Master birdhouse builder

Steven Price turns an ac­ci­dent into an op­por­tu­nity

The Shed - - Contents - By He­len Frances Pho­to­graphs: Tracey Grant

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. 

Con­sid­er­ate neigh­bour

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.

De­sign rules

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

Feeder tur­ret

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

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