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.