I’ve built a lot of things in the last decade (and definitely a lot more coop-like structures than one would have guessed… thank you, chickens) but building this duck house was a first on many levels… first time I’ve built an A-frame structure, first time I’ve installed cedar shingles, and the first time I used my mother as a human saw horse (actually, maybe not the first time I’ve done that last one. She has a good sense of humor about it though…)
So, first of all, let’s be clear about how much of a “how to” this is. I’ve never been a planner. I trust my brain and my tools, and so the full and complete plans for building this A-frame duck house looked like this…
Just so we’re clear, when this is your full and complete plan for anything, it’s not going to go 100% smoothly… and it didn’t. But too much planing causes me anxiety and solving problems in the moment doesn’t. So this is how I do it. Here are the general steps I took to build this house, but if you need a complete step-by-step with details like dimensions… I’m not your girl.
So this is how it started. First, I used a sheet of ply as a template. There were marks on the board at the middle of the top and the point where the legs of the A crossed the sides of the ply.
Actually, before I did this I spent a little time just playing with the boards and a tape measure trying to determine what the appropriate size for the duck house was.
I decided on 3’x4′ at the bottom of the platform, which is actually about the same size as this chicken coop.
But the A-frame is lower to the ground and has a lot more head-room. Overall it stands around 5′ tall.
As far as the actual build goes, I started by building the A’s. (Two of them, using my plywood template.) For the angles I used a straight-edge to mark the angle on the boards, and then set my miter saw accordingly. (If you’re one of those people who likes math, this would also work.)
The frames were constructed using pocket screws aided by my trusty Kreg.
Here’s one of the A’s assembled…
This was the point at which, on the first day of building, my mom said “We aren’t done? I thought we were going to build the A’s and that would be a wrap!” Ha. Instead of being done she had to hold everything together while I screwed the supports in place…
Can we all just give my mom some love for being the “human horse” in this picture?
Also, let me tell you this, I’ve never once doubted that my mom appreciates the person I grew up to be… she loves me and supports me regardless. But, you know, it might have been easier on her if I ended up being a girl who enjoys like shopping and, like, things that happen indoors. This is the woman who used to dress me in little sailor dresses before I had an opinion about such things, after all…
But instead of dressing up in cute outfits, instead I grew up to do shit like this…
And when I call my mom for “help” it’s for things like installing fences, mucking out of the donkey stall, and holding lumber while I build a duck house in sub-forty weather. She sure handles all of that with grace, and very little complaint, (and also supplies a lot of wine for these adventures)… You can never underestimate having a parent that will support all of your crazy ideas.
So that’s my PSA for awesome parenting, even when your kid is 34 and has her own farm.
And, okay, back to the duck house. Next step… sheathing.
This is what the bare frame looked like.
Here’s a tip… don’t assemble this until you have the “floor” sheathing cut and installed. Triangles are not forgiving when you do shit like this:
So, that was a mistake, but easily fixable because I used deck-screws for most of the construction of the coop, instead of, say, a framing nailer (which is less forgiving unless you like pounding nails out of 2×4’s.)
I used 1/2″ sheathing on the floor and roof and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that decision. I probably should have gone with 3/4″, even though it would have added a lot of weight (and the damn thing was already pretty heavy as-is.)
I also put some secondary framing members in for the door and to support the siding…
The siding is 1/4″ tongue-and groove cedar. I’m not sure how it’s going to hold up to the elements, but we’ll see.
Also, because there may or may not have been more than one bottle of wine involved in the building of this thing, I got in the habit of labeling things for future reference… protip for those of you who drink and DIY.
Not that it’s a good idea to drink and DIY, obv. You could TOTALLY LOSE A FINGER.
Which, speaking of…
I love my power tools, but I actually also really love banging on things with my hammer.
One of the big challenges in building the A-frame was allowing this side of the “roof” to open (for easy cleaning), because, first of all, do you know how much of a pain in the ass it is to get hinges installed on a level surface? A huge one. Then multiply that by 20 for installing hinges on an angle…
I used two door hinges and a lot of help from mom to get that in place.
Here’s what the finished interior of the structure looks like:
I left the top of the A open for ventilation. (Necessary for chickens or ducks, but ducks breathe a lot of moisture into the air, so even more critical for them.) To keep out varmints, the open areas were covered with wire mesh, and installed with 1/2″ staples from my pneumatic stapler. (Thanks, mom.)
The next step was roofing, and here’s the thing… don’t install cedar shingles this way.
I mean, listen, I’m not the boss of you, you do what you want. I sure did. But what I’m saying is that this isn’t the proper way to install cedar shingles on like a house or barn or some kind of structure that is meant to be more lasting than a duck house. Cedar will absorb some amount of moisture from rain, etc. and needs to be able to breathe to dry out, which is why you often see old cedar roofs with 1×6 sheathing that’s spaced four or five inches apart. They also make underlayments for roofs with solid sheathing that allow the shingles to breathe… but, listen, those things are way too complicated for a duck house.
Instead, I put tar paper over my 1/2″ sheathing. (Actually, my mom did this part.) And this is definitely the part where I’d recommend 3/4″ sheathing to nail the shingles into.
The way I’ve got this set up it will likely trap some moisture under the shingles and cause them to degrade faster, but this is a duck house. Even if I have to re-shingle in 5-7 years, it’s not that big of a deal.
So here’s how shingling went…
A 5″ overlay is typical for cedar shingles, so I started by cutting 5″ off the bottom of the first course of shingles, installing them, and then installing another full layer directly on top.
This keeps the angle of the roof consistent.
Also, cedar shingles are nailed approximately in the middle of the shingle, so you’re nailing through two shingles and the sheathing at the same time.
Every subsequent layer should start 5″ above the last, and you want the seams to be at least 1″ offset…
This is different than installing cedar siding (which I did on my last house) and in which boards are nailed at the bottom and independently of one another.
For any type of cedar application you want either hot-dip galvanized or stainless steal ring-shank nails with a blunt tip (If they don’t have a bunt tip you can always pre-drill… the idea is that the fastener parts the fibers of the wood instead of splitting them, which causes more splitting down the road.) Anything that rusts is going to leave stains on the shingles over time.
If you’re looking for some legit info on installing cedar shingles and not just the picture from some girl drinking a bunch of wine and building a duck house, try this.
Here’s a look at the shingled door on the “opening” side of the house…
I didn’t get a good picture of this actually, but to finish the roof off I ripped a cedar 2×4 down to a 2×2 and used that piece as the peak of the roof, butting the shingles up to it.
And then all that was left was finish-work. I made a short ramp into the house…
1/2″ grips spaced every 3/4″ on a 1×8 board.
And the door, which was just tongue-and-groove cedar siding with some decorative trim. Trim that I glued in place and used the super fancy clamping method called “stack whatever shit you can on top of the pieces to hold them down.”
I actually used a couple of real clamps to help hold the door in place when I secured the hinges though… sometimes I do things the “right” way (but not if I can help it.)
And here she is, all finished…
The ducks had no complaints…
There are a few things I’d have done differently, using thicker sheathing and longer roofing nails chief among them. Otherwise, for a 3-weekend build, this was a pretty quick and fun project.
Since it’s mostly built of cedar, the plan is to let it weather through Summer and then see if it makes sense to paint or stain it. I suspect the ducks are going to enjoy it either way, though.