How to Build a Chest-of-Drawers Chicken Brooder

K, guys. I used to be really funny. At least, I thought so. Lately things have been so busy. Stressful. Hard-working. You know. I feel like it’s beaten the funny out of me. So, anyway, that’s why I haven’t written up the how-to on building a chicken brooder out of a chest of drawers for free*. Because, you know, what’s the point of a how-to guide if it’s not funny?

Then I decided just to do it anyway, and maybe the  funny will come. So here it is. How to build a chicken brooder out of a chest of drawers. Or a quail brooder. Or a convalescent home for aged quail, as mine is currently employed for. Look closely. They camouflage.

Convalescent home for quail.

So here we go.


  • Relatives. Preferably your dad and your mom, who will bring entirely different approaches to the project resulting in a great deal of interesting complexity and lots of laughs. Very important. This will also provide you with a pleasant jolt of nostalgia every time you enter Lowe’s for the rest of your life because you’ll remember strolling down the aisles with your dad limping on his bum hip one step ahead of you, looking into every single one of those teeny little hardware drawers looking for the exact right combination of screws and washers. You’ll also appreciate when he picks up the tab at check-out, which is why you can say the project was “free” with something approximating accuracy.
  • Old chest of drawers, preferably missing a drawer or two so you won’t feel guilty tearing it apart a bit
  • 1/2″ wire mesh (hardware cloth, hardware mesh, etc.–whatever it’s called in your locale)
  • 1/4″ wire mesh (for the floor)
  • Various bits of hardware including at least two hinges, a door clasp, and a bunch of screws and nails
  • Various bits of small lumber–I used 1″ square strips (I’m sure that’s not the right word for them. Sorry.)
  • Some other stuff. Maybe a hamster waterer or something. Whatever. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t leave at least a little room for you to use your imagination. Remember? It’s good for you.
  • Oh, and you’ll need some tools. Screwdriver. Saw. You can get really complicated and include miter saws and staple guns and things if you like. Glue is a plus.


Step One (wherein the cast of characters is introduced and not much else happens)

Enlist help. You’re going to need it. Or maybe you won’t. But you’ll have more fun this way. In fact, your best bet is going to be to wait until your parents arrive from 1,500 miles away for a five-day visit, and then try to cram into those five days: Christmas shopping (for every-freakin-body because you’ve been too busy cleaning the house–after all, YOUR PARENTS ARE COMING CLEAN THE HOUSE ALREADY–to think about presents), present-wrapping, soap-making, fancy meal cooking, grocery shopping, client work (because you’ve been too busy cleaning to finish your work), conversations about God, the universe, and everything, Christmas Day, calls to relatives, and constructing a chick brooder. Because what’s Christmas without a construction project?


I’m showing the picture of my dad first because he helped with the first bit, and was instrumental in absentia in helping me waste at least a couple hours trying to create mortise and tenon joints before I gave up and went back to my tried-and-true crooked split-end screwing method of joint-building. Dad likes to do things RIGHT. He also likes to scowl for pictures so he looks really mean and tough. He’s a full bird colonel (retired) in the USAF and when I was a teenager all my friends called him “Colonel Mann.” (Carey says, “First step to building your brooder: Bring in the military.”) Dad looks mean, but he was still nice enough to say the final result looks great, even though I didn’t end up with nice neat mortise and tenon joints. He’s kinda cool that way.


My mom is a lot more like me when it comes to building things. Got a tape measure? Hammer? Elmer’s glue? Awesome, let’s go. Mom was instrumental in getting some work actually done after Dad and I arrived back with our bags overflowing with hardware. Neither Mom nor I know enough about actual construction techniques or engineering to slow us down, so while our creations may not look as pretty or stand up to the test of time, they do usually get accomplished. Actually, it’s not at all fair to say that Mom doesn’t know much about construction techniques. That’s really just me. Mom and Dad built their house by hand in Colorado (ergo, it’s also unfair to imply that Dad doesn’t finish his projects because obviously he does), and her dad was a carpenter who taught her a great deal from when she was a very young child. Mom’s actually an awesome handy-girl and very practically minded. So practically minded, in fact, that I’m sure she would never waste your time telling you all these details when what you want is to know how to build the darn thing. Okay, Mom. Let’s go.

Step Two (wherein the first few things happen)

K, I lied. The first step has nothing to do with parents, relatives, or anything I’ve already mentioned. It has to do with finally getting your youngest son a chest of drawers that he can open and shut because the drawers work right and that isn’t missing the second drawer. Not because you’re an okayish mom but because you’re coveting that half-ruined chest of drawers for your project and, if you take his and buy him a new one, you can say the chest of drawers was “free,” even though you paid $35 for it five years ago on craigslist and then paid another $35 for the “new” chest of drawers. It’s important to complete this step before bringing in the relatives for reasons that shall become clear shortly.

Chest of drawers

Remove the top drawer too. You can use those pretty little knobs to dress up the finished product later. Probably the box of the drawer itself will be useful some day too. Be sure to store it somewhere that will be difficult to find when you figure out what that “something” is that you want to do with it. Next, figure out how you’re going to heat the brooder. I decided on a brood lamp, mostly because I already have one and so it was “free.”

I cut a hole in the cardboard at the back of the chest of drawers to insert the cord for the brood lamp.

Hole in back

This was way harder than it looks. The chest of drawers was extremely well made a long time ago with materials much harder than anything modern is ever built with ever. There was a small amount of swearing involved in this portion of the construction. Which is why it’s important that this stage be completed before Mom and Dad arrive. There would have been much less swearing if they had been there. None, actually. Colonel Dad, remember? Oh, Mom, if you’re reading this: Actually, there was no swearing at all. None. Ever.



Plus this:

Heather and drill

Looks impressive, and is therefore an important part of the process. It’s also completely ineffective. The drill bit kept slipping off the backing material (which looks like cardboard but is much more closely related, I’m convinced, to concrete) to no avail. So I resorted to much more primitive means.

Hammer and screwdriver

Creating the hole


This hole is way too small for a three-prong plug to go through, so next I had to figure out how to expand the hole. If you have an awesome drill with a great big ole bit that’s made for drilling through concrete, you might not need to swear as much as I most certainly did not. Otherwise, try this next:

Expanding the hole

Widening the hole

Now. Throw in a liberal dose of sandpaper, metal rasp, pulling, tearing, and definitely-not-swearing… and you might end up with this:

Hole in back

Congratulations. You now have  a hole in the back of your broken chest of drawers.

If you really want to feel good about yourself, try putting a three-prong plug through that hole and discovering that it’s still a half a millimeter too small. Do that about six more times. Cry a little bit. Shove it one more time and realize you’ve pushed it through the wrong direction and now you have a conveniently placed plug on the inside of the brooder-to-be, and a brood lamp on the outside. Give up, and skip to this next bit, which is much faster and far more satisfying.

Eye screw and plyers

Bend open the eye screw so you’ll be able to lift a cord in and out of it easily. Then screw it in where you want to hang the brood lamp.

Eye screw

Inside brooder

K look. I did this part before the whole episode with the hole. Obviously, because otherwise the hole would be showing in this picture. Unless I was such as idiot as to screw the hook in the wrong place, and I’d never be that stupid. It’s not like I’d ever, for instance, screw pallets together the wrong direction for a goat hay stand. Really. No, in this case it’s just that I wrote the two bits in the wrong order and am too lazy to put them back in the right order. So just pretend you can see that big ole hole I made with the sweat of my brow, okay?

Oh, look, the finished product!!!!

Brood lamp

And by “finished product” of course I just mean the chest of drawers with a brood lamp hanging in it. Because that’s exactly what you’ll have at the end of about six hours of hard labor. Totally satisfying.

And oh crap. I missed another step. Look. This bit really came after the bit with the screwing** of the hole, which came after the bit with the screwing** of the eye screw**, which came after the bit with recruiting the parents**… wait, no… which came before recruiting the parents which only came first in the write-up but not in reality. And the bit with the screwing of the eye screw came after this other bit that I haven’t even shown yet. So that’s all cleared up, yes?

Sawing out the divider

Right. So before you do anything else I’ve talked about, you remove the divider between the top two drawers. A simple hand saw is best for this. And that’s the most practical advice you will receive from me, probably ever. You’re welcome.

So. Wow. This is taking a super long time to write about. It also took a super long time to do, so I guess that’s fair. Anyway. At this point you will most definitely want a break. Move the chest of drawers out of the kitchen and into the location you plan to keep it in. It’s going to sit there for a few weeks while you CLEAN THE HOUSE BECAUSE YOUR PARENTS ARE COMING so you may as well make it look at home there.


You still have soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo much more to do. But don’t lose heart. You have a brood lamp in a chest of  drawers!!

And I’ll walk you through the rest. Some day. Because it turns out this blog entry is only the first part of a series. A series that is not yet written, because it’s late and I’m tired, and therefore might never be written. But if you want to know about it when it *is* written (if it’s written), you can subscribe at right to get notifications. You’ll also get notifications of everything else I ever write. You’ve been warned. I’ll also link from here to the next installment when/if it’s ever written.

P.S. I really decided seriously to take out all the bits about swearing because I know my mom is going to read this and I don’t want her to know think I actually swear sometimes. But it turns out the swearing bits are kind of the funniest bits of all (kind of the way they are in real life sometimes too, or so I’ve heard from people who swear sometimes) so of course I can’t take them out.

*Or very low cost, depending on how much you can get your parents to pay for.

**You are not allowed to snicker at anything written in a sentence that includes my parents. It’s a rule.

5 responses to “How to Build a Chest-of-Drawers Chicken Brooder

  1. Hedder, surely you don’t swear, right? It was all just for fun. Right? Oh my, but you’re funny (except for the swearing part).

    Seriously, truly enjoyed reading the article. You really are funny and your dad and I are so thankful for you. Keep up the great blogs.

  2. Thanks, guys! 🙂 I feel a second installment brewing… stay tuned. And NO Mom of course I don’t.

    Where did I get my funny from anyway? It shows up even in my earliest writings as a child. Hm. Could it be YOU?


  3. That’s a great article. Can’t wait for the second installment!
    If you find you need to know anything about quail, have a look at my blog for the answers.

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