Gardeners, small farmers, and outdoor living enthusiasts will love this compilation of 76 rustic DIY projects. From plant supports and clotheslines to a chicken coop, a greenhouse, and a root cellar with storage bins, most of the projects are suitable for complete novices, and all use just basic tools and easy-to-find materials. You’ll find techniques to build whatever your outdoor world is missing, with additional tips to live sustainably, happily, and independently.
Also available in this series: The Backyard Homestead, The Backyard Homestead Seasonal Planner, The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals, and The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How.
About the Author
Spike Carlsen built a tree house at the age of 8 and has been swinging a hammer ever since. He worked as a carpenter and contractor for 15 years, then as an editor with The Family Handyman — the world’s leading DIY magazine — for another 15. He’s the author of the award-winning A Splintered History of Wood, Woodworking FAQ, and The Backyard Homestead of Building Projects. He’s written for Men’s Health, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, American Woodworker, and other publications and has appeared on HGTV, Modern Marvels, and CBS’s The Early Show. He and his wife, Kat, divide their time between their home in Stillwater, Minnesota, and their cabin on Lake Superior.
Read an Excerpt
Tools, Materials, and Skills
You gotta have four things to tackle any project: (1) a plan, (2) tools, (3) materials, and (4) the skills to put the first three together. The bulk of this book contains projects and plans; this first chapter focuses on the other three things.
If you're new to building, I suggest easing into things with a simple project that requires only basic tools and materials. A raised-bed garden, a compost bin, or a simple storage rack are good starting points. If you're not comfortable with power tools, use their nonmotorized counterparts (see No Fancy-Pants Tools, page 11). It may take longer, but you'll still wind up with a fine finished project and that fine feeling of accomplishment. And your confidence will grow.
Experienced builders may be familiar with much of the information in this chapter, but it's still worth a browse. There may be new materials and tools you want to acquaint yourself with. And it's always a good idea to bone up on safety. Just about the time you begin feeling comfortable with a tool is the time you let your guard down and accidents happen. So roll up your sleeves and let's get started.
My Go-To Hand Tools
A dozen helpers for creating better projects
A few tools (e.g., a tape measure, a hammer, and a drill) are no-brainers when it comes to must-have tools. But in my 30 years as a carpenter I've found myself consistently reaching for a few slightly out-of-the-ordinary tools; some I keep in my tool belt (in fact, one is my tool belt), others in a bucket close by (another must-have, slightly offbeat tool).
Tool belt. You can waste tons of time and create lots of frustration searching for misplaced tools and climbing ladders to fetch handfuls of nails because you're over here and they're over there. It doesn't matter if you prefer a lightweight canvas belt or a beefy leather one; just make sure you use a belt. At a minimum, your belt should have a handy place for stashing your hammer, your tape measure, and whatever fasteners you're using at the time. If wearing it for extended periods hurts your back, then buy tool belt suspenders; they'll help distribute the weight to your upper body.
5-gallon bucket organizer. I keep my most frequently used tools in a 5-gallon bucket organizer rather than a toolbox. This is a fabric organizer with pockets and compartments that fits over a standard 5-gallon plastic bucket. It's especially handy when I'm working outside or away from my workshop. With a bucket, I can see everything in a single glance. The dozens of pockets keep all the tools organized. And if I find an empty pocket at the end of a day, I know a tool is hiding someplace it shouldn't be. I can easily stash long tools like 2-foot levels, framing squares, and handsaws in a bucket. There also are a few small pockets for stashing little things I use (and lose) a lot, like driver bits and drill bits.
Speed Square. A Speed Square (a.k.a. triangle square or rafter angle square) makes it easy to mark boards at 90- and 45-degree angles. And with just a little know-how, you can use one to mark every other angle or roof pitch in this book. They're easy to slip in and out of the back pocket of your tool belt.
Wire cutters or end nippers. These are handy for cutting electrical and fence wire, pulling slivers, and holding dinky nails and screws as you drive them. I also use cutters or nippers for pulling small finish nails out through the backs of recycled boards, which minimizes splintering on the good face of the wood.
Sharp and beater chisels. I carry two ¾" chisels: a sharp one for shaving wood, cleaning up edges, and cutting hardware recesses, and a dull one for prying, gouging, and hacking away. As your sharp chisel becomes war torn, demote it to the "beater chisel" role.
Multi-tip screwdriver. You can carry three or four separate screwdrivers or carry one multi-tip version. Buy a multi-tip tool with a magnetic shaft that will hold screws onto the screwdriver tip, making it easy to start them in awkward places. Tools with a ratcheting handle make life easier, too.
Japanese pull saw. These tools cut on the pull stroke, which allows for an ultra-thin blade. They cut quickly, and the blade (with most saws) can be turned upside down and flexed for cutting in hard-to-reach places. They'll cut PVC pipe, moldings, plywood, dowels, and even 2×4s in a pinch. They don't take up much room, and they stay sharp for years. It's not worth it to sharpen these saws, so be sure to stay clear of nails.
Double-ended cat's paw. These are great for digging out and pulling old nails or for yanking new nails that didn't quite hit the mark. The curved claw offers superb leverage for pulling nails (especially in tight places), and the straight claw is good for prying, chiseling, and other dismantling tasks.
Chalk line. Chalk lines are great for marking long, straight lines on flat surfaces and materials like plywood, boards, roofs, and floors. They're good for other things, too: Most can be used as a plumb bob. Strung between stakes, they're handy for making sure holes and posts are aligned when building fences and decks. You can also slip a 2" line level on the string and use it as a semiaccurate tool for leveling over long distances.
Permanent marking pen. Carpenter pencils are perfect for marking and laying out boards, but sometimes you need something with a little more oomph. Permanent markers can mark concrete, metal, plastic, and nearly every other surface. They're also great for making impromptu KEEP OFF or WET PAINT signs and for labeling tools.
Squeeze clamps. These ratcheting bar clamps that you can operate with one hand are indispensable and can be used for a lot more than holding boards together while the glue dries. You can clamp one to a ladder to hold the long end of a molding while you're cutting or installing it, or use one to squeeze and "coax" boards into position.
Masking tape. I always keep a little piece of masking tape stuck to my tape measure for writing down numbers and dimensions I need to remember; when it's full, I toss it and stick on a new strip. Masking tape can also be used to keep glue off areas when gluing up boards and as a mini-clamp. It's great for creating temporary labels and emergency bandages.
Safety and Safety Equipment
See no evil, hear no evil, inhale no evil — stay healthy while you work
Some people shy away from tackling projects because of safety issues. But the truth is, with the right protective gear and work habits, you can enjoy a lifetime of accident-free building. Here are some things to keep in mind (and in your toolbox).
You should wear hearing protection when sound levels exceed about 85 decibels (dB). As a point of reference, conversational speech is about 60 dB, shop vacuums emit about 85 dB, and most saws generate 90 dB or more.
There are dozens of different hearing protectors on the market. The most important thing is to find one that you'll actually wear: it has to be comfortable and suit the way you work. The two most common options are earplugs and earmuffs.
Earplugs are little foam "bullets" that you twist and insert directly into the ear. They're inexpensive and offer the greatest degree of hearing protection. On the downside, they're easy to misplace, they don't last long and must be replaced frequently, and may give you the unpleasant sensation of having something stuck in your ears.
Earmuffs are "headsets" that completely cover the ear. They cost more and are bulkier than earplugs, but many people find them more comfortable to wear than plugs. It's easy to perch them on top of your head, "Mickey Mouse" style, when not in use.
Different types of sight protection are designed for different situations.
Safety glasses (with side shields) protect your eyes whenever small chips and debris are flying, or when you're driving nails. Prescription safety glasses with special lenses are available; to be effective they must have side shields.
Safety goggles should be worn whenever you are using chemicals or generating clouds of dust. Direct vent goggles offer superior airflow and ventilation for comfort but offer less protection against chemical splashes. Indirect vent or splash proof goggles are designed so liquids can't enter through the vents. If you wear regular prescription glasses, goggles offer the best protection.
Face shields offer protection against large chips, sparks, and bigger types of airborne debris. People commonly wear these when working on a lathe or grinder, or when working with outdoor power equipment. Since shields are open on the bottom, for complete protection wear safety goggles or glasses beneath.
Welding helmets with specially designed lenses for the type of welding you're doing will protect your eyes and face from infrared and ultraviolet light, as well as sparks, particularly when you are arc welding.
Since sawdust has been classified as a nasal carcinogen, you should wear respiratory protection anytime you pick up a saw. Cutting drywall, concrete, and fiberglass — or simply sweeping the floor — can also generate substantial amounts of airborne particles.
Dust masks have "N" ratings on the package that indicate the percentage of particles the mask will filter out; an N99 mask offers more protection than an N95 mask.
Cartridge-type respirators are required when you are using furniture strippers, spray paints, and other chemicals. Some masks are "half-face," while others are "full-face." Read the warning label on the package or can to find out which type of mask and cartridge you should wear to secure full protection, and follow the directions.
You can avoid most accidents by using common sense, maintaining your tools, and keeping your work area free of debris. A few other tips to keep you intact:
* Keep your hands and other body parts out of the projected path of utility knives, chisels, blades, and other sharp objects. Before making any cut, ask yourself, "What's going to happen if that cutting tool slips?"
* Clamp down boards and other workpieces before boring large holes through them; a spinning workpiece is a dangerous workpiece.
* Keep your hands and body away from the projected kickback path of blades and boards when using power saws, particularly circular saws and table saws. Stand to the side, rather than directly behind, boards and blades during cuts.
* Beware of binding blades as you work. A pinched blade can propel the saw you're working with, or the board it's cutting, in unexpected directions.
* Use a starter block when cutting with a handsaw. It will keep your fingers away from sharp teeth and, as a bonus, help you establish a squarer cut.
* Unplug tools whenever you change blades or bits or perform maintenance.
* Keep a first-aid kit nearby. At a minimum, the kit should contain adhesive and elastic bandages, gauze, antiseptic cream, scissors, tweezers, eyewash and cup, latex gloves, and an instant ice pack.
Ladders, Scaffolds, and Heights
Falls from extension ladders, stepladders, roofs, and scaffolds are responsible for nearly half a million injuries per year in the United States alone. Avoid becoming a statistic by setting up and using these helpers correctly:
* Set your extension ladder at the correct angle. Many ladders have a little L-shaped diagram on the side. Hold a torpedo level so it's aligned with the long edge of this diagram, and position the base of the ladder so the level reads plumb. Otherwise, use this rule of thumb: Position the tips of your shoes or boots against the ladder feet; then stand upright with your arms extended directly in front of you. You have the correct angle if the palms of your hands just touch the ladder rung in front of you.
* Make sure your stepladder or extension ladder sit on a level base. You can quickly dig a trench under the high side using the claw of a hammer or pry bar. Avoid propping boards under one leg; they can slip.
* Confirm that the base of your extension ladder is secure. If you're working on a deck, nail a 2×4 behind the feet to prevent slipping. On the ground, swivel the ladder feet on the bottom; then apply pressure until the spurs of the feet dig in.
* Stabilize the top of extension ladders with rope, blocks of wood, or a U-shaped ladder stabilizer.
* Always keep your belt buckle between the rungs. Load your tools into a tool belt so you can use both hands to grip the rails when climbing and descending the ladder.
* Before you extend or raise a ladder, check overhead to make certain there are no power lines in the vicinity.
* Make sure all four legs of a stepladder or scaffold make solid contact with the ground. One soft or low spot can create an unstable condition.
* When working on a scaffold, use a rope tied to a 5-gallon bucket to haul stuff up so you can use both hands while you climb.
Lifting and Moving Heavy Stuff
Use your brain and physics, rather than brawn and ibuprofen, to get the job done
Let's face it: While building around your home-stead you're going to encounter heavy stuff. Let's face something else: Moving heavy stuff the wrong way can put you out of commission for days, weeks, or longer. It's always better to use your brain and physics than to rely on brute strength when moving heavy materials. Here are some tips.
Let's roll. You can move everything from flagstone steps to yard sheds by placing them on sections of 4"-diameter PVC pipe and pushing them. Keep leapfrogging rollers to the front as you progress. This works best for objects with flat bottoms being moved on relatively flat ground.
Two wheely good ideas. A wheelbarrow can be your best friend for moving a heavy object, but often the trick is getting the object into the wheelbarrow to start with. If you're loading a large stone or other heavy material, lay the wheelbarrow on its side and roll or shove the material in. Then, with the help of a friend, push the wheelbarrow upright.
You'll also find a wheelbarrow easier to push and steer if you load the material closer to the front than the back. Your arms can do less lifting and more steering.
Hello, dolly. Dollies are great for moving furniture and appliances, but they can also be great for moving stones, building materials, potted trees, and other hefty landscaping materials. A dolly with air-filled tires will negotiate uneven terrain more easily than those with hard-rubber tires. Strap the material to the dolly for stability. Sometimes it's easier to pull, rather than push, the dolly.
Take a walk. You can move large square planters, landscaping stones, and heavy outdoor furniture by walking them to their destination. With the object balanced on two legs or two points, move one leg ahead a few inches, then the other. Repeat until you've reached your goal.
Strappingly strong straps. If you watch piano and furniture movers, you'll notice they work in pairs and use furniture moving straps. The straps loop over one person's shoulder, fit under the object, and then loop over the other person's shoulder on the opposite side. Some systems use the forearms for support. They make the moving process way easier on the arms, back, hands, and legs.
Use leverage. Archimedes maintained that if you gave him a place to stand with a lever he could move the whole world. While your task is probably smaller than that, levers are amazingly handy when it comes to jobs like pulling out old fence posts or fine-tuning the positions of large objects. The longer the lever and the shorter the distance from the fulcrum point to the load, the more leverage you'll create.
Shoulder the burden. While it takes practice to get a heavy plank or bag of concrete onto your shoulder, once it's there, the hauling becomes much easier. To get it onto your shoulder, squat to grab the object, keep your back straight, and then stand quickly using your legs. As the object rises use your arms and the momentum to "clean" (as in clean and press) the object onto your shoulder.
Woods and Plywoods
Lumber-aisle lingo and more
To find a 2×4 that actually measures 2" by 4", you'll have to hop into your pickup truck and drive back 80 years or more. These days, a 2×4 may start life at those dimensions, but by the time it's been kiln-dried and planed, the dimensions have shrunk. Here we'll take a brief look at lumber, plywood, and the best woods to use for outdoor projects.
The True Dimensions of Dimensional Lumber
In the materials list included with most projects in this book, the lumber will be listed by its nominal dimensions (its common name), but the given dimensions in the project, parts, and cutting lists and illustrations will be based on the actual dimensions. What we call a 2×4 actually measures about 1 ½" thick by 3 ½" wide. See Nominal vs. Actual Lumber Dimensions, right, for translations of common lumber sizes.
A word about length: Most dimensional lumber runs ¼" to ¾" longer than the given "lumberyard length." Notable exceptions include 92 5/8" studs and other boards with very specific lengths.
Excerpted from "The Backyard Homestead Book of Building Projects"
Copyright © 2014 Spike Carlsen.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Carleen Madigan
Tools, Materials & Skills
My Go-To Hand Tools
Safety and Safety Equipment
Lifting and Moving Heavy Stuff
Woods and Plywoods
Glues and Caulks
Drilling Holes and Driving Screws
Tool Sharpening and Maintenance
Digging Holes and Setting Posts
Circular Saw Basics
Measuring, Leveling, and Squaring
Paints and Finishes
For the Garden
Two-Wheel Garden Cart
Compost Bin Trio
Shadow Box Fence Panel
Deep Irrigation Basics
Simple Hose Guides
Garden Marker/Stepping Stone
Sitting and Kneeling Garden Stool
Five Raised-Bed Gardens
Five Simple Plant Supports
Bent Rebar Pergola
Golf Cart Garden Dolly
Rain Barrel Basics
Harvesting & Food Preparation
Foldaway Countertop Rack
Shoulder Bucket Yoke
Multipurpose Produce Rack
Fire Pit Grilling Station
Root Cellar Storage System
Storage & Workspaces
Overhead Storage Cradles
Firewood Storage and Splitting Station
Stand-Up Tool Rack
Patio Storage Chest
Wall-Hung Tool Rack
Mini Tool Shed
Homestead Emergency Cart
Ultimate Yard Shed
Animal Shelters & Feeders
Nesting Box Buckets
Outdoor Outlets, Switches, and Lights
Classy, Classic Chicken Coop
Coffee Can Bird Feeder
Top Bar Beehive
For the House & Yard
Boot Scraper and Jack
Firewood Cradle and Carrying Sling
Lawn Bag Stand
Backdoor Storage Locker
Punched Tin Jelly Cabinet
Clothes Pole Trellis
Rustic Garden Table
Pickin' and Grinnin' Chair
Solar Window Heater