Saturday, January 16, 2021

Wooden Barn Mailbox

Waiting the the mail on a cold winter's day

 The previous week I posted about a wireless alert system that I had devised with the use of some surplus parts and a cheap doorbell to let me know when the mail had been delivered. 

While I was happy with the concept, I was a little less than thrilled about the reduced range that I seemed to be getting when it was being used with my metal mailbox. My suspicion was that the mailbox was acting a bit like a faraday cage with the doorbell transmitter, severely cutting down the range of the signal being transmitted. 

I did try to have the doorbell transmitter located outside of the mailbox, but I was wasn't too happy with the idea of having it exposed to the elements. 

Since my mailbox was starting to look a little rough, I figured perhaps a mailbox upgrade, one that would be a bit more radio-friendly, would be a nice project to tackle.

One goal for this project was to try and find something to do with a pile of fence boards that I had accumulated the previous summer after some fences were taken down around the property that my shop is located. 

The boards are very well weathered and look a bit rough, however, once l peeled off the top layer of the boards, I found some really usable wood underneath.  

Looks a bit rough
But they clean up pretty good

While they were not what I would consider furniture grade wood, the boards were perfect for a rustic outdoor project - like a mailbox 

I designed the mailbox to be as simple as possible to construct.

Since the mailbox is going to be living out in a very harsh environment and would need to withstand the occasional encounter with the local snowplow, the mailbox also needed to be constructed as strongly as possible 

As such, I built the mailbox to be a fairly simple box shape with a simple sloped roof. 

To add that much-needed toughness, the wood would be fairly thick at about 1-inch in thickness, which I cut down from the original 2-inch thickness of the fence boards.  

After the basic concept was determined, I then made a couple of quick sketches of the design  
Gables, door and back

Bottom and sides


With the design sketched out, it was time to build. 

The fence boards were all pretty weathered and had a bit of old white latex paint adhering to the outer surfaces of them. 

The boards themselves were still quite solid, so I figured that I would try and clean them up a little first. 

I started by trimming off an eighth of an inch along all for sides of the boards, but doing this, I removed the weathered part of the wood and squared the board up. 

This was done by running the board a few times through the table saw. 

The end result was that I had boards that were about 1 and a quarter inches thick and about 5 inches wide. (from the original 2X6 dimensional lumber that the boards were in the first place).

Peeling the weathered layer off

Once all the crud was trimmed off, I was really surprised by how nice the wood looked.

Cleaned up boards

I started building the mailbox by assembling the floor and the sides first. 

To make the sides and the bottom, I needed to have two pieces of 8" X 16" board and one 6" X 16" board. 

Since I only had boards that were only 5 inches wide, I need to get a bit creative in how to get wider boards. 

To accomplish this, I took 6 of my boards and trimmed them all to a length of 16 inches. 

Next, I applied a bead of weatherproof wood glue (I personally have great success with Gorilla glue for my outdoor projects) along an edge of one board and joined it to the edged of another board, clamping them together until the glue had fully dried. 

By doing this I had created a 10-inch wide board that I can trim down to the width that I needed.

I did the same thing with the remaining boards that I had until I had three 10X16 boards.  

Combining 2 boards together
Gluing and clamping the wood together
Three 10 inch wide boards

After that, it was a simple matter of cutting things down to size on the table saw until I had my two 8" X 16" sides and  6" X 16" floor.

Sides and floor

Next, I attached the sides of the mailbox to the bottom by running a bead of wood glue along the sides of the bottom board and nailing 2-inch brad nails along the bottom of the mailbox. 

Attaching the sides to the bottom
Securing with brad nails

Next, I traced out 2 triangles on another piece of 1X5, drawing them so that the base of the triangles were 7.5 inches long and the other 2 sides of the triangle were 5.25 inches long. 

 Then using my miter saw with the blade set to a 45-degree angle I cut out the triangles. 

Triangles traced out
Gables cut out

These triangles will serve as the roof gables of the mailbox. I attached the gables at the top of each end of the mailbox and secured them in place with some glue and a couple of brad nails. 

Installing the gables
Gables installed

To add some additional reinforcement for the roof, I next cut out a 16-inch length of 1" X 1"  and I attached it to the top tip of the gable triangles. By doing this, the idea is to create some extra rigidity to the mailbox and to provide some additional mounting points for the roof. 

Length of 1X1
1X1 installed

Next, I glue another 2 boards together and cut them down to two 7.5" X 6" boards.

Taking one of the boards, I placed it into on end of the box so that it fits snugly and flush to the sides, bottom, and gable of the box and secured it in place with some 2-inch brad nails

Back of the box

The next step in the process is to create the roof for the box. 

I start off by cutting out four 17 inches long 1" X 5" boards and gluing them together like I did before so that I had two 1" X 10" boards. 

When the glue had dried I then cut the boards so that I had one board that was 6.5 inches wide and one that was cut to a width of 7.25 inches. 

Taking the 6.5-inch wide board, I attached it to the top of the roof gables, making sure that the overhang on the ends of the box was equal and that the top edge of the board was flush to the edge of the top roof reinforcement. 

Once everything was all situated, I attached the board with some glue and brad nails. 

First half of the roof installed

Next, I attached the 7.5-inch board to the top of the box, again making sure that the overhang on the ends was equal, but also making sure that the top edge of the board was flush against the top of the 6.5-inch board that I had just attach. 

This too was attached with some glue and brad nails. 

Roof installed

This completed the basic structure of the mailbox and I could have left this as is and called it good however I did want to dress it up a bit, both to make it more attractive and to provide some additional protection. 

To dress it up further I installed some cedar shims to the roof to create a shingle effect. I cut the shims so that I had a 3-inch overlap between each row of shingles. The shingles were attached using 1/2 inch staples. 

Attaching cedar shingles
Roof is shingled

The next thing I added was a flag for the side of the mailbox. To create a mounting point for the flag I first cut out a 3 inch deep and 3-inch diameter wood circle out of a block of scrap wood with the help of a hole saw and my drill press. 

Cutting out the mount

I then trimmed off a 1/4 inch deep notch off of the wood circle down to the midway point, which will be used to serve as a mount for the flag. 

I then attached the mount to the right side of the mailbox, with the notch pointing up. 

Flag mount attached

Next, I cut out a 12-inch long 1" X 2" strip of wood for the flag. 

Testing the fit for the flag

Since one of the reasons for building this box was to make the wireless alarm work better, I made an attempt to make the sensors a bit more inconspicuous than merely being duct-taped to the flag. 

To make the installation of the magnet a bit neater, I cut a 1/2 inch deep slot into the flag to allow the magnet to set into the wood. 

Placing the magnet
Slot cut into the flag
Magnet installed in slot

To finish up the flag, I rounded the two corners at the top of the flag and only round one corner of the bottom of the flag, leaving one corner of the bottom square. 

When rounding the bottom corner I made sure that it was the right corner with the side of the flag with the magnet notch facing away from me. 

The reason for keeping the one corner square is that the square corner will act as a stop when the flag is raised and the square corner hits the notch in the flag mount. 

Rounding the flag corners
Rounding the flag corners

To finish the flag I then drilled a 1/4 inch hole near the bottom of the flag. 

Drilling a hole
Flag finished

The other 7.5" X 6" inch board that I had cut out earlier will be used as a door for the mailbox. 

Again, I did want to jazz things up a bit, and since I wanted to maintain the barn theme for the box, I wanted to make the door look a bit like an old fashion barn door that has exterior bracing on it. 

To make the bracing, I used a length of 1" X 0.5" inch strapping that I had on hand and cut out three 6 inch strips.

On one of the strips, I cut the ends at a 30-degree angle, with the angles cut opposing to each other. 

I glued the strips to the door so that the strips formed a "Z" on the door. 

Ready to apply the strips
Strips attached to the door

The next step was to install the door to the mailbox. My intent is to have the door hinged on the left-hand side so that it opened like a more traditional door. I know this is a bit different than traditional mailboxes, which open from the top, so I am hoping that the mail carrier doesn't object (update - so far she hasn't 😊).

I used some small brass hinges and attached the door to the mailbox by screwing in the hinges on the left side of the door. 

Attaching the door
Attaching hinges
Attaching hinges

On the right side of the door, I drilled a 1/8 inch hole and attached a brass-colored plastic knob to the door. 

Drilling a hole for the knob
Knob attached

As a final touch, I installed a  magnetic latch inside the box to keep the door closed. 

Installing magnetic latch
Installing magnetic latch

After painting the flag and installing it on the flag mount, the mailbox was done. 

Construction is finished

The last thing I did was install the wireless alert to the new box.  I drilled a small hole in the right side of the box, close to the roofline, and attached the reed switch to the roof in a spot where the magnet on the flag will move past the switch when it is being raised. 

I then fed the wire through the box and connected it to the transmitter which is now inside the box

Reed switch installed
Transmitter is hidden away

After that, I stuck it on the post at the end of the driveway and I was ready to get mail

Installed and ready for use

So far it's working as well as I hoped.  The wireless alert is working much better now and the person that delivers my mail has no complaints. 

In fact, I have actually seen passersby stopping to take a look at it - so I am quite happy to see how well things have turned out. 

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