BUILDING AND INSTALLING A COUNTRY MAILBOX
I love living in the country. Fresh air, wide open spaces, neighbors with horses cattle and ducks .... While living in the country does have plenty of advantages, there are a few catches as well. One of those is mail service. Most city dwellers are used to mail delivered right to the front door. Not here! For those of us lucky enough to get mail service (in some rural areas, you must drive to town to pick up the mail yourself), mail is dropped off in a mailbox along the street, which may be quite a walk from the front door.
So when I bought a small five acre parcel a few years ago, I fully expected a street-side mailbox. What I did not expect, however, was a mailbox in so poor shape that it was about to fail. The post was rotten, and extremely loose in the ground. The box itself was a metal unit, and years of abuse and weather had taken its toll. The flag wouldn’t stay up, door wouldn’t stay closed, the interior was rusty, and water leaked inside. Clearly, a replacement was in order.
Many of the homes on my street use the Rubbermaid mailbox and post combo. From a functional standpoint, these units have a lot going for them. They are very durable and weather resistant, and installation is a snap. However, they are fairly expensive. But more than the price, I think their injection molded look is way out of place in the rural landscape. So, being the person I am (which usually involves doing things the long and hard way), I set out to build and install a mailbox that would fit my country tastes.
The old mailbox
Checking with the Post Office
Your local post office has the authority to accept or reject any mailbox you build. (Size specification, as well as mounting height and distance from the street can be found at the USPS website.) Personally, I think the easiest way to make sure you home-build mailbox is approved is by simply “dressing-up” a purchased mailbox. Any mailbox that has been approved by the Postal Service will be stamped with “Postmaster General Approved” seal. So I was off to Home Depot, where I purchased the cheapest (less than $10) mailbox I could find, as well as an eight foot length of pressure treated 4x4 to use as my post.
Dressing up the Box
I had decided that the mailbox would look like an old style country barn, complete with board and batten siding and cedar shakes on the roof. To start the project, I built a four sided box (no top or front) that would hold the mailbox body. Since this box would not be visible or exposed to weather, it could be made of just about any wood available. (I had some scrap three-quarter inch plywood that worked nicely .) I then built a roof made of two boards attached at a 90 degree angle to each other. To finish off the roof, I cut a triangular filler out of red cedar for the front and rear of the roof. The rear filler was attached to the roof; the front filler would have to be notched for mailbox door and had to wait.
After making sure the mailbox fit within the box, I screwed the mailbox to the base of the box and then attached the roof. With the roof now attached, I could turn my attention to the front filler, which would need to be notched to allow the mailbox door to open. I used a jigsaw to cut a half circle in the filler, and then test fit the piece to make sure the mailbox would open. This took several tries to get just the right balance of look and function. When The front filler was finished, I attached it to the roof with brad nails.
Now that I had the basic form of my mailbox, it was time for siding and roofing. I had some half inch thick cedar boards from a previous project, which was perfect for cladding my mailbox. The siding was made by cutting the cedar into one inch wide pieces that were one inch longer than the height of my mailbox sides. (This extra length would help protect the box from the weather.) The strips were attached (with brad nails) vertically to the box, leaving a half inch between each strip. I then went back and added strips over the top of the half inch gaps, creating the look of board and batten siding.
The roof would prove to be a little trickier. For starters, I did not want to leave the edges of the plywood roof exposed. So I cut thin strips of cedar and nailed them to every roof edge. The next challenge was cutting my roof shakes. Half inch thick seemed far too thick for the shakes, so I ripped the half inch boards on the table saw, which gave me a thickness slightly less than one quarter inch. The cedar was then sliced into strips that varied from one to two inches wide and three inches long.
Layout for the roof shakes took some time before I got the look I wanted. In each row of shakes, I nailed shakes of random widths and staggering every other shake by a half inch. The next row would overlap the previous by two inches, and I made sure every exposed seam was covered, just like in a conventional roof. I continued this pattern all the way up to the peak, although the shakes used near the peak needed to be shortened since I was running out of roof. To cover the peak, I fashioned a V shaped piece made of two strips of cedar nailed together at a 90. To ensure the peak was weather-tight, I put a bead of silicone sealant underneath the roof cap just before nailing it down.
I thought long and hard about how to attach the flag to the outside of the mailbox. I decided to make a chimney for the box and attach the flag to the chimney. I cut the chimney out of a solid piece of cedar, which I attached to the roof with a pair of long screws. Then I added the flag to the chimney using the hardware that came with the mailbox.
Squaring up the new post
The new post after pouring concrete
Installing the new post
Since the old mailbox post was in such bad shape, I decided to start from scratch and remove the old post. This decision proved to be a good one, as I found the old post to be rotten below ground level. A few hits with a sledgehammer, and the old post broke off just below ground level. Not wanting to make any more work than was necessary, I covered over the remains of the old post and began to dig the hole for the new post about a foot away. I dug down to a depth of about two and one half feet, and then placed a large stone in the bottom of the hole for the new post to sit on.
Postal regulations dictate that the mailbox should sit 41-45 inches high and 6-8 inches from the curb. Since my street (like many rural roads) doesn't have a true “curb”, my main concern was the height of the box from ground level. I cut my post at five and one half feet, which would allow for a little more than two feet to be buried while still leaving me enough height above ground. After cutting the post, I placed it in the hole and temporarily nailed two boards from the post to stakes in the ground to hold it in place. Next I got out the level and adjusted the post until it was plumb front to back and side to side.
There are two methods that can be used to hold the post in place. The first is to use the soil dug from the hole. In this method, a person would simply add small amounts of the soil back to the hole, continuously compacting it (a sledgehammer works great) as more soil is added. The other method is to pour concrete into the hole. This is the method I used and prefer, as I feel it is a longer lasting and much more secure method.
I used two sacks of premixed concrete. I mixed one sack at a time, using a shovel to add the concrete around the post. After adding the concrete, I used the handle of my shovel to jab into the concrete several times; this will release any air pockets that may have formed during the concrete pour.
I allowed the concrete to cure for a day before adding the arm to the post. I used the two and a half foot section of 4x4 that had been cut from my post, and as luck would have it, that length was nearly perfect to reach the street. I secured it to the top of the post using four lag bots. For my cross brace, I used a piece of cedar that was three inches thick and four inches wide. Like the arm, I attached this with lag bolts. With the arm and cross brace in place, I put my mailbox on the arm and screwed it down.
At this point, all that was needed was street numbers. I bought two sets of three inch street numbers and attached a set to each side of the cross brace. Now, with everything complete, I coated the post and mailbox with a UV protectant.
The finished product
I was pretty happy with the final result. It has been about one and a half years since the mailbox went up, and the cedar is now starting to fade to a gray. Sometime this year, I will probably coat the box with a semitransparent stain, just to keep it looking fresh. Then again, I may leave it gray, although that may shorten it's life. All in all, I think it is much better looking than a plain old plastic or metal box.
I hope you've enjoyed this hub. Feel free to leave comments below, and be sure to check out some of my other hubs.