joshua tree workshop 2018

Monday, April 11, 2011

Building your own tiny/small house or dream micro-cabin/guest shack for FREE/Nothing...

Building your own tiny/small house or dream micro-cabin for FREE/Nothing...

(by example of a recent FREE CLUBHOUSE-SHED/Playground Set in the Massachusetts area)

We've had quite a few posts on this subject before, from scrounging pallet wood for construction (which can be found at almost every turn), to dumpster-diving for materials, and finding/collecting them streetside (esp. windows and doors on daily trash routes/construction site debris piles).....but Craigslist is the one often used and obvious place we have not discussed quite as much- at least in terms of pure salvage.
You'd be amazed, in YOUR area (well, unless you're in the middle of nowhere Montana, etc) at what pops up under the search title "Free"- lumber, appliances, boats, campers, defunct mafia torture tools, and more- and alot of it is perfectly good stuff- you just need to ask a few questions, and check out the photos first, before hoppin' in you car for the trek.
Today's Example: Now here's a free 8' by 8' by 8' clubhouse (or guesthouse? if you tweaked it) that was recently up for "FREE" in my area just last week- it also came with the offer of an enormous swingset worth of pressure treated lumber (none of it that old)- so, with some time and a few simple tools, you'd have this free shack AND an abundance of lumber all in one trip with a smallish trailer or truck.

Beyond that, if you want more bang for your buck, and have no kids, or no need for a swingset, with a little research you'll find that the slide itself (and various other swings and parts) are actually quite pricey as replacements. Therefore, there is a used market for these items on craigslist and ebay- making your trip even more potentially worthwhile....AND, potentially providing even the most "broke" of us with a means to acquire additional funds for that dream micro-cabin in the woods. Heck, in this case, the 8-foot-cabin cabin COULD already be that tiny dream cabin, writer's retreat, or treehome/treehouse escape- it just needs some rennovating and t.l.c.

Now the sticklers out there will immediately think "Now Deek, tisk,'ll at least need nails and paint to complete the tiny house task at hand, and those DO cost your cabin quest really wouldn't be "FREE"". Well, that is true, but its also true that with a little pre-planning -and searching, you CAN find a TON of free paint most anywhere as well- and if the colors aren't up to your liking- mix 'em until you get something more workable or palletable. As for the nails, especially with larger ones, I always have two small buckets on hand when I'm dismantling projects and salvaging (removing nails) from wood- one bucket is for nails that are still useable and good (or easily bent back into shape), the other's for nails that are totally hopeless. This later bucket eventually goes to the metal scrap yard for recycling. The point is, though, that after a little salvaging here and there, you'll be amazed at how much by the way of hardware (nails, hinges, hooks, bolts, lag screws) you'll accumulate- and aside from the expenditure of time, yes, even your nails will be free...

In the case of the swingset I'm also assuming (if built properly) that its fairly loaded with galvanized carriage bolts- and sizeable ones too....and those things don't come all that cheap....not to mention the other specialized hardware a playground-set harbors- which you just may find a use for...

As for the gas money to get to these free items- well, that's where selling some of this stuff on the side not only covers that and evens things out, but brings you out far ahead in the end of this often fun and rewarding game. Also, after doing this for awhile, you may end up with an excess of perfectly useable lumber. If that starts taking up too much room next to your front-yard collection of garden gnomes, then there's also the cash possibility of moving THAT as well. sure to pat yourself on the back while reminding yourself that you're most likely keeping a HUGE amount of trash out of landfills by going this avenue of cabin building- it always makes for a nice backstory too...

-Derek "Deek" Diedricksen
Author of "Humble Homes, Simple Shacks...", Host of "Tiny Yellow House" TV on youtube, Honcho of


  1. I LOVE this piece! I am so inspired to get out there. Dang! You know I am on my way to building a tiny house. I think that while I am waiting, I am going to get some kind of neat playhouse built for my granddaughter.

    Nails. My dad, this time: I had no idea that there wasn't a process with nails. First, bang in a bunch of nails until one bends. Then take the nail, put it on something hard that has an edge (scientific process) then, using hammer, gently straighten out the nail. (There were some other processes with nails that involved words like: @#&$%$ and also ^#@U*##$! Those are more widely known.)

  2. I have to make a comment on nails also. although maybe a bit more difficult to find than scrap lumber, definitely out there for free or cheap. Craigslist on Saturdays around 11 a.m. often pops up with "everything not sold at my yard sale by noon is free" - I used to live near a Habitat for Humanity ReSale store and it was loaded with 50# boxes of new nails. builders have all moved to nail guns and when they clean out their shops, the get rid of the old boxes of loose nails. I picked up a box of 2" galvanized roofing nails and another unopend box of framing nails for $5 each. 100 pounds of general purpose useful nails for 10 bucks!

    The key is to keep your eyes open.

    Great post Deek!