How to Make a Garden Fountain Out of, Well, Anything You Want

You tried sweating it out in the sauna, you can't let go in a yoga pose, and om isn't exactly hitting home. And no wonder—you're working too hard at relaxing. What you need is a place to sit quietly and contemplate the sounds of nature: birds chirping, breezes blowing, brooks babbling. What—no backyard brook? Not a problem. Just build yourself the next best thing, with a softly trickling garden fountain.

The project is nothing to get stressed about. In a mere weekend, you can fountain-ize most any leftover garden ornament, turning it into an enduring monument to tranquillity. Revive a defunct birdbath, declare your own ode to a Grecian urn, or drill holes in a stack of rocks you found on-site, as This Old House technical editor Mark Powers did for a friend one hot afternoon. When the job is finished and your fountain runneth over, you'll rinse the tension from your bones in calm, cascading rivulets. Relaxation never seemed so easy. (Photos by Kolin Smith)

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Step 1: Learn the anatomy and go to the store

Picture of Learn the anatomy and go to the store
A fountain Is composed of three things: water, which flows up a pipe and trickles back down in a continuous cycle; a pump, which propels the water; and a piece of sculpture, over which the water flows. The sculpture can be built from any material that will withstand constant water. For the project shown here, we used large stones found on-site, but pavers, some metals, or pottery will all work (see our  “Fountain Buying Guide")

Regardless of the fountain material, the guts of the system remain the same. It starts with a waterproof tub or basin that lines a hole in the ground to make a reservoir for the water. Above that is a rigid mesh screen that blocks large debris from getting into the tub. The screen is topped with a support system made from a strong but water-resistant material, such as composite decking, to keep the body of the fountain from falling into the basin.

The submersible pump is the heart of the system. It sits below the water line in the basin, recirculating and fine-filtering the runoff from above. Since the pump is electric, the fountain needs to be within reach of an exterior outlet—pump cords rarely reach beyond 50 feet, and manufacturers discourage the use of extension cords. It also needs to be accessible for maintenance after the fountain is built, so you’ll need to cut a trap door in the screen that’s big enough for you to reach in, unhook the pump, and pull it out. (The screen and support decking can be camouflaged with small stones or even mulch.) The pipe that carries the water to the top of the sculpture screws onto the pump. It also includes a small ball valve that will allow you to adjust the fountain’s flow, giving you the option of creating anything from a calming trickle to a formidable geyser.

Shopping List

1. Pump

Available at home or garden centers. Look for one labeled “submersible.” Pumps are rated in gallons per hour (gph), a measure of how much water they can handle and how high they can push it. Anything larger than 250 gph is overkill for a basic fountain with a ½-inch pipe. We used Pondmaster's 250-gph model 2

2. ½-Inch Copper Pipe

to carry the water from the pump to the top of the fountain. Buy a piece 2 feet longer than your fountain’s height.

3. Waterproof Basin

such as a plastic storage bin, mason’s mortar-mixing bucket, or washtub, to hold the pump and collect the water. It should be 6 inches wider than the fountain base’s diameter and 1 foot taller than the pump so that it fits all the pipe connections while still keeping the pump submerged.

4. Stones

or other material to make the fountain body. Choose something that stacks easily; stones should have flat faces. The copper pipe will give some support, but the materials should stand well on their own.

5. Small Rocks

or large aggregate, such as terra-cotta shards or tumbled glass, to cover the top of the pit. One 5-gallon bucketful should be enough.

6. ½-inch-by-½-inch Compression Female Adapter

to connect the pipe to the pump.

7. ½-inch Ball Valve

to regulate the water flow.

8. Screen

to protect the pump from debris. A fiberglass or aluminum window screen or grille, or anything that comes in a rigid frame, is best. Get one big enough to span the basin.

9. Composite Decking

such as Trex or TimberTech, to support the fountain.

10. Drainage Gravel

for in and under the catch basin. Get two 50-pound bags.

11. 1-inch PVC Conduit

to carry the pump’s power cord underground to the outlet.


Step 2: Dig the pump hole

Picture of Dig the pump hole
Using a pointed shovel, dig a pit 2 inches deeper than the basin and wide enough to fit it. Put the soil in a wheelbarrow or on a tarp to protect nearby turf. Dig a narrow, shallow trench between the pit and the nearest exterior outlet. (Helpful information: Digging Dos and Don'ts)

Step 3: Set the basin and conduit

Picture of Set the basin and conduit
Lay a 2-inch-thick bed of drainage gravel in the pit. Place the basin atop the gravel. If necessary, shift the gravel so the basin doesn’t rock.

Measure the distance from the outlet to the edge of the pit. Cut a section of PVC conduit to this length. Thread a string through the conduit and tape one end of it to the pump’s plug. Pull the plug through the conduit. Tape the plug securely to the end of the conduit so it doesn’t get pulled back in. Lay the conduit in the trench and backfill over it.

Step 4: Dry-fit the parts

Picture of Dry-fit the parts
Center the pump in the basin. Lay the screen over the pit and mark it at the spot directly over the threaded outlet on the pump. Also mark the screen at the edge closest to the conduit.

Step 5: Mark an opening

Picture of Mark an opening
Using utility scissors, cut out a 1-inch-wide circle at the center mark. Then cut a three-sided flap at the conduit mark that is big enough to allow you to reach in and remove the pump for servicing

Step 6: Connect the pipe and pump

Picture of Connect the pipe and pump
Using a pipe cutter, cut a 4-inch section off the end of the copper pipe. Unscrew the compression fittings on the ends of the ball valve. Slide a nut from the ball valve, then the brass ring, or ferrule, onto the long section of pipe. Insert the pipe into one end of the ball valve, then finger-tighten the nut over the ferrule onto the valve. Attach the short section of pipe to the other end of the valve in the same manner.

Screw the threaded end of the adapter onto the pump outlet. Take apart the compression end and slide the nut, then the ferrule, over the short section of pipe. Connect the pipe to the pump with the compression fitting. Using an adjustable wrench, tighten all three compression nuts an extra quarter-turn.

Pour a 2-inch layer of drainage gravel in the bottom of the basin. Lay the pump in the center of the basin with the pipe sticking up. Slide the screen over the pipe and arrange it so the access flap is near the conduit.

Step 7: Fit the decking

Picture of Fit the decking
Using a handsaw, cut sections of decking long enough to extend beyond the pit a few inches on either side. Lay the decking across the pit on top of the screen.

Step 8: Drill the stones

Picture of Drill the stones
Stack the stones to create an aesthetically pleasing arrangement. Number the underside of each stone in pencil to keep track of the order as you unstack them.

Lay a stone on soft ground or gravel. Using a hammer drill fitted with a 5⁄8-inch masonry bit, drill through the flat side of the stone. Repeat for all the stones.

Tip: Keep a bucket of water near the drill. Intermittently pour some on the stone to keep it wet—and the drill bits cool—as you work.

Step 9: Assemble the fountain

Picture of Assemble the fountain
Thread the stones over the copper pipe until they're stacked and balanced. Mark the pipe where the stones end. Remove the top stone and use a pipe cutter to cut the copper pipe 1/4 inch below the mark. Replace the stone.

Fill the bin from a garden hose, adding enough water to rise 5 inches above the pump. Open the ball valve, plug in the pump, turn it on, and check the flow. Adjust the pressure with the ball valve.

Step 10: Finish up

Picture of Finish up
Direct the water by spinning stacked stones. Wedge smaller stones into the gaps to keep the structure stable. To make the arrangement permanent, turn off the water and squeeze dabsof clear silicone adhesive between the stones. Allow the adhesive to dry before you turn on the fountain again. Once the fountain flows the way you'd like it to, close the screen and camouflage the base with small stones.

Tip: Check the basin's water level regularly—especially in a heat wave—and replenish it to keep the pump constantly submerged.

Other cool ideas:
More on Backyard Ponds
10 Ways to Add Privacy to Your Yard
Build a Fire Pit
Portable Patio Fire Pits

antioch10 months ago
Looks like it's going to fill up with earth and dust easily and unless you dismantle it regularly for cleanign maintenance it the pump will get clogged with mud and/or algae.
Kiteman3 years ago
Being riddled with external links makes this feel spammy to me.
antioch Kiteman10 months ago
Everyone's invited to post on instructables, even TV shows and, yes, even companies. Personally, I'd prefer to see just enthusiastic people on here because it give a better community feeling and conscious.

But now that the rules are what they are, I think belongs here more than any concrete seller or equipment manufacturer.
And they have toned down a lot with the external links compared to their previous 'ibles.

But, yes, the list links at the end and the newsletter spam is lacking decency.
Same feeling plus the account name...........
bluechao1 year ago

What type of drill bit, drill size, and drill would I need to drill thru the rock? I think I'd need to borrow/rent something other than my Electric Drill with 3/8" chuck

mweir bluechao1 year ago
For a 1/2" pipe you want to drill a 5/8" hole using a carbide tipped masonry bit. Ideally you need to use a "Hammer Drill" but in a pinch you could use a regular drill. just make sure you keep the drill bit well lubricated and cooled with water if you use a regular drill.
dawoj3 years ago
I like it
Mortisdei3 years ago
That is fantastic! I am planing to build one for my garden.
This adds a little bit of practical art either outdoor or even outdoor. This might even add a little bit of an Asian touch kind of decor. I wonder if there are other materials we could use. Any other ideas? Thanks
regisd3 years ago

Question from the land of cold winters: how would one winterize this?  Does it have to be drained?  Should the pump get pulled?
how bout adding anti freeze to it or add a bottle of alcohol to the water  
Lord knows what sort of wildlife you'd attract by adding alcohol to the fountain. If it is a single malt I may even have to stop by!
I've had outdoor fountains in water garden ponds and they are a magnet for birds and don't want to put additives like this in the water or you will have some mighty sick wildlife on your hands. I've read that in some cases as long as you have the water running it will be ok, but what we always did was disconnect the fountain and leave the pump running in the pond, with a livestock floating tank heater to keep the pond just above freezing (we had fish). With something smaller like this, you may just want to get the water out of the tubing, and remove or cover the fountain if it will be affected by the freezing/thawing cycles. In the land of cold winters, sitting outdoors by a fountain wouldn't be that relaxing anyway...for that you need a fireplace!
My sister lives up in Michigan, she made a pond in her yard. I think it was only 2 to 2 1/2 feet deep, made a bridge to go across the middle of her pond. At a party she had, someone brought gold fish and put them in her pond. She never had or put a fountain pump in the pond. And never heated the water for the winter. Those goldfish survived and grew to be hugh fish, and the population grew. She did have a big mosquito farm going, by having stagnant water. The fish couldn't get them all... haha
fawie3 years ago
that's amazing and wonderful!!! like the idea!
I made one of those along time ago, that I saw at a garage sale. It's easy!!! You need to get a clear tube that fits into the spigot, and cut it to the lenth you need...(It took me forever to find the right tube, I found it at the pet store in the fish dept., they use it for the aquarians. If they don't have it in the size you need, don't freak out. They can order it, I think that's what I had to do. The tricky part is glueing it into the spigot, I drilled small holes going around the tube about 1/2" below the lip of the spigot, after putting the tube all the way up into the spigot. Then put the point of the exacto knife in the hole and slice it down to the end of the tube that goes into the spigot. you'll be able to bend it open like a lantern you made from elementry school. Glue the end up into the spigot. That's how the water comes out the top and down the tube...You'll probably have to play around with it to get it right, that's what I had to do. I hope this helped ya. Good luck! It is a cool looking fountain!
kindfirez3 years ago
Made this one a couple of weeks ago. Drove my neighbors crazy (at least thats why Im guessing they started blaring their music) when i was drilling through the rock but it looks amazing now. Ill post pictures to share later today
killerkham3 years ago
love it :)
nesiory3 years ago
 Grate pic and disription
Nice! I've been waiting for an ible like this!
Technically, it's an "-able"... ;^P
Traditionally, though, it's an ible.

Hence the emoticon following my initial comment.  ;^) 

Grammar rules say that the adjectival -ible suffix should attach to a noun like "instruct" but the website uses a "different" one.

Curiously, directs to the "ables" page...

Besides, rules were made to be broken!
I've been thinking that for a long time. . .  Well played, GDK!
ii_awesum3 years ago
You "can" add a toilet tank valve, actually that's a pretty good enhancement to keep pressure available and never run dry on hot summer days - a good opportunity to add or tie into an underground sprinkler system feed which would top up the fountain tank every evening while watering the gardens.  There is a low profile valve/float assembly that is available at Lowes and many plumbing departments elsewhere, and is only a couple of inches high compared to the normal rod/float claptrap design.  It has a dial control right on it for tank level adjustment too!|1&pl=1&currentURL=/pl__0__s?Ntk=i_products$rpp=15$Ntt=toilet%20valve$Ns=p_product_price|1$identifier=
ArpitM3 years ago
what a nice presentation..... 
rredmon3 years ago
pretty sweet. i wish I had a backyard to build this in. One day....
 Don't let that stop you! My grandparents lived the RV lifestyle for quite a few years, and one of their favorite things was a kiddie pool Grandpa lined with plaster, mounted a fountain pump in, and painted. You knew their RV by the stylish fountain in front. When they were parked on pavement and couldn't set it into the ground, they attached a "skirt" with velcro, that was made of indoor/outdoor carpet.

That's the same idea behind the "tabletop" fountains you see in the stores. No one has a lock on the idea! Be creative! You can do it! Send pics!
crossword3 years ago
Great project. But I'm thinking that eventually the pump screen will get plugged with debris, how do you clear it?
The pump will have it's own little filter. All you have to do is detach it and rinse it off.
WarHawk-AVG3 years ago

Could you build an automatic water level system using waterhose and a toilet bowl float?

MadScott3 years ago
Nicely done, but I'd use the silicone adhesive before getting it wet to ensure a good bond with the stone.
Nameless373 years ago
Simple and easy to follow, 5 stars.
Also, nice quality and angles for the pictures.
Ghost Wolf3 years ago

That is the best fountain project I've ever seen! Five Stars all the way.

tbone1213 years ago

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