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Episode 025: Urban Birdhouse

By: Chris Fitch
There is something magical about making a miniature building - scaling down the walls, windows and doors and creating a world of the imagination. The "brick" birdhouse featured in this episode is the result of my wanting to create an avian cityscape of birdhouses featuring iconic urban themes, all located in a flower garden by my rather rural home.

The process of creating this birdhouse began by making oversized brick patterned panels for the front, back and sides of the building. I used exterior MDF, but any clear wood will work since everything will be painted. One decision that I made up front was that the brickwork would be cut with an 1/8” downcut bit. An 1/8” downcut bit cuts cleanly and quickly without producing a lot of “fuzz”, and sanding thousands of miniature bricks was never part of the plan. The most efficient way to cut the mortar lines is to have the bit follow a single line as a profile cut rather that to pocket cut in between two lines. This cuts the run time in half. Keep the depth of cut at no more than 1/16” deep because you will need to paint those mortar lines later and the deeper you cut the more difficult it is to paint - trust me on this!

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The next step is to layout the doors and windows. These features will add great depth and interest to your project and define the character of the building. When positioning doors and windows make sure they begin and end on whole bricks and not on mortar joints. You may need to work with width and height of the windows to get things to work out just right. The birdhouse windows are not cut all the way through the side stock, so a series of pocket cuts define the overall shape, the window frame, and the glass panes. If your design calls for windows that pierce the sides, consider cutting the frames from a separate material such as plywood or plastic that can support the delicate structure that divides the glass panes. Add clear glazing if you like.

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Details such as corbels, lintels and railings add character to a building making it come alive but remember that too much detail can often be visually overwhelming and can get lost on a miniature structure. Focus on the large details that define the character of the building. To ensure strength and longevity make the detail parts oversized and simplify them.

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I find painting miniature building as much fun as building them. The painting process used on the birdhouse is the same as for any masonry background. Begin by using 2-3 base colors to create an appearance that is slightly mottled.

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Next, pick out individual bricks, stones or boards with paint that will make them stand out individually or in groups. Try to be random in the effect for most areas. In preparation for adding the mortar color, seal the surface with a clear coat.

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The mortar color is flooded on, the excess removed and then the top surface is wiped clean. Go back and add a little more color or pick out a few more bricks if you'd like. Paint the wood trim and details, and finally, protect your work with several coats of a clear finish.

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Now that the brick apartment birdhouse is done it is time to start on a factory, an office building and then City Hall!

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Published: Oct. 5, 2023
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