Master birdhouse builder
Steven Price turns an accident into an opportunity
When builder Steven Price suffered a severe neck injury at work he turned the accident into an opportunity. The Whanganui sheddie no longer mounts scaffolding; instead he designs and constructs much smaller buildings. His timber birdhouses tickle the imagination, but they won’t fly away or fall apart because he draws on his many years of experience in the building and construction industry to make them solid and durable.
As a stimulus for his design ideas Steven browses books in the library then takes his pencil to the drawing board. The Treehouse Masters television programme is another source of inspiration.
He has designed and built birdhouses inspired by windmills, medieval castles, and log cabins. Some also suggest an Asian influence, but Steven says that the designs all come out of his head. To keep costs down Steven recycles totara fence posts, and even a bit of kauri, donated by local farmer friends. Recycled pine decking boards are useful for interior structures.
His shed is a movable feast. He stores wood in his gardener’s shed and uses a friend’s bandsaw to rip totara fence posts into workable lengths, then, weather permitting, he finishes them off at home in the yard with his smaller power and hand tools — a small bandsaw and a “little old sawbench” with which he rips the smaller pieces of wood. “It’s quieter for the neighbours,” he says.
The kitchen table becomes a workbench on which he prepares all the component parts then screws and glues the birdhouses together. A large one can take him up to 40 hours to make.
At Expressions Gallery in Whanganui his largest ‘windmill’ birdhouses are the first things you notice when you walk in. The windmills are made from totara board and kauri battens, and the vanes are kauri. He has designed them, and all his other large constructions, so that the bigger pieces can be lifted off for ease of transport. It also allows easy access for cleaning. The parts are all marked and only fit together one way, checked in around the rafters, so that the wind won’t blow them off. The weight also helps to keep them stable.
Steven says that the size of the timber by the time he has cleaned it up dictates the height of the main body of the windmills, and during construction he has learned instinctively to apply the rule of thirds.
“I go with the flow. When I started doing the roof I realized [that] it looked too high so I cut that one down. With a bit of playing around I’m getting to know that if that one is 600mm then the next one should be 300mm, or 900mm — you go in multiples of three.”
The roof of the windmill is a Dutch
gable. He achieves the uneven, rustic roofing effect with a Stanley knife.
“If you square everything up it makes it look too straight. I use a Stanley knife to whittle the curvy edges. It takes a while to make all the curves, but it looks very natural.”
As a thank you for the totara fence posts, he made a birdhouse for his farmer friend and it’s proved very popular with the feathered locals.
Naming the birdhouses
The gallery owner has given the birdhouses names. ‘E-wok Village’ is a fantastical series of ladders and platforms that branch up to a feeder from a driftwood stand, sourced on Castlecliff Beach. And ‘Pagoda Temple’ has a distinctive Asian flavour, but Steven says the design “just came out of my head”.
A log cabin, one of his earlier models,
He has designed and built birdhouses inspired by windmills, medieval castles, and log cabins
has a shingle roof, each individually whittled. But the shingles took too long to make so these days he uses long whittled planks to make the roofs.
After sketching a design, Steven calculates and prepares all the materials he’ll need. He rips totara battens down to 5–7mm thick, and they become the base for the walls and roof. On the roof they overlap by 10–15mm. He glues and staples them together (or uses masking tape to hold smaller pieces) until he gets the right-sized roof he wants. When he’s finished he pulls the staples out, fills the holes with glue, sands, and coats the wood with linseed oil. He uses strong exterior PVA glue.
“I’ve had one birdhouse gathering moss outside for three years and it’s still holding together as well as the day I built it,” he says.
You can contact Steven about his birdhouses on 027 863 3934.
A large one can take him up to 40 hours to make
A multistorey birdhouse with seven different house compartments, as well as balconies, fire escapes, finials, and a hexagonal porthole window
Sanding a totara batten
Using a bandsaw to make finials, window tops, and other fine work
Left and below: Installing corner battens on a tower structure. Once fitted, they are taped and/or stapled until the glue dries
Measuring and levelling … building knowhow creates a stable structureBelow: A lot of wood whittling with a Stanley knife to create a rustic look Below: Three years outside and this miniature log cabin has weathered well
Log cabin with whittled shingle roof
Three-storey hexagonal tower — every entry point has different detailing. To make a hexagonal shape Steven makes 30-degree cuts
A wishing well pot plant holder suitable for ferns