With spring now firmly established, this bird house is the perfect home for your garden visitors. Make sure you place it in the shade, or it’ll get too hot inside for the birds
You will need:
Card to make templates
Cutting mat, sharp craft knife, pencil, ruler
Stoneware clay if intending to hang the box outside in an exposed position
Earthenware clay if the box can be sited in a position away from the elements – under a sheltered eave of a building, for instance
A ridge tile or some similar shape to use as a hump mould
Glaze to suit clay type for the roof
You don’t have to make the box in the exact style explained here – the principles for building will be the same no matter what the shape. So, do a little research, look online or in books and gather together images of bird box shapes you like.
Either cut out and stick images in your sketchbook or make simple outline drawings of shapes you like.
Once you’ve decided on a shape, draw and cut out the templates in card. For the design shown here you will need:
1 x front panel
1 x back panel
2 x side panels
1 x base
2 x roof panels
Either a half- or full-size fascia for the front of the roof
Working on the sheet of plastic, reduce the bulk of a block of clay. It must be a large enough block to accommodate as many of the templates as possible.
Beat the clay with the side of the rolling pin. Work in measured, even strokes from one side of the clay to the other, to avoid making deep grooves in the surface.
Roll out the clay between the roller guides, making sure it’s wide enough for the largest template.
You will find that periodically turning the slab will make rolling much easier and ensure it’s an even thickness.
Smooth over the surface of the slab with a rib to compact the clay.
Turn the slab over, onto an absorbent board and peel off the plastic sheet. Smooth over the surface again with a rib.
Place the templates on the slab as economically as possible to enable you to cut out as many sections as the slab will allow.
Cut the sections out carefully using a batten as an extra guide for cutting the edges straight.
If you run out of space for all the panels, roll another slab of clay as before and continue to cut out all sections except the fascia – reserve a section of slab for this.
Texture the roof sections to look like roof tiles. The rounded end of a wooden fork is used here, but an old lolly stick would work as well, or any round-ended wooden tool.
Bevel the top edge of each roof section. Place a ruler 5mm in from the top edge of the underside of the panel, then, with the tip of the knife resting on the work surface and the blade on the ruler, cut the bevel from ends towards the centre, to avoid distorting the clay.
Score the bevelled edges with a serrated kidney before removing the ruler.
Place the roof panels over the hump mould, textured side down and put them to one side to firm up.
TIP Ridge tiles are necessarily non-absorbent, so if you’re using one as a mould, cover it with something absorbent like newspaper or fabric before draping your clay over it; otherwise, the clay might take a long time to firm up or might even stick to the surface
Lay the roof fascia template on the reserved slab of clay allowing enough room for it to be mirror placed if you have made it in a half-section.
Using a pin, score the shape into the slab, 5mm larger along the straight edge as shown but following the outline along the scalloped edge.
Turn the template over to a mirror position and repeat the last step.
Cut the fascia out very carefully in one piece then neaten up the edges with a wooden tool.
Bevel and score the side edges of all four box wall sections – front, back and two sides.
Apply slip to one side of the front panel and the adjoining edge of the side panel.
Fix the first side panel in place as shown. You will find wooden blocks a great aid when slab building; they help support structures as they are put together. If you have some, use one to butt the side panel up neatly to the front panel. Otherwise, a board supported from behind with a weight will do.
Reinforce the join on the inside of the box with a coil of soft clay.
Blend the coil in with a finger until completely smooth.
Repeat the exercise to fix the second side panel in place.
Again, reinforce the join on the inside with a coil of soft clay, blended in with a finger until smooth.
You will find the base section will need to be adjusted to fit properly, because it is inset.
Measure the section in the space as shown and mark the amount needed to be cut away at the side, with a knife.
When you’re happy the size will be right, cut off the excess.
Fit the panel in place and mark the amount you need to reduce the size from front to back, in order for the back panel to fit.
Cut away the surplus once measured.
Check the base panel is now the correct size then mark its position, above and below, with a pin.
Carefully score the marked position with the tip of a serrated kidney, plus the sides of the base section.
Slip the scored areas in the box and corresponding edges of the base panel, then carefully fit it in place.
Use blocks to butt up against the side panels to keep the base secure.
Reinforce the base on the inside of the box with a coil of soft clay, blended in with a finger until smooth, as before.
Repeat on the underside of the base with a much thinner coil – blend in with a wooden tool this time.
To avoid standing the box upright on its scalloped edge, look for something the same size as the base to elevate and support it on. OR, make a thick block like the one shown here from particle board, ply or MDF.
Whichever you make it from, wrap the block in fabric to prevent the clay from sticking to it.
Stand the box upright and sit it on the block.
Score the bottom edge of the back panel then slip all edges to be joined.
Fit the back section in place, blocking the sides with the wood to ensure the edges butt up to one another securely.
Reinforce the internal joins with coils of soft clay as before. You may need to use a wooden tool rather than a finger to blend the coils in because the area is harder to reach now.
Cut a strip of slab about the width of a ruler or roller guide.
Measure the slab to fit inside the box from front to back. This will form a brace for the roof.
Cut the brace out, then cut two more sections to the same size – reserve the latter two for later.
Mark the position for the brace between the tips of the front and back panel. Score and slip the marked position plus the ends of the brace section.
Fit the brace in position making sure the join is secure.
Reinforce around the brace ends with thin coils of soft clay blended in with a wooden tool.
Smooth over the surface with a rib to finish off.
Cut the tips of the front and back panel level with the brace then use a surform to shave the angle of the roof back to a rounded tip.
Smooth over the edges with a rib when finished.
Turn the box on its side and drill a series of drainage holes in the base. This is particularly important if positioning the box in an exposed position, where rain could get in.
Remove the roof sections from the mould and slip the ridge ends ready for joining.
Fit the roof sections together, pinching the slipped edges firmly to secure the join.
Reinforce the join on the inside of the roof with a coil of clay pinched into a triangular shape along its length. Blend the coil in with a suitably shaped wooden tool.
Neaten up the ridge of the roof on the outside with a rib.
Test the fit of the roof on the box then place it on the fascia panel and mark the position with a pin.
Fix the fascia onto the roof after scoring and slipping all edges to be joined.
Reinforce the join with coils of soft clay on the underside of the fascia, then neaten around the outer join carefully with a wooden tool, to remove excess slip.
Make any small adjustments to the outline of the fascia as required to neaten it up. Cut away clay where necessary, then smooth over the cut surface with a rib.
Test the fit of the roof on the box again and if necessary, shave the back edges with a surform to correct any minor irregularities.
Using a pin as shown, mark the underside of the roof at the point it meets the box wall.
Returning to the two brace-sized sections cut out earlier, bevel one long side of each of them.
These sections will hold the roof in place on the box.
Check the angle of the bevel is correct to fit on the underside of the roof in a vertical position. When sure, score the bevelled edges.
Score a position on the underside of the roof 5-6mm above the scored line, as shown, and fit the sections in place with slip.
Reinforce the section joins with coils of soft clay, as you have throughout the build, then neaten up with a rib.
Again, check that the roof fits well without wiggling about – it shouldn’t be possible for it to slide off.
Mark an opening on the front of the box with a pin, to suit the size of bird you want to attract. Find something small to draw around, like an old tape holder or cookie cutter.
Cut a small hole at the centre of the scored opening with a hole cutter initially, then cut from the hole to the scored edge of the opening with a knife, to divide the circle into four – cutting the opening in quarters is easier than trying to cut it all out in one go. Cut out the larger hole.
Neaten around the opening with a wooden tool to soften off the sharp edges.
Neaten up the opening on the inside of the box to remove sharp burrs that could hurt little birds.
Make three holes in the back of the box towards the top, for hanging and for added air circulation.
Again neaten the holes on the inside of the box with a rib, to remove sharp burrs.
Score a pattern of your choice into the surface of the box on the front and two side panels.
A simple angled stripe is used here.
Carry the lines around the corners of the box to extend into the side panels.
TIP To draw lines around corners as shown here, cut out a ruler-sized strip of card which will bend around corners to maintain the direction accurately
The construction of the box is now complete. Allow it to dry slowly before bisque firing.
Once bisque-fired, remove any sharp areas or edges on the box with sandpaper. WEAR A DUST MASK
Brush away the dust carefully and damp wipe over the sanded surface. Allow the surface to dry before continuing.
Mask off alternate stripes on the box with paper tape or similar.
Using glaze or underglaze colour, paint in the first stripes. Note; you may need to do this in sections, allowing each area to dry before moving on to the next.
Once all the alternate stripes have been decorated, set the box aside to dry for a while.
While the box is drying, colour the roof in glaze or underglaze. The colour should contrast well with the body.
Paint the fascia a bright colour to really stand out from the other colours used.
Return to the box and fill in the remaining stripes with a contrasting underglaze or glaze colour. You will have to do this freehand because you won’t be able to tape over the areas already coloured, so pay close attention to neatness and work difficult areas with a fine brush if necessary.
When the body of the box is finished, sit the roof back on. If you used underglaze, paint a glaze over the surface to weather-proof it.
Fire the box with the roof in place to your clay and glaze’s optimum temperature.
The glaze has pooled in the tile texture to great effect here.
The finished box was made from stoneware clay, decorated in velvet underglaze with a stoneware glaze on the roof, and fired to 1220ºC in an electric kiln.
This project first appeared in issue 26
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