- Garden Design
How to Level and Adjust a Heavy Concrete Bird Bath
Sinking, Tilting, or Dry Concrete Bird Bath
Once upon a time, a garden was dynamic, with feathered friends visiting year round. Daily Western scrub jays dropped by splashing and frolicking in the provided oasis. A solar-powered water fountain showered with endless ripples. A gentle duet of hanging chimes offered solitude and satisfaction.
Today . . . the bird bath is empty sinking downward toward an abyss of chaos. Do you find yourself trying haplessly to level your concrete bird bath every few months unsuccessfully? A concrete bird bath has many advantages over resin or plastic: It will not blow away or topple over easily. Yet, as the ground settles with rain and watering, it may tilt. Soon, the fountain sprays onto the ground, emptying the basin. Fountain pumps may burn up from running dry. Concrete bird baths may weigh 20 pounds or more. Sticks, rocks, door jamb shims, boards, and other odds and ends just do not seem to do the trick keeping it level.
Leveling the bird bath was a chore. Below is how I accomplished this task. The method requires simple woodworking, basic mechanical knowledge, and any gardener’s crafty ways.
A level and Easily Maintained Concrete Birdbath
Starting With the Big Picture
- Begin by deciding where to place the bird bath. That is a personal choice, yet one recommendation is keep it near a shrub or lower tree branches. (A gardener-to-gardener hint is that birds like an escape route. More birds will visit the bird bath when they have a feeling of safety. Sometimes a “Puddy Tat” may be roaming the grounds.)
- The final outcome is to construct two planes. The bottom plane is affixed securely to four stakes sunk at least 6” – 8” into the ground. Upon these sits the other, adjustable plane.
- Four bolts will pass through the top plane with an adjusting nut against a washer underneath it. Here is where all the final adjustments to level the bird bath takes place. These will be accessible for when a tweak may become necessary due to heavy rains, earthquakes, or removing the top basin for cleaning and reinstalling.
Location, Location, LocationClick thumbnail to view full-size
1 in. x 2 in. x 1-1/2 ft. Untreated Pine Grade Stakes (Bundle of 12)
1 x 17-3/4 Knotty Laminated Pine Table Top or Your Choice
#8 x 2-1/2 in. Zinc-Plated Flat-Head Phillips Wood Screws (Pkg of 6)
Crown Bolt 1/2 in. - 13 in. x 2-3/4 in. Zinc Grade 5 Coarse Thread Hex Bolt
1/2 in. - 13; Zinc-Plated Grade 8 Hex Nut
1/2 in. Stainless-Steel Flat Washers
Copper-Green Brown 14-oz. Green Wood Preservative Spray
Any color can of spray paint that will show up on the ground from your shed
Plumbers / Strapping Tape or Loose Change
Pennies to $2.97
24" to 48" length of string
Total Materials (Approximate)
The Center Point
If you choose circular planes of laminated wood, it's easy to mark the center.
Grab a 6" or wider straight edge. Maybe that gardening book off the shelf in the gardener’s shed will do.
Lay down your straight edge as near the circular wood’s edge as possible. Draw a line along the adjacent edges of the formed right triangle.
Using a 36” level or a length of wood extend those lines all the way to the opposite edges of the perpendicular angle (90º) apex. Now, draw a line connecting those intersecting points of the two lines with the circular plane. That line will pass through the circles center. Do this at least once more. Personally, a preference for three times works best since being a gardener with a wobbly pencil. Where they intersect or cross paths is the circle’s center point.
Then, using one of those lines for a baseline at the center draw a perpendicular line through the center from edge to edge. A board or book will be fine to create it with acting as a right angle. Those two lines will be the center lines for placing the wood stakes and drilling the holes. We will drill holes to index the boards, provide for inserting a bolt through the Top Board, and for easy alignment of the bottom board on the four foundation stakes.
A key with this adjustable bird bath foundation is ease of assembly. How we can accomplish this is with a process called indexing. This is accomplished by clamping both planes together. Try to keep the edges as close to even as possible. Be sure the plane with the referencing lines is on top. A hint is to label each board as TOP and BOTTOM for future reference.
Second, follow this important step. Take a pencil and mark a line across both boards edge at one of the intersecting points. Scribe an arrow pointing upward in the middle of both boards or somewhere on that line for each board. Mark it dark enough to be seen easily. This will enable you to place the upper and lower boards back the way the pilot holes were drilled.
Next, Center it upon a handy stump or flat surface. You may have a Black & Decker Workmate to do this with too. If you use that then clamp those boards securely. If you are using a stump or a raised surface you will firmly hold it down with your foot. You will be rotating the clamped boards so be prepared to do the clamping process again as necessary with the Black & Decker Workmate.
Now, grab your drill, a measuring tape, and a 1/8” drill bit. We will drill eight pilot holes to guide the larger drills and align the four #8 x 2-1/2 inch wood screws securing the lower wooden plane to the stakes later.
First, starting from the outer edge at the four intersecting points along the circumference of the two perpendicular lines measure one inch. Mark it gardener style. Measure once more another one inch inward and mark there too. Once all four corners are marked pick one to begin drilling at. Be sure to slide the work assembly beyond the edge.
Drill a pilot hole using the 1/8” drill at each of those marked points. The drill should go all the way through both boards clamped together. If it does not pass completely through do not to worry. Since a pilot hole will exist at each location on the bottom board you can easily finish that drilling process. Once unclamped easily finish drilling those pilot holes using the started holes as a guide.
Steps to Drilling the Holes using the Pilot HolesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Find the board marked as BOTTOM. Now, using the 1/2” wood drill, enlarge the 1/8” holes on the board at the closet pilot hole to the outer circumference edge. A depth of 1/8” to ¼” will be sufficient. This will become the actual foundation board – BOTTOM board. These countersunk holes will provide a step for the ½” bolts to stand in.
Switch the ½” drill to the 5/8” wood drill and on the same board drill out the inner pilot hole completely through. These holes will be used to mark the ground for the stakes and guide that BOTTOM board when placing them on the stakes.
Your forefinger will fit easily through enabling you to feel the stake while centering the bottom board. With the 5/8” drill still inserted drill the outermost pilot hole of the TOP board using the 1/8” pilot hole as a guide.
Wood Treatment and Assembly
Cut the stakes equally to the desired lengths. This should be the 6 – 8” going into the ground and about two additional inches. This will allow a narrow space for water to flow underneath and air to circulate. Move the four stakes to be used and the two boards to a well ventilated area.
Soak them thoroughly with several coats of the wood treatment. If using an aerosol two cans will be about enough. For a good dousing three is better. If you get a one quart can you should have no challenges coating the wood parts easily.
Please store the remaining wood treatment safely and securely. Dispose of any remaining wood treatment per your local regulations for the chemical. Check to see about disposal of aerosol cans in some areas. Definitely keep out of children’s reach. Allow a few good hours for the wood to soak up all the treatment between coatings for drying or per the manufacturer’s instructions.
How the Stake is Located on the Ground
The Stake will be Below the Countersunk Hole
Creating the Birdbath Leveler Foundation
Next, place the bottom board upon the ground where you would like it to be. Using the spare can of spray paint from the garage or shed spray through the bottom board’s 5/8” holes. Move the board to the side.
Stretch a length of string from one spot across to the other. The string should be on the same side of both circular spots and tightened straight. Using that spot as a guide pound the stakes parallel with the string on the outer side of the painted spots. To prevent splitting the stakes pound upon another spare stake or scrap piece of sturdy wood. Be sure the stake’s inner edge is next to the spot.
Assure the bottom board will be level. To do this place the BOTTOM board on the stakes once they are near or at two inches from the ground (You may desire to be closer to the ground or lawn). Check it with the level along the perpendicular lines and between those lines. (A 36” level was used by this gardener)
Remove the bottom board and pound or tap the higher stakes as needed. Do this until leveled to your liking. Using the 5/8” holes align the bottom board at all four stakes. By feeling the stakes with your finger the pilot hole centered within the ½” countersunk hole will line up approximately 1-1/4” over the 2 inch stake.
Once you feel it is correctly aligned the 1/8” pilot at the center of the ½” counter sunk hole will be used for the #8 x 2-1/2” wood screws. Using your power drill drive those screws into the stakes affixing the bottom board securely. Do a final check with your leveling procedure. If necessary tap on a high stake with a spare stake or piece of wood held onto the bottom board. This will keep from splitting the wood or severely marring the surface.
Carriage Bolt Adjustment AssemblyClick thumbnail to view full-size
Assemble the Birdbath Leveler Structure
Assemble the screws onto the top board next. Insert a ½” crown bolt through the 5/8” hole. Slide the washer upward from the bottom side onto the bolt. Next, screw the nut in place. Only tighten the nut until enough length is left to fit into the countersunk hole. Align the top onto the bottom easily by lining up the index line for both the top and bottom assuring the crown bolts rest in the countersunk holes.
Next, level the top board or plane easily by adjusting the required crown bolts. Begin by raising the low side. Hold the bottom nut while turning the bolt clockwise while watching the level. Continue doing this while checking with the level until just near level.
You will have a wobble if a lot of adjusting is needed. Eliminate the wobble as evenly as possible with the two perpendicular crown bolts. This should be fairly easy to accomplish, since you leveled the foundation plane or board. Check again with the level and cross check with a perpendicular line. Check as much and in as many directions as you feel comfortable with while easily tweaking your adjustments.
Examining the Concrete Pedestal IndexClick thumbnail to view full-size
Prep the Bird Bath
The main cause for concrete bird baths not being level are the tolerances for the manufacturing process is very loose or not very tight. The surfaces are not very smooth tending to be rather rough. To better its accuracy of fit begin by removing any excess casting flashing or material from the bottom of the pedestal.
Be sure the beveled edges are as smooth as possible to prevent unnecessary wobble. A flat tipped regular screwdriver with a light hammer and stout steel brush will do this job easily. Just remove the larger obtrusive clumping of the concrete if any you feel may cause a wobble.
Do the same procedure on the underneath of the bird bath. Again, assure the smoothest surface as possible along the beveled edges. The flat meeting surfaces should be as clean or tight a fit as possible with minimal wobble. A trick is to place the basin on the pedestal and rotate it. This will grind off uneven surfaces creating a snugger fit. Finally wash it off with the garden hose. Drying is not necessary.
Staging the Bird Bath
Center the pedestal onto the top board of the bird bath foundation / leveler. Check for wobble. If there is wobble you can easily correct using plumbers tape beneath the pedestal. If you do not have plumbers tape then even pennies or other loose change will work. There is not any need to check the upper surface of the pedestal with the level. Ideally this surface does not touch the bird bath. Only the mating surface around that concave area will touch.
Place the bird bath on top of the pedestal. Using a scrap piece of wood long enough to extend beyond the outer edges we will check for level. If it is not, then try rotating the bird bath seeking the best possible position. Once this is accomplished we can make further adjustments with our bird bath leveler assembly.
Using the same procedure as we used above begin at the low side while countering wobble with the perpendicular crown bolts. Once again as we approach near center for the level’s bubble cross check in a perpendicular line. You may decide a few additional reference lines are more comfortable. Make the necessary adjustments maintaining the final adjustments to the fewest crown bolts necessary beginning at the low side.
Follow each smaller adjustment with a subsequent adjustment at the perpendicular crown bolts. This will assure an equal surface tension while maintaining evenly distributed weight. Once the level’s bubble is constant at several checking points then snug all the loose fitting nuts. Be sure not to over tighten and change the crown bolt height.
Once all the adjustments are completed and the level’s bubble is centered in several placements to your liking, then we have accomplished our task. We have achieved the goal of creating and constructing an easy to use and maintain concrete bird bath foundation and leveler.
Attracting Birds to Your Garden
Do you feel birds add to the garden like being the Life of the Party?
Now that we have a bird bath that is accurately leveled and easily adjustable in the future we have opportunity. Installing a solar powered fountain pump is easily accomplished. There is less concern of the pump running dry or lopsided water levels.
A gardener to gardener hint is when a fountain pump is used the spray height can be adjusted easily. Remember a solar pump will have the greatest height when the sun is at its highest in the sky. Those splashes from high spray or extended beyond the edges over a full sun day may empty the basin faster than necessary.
By drilling out the small holes in the replaceable soft plastic caps the spray level will drop while the volume increases. Keeping the water well inside the birdbath prevents quick evacuation of water. Enough to maintain ripples attracting birds flying above while offering a harmonic tonal quality will do the trick. Observation has demonstrated hummingbirds in mid-flight like a wider or thicker 'spray' for drinking than very narrow.
If you are a flower enthusiast a nice geometric shape of various floras will camouflage the near six inch high foundation base. Or, maybe you painted the upper board after application of the wood treatment. If you have a flair for painting a design or presenting an artistic expression here is an interesting canvas. A terrace board edge or any other lawn edge can be fitted around the circular board.
Or, in this example a natural native California garden is the home of the birdbath and shredded redwood bark was used. A three inch mulch covering is recommended requiring only an additional few inches at the bird bath. This offers a natural incline providing a small hill appearance in the garden. Another idea is to use the upper board as a base for small potted plants.
© 2015 Tim Mitchell