Coroplast Box Design
The Evolution of the Revolution,
orThe Ultimate Hawk Box
Most falconers spend a lot of time and effort trying to figure out methods to transport our birds safely from one place to another. Even the fortunate few that can hunt from home still need to take a hawk somewhere else once in a while - to a meet, the vet, or out on a hunt with friends. Getting a hawk from place to place can be a serious challenge.For many people, a giant hood, or hawk box, turns out to be the best solution. I’m not knocking hooding. Hooding is a valuable tool, but sometimes, hooding is not enough or is inappropriate. For situations such as these, a hawk box can be a dream come true. If we agree to the value of a hawk box, the next dilemma is what type of hawk box do we want to use to carry our precious cargo? There are no shortages of types, styles, sizes, or materials that can be used. Some are good designs or executions while others are at best questionable. I’ve seen some really beautiful hawk boxes that almost needed a forklift to carry them. I don’t consider that very useful. I’ve spent a bunch of time, as have many others, trying to come up with a hawk box that is safe, functional, durable, lightweight, and practical.
A while back, the Coulsens in Louisiana developed a box for carrying their Harris Hawks around, which they published in American Falconry in March 1999. They were made out of lauan plywood, which is strong but light. These boxes weighed in at about 13 pounds, which is quite a bit less than a solid wood box, which could easily weigh 50 pounds or more. The dimensions were what surprised everyone. They were much narrower than "traditional" hawk boxes, at around 11" wide. Using a system of newspaper hung inside with a large paper clip, they were relatively easy to keep clean. Unfortunately, they were still made out of wood, which required a certain amount of skill and labor to put together. The parts list alone as published was somewhat daunting for the carpentry-impaired among us.
In the next issue of American Falconry, June 1999, Harry McElroy wrote an article that mentioned the Coulsens’ boxes as shown to him when they came for a visit. Harry dubbed these boxes "The Coulsen Revolution". The Coulsens suggested that Harry build the boxes out of Coroplast, a corrugated plastic material used for making signs that comes in 4 x 8 sheets, like plywood. He did, and was ecstatic at the results.Thanks to the power of the internet, the idea for these Coroplast wonders spread like wildfire. It wasn’t long before others were coming up with ideas to improve on the design of these boxes.
Randall Massey posted the idea that you could cut all the necessary pieces from one sheet of Coroplast if you set it up correctly. Ron Kumetz figured out a way to make the boxes from one sheet of Coroplast without having to cut separate pieces, much the way a cardboard box is made from one large piece of cardboard rather than individual cut pieces. This eliminated the need to use external hardware to connect and hold the pieces together. He said he had produced a drawing of the folds and cuts required and he would share it with anyone who was interested.
At this point, I really sat up and took notice on this. I had been following the thread with interest, but after taking about 6 months to build my first giant hood, I hated the idea of trying to fit 6 pieces of anything together and have them connect properly. I’m a computer geek, not a carpenter, and while I enjoy the idea of building my own things, I usually suck at it. But given the availability of a drawing to use as a template and the ability to score, fold, and glue this thing together rather than using power tools and hardware, I figured I could probably be at least moderately successful at assembling one of these boxes.
The next development in the story was CHC’s own Richard Kneip’s willingness to post the plan and an appropriate file viewer for it on a website. Quite a few people, myself included, downloaded this plan and were able to successfully print out a copy of it.
With the plan in hand, I created a paper model of it, because I still couldn’t really see how it all fit together. Once I started folding the model, it became obvious. A few cuts, a few folds, and it came together nicely. It was time to get started building the real thing.
Well, first I had to find Coroplast. I got together with Pam Hessey, who is wise in the ways of materials and adhesives (she restores antique carousel horses for a living) and she was able to track down some Coroplast. It seemed that there are different thicknesses and colors available. We chose a 6mm size and black in color for a few reasons.
Harry had spoken about the translucency of the material. The lighter colors are not opaque. He had used a yellow and a blue that allowed light in, and more so on the yellow. I wanted to build something that would be pretty much opaque, thus allowing the box to function as a giant hood for a variety of birds that were not hood trained. (One was a male Harris Hawk that would pluck his leg feathers when hooded, and another one would rather eat the hood than wear it.)Anyway, We had a choice of 10mm white coroplast, or 6mm black. I wanted the thicker one; I couldn’t believe that any plastic that thin could be strong enough; however, I wasn’t willing to give up the opaque qualities of the darker one, so we went with the thinner sheet. As it turned out, the thin one was entirely adequate.
Harry provided us with dimensions he had used for his male Harris Hawk, and we scaled our plans to those dimensions. He had spoken about problems he had encountered trying to fold the Coroplast, especially on the axis perpendicular to the corrugations. He had tried using a both sheet metal brake and a form in order to create nice clean folds, without much success. If you’ve ever tried to fold cardboard on that axis, you know how frustrating it can be. We decided to try scoring the coroplast in order to make it fold nicely. Using a few scrap pieces and a controlled hand, we found that a razor blade knife made clean cuts and scores, and once scored, the Coroplast folded like a dream! Due to the way the folding works, the scoring did not seem to affect the structural integrity in the slightest. We dove in, made all the cuts and scores and started gluing. Contact cement is wonderful stuff. It’s perfect for Coroplast and is in fact recommended by the manufacturer.
Building the first box took us about 3 hours from the first cut to the finished product. (…the glue fumes had nothing to do with the -uh-lengthy process…)
The second one took a little more than an hour, the most time spent waiting for the glue to set up. Once we knew the sequence of folds and gluing, it went quickly.
We added a few stiffeners or protectors (made from cut scraps) to the corners to prevent damage from bumps, and it turns out that those were worthwhile, at least for us clumsy folks. A piece of 2x4 covered with long-blade Astroturf was used as a perch, with 2 screws on each end holding it in via large diameter fender washers. The handles are pieces of rope threaded through holes at the top of the front and back panels and knotted inside. The door is a piece scored to make a hinge with a pair of Velcro closures.There are a variety of methods that can be used for ventilation. We drilled a series of small holes at the bottom front and top rear on both sides, and this has proven adequate for us. Harry uses longer slits cut in his, and Jim Dawson has added small computer fans to his that can run off a car battery via the cigarette lighter adapter.
Total weight including hardware? Just over 4 pounds! As Harry put it, you can carry a bird in this thing on your pinky for hours and not get tired!
The birds took to these boxes well. Even though they are only 11 inches wide, it looks as though there is still room for a male Harris Hawk to get lost inside of it. I had no problem getting Mojo to hop into this box right from the beginning.
We put these perches to the test after we’d been using them around town for a while. We packed up my truck and took off for a two week trip to Arizona. With all the clothes, camping gear, and hawking gear, my little Toyota truck was packed to the roof. These boxes sat in the back near the window and the birds rode comfortably inside for as long as 8 hours at a time. Our gear didn’t suffer being streaked with mutes, and the smell was kept to a minimum although we did clean them out nightly, spraying them down with water and wiping them out with a towel. We also did stopped frequently to check on them, but never noticed even a slight indication of a problem.
We visited with Harry and Jim Dawson and compared notes on the boxes. Jim and his wife Sue train hawks for the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum, and they were enthusiastic about these boxes. The ease of construction as well as the low cost of materials (these boxes cost us a whopping $17 each) looked like a winner for a facility that does not exactly have unlimited funds for equipment.
As could be expected, the use of black as a box color in Arizona was not considered a stellar idea. Where I live, the heat and sun are not enough of an issue to make a difference, although I wouldn’t leave the boxes out in the sun for very long with a bird in them. In Arizona, using black could be dangerous (although it wasn’t hot when we were there in February). For hotter climates, you can either use a light color and sacrifice the opaqueness or you can use a dark color and paint the outside light. Given the advantages of a box that is opaque from the inside, I’d probably go with dark and paint it white.
So far these boxes have been excellent tools for us. I have yet to discover a downside to them. I can keep two of them in the back of my truck in the space where one of my old boxes used to go. They’re lightweight and inexpensive. They’re easy to build, even for us construction-impaired folks, The birds take to them quickly; I’ve even been able to get my RT to use them, although the ones I have are a bit narrow for her and she gets uncomfortable as her wings start touching the sides. I’ll make one for her that’s a bit wider.
I’ve attached a copy of the plan we built our boxes from. You’ll notice that there are no dimensions on it; all you do is figure out how big you want it, and scale the dimensions accordingly. Photocopy the plan and cut it out of paper so that you can see how it fits together, then figure out your actual dimensions and mark the coroplast accordingly.
Coroplast is easily found in most metropolitan areas; it’s used to make signs such as campaign signs. Look for signmaking supply shops in your phone book and you should be able to find what you’re looking for. I encourage you to try building one of these boxes if you’re at all in the market for a good hawk box!
To quote the Beatles, "…You say you want a revolution, well…"
Here are some photos of the hawkboxes: