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Of chicks and errors

Posted by joeabbott on August 14, 2011

imageIn my younger days this title would have been a vaguely derogatory reference to my infrequent and often abortive dating attempts, but today it’s a chit chat about the small coop we built for the chicks we bought after our number one hen died. I touched on this coop in my A pause like a sigh post and I showed a picture of what I had then enthusiastically planned on building: a small triangular structure with drop-down front panels (to the right).

Well, the final product ended up a lot like that picture but different enough that I’ll detail it here. Also, it’s fallen apart, so I’ll look at the details that weren’t quite up to snuff. It’s the “fallen apart” part that suggested the “errors” word in the title.


The picture to the left shows the final structure pre-self-destruction.

The triangular portion is roughly 3’ on the side. Below and to the right you see a close-up of the spline I’d added between the frame members to give it strength. I actually thinks this is a very strong joint and should hold up for a while.

imageI built the frames first and then connected the left side to the right. I used a dowel joint to connect the three corners.

Once I had that, I built the shelter portion.

In the drawing above, I don’t have a vertical beam separating the two doors. In the final product, I added one. It was mostly because I didn’t want the entire front panel of the mesh/run portion to flop down. We decided that it would be better for only half of that panel to drop down.

So, I added the vertical beams on the rear and front and was ready to add the shelter siding.

imageFrom the picture to the left, a keen eye can pick out small ribs I added inside to allow the siding to mount. I used staples on everything and, once the parts were cut to size, everything installed rather easily.

imageAt this point, I had the rear and side of the shelter paneled off.

The next part was easy: adding the mesh to the run sides. I used staples and plastic mesh and the installation couldn’t have gone quicker. The plastic mesh cut very easily and the only hard part was dialing back my stapler to the point it wouldn’t drive into the cedar deeply enough to cut the mesh!

Then built the doors … and here was a fatal design flaw: lap joints.

Lap joints have been a bread-and-butter joint in my arsenal since I lapped the foundation members for the shed I’d built years ago. They nestle the timber tightly together, give lots of surface area for gluing, and help to make nice, square frames. Love ‘em.

Well, I used laps for both the drop-down panel door and for the shelter door. For the drop-down door in the run, it’s worked really well; but for the shelter, not so well.

I changed the design for the shelter door so it opened to the side (allowing us to get right up next to the shelter without kneeling on it), and this is where the flaw became evident.

P7170034When you open the shelter door without being gentle … as which happens often when you’re herding chickens … a lot of load is transferred through the vertical door frame on the hinge side. The load acts to break open the joint on that frame. Which, it did rather early in the life of the coop.

The close-up to the left shows the joint on the latch side (not hinge side) but it’s the same either way. I couldn’t bring myself to photograph the broken up shelter.

Anyhow, it was a proper glue job and the joint failed in the wood, not at the glue seam, but the door took an early crack nonetheless.

Secondly, rats started chewing through the plastic mesh so I had to carry the whole thing back to my workshop and install hardware cloth on all open sides (including the bottom). While the mesh acted to stiffen it up the coop overall, it sure was ugly and moving the coop multiple times loosened the already-questionable shelter siding panels.

And, soon enough, a few of them started falling off.

And then the raccoon chomped a hen in our yard and we had to worry about that.

So, all in all, it felt like a miserable failure: the door broke, the run mesh was insufficient, and the siding wasn’t strong. Not my best showing.

Now, I really liked the shelter before all this … it was a sweetheart of a design and went together quickly. But, I’ll need to rebuild the coop, use stronger joints (a bridle joint for the shelter door and some sort of “door stop” to avoid running a lot of load through that member), and take a bit more time to just make is stronger.

I’ve taken a whack at updating my SketchUp model to reflect the current structure.


And, that’s it for now. Thanks for reading!


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