This is a new design, a swift nest box which is installed outside a window but from within the house, without the need to climb a ladder and work at a height to attach a nesting box to its support. This box, a double box with two entrance holes, is very easy to construct and very easy to install. The only woodworking skills needed to construct the box are the ability to saw along a line, to drill a hole and to remove a small quantity of wood with a knife. Very few tools are needed. The box can be constructed in about an hour and installed in not much more than a minute, as the two very short videos I include make clear. The danger of swifts (or other birds) colliding with the window is avoided by the use of polycarbonate sheets, installed at the same time as the box. There are many other anti-reflective techniques which can be used to avoid the danger of collisions with windows.
The material in this section is wide-ranging. It includes the practicalities of constructing a swift nesting box and my gratitude for the exhilarating, deeply satisfying, experience of watching, and hearing, these magnificent birds.
I live in an area of Sheffield where swifts are plentiful, for the time being. My own small terraced house doesn't offer any entrance holes for swifts. I designed thisnesting box to make it much easier to help these wonderful visitors to maintain their numbers, to increase their numbers - and to continue to bring to people like me inexhaustible joy when we watch their soaring and swooping and turning and when we listen to their cries in the summer sky.
The entrance holes are a little more than 5 metres above the ground, the recommended minimum height for installation of swift nesting boxes. Instead of climbing a ladder and working at a height to attach a nesting box underneath the gutter, I open the window wide, attach two light clamps to the window frame, pass the swift box from the room to the outside, and, holding the box in one hand (the box is light), use the other hand to push the fixings attached to the red webbing straps onto the handles of the clamps. The box is held securely in place.
The actual procedure is marginally more involved than this, but perfectly simple and straightforward. After opening the window, I pass through the window opening a sheet of twin-wall polycarbonate and use two clamps to hold the polycarbonate sheet in place. The fixings are then pushed onto the handles of the clamps. Then I pass through the window opening a second, smaller piece of polycarbonate sheeting, securing it with a second pair of clamps, the prominent red, white and orange clamps in the photo above (the lower parts of the first set of clamps are also visible.)
The polycarbonate sheets are to protect swifts (and other birds) from injury or worse by collision with the glass of the window. Polycarbonate is a much softer and more yielding surface than glass and polycarbonate, unlike glass, doesn't give reflections or the illusion that a free flight path is available to the bird through the window. Polycarbonate has high light transmission and inside the building, there's still a view to be had, although obviously a more diffuse one. There are various other methods of protecting birds which don't involve the use of these sheets.
Below, the view from within the room - the nesting box just outside the window, held in place by two of the clamps, which also support one of the polycarbonate sheets, and the view of the motor body repair shop across the road. I could achieve a clear view of the motor body repair shop by using a different method of protecting swifts and other birds from colliding with the window. I prefer to use these polycarbonate sheets. They can obviously be removed at the end of the swift season.
Ease of construction is another advantage. The box consists of a plastic planter, black in this case, available from suppliers of gardening equipment, together with a base, made of timber board in this case. I did varnish the base, which obviously adds to the construction time, but this isn't essential. Planters come in a variety of sizes, including ones suitable for smaller, single nest boxes. The planter here has a width of 20cm and the timberboard as bought has a width of 20 cm. All that has to be done is to saw it to the right length - a metre, in this case. Plastic protectors can be added to the corners of the base, but I used a jigsaw to round off the corners. A jigsaw isn't an essential tool, though - a rounded corner can be approximated by making cuts at the corner with a saw.
The only tools which are essential to construct the nesting box are these:
A saw (handsaw or power saw) to cut the wooden base to length and to cut the corners of the base if a jigsaw isn't used. (The base may also need to be cut to width.) I used a handsaw.
A drill, mains or battery-powered - or a hand drill - to make two holes close together in the base for each entrance hole. The space between the two holes is then cut away. This is very easily done. I used a battery-powered saw. A suitable drill bit is quite substantial but not expensive. The diameter needed is 28 mm. I used a 28 mm auger drill bit of length 210 mm. The point of the auger drill bit allows the centre of each circle to be placed precisely.
A chisel or knife - I used a craft knife - is used to trim away excess wood, in this diagram the light area between the two shaded circular holes. This gives an entrance hole of the right shape and a suitable size, in this case 28 mm x 65 mm.
The plastic compartment is held to the base by two narrow webbing straps which can be put into place in very little time. In the top photograph above and in the two videos, these straps, narrow and red in colour, are easily visible. These webbing straps are very strong. I use webbing straps (of greater width) in the design of hydraulic equipment, for bending sheet metal and pressing apples to produce apple juice.
Obviously, taking the nesting box back into the room and dismantling it, perhaps for cleaning at the end of the season, is a very quick and easy matter too.
Installing (and removing) this nesting box is a much less hazardous activity than installing or removing an external nesting box of the usual kind, one which is higher, perhaps beneath a gutter, working on a ladder, but there are possible hazards to passers by. These hazards are easily avoided. Two people are needed to place or remove this nesting box, one inside the room, at the window, and one at street level, who can warn the person inside the room if people are approaching and who can request that they keep away from the area underneath the window. This is a light piece of equipment, not at a great height, but obviously, hitting a passer by has to be avoided. The clamps and webbing straps are so strong that the possibility of their failing can be discounted and in any case, if one clamp or strap did fail, the box can be held in place by the other clamp and strap. The box is unaffected by strong winds but hasn't been tested in gale-force winds, of the kind which cause widespread damage.
Two videos of the box being installed. The first one shows installation of components below the window opening - click on this link to download the video and then click on the box at bottom left of the screen to see the video
The second video, only a few seconds long, shows installation of the components above the window opening (the piece of polycarbonate used was shown at the end of the first video):
Total running time of the two videos, showing actual installation of the swift nesting box - only 1 minute 33 seconds. The box can be installed in even less time.
It's very unlikely that the nesting box will be used by any swifts in the area for bringing up young this season, and perhaps for several seasons. More often than not, this is the case with any nesting box installed in or outside a house. The chances of success are increased by playing a CD of swift calls. The open window (only slightly open) would allow the sound to reach the surroundings easily but I've decided not to play a CD. Neighbours here include very near neighbours, and I don't think I can justify playing a CD for so much of each day, beginning very early in the morning, even in a cause as important to me as this.
This is the newest material on the site. It will be revised and extended. The video material will be revised (but not extended) to include removal of sound, which is unnecessary. (The sounds include passing traffic and my instructions to 'Stop!' which was for the benefit of the person operating the camera on the other side of the street. If only there had been the cries of swifts flying nearby, I would be glad to retain a sound track, of course.)
Very much recommended, the established Websites and blogs concerned with swifts, including their material on internal and external nestboxes, as well as so much other material to do with swifts. To mention just one topic, but a very important one, I've found coverage of the 5th International Swift Conference, held in Tel Aviv, Israel earlier this year of great interest.
Any comments - including critical comments and suggestions for improving the design - are welcome. I recognize, of course, that the best way of providing a place for swifts to lay their eggs and bring up their young isn't by means of a box installed on the outside of a building, whether the box is under a gutter or, as in the case of this design, outside a window, but by installations provided at the time of building, by swift bricks, and the other means which established Websites on swifts describe and illustrate, and, also, free-standing structures which provide many nesting places. Even so, these methods can't, realistically, be used in nearly enough places. To implement them will generally require contacting builders and architects, without any guarantee of success, the use of methods which are very different from personal construction. People who want to give all the help they can to the swifts in their locality generally have to construct, or buy, a swift box and have it installed, or install it themselves. This design is intended to make the process much easier. After the box has been installed, there's no guarantee of success. Swifts may not use the box, or perhaps not for years, but there's also a strong chance that swifts will use it, helping to arrest the decline in their numbers - to help these wonderful birds. I don't live in an idyllic village but in a suburb of Sheffield, not far from the Hillsborough football stadium. Swifts are birds of town and city suburbs rather than beautiful and idyllic villages. If, hypothetically, I were offered the chance to live in a beautiful and idyllic village rather than here, I'd refuse - I'd far rather live in an ordinary suburb with swifts than a beautiful and idyllic village without swifts. Without the sight of the swifts, the summer skies would seem empty. Without the sound of the swifts, the summer skies would seem silent.
Some of the designs I describe on the site, on this page and my pages on gardening and construction, such as the illustrated introduction, are called 'PHD' designs. 'PHD' stands for 'Paul Hurt Design.' There's no reference to 'PhD,' the name of the higher degree. I don't have a PhD degree and I don't have a business called 'PHD.' Starting a business wouldn't be a realistic possibility for me in the least, for many reasons, including the fact that I've a range of very different interests which take up a very great deal of time, as the Home Page will make clear, and no interest at all, or not much of an interest, in some of the knowledge and skills needed to run a successful business, such as financial matters and taxation. Running a business would take me away from matters which are very important to me. I'm also past retirement age.
I use 'PHD' simply to refer to designs of mine which I think are different from established designs, with some advantages. For example, the low level sheet metal workbench described on this page allows for much easier and safer handling of sheet metal. The design has no screw, nail or bolt fixings and the bench is particularly easy to erect and to dismantle.
More images of the workbench in the section my workshop.
No innovations are possible in workbench design and construction -
everything that could have been thought of has already been thought of.
That's a common opinion, but I don't share it. I'd claim that the PHD
workbench does include innovations, even if the innovations aren't dramatic.
Of course, I don't claim, of course, that an improved workbench necessarily
leads to improved woodworking or metal working.
There's general agreement that a good workbench has to be solid and heavy, to provide a stable base for holding the wood or metal which is being worked. I don't dispute that. I think the same. The workbench I've designed is solid and heavy.
Manufacturers charge much more for very solid and heavy workbenches than for very light and flimsy ones, but this one is cheap to construct. I used an old door for the top of the bench - it had been thrown out and put in a skip - together with a plywood sheet, but if a free-of-charge door can't be found, the cost of the workbench is still very low. For reasons I explain later, I put the door on top and the plywood sheet underneath. Anyone who wants to build a similar workbench and has a usable door is completely free to do it differently.
The door has an obvious flaw - there's a hole at one side where the lock was. The standard way of dealing with the hole is to use filler or to plug the hole with a circular section of wood, although it's difficult to disguise holes of this size. The hole can be hidden very easily, for instance, by bolting a pillar drill in this area (a thick support is underneath the bench here.)
Workbenches which are solid and heavy are difficult to move. Shifting loads of this size is a job which should preferably be avoided. Changed circumstances may make it essential to move a wonderful and very substantial workbench some distance. There are any number of reasons - a bad leak in the roof above the workbench, the purchase of a new piece of equipment which would be better off in the place where the workbench is now ...
This workbench is very easy to move, as I explain now. Workbench design doesn't have to be like tent design - the ideal backpacking tent is very spacious, very light, very strong - capable of withstanding gales - very cheap, very easy to erect and very easy to dismantle. In tent design, far more than workbench design, the problem of incompatible ends is a real one. In workbench design, it's much easier to achieve advantages without corresponding disadvantages.
We can move the workbench within the workshop or working area very easily, without taking it to bits. We can move the workbench longer distances by taking it to bits, something which is very easy. It's just as easy to assemble it.
How do we move such a heavy object within the workshop or working area? Answer, the bench has a jacking point. Place a heavy hydraulic jack or a small and light hydraulic bottle jack or a non-hydraulic vehicle jack under the jacking beam, at more or less the centre of the beam. I see advantages in equipping workbenches, like motor vehicles, with beams which are strong enough for the purpose. These beams are at the ends of the workbench, not the sides, of course.
When one end is in the air, attach blocks to the two legs - or supporting members - of the workbench at this end. The blocks are equipped with heavy-duty spindle castors. These castors have brakes, so that once the other end is raised, the castors don't move. Operate the jack so that this end is gently lowered and the castors take the weight of the workbench. Go to the opposite end and do the same. There's no need for the castors at this end to have brakes. Once this end has been gently lowered, the workbench is mobile.
Why is this workbench so easy to erect and dismantle? Primarily, because it doesn't rely upon mortice and tenon joints. The pieces which make up the workbench are either bolted together, with carriage (coach) bolts or, in some cases, where strength isn't a necessity, by means of screws, Unlike nails, of course, screws can easily be removed. The screws used in this workbench are substantial ones of M12 diameter, but are easy to insert and remove, with the aid of a club hammer.
Above, an outdoor project, in the backyard / back garden - a very simple structure for storing wood to be used in a multi-fuel stove. The wood store is in my small back garden. The wood store is constructed from off-cuts of railway sleepers, which support horizontals made from decking boards. The store still has to be finished with oil/varnish after it has dried out. The log sections here still have to be cut into smaller sections for seasoning.
The outdoor oven is located in my upper allotment. For the time being, most of this section is made up of material from the entry for 2018 on my page Gardening/construction: introduction, with photographs.
A new design, with many advantages. The oven can be used for cooking pizza and for many other purposes. This photo shows the view to the North. There's a pizza stone placed on top of the oven, which is at an early stage of development. The rose shown here is the variety Arthur Bell. The oven blends with the greenhouse and extensions.
In October, I placed more bricks in the oven to increase thermal mass. More bricks were placed on the left of the open side, to reduce the size of the opening. The opening is now 64% of this side. The figure of 63% is often given as the optimum. I also added a horizontal section of welded wire mesh to the top of the oven, the section supported by another section of wire mesh at the rear. The horizontal wire mesh can be used for various purposes. The primary use is for storing, not seasoned wood to be used in the oven, but unseasoned wood whose drying will be aided by the heat given off by the oven. The roof of the oven incorporates rectangular steel section, supporting fire bricks. The roof is well insulated, then, but the stored wood increases the level of insulation.
Very soon after, a curved galvanized sheet was added to protect the wood, which, after all, is drying, from the rain. It also improves the appearance.
The curvature of the sheet allows it to shed rain easily but the top of the sheet (which is supported by the wood stored below) has very gentle curvature and can be used for supporting all kinds of things when the oven is used - cooking equipment, for example - and as a work surface. I use it for transferring rolled-out dough to a metal pizza support before adding the topping. This is much more convenient than having a table nearby and using that.
The wood stored on top of the oven comes from the wood store in my back yard. A view of this wood store, showing large logs. A chainsaw and axe were used to produce the smaller pieces. They have an average moisture content of about 23% which is low enough for the logs to be burnt in the stove in my house or in the outdoor oven at the allotment, although a lower moisture content is much better.