How to Build and Decorate a Birdhouse Part 2 Decorate the Birdhouse to Look Old and Rustic

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Part 2 of "How to Build a Simple Birdhouse." Adding effects to the new wood to suggest great age and wear...

PART II: Decorate the Birdhouse

In Part 1 of this two-part series How to Build & Decorate a Birdhouse, we constructed a quick birdhouse or 'bird box' and roof assembly, as shown below. We will be carving and sanding details and faux-damage effects onto the exterior surfaces and applying different wood stains to suggest age and weathering.

Basic Birdhouse Made with Unfinished White Pine Boards

With the roof still attached, we will now carve it with a rotary sander tool to suggest roof tiles or shingles. "Dremel" or "Black & Decker" both make excellent and affordable rotary tools for craft projects and the attachment bits are interchangeable.

The basic birdhouse that we built in PART 1 of this two-part series of How-to Build and Decorate a Birdhouse

Detail the Birdhouse Roof to Suggest Tiles

We will be using the basic 'sanding drum' as shown below, using a medium-course sanding barrel at a medium speed setting.

gouge (carve) semi-round notches into the birdhouse roof to suggest tiles or shingles

Pressing the tool at a shallow angle against the lower edge of each roof section, remove a gouge about a quarter-inch deep. Repeat the process to form approximately equally deep and spaced gouges, as shown. Take care that the rotating sanding barrel does not 'jump up & out' of the gouges you are creating. Use a firm hold of the tool and apply slow even pressure.

These gouges will not be positioned exactly side-by-side or the same depth, which is fine. It is probably best to not attempt to 're-do' a gouge that is too shallow, small or attempt to realign a misshapen gouge. You will likely only make it worse. Again, the appearance of moderate dilapidation and ill-repair is the effect that we are after.

Do both halves of the roof beginning at the bottom edge on each half of the roof and working right-to-left (or vice-versa) from the lower part of the roof, moving upwards by rows, finishing at the apex (peak, top) of the roof. It is easiest probably to work from the bottom rows working upwards to the top instead of from the top row towards the bottom rows.

Nearer the peak of the roof you may have to 'fake it' a bit with the positions of the tile-gouges. It will become clearer as you progress and within just minutes of performing this will become adept at this simple effect.

The Actual Birdhouse Tiled-Roof Effect

The finished roof of the birdhouse with carved tiles effect

When the tiles are completed, extract the two retaining drywall screws to remove the roof assembly and set it aside for now. Next, we will work upon the box part of the birdhouse.

Draw Double-Parallel Lines to Suggest Barn Boards

Using a Ruler or other Straight-edge, mark double parallel lines lengthwise on the sides of the birdhouse, suggesting individual planks or boards

With a ruler or straight-edge, draw double-parallel lines vertically to the upright orientation of the birdhouse at random distances from each other. The intent here is to suggest multiple barn boards of different widths. Some barn boards are wider than others, others are more narrow. Make the 'double parallel' lines fairly close together and fairly consistent. These should suggest vertical cleats which are often used on old barns to join two wider boards which are separated due to shrinkage.

We will be carving these lines with a rotary tool and cut-off wheel. You can also do this manually with a thin-gauge saw blade if you wish. A broken hacksaw blade can also be used if you don't have a rotary tool. The lines do not have to be perfect. These will look fine even if the blade wanders a little bit and makes the 'line cuts' slightly wider in places, or you carve a crooked line slightly outside of the pencil guide lines. It is the suggestion of individual boards that looks best, not any mathematical precision.

Cut the Vertical Penciled Lines on the Sidewalls of the Birdhouse

Using a rotary tool and cut-off wheel we follow and cut the pencil-drawn parallel lines about 1/8th deep. Perfection not required. I made a few 'slip-ups' and it ended up looking even better because of it.

Create an Entrance Hole in the Front of the Birdhouse

I use a rotary wood-router bit to rough-out or punch-through an irregularly shaped entrance hole. The walls of the hole are gently tapered inside and outside, not drilled straight-through. This makes the hole look more like a worn or mouse-gnawed hole in the wood.

For the perch, drill a 3/8th diameter hole an inch or two below the entrance hole using your own judgment as to position. Here you shall insert a 3/8th inch diameter wooden dowel rod or other suitable stick. I like the perch dowel to penetrate into the interior of the birdhouse half or three-quarters of an inch to provide an 'inner step' for the bird on the inside of the house. A bird will often sit on this inner perch nub and look out of the hole during inclement weather.

Carve or cut an entrance hole and perch hole for the birdhouse

Below is what we have so far. Some steps are assumed and others not fully explained in this quick 'how to' tutorial. You can fill-in the necessary artistic additions as you see fit. This is going to be your creation so you can style this birdhouse however you wish.

Notice the surface details (image below,) the scrapes and gouges on the exterior surfaces with the roof re-attached (or, create the effects first the attach the roof one time.) When quick-sanded these will 'soften' and look superb!

Assembled Birdhouse

The birdhouse roof has been reattached

These rough details are added to the exterior with either the grinder-bit or sander-barrel of the Dremel/Rotary tool. Make them deep and ugly.

Sand the exterior of the birdhouse with medium sandpaper. Deeply round the corners. Wear all edges to suggest sagging, warped and aged beams. Make any right angles round and smooth. It should look time-worn, weather beaten and soft. Let your artistic side dictate the appearance.

In the image above you can see the unsanded 'sunken' roof and rounded corners and edges. These edges were taken-down with the Dremel sanding tool initially. The electric sheet-sander will complete the effect.

The Birdhouse is Ready to Stain

Using a dark stain to begin (I used Walnut stain in this example,) stain the birdhouse and roof all over and allow a day or more to fully dry. Next, scuff the exterior surfaces at irregular locations with the electric sander bringing the color almost to the bare wood in places. The dark stain will become 'faded' and somewhat unattractive.

When you have 'abused' the dark stain with the electric sander sufficiently, re-stain the entire birdhouse again with a lighter color stain such as pecan or Puritan pine, etc. The 'scuffed' areas will take the most of this second coat of lighter-colored stain and the dark color will 'gloss-up' and darken again from the moisturizing effect of the lighter pigment.

The Finished Rustic Birdhouse

Finished birdhouse, stained and ready for a family of birds to move in

The final results are shown. Notice the softened scrapes and gouges, cuts. The semi-bare scuff marks and rounded edges that suggest great age and wear. All this birdhouse needs now is a clear-coat of urethane finish for water-proofing and a medium eye-hook to hang it and it is ready for a family of discriminating songbirds to move in.


Posted on May 8, 2010
Judith Barton
Posted on Mar 8, 2010
carol roach
Posted on Feb 10, 2010