Miniature Birdhouse Build

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Blog entry by Jonathan posted 08-01-2011 08:07 PM 2992 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I wanted to enter the most recent LJ Contest entitled “Birds of a Feather.” At first, I was going to build a bandsaw box birdhouse, but after the initial glue-up and planning stage, decided against it. I couldn’t find anything like what I was going to do, but it just seemed mundane. I may still eventually try out that design, but I decided to go a different direction for the contest. Around the same time, I had been viewing some of the tiny bandsaw boxes that various members have posted recently, and thought about building one of those. Then the idea popped into my head to build a miniature birdhouse. So, that’s exactly what I decided to do: build a Miniature Birdhouse.

So, the seed was planted. Now I needed to start doing a little research.

I thought I’d put as much detail into this tiny birdhouse as possible. I basically built it like I would build a larger-sized birdhouse, meant to actually be inhabited. There are certain things that seemed to surface in my research about what to do, and what not to do when building a birdhouse.

A few of the things I found that were recommended were:
-sizing the house according to the species you want to house, including the size of the box, the size of the hole, the placement of the hole from the bottom of the box
-having a little overhang to help keep water out
-having at least one drain hole in the bottom of the house to allow any water that may get in, a way out
-vent holes, so the occupants don’t get too hot inside
-include an access point, so that the inside of the house can be cleaned out between hatches, either via a removable side panel, top, or bottom

A few things I found that were supposedly bad ideas to incorporate into a birdhouse were:
-do not apply any sort of finish to the inside of the birdhouse
-do not sand or plane the inside of the box too smooth, so the birds can grab on to the side of the box to get out
-do not include the ever-popular perch just outside the door, as it gives predatory birds a perfect place to land and then hunt around inside

The list of things of what not to do seemed pretty easy… I’d simply leave them out. Now, how am I going to include everything that is in the suggested items though, if this house is well under 1-inch tall? So I gave it some thought, and figured out a way to include everything, accept for the vent holes. I thought I had that figured out, but once I attached the cork to the lid as the locking point, the vent holes would’ve merely been ornamental, and not actually functional, so I decided to leave them out. There is no bird that would even come close to fitting in this house. Someone commented that this would be best suited as a mosquito house, which is more the size of it. I figured if there was a bird small enough to live in this house, it would need all the help it could get to stay warm!

Enough of the back story; let’s get down to the build.

I had all of the rough details worked out: I’d basically rip some scrap very thin, then miter the corners of the stock, glue it up, add the bottom for stability and somewhere to hold while working on the other details, add miter keys, drill my holes, make the lid, drill the alignment hole into the lid, make a locking dowel, do any last-minute sanding, clean the piece off, and add finish. Basically the steps you might do on a regular-sized birdhouse, only done with tweezers, a magnifying headset, CA glue, using my fingers as clamps, and trying not to lose the thing in the process!

I decided I was going to use hard maple for the main carcass, then add walnut for the miter keys as an extra design detail (not to mention all the added joint strength it would lend!), and use ebony for the bottom and roof for both strength, contrast of color, and it’s extremely small pores which would lend water impermeability.

I had some edge-grain hard maple with a nice fleck pattern to it that I thought would look attractive, so I fired up the table saw and cut a 45-degree edge on each side of a small scrap piece that was about 3/32”-thick. I then used my flush trim saw to crosscut the pieces to around 1-inch. I wanted a little extra length so that I had some room to play with on the ends, as I wasn’t sure exactly how tall this was going to be yet.

Here’s a shot at the very beginning of the game of some of the tools needed (I didn’t end up using the beetle-kill pine, but thought it might be good for the miter keys):

Here’s a shot of the side pieces after cutting them down to size, with the razor blade in the picture for scale:

Here’s a shot of the mitered sides that will face the inside of the birdhouse:

I glued-up the sides, 2-at-a-time, before joining them together. I ran a small bead of CA glue down one side, then stuck the 2-pieces together and held them for at least 30-seconds with finger pressure. I actually took a piece of painter’s tape and ran it along the edge of the Incra measuring tool seen in the photo, but I guess I didn’t get a shot of it. I would hold one piece a little over the edge, then slide the other piece up to meet it, align them, and hold it in-place to dry. This worked well, as it was a squared surface, but had a rounded edge, so that there was a little air space and the glue wouldn’t stick to the edge:

After letting the 2-halves dry, I then needed to run 2-beads of glue and squeeze the sides together. It turned out OK, except for the fact that there was a tiny bit of squeeze-out on one edge, so my thumb instantly attached itself to the wood. I decided it was stuck at that point, and continued to hold the little box together. After 30-seconds, I went and got some acetone. Thought I’d try that first, as I didn’t want oil to absorb into the wood. The acetone did not work. So, I got out the vegetable oil and dipped a q-tip in it and rubbed it around my thumb, gently trying to free it. After a bit of coercion, it came free. I probably should’ve used mineral oil, but didn’t think about. Oh well.

Here’s a shot after pulling my thumb off of it, then sanding the ends down (not yet square):

Next I used CA glue and glued-on a little piece of ebony for the bottom. I left it intentially long, so that it would provide a little strength during assembly, but more importantly, it gave me something to hold onto! I also drew the lines for the miter key location on, using the Incra measuring gauge to draw them:

I took a scrap piece of the same maple I cut the sides out of and experimented with various saw blades to see what sized-kerf I wanted to create for the keys. I tried the bandsaw blade, which was too wide, not to mention, a bit hairy to use… I could see it ending badly! I also tried my flush trim saw, but that kerf line seemed maybe a touch too narrow. The coping saw I had would have to do, even though it was a bit dull.

Here’s a shot after beginning to cut the slots for the miter keys:

I ended up going slightly too deep on a couple of the lines, so I tried to even all of them out, with the middle and bottom kerfs being slightly deeper, which was good, because it gave me added surface area for the glue, as well as a little more “wiggle room” for the final sanding:

With the kerfs ready to accept the keys, I ripped a few thin strips of walnut at various thicknesses using the tablesaw, then cut them into individual pieces on the bandsaw:

With the keys ready, I got out some surgical tweezer/clamps and an acid brush that I trimmed the bristles way down on. I test-fit each key before gluing it in, trying to find a fairly tight fit, reasoning that the glue would swell just enough to secure it all. I started at the bottom of each row, held the key with the clamps, applied a dab of glue to both sides and the edge, slid the key into the slot, then checked to make sure that both corners were in full-contact and that there were no gaps present. I used my magnifying headset to double-check for no gaps:

One key was slightly too thin, so you can see the sliver I added in to fill the gap. It was basically a shaving of walnut to fill the gap. This is also another decent shot of the mitered corners:

At this point, I didn’t take too many more pictures until near the end, as it was basically just sanding. The one thing I can tell you is don’t try to trim the keys on the bandsaw! Not a good idea! I tried to do it and 2-of the keys snapped on a grain line, just below the surface, while 2-more completely blew out. I glued in fresh pieces with CA glue on the 2-keys that blew out. I ended up sanding them down close to flush on my Ridgid combo sander, then clamped sandpaper down to my bandsaw table and handsanded everything from there. By the time I got the walls to the thickness I wanted, I had just gone past the tearout on the keys so they were now fine.

At this point, I needed to drill the holes. I needed to drill the entry hole on the front at 5/64”, then 2-smaller holes up near the top of the edge for the dowel to slide through to lock the lid in place, at 1/16”. I again used a scrap piece of the same maple to drill variously-sized holes through, seeing how close to the edge I could get without any issues.

I also took a wine cork and cut a small little block out of it with a razor blade, then trimmed it with an Xacto knife, then glued it to the piece of ebony for the roof. Before gluing the cork on, I got the ebony to the size and shape I wanted for the roof, then sanded it through 120-150-220-320-400-600, then burnished it with 0000 steel wool. I used a little dab of CA glue to attach the cork to the roof, again using finger pressure.

After letting this dry, I slid the roof on and used the same 1/16” drill bit to drill a hole through the cork, creating a through hole for the dowel to slide into. Unfortunately, I didn’t have brad point bits that were small enough for the side holes or entry hole, so the holes are slightly off. Normally, you wouldn’t notice, but on a piece this small, it is noticeable to me.

Would you believe that a little round toothpick was actually too big to use for the dowel?! It was 3/32”, so
I sanded it down until it fit snugly in the hole and slid all the way through. I sanded the dowel to 320-grit. I then trimmed the bottom of the cork down a bit more with the Xacto knife, as it was visible through the entry hole, basically blocking entry.

Now that I no longer needed all that extra ebony on the bottom to hold onto, I sanded it down until it was the same thickness as the roof for symmetry. If I remember correctly they’re both 5/64” thick.

I then gave one last little sanding up through 320-grit on the sides. I also ran the bottom piece of ebony through the same grits as the roof, following by burnishing it all with 0000 steel wool.

Here’s a shot of everything assembled, before applying the finish:

I used Bullseye rattle can dewaxed shellac for the finish, then wiped it over with a little shellac and denatured alcohol to smooth everything out. I could probably go over it once more to blend everything smooth, but literally finished this right before the contest entry deadline.

I learned several things along the way on this one, and got to use a couple of joinery techniques I had never done before, so this was a good little project that I enjoyed building. The miter joints and miter keys were new to me.

-- Jonathan, Denver, CO "Constructive criticism is welcome and valued as it gives me new perspectives and helps me to advance as a woodworker."

2 comments so far

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 4521 days

#1 posted 08-02-2011 01:39 AM

Amazing…My eyes could not even see anything that small to attempt building it. Time to find a tiny bird now.

View Jonathan's profile


2609 posts in 4263 days

#2 posted 08-02-2011 01:30 PM

Greg, thank you. I bet if there was a bird this small, the tables would be turned, and the bugs would start eating the birds!

Surprisingly, I didn’t have to use the magnifying headset all that much. I used it the most during the spline/key additions.

-- Jonathan, Denver, CO "Constructive criticism is welcome and valued as it gives me new perspectives and helps me to advance as a woodworker."

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