Rustic Cardboard Birdhouse

You can hand-craft a piece of art in the form of a life-sized cardboard birdhouse that you can enjoy indoors for years, and later pass on to your heirs or give as a gift. If you're careful enough, you can build one of good enough quality to sell should you be able to bring yourself to part with it. If you are really skilled, you could even make one of museum quality.

Materials

  • sharp break-off utility knife
  • quality hot glue for the assembly
  • very hot glue gun
  • hole-filling ingredient such as a brand-name 20 minute patching plaster, mixed well with water and a couple tablespoons of white glue per batch. Consistency should be wet, but not soupy.
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  • cardboard*
  • decorations
  • 3 wood bead "feet"

*I recommend thick, undamaged, un-waxed corrugated cardboard due to its unequaled strength, smoothness, paint-able surface, durability, and lightness, but you can use foam board if you wish. Thinner cardboard and poster board can be used, but much of it bubbles and warps on its surface when it gets wet with paint, so I stay away from those as a substrate. I use poster board and fabric only as veneers and appliques.

Instructions

I almost always make a pattern for my birdhouses and always alter that pattern in some way for the next one, if I'm not already bored with that design as a base shape. I seldom make two birdhouses the same exact shape or size, nor use the same type of roofs or siding or applique and I never decorate them the same in any case. My wife likes to paint and decorate one from time to time, and the grandkids and neighbors, too.

I do my cardboard cutting on an old flat cabinet door or an old slab of plywood at waist level. My eyes see well there and I have good control. I cut using a jerking or stuttering motion 1/8th + of an inch at a time using my whole arm, going over and over and over the lines until they are cut through. Make your first cutting pass a light one, cutting lightly the whole way to the end of that particular mark then in your subsequent passes your knife will tend to follow the path of that first, careful cut. I find that it's easier to follow the line with many light-handed cuts, taking my time. Always note the grain of the corrugates, and run them in your panels and strips whichever way will give you the most strength. You are building a box, fancy and unique though it may turn out to be, nothing more. I have used a small box just the way I found it, though turned inside out and re-glued back together. Same with wood boxes; just add gables and a roof. I put secret compartments in many birdhouses. That's fun!

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I use a large cardboard box with one side cut half of the way down to catch the dust from the sanding I do, then I throw it away when I'm finished, dust and all. Same with the painting I do, for I usually spray on the base coat one very light coat at a time. I always spray in a well ventilated space away from furniture and my car (at least I do now) whether using a latex, acrylic, or oil based paint and I wear protective glasses and a dust mask for protection when I think about it in time. I also try to remember that many paints will not always come off my expensive every-day plastic, state-of-the-art prescription glasses and frames, nor off or out of my good clothes and shoes. Sprayed paint really travels a long, long way! Thank goodness I have a good wife who cares about my happiness. These light sealer coats, when dry, prevent the cardboard from absorbing the moisture from the further painting and decorating you will be doing, and lock the plaster in, transforming and hardening the surface, so if you are brushing them on, apply light coats cross-hatched to each other, and let each one dry thoroughly. Always keep the factory printing on the inside of whatever you are working on, as it will bleed through. You can paint over it, but still keep it on the inside. You can paint each panel as you cut it, if you wish. Not an altogether bad idea if you have cut it right; hard to re-cut after it's painted, though.

For this first birdhouse, I will make an A-frame; one I've made variations of several times and you can make this first one a bit rustic if you like. People like rustic. Take a thin sheet of regular 8-1/2 x 11 inch computer paper and fold it in half and fold it again. Do this, folding both ways, until you have 16 equal rectangular spaces. Go to the top center of the long end and 1/8th of an inch or less just to the right of the center fold and make a small mark there. Make a similar mark at the top of the bottom rectangle on the right hand side. Now, using your elbow as the center point of a large compass and your pencil as the outside of the circle, draw a smooth, curved line from one mark to the next, concaved in toward the center of the paper. You could also trace the edge of a large, oval turkey platter from one of your marks to the other. Make it a straight line rather than curved if you'd rather. That's the line of one side of your roof. Now fold the paper again long ways and place it up to a light source such as a window or a computer monitor. Trace that line onto the other side of the paper fold. Turn the paper over and trace the new line onto the front of the paper and you have the outline of the front and back of your A-frame birdhouse.

Trace a small compass or a bottle cap and draw a one inch or larger diameter circle for a hole somewhere along the long fold at centerline for the bird's entrance. Make a pinhole about two inches below that. That's where the perch stick will go and the pinhole will let you mark the position on your panel both front and back. I use a long chopstick for the perch, anchoring it clear through to the back panel for good strength, so that's why I mark it that way on both the front and back panels. There's nothing worse than a wobbly bird perch! Those stuffed toy birds from Michaels like to turn upside down. People don't like that.

Sometimes, I cut a rounded-top "people" door in a birdhouse, using the scrap piece for the door, and sometimes I cut in a round window as well, both in the door and in the wall, sometimes with glass and curtains in it. Sometimes I make a three-dimensional chimney, widened near the bottom representing that there's a fireplace inside, and hot glue that onto the back near one side. Then I stucco it with the plaster mix leaving a rough, realistic surface. I glued a miniature satellite dish on one birdhouse just for fun.

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Now, using your pattern, transfer the image onto your corrugated cardboard making two. Then cut out two side panels, using your chopstick for a reference as to the depth, and lightly tack these pieces squarely to the front and back panels with hot glue. I place them inside the front and back panels. You want the bottom of the birdhouse to fit inside this four-panel box, so find or cut a square corner on a new piece of corrugated cardboard and place the squared corner into your new four-sided house, inside the house. Hold it in place there and draw the other two sides inside where they will need to be cut. Cut and insert the new bottom and tack glue it into place. Cut a one inch wide strip of corrugated cardboard making sure the corrugates are running long-ways. Cut it exactly the same length as your new bottom is deep and tack glue it inside up near and between the top roof peaks. Make sure this piece is squarely mounted. This will square everything up. Make adjustments, of course, as necessary. If the thing sits flat, you've done well. With your glue gun very hot, glue the panels in place permanently. I never try to spare the glue.

Now for the roof, cut about 25 one inch wide or wider corrugated cardboard strips one inch or so longer than your house is deep. Two inches longer is fine. Beginning down at the eaves and letting the first strip on each side hang out over about half way, and evening the overhang front and back, begin hot gluing them onto the front and back panel edges, keeping them square and overlapping them each equally, gluing them to each other as well. Make a few measured reference marks on the curved roof sides to aid you in keeping everything nice and square and neat and straight. I like to make jigs for this; out of corrugated cardboard, of course! Two or three simple jigs should do just fine. Overlap and glue your new strips right on up to the top, surpassing the peaks on your front and back panels to form the closest thing to a peak as you can, but still keeping both sides perfectly even. There is no need to leave a gap there. Plaster will top off that job very well.

All voids must be filled in completely and sanded smooth, or a sloppy birdhouse will be the result, no matter how well everything turns out. Rustic is not sloppy in my book! Rather rustic is carefully calculated. I keep the plaster usable for long periods of time with a spray bottle of water. I use a pallet knife and/or small putty knife to stir and to apply it. Don't over work or over wet the cardboard edges or they will flare out, requiring time-robbing repair. Rather, apply the plaster deep in and in several coats if necessary, sanding in between them as they dry. Don't sand the cardboard itself very much or it will begin to fray and peel off of itself, and repairs are difficult. Heat can also cause a flaring out, so go easy with the hairdryer. I let the plaster dry for two or three days before trying to sand it. Once dried and painted, the plaster will become very hard and waterproof.

My wife finished one birdhouse in colorful ribbon, roof, walls, and all. She also decoupaged one with real herbs. Fabulous! I did one in small river rock; another in cabochons. I put wood bead feet on most of the bird houses I make. Three feet, two in front, one centered in the back, and your houses will always stand flat, four feet and they will probably wobble. It's difficult to make a perfect birdhouse by hand using corrugated cardboard and hot glue, though not impossible, but I figure perfection is the purview of machines.

Use some imagination and ingenuity with this project, and you will have a work of art.

Good luck, fellow crafter. Good luck, indeed!

By The Songwriter from Boca Raton, FL

June 23, 20100 found this helpful

Beautiful Birdhouse, Songwriter.

Sounds a bit complicated until you go over the directions slowly and think about what you'd be doing with each direction. It's not so difficult at all.

Thank you for the detailed directions and encouragement. May I ask questions along the way, please? :-)

Thumbs Up!

Pookarina

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June 23, 20100 found this helpful

This would be a perfect family project or one for a husband and wife to do together as it sounds like you and your wife may have done. It turned out just beautiful. I'm sure you had to enjoy what you were doing. The directions are long but easily understood. I think we could do it.

Thank you for taking the time to share this lovely craft.

MisMachado

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June 24, 20100 found this helpful

You would never know this was cardboard. It looks like stucco. What a fine job you've done here, Songwritter. I might not be able to build one, but I know what I like. Thumbs Up and thanks for sharing.

ww

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June 24, 20100 found this helpful

This is a very pretty birdhouse. Hard to believe it all started with a cardboard box. You did a good job. I think it might be a little bit more difficult than a kid could do unless he has good supervision and some help. Would learn a lot though.

DarkEyes

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June 28, 20100 found this helpful

Songwriter, my husband wants to know if you have a pattern or instructions for making a smaller one of these special birdhouses, and if so, would you let us know how to build it. Thank you,

ww

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July 1, 20100 found this helpful

I can't believe this is just cardboard. It is beautiful! I think it might be more than I'd want to tackle, but I'd love to have one. You do make it sound easy though, so maybe. Just maybe.

Thanks Songwriter.

Lee

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July 2, 20100 found this helpful

What a nice project to work on. I hope mine turns out as well as the picture.

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