Turned Branch Bird House

by Bill Kaufman

As a new turner I needed a project that I could use to practice technique. Obviously, using expensive wood just wasn't going to work so I began rough turning branches from the wood pile. Shapes and spindles turned into a rough birdhouse shape. Over time I refined it into something that can add a little to the garden or patio and not impact the wood budget. This brief article describes the basic steps to create an ornamental bird house from a tree branch. Turn a few of these for the gardeners in your area. It sure beats throwing the branches in the landfill.

turning a tenon on a blank

Begin by selecting a piece of branch wood that will fit your lathe. Something around 4 to 6 inches in diameter will work just fine.

Cut a tenon that will fit the jaw dimension of your chuck.

beginning the shaping

Mount the stock in the chuck and begin by turning the roof to a pleasing taper.

initial shape

This photo will give you an idea of the shape that I use. Almost any shape that strikes your fancy will work.

sizing the tenon

Using a parting tool cut a tenon to match the Forstner bit diameter that we'll use to hollow the body.

I use a 2" diameter for this step. 2" will allow me to mount the house body on my Compac chuck in the later steps.

Next start shaping the body of the bird house. I use a roughing gouge or a skew. This will give us an idea of the final size and some clearance for turning the inside of the roof in the next step.

underside of the roof

Begin cutting the underside of the roof away. This step is similar to cutting the bottom of the cap on a mushroom. This will allow the roof to overhang the body of the bird house.

I use a shop made tool but a narrow scraper or even a parting tool could be used. The object is to remove enough stock to allow the roof to sit properly.

step detail for setting roof height

At this point we should have the roof base hollowed with a small step remaining. This step is used to set the roof height later. Look closely and you will see the small step. The 2" diameter tenon transitions to the roof underside leaving the step. We will set the final dimension later.

Rough out the basic shape of the body of the bird house. I use a basic round shape but a cylinder or pear shape will work as well. Using a parting tool, separate the roof from the body of the bird house and set it aside.

drilling out the body

Drill out the body of the bird house using a 2" Forstner bit. Hollowing end grain can be a pain. The drill bit makes is quick and easy. This step could also be done with anything from a gouge to a hook tool. Since these houses are ornamental I don't worry about wall thickness unless I'm turning them as Christmas ornaments when overall weight can be a factor.

using the body as a jam chuck

Now you can use the body of the bird house as a jam chuck to finish the roof.

This is the time to set the step depth to allow the roof to set at the right height on the bird house.

When the fit is correct finish sand the roof and set it aside.

roof fitted to body

Here the roof has been fitted to the body and we are ready to drill the entrance hole and the pilot hole for the perch.

entrance hole marked and drilled

I usually mark a centerline using the tool rest as a guide and drill the entrance hole. The photo to the left will give you an idea of the spacing. Note the location of the hole featuring figure in the wood.

These are ornamental so go with what looks best to you.

house reversed

Here the bird house has been reversed and is now held by the chuck using the 2" hole we drilled to mount the roof and hollow the body.

The waste is supported by the tail stock and live center

Finish turning away the waste wood and add a small finial.

birdhouse ready for finish

Finish sand the body and remove it from the chuck.

Add a clear finish and it is ready to go.

awaiting tenants

Hang it in the house or in the back yard, find another branch and turn another.

. . . Bill Kaufman

© 2006 by Bill Kaufman. All rights reserved.
No parts of this article may be reproduced in any form or by any means
without the written permission of the publisher and the author.