A few years ago, Todd designed this simple birdhouse from a single five-foot cedar fence board. I love this design because it’s really easy, but still has some unique character—and it can be made for $5. This birdhouse has come with us to the Northwest Flower and Garden Festival for several years now, as well as being featured on project cards in our stores. It’s been a hit because of its simple design and ease of construction.
This year, I decided I wanted to step out into more birdhouse designs and add to our collection. Now, a quick search on the internet will show you there are quite an array of birdhouse styles. Everything under the sun you could do with a birdhouse has been done, so there’s no point in trying to outdo them or think up something completely different. Instead, I decided to take the general concept of Todd’s cedar fence birdhouse to the next level. Last time, we used a $2 cedar fence board, added some flair with an asymmetrical roof, and kept it simple with no finish. This time, we’re stepping it up to a $9 cedar board that’s smoother and a bit more substantial, switching up the whole design for something more midcentury modern, and using a combination of stain and paint for a fun artistic aesthetic. This project will be a little more involved, require a few more skills, and take a little longer to do, but it’s still a super easy project and a great way to get your feet wet or get your kids involved with DIY projects.
Step 1: Design
There’s more that goes into making a birdhouse than you might expect. First, it’s important to tailor your construction to the birds in your area—or you might not get any visitors. Before I did anything else, I did some research and found this website, which I thought was a fantastic resource. It provides a list of birds that nest in birdhouses, as well as the best size, hole placement, and hanging height for each type. I used this site alongside a Washington bird guidebook to make sure I wasn’t building a birdhouse for birds that don’t even live in my neighborhood.
Our design allows room to accommodate chickadees, bushtits, pygmy and red-breasted nuthatches, tree and violet-green swallows, house and Bewick’s wrens, and western bluebirds. These birds all live in western Washington, and more specifically, the Puget Sound area. I did my best to design this birdhouse to be suitable for as many species as possible, but I highly recommend you consider the birds that spend time in your backyard. (Take note that some birds, like robins, prefer a shelf to a box. Check out the link above if you’re interested in making a nesting shelf or a birdhouse for larger bird species.)
Step 2: Cut wood
One thing I always like to keep in mind is that this cedar board is S1S2E or “surfaced one side, and two edges.” This means there’s one face that’s nice and smooth and one that’s not so smooth. Decide which side you’d like to face outward before making cuts, especially if you choose to do beveled cuts. If you'll be spray painting, you'll definitely want to be painting the smooth side.
For each of the measurements below, use a speed square to draw a straight line perpendicular to the length of the wood, then clamp your board down (use two clamps if you’re less familiar with a handsaw). When you cut each board, hold the speed square next to the handsaw to give the saw a guide for making a straight cut.
Cut three square pieces out of the one-by-eight board—to do this, measure the width of your board, then cut to that measurement lengthwise three times (each should be about 7 ¼”- 7 1/2" square). These pieces will make up the top, bottom, and back of the house. For the side of the house, cut one piece that’s ¾” shorter than a square. Next, cut one piece to 5” and one piece to 5 ¾”; these pieces will make up the front and inner sidewall of the birdhouse (if you’re comfortable with a circular saw or a miter saw, you can cut two 5” pieces with one 45-degree angle beveled cut. It makes for a nice clean edge, but it also makes assembly a little more tricky).
Step 3: Measure and drill doorway
Before cutting the doorway of the birdhouse, make sure the placement and size are suitable to the bird you’re trying to attract (see the link in step 1). The doorway should be just large enough for the bird to enter, but not large enough for predators to get to the nest. I also intentionally didn’t add a perch to this birdhouse. Research has shown that birds don’t need a landing spot to get into the house, but that it can be used by predators.
For our doorway, we laid out the front wall on our work surface—this would be the 5 ¾” piece or one of the 5” beveled pieces. We measured up from the bottom 4 ¾”, centered it side to side, and marked with a pencil. Clamp down the board on top of a scrap piece of wood so you don’t drill through your table, then drill through the mark with an appropriately sized drill bit. We used a 1 1/2" spade bit.
Step 4: Sand all the pieces
Now that all the pieces are cut and the doorway is drilled, it’s time to sand. Grab a sanding sponge and run it over all of the edges and the cut ends of the boards. Grab a piece of sandpaper to sand the doorway of the house. Because I decided to paint the inner walls, I paid special attention to them while sanding so I’d have a nice smooth surface to paint on. And it sure paid off!
Step 5: Paint the inner walls
Tape off the inside of the doorway (this is just for aesthetics) and lay out the front and side inner walls on a plastic drop cloth. Apply spray paint according to package instructions. I did my best to keep the coats light, but coated the pieces over and over again to get that smooth, glossy finish.
Step 6: Stain remaining pieces
Since the rest of the pieces aren’t being painted, I wanted to add an exterior wood stain to protect the wood and bring out the color. I used Sikkens Cetol SRD, one of my favorite exterior stains that I always have on hand. Feel free to use whatever you have, or find an exterior stain that comes in a small container.
Allow both the paint and stain to fully dry before continuing on with the assembly.
Step 7: Assemble front and side inner walls
The first step of assembly is to attach the painted pieces together. Pre-drill through the side piece (the piece without the doorway) with a countersink drill bit. I always like to use a countersink bit when I’m driving screws into cedar so close to the edge. Cedar is a very soft wood, and the head of the screw can cause splitting and damage to the surface of the wood. A countersink bit creates room for the head of the screw so this doesn’t happen. But because we’re drilling into a painted surface, make sure you don’t drill too far or you’ll end up with a ring of wood around your screw head.
Once the side is pre-drilled, secure it to the front wall with 1 ½” screws. I find working with screws is easier for this kind of project, but you can also use 1 ½” nails. Or, if you’re working with kids, you can pre-drill the holes with a 1/16” drill bit before having kids hammer the nails in. This method creates a controlled boundary for the nail while still maintaining the fun of hammering something.
Step 8: Assemble base
Next, pre-drill two holes in the bottom piece—at either end of two adjacent sides (about 3/8" away from the edge)—then secure to the back and side walls with 1 ½” screws. Secure walls to each other in the same manner.
Step 9: Attach inner and outer walls
Next, position the painted inner walls inside of the outer walls. Line up the inner walls so that they’re even on both sides and mark the placement on the base of the birdhouse with a pencil. Drill two holes into either side of the base from top to bottom on the inside of the markings (about ⅜” from the pencil line). Note: don’t drill so far that you countersink the holes.
Flip the base over and drill in the opposite direction, countersinking on this side. Reposition the inner walls and secure by driving screws up through the holes in the base. Pre-drill two holes through the sides of the outer walls, into the ends of the inner walls, and secure with screws.
Step 10: Add roof
The final step of assembly is to add the roof to the birdhouse. This roof is hinged so the birdhouse can be opened up, not to view the babies in the nest (that’s a bad idea), but to clean out the nests between seasons.
Place the roof on top of the walls, and position hinges along the seam between the back wall and the roof. Secure the hinges in place with the accompanying screws. And your birdhouse is done!
To encourage birds to flock to your birdhouse, make sure you mount it at an appropriate height and location (right next to the basketball hoop isn’t the best location).