The Boatshed on the Hill

by Steve Norte - Nashville, Tennessee - USA

Once bitten by the boatbuilding bug, I quickly faced a challenge shared by many: finding a place to build boats. Because I knew actual building would mostly take place in short bursts, I wanted that place to be at my house, so that no time would be needed to get to the project. The garage was spoken for. This began a period of study of the great variety of workshops.

The yard, though quite large, was on the side of a steep hill and the only flat area being directly in front of the house. Short of some major grading and retaining wall construction, the best way I could see to get enough flat space was to build a deck into the side of the hill, and then cover it. I was sufficiently impressed with my own daring in undertaking this project to document its progress with photos, and they do a better job than I could in describing most of what was done. I will mention a few things that are not otherwise obvious.

No permit was required in the community because I observed setbacks and a few basic restrictions: It could not be attached to the house or have a permanent foundation, electricity or plumbing. This qualified it as a temporary structure, and exempt from inspection requirements. It was close enough to the house that reaching it with an extension cord or garden hose was not a problem.

Having already built a fence on the property, I did not want to reprise the experience of boring holes for vertical supports in the very rocky earth. I went with floating foundation blocks, those truncated concrete pyramids cast to accept a 4×4 on end, or 2 inch lumber on edge.

View down the hill on Day One
What happened when I tried to eyeball placement of the center column of deck blocks.
Starting to take shape
Side view at the same point in construction.
At this height, clamps and temporary cross-members were needed to hold each new row in place until screws went in.
Saturday night, under the lights.
One plank to go, diagonal braces.
One plank to go, from up the hill.
One plank to go, from down the hill – all diagonals are in place and it feels as solid as the floor of a house.
The deck blocks in action – the pink string with washer (near center, toward bottom) is my plumb bob.
Frame for the tent going up – this was secured to the deck with band iron.
Done, seen from the deck on the house.
Looking closely, the chains and red screw anchors can be seen here.
2×4 rail is to guard against a fall through the end flap.
Boardwalk is to reduce dirt tracked in – plastic skirt with clothespins at bottom of front panel kept rain from blowing in under it. A canvas skirt with snaps came later.
Survived its first winter (note daffodils).

The portable garage cover I used was OK, but not cheap and UV degraded the canvas to the point of leaking after less than two years. I found replacement canvas is not always easy to get, and can be more expensive than the whole thing was new. I wound up leaving the compromised canvas up for shade, and covering it over with a single sheet of UV resistant plastic of the type used in greenhouses, fastened to the deck with lathe. This plastic is fairly inexpensive, easy to replace and was holding its own five years later.

The deck was chained to screw anchors in the ground beneath the shed, as a bit of insurance against a big wind getting under the high end of the deck. The frame of the tent was secured to the deck with band iron of the type used to hang pipe.

The boatshed on the hill stood for seven years. I don’t doubt that the deck portion would have remained solid for many more. I had already begun to reimagine the superstructure when we moved, and it was taken down.


    • That’s a good thought, Pete. When the canvas started to degrade, the first places it wore through were in places where it was in contact with the pipes of the frame. That might have prolonged its life.

  1. I made a boatshed and covered it with srinkwrap. it lasted much longer that the original plastic i used which deteriorated in the sun. lasted 2 years before we tore down the shed. may have lasted more.

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