleasant. I sat a bottle of juice on the table and realized that for the first time the land had the presence of an occupant, that occupant being me, and psychologically that goes a long long way.
Including the picnic table, I estimate I may have spent close to $700.00 on the shed in total, which is probably a bit too high for a project like this. Some of the cost came in the form of changing my mind on materials and direction, and making a mistake here and there, but the experience gained was invaluable. If you're new to the owner builder thing, I highly recommend you start on something not so important such as a shed. It will tone up the particular thinking skills you need to do this kind of work right.
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related images (click to view photos in full resolution)
The Rustic Workshed
The Rustic Workshed
Touch of the Wild West Touch of the Wild West
View from the back View from the back
Before the roof beam Before the roof beam
The roof structure goes up. The roof structure goes up.
Starts to feel like home. Behold! The rustic work shed!
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