How to Build a Simple Dovecote Style Birdhouse
How to Build a Dovecote Birdhouse
I enjoy building birdhouses and at last count, there are over thirty birdhouses scattered around our yard. A variety of birds from chickadees to bluebirds to owls have moved in - even families of flying squirrels have taken up residence in my handcrafted birdhouses that I design to meet the needs of the birds.
One of my favorite birdhouses is a hexagon bluebird house that mimics the traditional dovecotes with the fancy roofs and complicated angles, but this version is much easier to build. My version has a stepped roof that is easy to make, and without any complicated roof angles. I really like how the birdhouse looks in the backyard, where it sits on top of a post in the middle of a raspberry patch.
The bluebirds like it too. Every spring, the dovecote is usually the first birdhouse to attract a pair of bluebirds, and they typically raise two broods over the summer months. We often see one of the parents perched on top of the decorative finial, scanning the gardens for potential prey. When an insect is spotted, the bird swoops down to grab its victim before returning to nest with a meal for their young.
After many years in the garden, the original dovecote birdhouse was weathered and worn and beginning to rot away. The birdhouse is located in a prominent location in our backyard garden, so it was time build a replacement. I hope the bluebirds will like the new birdhouse as much as they liked the original.
Building a round structure is beyond my weekend woodworker skill level, and even the angled roof of a traditional dovecote structure can be challenging. My solution is a simple six-side box with basic angles that are cut safely and easily using a table saw. The stepped roof consists of progressively smaller layers, stacked on top of each other to create a 'sloped' roofline. Topping it off is a decorative finial, giving the birdhouse a similar appearance to the much more elaborate dovecote.
Here's how I made my version of the dovecote birdhouse.
The Cutting List
I built my dovecote birdhouse from pine. Inexpensive, readily available at home centers in different widths and lengths, pine is also easy to work with and it takes paint and stain very well. The painted pine birdhouse will last for several years but as you can see in the photos, pine will eventually succumb to the elements. You could use cedar or redwood instead, or even mahogany or teak (the entrance guards are pieces of teak from my scrap bin).
The widest board in the workshop was 11-1/2 across, and I used this board as the starting point to determine the dimensions of the birdhouse. One section forms the base of the dovecote, and another became the first section in the stepped-up roof.
Cut pieces of wood to the following dimensions:
- Sides (Qty = 6): 9-3/4"L x 5"W
- Base: 10"L x 11-1/2"W
- Base Supports (Qty = 4): 9"L x 2-1/4"W
- Stepped Roof:
- 10"L x 11-1/2"W
- 8"L x 8"W
- 7"L x 5-1/2"W
- 5"L x 4"W
The Base and Stepped Roof sections will be cut into a hexagon shape to fit the six-side birdhouse.
The main section of the birdhouse is made up of six pieces of pine. To create the six-sided nest box, the edges of each side piece are cut at a 30-degree angle. When two of the beveled pieces are aligned side-by-side, they create a 60-degree angle. Six side pieces multiplied by six 60-degree angles creates a 360-degree hexagon shape.
The beveled side sections are cut from a 1 x 6 piece of stock that is 60" long. plank. Cut the bevels on each edge, then cut the beveled plank into 9-3/4" long sections to form the side pieces. Milling the beveled edges on a long piece of stock is easier and safer than trying to cut the bevels on short sections.
Rotate the blade over to 30 degrees, set the fence and mill the first edge of the plank. Flip the board end-for-end, reset the fence to 5", and run the piece through again to cut the bevel on the second opposite edge. Make sure the first bevel and the reset blade are oriented correctly before cutting the second bevel. As show in the photo, the inside of the board faces up to mill the bevels on both edges (the saw was turned off for the photo).
Making an Entrance
My version of the dovecote birdhouse has two compartments, each with its own entrance. The two separate nesting sections are mostly for aesthetics; bluebirds are territorial and only one pair will take up residence in the nest box. Any other birds looking for a nesting site will be aggressively driven away.
Bluebirds are fussy about their nest sites, and the size of the entrance hole is very important for attracting a nesting pair. If the entrance hole is too small, then the birds cannot get in. Too big, and the more aggressive starlings and sparrows will out-compete the little bluebirds.
Eastern Bluebirds fit easily through a 1-1/2" entrance hole. The larger Mountain Bluebirds prefer 1-9/16" diameter entrance holes.
To lay out the entrance hole, select two of the beveled sections for the entrances and then measure down about 2-1/4" from the top edge, centering the entrance hole across the width of the board. I used a 1-1/2' diameter Forsner bit to drill a hole in each of the sections.
Guarding the Entrance
The entrance guard helps keep predator from reaching into the nest box, and adds a bit of detail to the front of the birdhouse. This simple entrance guard is 3-1/4" square with another 1-1/2" hole drilled through the center. To find the center of the square quickly, line up a ruler on the diagonal across two opposite corners, and make a pencil mark near the center. Then, line up the straight edge across the opposite two corners, and draw another line near the center. The resulting "X" marks the exact center of the square.
Do not add a perch to your birdhouses. Bluebirds do not need a perch to enter the nesting box, and a perch may only make it easier for a predator to get inside.
Some Assembly Required
The nest box is essentially a cylinder, and a six-sided box can be tricky to assemble. The angles make nailing difficult and without corners to hang on to, traditional clamps won't hold the pieces together firmly until the glue sets up. The solution the versatile and inexpensive band clamp: a specialized strap that loops around the outside of the cylinder and pulls all of the pieces together.
Dry fit the pieces together by standing the pieces on end and in order, making sure to line up the pieces with the entrance hole directly across from each other. The 30-degree angle cuts should fit together nicely to form the hexagon shaped box. Using a weather-resistant glue, spread even beads along the mating edges of two pieces, and press the pieces together. Continue spreading glue on the rest of the beveled edges until all of the joints are ready for clamping.
With all of the edges glued and the hexagon loosely assembled, position the band clamp around the middle of the hexagon and slowly draw it tight. Take care to ensure that the beveled joints are aligned along the seams and all of the edges are even. The glue will take several minutes to set up, giving you time to adjust each of the six pieces until you are satisfied with the fit. Tighten up the band clamp, and set the assembly aside to cure overnight.
Step It Up
The stepped roof is easy to make. Use the assembled hexagon to lay out the cuts for the base and the largest roof section. Position the hexagon on the base with two opposite corners centered across the widest part of the board. Use a straight edge to lay out and mark the cutting lines along each side of the hexagon, keeping the distance even (about 3/4") between the side and the straight edge as you work around the nest box (please refer to the following photo).
After you have drawn out the hexagon and it extends evenly beyond each side of the cylinder, cut out the base. I used a power miter box, but a jig saw or handsaw would also work well to make the cuts.
After cutting out the largest roof piece, use it as a template to lay out the next roof section. Position the next roof on top of the hexagon, then use the straight edge to transfer the cutting lines to the piece. The resulting hexagon will be approximately 2" smaller then the base section, producing a pleasing set back when the pieces are stacked up.
Continue the process by laying out the next sections. After all of the hexagon pieces were cut out, I used a router fitted with a 3/8" round-over bit to ease all of the edges. Rounding off the edges enhances the sloped appearance, and also helps the stain to penetrate into the wood for a nicer finish.
The Pressure Fit
The dovecote is made in three sections: the roof, the nest box and the base. Each section stacks on top of the other, starting with the base section. To hold the nest box in place, I attached a simple pair of brackets made from pieces of scrap. To fit and place the brackets, position the nest box in the center of the base, taking care to line up all of the corners of the hexagons. Trace the inside of the nest box on to the base with a sharp pencil, and use the outline as a guide for sizing and shaping the brackets.
For drainage, drill several holes in the base. I took the photo (above) before drilling a half dozen 3/16" holes through the base, being careful to position the holes inside the outline of the nest box.
Position the brackets along the edges with the entrances holes; this placement makes it easy to add a divider later to separate the two chambers. Attach the brackets to the base with a couple of weather-resistant screws, and then test fit the nest box over the brackets. The fit should be snug enough to hold the nest box in place, but not so tight that you need to force the cylinder down over the brackets. If needed, you can attach the nest box to the bracket with a screw.
Repeat the process with roof. Position the nest box in the center of the large roof section, again taking care to orient the corners of the hexagons. Trace the inside of the nest box onto the roof assembly, make two more brackets and attach them to the underside of the roof. The fit should be snug enough to hold the roof in place without any screws. The pressure fit makes it easy to take the birdhouse apart for cleaning.
A Solid Foundation
The dovecote birdhouse sits on top of a square 4x4 pole. To attach the birdhouse to the pole, I made a set of brackets that wrap around the pole.
The brackets are all cut in the same shape, with an angled ends. To fit the pieces together, I cut notches half-way through each piece. Look closely are the photo, and you will see two pairs of brackets with matching notches. On one pair, the notches are cut on the longer side. On the other pair, the notches are cut on the shorter side.
Lay out the notches on both pairs of brackets. The spacing between the brackets equals the dimension of the pole that will support the birdhouse (my dimension is 3-1/2"). The other critical measurement is the width of the notch, which equals the width of the bracket (my brackets are 3/4" thick).
Cut the notches with a bandsaw or jig saw. If you measure and cut correctly, align the slots and the brackets will fit together nicely. Attach the bracket to the base section with a one screw in each bracket. To make this easy, position the bracket on the base, trace around each of the bracket pieces, and then drill a pilot hole through the outline.
The Finishing Touches
Test fit the dovecote birdhouse to make sure that all of the sections fit together. One you are satisfied with the fit, sand all of the pieces smooth to remove any saw marks and to prepare the surface for paint or stain. Even if you want to let the wood weather naturally, sanding softens the hard edges and gives the piece a finished appearance.
I used an antique stain to white-wash the nest box. The roof and entrance guards are colored with a walnut stain, and the base brackets are painted black.
After the stain dried, I nailed the entrance guards to the birdhouse. The guards are positioned on a bias to create a diamond shape, and tacked in place with small weather-resistant nails.
The new dovecote birdhouse is finished and ready for many years of service in the garden, and I think it looks pretty good. The real test comes this spring when the bluebirds return to look for nesting sites. I hope that they find the new dovecote as welcoming as the original, and they decide to move in and raise lots of baby birds.
You may have noticed that the finial is missing; as soon as I make one on the lathe (or maybe buy one at the home center), I will stain it walnut and add it to the top of the dovecote birdhouse. After all, the bluebirds need a perch to survey the landscape in search of bugs.
Do You Like the Simple Dovecote Style Birdhouse?
I'd really like your feedback. How do you think my version compares against the original design?
Ideas & Inspiration: Dovecotes
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© 2015 Anthony Altorenna