Sycamore Log Birdbox

Monday 9 July 2018

This bird box, made from a whole log, is a great project for practising end-grain hollowing with your specialist hollowing tool. You will be hollowing through a large aperture in the bottom so you will be able to see what the cutting tip is doing and you do not need to make the inside smooth. However, if you do not have a specialist hollowing tool, you will still be able to make this birdbox by simply hollowing it out using a fingernail profile bowl gouge.

I have recently had to have an ugly, ivy-clad sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) tree felled as it was leaning precariously towards my neighbour's fence, and I decided to use a piece of this for the box.

No finish or preservative is needed – and certainly do not put any on the inside. If you do wish to put a finish on the outside use a water-based one. In time the box will weather and blend in to its environment.

Contact the RSPB

The size of box shown here – and particularly the size of the hole – is suitable for tree sparrows, pied flycatchers and great tits. You can, of course change the sizes, but do pay particular attention to the hole size. If in doubt I recommend that you contact the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) or visit their website at www.rspb.org. Details of the best locations to site your bird box should also be sought.


1 Mount the log between centres and square off both ends using a fingernail bowl gouge. My log was very unbalanced so lathe speed initially was 350rpm. Roughly shape the outside using a spindle roughing gouge or a fingernail profile bowl gouge. Do not put too much shape into the roof at this stage. Strength is needed here in order to hollow it out

2 Turn a spigot to fit your chuck – I am using the Gripper jaws from Axminster – you will need a good grip to hollow this size log

3 Mount the piece in your chuck and drill a hole down the centre of the piece to a depth of 200mm (8in). I'm using a spade bit in a Jacobs chuck mounted in the tailstock

4 To hollow the piece start with the hollowing tool – in this case a fingernail profile bowl gouge – in the hole and swing the handle away from you. With the flute of the gouge pointing to about 10 o'clock, use the cutting edge just to the left of the tip of the tool to make the cut

5 Complete the hollowing and cut notches on the first 125mm (5in) of the inside; this will help the baby birds to climb out. I used a side cutting toothpick cutter to do this. Cut a step in the bottom to accommodate the baseplate. Lock the spindle of your lathe, measure 125mm (5in) up for the bottom of the box and drill a 28mm (1 1/8in) hole in the side wall

6 Reverse chuck the piece, holding it with the jaws expanding on the circumference of the hole or, if you do not have big enough jaws, turn a jam chuck. Bring up the tailstock for additional security and complete the shape of the outside

7 Turn a plug from a separate piece of wood to fit the base. Do not make this a tight fit because it needs to be removable and will be screwed in place. Drill a few drainage holes in the base

8 The birdbox fixed in an appropriate position, to attract birds looking to nest

9 The finished bird box