raising the coop walls

As in all barn-raisings, we went with the tradition of inviting neighbours round to help.

platform-stacked

Many hands made very light work of standing each wall,  right-wall

And bracing it in place once it was plumb. Just a temporary screw into the platform, and into the top of the wall, really.

east-west-walls

Tra -la. Thank you friends.

north-wall

I added another temporary piece across the top for extra strength while I set about framing in the north stud-wall. Can you see the jig-sawed arches for the nesting box pop-holes?

north-wall-sheathed

I’d already jigsawed the sheathing, and it wasn’t difficult to attach by myself. Never underestimate the friendly support of a few good clamps.

framed-south-wall

Here is my pride and joy, the south wall. I cut all of it by hand, as I had the whole coop to this point, with the exception of the jigsawed shapes. My father talked me through the principles of framing for a door, the layout of which produces such strength. My telephone support. How interesting, to build something the way it is properly, professionally, historically done, and to do it accurately, by hand. Quite satisfying. south-wall-preparation

I’ve framed this front wall to fit the cupboard doors that I found in the 1950’s house demolition. I wanted to be able to open wide doors, to easily get into the coop for cleaning and such. The height works well, too.

south-wall-clamped

Because I built the long walls out of pallets, connecting them at the corner was a bit tricky. Can you see those holes in the studs at the end of the walls? I predrilled the front wall so I could slip a bolt through on either side, and those holes allowed me to tighten a nut onto the bolts. The solutions are satisfying, but like any retro-fit, there are many solutions required! Luckily my father completely renovated his home from a 1950’s bungalow, so he’s my perfect mentor.

south-wall-door-framed

That’s it. Four walls for the chickens, and a thorough education for me. Next – there’s a roof to raise!

An excerpt from my journals of that time:


june 22

we have a third wall! the north wall, where the nest boxes will go. i am quite proud as it is reasonably plumb and all fit in nicely, though it took all afternoon with plenty of brain. it was very relaxed, however, and i had a nice chat with my neighbour as we pulled out a bit of lumber for the framing, and she gave me some sunchokes for the chicken garden. i am so pleased to have this wall framed in! tomorrow i’ll attach the plywood i’ve clamped after i cut the framing to match the jigsawed nest-box pop-holes.

i also mulched the poor currant and a potted tree, and weeded a fair bit. we tried a thistle on the chicks, no one was wild about it, but they sometimes need a couple of introductions. if they would eat my thistles i’d be delighted!
the chicks were blissful under the trees behind the coop, plenty of weeds and lots of earth to bathe in. i think they may have been out with me for three hours, so when i heard them singing their sleepytime song i called all the children to carry them in, and the chicks came to me gently, let me pick them up, only a couple ran away. now they are snoozing in the brooder after a nice cuddle with the girls and boys. they’re a month old.

jigsawing doors & windows

Once the long walls of the coop were complete, they needed to be sheathed with 3/8″ plywood that I hand-sawed down to size, which was surprisingly quick and accurate. Then I clamped, predrilled and screwed the wood into place along each stud with deck screws, using my father’s trusty 1960’s drill.

sheathing-walls

Time for doors and windows!

jigsawing-windows

An equally old, equally trusty jigsaw did the trick for cutting out the windows and doors. First, measuring and marking, then drilling pilot holes for the blade to fit through. Working with 3/8″ plywood is terribly difficult, a thicker material is far easier to cut accurately. I prefer hand-tools for their gentle sounds across the lake, and the slow, simple, human speed, but I’m grateful for that jigsaw!

window-cutout

Little chicken coop windows! Tra-la!

drawing-arches

I’m sure there’s a proper way to mark an arch, but as I only know how to draw on paper with architectural tools, that’s what I did. Solving problems is good enough, sometimes. I’m not gifted with numbers, but triple-checking my measurements, and working visually to make sure that I got each nestbox pop-hole and little window to fall between the studs, and evenly, wasn’t so difficult. Don’t let them stop you, those numbers.

A project like this alters as needed, so the drawing evolves into the real object. So far, adjusting the number of windows to pallet sizes and that sort of thing is no problem.

nestbox-cutout

I can just picture little hens popping through these arches into their comfortable, straw-filled nestboxes, to lay.

the coop platform

With the platform sited in a protected corner of the garden, I set about getting it level and standing up on legs. I designed the coop on four legs to provide an undercover area for chickens to hang out on rain days, and to keep rodents from easily gnawing through the floor.

Working one footing at a time, I dug out a square of turf, then a bit of earth, replaced it with gravel, and tamped it down well. I slid the concrete footing back, and worked with a level on my platform til the whole thing was level in every direction. This was unexpectedly easy. Quite unusual.

On the other hand, three pallets, bolted and framed, are quite heavy! I used whatever I could find around to raise the sides bit by bit, doing very little lifting. I tried supporting just the left and the right, and watched the whole thing fall over as I was clamping one leg. Oh dear. Best to support all four sides, not unlike the fellows who raised my parents home off the ground thirty-odd years ago, using stacked railway ties.

platform-raised

In preparation, I cut my reclaimed posts to size and set them soaking overnight in a bucket of preservative (an ecologically sound, locally made product that the good folks up at Eco-Sense recommended). I picked up metal pieces built to hold the base of each leg and has a bit of rebar that pokes through the hole in the footing and pins into the earth. The name escapes me. Each leg needed clamping into place against the platform, checking for level again, along each side, and across each corner. Such a relief to have that in place! Then I drilled holes through with a very large bit and knocked through and tightened two carriage bolts on each leg.

platform-covered

Everything must surely be easier after completing a step like this. I cut 5/8″ plywood and predrilled, then screwed it into place on top. A raised platform! A chicken coop floor!

I knew how to do little of this and needed to ask questions of mentors all the way through, I assure you. Let me show you how I cut out the doors and windows, next.

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.

platform

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!

nestbox-wall

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!

pop-door-wall

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

windowbox-wall

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.

visualising

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.

platform-on-feet

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.