Introduction: A "No Nails" Raised Bed

Picture of A "No Nails" Raised Bed

We are slowly trying to become self sufficient at our property and have a piece of land that has poor access for the mower etc and is covered in rough grass, so I have decided to put in a raised bed and grow root vegetables (potatoes, kumara etc). See before and after pics

The raised beds seem to be much more successful for growing and I have already built several (photos are included in this I'ble) but this is the first one that I have properly documented.

The basic construction is the same for all the ones I have done, just small details/shapes/sizes etc have changed

The whole thing is made from 6x2 H4 timber (or 150x50 if you are metric) and I used 6m lengths to minimize the cutting

These can be made with no nails allowing them to be deconstructed if required, I am going to use a few nails as these are going to be in for good and make the whole thing more stable.

EDIT For all those commenting that H4/ pressure treated lumber is toxic, please read the text

1. The whole thing is lined with plastic to prevent any chance of chemical transfer

2. Arsenic is no longer used in pressure treatment (and hasn't been for many years)

3. Studies have shown that toxic transfer is a MYTH!!

4. I didn't build out of cedar as it is eye wateringly expensive in NZ

EDIT2 if you really want to know the dangers (or lack thereof of using Pressure Treated Timber in raised bed go HERE

Step 1: The Wood

Picture of The Wood

I ordered a dozen 6m lengths of 6x2 rough sawn H4 timber (H4 means that it is treated for in ground use, mine are above ground but it means they wont rot any time soon)

I got this on sale at NZD $3;60 per metre + tax (so about $4 a metre) so $288

I decided that as there was space I would go for the easy dimension of 6m x 3m, so I cut a couple of the lengths in half with my compound mitre saw

Step 2: Layout

Picture of Layout

So I laid the wood out in the area I am going to build, just to get an idea of the dimensions.

It is also a lot easier to build in situ rather than build elsewhere and dismantle/reassemble

As yuo can see the grass in this area is pretty rough ( I will dig this out later) also the area isn't flat so I will do some jiggery pokery when building.

I took the opportunity at this point to move all the wood over (as I was feeling strong)

Step 3: Notching the Timbers

Picture of Notching the Timbers

So for a "No Nails" construction there has to be some way of joining the wood., you could try the powers of positve thinking, but it is much more reliable to notch the timbers.

I marked out the position 100mm from the end amd then set my circular saw to a depth 1/4 of the timber width (ie 1.5 inches or 38mm) In reality set it a fraction more than 1/4 to ensure sufficient depth ( I went for 40mm)

I then made several parallel cuts and removed the waste wit a chisel, on completion the bottom of the notch was cleaned out by sideways movement of the circular saw (you can use a chisel but power tools are quicker!)

Step 4: Rinse/Repeat

Picture of Rinse/Repeat

So carry on and notch the other side the same way and both sides of the other end, repeat on all the other pieces

As you can see I checked the notch width with a piece of scrap 6x2

You may find it easier after the first couple of pieces to partially assemble the next laye and transfer measurements upwards for accuracy of assembly

Step 5: Start Assembling

Picture of Start Assembling

Now you can either cut all the pieces and then assemble or as I do cut them as you are going as sometimes there needs to be a bit of adjustment and it's better to do it as you go along.

As you can see the area is a bit slopey so I will level it on bricks and take care of that when I fill it

Step 6: Carry on Going!

Picture of Carry on Going!

the top "short ends need a piece of 6x2 cut in half lengthways but the same principle applies

Step 7: And That Would Be It

Picture of And That Would Be It

To all purpose at this point it is complete, ready for filling etc but a few finishing touches make it more practical

Step 8: Nice Extras

Picture of Nice Extras

It is always nice to have somewhere to sit at the edge of a bed when weeding, planting etc, so a piece of 6x2 on its side makes a convenient perch.

This was the only place I used nails in the whole build, to secure this on the top.

The corners all have half lap joints to make it all a bit neater, again just cut out by making 1" deep cuts with the circular saw and cleaning out with a chisel

Step 9: Finished and Ready for Filling

Picture of Finished and Ready for Filling

I will line the inside walls with plastic (old feed bags) to minimise the chance of rot, however being H4 it shouldn't rot in any case.

Then will have to fill it, I estimate it will take 9 cubic meters of soil -- another day I think, at least I have a big pile of top soil close by!

The whole construction took a little under 4 hours to build, could have been a lot quicker with a helper to lift some of the bits (and if I didnt keep putting tools down and forgetting where)

Check out my other I'bles for different takes on raised beds--- I have built a few now!! There is also one pictured above which is a slightly more complex design - but same principles apply (this one is 6m x 6m)

Once filled I use weedmat and macademia nut shells as a mulch as we are on tanl water and thus want to keep watering to a minimum

This mulch along with the plastic lining mean that even at the height of summer we only have to water once a week

Also when filling I do alternate layers of the sandy soil we have, then topsoil (3 inch deep layers) topped off with about 4-6 inches of good quality compost or manure ( I get Alpaca poo by the truckload from a neighbouring Alpaca farmer--(don't know where he gets it from though!! :-) )


puggirl415 (author)2015-07-27

Love this project. I was at my garden today and my raised bed is rotting to bits. I love the idea of spending several days making this project with just hand tools. If it gets too hard I can always break out the circular saw:)

buck2217 (author)puggirl4152015-07-27

Please use power tools. Its really hard work else. Plus with power tools you can bugger things up much more efficiently. ;-) (see my shed I'ble for fun with powertools)

puggirl415 (author)buck22172015-07-28

You're probably quite right about that. It sounds romantic making something with hand tools. I was inspired by your instructable and by this video on making a lot of things with hand tools.

buck2217 (author)puggirl4152015-07-28

Yeah, I like hand tools, -- right up to the minute I start breaking into a sweat!!

Global092 (author)2015-07-19

Hi All

Have been reading the posts and yes while treated timber may no longer be toxic and the boxes are lined with sheet plastic(good idea) - I still like the idea of untreated timber. Has anyone thought to use old pallet timber for their smaller boxes as it is generally "1" and not the thinner 25mm and if used in the shorter lengths is quite strong. Happy building.

puggirl415 (author)Global0922015-07-27

I thought this was a good ible about pallet wood. It may clear up issues regarding what if any chemical treatments wooden pallets go through.

Cheese Queen (author)Global0922015-07-20

You are avoiding treated lumber but you are willing to use pallets that may have been used to transport who-knows-what during their lifetime? Many pallets are not only treated with toxic chemicals when manufactured but are reused multiple times. You have no idea what you may be introducing into your garden with pallets, but you're okay with that.

Good luck with that "gotta avoid treated wood!" logic.

Some of the pallets you see getting delivered (with stuff on them) to smaller businesses around here (NJ) are generally bare, untreated wood. The kind out back of Home Depot or Acme are definitely treated, though. I think the treated ones are going to get picked back up by the deliverer and the bare ones are "your problem now." Just my $0.02.

buck2217 (author)Global0922015-07-19

Pallet Timber is treated generally too, to give it longevity

gonads81 (author)2015-07-24

Nice instructable! I plan on using this in the next few weeks. Just on the comment about arsenic no longer used to treat timber. I live in Australia and just bought 3 meter lengths of treated pine sleepers. it has CCA H4 printed up the side. arsenic is still used. What is absorbed into the plants is another thing.

buck2217 (author)gonads812015-07-25

wow aussies still using copper chronium arsenic - tell me why skippy!!

DIY-Guy (author)2015-07-20

Author: Beautiful project, thank you!
Everybody else... have you noticed all the FUD (Fear Uncertainty & Deception) coming from people who refuse to understand what they read in plain english?
The references are given, the facts stated, the logic is clear, and yet some people insist that there is danger when there is no problem in the design or the chemistry.
It's as bad as the pro-vaccine people ignoring the deaths and hospitalizations caused by vaccines, except the other way around with this concept.

I hope someone will think deeply about the previous sentence. :)

Kathys Smokin (author)DIY-Guy2015-07-20

I was surprised to see the number of comments beating the same explained and defined horse. I hope buck2271 isn't so discouraged by that he stops posting I'bles because he shares good work.

DIY-Guy (author)Kathys Smokin2015-07-22

Agreed! Buck2217 Please know that I think you should keep inventing and writing Instructables, we need more good clear thinkers. :)

DIY-Guy (author)Kathys Smokin2015-07-21

Kathys Smokin just remember that emotionally loaded keywords in a subject will get automatic, reflexive, responses from people who have low information. But we can all be glad they are here on Instructables and learning, there's hope! One time at a farmers market I was agreeing with a person about the germ fighting benefits of raw garlic but I made the mistake of giving some additional new research, to help educate them. Next thing you know, I'm being accused of arguing... and my reputation suffers due to a person who refused to admit they couldn't understand what I said.
The world is a funny (weird, not funny ha-ha) place.
Now got out and grow some vegetables and enjoy them! :)

Kathys Smokin (author)DIY-Guy2015-07-21

Okay! (I'm laughing now.) I'm familiar with that kind of situation, thanks for assisting my perspective. Build, grow, share, repeat, let no one discourage me.

That is some very good advice for life in general, my friend. Thank you.

buck2217 (author)Kathys Smokin2015-07-20

I've worked in Govt Orgs for my whole working life (RN / RNZN) so I'm used to banging my head against a wall! I don't get discouraged by nay-sayers etc, in fact if someone tells me it can't or shouldn't be done it just makes me want to go out and do it more ( hence all the scars!!)

Kathys Smokin (author)buck22172015-07-20

Ha, ha, ha! I'm that kind of stubborn, too! I do get discouraged when I spend time explaining, explaining, clarifying…. and it makes no difference. I'm new here, getting the lay of the land…. reading all of this one made me think twice about ever posting a I'ble. I'll accept your example, though, my friend, and go back to being open to posting one in the future, maybe this winter when I have time to spare. I've posted cook threads and they take hours to create.

buck2217 (author)DIY-Guy2015-07-20

Thanks for the comment, I am probably on the other side of the fence Vaccine wise, Although there are some issues with vaccines, overall I believe they prevent FAR more than they injure. But it's a free world and TBH the population is far too high!

jvandeyacht (author)2015-07-21

Forget the raised bed, look at that awesome view. If i had the visa, i would move there just for the view. I love my raised beds, used pressure treated wood w no liner. I trust the science too. On top of that, i work for local government and one of the privelages is i have access to things like the university. I have given sample plants from my beds to the graduate students to run tests on as part of their graduate studies to identify potentially dangerous chemicals. They only ever found that i use 7. A pesticide. Never anything else. Top it off, they found i dont use enough. To be effective i need to either respray or strengthen a little. Screw the pressure treated naysayers. No grad student ever found harmful substance in my plants that I didnt put there intentionally.
I love the authors complex raised bed and plan to emulate it at my house.

buck2217 (author)jvandeyacht2015-07-21

Thanks, the tic-tac-toe or noughts and crosse bed was a pain to build but worth it (I've built 3 of those altogether)

wsamuelbennett (author)2015-07-20

Excellent I'ble! Will definitely use your design next year when building my raised beds.

Also, very good info on the pressure treated lumber. I had heard that the chemical leaching was a myth, but never had solid info. Thank you very much!

buck2217 (author)wsamuelbennett2015-07-20

Thanks for the kind comments and make sure you post up your finished results. We would all like to see

Kathys Smokin (author)2015-07-20

You do lovely work, buck2217, and thank you for taking the time to document your ideas to share with us. I agree, you live on a beautiful piece of land. I'm in Ontario, Canada, on 2 acres of paradise, and over the next year I hope to get two raised garden bed projects started and finished.

I was able to pick up concrete blocks for free over a couple of years using the Freecycle community, I'm going to make my raised garden beds about 3 blocks high. I expect to be able to perch on them to weed, too, how decadent! Freecycle is in your area, too, it's a non-profit, grass roots international movement to keep still good items out of landfill and all offered on the site must be given away free. Freecycle chapters exist in Canada, US, NZ, France, Portugal, China, Mexico, Japan, etc., etc.. I couldn't find a Freecycle chapter in Korea but maybe our friend Travis in Korea below might become interested in starting one there…… Imagine being able to make your next raised garden beds with free materials picked up over time, and how cool you could make them look given the artistic flare you showed in your paver landscaped raised garden bed I'ble!

buck2217 (author)Kathys Smokin2015-07-20

I use the various Freecycles that are around (I love Free) plus at my wifes work they have packing cases that would go to landfill which although they are poor quality are ideal for lining/flooring etc (see the shed I'ble) We have sheep, ducks, geese and chickens here so we are sorted for meat/eggs, and grow all our own soft fruit, veg etc this bed is for root veg (kumara/potatos and maybe onion/leeks)

My neigh bour has buils some beds from blocks, have you considered infilling the blocks and poss using rebar stakes to give rigidity? as the wight of soil may cause it to bow (and block is a lot less flexible than wood)

Be interested to see when you are completed

Kathys Smokin (author)buck22172015-07-20

Yes, I have considered rigidity, thanks for bringing that up. I was thinking of pounding rebar or *free* metal I can scrounge to prevent bowing and buckling. I'm not sure how many to pound in, I'll have to see what the holes in the block look like when staggered through the three layers. I was thinking I should look for strategic places to pound them in, I think even with staggered blocks the block holes will have a lot more play than the rebar or metal pieces. I'm thinking I should cover four directions of bulge a few times each throughout a row. What do you think about this idea? I could also use a softer metal pipe and fill it with concrete, piping might be easier to scrounge. than rebar. Maybe DCW piping that is ripped out when a house is gutted.

buck2217 (author)Kathys Smokin2015-07-20

The way the neighbour did it was to measure out the rebar positions and put them in and then lay the blocks over them (ie tread them through) . Now I'm not that great at brick/block work and that looked difficult. Personally I think I would go for building the wall, pound through the rebar then backfill all the holes with a very loose concrete mix (ie pretty wet so gravity takes it down, maybe with a bit of encouragement by tamping) If you go to local building sites you can usually beg/steal/otherwise obtain the short offcuts of rebar they are putting in the waste, as you will probably only need 3-4 foot lengths. Usually the site manager is happy for you to take as long as you adhere to site safety. Also (in the UK at least) I used to be able to get the bottom layer of bricks from a pallet as they were dirty and they didn't want to use them (an incentive of a couple of packs of biscuits etc works well here!)

Kathys Smokin (author)buck22172015-07-20

Thanks for the tips, I like them. I have a Scottish friend who taught me biscuits and cookies are the same thing so I understand despite our language differences. :) Could smoke some meat on my kamado for them as gratitude for a particularly nice haul, too….

What an incredible piece of land you have!!!! Awe inspiring views abound. Perhaps I'll immigrate to NZ!

Thanks, it was the very first one we looked at prior to emigration and we bought that day (with a deposit of our spare holiday cash) even before we had approval to emigrate!! It really was meant to be

dkkim (author)2015-07-20

Elegant and nicely-done! I've noticed that boxes assembled with bolts or nails tend to pull apart from rot (a downside to non-treated; I inherited these). I suspect your design would be more long-lived. One could do both as well, I suppose, the joins you made plus some bolts. Either way, thanks!

buck2217 (author)dkkim2015-07-20

Thanks, on some of the other beds I have used a nail at each joint interface, howver it didn't seem necessary and just overkill. So I went without this time

chloecatkins (author)2015-07-19

Lining the beds with heavy duty black plastic helps to protect the wood. Here's how to protect your plants from moles that burrow underground and eat the roots Staple 1/4" hardware cloth to the bottoms of the beds. The gardeners in our community garden were plagued by moles. Our crops were safe from the pests. Now squirrels are a different story. When you figure out a way to keep them from taking one bite of an almost ripe tomato and discarding it, let me know.

jkm (author)chloecatkins2015-07-20

moles don't eat roots. They eat worms and insects. Voles and mole crickets do.

buck2217 (author)chloecatkins2015-07-19

Great Idea but we don't have moles in NZ (possums yes, but no moles)

moosescat (author)chloecatkins2015-07-19

I used to have the same problem. Then I discovered I was blaming the wrong rodent. It's the rats!!!!!!!

Squirrels are easy to trap with a live trap and peanut bait. They are much more stupid than rats.

briarmoon7 (author)chloecatkins2015-07-19

I heard that mothballs are disliked by rodents???? Try it

JonathanMurray (author)2015-07-19

Please Cod, tell us one more time how you're the smartest kid in the room? Seriously... the author has answered these concerns so many times now.

I smile while I write this to ensure I remain NICE.

Now please smile and stop repeating this non-applicable nonsense.

michael.stalenberg (author)2015-07-19

Nice work. Surprised the number of people who can't read regarding the plastic lining and the fact that H4 has been fine for garden beds for some time now.

Couple of questions, as another person noted, this is now also basically a retaining wall. Do you think you'll have any problems with the bed slowly sliding down the side of the hill? You've not sunk posts into the ground and as you said, you'll have about 9 tonnes of soil which will presumably want to slide down the hill also. Whenever I've built retaining walls I've used posts concreted in at 150cm centres. Also, your 6m long length is really long do you think it may start to bow outward with the weight of the soil?

Also 6x2 is pretty rigid, if really needed i will sink a coule of 4x4s along the high side but I'm not expecting to have to

I am actually levelling outside of the box with extra soil so it should be fine . It is not as steep as it looks about 3/4 of the area is flat. Plus we are at the bottom of the world here so I would be more concerned with it falling off into space!!

Codswallop (author)2015-07-19

I'm wondering about the advisability of using treated lumber for edible plants. Some of those processes use copper arsenic and other highly toxic chemicals. Are you sure this is OK?

i have concerns for this as well,so cedar,cyperis hemlock ,ash,redwood,juniper(tamaric)would be natural options, i used hemlock and cedar for the seats my self and when you look at cost for S.P.F lumber/ cost to replace over time, the extra up front is less than double SPF ( spruce,pine,fur,) so a better value in the long run , run me approx 75$ cnd per 3x8 box, hope this helps,

i am sure you must have another native tree,that would be similar,that has rot and decay resistance, mahogany, iron wood, ect, not too familiar with NZ forest, sub tropical i think, if you have bamboo,( giant) would work after drying completly first

Have added a link into the intro that explains about Pressure Treated Timber and its almost non existant risks, as I said elsewhere compared to the amount of grass killer I used I think an unlikely bit of leeching is the least of my issues!

In NZ cedar is horrendously expensive (4-5x) and would last a similar time. Plus as stated the boxes are lined with plastic altho Chemical leeching has been disproved

buck2217 (author)Codswallop2015-07-19

No they don't! and haven't for about 40 years, also the beds are lined in plastic (I have edited at the start as people were obviously not reading that far) BTW the whole "chemicals leeching"premise has been exposed as a myth -- much like anti vac causing autism, it was one flawed study in order to sue a company!

moosescat (author)Codswallop2015-07-19

It's OK. No problem.

Codswallop (author)moosescat2015-07-19

It's OK because...?

buck2217 (author)Codswallop2015-07-19


About This Instructable




Bio: I am a Marine Engineer in the RNZN (39 years done in various navies) and am looking forward to retirement!!! so I can do more ... More »
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