Shed Inventors: Where are the Caractacus Potts or Heath Robinsons

Andy from Workshopshed has written this guest shedblog post for Shed Week 2012 on something close to his tinkering in the shed heart – Shed Inventors.

From my own experience the shed is a great place for making and repairing things, it provides space to work and store tools and allows me to keep projects on the go without having to pack up for other activities such as having dinner; I used to work on the kitchen table.  The shed provides solace so that I can think and work free of distractions. I don’t really see myself as an inventor as my shed projects are mostly repairing or adapting existing items, however there are many others who do use their sheds for inventing.

The shed inventor is often depicted as a Caractacus Potts or Heath Robinson character creating wacky gadgets or perpetual motion machines.


This does not really reflect the true nature of the shed inventor who typically creates more down to earth inventions. Recent examples of shed inventors include Emily Cummins who created an evaporative refrigerator for use in situations where there is no electricity, Scottish inventor John Braithwaite who specialises in 3D television systems and Ian Harding who designed a cash machine security device. Both Powergen and the Ministry of Defence also value the input from shed inventors as back in 2006 they both launched programmes seeking new talent.

Shedworking has reported on some famous examples of shed inventors, with automotive inventors being particularly prevalent. Harley-Davidson, Damiler and Renault all started in sheds. Henry Ford also had a small workshop behind his house in which he developed his first car, the “Quadrocycle”. Wallace and Gromit animator Nick Park’s father was also a shed inventor and Nick commented that his constant tinkering in the garden shed was an inspiration to him.

The numbers of shed inventors in the UK is not entirely clear as many don’t publicise their creations. A recent Nesta survey suggested that the number of inventors in the UK could be as high as 3 million, however that does include people I’d categories as makers, fixers or hackers rather than inventors and it definitely includes people without sheds! China is also noted as having a culture of garden shed inventors, these shanzhai builders include people who have built walking robots, human powered planes and even a helicopter. An earlier US study also commented that only 10% of the inventions they had seen were likely to succeed as commercial ventures however they also noted that many of the inventors they interviewed “had no entrepreneurial aspirations.”.

Some shed inventors do have aspirations, for example successful inventor Paul Klipsch clocked up over 20 patents and ran a successful loudspeaker company which was started in a shed. He was still inventing in his 70s with his last patent in 1983. Wikipedia lists many more serial inventors but fails to mention if they had sheds or not.

Not all inventors are based in sheds, some of them have invented sheds. Looking at just US patents turned up 58,000 results for shed. An early example is Franz Blab’s folding shed from 1899.

Patent GB189800206 – An Improved Folding Shed especially suitable for Cycles.

“Lone Inventors are heroes. Unaffordable patents and Blue Chips which ignore them -yet they don’t stop creating” – Patrick Andrews (BritSkills)
“They’re an unfairly neglected and derided innovation resource. “ Graham Barker (A Better Mousetrap)

Thanks to Shedworking, Patrick Andrews and Graham Barker


By Andrew Wilcox

I love sheds Founder & judge of Shed of the year - Wilco writes mainly about sheds. About the blog Enter your shed into #shedoftheyear