[this is rough but I'll add in more detail later]
I'm in the middle of building my first chicken tractor, and wanted to post about some of the things I've learned. First, I am not a construction person. I can sew, cook, and craft decently well, but this construction stuff has been less intuitive than I expected. Hopefully this page can help some of you avoid the same mistakes.
I modeled my tractor off someone else's here who in turn built his from another site. Both descriptions were very helpful but neither were detailed enough for rookie me. I learned along the way.
Right now I've probably worked for a total of 10 hours and have the base built, the side panels constructed and covered with corrugated roofing, and all wood painted with 2 coats of floor paint for high-traffic areas. I used pressure-treated wood for the base. Most of my materials were bought new, because I didn't have much sitting around, but was able to use some old 2x4s in my yard for the A-frame support beams (which was good because they weren't listed on the materials list I was working from, so I saved myself another trip to Home Depot!)
My neighbor has a garage full of tools, so I've been able to borrow everything I needed, which is so great. Still, I think I've already spent over $300 on materials, and I don't have the wheel mechanism bought yet. Boo. I was hoping for $250. But it's a good learning experience, and I like making something myself over buying it, so hopefully I won't regret this! (After my first trip to Home Depot where I had to rethink my design on the spot when the plywood wouldn't fit in my car and I was 3 hours late relieving my husband of kid duty-- he was supposed to be working!-- I called my parents almost in tears... what had I gotten myself into?!) Happily, things are looking up.
I wish there was more info out there on how to cut the angles right on this A-frame structure. That's the intimidating part looming in my near future. I found some helpful stuff on building an A-frame house, but it's still a mystery to me. I'm hoping my engineer husband will be able to master this. When he mentioned tangents I got a little wiggly-eyed
I'm learning as I go here. After much debating about the angles, we went with 60 degrees, since it seemed like it was almost an equilateral triangle. Worked well enough. Phew. I just eyed the bottom notch cut, to make it flush against the base when the "A" was raised. Cut one, then cut the rest to match. It's not perfect but it should work. I realized a problem with this-- because of the brackets I used in the corners of the base, there's no way to attach the A-frame posts to the base in the corners, since they're covered with the metal brackets already. For now I have the posts moved in 6 inches or so to beyond the edge of the bracket, but this is going to make everything else hard-- covering the bottom section with screening, for example. I don't need to decide now, but it's worrisome...
I made all the side panel frames and covered with corrugated roofing panels. Drill holes first! Ran out of wood AGAIN! My materials list was definitely not complete. Almost half of the wood was missing!! I scrounged and made it work, but some of the frame pieces are a different width of wood, which of course affects how/where they will attach. Sigh. Finished cutting out the notches in the A-frame posts for the horizontal supports with a jig saw. I wasn't sure how important it was where the notches went, so I just spaced them evenly. I'm still not clear on where hinges will attach, and what will happen to the couple inches of corrugated roofing that had to hang over the siding frames so that the screws could go in on the "down" part of the corrugated shape... this made it a bit tough to know how far apart to space the notches.
Today it was finally time to put everything together (without screws) to see if it worked. It did! And it looked great. I put the ridge beam in and had DH hold it/the A-frame posts in place while I mounted the top gussets, and suddenly we had a free-standing structure! Wobbly, but I'll take it (for now). I also attached the lower gussets, at the right height to fit my 4x8 plywood floor separating the daytime space from the bedroom. I used a level for this, and added a slight slope to one side so that water will (hopefully) drain off the side (where the side panel lifts off) when cleaning. I used the level to make sure each of the three supports were the same height-- it was tricky to measure accurately with the tape measure, but this worked great. I put the first half of the floor in, and realized I would need to cut notches out to get the floor flush with the walls because of the A-frame posts... annoying! And the plans didn't mention it... I wonder what they did? Now I'm stuck again because I haven't wanted to commit to screwing any of the horizontal supports in and they move quite a bit if you push on the structure at all. If I cut the plywood floor, that will determine where they go permanently, so hopefully DH can help me with that tomorrow so we can be sure they're straight vertically.
Goal: chickens sleep in their house tomorrow! (it won't be finished, but hopefully will be safe for sleeping).