The assistant can do it: Construct a birdhouse

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By Sam Smith

Editor’s note: Got a challenging job, interesting hobby or do you play an extreme sport? We bet our editorial assistant can do it! Challenge LaFollette Press Editorial Assistant Sam Smith to learn your trade. What should Sam do next? Email your suggestions to Editor Brent Schanding at bschanding@lafollettepress.com.

My first dream job was to be an architect. I wanted to build houses and give them away for free. I thought it would be fun to create mansions for the needy. Ah, to be young and not care about making money.

Then I discovered there was a great deal of math involved in architecture, so I opted to be a writer instead. Between building houses for free and being a writer, I can’t say which is more financially stable.

The closest I’ve ever been to building a house ranges from pillow forts to neighborhoods on The Sims, until Timothy Henderson, originally of Booger Holler, offered to teach me how to build a birdhouse.

Henderson has been a craftsman in woodwork “all his life.” His father built the workshop where he places orders for chests, frames, wreaths, bunk beds and much more — as long as his heart is in the work.

When I arrived at his shop, Henderson had pieces of wood cut alongside two nearly complete birdhouses.

At the back of the table was a lone circular saw. Henderson handed me some protective glasses, and he showed me which parts needed sawing.

There was a nice, nostalgic element to the intense roar of the saw that reminded me of the weekends I would spend with my dad in Oak Ridge where he made windows and doors.

“I don’t really measure these,” Henderson said, using a pencil to mark the projected corners of the birdhouse. “They turn out beautiful anyway.”

I figured at least one of the six parakeets back home would agree.

When the main structure of the birdhouse was ready, it was time to nail it together.

Henderson said he prefers old nails to buying new ones.

“They look better, and they don’t cost me anything,” he said.

Henderson’s eye for material has a charming perspective for the rustic that can’t be duplicated at Michael’s or Walmart.

He showed me where to drill the hole that will serve as a door for wayward birds and wily squirrels.

The pieces come together with a refreshing simplicity. It’s uncanny how blocks of wood can be manipulated into such a unique creation.

Henderson retrieved an index card-sized sheet of aged tin that he said is “at least 100 years old,” and he showed me how to place it onto the birdhouse with a screwdriver.

“It’s a little thicker than what I like, but this material is hard to find,” he said of the tin.

I thought it suited the birdhouse fine, and I already wanted to purchase it. Even though there were already three of Henderson’s birdhouses in the backyard. He’s the Hack Ayers of birdie real estate.

He placed some grapevine in the birdhouse, and then he affixed a chain at the roof.

With the chain and solid base, the birdhouse could be suspended from a branch or rafter or it could be posted atop a column or flat surface.

The appeal of Henderson’s work isn’t simply in the function but in the aesthetic. He renews aged material that promises to last, and he sells it at a wonderful price.

The birdhouse we made could go

for at least $30, but he’ll likely sell it at half that price. It’s the process of woodwork where Henderson finds the most value.

“I can build anything you want, but I like building what I want. If it’s something I enjoy making and you want to buy it, then it works out better,” he said.

He has a piece of trim from the first home his father ever built, hanging next to his tool stand. He has yet to decide what to do with it, but I’m sure he’ll make something splendid.

Sam Smith is Editorial Assistant for the LaFollette Press. Email him about this column at ssmith@lafollettepress.com.