How to Build a Lean-to Shed

October 10, 2018
Robert Manziel

(Last modified on March 4th, 2020)

How to Build a Lean-to Shed

Perhaps your man cave decor has started to spill out into the house, forcing you to find new homes for it. Or maybe your yard tools need a dedicated home to hang out in. Or—quite ambitiously—you dream about an amazing and minimalistic little building to hang out in. I won’t question your motives, but what I can do is help you out in simple instructions that anyone can understand! Building a lean-to shed goes by much faster than building a typical storage shed, and you don’t even need anyone to help you out. The materials are cheap and you can easily store or cover anything you need to in there. Let's learn how to build a lean-to shed!

Advantages of a Lean-to Shed

The lean-to shed has some obvious advantages over a large storage shed. First of all, it conserves on space in your yard, allowing you to use it for pools or trampolines or trees or whatever else you desire. Second, its construction allows you to use far less material than a typical shed. With only one side of a roof to construct, that cuts down a lot of time and logistics, making it strange if it takes you more than a day to put the shed together!

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly to you, it at least halves the cost it takes to build a storage shed. Obviously, cutting a shed in half will also cut down its price, but there is more to price than materials. The simplicity of a lean-to shed saves you time—and time is money! It also prevents screw-ups if you’ve never picked up a hammer before. Now let’s learn how to build it!

Lean-to Shed Plans

Given its small size and simple build, a lean-to shed plan is easy to find and understand. You can quickly find one on the internet or even in your local home improvement store. However, I also recommend grabbing a collection of shed plans or woodworking instructions for any projects you may have down the line. Anyone who owns the tools will one day feel that ‘project itch’ and need the means to build anything they want. Those collections help you do that.

A proper shed plan includes a shopping list, a floor plan, back frame instructions, top and bottom plate frames, side wall frames, and instructions on making the rafters. Installing the exterior hardly needs instructions, but everything else absolutely needs the details—especially if you’re unfamiliar with building things. Lean-to sheds make a great beginner’s project, but not when you’re winging it. They also tell you the difference between particular types of nails and why you’re using the sizes you do, allowing you to improv your projects in the future.

Basics of How to Build a Lean-to Shed

Anyways, let’s get down to business! After you have your shed plan (or simply know how to build it), gather your materials. Unlike a full shed, your materials may show some flaws and imperfections. A lean-to shed is not meant to accommodate people, things, or valuables. At most, you may have a lawn mower in there. A larger lean-to shed meant for minimal man caves or small playrooms are obvious exceptions to this rule, but in general, any materials will do. Grab them wherever you can—I find local lumberyards the cheapest providers.

You start with the foundation (or base) of the lean-to shed and work your way up. A sturdy floor, followed by your side walls, then your side with the door, and finally your roof make up the bulk of your building process. Trimming, staining, adding shingles, and all that good stuff comes after you complete the main shed. If it sounds simple, that’s because it is! It even takes less than a day, if you grab your supplies quickly and go with a simple foundation. And, speaking of foundations…

How to Make the Foundation of a Lean-to Shed

Woohoo, we’re actually getting to the interesting stuff! Since lean-to sheds represent a very basic type of construction, you don’t need to invest as much time as you would need to in a full shed. Instead, you pick a type of cheap foundation that suits the area and your local building code. For concrete foundations, make a small wooden frame the size of your shed and fill it with gravel. Once it settles, go back and fill it with concrete. Remove the frame when it sets in.

A small wooden platform with large rods sticking into the ground is all you need for most sheds. To avoid water issues entirely, build a wooden frame with at least ¾” plywood on top for the floor and set it atop concrete blocks. This permanent frame ought to use pressure-treated wood to prevent sagging down the line. Make sure the top either type of foundation rests a few inches above the typical height of heavy rain water, unless you’re cool with soggy stuff and mold in there. Along with the roof tiles, this is the most tedious and expensive part of your construction project. If you get past this, the rest is a breeze!

How to Build Lean-to Shed Walls

With the foundation out of the way, start building the walls separately for the lean-to shed. Using 2x4s, make a frame for your door of choice and a few support posts. Include blocking on the side walls if you want to make room for a vent. Vents keep your shed somewhat temperature controlled—essential for anyone storing electronics or machinery in there.  Obviously, your back wall needs to be tallest.

While your smallest wall can be a simple shape, set up the angles of your side frames and back wall to slope down (which is done by simply cutting the top of the planks at an angle of appropriate slope).  When you finish constructing your frames, you can attach the studs to the foundation, starting with the back wall. Use a temporary brace to keep the back wall in place until you can lean it on the rest of the structure. The side walls may also need a brace, depending on the lean-to shed plan that you chose at the start of this article. Wait to install the siding until your rafters are in place.

How to Build a Lean-to Shed Roof

Once you have all of the walls finished, prepare to start on the roof! A lean-to roof always slants in one direction to keep rain water out of the shed and away from the home. This design assumes that one of the walls will be covered by a house, which protects the largest wall from rain damage. Despite this, modern types of wood treatment help standalone lean-to sheds put up with the rain. Refer to your shed plans for the specific dimensions of your lean-to shed. I will now explain the basic cuts present in all shed plans to help dispel any confusion

Start with framing! While building your roof, use connector plates made from galvanized steel, which prevent long-term erosion—something you seriously don’t want in a roof! Generally, wood thickness determines how much weight a roof can hold. If you live in the north, expect your shed to carry a lot of snow from fall to spring!  That’s something to take into consideration when you choose which shed plan you want.

Lean-to Shed Roof Details

Each part of your roof has a special cut to help the structure stay together for years to come. Your typical rafter will have plumb, seat, bird’s mouth, and gable cuts. All of them are crucial to the look and appearance of a lean-to shed. For more information on these cuts, check out the F.A.Q. Construct triangular trusses and take care to cut the rafters properly.

Once you finish building the trusses, you can add your sheathing to the roof. This provides the main support of the roof and defines its shape. On top of that, put an underlayment installation to protect your sheathing from the elements. Lastly, your roof cover goes on top, which further seals your roof. A lean-to shed can simply have a metal sheathing and call it a day, but it’s likely to blow away when a big windstorm blows through.

How to Build a Lean-to Shed Against a House

Technically speaking, I’ve already detailed how to build a free standing lean-to shed. If you want to know how to build a lean to shed on the side of house or how to build a lean-to off of a shed, then things barely change. Before you put up your tallest wall, cover the back with plywood that extends the entire height of your shed plan (which means all the way to the tip of your roof). This plywood should be facing your home, with the frame clearly visible from where you would open the door. There’s no reason to pretty up the rear-facing wall, but it still acts as a small support for the rest of the structure.

For additional support, attach the lean-to to your house using large nails. This ensures that, no matter what, it will stay put. When learning how to build a lean-to off a house, it’s absolutely critical that you pay attention to how to build a foundation and the area’s building codes. Since it’s so close to the house, any screw-ups with the shed foundation will affect the foundations of your main home! You definitely don’t want the shed directing water beneath your house.

Hopefully this helps you learn how to build a lean-to on the side of the house, but if you still feel puzzled after reading all this, then there’s one more option for you!

Lean-to Shed Kits

Lean-to shed kits are easily available, both online and offline. It’s a quick and easy way to gather the materials for your shed and build it. It cuts out a bunch of the ‘difficult’ steps. The only disadvantage is that it costs a little more than constructing it from scratch on your own. Many lean-to shed kit sellers offer contracting services, but you seriously won’t need them. This is as simple as getting your foundation in place and nailing some pieces together. Follow the directions, do everything properly, and you could have your lean-to shed done within the hour.

Kits contain four pre-constructed walls, door materials, windows (if the plan includes one), the rafters, a simple foundation, and plywood to cover everything. Of course, many kits look like an eyesore without some extra investment in the trim, shingles, and so on—but at least it cuts down on precious time. And time is money, you know? Cutting down on construction time may also save you some hassle (I.E. when neighborhoods only allow construction to go on for so long).  More expensive kits will include these extras and may even mix up materials. With the right kit, no one will ever know you purchased a pre-made setup! It will look sleek, new, and customized—perfect for any yard.

How to Build a Lean-to-Shed: The FAQ Section

Still want to ask some questions about lean-to sheds? Check over this FAQ section, where I attempt to fill in some gaps. If you still don’t see your question, or want to know something else related to sheds or man caves, then leave a comment and I will quickly respond!

Why do they call it a lean to?

To cut down on building costs and space used, people would use small sheds whose rafters appeared to lean on another wall. They stood adjacent to homes, large buildings, ranches, and completed sheds. Lean-tos aren’t all solid buildings; Some lean-tos consist only of a tarp and something to anchor it to (or lean on). This fast but effective form of construction remains a staple of modern times, where we even build it as a standalone building for both its aesthetics and affordability! It certainly costs less to build than a two story shed, cool as they are.

How do you make a shed?

If this article didn’t sate your appetite for knowledge, don’t worry. I write all about building a full shed on my post here, along with how to find materials, work with kits, convert it into a functional building rather than storage, and so on.

How do you cut a rafter?

You will need a circular saw, hand saw, and safety glasses (if you care about your eyes). First, determine the pitch of your roof (as detailed in your shed plans). Roofs typically use 45* angles, but a lean-to shed is hardly so restricting. The slope is a ratio of rise to horizontal travel along your rafter, so any adjustments drastically affect your cuts.

Once you find the appropriate angle, go at it with your circular saw. Remember to include a birdsmouth cut and seat cut to keep the rafters in place with more than the strength of nails. If you intend to put some overhang on the rafter, keep your birdsmouth cut shallow. 2/3rds of the wood at a vertical angle should remain intact so that the overhang has support. Lastly, you do the easy part—your tail cut! This cut will be horizontal/parallel to your foundation. Not too hard, right?

How do you build a shelter?

If you’re looking for how to build a tornado shelter, you’re looking in the wrong place. A lean-to will not keep you protected in any way, shape, or form from a tornado. However, it can offer shelter from the sun for animals, children, and whatever else you keep in your backyard. If you want to learn how to build a tornado shelter, I recommend looking at this site. I might write an in-depth article on the topic later (especially since you can throw in some cool furniture and make it the safest man cave on earth), but let’s focus on lean-to sheds for now!

All About How to Build a Lean-to Shed

Well, time to wrap up this exhaustive  coverage of how to build a lean-to shed! If you want to throw any questions at me, feel free to do so in the comments section. I did my best to use simple terms so that even beginners can use this, but that also means I skipped over some tiny details that might relate to you. If you ask me about it, I’ll respond with a lengthy comment, or may even produce a big post on your question. Remember, there’s no such thing as a stupid question!

Anyways, I’ve been writing a lot about sheds lately because architecture and construction is a tiny passion of mine. It ties into man caves perfectly, since all of these construction abilities carry over into customizing your mantuary. Your lean-to shed is yet another extension of your true self, and with a little bit of decor, you can make it something spectacular to behold!

It gives your yard a little personality and designates some useful space between all the flowers and weeds (by the way, remember to take your lawn mower out of the shed every now and then). It also gives you something to brag about. Nothing feels better than talking about something you made with your own two hands, so pick up your tools and start building! You know exactly how to build a lean-to shed!

AFFILIATE DISCLAIMER is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to
© Copyright 2019 - TrueManCave - All Rights Reserved.