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A New Home Workshop, Part 5

A bloody nightmare...

By Julian Edgar

Click on pics to view larger images

At a glance...

  • Erection of the workshop
  • Lots of problems with poor workmanship
  • What to do, what to do...
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Last issue in A New Home Workshop, Part 4 we’d reached the stage of having the concrete slab poured. Now it’s time to erect the shed! And wasn’t it a disappointing process…

But first I had to wait for all the bits to arrive.

Order and delivery

The shed kit was selected and the deposit paid - and then I waited for council planning approval. Planning approval finally came and then it was time to organise the construction crew.

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Finally, about 12 weeks after the deposit had been placed, the kit could be paid for in full and the materials delivered. Or not, as the case may be – the initial delivery lacked all the fasteners, and then it took weeks for the second roller door to come.

And the shortcomings didn’t stop there.

Also missing was the safety mesh to be placed under the skylight panels. To get this delivered required some strong words - the shed suppliers initially stated that they didn’t bother with mesh, whatever the official plans showed…

DIY?

So who was to build the shed?

With my last home workshop, I built the entire structure myself, working absolutely single-handedly. 

Click for larger image

That shed (construction pictured here) was 14 x 6 metres, with a 3 metre high wall. At the time I worked on that shed, I decided that I wouldn’t be able to build anything that was higher: the placing of the frame beams and the handling of the wall sheets was at my limit. So with the new workshop, with a much taller wall height of 5 metres, I decided to employ someone else to do the construction.

I asked a handyman who’d done a few jobs around my house to quote for the job, on the basis that I’d be around to help with the awkward tasks like placing the main roof truss beams. I’d thought the work the handyman had done had been fine, and he’d shown himself to be someone who could carefully think his way through jobs new to him.

He came back to me with what I thought was an unbeatable offer: he’d work with a buddy of his, someone who “had forgotten more about shed construction than he’d ever know”.

So it seemed to me I was getting someone who was expert, together with someone whose workmanship I trusted.

To employ these people, who were not licensed builders, I needed to become an official New South Wales Owner/Builder – something that needed an Occupational Health and Safety course and some on-line learning. I did the study and was presented with the certificate.

Construction

But, if you’ll excuse the phrase, then it all started turning to shit.

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Fundamentally, the ‘expert shed builder’ worked at a level I thought was abysmal. He wasn’t actually incompetent; he just made a lot of mistakes that then needed to be remedied. The handyman – well, he followed whatever the ‘expert’ had to say.

I wouldn’t call myself a person with exceptional skills of workmanship, but I do have some pride.

If I placed top-hat rafters in the wrong place, and then had to undo all the Tek screws to move them, so leaving behind lots of holes, well I’d be kicking myself. If I did it more than once, well, then I’d be radically changing the way I went about things.

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Or if I were placing anchors in the concrete slab, and met a steel reinforcing rod with my masonry bit, well I’d then change to a high speed steel drill bit rather than just trying to push on with the wrong bit, so wrecking the hole.

I could go on and on: don’t worry about measuring and marking bolt positions, just drill them randomly so that their placement left to right is asymmetric.  (And certainly don’t bother making a 2-second cardboard template so that the holes mirror-match….)

Or put end columns on backwards, so that they then need to be turned around – yep, leaving lots of holes indicative of the column originally being in the wrong position…

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If you regard holes drilled in the wrong places as mistakes, at the bare frame stage I could count more than 50 mistakes!

After they had left at the end of one day, a day in which for the first time I hadn’t stood over them, the number of mistakes I could find was just too many for me to countenance. Bracing running incorrectly. Masonry anchors in wrong places. And all those bloody extra holes…

That night I rang the handyman and told him that the quality had to improve, big time.

The next day I had a yelling match with the “expert”, after which he threatened to walk. I didn’t stop him, simply saying that when he’d gone I’d be spending a fair bit of time undoing his mistakes. (I was very angry by now: what I actually said was that he could fuck off, and once he’d fucked off, I’d be spending a lot of time undoing his fuck-ups.) He stopped, and demanded to see the mistakes. I walked around, pointing them out.

But you see, to him they weren’t mistakes!

Gazing at the numerous extra holes in the roof purlins, he said incredulously: “They’re just tiny Tek screw holes!”

They were just his normal level of workmanship…

Aaaagh.

Why or why hadn’t I built the shed myself, I thought, employing a helper on an hourly rate….

After my explosion, things got a little better – the construction standard went from, maybe 4/10 to maybe 6/10. Ongoing problems? Well, Tek screws not in straight lines, roofing sheets that ‘fanned’ due to incorrect screwing were just cut off to make them fit - and if you looked hard at anything, you’d find something that with a bit more care, could have been done better.

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Even, in one unbelievable case, a metre length where the Tek screws had completely missed the wall girt!

It was the sort of situation where taking 10 per cent longer would have resulted in a job 100 per cent better.

But I blame myself. I now realise should have done a number of things:

1) Employ any someone who had built many sheds (but then again, that was what I was told I was doing…).

2) Prior to employing anyone, ask to inspect examples of sheds they had built.

3) Made it bloody clear from day one the quality of workmanship I expected. (I actually think that, because the guys building the shed know I ‘teach writing’ for a living, they thought I wouldn’t recognise crap workmanship when it was in front of me. One bloke, defending his workmanship, stated “Well, you didn’t say anything when we did it” – obviously, the standard was dependent only on what they could get away with.)

4) And, most importantly, I should have built the shed myself, employing someone to help me.

And, if you find yourself in this situation, there’s another thing to keep in mind. Many shed-building mistakes are impossible to remedy after they have been made. You can’t undo holes drilled in the wrong places; you can’t redo a whole wall of cladding where screws have not been centred in girts. In other words, it has to be built right in the first place.

That said, when they’d finished the shed, I could still make some immediate improvements. I installed:

- tensioners to allow the existing (poorly installed) cross-bracing straps to be tightened

- additional cross-bracing straps

- top-hat section members within the end wall vertical columns to stiffen them

- additional 8mm nuts and bolts to better hold the roller door supporting brackets in place (better than just Tek screws, anyway!)

Conclusion

Click for larger image

The shed won’t fall down, and if you don’t look too closely, the construction appears fine. The personal access door opens and closes nicely, the roller doors go up and down smoothly, and the shed doesn’t leak.

But after wracking my brains to come up with the best home workshop design, striving to get the money together, working hard to get the ‘tall-shed’ plans past council… well, to then watch its construction being butchered was an intense disappointment.

So why didn’t I just sack the shed builders and start again?

Primarily, because at each point in the construction process, the builders said that they’d do a better job on the next section – and occasionally, they did.  But often they did not.

So the gutters and door trims were done fine, but the screwing of the roof and wall sheets was completed very poorly.

And also because at each stage, I honestly couldn’t believe that people used to working with their hands could actually do such a bad job - until they proved it by doing it!

Pluses: The shed is erected and useable.

Minuses: The quality of much of the construction is lousy.

The Surprise: Some people have no idea of what constitutes a good level of workmanship; or alternatively, don’t give a stuff about what they are doing.

Cost: The construction cost totalled $3380 - this included hiring a 5 metre scaffold for the construction period ($580). Because of my dissatisfaction with the workmanship, the labour ccomponent was negotiated down from the originally quoted $3200 to $2800.

Next issue: stormwater, landscaping, council inspection

The parts in this series:

Part 1 - Clearing the space

Part 2 - Planning the design

Part 3 - Gaining planning authority approval

Part 4 - The concrete slab

Part 5 - Getting the shed erected

Part 6 - Stormwater handling

Part 7 - The electricals

Part 8 - Organising storage

Part 9 - Building the workbenches

Part 10 - Evaluating the outcome

Interested in home workshop projects and techniques? You’re sure then to be interested in the Home Workshop Sourcebook, available now.

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