Food for the flock: Build an attractive bird feeder

Birds, and humans, will be attracted to this seedy restaurant

By Dave Boulton

BirdFeeder_CHW_0410_a_SUP

Photo by Roger Yip

Flying feathered guests are not picky; you can feed them from almost anything that holds seed. However, the human eye often looks for something pleasing, and this copper-roofed feeder looks equally good in a Victorian garden or a suburban backyard. The fresh copper colour of the roof 
panels disappears over time, replaced by a soft green patina as the metal oxidizes in the elements. 
The feeder’s central seed silo is filled through the opening covered by the finial on top of the roof, and 
the structure can be dismantled from below for seasonal cleaning or repair.

Most of the assembly was done with a 23-gauge pin nailer. This small, quiet, air-powered tool allows you to hold pieces together with one hand, and fasten them with one shot from the other. Fastener holes are so small, they’re almost invisible, and the nailer causes less installation strain on small structural pieces than multiple hammer blows. A hammer and finishing nails work; however, they do require more time, care and predrilling.

Instructions

Base

Cut the octagon base from a single piece of wood or glue several pieces together using weatherproof glue. I created my base from eight triangles of equal size. This arrangement has the advantage of hiding all end-grain. If the joints at the centre of the base are not perfectly tight, it doesn’t matter. This part of the base will be covered, both top and bottom.

Pyramid and Posts

At the centre of the bird feeder is a silo with acrylic sides that holds the seed and doles it out slowly. You load up the silo by lifting the finial that caps the project and pouring seed into the hole.

Now is the time to build the small 1"-tall x 2"-wide x 2"-long pyramid that sits at the bottom of the silo and spreads seed evenly out of the holes as it’s eaten. Make the pyramid by sawing facets on the end of a 2x2 that is long enough to hold safely while working at the mitre saw or tablesaw, then cut the pyramid free.

Next, cut the four silo posts to length. Each post receives two
1/8"-wide x 1/8"-deep grooves to allow the acrylic sides to slide in. Cut these grooves using a thin-kerf blade on your tablesaw.

Follow this step by cutting the eight outer support posts to length. These posts need to be shaped to match the angled corners of the octagon. I used my jointer for this job, with the fence set to 22 1/2° from square. I counted the number of jointer passes required on one side, so that I could be sure of removing exactly the same amount of wood on all seven other posts. Use pushsticks when running these pieces over the jointer.

Before attaching the posts and the pyramid, mark all of the part locations and drill countersunk holes up from the bottom of the base. I drove #6 x 1 1/4"-long brass screws up into the pyramid and the posts’ ends.

Tie It Together

At this stage, your project will have an octagonal base with 12 posts sticking straight up—four silo posts and eight outer posts. It’s time to add more stability to the outer posts by fastening the 3/8"-thick outer post plates. Cut these pieces to length, and then attach them to the top ends of the outer posts. Each end of a plate straddles a post and is fastened with glue and an air-driven pin nail. Four silo top rails stabilize the silo posts. The acrylic silo sides are slid into place later.

The bottom 1/4"-thick outer rails hold seed within the feeding area, and also provide diners with a perch along the base. To get smooth joints, I mitred four rails to fit post point to post point and pin-nailed them in place at every other opening. The second batch of four rails overlaps the first set, completing the octagonal ring. (See plans.) Mark and cut mitres, then fasten the pieces in place with glue and pin nails.

Break out the Paint

The best time to paint is before the copper and acrylic are added. Coat the structure with the exterior-grade paint of your choice. Since there is no more glue used in the main part of the project, you should paint the roof battens now, before they are attached.

Working with acrylic

Before you start the roof, cut and insert the acrylic silo sides between their respective posts. You’ll find acrylic sheets in the window section of your home-improvement store. I used 0.050"-thick material, but you’re fine with any thickness less than 1/8". Thicker material is harder to cut and requires wider grooves.

Rather than sawing the acrylic, I scored and snapped off the pieces I needed. Leave the protective film on for now as it makes marking with a pen much easier. Multiple passes with a utility knife ensure a clean break. Simply snap along the line. Be sure to wear safety glasses as you work since snapping acrylic sometimes sends pieces flying.

To cut the semicircles at the bottoms of the silo sides, I marked the desired radius (5/8" in my case) and used a 1 1/4" spindle-sanding drum to create it. The radius needs to be an appropriate size for the seeds you plan on feeding to the birds. Make the semicircle too big and those little millet seeds will flow out in minutes. Too small, and sunflower seeds plug up the works. Chuck the sanding spindle in a drillpress and grind the semicircle down to the radius line. Finish up by peeling off the protective film from the acrylic and using a knife or fine file to remove any burrs. The acrylic sides are ready to slide into place.

Seed spills out

Seed spills out from the acrylic silo in the centre of the bird feeder. Feathered diners can perch and eat from the outer rails, which also hold the seed in the feeder

Framing the roof

The roof is made from eight 3/4"-thick x 3/4"-wide x 9"-long rafters and an octagonal top disc. Each rafter has a notch cut in one end to fit over the outer-post plates. The top ends of the rafters are angled where they attach to the sides of the octagonal top disc. You’ll need a hole at the centre of this disc for adding the seed. Draw the outline of the top disc, drill the central hole, then cut the eight sides. In this case, a fine handsaw gets the job done quicker than a power saw. Sand or file the hole smooth.

After you paint the rafters and the top disc, it’s time for assembly. This operation is essentially a three-handed job, so if you don’t have an extra arm, call an assistant. I ended up nailing four rafters to the top disc while working on my bench, then lifting this assembly in place on top of the feeder and nailing it to the outer post plates before adding the final four rafters.

The Big Finial

At the pinnacle of this bird feeder are three parts: a purchased finial of your choice; a 3"-diameter finial disc and a piece of 1"-diameter x 1 1/2"-long dowel. Bore a hole in the centre of the disc to accept the finial’s tenon, and then glue the two pieces together. The dowel is attached by a screw running up from below into the finial, driven through a counterbored hole. This process is best done on a drillpress with the dowel held in a clamp. You will most likely need to sand or file down the dowel so that it fits easily into the fill hole in the feeder’s top.

A Roof like the Peace Tower

For my project, I used a 0.021"-thick copper sheet for roofing, but you could use thinner metal if you like. The ideal way to cut and bend sheet metal such as this is in a metal brake. I don’t have one, but I found the scoring method I used to cut the acrylic worked just fine. Before I put the copper in the vise, I lined the jaws with two pieces of scrap melamine to create crisp edges. Next, I created a hardboard template using the dimensions provided in the plans. Use this template as a guide when scoring your cut lines using a utility knife. With the first piece scored, put the sheet in your vise with the scored line on the upper edge of the jaws. Bend the copper back and forth a couple of times until it breaks on the line.

Before you attach the copper pieces to the roof, bend the two long edges of each piece to the same angle as the edges of the rafters. Mark the inside face of each piece of copper 3/8" in from each long edge and draw a line parallel to the edges. Insert the copper in the vise and bend it toward the inside to roughly 22 1/2°. Repeat for the opposite side, and then complete the remaining pieces.

To attach a copper plate to the roof, lay the panel so that it straddles two rafters and fasten it with an air stapler. This tool works best because pin nails are too small to hold the thin copper. You could also use small tacks and a hammer, but you’ll have to pre-punch the copper. Use light hammer blows on the delicate framework. Whatever fastener you use, you should only need a few on each edge. The wooden battens you’re about to add will cap the copper-panel edges and hold them firmly. These battens should project far enough to cover the copper and rafters, while also sitting flush with the octagonal top disc. I pin-nailed the battens in place, but next time I’ll attach them with small screws because they hold better. Paint the screw heads afterwards so they blend with the battens.

finial

Lift the finial assembly to load the feeder with food for the birds

 

Mount Up

This feeder was designed to be post-mounted, not hung. How you attach it depends on the post or pole used. You could screw the feeder down to a post or attach it with brackets on a pipe with a screw-on fitting. Either way, just fill the feeder with your favourite offering, sit back in the shade and see who comes to visit.

Outdoor Pin Nailing

Pin nailers (sometimes called pinners) are new to most woodworkers, but they’re not going to stay that way. They’re too useful for that. Pinners shoot ultra-thin, 23-gauge, headless fasteners that are almost invisible when installed because they’re roughly the same thickness as a medium-sized sewing needle. But despite this thin diameter, pin nails are surprisingly strong. They hold wood very well, either used alone or in partnership with glue. Today’s best models can fire pins as long as 2", burying them even in the hardest woods. This bird feeder is especially well suited to 23-gauge pins because so many parts are too small to join with any other kind of nail—either air- or hammer-driven.

For best results on any outdoor project, use stainless-steel pins. Regular steel pins will rust eventually and stain the surrounding wood, even when protected underneath several coats of paint.
–Steve Maxwell

pin nailing

Stainless steel 23-gauge pins are thinner than the 18-gauge brads that lie underneath

Tools & Materials

Part Material Size (T x W x L*) Qty.

Base cedar 3/4" x 10" octagon 1
Pyramid cedar 1" x 2" x 2" 1
Outer posts cedar 3/4" x 3/4" x 6" 8
Silo posts cedar 3/4" x 3/4" x 9" 4
Silo top rails cedar 1/4" x 3/4" x 3 1/2"** 4
Silo sides acrylic 0.050" x 2 3/16" x 9" 4
Outer rails cedar 1/4" x 3/4" x 4 1/2"** 8
Outer post plates cedar 3/8" x 3/4" x 4"** 8
Rafters cedar 3/4" x 3/4" x 9" 8
Finial Lee Valley #41K27.60 1
Finial disc cedar 1/2" x 3"-diameter 1
Octagonal top disc cedar 3/4" x 2" octagon 1
Finial dowel wood 1"-diameter x 1 1/2" 1
Roof panels copper 0.021" x 4 3/8" x 9" 8
Battens cedar 1/8" x 3/4" x 9" 8



* Length indicates grain direction

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