Napan makes hundreds of free birdhouses | Local News

There’s a busy custom home builder in Napa who’s created about 1,000 homes — and they’re all for birds.

Jim Chaney, 84, makes birdhouses. Many, many birdhouses.

For the past two years, Chaney has spent most of his days in a small woodworking shop in his backyard making little houses for flying friends.

In fact, says Chaney, “I make more than birdhouses. I make feeders and squirrel houses, I make bat houses, dove boxes, and I make benches and everything else.

“It keeps me busy,” Chaney said. When he measures and cuts the pieces for the houses, “You have to use your brain to do this and it keeps me busy. So I can live long.

Chaney certainly has the experience to prove it. He is a retired millwright who built sawmills and other large buildings, including a bowling alley, primarily in Northern California.

In 2019, Chaney, her daughter Christine and her husband Rick Jordan moved from Humboldt County to Napa. Jordan is the director of Napa Valley Adult Education.

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Once settled, the family quickly discovered Buy Nothing Napa. The Facebook group follows a “gift economy” model, in which goods and services are given away freely – not sold or exchanged – and are offered without any expectation of profit or personal gain. It’s a relationship-driven model that emphasizes sustainability and helping neighbors.

Hundreds of Napa residents connected through Facebook are helping to create a hyper-local gift economy, known as the Buy Nothing Project.

Most of her wood used for the birdhouses “comes from scrap metal that we get from the Buy Nothing people,” Christine Chaney said. “People drop it off.” Any wood is transformed into a birdhouse, and quickly. For example, “He crossed 107 feet of [used] fence board,” she recalls.

When he completes a new group of birdhouses, Christine Chaney posts the articles on Buy Nothing Napa, alerting members to the added “inventory”. It usually goes quickly.

The family also has a sign outside their home in West Napa offering the free birdhouses.

“Love the birdhouse your dad made,” wrote a Buy Nothing Napa member. “Your father is spreading joy.”

“So nice of him to do all this work,” another member wrote.

“Your dad’s work is so lovely,” added another.

Chaney has also made dozens of birdhouses for after-school programs, a daycare program, and other groups.

“I think 85 was her biggest order yet,” her daughter said.

Christine Chaney said her father, who has six children, taught her as a teenager how to use woodworking and other construction equipment.

“I learned to do all of this with my dad,” she said. “It was always about using your hands and not being afraid just because you’re a girl to try these things.”

Thanks to his decades of woodworking experience, Chaney doesn’t need a pattern or instructions to make his birdhouses.

“I try to make them all a little bit different,” he said.

Why? “I wouldn’t want one that everyone else has,” he said. Every Jim Chaney birdhouse is an original.

It takes about an hour to make a birdhouse. Some days, he will make five or six miniature houses, in assembly line.

When asked if he should try selling his custom birdhouses, Chaney shrugged.

“I just gave them away,” he said. “If people want them, they can have them.”

“I think it has a lot to do with the Buy Nothing community,” Christine Chaney said.

Members embraced Chaney and his birdhouses, complimenting his work and gladly providing him with new material.

“We get all the wood for free, and that keeps him busy and engaged,” she said.

Chaney said his primary birdhouse building tools include a sander, circular saw, stapler and jigsaw.

Because Chaney is blind in one eye, he made some concessions for safety, including using special guarding on his saw.

“He had to really cut back on his work, but he knows his tools and knows how to use them,” his daughter said.

Does he ever cut himself? Of course, Chaney said nonchalantly.

“He staples his fingers once in a while,” Christine Chaney said.

“It doesn’t hurt,” Jim Chaney said. “You just removed it.”

The Buy Nothing Napa Facebook page reported that the group is not currently accepting new members as membership has reached capacity. To inquire about birdhouses or contact the Chaney family, email [email protected]


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You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or [email protected]

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