Thursday, May 24, 2012

A RE-USE IT PROJECT: How to Make a Wooden Pallet Planter Box

Here in Southern Ontario, the Victoria Day Weekend has traditionally been the time to get out in the garden and plant, plant, plant as it's the official time when the danger of frost has passed. This year I think we only had one or two nights after the beginning of April where we got frost, it's been such a mild spring, but I still did the bulk of my planting over the holiday weekend.

While I'm gardening away, hubby usually occupies himself by breaking out the power tools and building something. Last year, it was this Hockey Stick Muskoka Chair. This year, I was pestering him for more planter boxes in my never-ending quest to squeeze more vegetable plants into the sunny spaces in our tiny urban yard.

We have several of these planter boxes already (the first ones were built during our $75 Deck Makeover) and they're all made from wooden pallets (a.k.a. "skids" around these parts). Wooden pallets are a fabulous source of free wood for small building projects, and if you keep your eye out you're sure to figure out where to find some in your area. There are a couple of places close to us where skids are routinely dumped and left free-for-the-taking, so it's not hard to get a hold of a few whenever we need them.

So, if you happen to need some more planters for your garden, you can either pay a king's ransom for them at the garden centre, or you can make some for nearly free with a couple of wooden pallets and a few other basic woodworking supplies.

Here's how:
You'll need:
A selection of wooden pallets
Tape measure
Nails (galvanized) - 4-5 dozen 1 1/2" and eight 2 1/2  - 3"
Circular saw
Table saw (not essential but handy!)

(If you don't have a circular saw, ask around - someone you know will probably lend you one!)

Step 1: Selecting pallets

My hubby recommends looking for pallets with boards that are relatively smooth on *both* sides, and 1 x 5" or 1 x 6" in width. It's also ideal if you can find ones that have real 2 x 4"s used in their construction (you'll need some of them for this project).

Since pallets can be constructed from a wide variety of board sizes, if you pick up a few you increase the chances that you'll have enough boards of matching size to build this project. If you have a table saw, it gives you the option of ripping some of the widest boards down to a smaller size if need be.

Step 2: Breaking down the pallets

Before you can start building, you'll want to break down the pallets so you know how many of each type of board you have to work with.

Start by cutting off the ends just inside where the 2 x 4s are attached. My hubby says he does NOT recommend simply trying to pry off the 2 x 4s as he's ended up cracking a lot of boards that way (resulting in a large pile of unusable wood).

 Next, you'll want to pry the 2 x 4s off the remaining end bits (it's okay if those end bits split, you won't need them for this project).

Once you've got everything apart, you'll be left with an assortment of boards like this:

If you're lucky, you'll end up with 12 boards that are the same width and thickness to construct the sides. In our case, we didn't (largely because hubby didn't have enough time to break down all the skids we had at our disposal, so we fudged this planter a bit with what we had; this is the kind of thing that happens when you have tomato seedlings desperately awaiting a new home).

Step 3: Building the planter:

 First, you're going to need to cut some of your 2 x 4s (these will hold the sides together). Measure the width of your three boards for the first side (in our case, it was 14 1/4"). You'll need a second set of three matching boards with the same width for the second side.

Next, measure the thickness of two of those boards stacked together (here it was 1 1/2").

To calculate the length of your first four 2 x 4s, subtract the second measurement from the first (i.e. 14 1/4 - 1 1/2 = 12 3/4")

Cut the 2 x 4s to length and nail them in place to hold the side boards together. The top ones should sit flush with the top of the planter, and the bottom ones you can place where ever you'd like the floor of the planter to be (we don't put ours all the way at the bottom for two reasons: the boards aren't against the ground so they won't rot as quickly, and we have a smaller space to fill with soil). Hopefully you should have two sides that look something like the ones above when you're done.

Now you'll need to cut a second set of four 2 x 4s. These ones need to be shorter than the first set; measure the width of two 2 x 4s and subtract that from the length of the first set to figure out how much shorter to make them. Unfortunately hubby got away from me on the building process while I was on a gardening break, so you're going to have to use your imagination a little more for this next bit - cross your fingers (not while you're using the circular saw, though, okay?) and I'll do my best to talk you through it :)

Basically, you're going to construct two more sides the same as the first set, but the 2 x 4s won't run all the way to the edge on this set, you'll need to centre them in the middle. This is so you can nail the shorter set flush in against the first two sides you built, so they nest together. Make sure the bottom 2 x 4s are at the same height as they were in the first set. It should look something like this:

Although probably yours will have less mismatched boards and more accurately measured 2 x4s; it's also not likely to have a floor yet, unless you've gone and gotten ahead of me :)

Once you've gotten your basic box assembled, flip it over so the bottom side is up. Cut some more of your 1 x5 or 1 x 6 boards the right length to nail in place on top of the 2 x 4s - this creates the floor. It's okay if these boards have a few minor gaps or cracks, as that will allow for water drainage.

Now turn it back over so the right side's up again. The last thing you need to do is create the top cap for the planter, which makes it look fancier and hides a multitude of sins that may have occurred during the construction process. Our cap will have an overhang of 3/4". This is what you want to end up with when it's done:

To construct the cap, measure the sides of your box (you may have one longer side and one shorter side). Add 1 1/2" to both measurements (so you have 3/4" extra at each side of the box). Cut two 2 x 4s for the shorter sides, with the ends at a slightly more than 45 degree angle. Set the boards in place on the top of the box, but don't nail them in yet. Lay a second set of 2 x4s on top of the longer two sides. Take a pencil and mark a line across the uncut boards where the already-cut boards line up with the uncut board to get the appropriate angle to cut the second set of boards. Cut the second two 2 x 4s where they're marked and nail all four boards into place. (If your box happens to be a perfect square, you can simply cut all four 2 x 4s at a 45 degree angle and not bother with the angle-measuring step).

You're all finished! Now you just need to prime and paint it (paint only the outside of the planter if you're using it to grow veggies). This is one we made last year that is home to a tomato plant:

 Well, I don't know about you, but I'm tired out after all that building - time for a cup of fresh mint tea from the garden!

Do you use wooden pallets for building projects? What have you made with them?

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  1. I picked up pallets from the alley behind my work place and used them to build a 3-compartment compost bin. It doesn't look anywhere as nice as your planter- nice job!

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