This past winter I was poking around for a challenging woodworking project. Something different from anything I had done before. Something involving unusual joinery and/or cutting techniques. Something that would expand my repertoire of woodworking skills. Something I could make multiple copies of to give out as gifts, thereby incurring the good will of friends and family. Something decorative and colorful that I would enjoy looking at in my own back yard, while simultaneously helping out the local wildlife. Yup, you guessed it: I made bird houses. Five to be exact.
I wish I could say I designed these houses myself but that wasn’t the case. Instead, I went with plans I found in Woodsmith issue #117. These plans detail the construction of an octagonal bird house with four individual nest compartments, an octagonal cupola sitting atop the nest compartments, and a decorative finial at the very top. The majority of the house is made from solid cedar except for the interior ceilings which are made from Masonite.
Each house required 16 board feet of cedar. This worked out to 80 board feet for all five houses at a total cost of $220. Plus the miscellaneous expenses – glue, silicon caulk, paint, hardware, finials – another thirty bucks or so. Not the cheapest bird houses but these were a cut above average and worth the expense. Yeah, we’ll go with that.
After milling the lumber into the various bird house components, I ended up with the pleasant smell of cedar and multiple piles of small parts stacked throughout the shop. The advantage of these small parts was that it was relatively easy to cut out knots and other defects and still use most of each board. Still, I probably had 10%-15% waste.
The guts of the bird houses are the eight-sided compartments that form the living quarters and the cupola. To make these compartments, I beveled the sides of each wall at 22-1/2 degrees and them glued them together using Titebond III waterproof glue. To make the assembly process manageable, a piece of masking tape was placed along the exterior side of each glue joint to hold the pieces in place. Two band clamps were then used to clamp the glued-up walls together. I have to say this process worked surprisingly well.
The most challenging aspect of making the bird houses involved the angled cuts for the walls and roof pieces. Especially the roof, which required compound miter angles. It was a definite plus that the plans provided the angles but there was still a fair amount of futzing around in terms of creating jigs and fine-tuning the jig alignment and saw blade tilt angle. Tip: cut a sacrificial set of wall pieces from scrap wood to do the jig and blade angle tinkering.
The bird house sits atop an octagonal base with a 1-1/2″ slightly recessed ledge along its perimeter. This ledge makes it easy to align the house with the base when it is lowered into position. The sides of the octagonal base were cut via a custom jig attached to the table saw sled. The recessed ledge was then cut using the tenon jig as depicted below. Note that the house is not screwed to the base – it’s held in place by it’s own weight which I would estimate is close to 10 pounds.
Almost everything about this bird house had eight sides including the mounting pole. For the pole, I took a 4″ x 4″ x 8′ long cedar post and rip cut the corners off by tilting the blade 45 degrees. The key things here are to make sure the pole is straight, all four sides are exactly the same width, and the rip fence is the proper distance from the blade. Setting the fence offset is not that tricky – if I find the time, I’ll describe the process in a follow-up article.
I painted the bird houses using Rust-Oleum spray paint. I used Heirloom White for the main structure and cupola walls, a slightly darker Sand for the finial top, base, and support brackets, and Colonial Red for the roofs. With any luck, it will last for a half-dozen years before needing a touch-up.
I put two of the bird houses in my back yard about 120 yards apart at a height of approximately 6 feet. Now, it’s up to the birds to make an appearance and take up residence. Since I didn’t get the houses up until summer time, I may have to wait until next year for this to happen. Meanwhile, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that the birds approve of my handiwork…