Designing and Building a Tiny House, and Everything In Between. 

Ribbons, Sails 

& Dandelion Fluff

May 2020 –

Building a Shelter

Steel Frames & Cladding

Apr 20 – Jul 19

Doors & Windows

The Beginnings of a ‘Tiny’ Project

Apr 19 – Aug 17

Succulents & Raspberries;

A First Foray into Gardening.

Oct 17 – Apr 15

Building a House of Steel

Forget straw, sticks and bricks, this home will be made of steel and though it may not be quite as cool as straw, so far it looks like it will measure up to be a darn sturdy home. It goes without saying that this is the most critical step to get right and Chris spent innumerable hours on research and design to ensure we ended up with a sound and feasible solution for this house. Each section has been quick work to measure, mark and cut and super solid (in a good way) upon assembly and we are at the stage where only the roof remains to be completed. So yes, I have been negligent in the sharing of this process but remedy that today I shall! 

Now I can’t help myself but emphasise that despite the tremendous amount of study, neither of us are in a position to provide an expert opinion on this structure. So whilst I am happy to share our process in brief detail, if you are considering building your own steel frame, I would encourage you to treat this simply as another snippet of inspiration. 

Alright, serious business out of the way, let’s get to it.

Why Steel?

Yep, if you have ever researched building a tiny home, you will likely have come across the many, many, discussions around tiny home materials. It’s rather overwhelming and let’s be honest, my uneducated sentiments won’t be adding anything beneficial to the plethora of opinions out there. That said, it’s a question I am often asked, so I will share the thoughts behind my decision but will let you guys do your own digging for the pros and cons. (Have fun!)

At the time we were investigating frame materials, and it was a long time ago now, it seemed most crucial to reduce the overall weight and crunching some numbers suggested steel could be significantly lighter than timber. (People will argue this isn’t always the case with tiny homes, and true, it will all depend on the gauge of your steel and the design of the frame.) 

Additionally, this choice presented me with the chance to familiarise myself with metal, a material I had never really worked with. It seemed daunting, cold and unforgiving and I admit to championing timber over steel for quite a while. However one of the key reasons I wanted to build this house was to learn, and as I would already be working plenty with timber, it really was a perfect opportunity. True, it would be more expensive than timber, but to broaden my skill set strikes me as money well spent, so I resolved to give it a go. As for the environmental impact? Well, this is one of those decisions you could argue both ways, and honestly, I don’t know, or have, the answer for this one. But I have a lot of thoughts on the matter so we will definitely delve into that in another post. 

Where to Start?

As Chris handled the technical side, the frame aspect for me really started when we began looking into the necessary tools, and after some investigation, it was determined that it would be a good idea to invest in a cold cut metal circular saw. See, because metal expands when it’s heated, a regular circular saw can cause friction or binding, making the saw work harder. A cold cut saw transfers the heat generated from cutting into the metal chips, and this keeps both the tool and material cool. I ended up with a Makita Metal Cold Cut Circular Saw, chiefly because I already had a battery from my Makita drill and driver, but too because we could use it for both the frame and cutting of the corrugated steel cladding. 

Happily, it turns out this little saw is brilliant- it is super lightweight, quick and just so easy to wield. Overall we’ve both been very impressed with its performance. I was sceptical as to how much I would use this tool, especially considering my partiality for timber but with this, metalwork seems much more approachable, and I now believe the use of steel in jigs and such as much more likely. [Though a quick side note, if you notice the blade isn’t spinning, just check that it’s tightly attached- any looseness will prevent it from working.]

To cut out the slots for the studs to fit through we were acquainted with a drill fitting called a Nibbler. Cute name, right? Admittedly I kind of hated the Nibbler to begin with, I just could not seem to get the hang of the little beast. Finally, I got it, and it quickly became my favourite step of the process. It works something like a hole punch, rapidly punching small crescents in the steel. You can spend a fair bit of money on these fittings, but in this instance, we went with a budget Craftright nibbler and so far it has served the job really well!

Get Building

Chris designed the frame so we could build it in pieces and assemble it on the trailer once we had all the parts. Seeing as I had been imaging struggling to build the frame attached to the trailer, I was relieved by this far less difficult/awkward method. 

Overall there are thirteen pieces of the frame, and though we were slow at the beginning, the last few we chugged out in 3-4 hours each. I finally managed to remember to take some process shots as we built the end bathroom wall, one of the largest pieces. It’s not quite finished as we won’t be attaching the top track until the four walls are fixed together, but you can certainly get the gist. 

A rather compact collection of steel! I had been expecting a much grander pile so I was somewhat surprised to find it take up so little space. Seriously, that's the entire home.
Some pieces of steel, ready to be measured, marked and cut.
To cut the slots for the studs to fit through, we would use the above jig to pre-drill holes in each corner.
This would be followed through with a step drill bit. These holes would give the Nibbler a starting point so we could cut out the excess.
Rough fitting the pieces together.
Each join would then be squared and fixed together using appropriate metal screws.
The bathroom wall, almost complete!
Time to add another piece of frame to the ever growing pile!
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