a floor and four walls

When setting out to do something completely new, say, building a chicken coop for a little flock, I encounter many steps I’d not thought of, and don’t recognise until I’m upon them. I find the uncertainty of learning at once exhilarating and terrifying. Each day I’d face another challenge. With motivational chocolate, and my mentor – my dear father – on video-chat whenever necessary.

Here are the slow, steady steps I took to translate my chicken coop design into a chicken coop. First, the platform and stud walls.


Early in the building process, in conversation with family and friends, I decided to work with pallets. I thought they’d be easier to work with than constructing a wall from scratch, but I assure you they’re not. They are reclaimed, they are free, these ones are heat, not chemical, treated, and if you luck out, they will fit together neatly. They also come in extraordinarily varied sizes, may not be square, are physically challenging to take apart (see the how-to, below) and generally have to be messed about with a good deal to fit:

To pull pallets apart, I highly recommend placing a very hard piece of wood in front of the piece you want to remove, setting a long pry bar (weight lifter’s bar) to leverage against it, then pushing down little by little. Start on one end of the board, then the other, and lastly the middle, repeating these very slowly if the nails are particularly stiff. I allocate a cup for collecting rusty nails and nail heads, and a safe spot for the nail-ridden wood. A crow bar might remove these, or you can hammer them in. Be sure to check where your hands will land if the wood gives suddenly! I learned this lesson the bruised knuckles way.

I cut the pallets to size, and trimmed the ends to line up. I pre-drilled and deck-screwed three pallets together, then bolted them with carriage bolts, knocking through a larger predrilled hole with a hammer. To get the dimensions I needed, I attached a ¾” piece down one side, and pried off some of the flat boards and added others to make a sturdy surface at all edges. Finally I flipped the structure over, and framed around the whole thing with 2 x 6 pieces, to make a strong 5′ x 8′ platform floor. Whew!


This is the beginning of the north, nestbox wall, with room for four little pop-holes for the hens to slip through to a lidded, external nest. We’ll run round the path beside the coop and collect our eggs from the box. One day!


The west side wall, facing into the run, which will have two windows, a a pop-hole door and ladder.


The east side wall, with room for three windows. I went back and pried off several of the pallet boards and reattached to support a row of 13″ x 13″ windows, with a strong stud down the center of each.


My experience in accurate measurement is second to my ability to visualise, so I like to set things up and see if I’m on the right path. The south, front gable wall, with human-doors to access for cleaning, to be framed up after the three walls are set in place. These cupboard doors were reclaimed from a 1950’s Oak Bay house.


Strong young cousins were visiting one day, and they carried the beast of a platform from my worksurface on the deck, to the site in a high, dry corner of the garden.

There you are – a floor and four walls! A whole month of my life. Experienced carpenters might do all this in a wink, particularly if they aren’t also raising chicks in the kitchen and pasturing them in the garden. Perhaps. Finding bits of time here and there is how I achieve anything, while keeping other things in balance as best I can. Next, raising the platform up onto its little legs.

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