Part 1 – Planning
My daughter, Amanda, turned thirty this year, and shared a single birthday wish. “Dad, I need your help building a chicken coop.” The wish was accompanied by an intricate 3-D model. Should I expect anything less from this consummate graphics designer?
Although there are coop kits and finished coops on the market, Amanda wanted a custom design to fit her space. She completed a Backyard Chicken class, invested hours studying coops and chickens, and participated in the annual Tour D’Coop here in Raleigh. Now she needed construction assistance, and I counted it a privilege to join her on the project.
Keeping chickens cool in our North Carolina summers is more of a challenge than keeping them warm in winter. Amanda’s 3-sided open-air design capitalizes on ambient breezes while offering a sheltered roosting area. Her wooded location is home to many predators including snakes, owls, hawks, foxes, raccoons, and dogs. To repel hungry critters on the prowl for tasty chicken nuggets the coop includes several deterrents.
Please, do your research, and construct the correct coop for your climate and location.
Some carpenters buy wood and begin cutting and assembling, bless their hearts. I have to think through the project, break it into parts, and focus on a piece at a time. This step is best completed in solitude. I would have expert help in the shop, and I was spending someone else’s money, so I needed to do my homework.
We held several discussion meetings, swapped emails, and gradually worked out the details. I provided a materials cost estimate and a rough project schedule. Once the plan was approved, we began coop construction sessions. Some of the work happened in my shop in North Raleigh, and some was completed in Amanda’s backyard in Cary.
I build best from scribbled diagrams where I work out dimensions and compile shopping lists. Completing the planning in advance makes better use of shop time and promotes a peaceful atmosphere on the job site. Someone has to know the plan for the day, right?
Step one was to frame the coop at 4’ wide, 10’ long, and 7’ high. The front and back walls were identical, one end was solid, and one end was the door.
The hardware cloth used to secure the open walls and ceiling measured 36” wide so studs were placed accordingly.
The covered living section of the coop measured 4’x4’ and was covered with standard 4’x8’ siding sheets available at the local home center.
We purchased 2×4’s in 8’ and 10’ lengths, trimmed the lengths as needed, and marked off the stud locations on the sill plates. Screws were used for assembly, instead of nails, in case changes are required later to expand the coop. Pre-drilling made installation easier.
It is rare that I am the one with the camera, but Shawn and Amanda were getting the job done, and I never wanted to interrupt.
Part of my job as Dad is to demonstrate techniques and teach my girls how to do things for themselves. I plan to help with projects for many years, but I want them to learn woodworking skills and shop safety. It is easier to become comfortable with the tools when an experienced helper is beside you.
Amanda discovered the wonders of the chalk line when we built the rear wall of the coop. She is a snap at snapping that line. And watch her go with the jig saw! I will admit her cuts are straighter than mine.
After a long day of cutting and drilling we were ready to deliver the framing to the job site. My ’95 Nissan pickup remains a major player in all our project activities.
Part 2 – Framing
Framing day was a warm one, and we encountered our first design issue. The plan was to stand the coop directly on the ground and anchor it with rebar through the bottom sill plate. Unfortunately, the yard was not level and we had about 6” of drop in the 4’ run so the coop would have a considerable lean.
We needed to do some foundation work before erecting the walls. Hey, dear readers, most of life depends on our having a solid foundation. I highly recommend this One.
“For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
I Corinthians 3:11 (NASB).
We took a break and bounced ideas around for finding a six inch lift for the downhill side of the coop. In the end, a 4x6x10 beam provided the perfect solution. The base of the coop needed to be level on all four sides, and that required moving a little dirt.
I demonstrated the proper use of a mattock as Amanda demonstrated her shovel leaning. I think she has it.
We assembled the long 7’x10’ walls and used heavy clamps to hold the sections together while we joined them. Corner braces added strength to the walls during installation and were left in place. We used 3” deck screws for assembly at all points.
Amanda inspected the framed coop and decided it met her approval.
Part 3 – Building the door
The door on the 3-D model of the coop was rather boring, and as we discussed the materials, I realized Amanda was not happy with the design.
One of my favorite parts of being Dad is making dreams come true, so I gave her homework to sketch the door she wanted. I know another Father who loves to give the best gifts to His children, and His is a good example to adopt.
“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”
Matthew 7:11 (NASB)
I woke up the next morning to find this composite photo attached to an email. My homework was to stare at the picture and brainstorm ideas for building it. Amanda joined us two days later for breakfast and a shopping trip to gather the materials. Her face was glowing with delight as I delivered the message that we could build her door.
The door of the coop was easy to build but delivered a few surprises. I should have used 5/4 lumber for the frame instead of 3/4 to reduce the tendency to sag, but I don’t think the chickens will complain.
I can’t say enough good things about the Kreg Jig® in my shop. That pocket screw device allowed us to join boards as needed. We were joining 1×6’s using 3 screws at each joint and assembly was quick.
Please note the smile of satisfaction as Amanda discovered, “I can do this!”
Dads, invite your children, sons and daughters, to join you on projects. Understand the work may take longer, but the memories will last forever. Be patient. Be kind. Take time to answer questions and explain processes.
The lattice work is Amanda’s design, and we tacked the grid in place using the trim gun.
The door assembly was complete, and I sweated bullets overnight wondering if it would fit the coop.
(Editor’s note – it did not. Bummer. More on that later.)
Part 4 – Siding and trimming
The corners of the coop were trimmed to make the siding weather tight.
Amanda gained confidence with the circular saw, and her skill allowed me to stay on the ladder while she cut the needed boards.
She mastered the trim gun and loved nailing trim in place.
Note my snazzy new McGuire-Nicholas tool belt. It was an early Father’s Day present that was thoroughly tested on this project.
A bead of caulk along the edges and the joints, and the coop was ready to paint.
Installing the door was a challenge. I intended to leave a 3/16″ gap on all four edges of the frame, but actually left much less. The door fit the opening, but there was no clearance to open it.
We modified the door on site by belt-sanding the hinge side then cutting an additional strip from the bottom. Second time was the charm, and the door was installed.
Next time I will build the frame from 5/4 lumber or use two layers of 3/4 lumber to make it stronger. The door sagged in the first couple of weeks even with the installation of a turnbuckle. Using the thicker lumber would also prevent the need for reinforcements at the hinge attachments.
Part 5 – Protecting the chicks
Amanda selected paint that matched her house so the finished coop looked like a planned addition.
Custom aprons were created from 2×8’s to seal the gap under the ends of the coop. We can’t have critters tunneling into the compound from the nearby woods. I used a mattock to dig a trench so the apron is nearly level.
To stabilize the structure I added 5 inch lag screws through the sill plate into the support beam below. I don’t show this step but 16” rebar was installed in front of the beam as a further safeguard against drift.
In preparation for installing the roof and wrapping the coop with wire, we added ceiling joists. I opted for galvanized 2×4 hangers screwed into the frame to make assembly easier.
Every open space on the coop was wrapped with hardware cloth and screwed in place using #8×3/4 wood screws through oversized washers. Cutting hardware cloth can be daunting without adequate help. We used tin snips as well as a jigsaw with a metal blade to make our cuts. We saw payback for our careful job of framing as the hardware cloth is 36” wide and only had to be cut for length.
As a further barrier to tunneling critters we added hardware cloth around the base of the structure. The grass can grow through this once we stop stomping in it.
Oh, look. We have our first chick in the cage.
Part 6 – Roofing
For the roofing Amanda chose transparent polycarbonate panels. She wanted to maximize light into the coop while keeping rain out. The panels are sold in two lengths, 8’ and 12’, and we opted for the longer panels. Each could be cut to provide two sections of roofing, thereby minimizing waste. I rode in the back of the pickup as we flopped home with the panels.
These panels can be cut with a utility knife, tin snips, perhaps even scissors. I used my jig saw with a fine toothed multi-purpose blade. With two helpers supporting the panels, we made the cuts.
Although we marked and predrilled the holes for the special roofing screws, they can be inserted directly. Be sure to crank the torque on the drill down to prevent deforming the panels.
Part 7 – The nest box
The nest box is the magical place where the golden eggs will be found. Amanda’s design called for a cantilever mount with the box accessible from the outside via a flip-up door. It must not be an easy path for predators to invade the coop, though. I had to think about that one.
I ripped 1×4 pine to create the frame members. All joints were made with pocket screws, and we routed a rabbit for the ¼” exterior plywood walls. The plywood was leftover from the door assembly.
Note the parallel strips down the center of the nest area. The box can be divided in two with a slide in panel, offering each customer a little privacy.
I can’t imagine laying an egg is something one does for an audience.
We used leftover siding to encase the nest box, offering additional protection from the elements. The box will be painted to match the coop.
The lid was covered with hardware cloth to discourage scratching critters.
As a deterrent to predators I cut a recycled piece of 16 gauge steel and fastened it to the bottom of the nest box.
Final assembly required cutting a hole in the coop wall to accommodate the nest box. I measured twice. I asked my wife to double check, then Amanda verified. The jig saw made short work of the cutting, and I had my fingers crossed that the box would slide into place. It did!
Support framing was created from sections of 2×4, and we used jack stands to hold the box steady while we fastened it.
Drilling through the nest box and the 16 gauge steel was no picnic. Amanda leaned on the drill but was making no progress. We enjoyed a good laugh. I had forgotten about the steel hidden below the deck. The nest box was attached to the frame with carriage bolts at the bottom and deck screws at the top.
Shawn verified the assembly and gave a certificate of occupancy for the hens. I had precut some 1” trim pieces to finish out the exterior walls.
Chain from a defunct porch swing was attached to eye bolts to secure the lid. On the top I used a standard double bolt snap and on the bottom a quick connect link. We decided the locking scheme needed an upgrade.
A roost made of 2×4’s will give the chicks a place to sit and gossip. In the photo we are discussing how best to mount food and water sources.
Amanda worked out a modified locking system that will be raccoon proof and will clamp the roof tightly.
The finished coop
The model Amanda provided.
And the finished coop.
The new occupants have arrived and will be moving in soon. Ladies, get busy. We are waiting for those eggs.