Thursday, January 15, 2009

A potting bench/bird blind

Some years ago I spent a magical few days at a birding bed and breakfast called "The Inn at Chachalaca Bend," in the Rio Grande Valley. The inn was truly enchanting, for a variety of reasons, but one of the features I liked best was a bird blind they had built for the guests. The blind was pretty fancy--a covered structure deep in a mesquite thicket, with lots of portholes at various heights that looked out over a small, man-made stream with running water. Oh, the birds that came to that water! They were close enough to touch.

I came away from that trip determined to build my own little piece of enchantment right in my own backyard, and set about creating a habitat designed to attract and observe a diversity of bird life. Planting the garden and setting up a feeding station was fun and fairly easy to accomplish, but there was one thing with which I had a lot of trouble: I couldn't make up my mind about where to put the blind. No matter where I envisioned placing it, I could see that if I situated it for the best light, it had the potential to stick out in the otherwise flowing garden design like a sore thumb.

Back and forth I went with myself: Should I put it here? Or over there? Finally, I decided to be undecided. I built a portable blind. It was a simple structure, not as fancy as the one in the thicket at the B&B, but it was easily moved by two people. So if I tried it in one place and found it wanting, I could move it someplace else. And since I only feed birds in the winter months, it could be stored in the summer months, when I like the garden to be looking its best. Here is a picture of the blind in storage:

You can see that it was indeed a very simple structure, strictly utilitarian in nature. Still, I got a lot of wonderful photos of birds while sitting behind that blind.

But one day last spring, a big wind storm blew up and damaged the blind. However, instead of simply repairing it, I decided to re-design it altogether. It happened that I've also been wanting a potting bench, so I thought it might be fun to see if I could create a multi-purpose structure, a bench/blind, with the material from the old blind.

And so here is the result, along with a few photos of the process:

The legs were put together with lap joints. I cut the joints with a radial arm saw passed along to me earlier in the year by my friend and fellow woodworker, Jim. (The radial arm saw is now set up with a dedicated dado blade.)

Here I am measuring the old blind boards against the back standards to see how many I will need. It is also clear to me at this point that I'm going to have to take the project outside the shop to get a little working room.

The glue-up of the porthole, which is leaning against what will be the back of the bench.

The innards of the bench construction, before putting the final slats on.

The photography setup, with the camera and lens resting on a pot and bean bag.

Through the porthole.

And a full view of the finished product. The whole thing took roughly a day to build.

So far, it seems to work well. Birds know when I am behind the blind, but they settle down pretty quickly if they can't see me moving around. I'm sure there is something I'll wish I could change, but so far it fits my purposes quite nicely.

Right now it is in a back corner of the farm, looking out toward a feeder that has a lot of nice foliage around it for a backdrop. If I get tired of it there, I can always move it, so I have retained the advantage of portability. And, as a bonus, just as soon as my seed order comes in I'll put it to its other use.


  1. Susan, your handiwork never ceases to amaze me. That's the prettiest potting bench I've ever seen, and certainly the only one that can double as a bird blind. Good job!

  2. OMG! Susan that is the greatest thing. And a dual use, what could be better.

  3. Susan,

    You are clever, resourceful and handy!
    I love the bird blind/potting bench!

    Your garage is well outfitted, too.

  4. Hi Susan, you are an astounding person. The porthole is a work of art too, and hooray for the radial arm saw. I have a compound mitre saw and love it, but it does scare me a little, so powerful. I love how you showed us exactly how the bench/blind will be used, for I couldn't get it right in my mind, thinking you would have to be up against the peephole rather than behind the bench top. But I didn't realize you had a honker sized camera lens! HA

  5. What a neat solution and 2 for the price of 1 to boot :)

  6. Too neat! What a cool idea, I've never heard of a bird blind. I like how you fixed it with the bench.

  7. What a fantabulous potting bench/blind! You are a genius!

  8. Michelle--Surely it's not the prettiest! LOL! I've seen some beautiful ones, especially in the Smith and Hawken catalog. This one does suit my needs, though. :-)

    Lona-I agree. Dual use enhances anything, doesn't it?

    Gail--Thanks. I love my shop. It is my "away" place. Someday I'll do a post about it.

  9. Frances--it is good to be respectful of these tools, but they are so very useful to us...I know what you mean about not being able to picture something in your head, no matter how well it is described. Pictures always help.

    VP--2 for the price of 1 indeed! I love a bargain. ;-)

    Tina--Oh my, you must investigate the use of bird blinds. I don't think they are very common in backyard gardens, but many state parks/wildlife refuges set them up for people to watch birds. They are a joy.

    Susan--Well, I'm hardly a genius (but thanks for saying so--LOL! ;-))

  10. Love your bird blind/potting bench! I've been trying to come up with an idea for a portable one, but I'm not quite as handy as you. For now I'll just have to be content trying to get the birds close enough to the house to get pictures from the windows.

    I'm really sorry about your dad too. My Mom-in-law has Alzheimer's and it is a very sad journey for everyone in the family.

  11. Very clever design!...a bird blind and also a beautiful and functional garden bench. I've ejoyed a browse on your blog today!

  12. Yet another clever and lovely addition to the Bike Garden structure gallery! I love that you think of stuff and then just go make it. Well done!

  13. It's an ingenious idea, both practical and beautiful.

  14. That is just so clever and beautifully executed too! Thank you too for visiting and commenting on my blog. I see we have the same taste in background colours!

  15. Susan, This is very impressive!
    What a fun idea, and so well done!
    A potting table, too! That is something to treasure!

  16. It's brilliant, your are a genius! Well done, I didn't know that you were so skilful.
    I love to use 'hammer and saw' myself and I must say I'm impressed.


  17. This is such a great idea! I am very impressed. I had never thought of building a blind somewhere on my acre - but boy does it make sense. I'd have to leave the Pointer Sisters inside (the whole bird dog - feeding birds thing is such a challenge with these Pointers...). Love it.

  18. We've attended many weddings and other events at The Inn at Chachalaca Bend - and agree that it is a wonderful place! - But your potting bench/birding blind is pretty awesome itself! Beautiful!

  19. You are so clever Susan. What a nice looking blind/potting bench.

    I too have stayed at Chachalaca Inn. It was several years ago. It is a marvelous place. I would like to build a tower to look out over everything in our neighborhood like the tower they have by the resaca. I bet my neighbors would faint. tee hee.


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