Smokehouse Construction

Step#1: Install the Posts

No matter how hard you try, you’ll never dig post holes consistently enough to allow posts to be cut to final length before burying them. The tops won’t be exactly level because the hole depths will all be different. That’s why the trick is to set over-length posts into holes,  plumb them with temporary angled braces, then cut them to length afterwards so all post tops are the same level. Trimming 6×6 post tops to length after they’re upright and secure isn’t as easy as cutting them on the ground, but it does create perfectly level tops, which is what you definitely need for everything else to work. You’ll need one post at each corner of the building, one post in the middle of the side and back walls, and two 4×4 posts flanking the doorway.

As you dig your post holes, pay attention to the distance between outer faces of the posts as shown on the plans. This space is important because it allows 8-foot-long wall boards to be used for the sides of the smokehouse, and 12-footers cut in half for the back wall with no waste. Overall size of the building ends up being 96” long and 75” wide when wall sheathing is in place.

Here’s something else important: Plumb all your posts using temporary 2x4s or scrap lumber angled braces fastened with screws to hold them to the posts, but don’t lock posts into final place by packing soil around their bases just yet.

You still need to be able to tweak post position a little, so you can line everything up as you fasten the beams on top of the posts. For now, temporarily fasten a 2×6 brace along the bottom of the posts at ground level so all posts sit in a straight line, with angled braces going down into the soil from higher up the keep the posts straight up and down.

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First, opposite walls must be the same length as each other. And second, measure and equalize diagonal distances taken from inside corner to inside corner when the posts are plumb. With these measurements equal, the corners of your smokehouse are guaranteed to be square.

Feel like a 6×6 frame is overkill for a smokehouse that’s only 6×8 feet? Structurally speaking 6x6s are bigger than you need, but bigger posts give longer life since it takes that much more time to rot off at ground level. I wouldn’t skimp and use 4x4s on my own smokehouse, but you can if you want. You can cut costs by using cedar, locust or other rot-resistant logs you harvest yourself, but like I said it’s more challenging to work with round logs than squared timbers. Regardless of what you use, speed and ease are the main advantages of pole construction. It’s much faster than the stud frame approach, especially considering that pole construction means you don’t need to build a separate masonry foundation or fool around with studs, plates and anchor bolts.

With main posts in place and upright, now it’s time to work on the beams that connect the posts along the top. The plans show how you’ll need to cut lap joints where the beams meet in the corners, so the beams overlap each other and interlock as they sit on the posts. The best way to cut lap joints in timbers is with multiple cuts from a circular saw every 1/4”, knocking out the waste with a mallet and chisel.

Most circular saws can’t cut deep enough to get down to the middle of a 6×6 timber to create notches that are deep enough for full overlap, so you’ll need to deepen the cuts using a chainsaw or handsaw. No big deal, just cut down further, then clean out the waste with your chisel. Remember how you left the posts braced but without soil packed in around them? That’s so you can move and adjust the posts a little as needed to get them all lined up at the top with the beams and all plumb.

With the beams in place on top of posts, predrill 1/4” diameter holes for 12”-long hot-dipped galvanized spikes driven down through the beams and into the posts to hold everything together. Every hardware store carries “installer bits” long enough for this job. The predrilled holes don’t need to be a full 12” deep, just long enough to go through the beams and 3” or 4” into the top of the posts. You’ll find a 6 lbs. or 8 lbs. sledge works best for hammering in spikes like these, but be sure to wear eye protection. I know from personal experience that the zinc coating on galvanized spikes flakes and flies off under hammer blows, and the bits of metal love to lodge in your eye. I never pound spikes any more without safety glasses.

Watch the video up next for tips and suggestions for building your pole frame properly.

VIDEO – Tips for Building with Poles

 

Step#2: Frame the Roof

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The plans show how 2×4 rafters and a 2×6 ridge board form the roof frame, along with angled blocking between the rafters to keep critters out at the eaves. There are also 2×6 ceiling joists (sometimes called “collar ties”) that span the 8-foot walls. These provide support for hanging food while it’s being smoked. You’ll get best results if you build the roof frame in the following order, along with at least one helper:

1. Measure the width of the building at both ends to make sure both long walls are parallel. Adjust if they’re not. When they check out, fill the space around all posts with soil packed into the space tightly. I use the handle end of a sledge hammer for this work. Remove all braces when you’re done. Packing the posts with soil is better than concrete for two reasons. First, concrete encourages rot around the posts more than soil does. And second, concrete-encased posts are more likely to be gripped and raised up by frost if you get serious winter where you live.

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2. Cut two rafters according to the plans and test them at the ends and the middle of your smokehouse. If they fit tightly to the wall and meet properly at the top with some 1 1/2” wood between them, cut 10 rafters in all. If your smokehouse isn’t exactly 75” apart at the top of the walls, you’ll need to adjust the length of the rafters to match.

3. Fasten one pair of rafters flush with one end of the building frame, then another pair flush with the other end – with the ridge board in between. Deck screws and an impact driver are easier to use than nails for securing the rafters to the ridge board because screws require no pounding with a hammer. It’s also easy to take screws out and reposition parts if you don’t get them right. Plans show how the bottom ends of the rafters are best secured with an 8” spike driven into a predrilled hole in the edge of the rafter.

4. Add the remaining three pairs of rafters between the pairs at the front and back of the smokehouse.

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5. Install blocking between the rafters as shown in the plans. This blocking is essential for keeping critters out of the smokehouse between uses and it’s easy to install now, before the roof boards go on.

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The plans show another pair of rafters – made of 2x6s not 2x4s – that cap the edges of the roof and overhang at the front and back. These are called gable rafters and you can cut them now for installation later, after the roof boards go on. These gable rafters are the same length as the regular ones (as measured along their top edges), but they don’t have a birds mouth pocket since they don’t sit on the walls.

Be sure to watch the video up next for more insights on building your smokehouse roof properly. The same techniques apply to any kind of roof for small buildings and sheds.

VIDEO – Framing Your Smokehouse Roof

 

Step#3: Install the Smoke Pipe

If you’re making a separate firebox, as shown in the plans, now’s the time to bury a 6” pipe and elbow into the ground leading into the floor of your smokehouse. Concrete pipe is ideal, but you can also use a length of steel well casing. The wall thickness and composition let this pipe last for many decades underground. Dig a trench and lay the pipe in place (exact location isn’t critical), extending up 3” or 4” higher than the surface of your completed floor. What will you do for a floor? Here are a few ways you can build the floor of your smokehouse:

Leave it all Dirt

Pro: Simple, fast and easy

Con: Might get muddy inside. Critters can easily dig into your smokehouse between uses. Rain splashes up on lower wall boards, promoting rot.

Crushed Stone

Pro: Dry, well-drained surface. Simple and economical

Con: Critters can still dig in, though not as easily. Water splashes on lower wall boards.

Poured Concrete

Pro: Dry, durable, no critters digging in. Allows wall sheathing to be raised off the ground for longer life.

Con: More expensive and troublesome to install.

Step#4: Sheath the Walls


Wide post spacing means 1 1/2”-thick construction grade lumber is the stuff to use for walls, and it’s best for a few reasons.
It’s beefy enough to span the wide space between posts on the long walls without much flex; the extra thickness adds decades of life by resisting wear longer than thinner boards; and if you decide to doll up your smokehouse and extend it’s life with cedar shingles, you won’t see the nails busting through on the inside.

I use 2×8 and 2×10 boards for sheathing walls and roofs on small buildings like this one, and they do a great job. They’re also the same price or even less expensive than most of the 3/4”-thick pine lumber in my area. Mass production of the 2-by material for the home building trade is the reason why.  Use 8 footers for the long walls, 12-footers cut in half for the back wall, and just about any length you like to cut for the 2 1/2-footers that flank the door. Use three 3 1/4”-long hot-dipped galvanized nails wherever a board rests on a post. Run the wall boards right up to the peak of the smokehouse at both ends, too. Plans show how the back of the smokehouse includes a hinged flap. Open it more or less to let smoke leave during use.

Watch the video up next for tips on sheathing the walls of your smokehouse.

VIDEO – Sheathing the Walls

Step#5: Sheath the Roof

This part of construction is a lot like working on the walls. The plans show how the 2×8 or 2×10 roof boards extend past the front and back walls, supporting gable rafters that cap the edges of the roof.  Start work installing roof boards at the bottom of one side of the roof, working up to the peak. As you do, position the first roof board so it overhangs the bottom end of the rafters by an inch. This helps shed rainwater away from the rafter ends once metal drip edge is installed before putting on metal roofing or shingles. Complete the roof by installing a pair of gable rafters at each end of the roof. These are wider than regular rafters (made of 2x6s instead of 2x4s) and are fastened to the ends of the roof boards.

You can weatherproof the roof of your smokehouse just like any other building, but metal roofing works best. There’s no chance it will impart any flavour to the food you’re smoking, and it’s easy to work with. Install metal drip edging along all edges of the roof before the roofing metal goes on, to keep the wood dry and rot-free. All roofing metal is custom-ordered to the length required. Measure your roof from peak to eaves, with an extra inch of overhang past the wood at the bottom. Be sure to order gaskets that fill the space underneath roofing metal at the edges, to keep out bats and vermin.

Step#6: Hang the Door and Complete the Roof

The door is nothing more than 3/4”-thick rough cut lumber held together with battens as shown in the plans. Use three strap hinges to support the door. You could install a metal thumb latch to hold the door shut, but a couple of barrel bolts are easier to install and more secure. It’s surprising how smart a raccoon can be when it comes to thumb latches and smokehouses.

VIDEO – Building the Smokehouse Door

At this stage your main smokehouse structure is finished. You’ll need to add racks and hooks and such to the inside, but this is custom work.  It’s best to figure out what you need based on what and how you smoke. Fasten everything with screws so it’s easy to remove and re-adjust later, as you fine-tune your process.