Country Church Birdhouse

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This article is from Issue 39 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Where birds of “pray” call home

By Gary Carter

Overall dimensions: 81⁄2"w × 121⁄4"d × 16"h

The nostalgic charm and sensible construction of this heavenly sanctuary will surely have the neighborhood flock singing its praises. Features include a removable top for easy cleaning, rabbet-tenon-and-groove joinery, Gothic windows and steeple, clapboard-like siding, and a textured roof to mimic shingles. I’ll show you how to create these and other details, making your fine-feathered friends feel right at home.

Note: I made my birdhouse from a 3⁄4" × 10" × 10' piece of cedar, but poplar, cypress, redwood, or pine work equally well. While the hole is sized for bluebirds, see “Hole Sizes For Favorite Birds” to attract birds of a different feather.

Build the box

1 From 3⁄4" stock, rip a 3⁄4 × 3⁄4 × 22" piece for the corner moldings (A). Install a 1⁄4" dado set in your tablesaw; raise it to 1⁄4". Now set the fence 1⁄8" from the dado set and cut grooves into the corner stock on adjacent faces as shown in Photo A. See also the Corner Detail in Figure 1. From this stock, crosscut four corner moldings to 47⁄8" long.

2 Mill two pieces of cedar to 1⁄2 × 6 × 24" for the short walls (B), long walls (C), and gable walls (D).

3 To create the lap-siding effect on the walls (B,C, D), install a standard blade in your tablesaw and rip the 1⁄2"-thick boards in Step 1 to 47⁄8" wide. Mark one edge of each board “top.” Now, lower the blade to 1⁄32" above the table and tilt it to 45°. Lay down a strip of painter’s tape in front of the blade and perpendicular to the miter slots. Starting where the blade cutline intersects the tape, lay out 13 lines at 3⁄8" increments for a quick reference to help position the fence. (You’ll make a slight bevel cut on the top edge of the sides, and 12 on the sides; the gable ends have 9.)

4 Move the fence 3⁄8"from the blade and make the first bevel or V-cut up from the bottom edge of both workpieces. Adjust the fence another 3⁄8", aligning the top edge of the workpiece with an alignment mark on the tape, and cut the next bevel or V-cut. Do the second piece. Continue cutting and shifting the fence (Photo B) until you’ve cut all of the V-cuts on the board faces.

After grooving on one face of the molding, flip the piece end for end and rip the adjacent groove.

5 Cut the short walls (B), long walls (C), and gable walls (D) to the lengths in the Cut List. Next, rip the gable walls to 33⁄4" wide and miter as shown in Figure 1.

6 Install a 1⁄4" dado set, adjust the height to 1⁄4", and, with the V-cut lap siding faces up, cut the rabbets on the ends of the short walls (B) and the long walls (C) as shown in Photo C, creating 1⁄4" tenons. Test their fit in the grooves in corner moldings (A). Set them aside.

7 From 3⁄4" stock, cut the base (E) to size and mark the location of the 1⁄4" drainage holes (Figure 1). Rout a 3⁄8" round-over along the top face at the ends and edges.

8 To make the lid supports (F), rip a pair of 1⁄4" strips from a piece of 3⁄4" stock. Later, you’ll cut them to final length when fitting them between the corner moldings (A) during the box assembly. 

Make the V-cuts on the wall stock, aligning the top edge of the stock with the alignment marks on the tape.
With a miter gauge extension fence for support, cut the rabbets on the inside faces of the short and long walls.

Save time by stack-cutting windows in groups of two, following the established cutlines on the pattern.

9 Mill a 21⁄2 × 32" piece of cedar to 1⁄4"-thick for the door (G) and seven windows (H). Make four copies of the door and window patterns on page 74. Scissor out and spray-adhere a door pattern to the stock at one end, aligning the bottom and side of pattern with the workpiece. Crosscut this door blank to separate it from the stock. Now rip the remaining stock to 21⁄8", the width of the windows. Crosscut it into seven pieces of equal length. Tape three sets of two blanks together with double-faced tape, and apply the window patterns to the top piece of each set and to the remaining window blank. Set these blanks aside to scrollsaw later.

10 Plane stock for the interior lid (I) to 1⁄2"-thick and cut the part to size.

11 Chuck a 11⁄2" Forstner or spade bit in your drill press, and drill the entry holes through the front short wall (B) where shown in Figure 1 and the blank for the door (G). Back the workpieces to avoid tear-out. Switch to a 3⁄8" bit, and drill a centered blade start hole in the back short wall (B) 21⁄2" up from the bottom edge for the ventilation hole. Drill the holes through the windows (H) and blade start holes in the window pane areas. Switch to a 1⁄4" bit and drill the drainage holes in the base (E), and the dowel hole in the lid (I).

12 Scrollsaw the door (G) to shape. Stack-cut the blanks for the windows (H) by first cutting out the panes (Photo D). Cut the outside edges; then sand all edges smooth. Now separate the taped windows, and use one as a template to define the air vent in the back short wall (B). Staying 1⁄4" within the template line, scrollsaw this opening, using the blade start hole drilled earlier. Scrollsaw the notched corners on the lid (I).

Use a 3⁄8" dado set angled at 5° to create the shingled roof look.

13 Using an exterior glue, assemble and clamp the corner moldings (A) to the walls (B, C), ensuring that the molding ends and wall edges are flush. Cut to fit and attach the lid supports (F) with glue and/or pin-nails where shown in Figure 1. Add the dowel to the lid (I) for use as a handle to raise the top. Now center the assembly on the base (E) and scribe around it (inside and out). Separate the base, and then locate and drill countersunk 1⁄8" pilot holes at each corner location from the bottom face. Turn the assembly and base upside down, and, guiding on the pilot holes, drill holes into the corner moldings. Attach the base with four #8 × 11⁄2" stainless steel screws.

Add the roof and steeple

1 Plane a 6 × 25" piece of cedar to 1⁄2" thick for the roof blank. Mark one edge “top” and one “bottom.” Next, install a 3⁄8" dado set and raise it 1⁄16" high. Angle the set at 5°. Again, use painter’s tape with alignment marks (5⁄16" apart) to create a gauge, and slide the sacrificial fence to the dado set. Beginning at the bottom edge, make the first shingle cut along the blank. As shown in Photo E, continue moving the fence and cutting until the blank is textured with shingle lines from edge to edge (Inset).

2 Crosscut two pieces from the roof blank to 121⁄4" long. Set one aside for the left roof (J). Rip the remaining piece to 51⁄2" for the right roof (K).

3 Crosscut a 6"-wide piece of 3⁄4" cedar to 10". Bevel-rip one edge at 45°. Move the fence 11⁄2" over toward the blade, and flip the piece over end for end and onto its opposite face. Now make a second bevel cut, separating the triangular roof ridge (L) which serves mostly as a fortifying glue-block (see Figure 1).

4 Bevel-rip the remaining edge of the workpiece used in Step 3. Adjust the blade to 90°, adjust the fence 11⁄4" from the blade, and rip the two roof plates (M), one from each edge.

5 Center the roof plates (M) atop the corner moldings/long walls (A/C) with the beveled edge up and flush with the outside face of the corner moldings (A). Clamp them into position, and, using a handheld drill, bore two 1⁄4"-diameter holes where shown in Figure 1, through each plate and 1⁄2" deep into the walls. Remove the plates and widen their holes to 9⁄32". Cut the wall dowels, chamfer the exposed ends, and glue them in place.

6 Face-glue and clamp four pieces of 3⁄4 × 3 × 12" cedar together. Let dry. Joint one edge; then rip and crosscut the glue-up to 21⁄2 × 21⁄2 × 7" for the bell tower and steeple blank. Follow the five-step sequence in Figure 2 to form the bell tower and steeple (N).

7 Referring to the Roof End View in Figure 1, glue (and pin-nail) the left roof (J) to the right roof (K). Locate, glue, and pin the gable walls (D) in place. Now, glue and tack on the ridge (L) and roof plates (M). Let dry. Test-fit the roof assembly by aligning the dowels in the long walls (C) with the holes in the roof plates. This arrangement lets you easily lift off the roof and lid for cleaning.

8 Position the bell tower and steeple (N) on the roof assembly (Figure 1). Now, drill a 1⁄8" pilot hole through the assembly and into the part.

9 Paint only the exposed surfaces of the birdhouse. I primed the surfaces then sprayed them with two coats of gray, white, hunter green, and flat black exterior enamel where shown in the photo on page 58. I applied an exterior polyurethane topcoat to the roof.

10 Finally, locate the door (G) and windows (H) and epoxy and nail them in place. Center and screw on the pipe flange, and reattach the base (E) to the box assembly. Screw on the bell tower and steeple (N), drop in the lid (I), and fit on roof assembly. You’re done!

About Our Designer/Builder

Gary Carter of Harrisville, West Virginia, has been an ongoing contributor, specializing in early-American furniture and decorative arts. See his Web site at country-cabinetmaker.com.

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