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Jake May and his amazing project

17-year-old aspiring engineer builds 35-foot wooden fortress in backyard - all by hand
17-year-old Jake May has so far spent over 1,200 hours constructing a 35-foot structure using only hand tools.

In the fourth week of May, 17-year-old Sault Ste. Marie resident Jake May finished building a 35-ft.-long wooden fortress. Since the early days of quarantine in March 2020, he had been working on this project, which has taken countless energy and resources.

The first part of the structure May built was the tree fort with a triangular roof, which sits two-and-a-half ft. off the ground, accessible by a handmade wooden ladder.

“I finished the tree fort all by hand and spent close to 600 hours,” says May, speaking with SooToday. 

But this wasn’t enough for him. May had the idea of expanding his work by making a bunker.

Like any work of architecture, he then drew a blueprint. “I drew up some blueprints and dug a hole,” he said.

The bunker is seven feet underground and is connected to the fort via an underground trench “and enclosed in wood.”

This expansion took him another 600 hours and was also built without the use of power tools. Instead, he relied on things like a “saw, axe, pickaxe, hammer, chisel.”

The whole structure is a total of 35 ft. long.

How does someone have the energy and perseverance to take on a project like this?

“I had a goal in mind. I wanted to pursue the goal. This drove me to finish it.”

May says that the passion for this project came from a combination of two things: his interest in construction and wanting to get exercise.

“I’m a very active person. During COVID, as everything was cancelled — school and sports and anything outside of school. I wanted to get rid of some energy. And also I had a hobby of building things,” he says.

“And it was a workout for me. I’m super big into working out and having fun at the same time.”

He also cites his friends as a source of perseverance for the 12 months he was doing physical work.

May recalls sending pictures to friends, and his friends asking for updates, as the building went along.

May developed a liking for construction projects from a young age with a dad who's a tradesman. 

“Always at Christmas, either my grandparents or my family would buy us LEGOs. I was always excited to build structures and come up with different things” than what was on the instructions. 

He admits to having built major projects like this since he was old enough to handle a saw.

He has been accepted at a civil engineering program at MacMaster’s University in Hamilton, ON has says his “long-term goal [is] to become an engineer.”

However, despite his life-long dedication to the craft, May encountered some problems while building his fortress.

“It took me a long time. Especially because the first foot on the ground is dirt. But the next four feet are sand, gravel and stones, which are not the easiest digging. That’s why I had a pickaxe. 

“The last foot was clay, which is extremely difficult to dig, especially when it’s wet.”

Not one to pause his work, May had finished the frame of the bunker by the end of fall so he could spend the winter working on its interior.

“I was a little worried because the snow would sit on top of the roof of the bunker” and was worried it might collapse. 

On a December night, May slept in the newly finished bunker.

“I had a sleeping bag, so it wasn’t too bad. The lowest it got down to -13°. It wasn’t too cold yet. I lit a few candles.”