My Shed is Expanding as it Finishes

Sheds are of course important whether you have a garden needing garden tool and equipment stowage or not. For the do-it-yourselfer, be that gardener, repair person or woodworker, it’s place to work, keep a bench and fix up bikes. For most it’s a place to store task-appropriate maintenance equipment. For me its essential because it frees up my slightly larger garage space for my furniture making and general woodworking like joinery and carpentry. Whether you hang bikes from the ceiling rafters or the wall, here in the UK at least, they seem more like wrestling with an octopus every time you move. Even though you love ’em to bits, they will always be in the way.

Getting the tin on and flashing the tin against the existing brickwork pf the back of my garage wall went well. The door too is hung and painted too but still needs a little trim and cill work yet. I’ll get to that soon.

In the morning I am keynote speaker for UK Men’s Sheds Association, an organisation promoting an ideology that promotes and supports people working more communally on a near-to-home casual basis. Sheds in gardens are of course the general venue, which takes me back to the times in my early days in the late 80s when woodworkers I knew in Texas met together for friendship at 8am on a chosen Saturday morning to show, tell and share what they hoped to do, were in the midst of doing or had just recently completed. Show and tell was a great moral booster and sharing successes was always inspiring. Donuts and coffee greeted those who came and as a guest speaker there I always enjoyed the opportunity to share my life as a woodworking furniture designer maker.

Hearing of Men’s Sheds when I lived there in the USA was always heartening for me because no such thing existed when I left the UK to migrate. The Aussie version came to me first some time in the beginning of the new Millenia. No surprise to hear it being established here when I returned to the UK. Times are changing and thankfully we are starting to be less exclusive than we once were. Exclusivity is and always has been the curse of the age. Exclusivity does more to undermine human relationships than almost anything I can think of. A shed, an open door and an open Saturday every so often can be just what you and your neighbour needs. Looking back on my experience teaching woodworking for three decades has been little more than a shed meeting albeit of likeminded people woodworking every week. In some ways, for no negative reason at all though, I have never been to a Shedder’s meeting before, yet I feel as though I have been ‘shedding’ for ever.

Shedders and shedding are terms used to identify members of the growing movement of Men’s Sheds Association. The term shedders intentionally lessens the need for over structuring what is a serious organisation with the antidote for multiple thousands of people who might otherwise face only long term loneliness, depression and isolation. Of course not all the members struggle with such dilemmas. Many are perfectly apt at being in a group or alone. Unlike more official teaching, training and support situations, where instructors and teachers make themselves available, the experts might more often just blend themselves humbly in with any audience present. They may not even self-identify at all. Effectively there are knowledgable people to help, steer and guide those who need a nudge of encouragement or training here and there; there are no experts per se yet there are of course very experienced people working behind ther scenes and up front in a host of different interests. Guaranteeing individual success takes a truly willing spirit to share their lives with their friends in the basic shed.

Shedding by shedders means much more for me. My teaching and training has meant that I have taught one-on-one woodworking through hands-on workshops to over 6,500 woodworkers. The courses ranged from one-day classes to month-long courses. But you could never help noticing that the longer courses, the ones where people had greater contact with one another, succeeded to bring down the barriers and walls of resistance. Inevitably this often led to people becoming long term friends and many retain the friendships for many, many years. But even more than that: shedding often means shedding off the past, shedding off preconceived ideas, shedding off barriers that stop us from simply making ourselves vulnerable, available and indeed responsible in the sense of simply responding to needs.

I understand the original goal of men and sheds was to tackle the isolation men feel when the finish working for a living. It worked. That vision has embraced people from every walk of life even though the underlying factor of helping men adjust their lives after work continues. Long may we all continue to help one another in our struggles side by side and shoulder to shoulder.

17 thoughts on “My Shed is Expanding as it Finishes”

  1. I had no idea such an organisation existed and there are several sheds near me. Many thanks for putting us onto it I will be chasing them up.

  2. What a great idea for rain gutters! I’ve never seen plastic pipe used that way before. Do you have to cut the pipe in half yourself or do you buy it that way?Here in the states I’ve seen “sheds” made into man caves complete with big screen TVs and refrigerators.

    1. Tom, It started out with Marley, a plastics company, back in the 60s.Wooden gutters lined with lead had all but gone being phased over the previous decades and we were also shifting from cast iron gutters painted inside with lead paint because of cost, toxicity of the paint and then maintenance costs for both types too. We never had the US sheet metal versions because the plastic works really very well, is almost zero maintenance over several decades and lasts well if just left alone. It’s self-sealing on the joints and for the main part self-locking with click together component parts. You can gutter and downspout a whole two story house on all four sides in half a day using a quick-tower scaffolding rig and a couple of ladders.

  3. Hi Paul,

    I am thinking of making use of a local men’s shed in Sydney, Australia to finish up a wineador project I am working on. Seems like a great idea given you need to be a millionaire to have a garage in Sydney.

    One a slightly related topic I have a question related to this project I am not quite sure where to ask. I am making a drawer for the project with dovetails using cigar box cedar. Do you have any advice on allowing for the change in humidity?


  4. (VERY) well put perspective … on lives worth living.

    When my working life ceased due to throat-cancer ‘treatment’, spending more than a year on my back, rolling in agony, taught me that what makes me ‘Happy’ is simply: exploring, discovering and learning. `might not work for everyone; but, “it works for me”!

    Now, the garage-shop is my primary place for exploring, discovering and learning … when I’m not out in the countryside, doing the same … having found the secret to Happiness! … an essential foundation to a fulfilling life.

  5. I like the shed the door looks very smart. I’d like to have seen it last week I’ve just made a new back door for my garage, I would have done a similar design.

  6. Tom – those are regular eaves-troughs (called gutters or guttering) in the UK – it is shaped sections that are less common there – the half round is the standard.

  7. @ Tom, That looks to be 112mm half round PVC gutter, not a pipe cut in half. Very common guttering in the UK, along with a square and ogee versions.

  8. Robert W Mielke

    There’s a TV commercial showing locally that shows a father’s attempts at construction around the house. I felt compelled to laugh as each project fell apart before it was ever used. Thank God!

    It was a reminder how many dads are inept at using tools or even reading and following instructions to assemble kits.

    1. You must also see the planned agenda even in comedic expressions strategised against men that mainly show them as overly aggressive, grumpy and miserable incompetents. Even men play into it by wearing stupid tee shirts with equally stupid sayings and captions like ‘man cave’, ‘big boy toys’ and so on. Whereas I agree that more and more men, fathers and such are inept or becoming all the more inept when it comes to manual skills it is mostly because of those who creatively destroyed working environs that dumbed down and taught classes at ever reducing levels until classes once universally taught to boys were indeed all but gone. Now we are at a point of almost complete incompetence because manual skills were considered inappropriate for those on a ‘real’ career path through higher education in academic channels.

  9. Paul, do you find that the men’s sheds are a bit of an ageist construct? I think that they are a great idea, obviously, however when you mention that exclusivity was a product of age, I wondered what you were getting at? It seems that these facilities are aimed at retired men (that’s certainly what my local one is), and so – as a relative youngster – I was put off going in. I’m not convinced it’s deliberate segregation but it would have been great just to have a shed that anyone could attend and all ages (and sexes) could work together and become friends together. Or do you think that this particular age group requires, or is better served by, its own exclusivity? Or is my experience of the men’s sheds different to yours? Perhaps I’ve just taken the description of its offering too literally and if I actually went to one I’d see something different! Not a criticism of the movement, just some rambling thoughts!

    1. In asnwer to your “rambling thoughts”, Rico. I am never sure how to answer this question. Here is the reality I have faced over three decades. It is easy to be accusatory about a title when the reality is that name really pegs the aim. There is a need amongst men, especially men coming to pre retirement and retirement, to find something truly meaningful with the ensuing and even closing years of their life. When, like me, you are in full flow working with others to produce you find meaning in life and the kind of friendship and fellowship i believe validates your life. When this is taken away from you with no follow up transitioning you from such environs you feel hopeless, helpless, isolated and lonely. You can indeed feel that there is nothing to live for, that you are a waste of space. Depression takes over and you do not know what to do with yourself or your life. It’s all too easy for those who know no such thing to say “You just need to pull; yourself together.” “Snap out of it.” and so on. It’s even easier to ignore such people. Thankfully Men’s Sheds did not buckle under to the accusations of sexism, exclusivity and so on and actually set up ways where people could join them in a variety of ways. I have my views and my private classes to work with the vulnerable. Whereas `i might have one class for men and another for women, one class for children and another for adults, I am not practising agism or sexism. I am just making certain I can indeed teach to my and their optimum levels. If I run children with women’s or men’s classes or indeed other configurations, one changes the dynamic of the other. Life is ALWAYS about balance and not what others might accusingly misname as Politically Correct.

  10. Hi Rico the sheds were originally created to tackle a specific problem i.e. when (generally) men who retire after a lifetime of working with others and often with their hands, are cut off from the comradarie and purpose that work gave them, in some this caused a great deal of depression and other health issues leading to their premature death (sometimes by their own hand). The only age restriction now (well at least in Australia) is that you need to be 18 and gender is not an issue, but by their nature the members are predominantly going to be retired men.

  11. Paul,

    Thank you. The shedding movement is much needed and your support of the movment is a benefit to many who struggle with isolation. What really moved me to jump into this thread however was your comments regarding the portrayal of men as inept aggressors. You are exactly on target. We are being bombarded with continual messaging telling us that we are unqualified for life, helpless in the face of adversity, and prone to making the wrong choice in any situation. The other part of the message is of course that we can only be helped by buying the correct brand of car, aftershave, and beer. Even more insidiously, the messaging tells us that we need “strong” political leadership to protect us from a hostile world that must be held at bay. Your support of the shedding movement is one of the many actions needed to combat this destructive message. Thank you and keep up the good work. By the way, we’re enjoying a typically balmy 100-degree September here in beautiful central Texas. Wish you were here to enjoy it with us.

  12. Thanks Paul/Andrew. Good points, thanks for replying. “Pegging the aim” I think is a fantastic way to put it Paul, it is that which I couldn’t fathom. I suppose my thought was that there was a “danger” that the sheds were creating a generational segragation, whereby a 60-80 year old was not interacting with 20 year olds or 40 year olds (or younger than 20, or over 80 of course!) and so we got a generational polarisation/lack of understanding of one another.

    I think it’s a shame that we’ve designed society (and it is designed) in such a way that the natural coming together of people and communities isn’t built in so that we/I wouldn’t have to concern ourselves with such things. Could the men shed idea not have been housed within schools for example? So that the comings and goings overlap one another. Or form part of a wider community centre at the heart of our towns. I don’t know why I’m conflicted by something that is clearly a fantastic idea for those involved!

    1. I’m afraid we should be looking at other areas such as the education systems to see how and where peer pressure leading to acceptance and rejection is and has been created the most. I think too in political circles too we have seen the ultimate dispiriting of any kind of unitedness. How can we expect to better society with such ills firmly in place as part of our culture.

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