Developing our children’s love for nature is an investment that pays lifetime dividends. This easy project creates a bluebird nest box to enjoy for years. Do your homework and site the box in a location conducive to privacy-loving bluebirds. Find out what you can do to assist them as they care for a brood. These topics are beyond the scope of this article but links to informative sites are included at the end.
As with any road trip of significant length ensure all the tummies are full and the bladders are empty before the project begins. We started with a nourishing lunch of grilled burgers and hot dogs served with baked beans and fresh-squeezed lemonade. Oh, and did I mention the cupcakes with melt-in-your-mouth icing slathered on top? After lunch some team members voted to burn daylight on a nap rather than make sawdust, but after some debate we headed to the shop.
Nest boxes should be made of non-pressure treated wood. Cedar is a great choice as it weathers well and blends into nature. The 8’ boards to the right, sanded on one side and rough on the other, cost $13 each. The smooth surface facilitates painting if you plan to decorate your box with a team logo or turn it into an old Mail Pouch barn. Pine or fir would also work for painted boxes.
My goal was to find the cheapest solution for non-painted bluebird boxes, and the local Home Depot offered 6’ cedar fence pickets. I dug through the pile and pulled a few winners. The thickness varies from board to board and even from end to end on the same board, but at a cost of $2.10 each I was hooked. I am not a fan of projects that break the bank or create unyielding remorse when a part is cut too short, are you? These boards are rough on all sides, and I predict the bluebirds will love them.
The aroma of cedar draws the ladies and fills their heads with visions of well-organized closets filled with shoes. We better move on fast before a new project is added to the list.
The bluebird box is a simple project. A drill and hole saw are required for cutting the access hole, but the cuts can be made with a hand saw. My shop has a chop saw and a trim gun, but I started out with a hammer, an old hand-powered miter box and a jar of nails. That early work makes me appreciate the nice tools and their associated efficiencies.
Free hint – tools make great gifts for adult children. Couple the gift with your expert training on the safe and proper use of said tools and you have passed a skill to the next generation. Dads, we aren’t going to live forever and we must pass knowledge to our children as often as we can.
The smaller drill pictured here, hereafter called The Girl Drill, belongs to my youngest, a gift from Dad as she moved into her new townhome. After working with me to install towel racks and shelves, she was off to the races doing those tasks on her own. I am proud to say that she now helps others in need of her skills.
I’m blessed with a one-track easily-derailed mind and need my ducks in a row before the shop fills with eager bluebird box builders. I cleaned up and moved a few items to clear walking space. Next I made a prototype to verify the cut list, and test my proposed assembly techniques. Of course I forgot that one side must remain moveable and had to disassemble and repeat. With this small investment of time and with a build fresh in my mind I was better prepared to guide my learners.
Clamps serve many purposes including anchoring the cut list to the work bench. As I outlined the project I had a model to serve as a visual aid.
Each bluebird box will require these pieces. (Note the fence pickets measured 5½ in width)
- 1 back 6 x 12”
- 1 front 6 x 9 ½”
- 1 fixed side 6 x 8 ¾”
- 1 swinging side 6 x 8 5/8”
- 1 top 6 x 7 ½”
- 1 bottom 6 x 5 ¼”
Measure carefully. In speaking as well as woodworking the adage to measure twice and saw once remains good advice. Now is a good time to pontificate about saw kerf and its effect on the finished piece.
Cut the six parts and place them in order for each box. If needed, label lightly with a pencil or use painter’s tape to mark the pieces. Each box requires one 6’ picket leaving enough wood to recut at least one mistake.
Use the drill and hole saw to create the access hole in the front panel. This hole should be 1½” in diameter. The likelihood of larger and undesirable birds claiming the new living quarters increases with hole size. Some self-proclaimed birding experts argue for a large hole but the bluebirds visiting our box approve the 1½” measurement.
The access hole is located 2 ½” down and at the midpoint of the front panel. In the case of the 5½” pickets the midpoint is 2¾”. The math is easy – width/2.
Daniel learned the secret of the pilot bit. Once the pilot exits the back we reversed the wood to finish drilling the hole. Unsightly tear outs are no one’s friend.
Using a Stanley 21-399 6-Inch Surform Pocket Plane (or knife or sandpaper) shave the long sides of the swinging side panel to enable smoother operation. This step is easier to complete before assembly.
The slot in the back panel is not absolutely necessary but we like the look and this feature offers a chance to introduce woodworkers to the router. The top could be screwed to the back without the slot if your shop is not yet equipped with a router. (Hint – add that item to your Christmas or birthday list.) Most of us cut slots with a back saw and chisel in shop class, right?
Be patient and use your words. Don’t assume helpers instinctively know how to use the tools, and recognize they will need extra time for some steps. I explained the router, its use and inherit dangers. Keeping fleshy parts out of all the rotating machinery is a basic shop rule. I love the faces as I explained what a sharp bit rotating at high RPM would do to the finger bone.
Daniel and Michelle practiced cutting slots on scrap wood to get the feel of the router. Michelle’s end zone celebration reflects the exhilaration of wood shop accomplishment. She’s ready to tackle the next challenge, and I say, “You go, Girl!”
Dry fit the parts and discuss assembly. I suggest the following order.
- Tack fixed side to back
- Tack front to fixed side
- Tack top to back and fixed side
- Install swinging side
- Tack bottom in place
We tacked the boxes together with the trim gun then installed 1¼” deck screws to make the assembly permanent.
With two drills in motion predrilling and screw installation become short work.
I love the painted nails. Not the usual shop picture, is it?
The swinging side pivots on 2 1¼” deck screws installed ½” from the top through the front panel and the back panel respectively. An additional screw can be added at the bottom center to serve as a handle for opening and closing the box.
The last step is to drill and install a 1¼” deck screw through the front panel and into the swinging side at a spot 2” up from the bottom. This screw becomes the lock to prevent predators and curious tourists from disturbing the nesting birds. To clean the box, simply back the screw out enough to clear the swinging side.
Daniel decided to customize his bluebird box and used the jig saw to bevel the corners. Amanda approves the modifications.
One last step is to add 4 drain holes (3/8” bit) in the corners of the bottom panel of the box. At some point, once the baby birds fledge, the box will need to be washed out to prepare for the next guests. We see two broods each summer, and sometimes three, in our box.
The finished products look great, and I am proud of my woodworkers.
Installation options depend on the site. My plan was to use 1” conduit and straps to make the boxes free-standing. The builders had other ideas.
Amanda and Daniel have a tree in a large open space near their garden and decided that was the best spot for their box.
Michelle opted to mount her new bluebird home at the end of her deck privacy fence where it will be safe from predators and curious children.
Watch your nest box to see who visits. If the chosen site does not attract the bluebirds, move it and try again. We waited 2 years for our first guests but now see a steady stream of customers.
Much birding information can be found with a web search. Here are some good starting links:
Includes plans, tips, and links to other birding sites.
Learn about the different species of bluebirds and how to attract and care for them.