Monthly Archives: June 2015

Some custom solutions to bluebird house problems- the first house (L) wound up a bit short, but the second (R) is all tricked out.

The other morning I made my first birdhouse and it will work for wrens, I guess. Today I made what will be my tweaked go-to bluebird house.

Some considerations for bluebird houses:

a-The hole needs to be 1.5 for Western Bluebirds & 1 9/16 for Mountain Bluebirds, any bigger and blackbirds will invade.

b-The hole needs to be deep, so if the lumber is 1″ or less, add a section of hardwood with a 1.5″ hole on the facing, this keeps paws from reaching in and beaks from widening the hole- and it stays quieter inside and helps deflect wind.

c-Don’t put a dowel on the front or blackbirds will perch there and trap the bluebird inside to starve them out. Do put a little shallow cut line or two on the facing if the board is smooth, to give the birds a bit of purchase as they enter. On the inside create a ladder of such cuts leading up to and halfway up the hole for the hatchlings to climb.

d-Put a channel cut along the underside of the roof, about 1/4″ back. This line drops any water that may run backward under the roofline.

e-Cut a bevel along the butting edge of the roof, matching the rake of the walls (22%). This ensures a tight fit of the roof to the back wall, as water will otherwise course down the face of the rear riser wall and flood the nest.

f-I used two cheap hinges for the lid, and left a hole open in each hinge to the rear wall. These holes I drilled through, at an angle toward an imaginary post. I will drive the hanging nails through these predrilled and metal faced holes, as I’ve seen many old houses ruined as they split around the hanging nail. There is also a toe of the rear wall under the house with a hole drilled at center for a nail. When hanging the house bring the cordless drill along, and start the holes in the fencepost to keep it from splitting. Barbwire fence posts only, as rail fences allow predators access. Face the house away from prevailing wind/weather, and preferably not facing into cattle, as they may rub it off the post.

g-The roof needs to open for two reasons. One, to clean the nest out in the fall for next season’s hygiene- the birds don’t usually remain paired past a single season, but the female will return to a good nesting site. A light internal sanding is the best cleaning method- don’t use cleaning chemicals ever. Two, so you can check the eggs a few times per week and make sure you haven’t made mistakes in design or placement that need to be addressed. Once the chicks have hatched, keep checking in, but don’t lift the lid after a week or so, or they may become curious and fledge early and die outside the nest box. Bluebirds are very tolerant of people, and allow quiet and calm humans to help them maintain their homes. I have triaged old county birdhouses with nests in them, and the birds are happier with the improvements.

h-The side panels overlap the floor by 1/4″, and float 1/16″ above the floor. This allows water/waste to fall out, and air to flow up. This is my invention, but for thinner boards just sand the four corners of the floor back about 1/8″ or till there are visible gaps.

i-There are pairs of air holes drilled on each side and on the back, plus the front panel is cut at a steeper rake than the sides, and dropped just a hair- allowing more air.

j-Connect the boards by glue, clamp tightly, then create seated tap holes and screw together with deck screws.

k-Create a latch to hold the roof closed. I use a screw on the underside of the roof eve, and two screws in the R sidewall- screwed most of the way in. Using bailing wire I anchor-wrap the roof screw and pull tight with pliers, then hand-secure the wire to the sidewall screws with an under/over bend. This way the wire doesn’t degrade and snap, and a critter like a raccoon can’t open it.

Plenty of Mountain Bluebirds would like a secure birdhouse up at the Montana ranch.
The house is made with redwood, glued and deck-screwed. The roof has a structural layer of roofing plywood covered in tar-felt, with runs of cedar fencing for shingles. Linseed oil will seal the exterior.
I’ll let this bake in the shop for our week of 103 degree temps at 10% humidity. That should cure it nicely. The latch will get one more screw, for an under/over bend.
Here in Salt Lake, our yard is home to a covey of quail. Parents and 4 chicks. Our yard gives them food, running water, and cover- plus a dog that ignores them and keeps the cats out.
Here they are again, blending in at center just past the gravel path.


Not pictured: Samwise Gamgee, Shelob’s Legs (yes, that is Sting glowing goblin-blue)


The legs and backpack are all molded separately. Next is silicon mold, then jacket mold.

The spider with bigger shoes and backpack was approved by the patron, so on to the industrial processes. Prior to molding, it is often necessary to dismember a sculpture. I pulled all the legs off as well as the backpack. This way the spider body will separate in a simple 2 part mold, as will both sets of legs.

The old Montana ranch house will like its new clothes washing machine. The old electric washing machine had cracked housings from the deep freezes the house endures, and so I removed it and dropped it off for metal salvage on our trip in early June. This new unit will go perfectly with the Solar Clothes Dryer, i.e. rope & clothes pins. The sellers were glad it wouldn’t be used as a flowerpot on some Yuppie’s deck.


Our new clothes washing machine! E spotted it from the truck at an antique store here in SLC a few months ago. We stopped in to have a look over the weekend, and picked it up today.


Skinny profile and easy to carry.


Tub holders swing out and self-stabilize with metal supports.


The galvanized tubs have center drain nubs and are in perfect shape. Wash on one side (still need a washboard), wring out the suds, then rinse on the other side and wring again. 


Last night was Stanley’s second run-in with a Raccoon in the yard at night. The bite on his cheek has two shallow punctures, and he has a divot near his nose.


Stanley losing bits of his face means we get to play this game now.


No more letting Stanley out for a late night piddle, without being accompanied by a human. If a Raccoon is trapped, our vet would like to cut his head off and send it in for testing. nuts. 

E and I headed out cycling a bit too late yesterday, and the temperature jumped up 10, then 20 degrees, in a matter of miles on the way home. Standing at a stoplight I felt the sun crushing my male pattern baldness scull. After woozily commenting on seeing black dots and stars after every light, Elizabeth suggested I use leftover Coolaroo screen from the house windows to make inserts. I cut each Coolaroo screen to fit each space, then “welded” it in place with Bondic. After test-standing-about in the 100 degree afternoon sun, it was as cool as a cowboy hat. A brimless cowboy hat. It should also help alleviate the bug-scoop aspect of the helmet.

I will test drive it this week and see if the high desert Sun Hammer is shrugged off.


Screens for the top 5 vents, shading the sun from crashing against my baldness.


Inside the helmet..


Coolaroo screening cuts 90% of sun, and still allows air-flow, and the Bondic weld creates a seamless plastic bead melding the screen to the helmet’s foam liner and plastic shell.


This is one of the coolest little tools. Bondic. UV activated plastic weld. Better than glue, but not a glue.


Coolaroo screens over the bay window. So little UV comes through that our air-plant that hung inside the window died last summer (while we were stuck in Montana).


The view from inside out is still clear, but the afternoon glare off the neighbor’s house and our driveway is cut down by 90%.


The whole east side of the house Coolaroo’d means we don’t need A/C til temps climb to triple digits, and then our little wall unit handles the whole house. That and a whole house fan to bleed off the day’s heat, as the high desert of Salt Lake cools off by 30 degrees or more most nights.

The Itsy Bitsy Spider is geared up for his waterspout ascent.


Basic form of backpack, with climbing rope and helmet. The clay gets warm when handled and needs to cool down, so refined details will come later- and some may wait till I have the form in wax.


Spider without the backpack, and with rock climbing shoes nearly double in size from previously.


Pack on!


Ready to head up the waterspout.


Planning his route…


Silk rope. Of course, he made it himself.

Another trip to Montana for  a week of spring ranch triage. All the copy is getting garbled and mashed, so let’s just call this a photo-journal and I’ll pry in copy as I can over the next while. The bear visited the house again (see his prints and drool on the windows), the bees weren’t there and then were there all at once in a swarm, E & I knocked out a zillion little jobs and a few bigger ones.


Day before departure. I notice a screw embedded in the L rear tire, the head worn paper thin. I give it a twist with pliers and the tire hisses, so I twist it back in and head to the tire shop at Costco. 3 hours later (@#%!) I am back home making my bed extension / workbench for the ranch.


10 inches of rain in the last two weeks of May up at the Montana ranch. The trees have just budded out, and the lilacs are beginning to bloom.

E shows how high the grass is, with Stanley disappearing.

E shows how high the grass is, with Stanley disappearing.


The yard is so laughing at me and my puny little mower.

Everyone is tickled to be at the ranch.

Everyone is tickled to be at the ranch.

The mower has been Kung Fu fasting all winter in preparation.

The mower has been Kung Fu fasting all winter in preparation.


Like a half-shaved mustache.


Or a badly trimmed goatee.


Always save the poppies!


A good shave needs a sharp blade- and a workbench on the back of the truck for stropping.


The yard’s victory is making me old and tired, and a cat-pillow.


Stripping down the bedroom floorboards of many many many layers of ancient paint.


This is after E used the heat gun to peel the thickest layers away.


The back side needs tidying up as well.


The yard’s creek is babbling along nicely.


The lilacs are just blooming.


We met an elderly lady from Belt who drove up to harvest some of our lilacs- something my Dad had always let her do.


Lawn poppies coming up at will.




Lilacs at sunup, that my grandmother planted in the ’50s


Pretty in the dawn.


Night mouse patrol recovery nap.


The upper bee hive is beeless.


With the hive quiet, I might as well get on a ladder and trim the tree outside the hive.


The last time I trimmed this tree I was in my 20’s and just climbed up into it with a little saw. It must have been shorter then…


There is no way I’m getting up to the big dead branch. Luckily the tree is filling in around it.


A ladder and a pole chainsaw make this a snap.


Hardhat and face screen help with overhead cuts into the breeze.


They got up to trade places.


Pulled trim from around the kitchen door and the wall kick-boards to refinish them.


Beaverboard over plaster & lathe is what is back there.


Bedroom and kitchen boards, waiting in the woodshed.


Kitchen door boards stripped of paint and refinished.


Fat baseboard in-progress.


My workbench with truck parked on the high lawn so I can stand in the dip for a nice bench-height.


Stanley likes the viewing angle better this way.


Putting the wall baseboard back in behind the range.


I’ve got it by a toe-hold.


I set this one in place, then think I should have redone the wall first on the last one and for this one.


I refinish the wall for this one, and well, the other one is mainly behind the range anyway.


Nice and tidy.


All refinished and refurbished.


Meanwhile Stanley and E go on walkies for bovine meet & greets.


Stanley with no collar or leash is a happy boy.


Bluebirds are nesting in the old garage and perching around the yard.


Mountain Bluebird neighbor.


Bluebird nest under the eve of the old garage.


The male will fly around in the garage and warble, so I stay out and give them their space.


Up the hill the lid had blown off this old bluebird house, but it had 7 eggs and both parents tending it. I found the roof in the grasses and put it back on, and the parents went right in.


Wren nest on top of last year’s Robin nest.


Busy and bossy little Wren.


The Wren nest keeps growing and growing.


Robin hatchlings will be huge in just a few more days- they are on the house, just across from the Wren nest on the shed.


Polesaw and Dan wade into low Willow snag.


Stanley always supervises power tool use.


Willow de-snagged.


Big dumb limb too high for the normal chainsaw is now gone with the pole saw. Only an after picture here, but feel lucky for it.


Stanley is giving me that supervisor look. The one that says, “Safety comes when?”.


On the outside of the bedroom window, those grubby smears are bear prints. They continue along the side of the house where he stood on his hind legs and walked along looking up at the bee hive.


Smeary paw prints on the siding as he walked along looking up.


He made a try for the lower hive under the deck on the front porch again.


Water trough on a high hill at sunset.Click on the image and you can see the sunset reflected in the water.


The sunset almost touches the ground.


Ranch at sunset is often a bit lovely.


Things get dark and pink and purple.


At this far northern latitude the sunset keeps going long after the sun has slipped beyond the horizon.


Oh no- painting the old parlour room. So weirdly green, that two previous coats of kilz can’t stop the irradiation.


The parlour is the storage room, and so now the living room is full of junk.


Cats love to nap at the far end of a mess.


The mess has extended into the “clean room” of the kitchen. Again.


Muttered swearing is the most likely thing audible.


How many times can you look in the same places before the thing swims back into existence? And what was I looking for anyway?


All that poking around for a good detail brush, and I found it and I’m going with a roller instead.


That is the new layer of tinted Kilz trying to cover the old green already under two layers. Did the incredible hulk explode in here? Am I David Banner and I’m in deep therapy trying to wash away Hulk?


It is going to need another layer. Man, this psychoanalyst might just get to meet Hulk after all!


See the pretty green ceiling light. That radium green must have tinted the room over the years. The idea to paint the room the same color as the light was likely because they thought the light was so pretty. But that pretty little light just disappeared into the green room. Now it shows up and shows off.


The next morning I’m up early before the sun hits the porch, and up to something.


The porch is stripped, swept and vacuumed.


A trim line is carefully hand-painted near the house, in the color from the line below the one I circled on the paint pallet back at the hardware store. Dinks. Anyway- a special paint to fill cracks on old decks with suspended texture beads so it stays grippy in the rain/snow.


Roller application as sun begins to roast.


Done. In some weird tope that likely matches some wide array of miserable HOA rabbit warrens.


Also new is the garden section to the right of the footpath.


Another packrat- killed clean with a crushed skull. Now resetting the trap.


The trap is back in its lair. I’ll move it up to the Barn to help protect the saddles.


I brought the chainsaw to our SLC Stihl repair shop, and the little saw is running strong. Time to take out the big dead willow snag.


First I cut a wedge from the front angled to let the tree fall into the upslope- the cut is made while standing behind the tree with the saw in its side.


The wedge needs to meet clean across its face.


With my “escape rout” cleared behind at a 45% angle, I cut to within an inch of my wedge.


The tree falls clean, snapping the last inch clean as it topples beyond the danger zone of kicking backward. Perfect.


Now I cut it into manageable sections.


Last cut is clearing the stump. The fell-cut is higher for cutting safety.


The rhubarb in the yard is kaput, but there is more up in the forest up where my grandmother had her raspberry bushes. We put in a few raspberry stalks from our SLC patch, as 1980’s logging wiped out the old group- and found the rhubarb.


The old gun cabinet hadn’t been used for much but jamming calving medicine into, as the doors no longer hung straight and the cabinets all stuck shut.


What seemed like one little fix led to a few more, and pretty soon I had the whole thing apart.


The door back there is clamped and finding square again.


I had to loosen the bottom to remove the drawers.


The drawers are heavier stock than the rest of the cabinet, and it shrank around them over the years. I sand them down to where they can slide in their cubbies again.


I rip them down with a heavy grit, then sand them back to smooth.


As I take it apart it seems like a project that a high school wood shop may have done, and my dad’s signature on the inside bottom of a drawer lends some credence to the idea. That would make it about 65 years old. He taught the shop class in his senior year, when the regular teacher left.


Here she is, functional again and with his mother’s rocking chair that I repaired back in 1998- the L rocker leg had snapped off.


The hive had been empty, then a swarm arrived and moved in over the course of about 20 minutes.


It took us a minute of gawking before we ran for the camera, and they moved the queen in quick.


This would have been the year to set up the bee box in the upstairs bedroom…


Backlit bees- an impressive low drone is winding down.


There are 100 year old cedar posts holding fence all over the ranch, mixed in with newer pine posts. As posts fail they are brought down and pile up- Dave is hoping to burn all the old wood this winter. E and I dug through the vast post pile made of decades of posts, pulling all the cedar posts. We then set up a chainsaw bed on the back of the truck and cut the dead ends off as firewood. We kept the clean lengths for future use as H bars in gates & corners, or to split down to light weight “stays” that suspend midway from barb wire between grounded posts. They are hidden here behind the tool shed.


The end cuts and unusable posts were cut and stacked inside the tool shed for firewood. All the newer dead posts that make the majority of the dead post pile can’t be burned as firewood, as they are chemically treated.


We hauled them from the field in a few truck loads and cut them here in the shade of the willows.


The back layer is pine, and there are two more layers coming out of cedar, and buckets and boxes of end cuts. Enough to last a few years of ski trips.


We head up to watch the sunset, and it amps up then fades out quickly.


The clouds evaporate and sky goes blank.


The view is far to the North, past the Highwood mountains and straight on to Canada.


These clouds remained cold and blue throughout. We head out tomorrow…


From E a great alternate storyboard from the Star Trek episode “Arena”: the fierce Gorn has picked a lovely bouquet of daisies to bestow on Capt. Kirk- knowing sentimental gestures are this golden space-Achilles’ heel. Spock shakes his head wearily to Bones, saying “He knows, Doctor. He knows”. “Dammit. Dammit Jim.” says Bones, as Nurse Chapel hands out the cyanide pills.


When E asked me to help ice the cake, I didn’t realize I had created the flying saucer of the Gorn.


Birthday loot with cake #47.


I spent the day devouring Kenneth Clark’s 100 Details (thanks Walt & Kaye), and made a few contour drawings.