How to put up a shed

Updated June 18, 2018

Retired builder David Runk has put together many sheds. "I'm the kind of guy who always consults how-to manuals before building, even when it's only a shed. In shed-building, as in life, you get the best results if you formulate a plan and study it carefully in your mind before you take action." Runk explains how he set up his first wooden shed and the many others -- wood, vinyl and metal alike -- that followed.

"In shed-building, as in life itself, you get the best results if you formulate a plan and study it carefully before you take action."

David Runk; retired contractor

First thing's first -- Laying the foundation

Besides carefully drawing up a blueprint for your project, which Runk considers an essential part of the procedure, you must find a suitable -- preferably level -- location for it. Unlike anything that will be used as a dwelling, a shed doesn't necessarily need a permanent foundation; wooden beams on concrete blocks often suffice. "Always use pressure-treated wood for your posts and beams," cautions Runk. "They make the difference between a foundation that can last for twenty years or more and one that won't last more than ten."

• Level the ground with a shovel and rake. Use a power tiller to dig up hard, rocky soil. • Set concrete blocks on the earth -- no more than 2.5 m (8 feet) apart from each other -- and level each one with a spirit level. • Set cross-beams on the blocks and nail them in place. • Construct a joist structure by nailing 5-by-15 cm (2-by-6-inch) timber perpendicular to the beams. The ideal spacing for stability is 41 cm (16 inches). • Lay plywood on the joists and attach the sheets with screws.

Erecting the frame

The frame needs to extend to the very edges of the plywood so rain won't fall on the floor and seep under the walls. "When erecting any structure, it's usually easiest to construct walls on the ground and lift them into place. When I'm constructing a shed, I usually frame in the doors and windows after the walls are up," says Runk. "You don't need strong roofing for a shed -- two by four [inches] are strong enough for the rafters."

• Frame each wall with 5-by-10 cm (2-by-4 inch) studs spaced 41 cm (16 inches) apart. Runk recommends fastening the studs with screws instead of nails. "It's easier to keep everything in place while you're working when you use screws," he says, "and they are easier to remove if you make a mistake." • Hoist the walls, screw each one to the floor, level each one with a 1.2 m (4 foot) spirit level and connect the walls with screws. • Lay a 5-by-20 cm (2-by-8 inch) ridge beam between the front and back walls, attaching it -- on edge -- in the middle of each wall on the top of the top plate. You can also choose to include peaks on the end walls when you construct them and fasten a ridge beam between the tops of the peaks. • Cut rafters that extend from the centre of the ridge beam to a distance of 30 cm (12 inches) beyond the side walls, join them on top of the ridge beam a distance of 40 to 60 cm (16 to 24 inches) apart; use the wider spacing for corrugated roofing. Screw them to the ridge beam and side walls. • Frame in the door and windows. Cut studs as needed with a reciprocating saw and level each part of a door or window frame with a spirit level before affixing it in place.

Installing roofing and siding

"Rough-sawn plywood is the most convenient siding material for a shed," says Runk. "It acts as its own sheathing, so it only needs a moisture barrier. Corrugated metal or plastic is a similarly convenient roofing material, but if you want your shed to feel more solid, use shingles."

• Lay 1.3 cm (1/2-inch) plywood on the roof rafters and screw it down. Omit this step if you're using corrugated roofing. • Wrap the shed with roofing felt and staple it to the studs. If you're laying shingles, staple roofing felt to the plywood you screwed to the roof. • Screw rough-sawn plywood siding to the shed. If you prefer to side with another material, such as wood shingles, install exterior-grade 1.3 cm (1/2-inch) sheathing and attach the siding to the sheathing with appropriate fasteners. • Affix the roofing with appropriate fasteners. Use roofing nails to attach shingles and stainless steel screws to secure corrugate roofing.

Finishing touches

For Runk, the fun starts when the basic construction has been finished. "I add trim -- often cut into whimsical, curved shapes -- and find interesting doors and windows at a building recycling centre", he says. Finishing off with paint, protective oil or varnish gives each project a distinctive appearance and blends it with the surrounding landscape.

• Install doors and windows as needed. • Paint the outside of the shed with a roller or spray gun. Runk usually paints the trim separately before installing it. Don't forget to prime bare wood before you paint it. • Install trim around the doors and windows, the corners of the structure and along the tops of the walls, under the roof overhang. Attach the trim with galvanised clout nails or trim screws. • Caulk the trim with silicone caulk to weather-proof the shed.

Erecting a vinyl or metal shed

“Before erecting a vinyl or metal shed," advises Runk, "always unpack it and cross-check the contents of the box with the instruction manual to make sure everything is there. Assemble the tools you need, which are usually specified in the plans, and study the plans carefully." After choosing a location for the shed and constructing a foundation -- if needed -- you're ready to start.

• Put on goggles and protective gloves. Many of the pieces in metal and vinyl shed kits are sharp enough to cut you. • Follow the directions in the manual step-by-step, and avoid jumping ahead. All pieces are pre-cut and usually must be assembled in order. • Level the walls on either side of the door and secure them to the foundation before installing the door. Failure to do this usually results in a sticky door. • Seal all the joints in your new shed with clear silicone caulk.

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About the Author

Chris Deziel has a bachelor's degree in physics and a master's degree in humanities. Besides having an abiding interest in popular science, Deziel has been active in the building and home design trades since 1975. As a landscape builder, he helped establish two gardening companies.