Friday, May 15, 2020

It's For the Birds

Over the past few weeks I've been busying myself with building a birdhouse, in hopes of attracting some screech owls to the neighbourhood. The idea is that they will make a meal of the neighbourhood rats and squirrels, who I have been at odds with for quite some time now.

The plans that I roughly followed called for 3/4" wood, and it just so happens that I have plenty of shitty 1x12 (3/4 by 11-1/2) shelf boards left over from the crappy shelves I ripped down in my car hole.

This worked reasonably well, but things hit a snag when I realized that the board I had selected out of the pile had so much rough live edge to it that I wouldn't actually be able to get a piece out of it large enough to make the back of the box. There also wasn't enough of it to make the sides of the box, so I supplemented some pieces from a crappy cabinet I had disassembled, to make the sides and back.

I didn't take a lot of photos of this part of the process as there's not really much to see from just chopping large bits of wood into smaller bits of wood. However, I did snap a photo after I had done the initial assembly.

I'd given the shelf boards a quick sanding before the glue-up, using biscuits for that easy alignment, easy life, but left the cabinet boards with their sickly brown varnish intact for the moment. Speaking of, I also used the bisquick joiner to cut the kerf slots below the entrance for the owl to be able to grab onto while entering the box.

Cutting out the entrance hole turned out to be an adventure. I didn't have a hole saw of the correct dimension, so I put my shiny new cordless jigsaw to work making the cut. It has an oscillating feature that allows it to more easily clear chips out of the cut, and I had turned it on to give it a test. As it turns out, this can cause the blade to self-feed rather dramatically when making tighter turns, so the hole ended up a bit lopsided before I turned the oscillating off to complete the cut.

There was a fair bit of glue squeeze-out so I did go back afterwards and give the exterior a sanding, and also bevelled the edge of the lid where it met the back. Scribed and bevelled, that is, since the boards I was using had been sitting outside for a year and had gotten quite cupped.

The two different woods blended together quite nicely once the brown finish had been disposed of. I suspect they're both the same species.

Next up was fitting the hinge. The plans called for the hinge to be surface mounted on top of the box, and while I had been taking the build philosophy of "be sloppy, the birds won't notice the difference", I felt that mounting it like that was a bit too crude even for that. So instead I mortised the hinge into the edge of the lid so it would sit flush and mostly out of sight.

The mortising process did present an interesting challenge though, as I had to make a shallow cut through the end grain of the wood to achieve it. I initially tried a few approaches with hand tools, but after struggling with that for a while I gave up and used my electric router instead. All's well that ends well, but it would be interesting to learn what sort of technique I might have been missing here.

While the directions call for leaving the wood weathered and unfinished, I decided to give my box a splash of finish to keep the wood from falling apart immediately. Had I been using cypress, cedar or redwood I would have been more comfortable with just letting it weather the elements on its own.

Watco teak oil was the name of the game in this case, since I happened to have a jug of it laying around. I'm not particularly fond of it, so it's nice to use it up on projects that I care a lot less about.

It's, uh... Orange.

Last step was to mount the box around 10+ feet off the ground in a relatively sheltered spot with south or east exposure. Luckily my chimney fits that description precisely.

And for bonus points, I set up an owl-cam to keep tabs on my new tenants, though as it's late in the nesting season now I don't expect to be hosting any until next spring.

A job well done, I think.

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