My Last Shop: Part 4 - Demolition of an old shed
by Michael Smith
Mountain Park, GA
Hello again, this is my fourth installment of my experience with building my last shop. To bring you up to speed I am a retired California high school woodshop teacher now living in Mountain Park, GA near my two grown children and their families. Not counting the woodshop where I taught this will be my fourth and (probably) last shop.
I guess it was Archimedes who said, "Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand, and I will move the world." That was an ok boast 2,000 years ago but these days I say, “A wrecking bar, a big hammer and a Sawzall can move anything.”
In order to build my last shop I’ll have to take down an existing shed that is in place where I want my shop to be.
This shed is a conglomeration of four lean-to structures. My guess is that the previous owner built a nice 8 X 12 shed and then added on to it as the need for storage increased. Maybe, like me, he was one of those people who doesn't throw anything away.
I could just rent a Bobcat or small tractor and tear the whole thing down but being a child-of-a-child-of-the-depression you know how it is. “Use it up, fix it up, make it do or do without!” Plus, my grown son has his eyes on the original shed for his backyard tool storage at his home. So I’m going to take it apart piece by piece and salvage what I can. Materials that I don’t have a use for I might be able to sell. In an economy like today’s there are always people wanting to save a buck and I’m always wanting to make a buck if I can. You know how it is. Let’s get started.
Dress for the job
When I was teaching shop I used to tell my students, “Dress for success. You wouldn’t go hunting with your prom clothes on and you wouldn’t go to the prom in your camo.” Long sleeved shirts protect bare arms. Sturdy gloves are essential to avoid cuts, slivers and to help provide a secure grip. Safety glasses with wraparound lenses or goggles will protect your eyes from irritating dust and dangerous flying things. Sturdy shoes or boots protect your feet.
If you are trying to salvage material for reuse or sale think about taking the building apart in the reverse order that it was built. Start with the roofing, roof deck, then rafters, then walls. I didn’t plan to reuse any of the demolition materials in my new construction but I did want to save them for building something else. Also, as I took the building down I neatly stacked the materials in such a way that they were out of the way and covered from the elements with sheet plastic or something.
You have to think safety all the time. I’ll be seventy years old this year. Safety was not in my culture when I was a teenager. It had to be taught/instilled continually because what you think is safe today may not be safe tomorrow as we begin to realize that a particular practice has a cumulative effect. Case in point: When I was a high school woodshop student eye protection was used only by the person on the wood lathe. Ear protection was not even considered. I sprayed lacquer in a spraybooth with an exhaust fan but no respirator. The solvents were mixed in another room with no ventilation at all.
Wouldn’t you think that demolition work knocking down rafters and walls might require some consideration of gravity? Maybe it might be good if you had a cell phone handy. Better yet, if someone was with you they could make that call for aid.
Finally, three tips
First, if you are not going to pull nails out of boards at least bend them over so you won’t be stepping on them or puncturing your hand.
Second, if you are going to salvage wood and pull nails, pick a spot to set up your saw horses and pull your nails there. Then sweep with a magnet every so often and get the nails/screws up before they cause a problem with a tire.
Third, there is no one kind of nail puller that works in all situations. I have three kinds of "Cat claws" in my tool box. Two sizes of "Wonder bars" and two old "Crescent" type pullers. Each puller has its own special situation for use.
Now the real experience
I have a hunch that the old shed was built during the month of January. I think this because the builder must have gotten a pneumatic nail gun for Christmas. Everywhere that two or three nails would have done the job holding a rafter or purlin or brace there were seven or eight nails. Geez, what a pain!
After I got the three lean-to sheds down I was left with the 8x12 shed. It was on 4x6 skids so I installed a pad eye in each of the skids and dragged the shed out of the way with my Jeep. It took a little effort to position it where it would be out of the way and still easily accessible when the time comes to get rid of it but it's in a good place now.
I've been selling my surplus materials on Craigslist and I find that to be a pretty good way to get rid of the used corrugated roofing, siding and 4x4 posts that I don't need. Also, I had some aluminum gutter material that I posted on Craigslist for free. I had 25 callers! I think you could get rid of anything for free on Craigslist. I have even seen sheetrock scraps and used nails posted for free.
OK, the site has been cleared of the shed and I'm ready to have a crew come to put in the concrete slab. Now we are getting somewhere. So I'll see you in the next installment.
Michael can be reached by email at