Men in Sheds: A Celebration of The Den

I’ve written here before of how the men of fashionable Kemer Country build dens for themselves in the cellars of their homes, disappear there after work, and get up to God knows what!

But what is it that God knows they get up to, when down there? Do they watch porn, or gamble stocks and shares over the Internet? Maybe they simply view movies? Soccer, even in Kemer, is watched on the largest television available and this is generally in a family room – maybe a salon or even a dedicated home-cinema?

A stereo image

A stereo image

The tradition of creating dens goes back some time. The most stylish were perhaps first created in the Victorian era. They are called studies. There the master of the house could cheerfully smoke cigars and examine lewd photographs, possibly with a stereoscopic viewer. Only he would be admitted to this room. Parlor-maids may lay and light his fire, but the lower classes were paid to be so discreet that they became invisible, at least according to the dominant narrative of those times.

It is a mistake, however, to think of the den as the sole province of the idle, or aspiring rich. Common folk had their equivalents: lofts converted to dove cotes, outhouses containing cages filled with ferrets, and of course during the 1930s the rise of the ubiquitous garden shed. Here, we chaps, might build our model, or real, aircraft and, if there were a spare moment, service the lawn mower.

It matters not what activity takes place in these private spaces – save that they were then, and must even today remain sacred and private. For a while I lost control of my room. Mrs Bray moved into my study, started a business on a corner of my desk. Within a few years she had taken over the entire room. In the end we had to move simply so that I could breathe.

Now I once more have my own space I find myself, within it, servicing ‘the precious things’ that identify me as a chap. After such a long absence from these activities I had begun to think myself as an oddity but this past weekend when researching the properties of cigarette-lighter flints on the Internet I was amazed to discover just how many others are engaged in related all male preoccupations.

Someone took the trouble to make one video, lasting two and a half minutes, instructing us on How to Replace a Flint in a Zippo.

ZippoScanThe Zippo lighter is a classic American brand. It has managed the impossible by displacing cleaner, more flexible, butane lighters that dominated the market during my youth, with older, smellier, alternatives from an earlier era. The Zippo is perhaps today’s top brand. It has its own fuel, but it works when filled with gasoline, or aviation spirit. G.I.s did this during wars in Europe, and Asia. The brand was once advertised with an incredible story of how it worked after being recovered from the belly of a dead fish, although whoever penned that copy it was not Don Draper, the suave if psychopathic writer depicted in the AMC T.V. series Mad Men, who uses a Zippo in almost every scene in which he appears.

The number of projects created by men in sheds related to just this one brand is enormous. Some are testing different household flammables to use as lighter fuel. Others are modifying their Zippos with bicycle inner tubing, or paper clips. It’s suggested by one survivalist that you wrap luminous tape around your Zippo, just in case you drop it in total darkness. The same guy even went so far as to make his lighter a special leather case, although he omits to give instructions for doing so. Moreover, the leather case rather defeats the object of the luminous tape because if you drop the lighter in its case the luminescence can’t communicate itself.

There’s a video about carrying a Zippo even if you don’t smoke. In it the author asks if you get funny looks when playing with your Zippo during work breaks, or if you have amusing anecdotes about ‘carrying your knives, or flashlights‘!

Many of the videos commence with a list of items required. To do basic maintenance on your Zippo, for example, we are told you will need: “A Zippo lighter . . . (der), a pair of long nosed pliers, some flints, a spare wick, and some lighter fluid.

But what of my research on flints?

Here YouTube surpasses itself. Men seem as preoccupied with not wasting the flints in disposable BIC lighters, as finding ways around the cost of official Zippo fuel. Whilst one chap instructs us on: ‘How to remove the flint from an empty BIC, and cut it to size to use in a Zippo‘, others go one better by showing us ‘How to refill disposable lighters using map pins, and grommets purchased from Cosco‘. This process evolves in another unusual video into ‘How to make a disposable lighter refillable‘. The items required to do so include an electric drill. A gas valve inserted into the base of the lighter costs ten dollars, for which you can probably buy an inexpensive refillable lighter of similar quality, but that’s not the point. You are advised by this guy not to attempt to transform your dead BIC if you’re ‘no good with tools’!

One video even tests the strength of a Zippo lighter’s casing under gunfire to see if it might deflect a bullet and save your life.

This lighter fetish is just one variety of activities performed by men in their dens and sheds. There are many, many, more – take for example, servicing your collection of fountain pens and inks. Don’t go to  YouTube for information on these topics my friends. Should you do so you will be lost for days. There must be hundreds of examples of videos discussing ink, as well as how to sand the nibs of pens with fine emery paper to resolve those annoying scratchy sounds, which blight the lives of penmen.

I love the diversity of interests people have, their willingness to share their skills for free, and communicate with like-minded folk via videos over the Internet. It’s not true that men always waste time, boozing, watching football or consuming porn in the hallowed spaces of sheds and cellars. Indeed you are far more likely to find us inserting grommets into some disused widget to make an original, and useful, whatchamacallit.


  1. Sadly a true story and one that’s all too familiar to me. Especially when I find myself purchasing yet another extremely useful waterproof notebook or pen that actually writes upside down. We nod and say we don’t understand the female mind but sometimes the male mind can be terrifying. I love the final paragraph, but then I would since being middle aged the grommets, widgets and more importantly the whatyamacallit are very important to me. Loved it.