Build a Classic Birdhouse

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This is the perfect project on which to cut your woodworking teeth.
This is the perfect project on which to cut your woodworking teeth.
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“The Useful Book: 201 Life Skills They Used to Teach in Home Ec and Shop” by Sharon and David Bowers.
“The Useful Book: 201 Life Skills They Used to Teach in Home Ec and Shop” by Sharon and David Bowers.

Sharon and David Bowers have written The Useful Book (Workman Publishing, 2016), a veritable encyclopedia of do-it-yourself — whatever “it” is, learn to cook it, build it, sew it, clean it, or repair it. Not only do the authors walk you step-by-step through handy repairs and projects, but they include illustrations, charts, and lists to keep their explanations simple and accessible. Like a shop teacher and a home economics teacher combined in print form, this book will have you prepared for anything!

You can purchase this book form the Capper’s Farmer store: The Useful Book.

A bird could probably live in just about any box that keeps it warm and dry, but if you decide to put one in your yard, why not give it a bit of charm? Here it is: the classic birdhouse. The perfect project on which to cut your woodworking teeth. Your woodworking skills will build on each other, like stacking stones for a tower. At the base of this tower are measuring, cutting, and nailing, so as you work on this project, focus on getting these essential skills just right. The first rule of woodworking is “measure twice; cut once.” Take your time in preparation and assembly will be easy.


• Pencil
• Tape measure
• Ruler or carpenter’s square
• 2 bar clamps
• Jigsaw or handsaw
• Drill
• Spade bit
• 1/2″ bit (for optional perch)
• Hammer
• Paintbrush
• Safety goggles


• One 6-foot, 1 x 8-inch, cedar or pine board
• Fifty 1-1/4-inch finishing nails
• One 4 x 1/2-inch dowel (optional)
• Wood glue
• Paint, polyurethane, or varnish finish
• Galvanized wire


1. Start by drawing the shapes of your largest pieces, the front and back, onto the board. Lay the 1 x 8-inch board on a flat surface and hook the metal end of your tape measure on a long edge of the board, near one end. The front and back of your birdhouse will be 7-1/4 inches wide, so measure exactly 7-1/4 inches on the short (8-inch) edge and make a small tick mark with your pencil. Each piece will be 9-1/2 inches tall, so use the tape measure to measure and mark 19 inches along the long edge of the board. At the 19-inch mark, line up the carpenter’s square along the bottom of the board so one side of the L points exactly perpendicularly across it. Draw a line all the way across the board. Measure along this line, and make a mark at exactly 7-1/4 inches. Use the long edge of the carpenter’s square to draw a line connecting your two marks at 7-1/4 inches. You will have a 7-1/4-inch x 19-inch box.

2. Use the tape measure to make a mark in the middle of the long box, at 9-1/2 inches. Use the L of the carpenter’s square to draw a line across the board at this point, splitting the box into two halves. To draw the triangular peaks of your birdhouse, measure 5-7/8 inches along each of the 9-1/2-inch edges. Make another mark in the exact center of the 7-1/4-inch width, at 3-5/8 inches. Now draw diagonal lines connecting the edge mark at 5-7/8 inches, with the center mark at 3-5/8 inches. You should have now drawn the front and back of the birdhouse.

3. Measure and draw two pieces for the roof. One roof face will be 7 x 6-1/2 inches. Measure 7 inches from the farthest line you drew in the previous step. Then measure 6-1/2 inches across the width of the board. Use the carpenter’s square to draw the sides of the 7 x 6-1/2-inch rectangle. The other roof face will be shorter — 6-1/2 x 6-1/4 inches. As before, measure 6-1/2 inches up from the farthest pencil line. Then measure 6-1/4 inches down the board and use the carpenter’s square to draw the sides of your rectangle.

4. The two sides and the bottom of the birdhouse will all be 5-3/4 x 4-inch rectangles. Measure 5-3/4 inches from the last line you drew, 4 inches across the width of the board, and use the carpenter’s square as before to draw the sides. Repeat for all three pieces.

5. Now it’s time to cut. Clamp your board to a fixed surface like a workbench, making sure that your first cutting line doesn’t overlap the bench. Keep in mind that you will start by cutting the end you marked in Step 1. Put on your safety goggles and line up your jigsaw or handsaw at the end of your board, at the 7-1/4-inch line. If you like, lay the carpenter’s square or a metal ruler parallel to the line to guide the saw. Keeping the face of the saw tight against the board, cut straight to the 19-inch line and then stop.

6. Unclamp, adjust and reclamp the board to free up the lines at 9-1/2 inches and 19 inches, and then cut the front and back of your birdhouse. Clamp these cut pieces to your workbench to make the diagonal cuts, as marked.

7. Continue adjusting and clamping the board and making one straight cut at a time, eventually freeing all your birdhouse pieces from the board.

8. Use a drill fitted with a spade bit to cut an entrance circle in one of the identical faces. (To add a perch, drill a smaller hole right below it and add a piece of 1/2-inch dowel.)

9. Assemble the four walls your birdhouse. Run a thin line of wood glue along the 5-3/4-inch edges of your two side pieces and attach them to the front and back pieces. Let the glue dry until it’s tacky and then use three finishing nails along each edge.

10. Attach the floor. Place the floor piece about 1/2 inch up from the base of the house walls. Glue it to hold it temporarily in place. After the glue has dried, nail it into place with three evenly spaced nails on each side. Make sure the nails from the wall hit the edge of the floor.

11. Add the roof faces. Glue along the top of the walls and place the 6-1/2 x 6-1/4-inch piece in place against the glue so that it ends flush with the top of the roof angle. Use three nails to fix the roof panel permanently in place. Then use three nails to add the 7 x 6-1/2-inch piece so that it overlaps and ends flush with the shorter piece.

12. Finish and hang. Use an outdoor (oil-based) paint or clear finish to protect it from the elements. Drill two holes in the back of each of the two side walls, just below the edge of the roof and above the base. Thread a piece of wire horizontally through the two higher holes and another through the two lower ones, then tie the birdhouse securely around a tree or fencepost, preferably facing east.

Drill Bits and How to Use Them

As with any choice you make in woodworking, material matters: You may need a different type of drill bit depending on what you’re boring holes in. Steel bits work well in softwood but don’t hold up as well against hardwood. Their cousin, high-speed steel bits, are so named because they can withstand higher temperatures than other types of steel — and thus will cut through materials like wood, fiberglass, PVC, and soft metals faster. Even tougher than high-speed steel is titanium-coated HSS, and moving up the spectrum, the hardest drill bits — carbide-tipped — are primarily used for tile and masonry. They stay sharp a long time! When you’re inserting the bit into the drill chuck, make sure the shaft is straight and then tighten the chuck around it well.

Twist bits. The most common type of bit, twist bits are the kind you probably got in a starter set of bits. Twist bits are an all-purpose bit that can be used in just about any material. The spiral groove — or flute — helps to remove sawdust from the hole as you go.

Spade bits. These bits (they’re not the kind for horses) have a pointy tip in the center of a flat edge, and they’re made for ripping quick holes through soft wood. They can leave ragged edges but get the job done quickly.

Auger bits. Auger bits look a little bit like thinner twist bits but have a tip that starts the drill hole for you. Augers were the bit of choice when hand-powered drills were in style because they require less torque and are easy to turn. They are typically used for drilling deep holes in wood (the large flute gets chaff out of the hole easily).

Countersink bits. Sometimes called screw pilot bits, these are specialty bits that look like a regular bit with a sheath around the base. This type of bit is a multitasker — it drills a pilot hole, so you don’t split the wood when you put in a screw — at the same time as it drills a countersink hole, a conical hole that allows you to conceal the head of the screw with sawdust or a wooden plug, lending the whole project a more refined look.

More from The Useful Book:

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Reprinted with permission from The Useful Book: 201 Life Skills They Used to Teach in Home Ec and Shop by Sharon and David Bowers, published by Workman Publishing Co., 2016. Buy this book from our store: The Useful Book.