Ornamental Turning Plans

BY ANDY BARNUM

hen a friend, and customer, asked me if I might be interested in building a few bird-houses for him, my first reaction was —Not really. But, he persisted. He wasn't after just any old birdhouse. He wanted me to reproduce a turned birdhouse that he had bought from an antique dealer. It wasn't until he brought this antique beauty out for me to see, that I changed my tune. It had a coopered body, a laminated roof and base, and spindle-turned finials. Decades of weather only added to its beauty. What a find!

Making the reproductions challenged my turning skills and my imagination. When I finished the copies, I tried my hand at birdhouse design, and I've been at it ever since.

In this article, I will explain the basic steps of building a turned birdhouse. Once you understand the process, try designing and building your own birdhouse. Come spring, you'll be hearing the grateful songs of many a winged resident.

To begin, choose your woods with an eye to the weather. Your birdhouse will need to withstand the elements. My earliest attempts were out of pine, but experience has shown me mahogany weathers well and makes a fine body, and cedar is a good choice for the roof. I now make many of my birdhouses for indoor settings—strictly ornamental—which allows me room to experiment with different kinds of wood. I like to make the finials and perches out of exotic woods. Generally, my birdhouses include a wide vari-etv of woods. I do this as a sort of celebration of the special relationship between birds and trees.

I cooper the bodies of my birdhouses. It's the least wasteful way of making the body and an interesting technique to learn in itself. Coopering, however, may

Turning That's Strictly for the Birds not appeal to every turner. There are alternative techniques that will produce a good body, for example, hollowing out a solid block on the lathe, or bandsaw-ing a body out of a log, and then gluing the kerf shut. If you decide to cooper the body together, see the sidebar on Coopering, page 20.

One word before you start working. Working on a lathe is a great pleasure—there's nothing quite like seeing your work take shape before your eyes. But, don't get so carried away that you forget to wear face protection, and use common sense. A lathe can be dangerous, so take precautions.

Building the Roof and Base

I've used several techniques for building the roof. My early efforts were simple stack laminations using 1 '/2-in. stock, turned on the lathe. After that, I experimented with segmented rings (glued-together pie-shape pieces) to conceal end grain. Now I use a different method, in which I mount a piece of V4-in. solid stock on the lathe and use a parting tool to cut a series of beveled rings out of the stock. I then glue these rings in a stack to form the roof. This may sound a little confusing, but between the photos and explanation, it should all become clear. I find stacking beveled rings to be the most economical use of materials and time, but feel free to experiment with other ways.

Start by sketching a full-scale, side view of your roof on graph paper. Then, directly above it, sketch a rectangle to represent your roof stock (before being separated into rings). Draw parallel lines upward from the roof drawing to the rectangle above to mark out where you will need to part off the rings to create the size roof you've chosen. Refer to Fig. 2, which illustrates the process.

Put a faceplate on the lathe with a waste block as

Mount your roof stock on the waste block, and hold It in place with the tail*stock center.

If you find the outside ring is rattling as you turn, tape it to the waste block.

Part off the roof rings holding your parting tool at a consistent angle. It Helps to shift back and forth between the cuts to do this.

You can use your lathe as a clamp to glue up the roof. Be sure to center the rings before you tighten the tail stock.

FIG. 1: TURNED

BIRDH0USE

If you find the outside ring is rattling as you turn, tape it to the waste block.

You can use your lathe as a clamp to glue up the roof. Be sure to center the rings before you tighten the tail stock.

wide in diameter as your roof stock. Round off the corners on your roof stock, and place it against the waste block. Next, press the tail center into the roof slock to create a friction drive. To help keep the roof stock from sliding around, I put three strips of Stik-It adhesive sandpaper on the waste block before I place the roof stock against it. (Stik-It is available from Con-stantine's, 2050 Eastchester Rd., Bronx, NY 10461, 800-223-8087.)

True up the stock, and mark out your cutting lines for the rings. Then, turn a rabbet as shown in Fig. 2 — this is where the roof will fit over the body of the bird-house. Next, part off the outer ring holding the parting tool at the angle shown in the cross section of your sketch. To part off the rings. I use a homemade '/ic-in. thick, high-speed steel parting tool lhat gives me a narrow cut. You can equally as well use a regular parting tool. As for the cut itself, I just eyeball the angle. After I've parted off the first ring, I part off the next two rings by alternating back and forth between cuts. In this way, I have a consistent angle, and then I cut these rings offal the last moment so they don't wobble as I work. You'll notice, as the rings come loose, they'll rattle around, but thev won't actually come off be-

w cause of the angle of the cut. You can tape the rings lo the waste block to keep them from rattling.

Next, you'll need to stack the rings and glue them together. I also do this on my lathe, using the tail stock as a clamp. (See phoio.) To do this, remove the rings from the lathe, and briefly sand the glue surfaces of each ring. Then, back at the lathe, turn the waste block to the diameter that fits snugly within the rabbet you turned on the largest roof ring. Place the largest ring over this waste block, then glue and stack the rings up to the smallest top disc. Move the tail-stock center against this top disc, and tap the rings until they're aligned. Tighten the tail-stock center, and

FIG. 1: TURNED

BIRDH0USE

BODY

BASE

BASE

PERCH

F1NIAL

PERCH

F1NIAL

FIG. 2: CONSTRUCTING THE ROOF AND BASE

FIG. 2: CONSTRUCTING THE ROOF AND BASE

To turn the outside of the body, mount H between waste blocks, and tape up both ends as a safety precaution. Shift the tape to the center when turning the outer ends.

leave the assembly to dry. Turn and assemble the base using the same techniques as the roof. (See Fig. 2.)

Turning the Body

The coopered body can be turned between centers. Sandwich the bodv between waste blocks the same diameter as the body. Again, I place adhesive sandpaper near the outer edge of the waste blocks to keep the body from slipping. Center the body carefully, and turn it until it's a smooth cylinder. (See photo.)

My lathe didn't come with a shield, but if yours did. this would be a good place to use it. At the very least, wear a full-face, plexiglass shield. At least one bird-house body has exploded on my lathe. Wrap strong tape around the ends while you turn the middle, and then tape the middle while turning the ends. Turn both ends of the body so they're equal in diameter. (If you plan to turn the inside, this will be important for remounting.) When you're finished, part in, but not through, at each end of the birdhouse to even up the ends of the cylinder. Finish up the cut with a saw.

Turning the inside of the body isn't really neces-

Using a long scraper, turn the inside circumference of the body.

To turn the outside of the roof, mount the rabbet in the roof over a tight-fitting waste block. Be careful not to turn the roof so thin that you break through at the rabbet.

Using a long scraper, turn the inside circumference of the body.

To turn the inside of the body, mount it within the chuck shown in Fig. 3.

To turn the inside of the body, mount it within the chuck shown in Fig. 3.

sarv. but it is an interesting exercise in chucking—and allows a better fit between the body and the base. To turn the inside of the body, you'll need to make a chuck like the one shown in the photo and in Fig. 3. Then, with a heavy-duty scraper, turn the inside of the body.

Turning the Roof

Turning the roof is easy if you only turn the outside. (If you plan to turn the inside, too, do that before you turn the outside. See next paragraph.) To set up for turning the outside, use the same waste block that you used to glue up the roof—the one that fits the rabbet inside the roof. Secure the roof with the tail stock, and turn it so that the outside has a smooth curve. Avoid turning it too thin near the rabbet. Then, if you like, you can experiment with turning a shingle pattern.

Turning the inside is a little more challenging, and I won't go into this process in depth. Let me just mention that to do this, you'll need to secure the roof in a homemade cup chuck. (See Fig. 4.) Mine is made from wood end blocks and heavy-duty, fiber shipping tube such as a Sonotube—a paper-fiber construction tube

COOPERING

c oopering is the least wasteful way to construct the body of the bird-house. Determining the number and angle of the staves takes a bit of math, but it's quite simple.

Decide the approximate outside diameter you want, and multiply by 3.14 to find the circumference. If you arc making the house for a particular type of bird. refer to the chart on Dimensions of Nesting Boxes, which lists the types of birds that use birdhouses and the appropriate dimensions for each bird. Divide the circumference by the number of staves you wish to use, and you'll get the width of each stave. In other words:

PERFECTING STAVE ANGLE

PROBLEM:

Staves meet on outside diameter, but gape on the inside.

SOLUTION:

Decrease angle of cut.

a

a

Staves meet on inside diameter, but gape on the outside.

SOLUTION:

Increase angte of cut. !_

OPTION 1:

Determing stave width when you know given body diameter: Diameter x 3.14 = Circumference, then Circumference + # Staves = Slave Width

If you know what width of stave you want, and wish to work in the opposite direction, multiply vour desired stave width times the number of

•r staves to get the approximate circumference.

OPTION 2:

Determining diameter when you know staw width: Stave Width x # Staves = Circumference then Circumference 3.14 = Diameter

turned groove,

Adhesive sandpaper in groove keeps body from slipping.

CHUCK FOR TURNING INSIDE OF BODY v«*. dn. threaded rod holds

Screw disk onto faceplate.^ ^ Body fits into shallow body between dilks*

CAP NUT

WING NUT

Cut the staves for the body on a table-saw. Make sure your fence doesn't have a gap at the bottom, bccausc the outer edge of the bevel will catch under it. If there is a gap, make an auxiliary fence that is flush with the table.

When gluing up the birdhouse body, it's easiest to glue up two halves, then make any necessary adjustments on the remaining four edges with a plane.

Fia 4: CHUCK FOR TURNING INSIDE OF ROOF

METAL FACEPLATE

HEAD-STOCK SPINDLE

6-IN. DIA. SOMOTUBE

RABBET

CAP NUT

WASHER

Jam fit roof into chuck.

BIRDHOUSE ROOF

Um the bottom of the plan« as a leveling device to plane the halves to fit.

Finally, to determine the bevel angle on the staves divide 360° by the number of staves, then divide the answer by 2.

Determining the bevel angle:

When you rip stave bevels on the tablesaw, add an auxiliary fence to close up any gap that you may have between your rip fence and your table. (This way the beveled edge of the stave will ride on and not underneath the fence.) It's a good idea to rip your stock oversize at first so you can uJiu-t the bevel and recut the staves if necessarv to fit. One technique for determining the exact bevel (since no saw is entirely accurate), is to cut a few extra staves out of scrap wood, then crosscut these into 2-in. lengths. Tape these together to form a circle—their fit will tell you how to adjust your blade angle. If the staves meet on the outside, but have gaps on the inside, decrease the angle of your blade tilt. If they meet on the inside, but have gaps on the outside, increase the angle of your blade. (See drawing.) Sometimes I get lucky and hit it on the first try. Other times endless fiddling fails to get the bevel perfect. Be sure to use a sharp blade that will give a clean joint. I use a Forrest 40-tooth combination blade, which renders a smooth cut (available from Forrest Manufacturing Co., 461 River Rd., Clifton, NJ 07014,800-733-7111).

Once you've cut the staves, you're ready to glue up the body. Cradle clamps, mini pinch dogs, and tape will all work. I've found that big automotive hose clamps produce the tightest cylinders, and tape holds everything in place until the clamps are tight.

What if, despite your best efforts, all is not

Glue up the staves using automotive hose damps, one at each end.

well? My considerable experience in this situation has revealed one good method of getting a gapless body. Using an even number of staves, leave two opposite points unglued. so when you remove the clamps, you're left with two glued-up half cylinders. (See photo.) Holding a straightedge across the halves will reveal how much to plane from each side. Finally, lay a sheet of sandpaper on a flat surface, and sand each half to a perfect fit. Glue the halves together and clamp overnight. — A.B.

Once you make one birdhouse, explore working with different woods and dimensions.

DIMENSIONS OF BIRDHOUSES

Floor Depth Entrance Dia. Height of of above of above

Species cavity cavity floor entrance ground

Inches Inches Inches Inches Feet

Floor Depth Entrance Dia. Height of of above of above

Species cavity cavity floor entrance ground

Inches Inches Inches Inches Feet

Bluebird

5x5

a

6

1V,

Robin

6-6

8

A

A

Chickadee

4x4

8-10

6-8

IV.

Titmouse

4x4

8-10

6-8

l'/4

Nuthatch

4x4

8-10

6-8

IV«

Houso Wren

4 >: 4

6-8

1-6

I'/,

Carolina Wren

4x4

6-8

IV,

Violet Green

5x5

6

1-5

Swallow

5-10

et 5

Tree Swallow

5*5

6

1-5

IV,

10-15

Barn Swallow

6*6

6

B

B

8-12

Purple Martin

6*6

6

1

2V,

15-20

Song Sparrow

6 - 6

6

B

B

1-3

House Fmcft

6 ■ 6

6

4

2

8-12

Starling

6 - 6

16-18

14-16

2

10-25

Phoebe

6 - 6

6

A

A

8-12

Crested Flycatcher

6 - 6

8-10

6-8

2

8-20

Flicker

7x7

16-18

14-16

2'ft

6-20

Golden-Frontea

6-6

12-15

9-12

2

12-20

Woodpecker

Red-Headed

6 - 6

12-15

9-12

2

12-20

Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

4x4

8-10

6-8

IV,

6-20

Ha<ry Woodpecker

6-6

12-15

9-12

IV,

12-20

Screech Owl

8 • 8

12-15

9-12

3

10-30

Saw-Whet Owl

6 - 6

10-12

8-10

Z'h

12-20

Barn Owl

10-18

15-18

4

6

12-18

Sparrow Hawk

8 • 8

12-15

9-12

3

10-30

Wood Duck

10-18

10-24

12-16

4

10-20

A-one of more sides open 8-all s/ties open

Reprmled with perrruss»on Ircxn 101 Bird Houses, Feeders You Can Make by Hi Sibley, The Goodheart-Willcox Co . Inc.. 123 W Taft Or. South Holland, III.. 60437 800-323-0440.

A-one of more sides open 8-all s/ties open

Reprmled with perrruss»on Ircxn 101 Bird Houses, Feeders You Can Make by Hi Sibley, The Goodheart-Willcox Co . Inc.. 123 W Taft Or. South Holland, III.. 60437 800-323-0440.

and the base before glueup. You can then join them together with flexible silicone, which will allow the parts to move without cracking the coopered body.

Finally, apply a weatherproof Finish to protect the birdhouse and its occupants from the elements.

Once you make one birdhouse, explore working with different woods and dimensions.

—available at your local building-supplv store. You will need to first turn a shallow rabbet in the outside of the roof, so that you have a flat surface to jam fit into the open end of the cup chuck. Run a draw bolt through the head-stock spindle and faceplate right through the top disk of the roof, and secure both ends with washers and nuts. (Use a cap nut for the end inside the roof and a wing nut for the other end.) Don't tighten this draw bolt too much, or you might tear the top of your roof right off. Position your tool rest inside the roof, and turn the surface carefully. Finally, remount, and turn the outside of the roof.

Finishing Touches

Turn the top and bottom finials and perch between centers to shape, leaving a tenon at the base of each for mounting in a Jacob's chuck to finish the top point.

Drill the entry hole to the diameter that matches the type of bird you hope to attract to your house. (See chart on Dimensions for Nesting Boxes.) Should you choose to make a landing shelf instead of a perch, rout out the edge detail you want on the shelf, and cut a slight curve in the back of the shelf so it conforms to the curve of the body.

Use waterproof glue on all pieces that will be used outdoors. 1 recommend a loose fit between the body

Mounting the Birdhouse

The birdhouse can be mounted in numerous ways. If you add a small spacer strip in back, the same thickness as the birdhouse cave, you then simply screw the birdhouse to a wall (with the screw on the same level as the entry hole, so you can fasten the birdhouse to the wall with a long screwdriver.) Alternately, you could use a metal bracket svstem. You could even de-

m sign a birdhouse in such a way that the house mounts on a pole.

Making my first turned birdhouse was a delightful task, but I got my biggest kick watching a bird move in hours after putting it up. I realized then that a bird-house is actually small architecture for living occupants. This architecture must meet the needs of the residents, complement its surroundings, and with hope, bring a little joy to those who use it and those who view it. A

Andy Bantum is a professional turner in Carmel, New York. He is a founder and president of the Nutmeg Woodturners League. He makes hirdhouses out of a low for nature, and a wish for a better relationship between humans and the envirotmient.

BUYER'S GUIDE TO

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