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DIY Cave Mark #1


For ages I’ve wanted a small structure (hut, cabin, refuge, retreat, chill-out space, not sure what to call it) now I’ve got a back garden. I wanted somewhere totally enclosed – of course I could shut myself in a cupboard for that! but I wanted something outside, where I would be in contact with the earth.

My idea was to get as cave-like as possible – if I could, I’d get large stone slabs and have a real stone cave-grotto, but I’ve been repeatedly told that I can’t have anything permanent here, I’ve got to leave things as I found them for the next tenant. A structure made of stone slabs and big enough for a person to sit inside would take some shifting! (Mind you, it wouldn’t be me doing the shifting!)

I was thinking of a sort of small cube-shape structure: given that the garden isn’t very big, it would be better if it were multi-purpose, so I thought of how to maybe raise the front part of the roof a bit and open one side to make an arbour-type thing.

Diverted into thatching – so many Google searches, so few results! Even “how to DIY thatch” turned up mostly companies that wanted to thatch your arbour, or, even better, sell you a thatched arbour. The only real DIY I found was for a backwoods survival hut, and that was only meant as a temporary measure, so stuffing leaves into the cracks wasn’t really a viable option here.

Searching online was more confusing than helpful: Google’s idea of a “small garden hut” was something along the lines of a two-room guest bungalow: no key-word turned up anything even close to what I was looking for. In desperation I tried “play-house” as being about the right size, at least – once I’d waded through the tree-houses and “indoor tepee with bedsheets” I found a design that I thought might work.

It called for 5-foot canes; I only had 4- and 6-foot, so I used the smaller ones – didn’t think I’d need 6-foot-a-side-worth of space.

The instructions were to make five triangles from the canes – supposedly by jamming paper clips into the ends of the canes and putting string through the resultant “eyes”. Didn’t know how long-lasting that’d be, so I decided to lash the canes together.

I tried garden plastic-covered wire but I couldn’t get it tight enough; the canes kept simply slipping through the loops. Found some string, but sadly only thin nylon kind, which wasn’t much better; the only way to get the string really tight was to wind it around my finger and pull hard – after doing this fifteen times to make all the triangles my finger was suffering badly.

I laid them roughly in place to see how much floor-space they’d give

Then I had to join the triangles with more canes, each connecting the apexes of two triangles and making three triangles, one inverted

Wasn’t easy; had to hold one end of the cane level while also holding it still and also hauling on the string (to save my finger, I wound the string round my hand, which in turn began to suffer):

I thought it’d be easier to make two separate panels and join them, rather than add each triangle to the rest – they did not want to keep still, kept wobbling all over the place. Joining the two panels was “fun” – had two lots of wobbly bits to try to hold still AND do the tightest lashing I could!

And I was running out of places to put the lashings that didn’t overlap previous lashings. I didn’t get some of the top canes very level, which showed when I moved on to the next step …

Then had to go round again and this time tie the bottom angles of each triangle to the one next to it, so that the whole thing was joined at every angle, top and bottom.

All the canes are the same length, but it seemed to me that the sides leaned outwards a bit.

The last step, the instructions said, was to tie a bundle of canes together (using the paper-clip “eyes”), open out the canes and put them over the thing as a roof.

I didn’t even try to lash x number of canes together – didn’t think the walls would take the strain even if I could have a) worked out how to tie the canes securely and b) worked out how to get them in “roof” position.

Tried to lean some 8-foot canes against the walls, but they didn’t meet in the middle

Gave up and took it all down again. It had taken me maybe four or five hours, over two days, to construct. Came down a lot faster!

Apart from the instability, and the problem with roofing it, the entrance would have been very low: given a 4-root equilateral triangle, not sure how high the apex would have been off the ground (never occurred to me to measure it) but I’d have been doing a Groucho Marx to get in and out. (I had thought of taking one triangle apart and making a square doorway, and maybe I would have if the project had been worth continuing).

Took those 8-foot canes and roughly lashed them together to form a – “tripod” isn’t the right word as there were five canes! – pyramid-tepee structure. That took five minutes.

So that form of structure is what I’ll be what I’ll be checking out for Phase 2

More blog posts by franl155

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What ever your building could I have a video of you doing it ? This looks like its gonna be a RIOT to watch. Word of warning. Whatever you finally have for yourself be sure that you get adequate ventilation should you decide to have a portable heater in it with the cold weather coming otherwise the man cave could turn into a man coffin. P.S. make sure the big bad wolf doesn't come along to blow your house down:)

3 Oct, 2014


Might I venture to throw a word in, if you are using triangles then you could do some sort of 'geodesic' structure if you can get the angles right.

3 Oct, 2014


Oh! my goodness Fran. You have more patience and staying power than most people I know.

3 Oct, 2014


Have you heard of a "teepee" Fran? Native Indian dwellings... usually build from sticks and animal fur . It would be kind of cool to have it in the back yard. Google that, there may be an instruction somewhere on the net how to build it. Forget the animal skins though (:-D).
Good luck with your project.

4 Oct, 2014


Two ideas that might work for you. First, you can purchase a large beach umbrella. Then get a length of PVC pipe a bit larger than the umbrella stem that you can slide it into. Then get a cardboard concrete cylinder form about 16 inches in length and dig a hole to set it into. Pour quick mix concrete into it and set the PVC pipe into it. Once the concrete has set slide the beach umbrella into the pvc pipe support. Open the umbrella and affix (by whatever method you choose) a tarp around the margins of the umbrella. What you have then will look similar to one of those pop up beach cabanas which can be taken down the moment bad weather gets a chance to blow it to pieces. The second idea is to purchase a pop up tent or beach cabana. What you are attempting to do will collapse the moment a heavy rain and a fine gust of wind comes upon it after many hours of work:( As for myself, if I had the money, I would get Noseypotter to construct one for me. If you have seen his work you will know why and that would be the man cave of all man caves I betcha.

4 Oct, 2014


Fran, just like boggybottom a video of your efforts would have been a
Whatever you decide on deserves to be a winner you have such patience. GOOD LUCK.

4 Oct, 2014


@ Boggybottom – there’s only me, and I’ve only a point-and-click digital camera, so taking a vid wouldn’t be easy – even getting a pic of me using the timer would be a prob. Lol possibly I’d have to edit a video to take out all the naughty words! I did see one video using time-lapse, but again making sure that I had the camera aimed right and the timer set up right would be more of a prob than the building project itself.

I didn’t intend to have heating inside, though I had thought about a very small fire (contained within a metal dish) for occasional pagan rituals – safe placing of that would be a major factor in the eventual design.

I’d wanted the structure to be thatched, or as close to it as I could manage – there’d have been a small opening at the roof apex, enough to let air move but hopefully not letting rain in, or too much.

Lol by the time I’ve finished, the big bad wolf can huff and puff as much as he likes: I’m less interested in how it looks than in how strong it’ll be.

I found “beach bars” made of wood and “thatched”, and I thought about adapting those, but the “thatch” is the problem, suppose it always will be!

As it’d be used as a pagan chill-out space, I wanted to be surrounded by natural materials as much as possible, to increase the “vibe”, rather than plastic or nylon or other manmade stuff.

I realise that I’m very probably not going to be able to make thatch (or at least enough to completely cover the structure), so I did search for “tarp shelters” and have found some lightweight waterproof tent fabric on Amazon, so I’m probably going to have to settle for that. For now, at least – do now what I can now, and then look for ways to do it better.

Noseypotter does incredible work, I agree!

@ Stevie – I know that the triangle is the most stable form; we used to teach the kids that when I was a Scout leader, to do pioneering projects based on triangles. Maybe I just didn’t get my lashings tight enough for better stability.

I did try “dome” in one of the Google searches, but all I got were “living willow” or “geodesic” – and the smallest of the geodesics were about twelve feet across (most seemed to be about twenty!), a tad on the large side for what I had in mind. Not sure if a geodesic dome five feet across would work, it’d need a heck of a curve.

@ HB – thanks, dear – lol it’s better than doing housework! I get annoyed at myself for being unable to turn what I visualise into a physical reality. Of course, my early thoughts were wildly OTT and have had to be taken down several steps to accommodate the materials I’m working with and my (lack of) skill at working with them.

@ Klahanie – a tepee would be much the easiest form of structure, but I was considering head-room against usable floor-space – I have in fact made a tepee frame (more of that in the next blog, Phase #2), but even 8-foot canes only allow me just enough headroom, and take up a fair bit of ground, most of which I wouldn’t be able to use because of the angle of the poles and the cover. Certainly would have to think twice about having even a candle in there, let alone even a tiny fire!

I had first thought of a “mini round-house” but couldn’t find anything smaller then about a hundred feet across!

@ Snoop – I did look at living willow – was impressed by the GoY pics and blogs of their living willow arbours, and thought that might do for me! But they all seem to start a couple of feet up from the ground, and I wanted something that would completely enclose the structure.

Besides, I don’t know if living willow would be there all year round; surely there’d be times when the foliage would die back and leave just the frame? I wanted to use this all year round.

I suppose the main problem is that I don’t have a definite idea of what I want – at least what I want that I’d be able to make myself. I’m groping towards it – lol it’s a see-saw between what I dream and what I can do, and the dream is having to come down to meet the ability!

4 Oct, 2014


ps, using an umbrella is a brilliant idea, never occurred to me. Only prob is - given how small I'm thinking of having the structure, a central pole would make moving around inside hard work.

but then, i could build a (more or less) circular sturcture and use the umbrealla with pole removed, and attach it to the walls.

worth thinking about, thank you, Boggybottom!

4 Oct, 2014


thanks, Stroller - I'll have to see how small vidoes would work on the digital camera - it might be easier than using the timer and rushing to get back to pose.

4 Oct, 2014


Oh Fran, wherever do you find the patience to do these things? I would have chucked the whole lot down in to be honest I wouldn't even have started something like this lol! You don't need to video your efforts my imagination did all the action for me thanks to your vivid I can't stop laughing!!

4 Oct, 2014


thanks Waddy - not sure if it's patience, determination or simple obstinacy - if I don't try, I'll never know if I can do it or not -j and if I can do it, I won't know if I could do it better.

Just something I feel a strong need to do, or to have; somewhere I can sit and be surrounded by nature and natural things, and just *be*.

of course I won't get the palace of my imagiantion, but at least a lean-to shed will be a start.

4 Oct, 2014


I admire your determination. I have a garden swing where I spend many a moment in between my gardening jobs...or just somewhere to enjoy peace, quiet and a cuppa, so know just what you mean.

You keep at it...I'm sure you'll get it right in the end. :)

4 Oct, 2014


bless you, dear! I'll get something that'll work, and once there, I can think about tweaks to improve it.

4 Oct, 2014


Have you ever read Henry David Thoreau's " Walden Pond"? He wanted to immerse himself in nature so he built a small cabin in the woods and he wrote about his experiences while there. I think you are kindred spirits. I do hope that you build that "small cabin in the woods". The Best.

4 Oct, 2014


Fran, American Indians cooked in their teepees. It had a flop on the top which left the smoke out.
But you gave me an idea for making something like that for myself.
Maybe something like this?: LOL

But seriously, I like the idea of the living willow teepee as Snoop suggested.

4 Oct, 2014


@ Boggybottom - not read any Thoreau, limited education! but it sounds interesting.

@ Kanahnie, of course, they lived and worked in their teppes, cooked and slept, but then their tepees were rather bigger than I have in mind!

If the living willow went all the way to the ground, it'd be better - of course, the stems go allt he way down! but i want complete cover all the way down, and i've not seen that in any of the arbours and domes that I've checked out.

I have a dome tent, which would make things a lot easier if I could pitch just the flysheet - as it is, the fly needs to be tied to the poles, which need the tent corners to anchor. anyway, that's all nylon. and double anyway, I won't have naked flames in any small structure that has only one exit!

I've been clearing some ground, finally decided where to place the eventual structure - which led on to something else which is probably going to keep me busy for a few days, or weeks!

4 Oct, 2014


Why not get 2 Beach wind shields? Set them up, to form
a rectangle. Cover with the canes lashed to 2 x 4 foot canes make a flat section for the roof.
Cheap and portable.

6 Oct, 2014


never thought of that Diane! defintely worth thinking about now you've given me the idea!

6 Oct, 2014


Hoorah ! Success in the brain department at age 86.

6 Oct, 2014


shows the value of "many hands" - or minds, in this instance!

been doing some Amazon-ing and Googling - does *no-one* make windreaks in plain colours??

6 Oct, 2014


Oh Fran ,I laughed so much at this I had to call my OH to read it as well he was in hysterics , you are amazing the way you turn your hand to anything and always ready to have a go , good luck with what ever you decide, I agree it should be on video :o))

6 Oct, 2014


Go Fran! :))))))

6 Oct, 2014


Oh yes please Fran ! A video ! Hahaa!
Sorry Fran ! I do hope you get your little hide away !

6 Oct, 2014


lol not sure about that - though it'd be easier than setting the timer and rushing to get into place, as I had to do with the next blog, to show how even 8-foot canes were barely high enough.

My toruble is, my body can't keep up with my head - it's all very well having great ideas, but with no idea how to carry them out ...

6 Oct, 2014


Never mind Fran ! Its fun trying , isn't it !

6 Oct, 2014


lol Rose, it certainly is - even if not at the time! but how else would I know that I couldn't do it, or at least, couldn't do it this way, unless I tried it? ah well, once more unto the breach,...

6 Oct, 2014

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