Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Simple "How-To" Bird House Construction

I made some birdhouses using recycled fencing. And I want to detail "how I did it" so others can make similar ones. The power tools I used for this project were an electric drill, an electric chop saw (and later a table saw) and an air-powered staple gun. You could use hand tools, it'd just take a bit longer to cut and assemble the pieces. Sometimes, I also used a screwdriver to fasten (and later unfasten for cleaning) the bottom piece of the birdhouse. This time, I'll use nails as hinges for the bottom and a short length of wire coathangar to keep it 'latched'. Prepping... Obtain old fence boards. Remove any existing nails. Remove (cut straight across) any rotted ends.
Measure the average board width. Typical fence board width is nominally six inches and four inches. The measured-with-a-tape-measure board widths are typically 5-1/2" and 3-1/2" (inches). This dimension determines (or limits) the width of the roof in the examples I've constructed. Nominal 6-inch boards are what I used. One more-or-less intact 6 foot long fence board should yield at least one bird house, plus some scrap left over. If you wish to use new fencing, that's okay too (Western Red Cedar fencing typically runs about $3 per board), I'm frugal so I used old cedar fencing I already had available. The thickness of the fence board will also determine how long to cut the roofing pieces. Nominal fence board thicknesses are 1/2" 5/8" and 3/4". I also used a 45 degree angle for the roof pitch. Not only is this a pleasing angle, but this allows for joining the two roof pieces at a right angle. (45 degrees on one side + 45 degrees on the other side yields [or equals] 90 degrees, therefore a right angle.) Let's get started. If you're using a chop saw, first adjust the blade cutting angle to 45 degrees (either left, or right). Note: After the first cut, you'll flip the board(s) over, and make the second cut (while referencing the blade to the centerline).
I like to streamline my operations, so I'll cut through three boards each time using my 10-inch chop saw blade. A handsaw works as well, only takes longer. But FIRST, I draw a line down the center of my top and bottom fence boards so I'll know where the peak of the roof will be. If you're cutting a single board, simply make the centerline on both sides. Next, I place the boards on the chop saw table and 'eyeball' where the blade will meet the wood for my first 45 degree cut.
I flip the boards over and make another center line and line up the blade so that it meets that centerline right at the opposite 45 degree cut (roof peak).
Okay. The 'front' of the birdhouse now has its roofline. I now take all three boards and repeat the above steps to create the roofline for the 'back of the birdhouse roofline--only this time using the opposite end of the boards.
Since the boards I started with were 48-, 53-, and 54-inches in length, I'll have various lengths of scrap wood left over. The next step involves measuring for the height of the 'front' and 'back' sides of the birdhouse. For this operation, I'll need a tape measure and pencil to mark lines 8-3/4 inches from one peak (for the front piece) and 8 inches from the opposite peak (for the back piece). I generally choose the nicer looking one for the front. For this step, I set the saw to cut at zero (0) degrees as shown below.
The fronts and backs should be approximately identical, except for length. I'll match each pair and lay the back piece on top of the front piece with the rooflines even and check to see if there is a 3/4-inch difference between them. A little more than 3/4" doesn't hurt, but if the back piece isn't quite 3/4", I'll return it to the saw and saw off a skoshie bit more. I used a bit of cut-off material as my 'gauge' to see how close it was.
Next step is the roof. I like a bit of overhang on the sides, so I make two more 'square' cut on the remaining lengths of fencing. I'll cut a 'set' of these 'roof' boards at both 5 and 5-1/2 inches. I'll need a set for each additional bird house desired.
I like to drill the bird hole opening in the 'front' piece before going any further, because I can mount it in my bench vise and hold it steady. First, I need to drill a 1/4-inch 'pilot' hole for the type of hole saw I'm using. Many hole saws come with a pilot drill attached, so drilling the bird hole is a one-step operation. I used a 1-7/16 inch hole, but you can make yours as small as 1-1/4 inch up to 2 inches. Just be aware that with larger holes, squirrels may gain access to the bird eggs. (Besides, larger birds would actually prefer a larger birdhouse.) I measured 5 inches up from the bottom edge of the front and made a mark for drilling. Here's the pilot hole...
And here's the first 'plug' drilled out of a 'front' piece for the bird entry/exit hole.
By now, you'll have a bit of 'scrap'. I'll use mine as kindling for the fireplace.
At this point, I start assembly and (later) cut the last pieces 'to fit'. I don't make the last pieces until the roof and front and back are installed because of my own inaccuracies in cutting and the non-standard fence board widths I'm using. I've used nails and I've used screws. I've used wallboard screws with a drill and Phillip's bit to drive them into the wood pieces, but I much prefer using an air compressor and an air-driven stapler. A stapler is fast.
I gauge the length of staple to use for adequate penetration (for-holding-it-all-together) and settled on 1-1/4 inch staples. A similar (or even slightly smaller) length of screws or nails would work just as well.
First, I match up the roof sets (pieces cut from the same board are the same width).
Then, I start driving staples (or nails or screws).
Next, I put the back on flush with the edge of the roof. And then the fasten the front with a tiny bit of setback (maybe 1/8 inch[?] for looks).
Then, I measure the distance between the front and back to determine how wide my side boards should be. I'll cut my sides to extend down the same length as the front piece. Each side was typically 5 inches long. The distances between front and back on each bird house ranged from 3-7/8 to 4-1/8 inches, so I cut the widths for each bird house accordingly, only this time I used a table saw to rip that bit of excess from the width of the fencing.
Test fit a side after cutting it to the measured width. Then mark for length.
I found that each side should be approximately 5 inches long, so I went back to the chop saw to cut them to length. Having measured and cut the sides to fit each birdhouse, I then fasten the sides in place.
The final step is to install a floor. Again, this is a 'custom' piece for each bird house. I measured the length and width I needed and cut it using the chop saw and/or table saw. (You could also use a jigsaw, but I DO NOT recommend using a handheld power saw (Skilsaw) for this project because the pieces are too small and there is no way to safely hold them while cutting.)
You can see from the picture above that the first piece I wanted to use was a tad narrow, so I went back to my fence boards and recut and test fitted another (see below). Perfect.
I wanted a 'cleanable' bird house, so I decided to 'hinge' the bottom board using nails. But first, I needed to round over one edge so that when it tipped down, the bottom edge near the front would clear the front. Here is the 'rounded over' portion and the nail holes used for hinging.
With the hinge in place, you can see that the bottom now 'hinges' on the nails for easy clean-out at the end of nesting season.
The bottom was a pretty good 'friction fit' but to prevent a birdie disaster, I drilled one more hole and inserted a 3-inch length of coathangar wire that goes through the side and bottom board and serves as a 'latch' or catch. (Or you could screw in a couple of screws and unscrew them as needed for clean-out.)
You can paint it (I suggest priming first) or leave the wood as is. It looks rustic when used as is. Use a cup hook, or screw eye at the top and hang your bird house from a tree, or mount mount it to a tree or post. One of my painted bird houses.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Garden Entrances (part 2) ...This Time With a Seat

"Transition" areas in my garden signal changes. In this case, moving from the "sports court" onto the meandering garden path.

Several transitions include: going from a hard concrete surface to a crunchy "giving" surfacing (in this case, crushed rock); an opposite activity/mood change from sports activities to passive garden sights; an overhead passage from mostly airy sky into the heavy shade of trees; a mood change from the square-cut, somewhat formal structured/active to the passive/casual that includes a seat upon which to rest; moving from open-air (and somewhat sparse) area to an enclosed area filled with "eye candy"; and finally, the accent/mood color transition from a cheery yellow to a contemplative lavender.

All this is signaled in the entry structure which leads one through these changes. Similarly, when moving in the opposite direction, the entry structure becomes an exit-from-the-garden structure, again signaling a change in mood or activity.

Advantages created by the built-in seating include: 1) safe, yet close, observation of sports activities, or 2) a place to rest and wait your turn at such activities, 3) an invitation to relax, 4) potential for a romantic interlude, 5) a secret get-away spot to read a book, or 6) just a private place to hang out away from the crowds.

I started with a rough plan which I modified several times. I didn't use bolts, instead opting for 3-inch decking screws throughout. This is my highly modified plan:

The overall construction is similar to the 6-post entry (see Garden Entrances part 1), but this entry uses only three posts. And, because there is no "ceiling," I also opted for diagonal bracing, which matches the bracing on an adjacent water craft screen.

Construction of the framework:

I first dug three holes for the outside posts and measured the distances between them and across from each other before leveling and backfilling with dirt. The width of the crushed rock path was one determining factor and another was a very large tree root, which limited the distance to the third post and the length of my entryway seat.

With posts in place and leveled, I placed 18-inch extensions on the tops of these three posts and leveled the three tops to each other. I used temporary scabbing to hold each extension to its post.

An extension is on top of the post and a temporary scab board holds it to its post.

I trimmed the ends of the entry 2 by 8 cross beam ends to match the others in the garden.

Cut block from a beam end is used as a template for the end-of-beam cut-outs.

Using my level, I ensured that the third post top was level with the other pair (I cut this extension a little long for use as the base for a birdhouse).

I added horizontal temporary scabs to keep the 2 by 8 beams level before fastening these to the extension tops. I used three-inch decking screws to fasten twin 2 by 8 8-foot beams over the entryway.

Temporary horizontal scab is in place to keep the beam level on the post for fastening.

With the cross beams secured, I removed the beam scab boards and then cut 2 by 4 "supports" for each post and mounted these to all the outside post edges to permanently cover the splices. These supports extended approximately 4 to 5 inches below the splices and are fastened with decking screws.

Mounting 2 by 4 beam "supports" to the posts.

I centered and leveled a permanent beam nailer block on the center beam to provide a fastening surface for the connecting beams to the third post. One end of the two connecting beams was cut square and the other end was cut to match the ends of the entry pair. See the sequence in the pictures below.

Aligning the permanent nailer with a level.

Permanent 2 by 4 nailer fastened with 3-inch deck screws.

An inside view of cross beams where they join the central post.

Outside view of those same cross beams.

I then cut 4 by 4 diagonal "brackets" from a spare 4 by 4 post to add stiffness to the structure. Again, I used three inch decking screws for fastening.

4 by 4 diagonal stiffener shown covering a portion of the splice point.

With the splices covered, I removed all temporary scab blocks and added the remaining "support" blocks to each post.

Each support was individually measured and cut so they met at the same point all around the post. Each outside post has three supports and the central post has two supports and two diagonal brackets.

All the 4 by 4 diagonal stiffeners and 2 by 4 "support" blocks are in place.

Since there is no 2 by 4 top to this entry arbor the main beams act as a top.

Bench construction follows:

First I determined a comfortable seat angle by sitting in some chairs at home. I then constructed this simple 2-board, 1-bolt jig and tightened the nut when I discovered the perfect angle.

Homemade angle jig adjacent to my right angle framing square.

I used 2 by 4 pressure-treated stock to cut the seat bottoms to length and 2 by 6 pressure-treated stock to cut the seat backs. The seat backs were run through a table saw to achieve a taper at the top and greater width at the bottom. To get matching pairs, I temporarily screwed two 2 by 6's together.

Work pieces screwed together and then sawn at an angle.

They didn't all turn out exactly alike (I needed three backs per seat), so I placed three together and hand planed them.

Hand planing the back supports to make them equal in size.

Using the seat angle jig, I determined that each seat back support piece needed a 3 degree angle cut off the wide (bottom) edge.

Saw set for 3 degree angle cut on bottom of seat back support pieces.

The seat bottoms were contoured with a band saw (a jigsaw would also work for this step). Then the back and seat supports were primed and painted.

I assembled each seat back and seat bottom pair and drove in decking screws from both sides. Because the outside pairs of seat backs would be attached to the inside edges of their support posts, these were assembled as opposites.

I added an overlength 2 by 4 to the bottom backside to create a framework assembly and carefully screwed the support pairs to it to make a "snug" fit between the posts. The extra length would allow an additional screw to hold the framework to the post. It was probably overkill, but I like my seating to be solid.

I also added stiffeners at a point near the front of the seats. These stiffeners were staggered so I could drive in the decking screws. I repainted any areas that were bare and also covered the screw heads.

Close-up of the staggered front-of-seat stiffeners.

When the completed framework was dry, I mounted it loosely between the posts and leveled the seat at 16 1/2 inches off the ground. With the seat slats installed, it will be approximately 17 inches off the ground, a comfortable height for most adults.

Measuring seat height above the ground.

Checking level and then fastening the rear seat frame 2 by 4 to the post. Note the added length of the 2 by 4 at the back.

I measured the arm rests as I held them against the post and the in-place back frame and cut out a pair of arm rests from 2 by 6-inch stock.

Two by 6-inch stock cut for matching arm rests.

The arm rests were clamped in place to check the fit and a bottom support angle was cut from a 2 by 4 to meet under the seat on the post and under the arm rest while it was still level.

These pieces were then primed and painted before assembly.

Primed arm rests and one arm rest support.

Each arm rest was clamped and checked for level (again) before fastening to its corresponding post.

Right hand arm rest leveled and ready to screw into post.

The support braces were then attached to the arm rest, the post, and the seat frame.

Left hand arm rest in place with support brace in place beneath it.

The seat and back slats were primed and painted after I made cut-outs where the support braces intersected the seat and where the arm rests intersected the seat backs.

Painted seat slats awaiting installation.

The seat slats were attached to the framework and all exposed wood and screw heads were painted.

Slats added to seat and back.

The completed entry seat.

The completed entry.