Progress Report 4 – 30×48′ Pole Barn build


Today we trench with a mini excavator, have footings poured for the future bathroom, make a drill bit, and the crew gets the walls up and framed in one day!

After what seems like forever, the build process is finally beginning! First up was some pre-work which included trenching from the house over to the building for some plumbing.

Steps to building a pole barn
Rented a (very) mini excavator. Man this thing was worth its weight in gold.

I’m not ganna lie, after my buddy and I got this mini x off the trailer and made a couple of scoops we were concerned if it was going to do the job. Seemed like this thing had no guts and it would take forever to dig this trench. Turns out that we just needed to get used to it and learn which sticks to ‘jiggle’ at the right time to get the little guy digging effectively. After about 30 minutes we got the hang of it and were off to the races.

Steps to building a pole barn
Digging a 36″ deep by 12″ wide trench from the house to the shop to hook up hot/cold water and septic.
Steps to building a pole barn
I had to stop before I got to the part the concrete guys had dug for the footing around the bathroom. They were supposed to pour it days before I was going to dig my trench but true to form that was delayed like everything else had been on this project so far.
Steps to building a pole barn
A couple of days later the guys came and poured the footing. Having returned the excavator already, I had to dig the last 2 ft outside and inside the footing by hand which was not fun (or maybe I’m just out of shape 😀 )

Finding the limits of DIY

I am DIY’ing all parts of this build that I feel comfortable doing to try to save money. This shop could easily cost double what it is going to cost if I hired everything out. For example I did the trenching from the house to the shop and also the holes through the foundation to run the hot/cold water through.

The holes through the existing foundation required a ~1″ concrete bit but the biggest I could borrow was 7/8″. I looked at a 1″ bit at the store but it was $50 and I only had to drill two holes… So instead here is the story of how I made a concrete bit out of some stuff I had laying around.

Steps to building a pole barn
Rummaging through my junk bins to find some appropriately sized bolts. Turns out the heads of 1/2″ bolts are ~1″ at the tips of the hex.

THIS IS HOW YOU LEARN! I straight up failed at this project multiple times but with some determination I eventually got it to work. I cost myself about an hour and some curse words were mumbled, BUT learned a lot and saved $50. All I as trying to do was hog out the holes from 7/8″ to ~1 1/8″.

  • V1 – Three 1/2″ bolts welded together. Welded some tips on the points of the hex and put a slight cone on it to help it go in. Result – Failure (wouldn’t make any progress in the concrete, just lots of fine dust)
  • V2 — Put more of a tip on it – still Failure
Steps to building a pole barn
V2-ish. This is before I welded the socket on the drill end of the bolt and used a 3/8″ socket adapter in the drill.
  • v3 – The bolt kept getting loose in my drill chuck so I welded a socket on the first bolt and chucked a 3/8″ socket driver in the drill instead. Result – small win
  • V4 – still not making progress in the concrete. Sharpened the 6 points to increase contact pressure at the point. Result – Failure
  • V5-V7 – more of the same (ran upstairs ground some more, run downstairs and test, repeat). Result – better but still not great. At this point my hammer drill is hot and not very happy with me
  • V8 – I looked again at the actual concrete bits and realize they only have 2 points on them for a reason. So, I try something new and cut off 3 of the points to make the drill bit only have 3 total points. Result – SUCCESS!
Steps to building a pole barn
Here is the final winning drill bit. Once I figured out less points drills better it was game on. This one went right through the concrete enlarging the hole from 7/8 to ~1 1/8

It is totally hack. I was rushing and the bolts weren’t even straight with each other. The whole bit is ugly and will likely get thrown in the scrap bin. BUT IT DOESN’T MATTER. The important part is that it got the job done (safely), I learned something, and saved some money. Obviously I could have just bought the real bit and saved some time but that just seemed too… easy.

Steps to building a pole barn
The two holes where they came through the foundation. This will be hot and cold water going from the house to the shop. 3/4″ PEX lines
With pipes in and inspections done I borrowed my FIL’s tractor and pushed the dirt back in the trench after backfilling gravel under the drain pipe.

Tip from my plumber – Always use gravel under PVC drain pipe because it wont’ settle as much as dirt will. If you use dirt and it settles the PVC can snap off at the point where it goes through the footing/foundation.

Steps to building a pole barn
Tractor loaded up to return. It actually worked out quite well for pushing the dirt back in the trench, Had I not been able to borrow this I would have had to rent a dingo or something. It was way too much dirt to move by hand.

Framing the shop

After many months of waiting, the crew was finally ready to start on my project. Of course a couple of days before the crew showed up, it snowed ~5″ then proceeded to pour rain to the point where there was standing water on the building pad…

DIY Receiver Hitch Snow Plow
Had to get the PJ home built snow plow out to do some driveways. Worked great!

Finally the shop build day came Fri Jan 8th. The crew showed up at 7:45, we reviewed a couple of things like position, placement of some things, and a rough timeline, then they got started right away. Turns out my building is scheduled to be built in 4 days! (excluding concrete and other stuff other contractors will be doing). I was told that most smaller buildings can be up in about 2 days.

Steps to building a pole barn
When the crew showed up in the morning, the ground was still cold enough to be semi-solid. It only got worse from here…
Steps to building a pole barn
Augering all of the post holes. I believe they were 18″ diameter by 48″ deep.
Steps to building a pole barn
Each hole got a concrete ‘cookie’ in the bottom, kind of like a round paving stone but ~6″ thick to prevent settling. They then grabbed the posts with forks on the skid steer and the guys just dropped them in the holes one by one.
Steps to building a pole barn
Muddy disaster, but all of the poles were in and they had started squaring them up and filling dirt in around the poles.

There are a couple of design changes that help new pole barns last even longer. Pole rot is always a concern with pole barns. Over the years builders have discovered that the poles do not need to be in concrete, they are just fine in dirt (the concrete retains moisture and actually makes the wood rot quicker).

These are the newer style ‘laminated’ posts. They are actually three layers of boards glued and nailed together, if I remember correctly these ones have a 50 year warranty on them! When these used to be made from one post the weather treating couldn’t go all the way to the middle because the wood was too thick. Thinner boards = more effective treatment.

Steps to building a pole barn
Here you can see the three layers of board. The green-ish boards toward the bottom that go below ground are all weather treated. The boards going up are not because they don’t need to be.
Steps to building a pole barn
The extension on the skid steer has a hook on the end and will be used to raise the trusses next week.
Steps to building a pole barn
The crew was all wrapped up for the day by 3:30. Pretty good work for 4 guys in one day despite the sloppy mud they had to work in.

That is a wrap on build day one. The building is coming out great. I love the angle off the driveway, it will make it really easy to access and back trailers in, etc. Thanks for reading, stay tuned for the next update!

Now YOU, go outside and work on something!

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