However attractive a garden may be in terms of trees lawn and flowers, it becomes much more fascinating if there is some bird life around. When birds live in the garden it somehow takes you closer to nature.It was a desire to take a closer look, and add more life to the garden, which prompted the making of this dovecote. What is a dovecoat? To a bird, I thought its a grand house. It is more associated with woodworking than the bird of peace, especially as it has lent its name to one of our methods of jointing!
Boarding of 16mm (5/6in.) was used for the job, but 13mm (1/2in.) would be adequate or, alternatively, exterior plywood could be used. Construction was as simple as possible and I relied very much on nails and screws (no dovetails here).
A number of preliminary sketches were made to determine the overall sizes, and work started on the base platform. Both the outer base boards needed cutting lengthways to provide a square edge and to give the correct width.
The platform was then clamped and checked with a try square, and battens were fixed on the underside. These were screwed in place at the ends, and secured along their length by nails driven through the boards into the battens. Nails rather longer than the combined thickness of boards and battens were used and the projecting ends were then bent over. This is known as “clenching”, and it is often used in outdoor constructions. Ends of the boards were now planed to bring them quite level.
Similar methods were employed for the two main end pieces. The slope to the gables was initially ignored when the boards were being prepared and battens being fixed. Only after assembly was the triangular waste removed from either side and the slopes trimmed down to the line. To ensure uniformity, both ends were planed while clamped together and held in the vice (photo 1).
For the ends, the bottom batten was secured to the boards edgeways. This made the final Assembly of bolting through the batten into the platform, very simple. And it also lined up with the lower edge of the doorway conveniently.
Entrances could now be marked out on both ends and, to facilitate their cutting. A hole was bored near the corner of each opening. Sawing them out was quite easy, with a Jig saw (photo 2).
So smooth and clean does this saw cut, that the edges needed little more than a touch with a tool to complete the operation. Short vertical pieces were then added between the battens so that centre dividing boards’ could be fixed.
Small perches for the upper entrances were made next. Two pieces were nailed together for each perch and screws were used to hold them to the end walls (photo 3).
A quantity of boards was now cut to the exact inside length of the dovecote, for the vertical division and the upper floor. Some of these required cutting to width, and some had notches formed at their ends to fit around the battens. All the interior boards were added in a similar way by nailing into the battens on the ends (photo 4).
Two pieces were required for the eaves.
They were chamfered along one edge at an angle corresponding to the pitch of the roof. Notches were then formed in them for a simple method of fixing to the gable ends. Each notch was made level with the edge of the chamfer. The thickness of these pieces should be slightly material forming the side doors. This is important as it is to the eaves that the doors are hinged. Eaves were finally secured by nailing at the ends.
At this stage I decided to fit verge pieces to the outside sloping ends of the gables. Although not essential, they do add to both the strength and appearance of the job. The four pieces were screwed in position from the inside.
Next. oddments of wood were cut to provide strips for holding the plywood divisions in the centre part of the cote. These were prepared to 25 by 16mm (1 by 5/6in.) and grooved down one side to take the 6mm (1/4in.) ply. They were all pinned in place, including the two on the platform base. A piece of 4mm (3/18in) plywood was then cut to form the ceiling, and two of the grooved strips were added to that part as well.
Four pieces of plywood were soon cut out to make the divisions and the corners of these were cut so that they did not foul on door battens and eaves. All divisions were designed to be a loose fit only. The top ones are finally held in place when the ceiling is nailed in position, while the two lower ones are left free to slide in and out.
Attention now turned to the roof. Sufficient boards were cut to the required length and one edge of one board squared off. This was then “nailed to the roof at the eaves. The remaining boards for the first side last one required ripping to the appropriate width. The sawn edge needed bevelling slightly to conform with the roof slope. Finally. the second side was tackled in a similar way (photo 6) and the uppermost part of the ridge was rounded over slightly (photo 7).
At this stage the platform was temporarily bolted to the rest of the assembly. G-cramps were used to initially hold the two parts of the job together, and holes were bored for the bolts while the cramps were in place. Galvanised bolts of 8mm (5/16in.) diameter were used for actually securing the platform and main structure together, with large washers under the head and nut,
Doors followed the same simple construction as the platform and ends. Two sets of boards were cut to give the required overall length and width, and four battens were prepared to size. Again. to give extra strength, screws were used at the batten ends, the lengths being nailed and clenched. To hinge the doors, 38mm (1 1/2in.) hinges were used. These were fixed on the face of recessing (photo 8). So that the platform could be added to the post it was now unbolted.
The post on which the dovecote would stand needed little preparation, other than pieces were sawn and planed to act as struts between the post and the platform, and four more pieces were made to form the “socket” on the platform underside which engages with the top of the post. The latter pieces were simply cut to length, bored for screws and fixed in place.
However, the struts required rather more. Two were cut with a splay at the lower end. SAt the top were given a cut known as a birdsmouth (how appropriate). This simple notching enabled a more positive fit to be made between struts and battens, as shown in the drawings. The remaining two struts needed only simple splay cuts at top and bottom; these components were secured by screwing through at an angle (photo 9 above). After allowing to dry thoroughly a coats cuprinol wood preservative and followed the next day by an undercoat. Finally white gloss paint was applied and two coats of this were used, twenty-four hours apart.
At the start I had decided to make a feature of the roof and experiment with cutting my own felt “slates”. I’was now aching to tackle this part of the project. Because the slates would be more decorative than functional, I commenced the roof covering with a layer of felt all over (photo 10 Above). Felt was cut approximately 38mm ( 1 1/2in.) larger all round than the actual size of the roof, and fixing was by galvanised clout nails.
Roofing felt is available in many grades and qualities and with either a plain surface, usually of grey colour, or with a “mineral” surface. The latter has very fine granules of stone pressed into the surface during manufacture, and is normally available in red, green or grey. Generally speaking, the mineral surfaced type tends to be of heavier quality than the plain, but on this occasion I was able to obtain some which though mineralised was not too heavy a gauge. It was used for both the first layer and the slates.
Sizes and layout of the slates are shown in the drawings. Gaps between slates were made deliberately wide in order to emphasise them, and every other row started with a “slate-and-a-half” as far as the width was concerned (photo 11 above). The third row required slightly shorter slates in order to finish just below the ridge. All nailing was at the centre part of the slates. Nails were carefully positioned so that they would be concealed by the next row, and the method meant that each slate was in effect secured by four nails – not two as would be the case if they were thead-nailed.
Slates for the top row were cut extra long so that they could be bent over the ridge and serve both sides. Incidentally, although the slates curled slightly at the time of fixing, they became perfectly flat after being exposed to the elements for a couple of weeks. The last part of the roof was a piece for the ridge. A strip of felt was cut to the sizes given, and it was nailed at approximately 51mm (2in.) centres along both edges.
Approaching completion now, the two parts were re-bolted together (photo 12), and a large hole was dug at the appointed spot in the garden.
In order to prevent the post from moving when in the ground, cross battens were fixed near the lower end, and once the post was in the hole the soil was rammed down—at the same time carefully checking that the structure was plumb.
Only one tiny job remained. In order to hold the side flaps in a closed position, a hook and eye was fixed to each door. The dovecote was then ready for its first residents.