Building a Chicken House
I am grateful to Jonathan Cardy for sharing details of his home made chicken house on his web page
cheap homemade chicken house, in pictures' that can be seen at:
Jonathan's design inspired me, on 23 January 2016, to make a start on building a chicken house based on
his design and observations. In recognition of Jonathan's good work, I also started a photographic record of
this, my first attempt to build a chicken house.
Unlike Jonathan's aim of building a cheap chicken house, the design here is not cheap to build. Although I have
used wood that has been surplus to requirements wherever possible, I still needed to buy three sheets of
12 mm external grade constructional plywood and some softwood. The use of wood that just happened to be
available, has also resulted in a robust structure that is significantly heavier than one would normally expect for a
four hen chicken house.
Also, I would like to thank the writers of Coop Thoughts (The Garden Coop LLC) for their excellent article entitled
'How to build external nest boxes for your chicken coop'. See:
Eventually, I will add full descriptive text, including dimensions here. Meanwhile, if you have any questions
about my approach that can't wait until I've properly documented this project, feel free to send an email to me at:
13 April 2016
Firstly, here are some of the tools that I used during construction of this project.
I started by constructing the front and rear gable ends of the chicken house.
Each of the two pairs of uprights (or 'legs') were made from square-cut 110 mm x 27 mm softwood, 1167 mm in length
joined together with a 68 mm x 44 mm softwood bearer of 846 mm in length.
The bearers were positioned to leave 381 mm clearance between the underside of the bearer and the bottom of the
upright. The bearers were glued with waterproof woodworking glue and then screwed using two size 8, 2.5 inch
screws (8 x 2.5 inches). During fixing of each bearer, a length of scrap wood was tacked at the upper end of the
uprights to help maintain squareness.
Each of the top chord pieces were made from 110 mm x 27 mm softwood, square-cut at the top, and angle cut at
45 degrees where they were to be jointed to the upright. The length of the two top chords in each pair were
656 mm and 628 mm, as measured on the external dimension.
The top chords were glued and screwed using two 8 x 2.5 inch screws. During jointing of each top chord pair,
a length of scrap wood was tacked near the lower end to form a temporary bottom chord to help maintain squareness.
Two side bearers of 44 mm x 68 mm softwood were each cut to 1002 mm in length. The top of each bearer was
then notched with 47 mm x 25 mm cut-outs to take three side-to-side joists. The spacing between the notches was
128 mm (end of bearer to first notch);
302 mm (gap between joists); and,
128 mm (between third notch and end of bearer).
The top chords in the next few pictures have not been fixed in position -- they were merely balanced on
top of the uprights for illustration purposes.
The notched side bearers were then glued and screwed in position using 8 x 2 inch screws. During this operation,
scrap pieces of wood were used to support the top of the uprights using G clamps to ensure squareness. Note that
the screws into the side bearer were positioned diagonally for greater strength (see picture).
The upper four bearers were then fabricated as for the lower bearers (but without notches) and glued and screwed
at the very top of each upright.
Three joists of 47 mm x 25 mm softwood were then cut to 1168 mm in length and glued and screwed into the
bearer notches using 8 x 2 inch screws.
Note the use of a Spanish windlass to keep the structure square while being glued and screwed together.
Squareness is determined by measuring the diagonal distance (between corners). I then used the windlass the
draw in the legs over the larger distance until both diagonal distances were the same.
The framing for the pop hole is made from two horizontal pieces and two vertical pieces that are held together
using dowels and waterproof wood glue.
I then decided that it would be best to provide greater support for the side-to-side joists, so a 1002 mm length of
63 mm x 39 mm softwood was glued and clamped to the joists while being glued and screwed into the front and rear
bearer using an 8 x 2.5 inch screw at each end.
Later, I decided that rodents might be tempted to nest on top of this new central bearer. Eventually, I then used
more 47 mm x 25 mm softwood to in-fill between the side-to-side joists. (To be described further down.)
With hindsight, it would have been better to install a third (central) notched bearer from the outset.
The front supports for the roosting bars are glued to the pop hole framing using waterproof wood glue.
The rear support for the two roosting bars was manufactured from two pieces of wood screwed together. Slotted
corner brackets will be used to hold the rear support in place such that it can be readily lifted off for cleaning and to
facilitate access via the rear chicken house panel (not yet made).
The front and rear top chord pairs were then glued and nailed into position using 2 inch nails. The inside surface of
the chord was positioned flush with inside surface of the upright, resulting in a small amount of overhang on the external
I could have double cut the top chords so that there was no overhang, but chose not to.
A couple of 25 mm x 50 mm softwood webs were then added to both the front and rear trusses. These were
positioned flush with the outside surface of the top and bottom chords.
Four notched 25 mm x 50 mm softwood purlins were also glued and screwed between the front and rear top chords.
The gap between the lower purlins and the side (front-to-rear) bearers will be used later for ventilation of the eaves.
The next job was to deal with a delivery of three sheets of 8' x 4' 12 mm plywood before the rain returned. All the
cutting was done with my jig saw (aka pendulum saw). Although I can make a much straighter cut with a hand saw,
the jig saw causes significantly less splintering of the plywood.
Masking tape was used to help show the set-up for final trimming of the gable wall panels. Don't ever rely on
masking tape to hold your precious panels in place for more than a few seconds -- especially when the panels
are still coated with saw dust.
Masking tape, especially the cheap stuff, will stick firmly when you don't want it to; and release as soon as you
turn your back.
The cut-outs are for a 125 mm diameter butterfly vent and a cat flap having a transparent door. The lockable
cat flap, comprising a transparent door, will provide daylight into the coop plus further ventilation, if needed.
The cut-outs are for a 125 mm diameter butterfly vent and the 12" x 10" chicken 'pop' door.
This shows the set-up for cutting a piece of wood shaped like a Toblerone. This was later cut into four pieces,
each 50 mm in length, and used for keeping the rodents out by closing the ends of the eaves vents.
See next two pictures.
In due course, a combination of fine stainless steel mesh and plasterer's angle bead will be used along the entire
length of both eaves vents to prevent rodents gaining access.
The rear gable end panel has been fixed in place using waterproof wood glue and 30 mm panel pins.
The front gable wall panel was then fixed in place using waterproof wood glue and 30 mm panel pins.
G clamps were used to hold the panel to the pop hole and roosting bar framing during fitting of the panel pins
until the glue had fully set (16 hours).
While the glue was drying, a small punch was used to drive the panel pins home, such that the head of the
panel pin was about 0.5 mm below the surface of the plywood.
A little dab of glue was then applied to the head of each panel pin, nail, and screw in readiness for painting.
The structure was then rolled onto its front gable wall to apply the first coat of Dulux wood primer/undercoat, starting
with the hard-to-reach components on the underside. The frame was then rotated upright again to primer the rest
of the structure except for the parts around the nesting boxes that still needed to be glued to the frame.
Following another two coats of Dulux wood primer/undercoat, it was time to start building the nest boxes.
The first job was to provide some additional support for the floor of the nest boxes. Lengths of 21 x 21 mm
softwood were pinned and glued using 30 mm panel pins and supported with G clamps for 30 minutes.
Note that a gap of 12 mm was left at both extreme ends to allow for subsequent fitting of the nest box end panels.
The floor panel of 850 mm x 322 mm was then pinned and glued to both the 21 mm softwood supports and the
external bearers using 25 mm panel pins. Off-cuts of 12 mm plywood were used to centralise the floor prior to
driving in the first panel pin.
G clamps were used at the ends of the bearers for 30 minutes and then replaced with 25 mm screws.
The two end panels were then pinned and glued using 25 mm panel pins. I had already cut the two internal divider
panels, and these were used to check correct placement of each end panel, prior to driving in the first panel pin.
You will need to draw pencilled guidelines on the end panels prior to gluing so that you know precisely where to
hammer in the panel pins. 12 mm plywood is too thin to do this step effectively without guidelines. (What a
shame it would be if the point of a panel pin were to protrude into the nest box.)
Note the profile of the end panels. The slope at the top of the end panels is there to provide rainwater runoff.
The bottom of each end panel slopes down from both the front and the rear to encourage rainwater to move to the
lowest point, rather than ending up pooling either at the back of the nest box, or in the main part of the chicken house.
This profile will also ensure that the nest box drop-down flap (to be fitted to the rear of the nest box)
doesn't bind on the end panels as the flap is lowered.
The next task was to construct the upper rear panel and draught excluder. This was made from a 60 mm wide strip
of plywood and a length of 35 x 14 mm softwood. The two components were glued and pinned using 20 mm panel
The upper rear panel was then glued and pinned in place using 25 mm panel pins. The next picture shows that the
top edge of the upper rear panel was cut at an angle to match the roof angle. This was done using the jig saw by
locking the sole plate at the correct angle.
To allow for the draught excluder, matching notches were cut into the rear of both nest box dividers.
To help with fitting and support of the two nest box dividers, two lengths of 21 x 21 mm softwood were cut, and
position guidelines drawn on the nest box floor. The two guidelines marked out two nest boxes 12 inches wide,
and a third nest box 8.5 inches wide.
It has been assumed that two nest boxes will be sufficient, with the third partition being blocked off and used to
store cleaning tools. This would still leave the possibility of having three nest boxes with, perhaps, the small nest box
being used by a small breed of chicken such as bantam.
The two divider supports were then glued and clamped in position alongside the guidelines.
Once the glue had dried, the clamps were removed and two size 8 x 1 inch screws were screwed from the
underside into each divider support.
The chicken house was then rotated right-way-up again to glue and pin the dividers. Guidelines were drawn to indicate
where the panel pins should go. After gluing, 25 mm panels pins were used to pin the dividers to the divider supports.
Then the rear of the divider supports was pinned to the upper rear panel and draught excluder using 25 mm panel pins.
The roof panel of 404 mm x 969 mm overall was then cut from 12 mm plywood, with upper corner notches of
46 mm x 27 mm. Guidelines were drawn on the top surface of the panel to indicate permitted positions for the
The roof panel was then glued and panel pinned in position using 20 mm panel pins.
The nest boxes get their first coat of Dulux primer/undercoat. After three weeks, this project is finally starting to take
shape. But with the outside temperature just above freezing, I'm not keen to paint unless some solar heating has
brought the temperature in the garage up to at least six degrees C.
After a couple more coats of paint on the nest boxes, I turned my attention to making the removable panel to be fitted
above the nest boxes.
I started by cutting a 12 mm plywood panel 866 mm x 310 mm. I then glued and pinned a 310 mm length of
35 x 14 mm softwood flush with the left and right-hand edges of the panel using 20 mm panel pins. Between the
softwood edge pieces, I then glued and pinned a length of 15 mm x 12 mm hardwood wedge bead (Cheshire
Mouldings product code HTM888), leaving a space of 12 mm up from the bottom of the softwood edge pieces.
Brass plates will be fitted to the softwood edge pieces such that the panel is held in place using 'key hole'
cut-outs along the outer edge of each brass plate.
Each brass key hole plate was made from 2 mm brass measuring 300 mm x 50 mm. Five countersunk holes
(to take size 5 x 5/8 inch brass screws) were drilled along the inner edge of each plate, and two 'key holes' on the outer edge.
During final assembly, the key holes will align with four brass round head screws in the uprights above the nest boxes.
The use of the key hole plates will allow easy lift-off removal of the panel.
After making the brass key hole plates, the weather turned warm (10 degrees C), so I put some more paint on the
timber frame and nest boxes, and started painting the removable panel and the two roof panels with Dulux
It's now the 5th March, six weeks into this project, and the weather has been cold for many days. It's certainly been too
cold to continue painting, except for a couple of warm-ish days. Typically, oil-based paints need to be applied above
5 degrees C, and water-based paints applied above 10 degrees C.
I don't expect to be doing much more on this project until the weather gets warmer. So far, I've got most of the cut
panels and the timber frame fully undercoated, with a couple of coats of Johnstones 'Dove Grey' oil-based gloss on
the inside surfaces. From time to time, I put some heating on in the attached little workshop so that I could start
applying some water-based external paint (Johnstones 'Quiet Shore') to the outside surfaces of the panels.
While painting proceeded in the little workshop, work started on the pop hole door components. The door was
made from 12 mm plywood, and measured 340 mm wide by 360 mm tall. As it happened, I had some 'L' shaped
pieces of beech that could be used to make the left and right guides for the vertical sliding door. Using a hand saw,
I cut the bottom of each guide at 90 degrees, and the top of each guide to 45 degrees. The length of each guide
was cut to 800 mm, as measured along the front face of the guide.
In the following pictures, I have leaned the door and guides against the front of the chicken house to give you an idea
of the general layout. Of course, the guides will be installed much higher up the front panel than shown here.
Having got the two roof panels and the removable panel above the nest boxes ready for their final coat of paint, I then cut
the floor panel (838 mm x 1060 mm) and the rear panel (760 mm x 900 mm) from 12 mm plywood, and started painting
these two panels in the heated workshop (13 degrees C) using Dulux primer/undercoat.
It's now 14 March, and it's still too cold to paint the timber frame with water based paint. So I'm doing what I can to
paint the panels within the limited space of my separate, but heated, workshop. In the relative warmth of my
13 degree C workshop, I have now completed the removable panel to be fitted above the nest boxes.
Here (above) is a picture of the completed removable panel propped up on the roof of the nest boxes. Note that it is
finished using Johnstone's Weatherguard in 'Quiet Shore' (similar, perhaps, to Dulux Weathershield in 'Buttermilk').
I won't know exactly where to place the brass round head screws that will accept the key hole plates until I have painted
the nest box roof and covered it in roofing felt.
The next job was to staple 1/2 inch welded mesh to the underside of the painted frame. This was done to prevent
rodents attempting to enter via the floorboard. I used a piece of mesh about 1060 mm x 810 mm,
and secured the mesh using staples having 6 mm legs. I placed a staple about every 3 inches along the
perimeter bearers and along the central bearer. The perimeter of the mesh was then folded into the groove of the
bearers to prevent the cut edges of the mesh scratching any chickens (or keeper) who happened to venture under the
It's now the 26th March. With the weather still too cold to paint with water-based paint, I fitted the rear support for the
two roosting bars. The following pictures show the general arrangement, and how standard corner brackets were
modified to include a slot so enable easy removal of the rear support when cleaning the chicken house.
And here (below) is the floorboard now fitted in place. It's starting to take shape, but there's still a lot of work to do.
Over the Easter holiday, my son Trevor and I took the opportunity during some dry weather to make the chicken ramp.
This (below) is what we came up with, with all edges and corners sanded smooth.
The main ramp board is of softwood 1200 x 200 x 19 mm, with 184 mm long rungs made from 21 x 8 mm ramin.
Each rung was glued and pinned using three 20 mm panel pins. The centre-to-centre spacing of the rungs is 90 mm,
resulting in a gap between each rung of 69 mm.
And this is how the chicken ramp looked after two coats of stained wood preservative:
Next, the large removable side panel (below) was made from 12 mm plywood.
I started by cutting a 12 mm plywood panel 865 mm wide x ??? mm high. I then glued and pinned a length of 35 x 14 mm
softwood flush with the left and right-hand edges of the panel using 20 mm panel pins. Between the softwood edge
pieces, I then glued and pinned a length of 44 x 14 mm softwood, positioning its centre line 600 mm from
the top of the panel. A length of 15 mm x 12 mm hardwood wedge bead (Cheshire Mouldings product code
HTM888) was then glued and pinned along the upper edge of the horizontal softwood component to ensure rainwater
The drop-down flap to the nest box (below) was made from 12 mm plywood and cut to 227 x 875 mm.
By 5th April, some warmer weather enabled more painting using water-based top coat on the outside surfaces of the
main timber frame and the latest removable panels. The following pictures show the situation after three coats of
Johnstone's 'Quiet Shore' paint. Because it was a sunny day, I later decided it was time for the timber frame to get
used to being outside, and let the paint harden off in the sunshine.
It's now 8th April. With the main timber frame and all the removable panels now fully painted with oil based Dove Grey
on the inside surfaces, and water based Quiet Shore on the external surfaces, the current showery weather seemed
ideal for preparing the site for the chicken house.
Having successfully used 100 mm high density concrete blocks in the past to support many structures such as water
butts; a potting shed; and stalls for composting, I decided that I would use the same approach for supporting the
chicken house. Accordingly, four concrete blocks have now been set down and levelled with the aid of some straight
lengths of wood, a few stakes, and two spirit levels (one carpenter's level, and one torpedo level).
I will now let the blocks settle and, if necessary, make any small adjustments immediately prior to moving the chicken
house into position.
In between the rain showers, I have started fitting some of the hardware. The following pictures show the chicken
house after fitting the two gable end stainless steel vents; the two eaves vents (formed from a length of plasterer's zinc
plated angle bead); and the cat flap.
The two stainless steel butterfly vents will provide some control of ventilation. It is expected that draught-free air will
enter the chicken house via the eaves vents, and exit via the butterfly vents. The cat flap provides a cheap and
convenient through-panel fitting that allows some daylight to enter through the semi-transparent lockable plastic
flap. The hinged flap might also be useful if additional ventilation is required on hot summer days.
The next task was to make two keyhole plates to support the large removable side panel. Two plates were fabricated
from 2 mm brass plate, each plate measuring 100 x 100 mm. The picture below shows the completed keyhole
plates, ready for mounting on the side panel using six one inch, size 6 countersunk brass screws.
The picture below shows the two keyhole plates fitted to the large removable side panel with a pair of bolt latches to
retain the lower part of the panel. Each keyhole plate is supported by the main frame using a solid brass screw
(Wilko description: 'Screws Round Head Slotted Brass 8G x 25mm').
Because the saddles supplied with the bolt latches had a larger internal diameter than the outside diameter of the
shootbolts, I improved the fit by wrapping some PVC tape around each saddle before screwing them in position.
I need to find a better solution, but the PVC tape will do for now.
The picture above shows the three cranked hinges used to support the drop-down flap. Here the hinges
are each held in position using a single screw while the exact placement of the hinges is being established by offering
up the drop-down flap and checking for all round squareness of the fit. Eventually, each hinge was screwed into
position using all four screw holes and the external surface of the drop-down flap was marked for drilling. The
drop-down flap was to be fixed to the cranked side of each hinge using two M4 screws and associated tee nuts.
The two pictures below show the M4 four-pronged tee nuts fitted to the drop-down flap. A 5 mm hole was drilled
through the drop-down flap before hammering in the tee nut using the flat face of a medium weight hammer.
Having fitted the first removable panel, I couldn't resist adding the removable panel above the nesting boxes. I was
going to wait until I'd fitted the roofing felt but, instead, I used a couple of temporary spacers to determine the positions
for the four solid brass screws (Wilko description: 'Screws Round Head Slotted Brass 8G x 25mm'), as shown
in the picture below.
With rain expected soon, I decided to apply some stained wood preservative to the bottom of each leg, using an old
frying pan to thoroughly soak the end grain and ensure maximum uptake of the oil-based preservative. The following
picture illustrates the method used.
The return of dryer weather gave me the opportunity to fit the necessary tee nuts and shoot bolts for the rear removable
panel, as shown in the pictures below.
Each of the lower shoot bolts are a spring loaded stainless steel type that sits in a slot cut into a piece of aluminium
plate. Cutting the slot at an angle allows the panel to be lifted clear of the chicken house after retracting the upper
shoot bolts, without having to retract the lower shoot bolts.
Alternatively, when removing the panel, I have the option of leaving the upper shoot bolts extended, and retracting the
lower shoot bolts to remove the panel. It's nice to have options.
It's now the 13th April and, between the rain showers, I added a lot more components to the chicken house. Here they are.
The two roosting bars:
The floorboard: The two chromium plated shoot bolts for the drop-down flap:
The two roof panels: The two slides for the pop hole door:
And the following two pictures show the overall result as of 13th April 2016: