Gourds are like pumpkins, except instead of carving them and letting them rot, you let them dry out before you work with them, and they will last for many years. Gourds work well for many craft projects thanks to the unique shapes of their different varieties, but it is best to start with something simple.
Martha Bloom has been crafting with gourds for years, making everything from birdhouses and feeders to decorative flower vases. She sells clean and dried, ready-to-craft gourds on her website, MarthasGourds.com.
How to Make a Gourd Birdhouse
Today, Martha is here to show us how to build a gourd birdhouse, which is the most popular gourd project in America.
Get Yourself a Gourd
You will need a gourd to start with. You can either buy a gourd that is already dried out or you can grow your own gourds at home from seeds. Growing your own gourds can be fun and rewarding, especially if you like gardening, but the growing and drying process takes 6-12 months, so it requires a lot of patience. If you’re low on patience, buying a dried gourd is a better option.
What type of gourd is best for a birdhouse? Really, any gourd that offers room inside for a bird’s nest will work for a birdhouse. Kettle gourds are always good choices, but bottle gourds, apple gourds, dipper gourds, and cannonball gourds will work as well.
Clean The Gourd
Note: I suggest wearing rubber gloves and eye protection for this step.
If you purchased a dried gourd, it is probably already clean. But if you grew and dried your own gourd, it is going to be covered in mold and loose skin. To clean a gourd like this, first soak it in warm water for 20-60 minutes. Then take an abrasive pad, such as steel wool, and scrub the entire gourd until all the mold and loose skin are gone. This step will require some elbow grease! You will know you are finished when you reach the smooth, hard shell of the gourd.
Allow the gourd to dry before continuing.
Cut The Holes
Note: I suggest wearing a dust mask and eye protection for this step.
Now everyone should have a clean, dried gourd. It is time to drill some holes. You will need to make three sets of holes: the main entrance hole, drainage holes, and a set of holes for the hanging wire. This requires a drill, a 3/8″ drill bit, a 1/4″ drill bit, and a hole saw attachment.
Start with the main entrance hole. I suggest positioning the hole high enough that it is above where the top of a bird nest would be, so no baby birds can fall out. You should drill this hole on the side of the gourd, right around the center, using your drill and hole saw attachment. The hole should usually be 1″ to 2 1/2″ in diameter, depending on the size of the gourd and the bird you want to attract – please refer to this chart to determine the right size hole for your gourd.
- Next, drill 4-5 holes in the bottom of the gourd with the 3/8″ drill bit. These are the drainage holes.
- Then drill two 1/4″ holes at the top of the gourd. This is where you can insert a wire or strand of leather for hanging the gourd.
Clean The Insides
The beauty of gourds for birdhouses is that the dried pulp and fibers inside them can be used by the birds for nesting materials. However, you still want to clean out any loose insides before decorating the gourd. Whenever you are painting and decorating you don’t want any loose pulp and dust falling out onto the wet paint! Also, you can save the seeds to grow next year!
To clean out the gourd, take a long-handled metal spoon or screwdriver and scrape around the inside (through the entrance hole,) then dump everything out. You should still be wearing your dust mask for this step, because gourd dust can be very hard on your lungs and aggravate allergies.
Decorate The Gourd
Finally, here is the best step of all! This is where you get to have fun and let your creative side shine through. One option, of course, is to stick with the “natural look.” If you don’t wish to paint the gourd, you can seal the gourd with shoe paste wax and hang it outside as is.
But you can get creative, too. You are limited only by your imagination and supplies. Try these ideas:
- Paint the gourd (preferably with exterior paint.)
- Wood burn designs onto the gourd.
- Glue objects onto the gourd. (I have always liked to attach pine cone scales around the tops of gourds, which makes it look like your gourd birdhouse has a shingle roof. You can glue gourd seeds on, too.)
- Use epoxy putty to make 3D designs on the gourd.
If you have not done so yet, make sure to add the hanging wire.
When finished, be sure to seal the gourd with a spray or brush-on exterior sealer. This is a requirement to keep it looking good when exposed to the weather. You should also bring the house indoors when not in use, for maximum longevity.
Hang The Gourd
Once the gourd is decorated and the paint is dried, hang it outside and wait for the birds! It is bird watching time.
Have you ever created a birdhouse out of a gourd? I’d love to hear!