Monthly Archives: May 2013

Birthday Birdhouse Feeder

We have a bird feeder that has been deteriorating over the years, and the ongoing process of patching it up has been a running gag around here.  The feeder is shaped like a little house, reminiscent of a log cabin with two porches and a pitched, gabled roof.  The string that held it up broke first, then as the wood dried out, the long, wire staples connecting the pieces of this little house together started slipping out.  I replaced the string with plastic-sheathed wire, and put screws or nails in as the staples failed.  One of the two boards that comprise the roof had split in two places, and now these separate pieces of wood are linked together with bits of flattened out metal found objects and tiny screws, looking sort of like hinges, but barely holding things together.

I decided to build a new bird feeder modeled after the old one, using redwood fence wood and 3/4 inch garden stakes.  When I started drawing up this plan, I was mistakenly thinking the wood was a 1/2 inch thick, but it is more like 3/4 inch, so the drawing is not exactly to scale.  The side walls will be made out of varying lengths of 3/4 inch garden stake wood, and the end walls under the gables will be clear Plexiglass.


I started by making the base, which has railings to keep the seed in.  The fence wood is 3-1/2″ wide, so the seven-inch wide base is two pieces of fence wood tied together by the railings.  The length of the base is 11 inches.


I used 1-1/4 inch screws on the railings to keep the screws from going all the way through the wood.  I had to adjust the length of the end pieces, so I sanded them a little to fit.


After making the base, I built the “log” walls out of six inch and eight inch pieces of redwood stakes.  I pre-drilled the clearance holes, staggering them, and leaving room for slots where the Plexiglass would go.


I used 1-1/2 inch screws, which are a bit longer than the thickness of two pieces of wood, the 3/4″ wood actually being more like 11/16″ thick.  I ran the risk of the screws going all the way through two boards and hitting the screw head two layers down, but somehow it didn’t seem to matter, probably because I don’t drill very straight.   As usual, I would drill one pilot hole and attach the first screw before drilling a second pilot hole for the second screw.


After the walls were built, it was time to cut the slots for the Plexiglass.  I used a saw in a miter box, which kept the saw straight up and down.  Still, this was an unforgiving process, requiring two cuts to be made, and then breaking out the little wall between the cuts.  It was hit or miss, but somehow I got it done.


After the walls were made, it was time to attach them to the base.  First I marked the base where the walls would go.  Since the 1-1/2 inch screws poked through the wood a little, I could press the screw points into the railings of the base to register where they would go for the next step of attaching the walls.  I drilled the clearance holes from the top of the base to get them as centered in the rails as possible.  I used 2-1/2 inch long, #8 screws, so the clearance holes were bigger than the ones for the #6 screws used elsewhere.  I would have used #6 screws for the longer screws, but #8 was all I could find at the store.


This was a tricky part, because the walls needed to be vertical when drilling the pilot holes for the 2-1/2 inch screws.  The pencil marks and registration afforded by the screw points in the side rails of the base helped locate the walls.  I did the best I could with getting the wall straight up and down.


In this picture, the screws are going in to attach the base to the walls:


I decided to put braces between the walls for later, when the gables are attached.  All the weight of the feeder transmits through the gables, so it is important that they are connected into the structure well.

Here is the feeder with the walls up and the braces in place:


I bought a piece of Plexiglass at a local glass store, and I measured and cut it to fit.  Plexiglass is similar to glass, but cutting it requires scoring a line on the surface over and over with some kind of blade and snapping it.  I used a linoleum-knife type of tool to score the Plexiglass, and snapped it by holding one side down on a box with the scored line along the edge of the box, then quickly pushing down on the overhanging side.  In some cases it didn’t break cleanly along the scored line, but I was able to snap off little pieces by grabbing them with a pair of pliers and breaking them off that way.

With the Plexiglass cut, it was time to make the gable ends.  I had planned to use the miter box to cut the 45 degree angles this step would require, but the 3-1/2″ board was too big for the miter box’s clamps, so I used the rafter square to mark the 45’s by lining-up the bottom of the board with equal numbers on the two halves of the square, 4-7/8″ in the picture below.  I marked the wood and cut the upper right hand corner off, then measured the distance for the base of the triangular gable, repeating the process above to make the second 45 degree angle cut.  One more measuring and another 45 degree cut later, and I had the two gable ends.


I thought the braces were too far away from the Plexiglass to prevent the birds from being able to climb behind the gable and into the space where the seed goes, so I decided to move the gables in a little.  This required a fair amount of care when drilling, or else the pilot holes would miss the brace pieces.  It also was not too easy to keep the gable from sliding when trying to drill through the clearance hole in the gable and into the brace.  So I used the smallest drill bit to get a pilot hole started in the brace, then once it was drilled with a small drill, increased the bit size to 5/64″ for the #6 screw pilot hole.


Even using 1-1/2 inch screws, the brace and gable were not connected that well together, so I decided to remove the gable and brace pieces and put in another screw, this one straight through the brace and into the gable to secure the two together better.

While I had the braces and gables off, I put in small brass screws to hold the Plexiglass into place.  This will keep birds from going under the Plexiglass and getting trapped in where the seed goes.


Here is a picture of a 1-1/2 inch screw going in to strengthen the connection between brace piece and gable end.  Note the slotted screw near the apex of the gable.  This is where one of the wires will attach to hold the bird feeder up.


With the gables attached, it was time to make the roof.  I had decided on nine inches for the length of the roof, but found three boards I had from before that were about 9-1/4 inches, and decided to make the roof 9-1/4″.  One more cut and I had all the pieces I needed for the roof.


I used big hinges to connect two board together to make one half of the roof.


And I used smaller hinges to connect the roof pieces to the ridge beam – made from the end of a garden stake.


I had to be careful about the placement of the smaller hinges in order to allow space for the wires that had to go through the ridge beam and tie to the slotted screws in the gables.  I filed little flat areas on the beam to make places for starting to drill the holes for the wires.  I did this very gradually, first using the smallest drill bit, and working up to 1/4″ holes.


I straightened two pieces of plastic coated wire about 13″ long, stripped back the coating, and attached them to the slotted screws.  Then I was ready to thread the wires through the roof holes and attach them to a hanger I’d made.


I made the hanger out of some really heavy steel wire I found in the garage and attached the green plastic coated wires to the hanger.  Here is the finished bird feeder suspended from a cabinet pull.


And here is the reverse angle.


Here is the feeder ready for use.  I left the pointy end of the garden stake as part of the ridge beam.  It’s a nice touch I think, and reminds me of something that might be done when building a barn, to have a place to attach a pulley for raising hay bales into the loft, or a block and tackle for pulling an engine out of an old pickup truck.  The smaller hinges function very well when putting seed into the feeder.  With the old feeder, the whole roof had to be lifted up.  The hinges make it a lot less cumbersome.