I have a metal working area behind my garage with a big vinyl tarp curtain that I roll down to protect my neighbors eyes when I weld. This spring I had some visitors in the form of a nest full of house wrens. These little guys are fearless and will build their nests almost anywhere. While I enjoyed watching the busy momma bird and the little fledglings I was a bit concerned about her precarious choice for a nesting site. It also prevented me from using the area as I didn't want to disturb them too much. I needed a solution.
I love the PVC fence material that they sell at Home Depot or Lowes. It's cheap and easy to work with and I find lots of uses for it. I decided to use it to design some birdhouses so they'd have better nesting options next year.
PVC fence post is a good material choice because it's sturdy, cheap and easy to clean. It's really easy to cut and shape, but it's tough and flexible. An 8' section of 4"x4" post costs about $16- that's $2 a foot. This project uses about 19" of material so that's 10 birdhouses per post at about $1.60 each. This would be a good scouting project or class fundraiser. This design and material makes it very easy to clean the birdhouse between uses- just remove the roof and remove the old nesting materials. This will help prevent the spread of avian mites and diseases.
Step 1: Cutting the Pieces
First, I needed a basic 'birdhouse' shape. The fence post is 4"x4"x8'. I wanted a basic house shape with a 90 degree pitched roof. I have a 10" compound miter saw. With the spindle and guard pivot there's not enough blade to cut all the way through the post, so I had to make multiple cuts. I needed to take extra care to make sure everything lines up good. I used the edge of the miter saw as a guide to align the post as I made the cuts. I made a 45 degree cut in one side of the post then flipped the post 180 degrees and made another cut. Next I rotated the blade carriage 90 degrees and flipped the post around to align the end with the left hand edge of the saw and made another cut. I rotated the post 180 degrees and made the final cut. Now I had a house shaped piece that was cut from the end of the post. I also had two wedge shaped pieces and the rest of the post with a roof shaped cut in one end. The house shape was 7" from the floor to the peak of the roof. I measured 7" on the cut end of the post and cut it off. Finally I cut a 5" piece of the post to make two roofs and two 3 7/8" pieces of scrap wood to brace the roof.
I took the 5" piece to the table saw and adjusted the blade height so it would cut into the PVC almost all the way while leaving a thin strip of material. The post is under a kind of internal tension. If you try to cut all the way through it lengthwise it will bind up on the blade and make an ugly cut. To make lengthwise cuts you have to score it with a saw and then use a utility knife to finish the job. After adjusting the blade height I set the rip fence. I want to cut the square piece into two 'L' shaped roof pieces. I set the fence just under 4" from the blade and ran each cut through from both sides. See the pic above. I used a knife to complete the cut.
Finally I used a hole saw set to make the entrance holes. I made two different sized entrances to see which one the birds preferred. I used a bit of sandpaper to clean up the edge of the hole.
Step 2: Sanding
I took everything over to the bench belt sander to clean up the edges. I rounded off the points on the floor pieces. Be careful- you'd be surprised how sharp PVC edges can get! I used sandpaper to clean up the entrance holes and went over all the internal edges to eliminate sharp places.
Step 3: Assembling the Birdhouse
Now it was time to assemble the birdhouses. First I installed the wooden roof beam. I drilled a pilot hole and secured it front and back with reclaimed screws. I drilled a hole in the back wall of the birdhouse directly inside the entrance. I'll use this hole with a long screw to attach the birdhouse to my tree.
I installed the floor with one tab tucked behind the front wall and the other overlapping the outside of the back wall. I aligned the floor piece and secured it front and back with short screws. The front edge looks smooth and the overlapped back edge will sit flat against the tree.
Finally I installed the roof piece to the roof beam with two screws. Now it's ready to be hung!
Step 4: Hanging the Birdhouse
I live in an old neighborhood that's full of trees. I have seven oaks, a grapefruit tree, a mulberry tree, a big bottle brush and a few palms. I decided to hang one of the birdhouses in a huge oak in an open area in my side yard. I hung the other one in a wild back corner. I'm planning to add a couple more on the other side of the house. I can't wait to see who moves in!
Of course I'm already thinking of how to make them better. The shiny white PVC should stay cool and be easy to clean but they could also be painted to match the house. They make a 6"x6" post that would be good for larger birds or bat boxes. You could cut gingerbread trim details out of PVC on a scroll saw for a fancier looking birdhouse. I want to find a cheap wireless camera solution so I could see the chicks as they develop. I could even incorporate an Arduino with sensors to collect data. IoB! The Internet of Birdhouses!
OK- go build a birdhouse!