When I put my raised beds in at the end of last summer, I thought it might be good to encourage beneficial insects into the garden. I wanted to encourage bees, and the offerings of bee houses online (and in stores here in the UK) disappointed me. They tended to be tall with very little overlap on the roof, meaning any rain would enter the front. They were also expensive, and small. I had some leftover pallet and feather edge from various projects, so I set about making some houses...
There are many insects you might want to encourage, and many different things in which they make their home. This Instructable is centered about building a shelter to hold these materials, but I will also run through some of the different materials you can use and what they will attract/house.
I wanted to encourage some different solitary bees, as well as provide space for ladybirds and other aphid eaters to hibernate over winter, so I wanted to make three distinct sections.
When I cut this one, I actually cut all of the pieces (with the exception of the center roof piece), then assembled them. Usually for a project this size, and especially for a one off, I would cut the pieces as I needed them. This would allow me to change the design a little on the fly, depending on warping in the scraps I'd used. Unfortunately, I was due to go to a friends to do some "craft" activities, so I took this. I'll explain it as I did it, but you might be better off assembling in my order, and measuring and cutting as you go.
As always for my projects, planning was lackluster. You probably need to read the whole thing, understand what's going on, and then give it a go. Not just follow my steps blindly.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
I made this with the materials I had to hand. I'd encourage you to do the same! This project only needs small pieces of wood. It doesn't really need any of them to match either. They don't even need to be flat, square, or perfect in any way. The scrubbier the better - the insects will love it! Play around with the design! Make something interesting! I'd love to see it if you do!
If you want to match mine exactly, you will need;
- ~42 inches of 3.5" stock
- ~36 inches of 2.75" stock
- ~8 inches of feather edge
- An engineers square
- A ruler/tape measure
- A pile of pencils
- A pile of clamps (the orange type pictured are my favourite, I find the "quick clamp" type much less stable)
- A way to cut angles (mitre saw pictured, I also used a small band saw because I'm lazy)
- A way of cutting detail when needed (I used a coping saw)
- Something to sand with (Sandpaper is fine, I used a belt sander)
- Some screws (I used 25mm drywall screws)
- Some PVA
- A drill/screwdriver
Step 2: Planning and First Cuts
I knew what I wanted here, and it wasn't hard for me to line up what I wanted with the materials I had. I wanted a base of about a foot (The wood I had was actually 11" long), and I wanted 2 small pitched roofs (one at either end), requiring one support each. The top looked very low using only one 2.75" board, so I used two. I also wanted the house to be as deep (front to back) as it could be with the materials I had, so I used 3.5" stock for the base and roof supports, and then two layers of 2.75" stock as a panel on the back. This meant that the underside of the roof peak could be 2.75+2.75-0.75 = 4.75" tall. That's twice the height of the boards on the back, minus the thickness of the base board.
I cut 4 walls from 3.5" stock with 45 degree cuts for the top, 3" at their shortest side. I used one 11" length of 3.5" stock for the base. I cut two 11" lengths of 2.75" stock for the back, and then I looked at making the roof peaks.
I cut two more lengths of 3.5" stock, each the depth of the house + 1 inch (0.75+3.5+1) = (back panel + base board + 1 inch), to give an overlap which might actually keep some rain out! I then cut two bits of 2.75" stock to the same length. These two bits would be butted up against each other to form the peaked roof, with the join off to one side. I decided to do this rather than make a 45 degree join, as then the join shouldn't take so much rain, and I don't have to be so accurate with my cuts. Also, because it fitted the wood I had, which luckily were the appropriate widths and thicknesses!
While I was cutting, I offered the pieces together dry, making sure they would all sit together well. At this point, I labelled left and right on various pieces.
Step 3: Roof Detail Planning
This bit is complicated. Bear with me, and look at the photos.
So after offering this whole thing together, the back panel sticks out from the side of the peaked roof. So lets deal with that. First, I dry fitted the base and outside walls up to the back panel. Then I drew a line onto the back panel along the angle of the wall top. Extend that line all the way to the top (photo 2). We'll cut it off soon.
First though, clamp together (or otherwise attach) the roof section for that side (photo 3). Offer the roof up to the back panel, using the line you've drawn as a guide (photo 4). Then, turn the whole arrangement over, and draw along the top of the back panel (photo 5). Next, offer up the back panel to the back of the roof section, and draw along it again. Take your set square, and draw from the diagonal line you made to the horizontal line you made (photo 6).
You should now have a piece marked out with the cuts required to make the finished roof fit over the back panel as the last photo of this step shows.
You'll notice there is a gap below the peak of the roof and the back panel. I made the walls too tall. I'll fill it later...
The eagle eyed among you may notice the extra angled bit of wood inside the left guardhouse. That's there because the wall isn't flat at the back. I made this out of odd bits of scrap pallet. The insects won't mind.
Step 4: Roof Detail Cuts
Separate step just for the cuts so that the images on the last one would be easier to flick between...
Anyway, time to make those cuts! You'll be removing the corners of the back panel piece, and removing the longer of the sections you marked out on the roof piece. If your wood is straight (not bowed) then your angles should all be 45 degrees (I wouldn't guarantee it!).
To make the angled cuts in the roof pieces, I used my mitre saw (see photos). This gives me freedom to cut 45 degrees in either direction. I then sliced most of the length off with the bandsaw, being careful not to cut off any of the section i did want. This left a small triangle of wood attached, which i took out with a coping saw. You could use a chisel, a knife, a hacksaw... whatever is to hand.
You should now have a small pile of pieces similar to mine. Congratulations! Its time to sand!
Step 5: Sanding...
I'm very lucky, and I have a belt sander. Placed upside down AND CLAMPED to a surface makes this a pretty decent platform to use for small pieces. An orbital sander is slower, but more useful when not clamped down. I haven't shown the way I clamp this sander, as it's not entirely safe. When you use powertools, be careful. A sander can and will scuff your knuckles, and rip off your fingernails. Use common sense, respect, and don't use powertools out of earshot of someone who can use a phone!
Go ahead and sand those bits of wood to a fine, smooth finish. The better you do here, the better the finish on the final product. Flat surfaces really do make a difference for joints, and for taking paint or oil!
My belt sander makes incredibly fine sawdust, and has a collection bag. This is really helpful... Don't throw the sawdust away yet!
Step 6: Assembly
Start off by gluing up your roof sections, and clamping them together. You could nail or screw them, but I prefer not to have hardware on show if possible. Don't worry about using too much glue. Let it squeeze out everywhere, and don't wipe it up yet! Wait for it to start drying, and cut it off with a sharp chisel or knife.
While these are drying, screw together your base, outside walls, and back panels. Wait for your roof sections to dry, and then attach them to the outside walls. Then you can fit your inside walls, making sure that the roof sections sit well on the back panel. I screwed the inside wall into the roof from the inside to start with, but i took that screw out and re-attached the roof from the outside. It'll be covered by the center panel later.
Because of warping in my wood, and because i cut all these sections in advance, the left hand roof split open when I attached the inner wall. I'll fill it later...
Step 7: Cutting the Last Roof Section
Once I'd finished the assembly of the main body, I then wanted to get the final panel cut. I did some measurements, and marked them out on my feather edge. I then wondered how to get the angle of the cut right, so that it would sit well on both roofs. Maths to the rescue... we can define planes and use the cross product and all of those things. Or I can tell you mine worked out at around 40 degrees plus sanding. Get a scrap of something, make a guess, and see how it fits!
I used my (well, my dads... ) bandsaw (which is older than I am...) here because it has a tipping table, and I could follow my marking while I did it. A coping saw would work, or you could use a mitre saw if you clamped the work piece in well or made a jig. However you do this, be careful. Clamp things securely, and keep your fingers away from the blades.
Once I'd cut the piece, it sat a little wonky. Not unexpected. I sanded it until I was happy enough with the fit, screwed it in place, and then got the filler...
Step 8: Plugs and Filler
I want to make it clear here that I used filler on the roof, and only the roof. Water tightness was important to me, but any other imperfections just aren't a problem here. Nail holes in the walls between 'rooms', the splits in the inner walls. The warping of the wood. Other than the water tightness, I just don't care.
There are broadly two ways to fill a hole in a piece of wood. You can cut another piece to match the hole, or you can fill it with goop. I used both.
For the peaked roof section which had split apart at the seam, I cut a small slice of the same wood, around the same thickness as the hole, but deeper, and longer. Then I glued it in place, and clamped it in tight. Once it had dried, I sanded it out.
For the edges of the center roof, I mixed up some filler of my own. I get incredibly fine dust out of my sander. Mixing it around 1:1 with PVA gives a fairly putty like filler that's good and sticky. I over filled the gaps, waited 24 hours, sanded. Over filled the gaps, waited 24 hours, sanded. As many times as you like until you get the finish you want.
This method also gives a superb colour match, but doesn't take a finish the same way as wood does. So this project got a thin coat of varnish instead of oil.
Step 9: Done!
There are some good resources out there on what to put in an insect house out there online. Give it a Google. But I'll summarise what I found;
- There are many species of solitary bees. These like various sized holes in wood/stone/earth
- There are a vast number of insects that like little holes in wood, and that hole will be bored bigger the following year for the use of something else!
- Lacewings eat aphids!! They love thin, vertical holes. paper straws are great.
- Ladybirds will hibernate in a pile of pine cones (and hibernate in big groups)
- Butterflies (which I don't want...) like vertical slits. Lots of bark is apparently good...
- Many insects will hibernate/live in straw. Get some 10mm mesh and cover the front of a section?
Get what you want, and fill those gaps with it!
My neighbour got this one, and has since filled it with bamboo and odd scraps of drilled wood. My three are a bit more mixed (and different shapes... I get bored making lots of the same!). I filled the wooden sticks with various holes with a hand drill once I'd glued them in place. I also painted mine, but only the outside (just to keep it water tight!). The insides are entirely natural. I don't want to put the bugs off!
A south facing location is best for most insects as it's warmer (at least in my hemisphere). Preferably at least a meter up to keep it out of easy reach of mice, hedgehogs and birds!