53 – The Big Cover Up

Last summer while we were living in the caravan we found, whilst it was fairly comfortable to sleep in, it was somewhat cramped for cooking and when we used the stove it became unbearably hot, especially in a sun drenched Italian summer. We were also keen that any roof arrangement should cover the baracca, as when it rains it always leaks like a sieve and we have trouble keeping the contents dry. 

So we decided it would be a good idea to create an outside kitchen, and by turning the caravan around and increasing the size of the concrete base that the galvanised steel shed or “baracca” sits on, we could create a reasonable space in which to install a free standing bottle gas cooker with oven, and a double sink and drainer.  So with great enthusiasm we set about calling Stefano, our builder, to arrange the ground works. 

Soon the concrete base was done and Stefano had built the structure for the kitchen.  Some old kitchen worktops that had been replaced in the “Tre Cancelle” apartments were fitted, along with the old gas stove that had been left in the original ramshackle house when we bought it.  A double stainless steel sink and drainer was installed and some wiring to allow for the addition of power points and lights at some later stage.




Then over the winter months, like several of Paul’s DIY projects, this project was put on hold, as some other priority had reared its head and needed immediate action.

Moving forward in time to Easter, and the knowledge that Paul’s brother Mike and sister-in-law Mary were coming for a week’s stay, the plans for the roof structure, clearly a job requiring more than one pair of hands, were dusted off and a hive of activity started to prepare for the re-start of work.

In the week preceding Easter, Paul and trusted mate Filippo set about installing the steel post supports for the wooden columns. Those which were to be placed on the existing concrete were duly drilled and rawl bolted into place. They then mixed concrete by the barrow load and fixed the remaining ones in place.  This left plenty of time for the new concrete to set hard before the real work on the wooden framework began in earnest on Mike’s arrival.

So early on the Monday morning, since we were blessed with sunshine, Mike and Paul set to organising the timber columns into their respective steel supports.  The longest posts were selected for the side nearest to the caravan so that the roof would slope away to the far side of the baracca. Since much of the timber was recycled,  having been rescued when friends demolished an old lean-to, none were in perfect condition and gloves were needed to avoid splinters. 

Soon the fifteen uprights were tentatively in place, ready for the height for each column to be marked and then cut to size.  The heights were measured and marked using an old fashioned but clever method that Paul had picked up from our Italian builder Stefano, when he was helping us with the renovation of “Tre Cancelle”.  All that was required:  A clear plastic tube, measuring approx 10 metres in length (filled with water, and all air bubbles removed), 2 step ladders and a marker pen.

It works because irrespective of how the tube twists and turns from one end to the other, the level of the water at each end of the tube will always remain the same.  You might like to try this yourself, it really is a quick, easy and accurate method.  

So as Paul held one end of the tube adjacent to a pen mark at the required height on the front column, Mike meanwhile moved down the line holding his end of the tube against each column in turn, and slowly moving it up and down until the water level in Paul’s end of the tube was level with the pen mark.  Mike then marked off at the water level at his end, safe in the knowledge that the marks were at identical heights.  Once marked, it was a quick job to lop off each column at the correct height using a chain saw, although Mike had the less pleasant task of holding the column steady whilst the cutting was done and got an unpleasant shower of sawdust on his head as a consequence. 

So with that job complete they were ready to place the first of the lateral cross pieces in position.  The shorter pieces for the caravan side were done first, being held in place with steel fishplates and 4″ nails.  The longer side across the top of the baracca were done next, and with the exception of the last pole, all went without a hitch.  On this one Paul momentarily “took his eye off the ball” so to speak, resulting in the 3.5 metre long pole rolling off the top of the column and coming crunching down on to his shoulder. Up went the cry “Oh dear, oh bother, that smarts a bit !!!”, or words to that effect. Fortunately one end was caught by the fence, so the shoulder only caught about half the whole weight. Thankfully no great harm was done although the bruised shoulder took a few days to recover full mobility.  Had the pole landed on his head the story may have been different and it just goes to show why in these situations, even for relatively experienced DIY-ers, hard hats are the order of the day, along with full concentration !!!  

After an extended tea break, the long, front to back beams were then installed.  For these they cut a series of wooden wedges to use to fix them in place, and Mike suggested pre-drilling them to avoid the possibility of them splitting as much as possible, a method that proved most successful, and soon, after some crawling about on an old door spread across cross beams wielding a claw hammer, the entire skeleton framework of timber was in place.  That pretty much brought us to the end of Day 1 of our labours, and we retired gracefully to a glass of wine and a delicious supper prepared by Mary.


Tuesday a trip to the builders yard in Itri was completed successfully, where two rolls of corrugated fibre glass sheeting were purchased, one four metre high and the other two and a half metres, both eight and a half metres in length, plus the nails and plastic spacers for fixing it down.  They soon set to putting up the shorter of the two rolls, which had to be nailed down as it was un rolled since it wasn’t possible to kneel or stand on top of it. This was soon followed by the taller of the two rolls in much the same fashion, but with the addition of some silicone sealant at the overlap.




As soon as the last nail was hammered in, and after a bit of trimming around the branch of the Almond tree, the wind picked up a bit and it was clear that some further fixing around the edges would be required to limit the somewhat scary flapping about. 

This though would have to wait a day as a trip to visit the family in Atina was scheduled for the following day.

Returning to the job on the Thursday morning, scratching about in the barracca revealed some angled trim ideal for use along the full length of the front edge.  Then after some mutual head scratching, a method of a wooden batten and two screws was adopted to hold down the unfixed lengths between the nails from front to back.  At the rear slightly wider planks were screwed across the supporting timbers and trapping the edge of the corrugated sheeting underneath. This restricted very well the movement at the all edges, a great improvement. 

The only slight problem was four sections on the caravan side, for which access was restricted by the van itself.  But, by adopting a reversing “limbo” action from the top of the steps between the caravan and the new timber frame, Paul was able to carefully perch on the edge of the van and finally install the last four battens. Having long arms was certainly an advantage in this regard.

Again, as if to test the labours of “The Brothers Shapcott”, within a couple of days there was quite a rain storm and strongish winds.  Yesterday here it was a really wild, stormy, windy day.  However, we are happy to report that so far so good, and the structure remains intact and functioning well.


Many thanks to Mike and Mary !!!

During their stay, Mary fell in love with all the puppies, especially little “Alfie”.




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