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Written by Paul Race for Family Garden Trains

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Converting an Artline Bird Feeder into a Gazebo

Click for bigger photo.One of the simplest, most inexpensive, and most rewarding trashbashing projects is the Gazebo, you can make from an Artline bird feeder.

I did the original conversion about 2002, but didn't illuminate the building or fasten the roof down until 2008. Between those stages, the roof would blow off occasionally, but it held up very well otherwise. The other thing was that the paint I sprayed on it had almost completely disappeared. However the underlying color was close enough that it didn't look too bad, even when it was half-and-half.

The diameter of this piece is actually pretty good for a Large Scale structure, but the thing is way too tall. Also, if you just shorten it by cutting the posts, the lattice part on the bottom is too deep to make the sort of "fence" you might see around a gazebo in a park (where a polka or bluegrass band might be playing a summer concert.)

To create this structure, I took the feeder apart, turned the middle section upside down and cut it to an appropriate height (discarding the "deeper" bit of lattice, which was too deep to make a Large Scale wall). Click for bigger photo.I cut one "wall" out of the fence, to create an entrance.

Here's an irony, many photos of this thing on the internet have the middle part assembled upside down, so that the smaller "fence" is already at the bottom. If for some reason yours actually comes that way, don't let it throw you - the smaller fence is the one you need.

Then I used a bit of fluted plastic sign material for the floor and caulked it with white caulk to fill the gaps. (My friend Wil Davis did a similar project with his, but he filled the base with gravel before he glued in the "floor," a very wise move considering how lightweight this building is.) The photo to the right was taken in late 2008, after most of the paint had worn away. (I used a light texture paint on the base and some of it is still remaining - that's why it looks splotchy.) I plan to respray the bottom with flat white and the top with primer gray soon.

Click for bigger photo.Lighting - I didn't get around to lighting this structure until October, 2008, when I was getting ready for an open house that would extend until after dark. (For a description of everything I had to do to get ready, check out our Blog-Like Articles on the subject.)

Click for bigger photo.As part of that project, I experimented with low-voltage garden lighting, the kind Malibu is famous for. These use 12 volt wedge-shaped bulbs, generally with a four watt minimum. Exploring an old electronics warehouse in Dayton, I was able to find some sockets for this kind of bulb. When I got my soldering iron out and warmed up, I soldered 12-16" wires to a bunch of these in a batch. Then I had to figure out how to attach it inside the roof of the gazebo. There were probably a dozen good ways to do it, but they would all have taken time I didn't have just then. Finally, I got the shortest sheet-metal screw I could find (about 3/16") and fastened the socket right to the roof of the gazebo. It made a small bump on the outside, but nothing most people will notice.

If it bothers me later, I'll replace it and file out the bump when I have more time.

Every other post of the gazebo has little horizontal braces. I drilled holes through those and fed the wire down through one of the posts. From normal viewing positions, it's almost impossible to see. When I spray paint the lower part white again, it should just about disappear. I have had a chance to test the lighting once and it is a very nice effect. The gray primer on the underside of the roof is still in place, so it keeps the roof from "glowing" like many plastic buildings do when they're lit with bright interior lighting.

Click for bigger photo.Fastening the Roof Down - The original gazebo came with machine screws and nice trim nuts that I couldn't use once I had cut the posts down to a reasonable size.

After I had lighing installed, I didn't have any other excuses for not figuring out how to fasten the roof down. So I put the roof on temporarily, with the screw holes aligned to the fatter posts. I drilled starter holes down through the first crossbrace in each of the three posts.

Then I screwed drywall screws down through it. (Yes I know they're not rated for that, but none of the out-door-ready screws I had on hand were both long and narrow enough.)

The gazebo is hosting a Salvation Army band for a special Christmas concert during our open house on November 8, 2008. Click for bigger photo.This left three black spots on the roof, and there's still a hole at the very top where the hanger used to be. When I get a chance to repaint the roof, it will camouflage and somewhat protect the screw heads. And one day, I'll probably fix up a flag or something to go in the top.

Since I did the first stage of this project, I've seen these on other folks' railroads using other means of finishing off the roof. If I recall correctly, Wil used Bondo or something to smooth out the roofline on his and painted over it. Other folks have used little trim pieces, fleur-de-lis and such, or flags or strategically-located tiny pigeons.


Because I had most of what I used on hand, already, the total cost of this project was less than $20, and it probably took me no longer than four hours, generally done in one-hour spurts. Artline has made many other bird feeders that are useful for Large Scalers, but this one is the only one that has been available for more than a year or two. Based on the fact that it lasted several years without even having the roof fastened down, I suspect that this "building" has many more years of life left in it.

Please let me know if you have any similar projects you'd like to share with our readers, or if you have any questions,

Paul Race

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