The Shed That Granddad Built

April 2003

My maternal grandfather, Denis, was a tremendous craftsman, although he had little in the way of formal training. As I write this, it occurs to me to wonder how he acquired his skills because for a large part of his 83 years, there was no internet or YouTube to learn from.  When computers and the internet did emerge, he wanted no part of them.

His particular skills were in carpentry and woodwork, although he was capable of building an entire house, except for gas installation and electrical wiring. When my parents brought their home, which required significant renovation at the time, Granddad built a large shed at the back of the garden.  I believe this was around 1974.

The shed stood for decades. It may still be there, but a Google Earth view is not clear enough for me to tell.  It spanned the two-thirds of the width of the back garden, had a wood store in the roof with a hatch through which planks could be fed and two windows that could be propped open.  Inside was a large work bench and all the other junk a family accumulates over time. Dad had run an electric supply up to it, so it had lightning and power. Both Dad & Granddad had overlooked a source of heating though, so it could be quite chilly in the winter.

I used to enjoy pottering up in the shed, somehow thinking I was engaging in woodwork or other construction activities, but in reality simply fiddling about with tools I did not understand whilst trying to make things, despite not being entirely sure what I was trying to make. I credit my passion for sheds to the many hours I spent there.

In my teens, I had an old radio, that had belonged to Great Aunt Edith, which was in perfect condition. I would contentedly listen to the radio whilst drinking tea and achieving not much else.

Sometime in the third decade of the shed’s existence, the side of the shed that contained the door developed rot, due to pooling water and the frame was in danger of giving out each time the door was opened. Undaunted by a singular lack of ability in the area of construction and unaware, at that time, that Granddad mixed concrete that will resist nuclear explosion*, I set about effecting a repair. I decided to cut out the entire rotten section, slide in a new piece which could be secured with various splints and screws to the existing frame, then drill the new piece into the armageddon-proof concrete and paint it.  Simples.

I purchased the required wood, cut it to size, extracted the rotten section and pushed in the new one. So far, so good. Securing the new section to the frame would be similarly uncomplicated. I paused for a cup of tea, delighted with my progress and surprised that thusfar, my usual DIY misadventures had not shown up to hamper me.

It was at this point that inspiration struck me. The replacement section would surely benefit from a nice metal plate covering it, in order to protect the wood from chips as bicycles, lawn mowers and so on were pushed in and out of the shed. We were in the process of dumping and old metal filing cabinet that no longer had opening drawers, so I took a hack saw to part of it and fashioned a three sided plate to fit around the section of wood under the door. I elected to drill through this with a metalwork drill bit, through the wood with a woodwork drill bit and finally into the concrete to site plugs and masonry screws to secure the frame, via the new section, into the base. This is where the wheels fell off. Drilling the metal and wood was fine. Drilling the masonry cost me three masonry drill bits and a trip to the DIY shop to buy new bits, before there were holes sufficient to admit the plugs and screws.  This inconvenience led to much muttering and cursing on my part, but was soon forgotten once I had put the section in place, proudly bonded to the end-of-the-world resisting concrete, secured it to the frame and painted both the wood and, later, the metal.  It looked as good as new. Later, on a visit to the UK, the great man himself, Granddad-Who-Built-The-Shed, surveyed it and gave a seal of approval.

Granddad was responsible for a number of sheds in the family and I helped him to build at least one of them, at Roy’s house. I suspect this one is probably not still standing. Mostly because we built it on plinths of paving slabs, as Roy had not got the base quite ready. From memory, there were six plinths. One at each corner and one each in the middle of the longest sides. The last I knew, when Roy sold the house some years ago, and many years after Granddad and I erected the shed, the base had still not quite been laid.

*I wish I could remember the ratios of cement powder to sand and ballast that Granddad used, but despite him telling me many times, I cannot. Suffice to say that when a builder saw him mixing cement once, he observed that he would never be able to employ Granddad because the cement bill would be too much for the business to bear.

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