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

SEA CHEST

Terribly lousy with an iron, there’s no doubt that I will be hanging the majority of my clothing. That said, I still need a home for socks and undies, and some of the bulkier items of a well-rounded wardrobe. To fulfil this need, I decided to build myself a wee chest of drawers.

Design & Build

The end of September saw our progress on the exterior take a hit due to some rather miserable weather, but happily, this presented me with the excuse to finally get started on the interior fixtures. Something I have been looking forward to for quite a while! Wishing to start small, I resolved to give a set of drawers a crack. With a designated space of 700mm wide and 600mm deep, I settled on three drawers, with a space below for shoes. As always, I started in Sketch Up, then took my measurements to the shed to get to work. For me, this project highlighted the substantial improvement of my skills. Thanks to our work on the frame, my understanding of bracing has bettered immensely, not to mention my efficiency. I managed to knock together the design and frame within two days and another day spent on refinement and ‘finishing’. Oh and I should mention that the plywood was some leftovers from the subfloor!

Refinement

I had never made a drawer before so had a good look at my sister’s wardrobe before tackling the rails. The decision against drawer slides was somewhat a budget choice, but really my collection of offcuts has grown so rapidly that it made sense to make use of some scraps. The drawers travel along a pair of rails, with just enough space to ensure they pull out smoothly, but not too large that they tip forward when opened fully. Throughout this stage, I only had to make a few adjustments because, for once, I managed to get my measurement pretty darn accurate! Originally, I had planned to fix a front face onto the ply drawers, perhaps a fancy piece of plywood or a veneer, but after some deliberation I decided to make use of some leftover cedar, (plus, nothing like a little weight reduction!) So though probably unusual, the pocket holes are visible, but I will fill these prior to installation. 

Looking Pretty

My first decision was that I would lime wash the ply. This would allow me to preserve the appearance of the grain, and prevent the cabinetry from looking too heavy. I gave the plywood two coats and a final layer of Intergrain Non-Yellowing Clear Varnish. Now, personally, I’m not too keen on a plywood edge, so I decided to slice up some western red cedar on the table saw and make myself some trim, which I stained with a dark brown. 

I have always been very enamoured with traditional sailing ships, of the pirate kind, (blame a love of Pirates of the Caribbean, and later, Robin Hobb’s ‘The Liveship Traders,’) so with this one I wanted to capture the essence of a handsome sea chest. I was fortunate to stumble across Costal Blacksmith on Etsy and discovered these lovely hand forged drawer pulls, and in my opinion, they look pretty fine against the warmth of the cedar. 

‘The dark blue trousers and short jacket had seen some mending, but the work of his own needle never shamed a good sailor’

The Mad Ship - Robin Hobb
Finishing Touches
COMING SOON

And that is where I have left off. There is still some finer work to be done- the dressing of the insides and the trimming down of the wooden nails. I have flat packed it away for now however, to be finished when it's time to install.

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How to Build a Door Part 2

Whilst I may have myself a very handsome, very solid timber door, it is still missing the vital components that will ensure that it is openable, swingable and lockable- all the redeeming qualities of the very best doors. In the next couple of posts, I will be exploring my options for weathering protection, hinges, handles, locks and the glazing of the glass pane. All areas which I know almost nothing about, yet..

The most pressing aspect to settle is how I am going to protect the door from the weather, because I will tell you, after all the effort of researching, designing and building this thing; there is no way I am allowing it to get eat up by rot, or weathered away by sun rays! Nope, none of any of those terrible threats Coating* companies are constantly harping on about will be happening to my lovely door. And yet as an individual who rates aesthetics very highly, I had been focusing my first attentions on how I wanted the door to look, struggling over colours and ideas. However, a couple of weeks ago I was (wisely) advised to prioritise durability and ease of maintenance- so to first decide on a product, then work within the confines of the colours and finishes available to achieve the appearance you are after. Find out what coatings are readily available to the DIYer and identify the ones that require the least amount of hassle for reapplication. List narrowed, select the best product that meets both those needs.

Accoya themselves recommend a coating of Teknos Aqua Primer 2907-02, followed by two coats of either Intergrain or Cabot’s. From what I could deduce Aqua Primer is a spray coating and not something I can easily get my hands on. Anxious to understand if this step was essential, I sent an email off to the supplier of my timber who pointed me in the direction of their own go-to coating expert. A few days later I received a very kind response advising that in a production sense, Teknos would be applied as a pre-primer. This was due to the vast array of top coat brands/products they use, some for which such a coating would be necessary. However, on an individual level this was not always essential, concluding that he hadn’t seen any issues when Intergrain or Cabot’s were used alone, as long as it was per the provided instructions. Good to know! 

[Let me just add that asking these questions was pivotal in realising the amount of time and stress that I spend trying to find all the answers on the big wide web. The habit stems from a long time worry of asking dumb questions and a fear of being viewed as ignorant. This was the week I finally recognised I needed to do something about this. I believe this is an area worthy of greater discussion so I think I will delve into this another day, but something shifted and it all seems less scary now.]

By asking a few experts, I was relieved of the worry of being unsure of my choices and decided to have a look into one of the products I was recommended; Osmo. I scrolled through Osmo’s site and though their exterior colours were limited, it appeared to match all my needs. A quick search informed me that the majority of their range was stocked in a local outdoor furniture store and so I made plans to go check this out. It took two visits to achieve success.

On my first trip I had set my heart on Osmo’s Natural Oil Wood Stain, colour: Larch. Source 1 had advised that the lighter the stain the better. (I realised later, I am not entirely sure why, I think the closer the tone to the natural timber, the more subtle the aging..but that’s just a guess, I could be completely wrong!) Accoya is only specially treated pine so the door has a very pale complexion. My thought was that Larch would warm it up to tone nicely with the windows, but wouldn’t be too great of a jump from its natural colouring. Yet this plan was dashed when I discovered that they only stocked the Larch in 2.5L tins- far, FAR more than I needed and super pricey! The helpful shop assistant proposed I look at the UV Protection Oil Range– a clear oil with a UV protection factor of 12 (whatever that means), recommended for vertical surfaces. Not convinced but not wishing to leave empty-handed, I accepted a few sachets of a UV ‘Cedar’ sample (slightly warmer than the clear pine) and went on my way.

Last week I finally got about testing the sample. Initially, I wasn’t impressed, the colouring appeared too yellow, something reminiscent of a cane Easter basket. Determined to find me some Larch I launched into another web search clicking through every Victorian stockist trying to find a smaller tin size. No luck! It seems no one in Australia stocks the 750ml, except for in Ebony- (which certainly would not be appropriate.) Undeterred I investigated Osmo’s Country Colour line, an opaque satin coating. Not precisely what I had in mind but…. Alas, again, I was thwarted! Sites only stocked Teak and Mahogany, both too dark, though I was almost tempted by the Teak. (I do genuinely wonder why only these two!)

I momentarily toyed with the idea of switching brands, but by then, I was entirely sick of stains and oils and honestly couldn’t be bothered combing through another single site. I went back to the shed and stared at the sample piece. Maybe it was alright? If I squinted my eyes and held it in the light… Perhaps it evoked images of golden hay instead of yellowing 70’s wicker furniture?.. I gave it a second coat and set it aside.

The wise proclaim that tomorrow will be kinder, and on a second examination, true enough, I was feeling more kindly towards the Accoya Sample, immediately deciding it will do. And so it has, for my door has now been treated to two coats of UV Protection Oil Extra- Cedar. Whether there will be any adverse effects for using the Clear Cedar stain instead of the Pine Clear? I do not know; however the sales assistant didn’t believe so, and therefore with goodwill I shall trust his judgment.

Not mentioned on the tin itself, but found tucked away in the brochure on their website, Osmo recommends an initial coat of Natural Stain or Country Colour. However considering all the trouble above, (and that they failed to think it important enough to slap it on the tin), I chose to disregard this step. My fingers are crossed that the two coats of clear will suffice and that I won’t be required to re-coat too regularly. It shall be interesting to see if and how quickly the colouring will fade. Only time will tell.

~~~~~~~~~~

(*Coatings- that’s a new term for me. I think it just a general word for timber finishes whether that be oil, stain, varnish or paint, but I am really not sure. If you know better, do let me know!)

~~~~~~~~~

* In poor lighting my camera hasn’t quite captured the tone accurately but you get the gist. 

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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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Making Changes​

If someone else told me that they were building a Tiny House on Wheels, personally, I would think that was darn exciting, super swell, and most adventurous! I mean, that’s what I thought when I decided to build my own. However, as with any lengthy, all-consuming project, it is all too easy for that something that was once inspiring and incredible to become a drag, a burden and even dull, and I admit that is what I had been feeling of late. There were days of progress, and all was jolly, but that would quickly dissipate, and I was left feeling disengaged and disheartened. I had begun to feel stagnant, and as a person who loves to ‘grow’ this means trouble. 

Funnily enough, I have still been learning as we have only recently begun to cut and fix the steel frame together, which I certainly have never done before. Even so, sometimes everything feels orientated towards the tiny house, as if ever since commencing full time on the project, I have slowly and unintentionally begun cutting myself off from the greater world; focusing too closely on the build so that my world began to extend little further than my home, shed and the building site. 

In early June, I had the chance to step away from it all. I spent ten days WWOOFING at an organic seed nursery in NSW. It was more than wonderful to get back into gardening; to switch off from my tiny house completely and immerse myself in an entirely different world. To remind myself of my other interests and to view the world from another families perspective. The hardest part? Knowing that I would soon be returning home to a seemingly never-ending project. It was clear that I needed to think of some ways to shake things up in both perspective and approach and to somehow lower the walls that I had begun building myself into.

In my free hours, I mind mapped and scribbled until I finally had the scratchings of a new plan, one which centres firmly on this very blog. This blog started with posts about gardening and slowly grew into a journal documenting my build, but what I would love to do is to stretch beyond this project. I don’t want to box myself in as ‘the-girl-who-is-building-a-tiny-house’ which is frankly how I am starting to view myself. I want to be, and do, so much beyond that. Don’t get me wrong, to build this house is a huge and brilliant opportunity, and I am grateful, but the reason I decided on a tiny home was to push myself beyond my comfort zone, to encourage myself to live a full life beyond the confines of a home. I have been waiting until I have finished the house to do all that living and effectually been wishing the journey quickly along, in the hopes that by rushing, I’ll sooner breakthrough to where the living begins. What rubbish. As we all know far too well.  

So keep an eye out, you will begin to notice some new content soon!