The continuing story of the construction of The Best Little Henhouse In Ryedale*

The start of summer 2014 brought a number of opportunities to relax. Six day weeks over, close to two months off. Time to kick back and wind down.

Yet I was on edge – and it was a poorly bevelled edge. My first attempt at a serious piece of woodworkery, putting together a henhouse, and for the first few weeks in July, all I was building was a carpentry anxiety complex.

To start with, I distracted myself with a lot of cosmetic stuff. It was pretty straightforward, wood treatment things. There were a number of sections taken apart from a hutch donated by neighbours mentioned in Fowl Play Part 1. They hadn’t had chickens in it for a while, so it wouldn’t have been cleaned, and it had become foxed.

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Note the clag, the bits of chaff and sawdust and dirt… As well as sanding the boards clean, I realised, I would have to completely re-treat the wood to make it weatherproof. The approach would be to sand it down, and paint it up, as I would sing to myself, to the tune of ‘Rip it up’ by Orange Juice as I worked. The 3 signifies me trying to be as organised as possible. Unscrewing each section, keeping a log of which bits went where, to help piece important bits back together accurately. I mean, this was sort of useful, although where the pieces went was kind of obvious even to an amateur armed only with enthusiasm and a blue permanent marker.

A lot of the older chicken manuals we used for our supporting material suggested creosote. The smell of creosote is very familiar and reassuring in a nostalgic sense. But best not savour too deeply on the inhale, Cletus! The Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) rating for creosote is so high that you can’t actually buy creosote any more in the UK. You have to get a ‘creosotesque’ substance. Despite being less volatile, it is still nostril-wateringly bad for you, for the environment, and crucially for any poultry that might happen to be pecking at the timbers.

I went for a big tub of water repellent product, illustrated here:

quack!

quack!

It was VOC rating 2 (“Low”) , which may be painty sciencey make-you-feel-good meaningless woo, but it was the same price as the creosotish product, and I didn’t get the spins every time I levered off the lid.

‘Autumn Gold’ looked like neon orange when it was first applied. J joined in the neighbourly heckling on seeing the colour slapping on.

‘Dear me, you’ll be able to see it from across the valley. “Mimi’s: the best little henhouse in Ryedale.”‘.

‘Balls! Imagine it with late summer light playing across it,’ I rejoined, although secretly I was a bit worried. In those early stages of painting, even I had to admit it made everything look like Tom Jones’ towels.

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I was confident though. Weeks passed. The colour matched the existing pine sections as it dried, and we were having some extra nice weather… note how well the grass is mowed?  Yeah, takes a special kind of prevarication to get a lawn that baize-like. Slowly, though, the different sections of the coop got their coats of waterproof paint.  I was also getting into the whole DIY thing. As you can see above, I put together an impromptu trestle. Check me, the great handyman. And if I say ‘Handyman’ into a mirror five times, do I appear behind myself holding a power tool?

I digress. The bit being painted here is the laying box. Once I had all the bits of wood painted, it was time to start sawing. I got hardware from a number of different establishments, based on how well I could accentuate a confused amateur demeanour. You’d be surprised how willing some establishments can be to offer trade prices to someone non-trade who has mistakenly wandered in off the street with cash in hand and screws to buy.

Things I had to buy in:

Box of screws

Tenon saw

8 2×2 joists

 

Then I finally got sawing. I figured out (and if this is obvious to people who cut bits of wood up all the time, forgive my childlike wonder at the realisation) that I should splice the joints.

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I believe the technical term is a “half lap splice”, and I was pretty proud to have figured this out without recourse to manuals. Okay, the finishing is a little wobbly, and probably makes it a “3/8 lip spluce” or something.  I’m sure there might well be people looking at this and shaking their heads going ‘Nope, what you’ve got there – if it has a name – is simply an affront to carpentry.’ Whatevs… it’s still standing.

 

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The clamps were another loan from Brian, the actual joiner next door. He has tools over 60 years old that are still in perfect working order, some of which I got to borrow. Some, he actually let me have, as he’d replaced them with something nicer. Look at this:

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Purty! It looked a bit worse for wear when Bri handed it over, but a bit of light sandpapering and magic sponge and it was lovingly restored to this shiny glory. It was one of a succession of moments on this project where the full appeal of joinery, the whole ‘DIY’ ethic, was revealed. If I’d had a miter saw a couple of days earlier in the project, I might have avoided some of the more intriguing mathematical anomalies in the brackets…

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…although I managed the first few corners with only me new tenon saw, a smattering of elemental geometry, and many cheerful thanks about the square on the hypotenuse, the mitered ones were much better.

The mostly finished frame looked like this:

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…and finally we were ready to start attaching those orangey sides.

Next episode: Short back and sides, something waterproof on top…

*The Best Little Henhouse in Ryedale… ironic nickname coined by J, based on the garish colours, and prompted also by a succession of increasingly elaborate and lavish designs abstracting into fantasies of a spiralling, onion-domed, rococo ostentation, frequented by periwigg’d poultry clucking approvingly in heroic couplets. Which sort of happened.
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