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Birdhouse Ornament

Larry Hancock constructs a birdhouse ornament with specialty wood.

Larry Hancock has always worked with his hands. A mechanic by trade, he also loved woodworking in his spare time. He started out making furniture but found buying drawer pulls and cabinet handles too expensive. The solution? Hancock bought a lathe and his love of woodturning began. He taught himself to turn handles and drawer pulls and then ventured into more complicated creations. Today, among other things, he wood turns ornamental birdhouses that are truly artistic.


Madrone--a reddish-brown fine grain hardwood for the roof
Holly--a white hardwood for the body of the ornament
Ebony*--a hard black wood for the top and bottom finials and the perch for the ornament
band saw
Jacobs drill chuck
safety glasses
set of gouges and chisels
parting tool
wood burning tool
rotary carving tool
instant glue
sandpaper (coarse to fine grit)
* Ebony is a hard black wood that works well for small parts because of its ability to hold crisp, sharp edge details when cut.


1. The wood for the base and roof are turned on the lathe. The wood for the ornament parts are cut to shape on a band saw.

2. The holly body section and the ebony parts for perch and finials are cut in square sections that will fit in a 4-jaw scroll chuck mounted on the lathe. The wood is cut slightly longer than needed for the finished pieces to allow for the wood the chuck jaws grip during the turning process. The wood for the roof is cut to a round disc shape on the band saw.

Figure A

3. The Holly body section of wood is mounted on the lathe in a 4-jaw scroll chuck. Since the wood is cut square, the 4-jaws of the chuck grip on all four sides of the wood and center it on the lathe. The headstock of the lathe, with the chuck screwed on its threaded spindle, provides the rotational motion to spin the wood. The tailstock of the lathe provides support to hold the wood on the opposite end from the chuck. When turning short pieces of wood gripped in a chuck, the tailstock is not always required, but for the initial turning of the square section of wood to a round shape it is used for safety and stability.

4. The wood is turned round with a roughing gouge, a strong wide spindle turning gouge. A parting tool is used to make narrow cuts in the rotating wood and calipers are used to measure the diameter.

5. Once 1-1/2 inches in diameter is reached the wood is turned down to that diameter along the exposed area not gripped in the chuck. Using the tool rest as a straight edge, which is parallel to the surface of the turned wood, a line is drawn on the wood for reference to align the holes for the opening of the birdhouse and the perch beneath it.

Figure B

6. A drill is used to make a 7/16-inch hole for the opening about 3/4 of an inch from the top edge of the body, and a 3/32-inch hole is drilled about 1/2 inch below the opening hole for the perch.

Figure C

7. A Jacobs drill chuck is now mounted in the tailstock with a 1-1/4-inch fastener drill bit, used to drill flat-bottomed holes. The tailstock spindle screws in and out of the tailstock housing allowing the spinning wood to be drilled to a depth of 2-1/4 inches. This removes the interior wood of the body to make it lighter for hanging and to simulate the look of a real birdhouse. The body of the ornament is now cut free of the wood in the chuck and a short tenon is turned on the remaining wood that fits the 1-1/4-inch hole in the body.

8. The body is pressed on to the tenon as a means to spin the wood for final turning and drilling of the hole in the bottom for the acorn shaped finial.

9. Turn the body to the desired shape with spindle gouge and chisels.

10. Sand the wood on the lathe working from coarse grit to fine.

11. Drill a 3/32-inch hole to accept the shaft of the acorn finial using the Jacobs chuck in the tailstock.

Figure D

12. Rub a little finish on the body and it is finished.


13. The roof of the ornament is turned next. The disc of wood is held compressed between the chuck jaws and the tailstock center, a revolving ball bearing attachment for the tailstock. A short tenon is turned on the disc so the wood can be gripped in the chuck jaws. This will be the top of the roof.

Figure E

14. Grip the tenon in the chuck and remove the tailstock from the lathe to allow tool access for turning a recess to match the body's outer diameter and shaping the roof overhang. A small spindle gouge and chisel are used for the turning. Rough shape the lower outer edge of the roof. Move the tool rest into position for cutting the recess for the body. Make a cut into the end of the wood that matches the outer diameter of the roof and dome shape the center of the wood inside this line to remove some weight from the ornament.

15. Turn the underside details of the roof under the overhang and sand while the wood is still spinning.

16. Remove the roof from the chuck and insert a small block of wood in the chuck to turn a tenon on that fits inside the recess turned in the roof. This will now drive the wood by friction fit so the shaping on the top of the roof can be completed. With a Jacobs chuck in the tailstock, drill a 3/32-inch hole for the shaft of the top finial in the top of the roof. No sanding or finish is required at this time because of the shingle carving to be done later.

Figure F

17. Turn the acorn finial that goes at the bottom of the ornament now. The shape is turned using a spindle gouge while gripped in a chuck with small jaws. With the lathe stopped, a small ball-shaped rotary carving bur is used to texture the top of the acorn. Sand the bottom section of the acorn and apply a finish. A 3/32-inch tenon is turned at the top of the acorn to go into the body of the ornament and then cut to length on the lathe.

18. To turn the top turnip-shaped finial, the ebony square of wood is gripped in small chuck jaws and turned round with the top end tapered. Using an electric drill with a 3/32-inch bit, drill a hole near the top perpendicular to the length of the finial. This hole will be used to hang the ornament by a string or ribbon. Turn the finial to final shape with a 3/32-inch tenon to fit in the roof. Sand and apply a finish while spinning on the lathe.

Figure G

19. Turn the perch from ebony with a 3/32-inch tenon to fit the hole in the body. The perch is about 3/32 inch in diameter and 1/2 inch long with a larger shoulder to fit against the body where the tenon is inserted.

Figure H

20. The lathe turning is completed now and it is time to carve the roof. Lay out the shingle design on the roof by hand with a pencil. Shake shingles are irregular widths and lengths so make the pattern of shingles slightly irregular all around. A thin edge wood-burning tool is used to follow the pencil lines drawn on the roof. The depth the wood burning tool penetrates the wood will act as a guide for carving down around the shingle edges.

Figure I

A variety of rotary carving tool burs is used to shape the shingle. When the carving is completed, a finish is applied to the roof.

Figure J

21. The different parts are now ready to be assembled. Glue the roof on to the body of the ornament. Glue the perch and acorn pieces into the body. The top finial must be glued on the roof with the hole in the top aligned so the opening in the birdhouse will face front when hung. The ornament is now complete.



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