Introduction: From Pallet to Potting Bench
I've had a bit of free time lately, and been doing more in the garden.
Cleaning tools after using them used to involve bending over and getting a stiff back while I used a hose, so I decided to build a bench at a suitable height for working on. I included a plastic sink in the design so that I could scrub away at dirty tools and also use it to stand plants in.
As a challenge to myself, I decided to use as few tools as possible and spend as little money as possible.
Step 1: Uprights
Step one, get your pallets. Drive around a local industrial area, find a business with a stack of them and go in and ask.
Before you say "I don't have a trailer, or a roofrack, or an SUV," it is possible to fit three pallets into the back of a Toyota Yaris compact and shut the tailgate. It might not be comfortable to drive, but that's why I recommended a _local_ industrial area.
Decide how wide you want the bench to be. Mine was limited by the distance between the house and the pathway. I removed the wooden slats from one side of the pallet, then turned it over and cut twice to make two sections of the right width comprising of a rail and some short slats, leaving the boards and the middle rail spare.
Invert these two pieces, and fix them together with nails and a water-resistant glue.
Repeat for the second upright. The pallet which I used for the second upright was a little bit flimsier, so I used the spare rail from the pallet which formed the first upright to give some extra strength. Again, nail and glue it together.
Pallets come in all sorts of sizes, so you'll probably need to trim the uprights to the same height.
Step 2: Work Surface
The third pallet was pretty flimsy, so I used sections of it on edge to provide the rails for the work surface.
I chocked up the inside face of the uprights using some scraps to ensure a level (ish) surface, then lay the rails into place.
Once both rails were at the right height and level, I made sure that they were far enough apart that the outer sides would hold the plastic basin, then set that distance by nailing and gluing short sections of board across the rail pairs.
When the surface was covered as far as the space for the basin, I flipped it over and added some bracing to the rails from beneath. Then I cut through the inner rails half way from the underside and added strength to that area with more boards.
Then I turned the work surface back round the right way, cut out the inner rails and test-fitted the basin.
Step 3: Diagonal Brace
The bench was now standing, but needing some resistance to falling over.
I measured the length of the diagonal, which was too long for a single piece, so used a spare rail from one of the pallets, plus a few boards to glue and nail together a fairly industrial brace.
This was then fixed to the uprights with a couple of fairly big screws.
Step 4: Small Braces
The big diagonal brace gives some stability and some mass towards the back of the bench. To lock the work surface (which is only resting on the uprights) and to give proper rigidity, I added a couple of small diagonal braces off the main one. This gives a triangle between each upright and the main brace.
The small braces were just a couple of pieces of board, glued atop each other to give the offset needed to be screwed onto the main brace.
Before gluing the short pieces, I stacked them up and drilled all the clearance holes in one go.
Since I was in a hurry, I fixed the short braces while the glue was still curing, hence the clamps visible in the photos.
Step 5: Installation
To prevent the bench toppling over in one of our frequent earthquakes, I fastened it to the house wall.
Find a stud so that you are drilling into something solid. Since the metal is going to be in contact with a nicely painted wall, I used stainless steel (albeit not on the screws into the workbench). This little screw plate and three screws cost about fifteen bucks!!!!!!!!! I bent it with very subtle blows from a big hammer until the crease matched the angle of the weatherboards, then fixed it all in place.
Step 6: Sink Storage
The plastic sink sat very nicely in its hole, but since the rain would pool in it, I added a rack at the side of the bench to hold it vertically.
There is a small lip around the top of the plastic. I measured the depth of that, and the wood from the pallet was just a little too thin to act as a spacer. I took some scrap plywood and cut it into strips, then layered that up with two strips of pallet wood.
There are three of these L-shaped pieces to guide and hold the basin on the end of the bench. It has stayed there through some pretty good storms. The position also gives it some shelter from the sun's UV which might otherwise have weakened and cracked the plastic.
Step 7: Summary
It doesn't look pretty, but it gives a solid, stable surface for doing garden tasks or cleaning garden tools. It won't be damaged by the weather and it was close to free. I reckon that apart from the free pallets, I used a dollar's worth of nails, perhaps another bucks worth of glue and a handful of screws. The stainless steel plate I used as earthquake protection cost more than everything else put together.
Tool-wise, I used a couple of handsaws, a couple of hammers and the cordless drill, although there were so few holes drilled that a hand-drill would be no hardship.
Not having bend down to clean the spade is a great benefit, and this was a nice quick project.
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