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Constructing the Coop

Posted by joeabbott on January 18, 2010

OK, after a lot of frustration looking for actual coop plans on the web, I promised details on how I put this one together. See this post if you are wondering what the final product will (pretty much) look like.

Let’s start with a confession … I have an engineering background, have worked for an airframe manufacturer, and over-build everything. Yup, throw practical details aside, scorn “you could get by with”, and worry to distraction over minor (but actual) details. I worry about the wind, I worry about sagging over time, I worry about everything. And, as a result, I over-build. Don’t like it, no worries … it probably doesn’t affect you. 🙂

The key to the design here is the posts (beams). We get some winds but not gale force winds. Well, not often. Right now I’m looking at potted plants out on the deck that are overturned because of the winds. Anyhow, the place we plan on putting the coop isn’t right next to the house or shed, but way back in the yard: a quiet corner, away from most neighbors and on a flat piece of property. And so I worry about the wind. And I worried about how the floor would connect in a way that added strength.

When I looked at other plans I couldn’t see how their puny little posts would hold up to winds, how they’d provide the stability and rigidity for the overall structure. I needed good sized timbers but more than that, I needed them to provide strength for the rest of the structure. And then I figured out how to connect the shelter floor in: slot the legs, insert a notched out floor, and then let the side panels pick up the load! Perfect … but I’d need big enough beams to tolerate a notch mid-length.

So here are the legs in all their over-engineered glory. While this may look like a complex arrangement, I created everything here with a simple (and very cheap) circular saw, some clamps to hold things together and a chisel to clean up the bottom of the cut.

OK, to help keep things orderly, I named the support posts, arbitrarily, A, B, C, and D. The back of the coop shelter will be between B and C; the front (where the chickens enter the shelter and go into the run) is between A and D.

The beams are green, rough-cut 4x4s (what they had available at the lumber store). After cutting them down to 6′ lengths (72″), I ran a “wood shaver” over them to take most of the roughness off them. They were probably 3.75″ on a side at that point.

At the bottom of all posts (or “beams” as I’ve labeled them in the picture) is a cut out notch. This notch is 1″ deep and 5.5″ high; this will accept a bottom trim board. We’ll run that board along the bottom and partially bury it when we install the coop on site. It’s a bit bigger board than I would have thought I needed but I worried at the lumber store and bought their widest standard size. Oh, and it’s a true 1″ depth as we bought 5/4 (five-quarter) cedar. Again, what they had.

On beams A and D, we just cut this notch into the outside face; on B and C, we had to cut this on two faces (one for the side bottom board, and the other for the back bottom board).

On the tops you’ll see the same detail but it’s 1″ by 3.5″. The reason for a smaller board here is that I won’t be burying part of this and don’t need a wider board. Aesthetically it will help make the top a little airier; functionally it allows just a bit more visibility.

With that, I was done with the “overall” details and I was able to setup the basic frame to see how the design was working. You can see a decent picture of things at that stage here.

The hard part was the notch in the sides for the shelter floor. But it’s not the construction that was hard, it was working it out in my head.

The notch is 27″ up from the ground, 1″ deep, and on two sides of each beam. The notch will accept the cut out corners in the floor panel. Look at the little picture to the left if I’m losing you. It’s actually pretty simple: just a 48″x32″ x3/4″ plywood panel with little squares cut out of each corner.

Think of it this way: the slots in the beams are cut 1″ deep … meaning each beam will hold 1″ of floor panel on two sides; the cut-outs in the floor panel are roughly 2.75″x2.75″ (which is as much of the beam as will be left after cutting out the 1″ slot).

And that’s it.

So, let’s recap.

I wanted the coop shelter to be 32″ deep x 48″ wide x 45″ high. This puts Beams A & D at 32″ (from the outside corners) from Beams B & C. I then placed Beams A & B at 48″ from Beams C & D (again, outside corners). I then cut out the bottom and top for beams A & D and put them aside. I grabbed B & C and did the same … but then I rotated them in opposite directions on the table to cut the second face on the top and bottom. It really (really really) helps to stand all the pieces in place and mark where you plan on cutting with chalk … even just striking the side with an ‘X’ helps.

To support a roughly 45″ high inside, I measured up from the ground 27″ and cut my notch. Then I cut 2.75″ corners out of a 32″ x 48″ plywood panel and I was done! Oh, I also cut the top at this point but it’s a simple rectangle that will sit on top of the beams on the inside of the notches … which makes it’s size: 33″ (remember … it’s shorter by 1″ for the back, top piece) by 46″ (which is shorter than the overall width by the 1″ for the left, upper piece and another 1″ for the right, upper piece). Oh … I also trimmed off 3/4″ of each beam’s top … this will allow the roof to sit inside the upper trip pieces.

We’ll do a bit more cutting for the other support beams on the end of the run where we install the door, but, for the most part, this was the hardest part. The nest box will have some cutting but no tricky slotting or anything. I can provide fully dimensioned beam drawings if that’s interesting but I suspect it wouldn’t be. 🙂

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One Response to “Constructing the Coop”

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