by David Stiles
A New York Times writer once asked an Amish farmer, “Why did you build your barn walls five feet thick when you only needed to make them one foot thick?” The farmer’s simple answer was, “Why not?”
The same question could be asked of anybody considering timber-framing a tiny house rather than stick-building it out of 2x4s. Using only a wooden mallet, a saw, and some chisels to make the time-consuming mortise joints can take five or ten times longer to complete the building. So why do it? The answer is simple: satisfaction. Knowing that you’re building in the time-honored fashion of craftsmen from past centuries, and completing a frame that is much stronger, more durable, and uses less wood, is very satisfying.
Having written several do-it-yourself books on sheds, cabins, and workshops, we were asked several years ago by an Amish community to design a shed that they could sell to the public. They invited us to visit their farms and see how they worked. The weekend that we spent with them was truly amazing; like being transported back two centuries. We saw them loading up a horse-drawn wagon with timbers for a barn-raising the next day, just like in the movie Witness.
We named our design “The Perfect Shed,” it has the perfect proportions (discovered by the ancient mathematician Euclid) of the ‘golden ratio.’ Having designed sheds for 30 years, we think the size is perfect too. It is 10ft x 12ft – neither too big nor too small. The shed is insulated throughout, with electric wiring inside the stuccoed walls, a sleeping loft, and room for a small kitchen. We think it would make a perfect studio, home office, music room, hobby workshop – or even a self-sustaining ‘eco-shed’ with a wood-burning stove, composting toilet and solar electric supply. We have plans for building it using 2x4s as well.
To put our design to the test we teamed up with an artist/craftsman named Toby Haynes who comes every year from Cornwall, England to help us with construction. We built our own timber-framed Tudor cottage as you can see in the photo and even had a community barn-raising where neighbors – including the children – pitched in.