Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Low cost, easy to build, chicken nest box design

     Nest boxes are an important feature in a coop for several reasons.  They provide a safe, and comfortable place for layers to do their business.  The eggs stay much cleaner than if they are lain on the floor.  It also protects the eggs from getting stepped on, kicked or otherwise damaged.  Chickens tend to eat damaged eggs, which can lead to egg pecking and eating as behavior problems.

     Not wanting to spend hundreds of dollars on a ready made unit, I came up with this simple design based on scrap wood that I had in the garage.  My goal was  to make something light enough that I could hang it on the back wall of the hoop coop for use during our mobile summer setup.  I felt that it needed to be sturdy, though, so the hens will feel secure using it.

This design gives you 6  12"x12"x12" boxes, which is pretty much the minimum size for large breed birds.  So far the design is working great.  The hens have taken to using boxes on both levels leaving clean, beautiful eggs.  We are using pine chips for bedding.

Salvage opportunities:

(click images to view larger)

     The main components can all be cut out of a single 4' x 8' sheet of plywood.  Or at minimum a sheet that is 3' 6" x 7' 8".  Since most of the pieces are only 1' wide, there are ample opportunities to use scrap or salvaged materials.  I used 3/8" plywood that I had salvaged from a demolition job.  It was painted white on one side.  Any thickness greater than that could be used, though the lengths of the front rails, back piece, and perch will need to be adjusted along with the appropriate fastener lengths.  I used 1x2 furring strips that I had left over for the cleats and perch rails.  If you have access to a table saw, the short 1x2 pieces (exact dimensions being 3/4" x 1 1/2") can be ripped out of any 1x or 2x lumber 12" or longer.

Tools Needed:

Saw horses or work table
Measuring tape
Chalk line or straight edge
Circular saw
Drill bit (same diameter as the shank of your wood screws)
Driver bit for wood screws

Shopping List:

Here is a shopping list for all the items needed for this project if you were going to purchase them at a store.  Prices given are my current local prices for these materials and are only to provide an example of what you might expect to spend.

1  4x8' sheet of  3/8" plywood                  $13.37
1  4x4' sheet of 1/4" plywood                   $  8.79
3  8' 1x2" furring strips                             $  2.64
1  8'  2x2" lumber (perch)                         $  1.42
1  8'  1x4" lumber                                      $  3.10

64    1" exterior wood screws                    $  4.26 (Box of 100)
28    1 1/2"  exterior wood screws             $  5.19 (Box of 100)
small brads or finish nails (3/4" to 1"long)$  2.49
80 grit sandpaper                                        $  1.99
Boiled linseed oil                                        $  6.99 (quart)
Example cost to purchase all new materials   =  $48.25



Cut List:

Here is the cut list of all the parts, Use this as your guide if you plan to salvage materials.

4  sidewall pieces as pictured above, cut with a 45° angle from 3'6" on top to 2'6" on the bottom.  These are 1' wide and cut from 3/8" plywood or other suitable sheet material.

6 Shelves 1'x1' cut from 3/8" plywood or other suitable board
14 Cleats  1x2 lumber x 1' long
1 Back  1/4" plywood  3' 1.5" x cut to fit at assembly (at least 3' 2" long)
1 top 1' 7" x 3' 6" out of 3/8" plywood or other suitable sheet material
2 Front Rails 1x4 lumber x cut to fit (at least 3' 2" long)
2 Perch rails 1x2 lumber x 18" long
1 perch  2x2 x cut to fit (at least 3' 2" long)

Finishing the wood

     After a light sanding to remove any splinters and smoothing the edges that the chickens would perch on, we coated all the un-painted wood with boiled linseed oil; both as a preservative, and to make it less hospitable for mites.  Boiled linseed oil is not actually boiled at all.  It is infused with drying agents that also happen to be toxic heavy metals.  I personally am not worried about using it in this application, but I will not use it in garden beds, compost bins, children's toys, or cooking utensils.  If you are not comfortable using the boiled linseed oil, raw linseed oil is an alternative, though it can take weeks to dry.  Another option is a paste made from 5 parts food grade mineral oil and 1 part beeswax gently heated to blend.

Step 1.  Add cleats to the end walls.
     Start by attaching three cleats to each of the two end walls.  One at 6" and another at 18" from the bottom as shown above.  The third is centered on the angled top.

Attach each of the cleats with three 1" wood screws.  Screw from the plywood side into the cleat as shown above, you do not need to pre-drill these connections.  Take care that they are on the line, and not sticking out on either end.
The process is the same for the other end wall, but the plywood must be reversed so the cleats will face inward like bookends.

Step 2.  Add cleats to the two middle walls.
     The two middle walls begin just like the end walls, with two cleats attached from the plywood side at 6" and 18" from the bottom

Two more cleats are attached to the opposite side using 3 1 1/2" screws on each cleat.  Pre-drill holes in the cleats using a drill bit that is the same diameter as the shank (no threads) of the screw you are using.

Be sure to stagger the holes so that you will not hit the screws from the other side.

Step 3.  Add the shelves.
  The first shelf can now be added between an end wall and a middle wall using four 1" screws to secure it.  It is helpful to have another set of hands at this point.  You do not need to pre-drill these connections.

The second shelf can then be added right above the first.  Be sure to keep the walls straight up and down so things come together squarely.

 Keep adding the shelves until all the shelves and walls are connected as shown above.  At this point you can measure the width of the entire assembly.  This will be the length of the three other components; the back, the two front rails, and the perch.  Waiting until now to measure is to take into account the small differences that can accumulate from imperfections in cuts as well as different  thickness of material that can be used.

Step 4.  Add the back.
    The 1/4" plywood back is cut to fit and attached using brads or small finish nails.  Be sure the assembly is square.  Use a straight edge to mark the two middle walls to avoid missing (shown above).  Any missed nails should be pushed out from the inside using a nail punch.  Chickens won't like using a box if they get poked in the rear!

Step 5.  Add the top.
    The top can now be attached with 1" wood screws.  The cleats on the end walls make an easy place to screw into from the top without needing to pre-drill.  With a bit of skill, the top can be attached to the middle walls as well, directly into the plywood, pre-drilling is recommended.  Adding 2 additional cleats to the top of the middle walls is an option to make this step easier.

Step 6.  Add the front rails.
     The two front rails are attached 2" higher than the shelves so that the chickens can't kick all the bedding material out.  They can be attached using 1 1/2" wood screws.  4 are on the bottom into the ends of the cleats, and 4 across the top, into the edge of the sidewalls.  The top four are tricky, so take your time and drill straight.  All of these connections should be pre-drilled to avoid slitting the 1x4.

Step 7:  Add the perch
     The perch rails are attached even with the top front rail so they are sticking out 8" on each side.  They are each attached using 3 1" wood screws driven through the plywood from the inside.  They do not need to be pre-drilled.  The perch is attached to the rails using 2   1 1/2" screws on each side.  These connections need to be pre-drilled.

     That's it! You're now ready to install it in the coop and add bedding.  Do not try to hang it up by nailing through the thin back wall.  Angle brackets should be used to hang it from the supporting side walls.  It also stands up quite well on it's own.

Here is an example built by one of our readers.  Thanks Brad!

Built and photographed by Bradley Ellis
Hey!  His build looks better than mine, what gives?

Brad also took the time to create a printable pdf file of these plans.  Since I don't know how to setup a download through blogger, e-mail to request a copy.


  1. Great job on the nesting boxes! Hope you're enjoying BYC!!!

  2. Thanks guys, for sharing such informative data.
    gardening victoria bc

  3. This is the perfect design for my chicken coop. My only question is I have 20 chicks coming so would I need to build 2 of these or just add 1 more cubby to row?

  4. You can certainly add more, but I'm not sure that you need to. Our 17 hens use the 6 box model just fine. In fact, they usually only lay in three or four of the boxes in a day.

  5. how can I print the instructions for the box?

    1. How to print depends on which browser you are using. In Internet Explorer or Chrome you can right click to access the print option. I tried this in IE and It came out as 13 pages. The post was only 5 pages long, with a bunch of blank pages at the end, so it is a good idea to use the print preview option and figure out which pages you actually need to print. I could not find a print option in firefox. Hope this helps.

  6. Built this today with just 4 cubbies instead of 6 for our 3 hens! Thank you!

  7. Do the hens use the lower layer nests? It was my understanding that they prefer to be off the ground area but I'm only going on reading, no experience.

    1. Ours use the bottom row, though not as often as the top ones.

  8. My boyfriend built this for me today! Thanks for the idea! Our girls are already scoping it out!

  9. Is it easy to clean out and do Chickens Poop in it a lot

  10. Thanks so much for this! I was able to build the nest boxes out of the leftover plywood & 1x2s from my new coop build-- they got a 3x bigger coop and twice as much nest box space! The fact that it's mostly plywood also let me use up a bunch of oddly-sized small pieces. Just what we needed! Thanks again.