Winter is the best time for small DIY projects. Sipping cups of tea in the shed while messing around with tools and wood is a welcome reprieve from the commercial madness of Christmas and the daily grind of house chores. I feel DIY projects, such as building a nestbox, can be successfully deployed as excuses to avoid mundane household tasks and thinking about what to get people for Christmas. After all, I’m giving nature a home (literally) and saving nature in the process.  

I’m a bit of a bodger when it comes to DIY. I say bit, but actually I’ve never completed a project without a makeshift tool or by forcing something to fit. Now all your confidence in me and my techniques has been thoroughly washed away, I’m going to walk you through how I built a functioning nestbox out of offcuts of wood that have been knocking around in the my shed.


A sturdy, flat surface is helpful (Photo: Jack Plumb)

I love ‘em. If you’re wondering what to get me for Christmas, please get me either a G-clamp set or a 2” timber framing chisel. Thanks. Here’s what you need to follow in the footsteps of Jack “Bodger” Plumb, aka Sir Bodgealot, in his quest to make useful objects out of waste.

  • Wood you’ve found no use for so far
  • Claw hammer
  • Pliars
  • Screwdriver
  • Tape measure and pencil
  • Panel saw and possibly a hacksaw
  • Hand jigsaw, or powerdrill with holesaw attachment
  • Galvanised screws or nails, size dependant on thickness of wood
  • Gloves
  • Your mitts

Some notes on wood

Almost any wood will do, but avoid wood that’s been treated with harmful chemicals. Water based wood preservatives are OK if only on one side and thoroughly dried. If chemicals have been used on one side, make sure that’s your weather facing side and none of it is in and around the hole into your nestbox. Also avoid any wood that has spillages on it of anything that might be harmful for birds, e.g. cement or tar. And finally if you’re using pallets as I am, make sure they have only been heat treated (stamped with a “HT”) and not treated with harmful chemicals such as Methyl Bromide (stamped with a “MB”).

A lovely, tidy home free from rusty nails... bliss (Photo: Jack Plumb)

Before getting to work, make sure to tidy up your wood a bit. I removed any and all nails and screws, saving the ones that could be reused, and smoothed or sanded any particularly spiky or rough edges. A bit of rough is OK though.

Essential dimensions

It’s quite unlikely you’ll find the perfect amount of wood to build a nestbox to the dimensions listed here for example, in our definitive online guide to building a classic nestbox, but natural nest holes don’t follow a guide either. As long as you stick to a couple of important measurements it actually doesn’t matter too much, and your nestbox can take on a shape informed by the wood available to you, or your imagination. The important dimensions to stick to are:

  • You need to have an area of at least 100 mm x 100 mm for the interior of the bottom of your nestbox, and it needs to be bigger for larger birds
  • The hole into your nestbox needs to be at least 125 mm above the interior floor, and rough on the inside so young birds can clamber out when it’s time to fledge
  • The hole into your nestbox will determine to some extent what bird is likely to nest there: 25 mm for blue, coal and marsh tits; 28 mm for great tits, tree sparrows and spotted flycatchers; 32 mm for house sparrows and nuthatches; 45 mm for starlings.

Winging it, adjusting and trimming as I go - once a bodger, always a bodger (Photo: Jack Plumb)

Don’t expect perfection

You can only work with what you’ve got, and you’ve got offcuts; knackered wood you found and some guidelines only really suited to a pristine bit of fresh timber. Just remember, it doesn’t have to look pretty – the birds won’t care. All our feathered pals care about is that it’s safe and dry.

With that in mind, have a bit of a think about how you’ll assemble your nestbox and about the measurements. I started with the base, making sure it met the 100 mm x 100 mm requirement, and screwed two pieces together. In true bodger style, I cut off the excess afterwards, and moved onto a side panel. Carrying on in this way isn’t perhaps the most efficient way, but it allows you to adapt and adjust as you go, and work with the wood you have. If anyone questions you as you saw off a loose end or knock in an additional nail, just say you’re “retro-fitting the timber” – that’s what they call it in the traditional timber framing game, as it never fits together perfectly first try.

Cutting the roof angle might require a bit of measuring and finesse (Photo: Jack Plumb)

Some final tips

Here’s a few more tips and some final guidance to keep in mind:

  • Don’t nail shut your roof – you need to access the interior of your nestbox to clean it
  • Use an old inner tube as the hinge for your roof
  • Pure raw linseed oil is a good exterior treatment for your wood – thin coats will provide some weather resistance

I used a supporting strut to connect the three pieces used for the roof, which gave it a bit of overhang (Photo: Jack Plumb)

Measuring the height of the hole is really important - birds could fall out, or be snatched out by a predator if it's not high enough from the base of your box (Photo: Jack Plumb)

I got a drill for my birthday. It's great (Photo: Jack Plumb)

For sale: generous up-cycled property in the heart of Grantchester, with bird's-eye views of the the meadows and regular cleaning service (Photo: Jack Plumb)

Have fun, and get those homes ready for spring nesting season!