Garden Trellis and Bird Feeder
By Tom Larson
Double-duty project pleases vines, birds and gardeners.
Composite illustrations by Nate Skow
When we built our house on the outskirts of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in 1972, we were in the middle of what had been, the previous spring, a cornfield. Huge patches of 8-foot-high, wild, rough sunflowers grew in the unfarmed areas waiting for development. We delighted in the antics of sunflower-feeding goldfinches, the songs of meadowlarks perched on the back fence, the calls of cock pheasants in the distance at sunset, and, from the nearby slough, the croaking of frogs at night. Jackrabbits provided sport for our poor, slow dog who slogged back panting after each futile chase.
As the fields around us were developed, the remnant prairie wildlife was mostly replaced with eastern forest inhabitants such as nuthatches, house wrens, English sparrows, downy and hairy woodpeckers and occasional flickers, although the goldfinches, mourning doves and a few other species still visit. I don’t recall when we first started feeding the birds, but we didn’t get serious about it until we spotted cardinals perched atop the snow clinging to the branches of our next-door neighbor’s blue spruce.
With a little research, we learned that cardinals prefer to feed on open feeders where they apparently feel safe because they can exit the area without obstruction; black oil sunflower seed is their preferred food. So, I decided to build a feeder with the recommended open top and fill it with sunflower seed. And cardinals did come, along with many other types of birds. The squirrels arrived too, of course, and continue to eat more than the birds and provide at least as much amusement. And cottontails, at night, fill the snow under the feeder with their tracks as they clean up the spillage.
I’m not sure whose idea it was to put that feeder atop a trellis. It might have had something to do with the fact that we had fallen heir to some cedar lumber salvaged from our elder son’s deck remodel, and there was plenty to build something more elaborate than a simple post to support the feeder. That clematis-covered trellis adds beauty to the yard and some cover for the birds feeding there.
This spring I decided to build a better looking trellis/feeder with a fresh design from the ground up – literally. The project requires making some thoughtful angle cuts, and it can be accomplished with hand tools.
Rather than have you struggle with protractors, bevel gauges and cutting compound angles in a single pass, I indicate measurements to help you mark the wood to make the cuts more easily. The machinists among you will notice that this method is only accurate to about 1/16th of an inch.
As with most outdoor projects, naturally rot-resistant wood is a good idea. I used western red cedar, but many other species will do (for more information, check Choosing Wood for Outdoor Projects). For added insurance against rot, I set the legs of the trellis in small containers of deck treatment and left them to soak overnight.
I didn’t find a finial at the lumberyard that matched the one I had created in my mind’s eye, so I went home and turned one myself on the lathe. Most purchased finials include an installed lag bolt that you can screw into a hole in the center of the disk.
I also turned the edge of the disk that is attached to the top of the legs, but you can saw the piece round (or leave it square) for a more rustic look.
Cut three 2-by-2s of each of the following lengths: 96 inches (legs), 411/2 inches (lower braces) and 157/8 inches (upper braces).
Mark the ends of the long braces and short braces as shown in Figure 1 and cut them all along the line marked in red.
Fasten the upper braces together with No. 9 21/2-inch screws and repeat with lower braces as shown in Figure 2.
Make a mark 11/16 of an inch from the ends of the outer sides of each brace triangle and draw a line to connect them in each corner as shown in red in Figure 3. Set the blade on your circular saw or saber saw to tilt 15 degrees and cut along the red line so that the resulting bevel slopes to the outside of the triangles. If you are using a handsaw, make the cut with the blade tilted so that it will exit the wood at the ends of the braces (follow the green line).
Cut a disk about 5 inches in diameter from the 2-by-6 scrap. If you have access to a lathe, router or sander you can shape the disk more dramatically.
Fasten the lower brace triangle to each leg with its top edge 61/4 inches from the bottom end of the legs using two No. 9 2-inch exterior screws (Figure 4).
Set the trellis on a flat surface and fasten the upper brace triangle with its top edge 613/4 inches from the bottom end of the legs as above.
Attach top of the legs to the 5-inch diameter disk using one screw for each leg. You can trim (bevel) the tops of the legs to provide a flat landing for the disk but it isn’t necessary.
Mark and cut the ends of the remaining three 157/8-inch-long 2-by-2s as shown in Figure 1.
Screw the 157/8-inch 2-by-2s to the underside of the top brace triangle to create the feeder tray sides. Cut window screen and hardware cloth to fit on the underside of the tray.
Staple the screen and then the hardware cloth to the bottom of the feeder tray. Use 3-inch screws to fasten the tray assembly together with the 3/8-inch battens positioned below the screen and hardware cloth (Figure 5).
Lay out the trellis sides with the 1-by-2 stock using one 72-inch and two 64-inch uprights and three horizontals at 32-, 271/2- and 211/2-inch lengths as shown in Figure 6. Fasten the horizontal pieces to the vertical pieces with 11/2-inch screws. Then fasten the subassembly to the frame with 2-inch screws.
Insert 1/4-inch-by-4-inch eye bolts in holes drilled about 11/2 inches from the bottom of the legs.
Fasten finial to the center of the disk at the top.
Level the trellis and stake it down with 12-inch nails (Figure 7).
All that’s left now is putting the birdseed in the feeder, planting something viney at the base and watching the show!
An avid gardener and woodworker, Tom Larson combines these passions whenever possible. He tends to the birds and his shop at his home in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
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