Building a Birdhouse: The Perfect Way to Reuse Old Lumber and Salvaged Wood
This rustic birdhouse was made from an old pallet and other pieces of salvaged wood. The ends and bottom pieces of the birdhouse were cut from a cedar corner board removed during a remodeling job, and I salvaged the milled side pieces from the railings of a cedar play set. A few slats from an old pallet provided the roof pieces and door trim, and the metal stars tacked to each of the ends are re-purposed Christmas ornaments.
Designed to attract robins, the birdhouse resembles an old barn or rustic farm stable. The aged wood adds a nice weathered patina from years spent outdoors. In the winter, small birds use the birdhouse to take refuge from the snow and chilling winds.
Building a birdhouse requires only basic woodworking skills and hand tools, and using salvaged wood keeps usable lumber out of the landfill. And because I salvaged all of the wood for this project, the cost of the lumber is $0.
How to Inspect and Clean Old Wood
Salvaged and reclaimed lumber is often weathered, dirty and damp. Clean off the old wood with a stiff bristle brush to remove any dirt or loose paint. If the wood was found outdoors, bring it inside and let the lumber acclimate in the shop or garage for several days to remove any moisture. Most salvaged lumber has already lost its original moisture, but the wood may be damp from exposure to rain or snow.
Inspect the wood carefully for nails, screws or any other foreign objects that can damage cutting edges and cause injuries. A metal detector is very useful for finding and removing bits of steel and iron. Mark the usable sections of lumber, and cut away split or damaged sections.
- The exact size of this nest box is not critical, and you can change the dimensions to accommodate the pieces of salvaged wood in your lumber bin. This design can be easily adapted into a platform-style bird feeder to attract cardinals and mourning doves, or into a birdhouse for cavity-nesting birds such as wrens and chickadees.
How to Assemble the Birdhouse
Cut the reclaimed wood into the following dimensions:
- Ends – 4 ½" W x 9 ¾" L (two needed)
- Sides – 14" L x 3 ¾" W (four needed)
- Bottom – 12 ¼" L x 4 ½" W
- Roof Sections – 15 ¼" L x 3 ¼" W x 3/8" Thick
- Mark and cut the end pieces to form the 45-degree gables for the roof. Rip one edge of the side pieces to match the 45-degree slope of the roofline. Position the sides together with the end pieces. The exact height of the end pieces is determined by the combined width of the side pieces. In this case, after milling the 45° bevel, the sides are 7 ½" high.
- With weatherproof nails or screws, attach the sides to the end pieces, taking care to line up the beveled edges at the top as well as the bottom edges.
- Measure and mark out the opening for the nesting shelf, then use a jigsaw to cut out the opening. Use a rasp, file, or sandpaper to round over the edges and smooth out the curved top of the opening.
- Cut off the tips of the corners on the bottom piece to allow the birdhouse to drain. Press the bottom piece into place inside of the end and side pieces, and then secure it with nails or screws.
- Lay out the first layer of roof slats, starting at the peak of the roofline and then working down towards the side. The roof slats should overhang the side by about 1 ½" but the exact size is not critical. It is more important the roofline and overhang fit the birdhouse and look good to you. Depending on the width of the slats, it may be necessary to cut the width of a slat to fit properly. Nail the slats into place.
- Repeat the layout of the slats on the second side, overlapping the edge of the top slat on the first side as shown in the diagram.
- Lay out the second layer of roofing slats, using care to overlap any joints on the lower level. Rip the roof slats to the proper width to accommodate the overlap, and to keep both sides of the roof even.
- Cut the door trim from sections of leftover roof slats. The uprights are cut long enough to raise the cross member above the curved opening, forming the recessed doorway detail. Nail the trim pieces in place.
- For a little extra country charm, tack a couple of metal stars or similar found objects to the ends. In this case, I left the painted white board exposed and added a blue and a red star to each end for a patriotic theme.
Build a Little Hanging Birdhouse From Salvaged Wood
An exterior cedar trim board was rescued from a remodeling job and provided enough wood for the birdhouse, and the roof slats were cut from a lightweight shipping pallet.
Finding reclaimed wood is relatively easy but it can take some time and effort to convert an old board into useable lumber. The old wood must be cleaned, metal screws and nails removed, and any split or damaged sections cut away.
Building this hanging wooden birdhouse requires only basic woodworking skills and hand tools, and re-using old wood helps to reduce the expense and keeps useable lumber out of the landfill.
The Cutting List:
Cut the wood into the following dimensions. The cedar board used to build this birdhouse was 1" thick (known as a 5/4 thickness). If using a ¾" thick stock, increase the width of the side pieces to 4 ¾" wide.
- Front – 5 ½" L x 5 ½" W
- Back – 5 ½" L x 5 ½" W
- Sides – 4 ½" W x 5 ½" L (four needed)
- Roof Sections – 8 ½" L x 3/8" Thick (widths vary from 1 ½" to 4" W and cut to fit)
- Entrance guard – 3" L x 3" W (1 ½" diameter entrance hole)
Assemble the Birdhouse
- Position the sides together to form a square as shown in the diagram. Nail or screw the side pieces together.
- Center and drill a 1 ½" hole through the front section and the entrance guard. Position the front section in place, and attach it to the sides with nails or screws. Attach the entrance guard on a bias to form a diamond shape. Then attach the back section of the wooden birdhouse.
- Lay out the first layer of roof slats, starting at the peak of the birdhouse roof and then working down towards the side. The roof slats should overhang the side by about ½". Depending on the width of the slats, it may be necessary to cut the width of a slat to fit properly. Nail the slats into place.
- Repeat the layout of the slats on the second side, overlapping the edge of the top slat on the first side as shown in the birdhouse diagram.
- Lay out the second layer of roofing slats, using care to overlap any joints on the lower level. Repeat with the third layer, again using care to overlap and joints in the layer below.
- Hang the finished wooden birdhouse using two galvanized eye bolts, screwed into the roof peak approximately 1 1/2" from each end. Use a short section of reclaimed and stripped copper electrical wire to hang the birdhouse from a tree or pole.
This Old Pallet
The ubiquitous pallet is a good source of materials that is often suitable for making into a DIY project but be selective in choosing a pallet to reclaim. Pallets are filled with nails that are difficult to remove and it often takes considerable effort to disassemble a pallet so don't waste your time with stained, dirty or broken pieces.
Look for pallets from companies with shipments from other countries—pallets are made from local lumber, and wood that might be common in one country can be desirable in another.
A Butterfly House Made From an Old Pallet
This simple butterfly house was made from pieces of mahogany that I salvaged from a shipping pallet. The reddish wood was left unfinished to weather naturally and turn to a warm silvery gray
Cut the board to the following dimensions:
- Front – 22" long x 5" wide
- Back – 22" long x 5" wide
- Sides – 19" long x 3 ½" wide (two pieces needed)
- Roof – 4" x 5 ½" (two pieces needed)
- Bottom – 3 ½" x 3 ½"
- Mounting block – 6" x 3" x 1 ½"
Mark the center of the front and back pieces, and then lay out the 30-degree angles to form the peaks at the top. Cut along the marks to form the peaks.
Lay out the entrance slots. The butterfly boxes in the diagram have six slots which are 5" long by 3/8" wide. Using a 3/8" drill bit, drill a hole at each end of the slot. Then use a jig saw to cut out the rest of the slot.
Cut the top sections with a 30-degree angle on one of the long sides as shown in the diagram. The 30-degree cuts on the top sections match up with the 30-degree cuts on the front and back sections and fit together to form the peaked roof.
Begin the assembly by attaching the front to one of the side pieces with exterior screws or nails. Align the bottom edges of both pieces before securing them together.
Attach the bottom to the front and side assembly, and then attach the back section.
Line up the remaining side with the bottom of the front and back pieces. To create a hinged door, secure the side section to the front assembly with one nail or screw driven into the edge approximately 1" down from the top. Then, finish the hinged side by driving one nail or screwing one through the back to form a pivot point. Position the hinge nails or screws in the front and back sections directly across from each other, enabling the door to open easily (refer to the side view drawing).
Drill and countersink a screw hole along the center of the bottom edge. A single short screw will secure the door, yet allow easy access to the butterfly boxes for cleaning.
Position the roof sections by attaching the pieces to the front and back sections. Do not nail the roof pieces to the side section which forms the hinged door. The butterfly box is ready for the garden, or for a brightly colored paint job.
Mount the finished garden butterfly box to a post in the garden. To use a section of ¾" copper pipe as a post, attach a small piece of wood (approximately 6" long x 3" wide x 1 ½" thick) to the inside of the butterfly house, securing it from the back with a couple of nails or screws. Drill a ¾" hole through the bottom and into the block, and then mount the butterfly box onto a section of copper pipe.
© 2011 Anthony Altorenna
Tell Us About Your Woodworking Projects
norma-holt on June 23, 2014:
Great designs and beautiful little bird houses. These are just what I need for my beautiful garden birds.
LluviaDeArte on October 21, 2013:
Really nice use of wood, thank you for writing this.
Patricia Biro from Colorado Springs, Colorado on September 22, 2013:
Beautiful rustic birdhouses! I would love any of these in my garden.
LadyDuck on May 23, 2013:
I love your birdhouse project, I will make some to add to my garden. It's nice to have birds coming to your house.
Cynthia Haltom from Diamondhead on May 23, 2013:
I love to watch and listen to the bird, a bird house is going to be one of my summer projects.
Lorelei Cohen from Canada on March 15, 2013:
Just stopped by to say I hope spring is coming to your neck of the woods. The sun is shining here and it is glorious. Definitely time to put up the bird feeders.
Smurfs LM on March 09, 2013:
I admire your creativity
Lorelei Cohen from Canada on December 01, 2012:
Your bird houses made from recycled wood are gorgeous. Recycling is so very important and many of the older woods are actually of a much higher grade wood selection than the quickly grown fast cuts of today. Recycling pays for itself time and time again.
Cynthia Sylvestermouse from United States on November 09, 2012:
Awesome instructions, as always :) Now I want a butterfly house
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on October 03, 2012:
I just wish I can make one myself.
maryLuu on August 31, 2012:
I like this lens. I found out very interesting things. I'll try to build a birdhouse with my son. Tanks for the advices!
Alexandra Douglas from Florida on August 25, 2012:
Awesome lens, thanks for sharing
Alexandra Douglas from Florida on August 25, 2012:
Awesome lens, thanks for sharing
Andrej977 LM on August 20, 2012:
Wow great lens, I will made one with my kids!Thanks for sharing this informative lens!
anonymous on June 04, 2012:
I really like how you instruct from the very beginning of a project to inspect and clean the salvaged wood first and its so important not to transfer infestations of pests like termites and powder post beetles.
VeseliDan on May 25, 2012:
Thank you for the instructions on how to make a wooden birdhouse. *blessed*
anonymous on May 23, 2012:
Very creative and original ideas. Love the idea of recycling wood for birdhouses!
Renaissance Woman from Colorado on May 17, 2012:
I love rustic birdhouses. These are so cool. I especially appreciate how you use repurposed materials. I'm thinking of decorating one room of my cabin with a birdhouse motif. Nesting is the perfect theme for a cozy cabin. Thanks for the ideas and plans!
Natalie W Schorr on April 24, 2012:
LOVE you birdhouses!
anonymous on April 12, 2012:
Peeking back in on your salvaged wood bird houses, a great way to reuse wood and have happy bird friends.
earthybirthymum from Ontario, Canada on March 07, 2012:
What a great Lense. With spring just around the corner, this is a wonderful project. Love the butterfly house! Many Blessings
Tracey Boyer from Michigan on March 07, 2012:
I love the idea of using salvaged wood to make bird houses. Thank so much for making this lovely lens !
davenjilli lm on February 27, 2012:
wonderful ideas for reusing old wood..we have a bunch of it hanging around out back that I was going to use on our recycled shed but think might have to go towards birdhouses now. *blessed*
anonymous on February 25, 2012:
I just had to stop back and take another look at your ideas and plans to build birdhouses out of scrap wood, such a wonderfully green idea and a nice way to economically provide a home for birds to raise their young safely right in our own yards. I love that you always alert us to not use treated wood. May many birds have a happy salvaged wood home in their futures!
julieannbrady on January 01, 2012:
You wouldn't believe how I risked life and limb, well maybe not all that, but I spotted a purple and yellow bird house in the back ravine. It seems the wind hand blown it down there. I rescued it ... reclaimed it. It is sitting near my patio paver project. I'm blown away by the affordability of the American Pride Butterfly House by Winston Brands.
pawpaw911 on October 18, 2011:
It is more satisfying to hang one up that you made yourself. Great lens.
JoshK47 on October 08, 2011:
Fantastic idea - helping out animals with reused materials. Great work. :)
anonymous on September 27, 2011:
What a great use for salvaged and reclaimed wood and of course your usual excellent instruction. I really like that you warn about not even considering to use wood that show sign of being termite or powder post beetles, you think of everything!