Introduction: The Herb Hive

When I bought my house (first house!) a year or so ago, I partitioned the garden off, and dug some raised beds so that I could grow some veg this year. When I came to buy seeds, I thought I'd get some herb seed too. But if I want to grow herbs, they would be more useful right by the kitchen door, right? So I was in the market for a planter or two for the patio. Probably with multiple tiers. But not just boring with multiple horizontal shelves. I should just build it myself shouldn't I...

I googled around for ideas, came up with a few of my own, and doodled them on some squared paper (about normal for me on the phone at work) until I had something I liked the look of. I like hexagons. They tessellate in a very pleasing offset way, and feel a little less regimented than squares. Thus, the herb hive was conceived.

My planning is always fairly lackluster. This project is no different, and I made a lot of it up on the fly. I also used reclaimed pallet wood exclusively, which means that I had to make some compromises on design which made my life more awkward. Because of the number of repetitive cuts I made for this project, I made myself a tablesaw (well, a mount for my circular saw) first, and then some sleds to make my life even easier.

A note on working with pallet (or any reclaimed) wood; by it's nature it's warped and rough cut. When you use it you can accept that (and sometimes use it as a feature, and show off those imperfections), or you can pick and choose carefully and re-machine and discard where necessary. For this project, I was not as choosy as I could have been. That resulted in some warping of the rows, and some areas which needed a significant amount of filler before I painted it.

I'd suggest you take a glance through this whole Instuctable before starting, rather than following step by step. It's not a small, quick, or simple build, and there are many points where my process is slow, awkward, and flawed.

After all; Proper Prior Planning Prevents (insert rude word here) Poor Performance

I'll also say here that I didn't take that many photos. I've tried to take some extras while putting together some spare cut pieces, but the framing out steps will be a bit sparse.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

I made this planter with what I had to hand, and to fit the space I had. And I'm sure you can tailor it to be taller/wider/shorter/thinner. I'm also sure you could make a better one!

To make this exact planter (with space for 21 pots of 6" diameter), you will need;

  • About 25 feet of usable 3.5" x 3/4" board
  • About 70 feet of usable 2.75" x 3/4" board
  • A way of cutting sharp angles (I used my tablesaw with a jig, because I couldn't work out how to make a mitre saw do what I wanted)
  • A way of cutting details (I used a small bandsaw)
  • A tape measure/ruler
  • Exterior PVA/woodglue
  • Tack nails
  • Screws (I used drywall screws)
  • Clamps (lots of clamps)
  • Pencils
  • Sandpaper (I used an orbital sander, and then a belt sander because it got boring)
  • 21 x 6" pots (1.5 litre pots)
  • A tube of filler
  • Paint/varnish/something to protect the finished object

Step 2: Understanding the Design

I barely understood my own design at this stage. If my wife was involved in this project she would be asking all kinds of questions that I wouldn't have been able to answer, and I'm sure the whole project would have turned out more complete, been easier to build, and looked neater come the finish. However, she wasn't - so I just put it together and dealt with my lack of planning when it occurred.

This Instructable has been written in some vague logical order, but this isn't necessarily easy to visualise. If you are struggling, skip forward to assembly (step 5) and take a look at the finished object.

I built this planter by making 21 modules which screwed together to form the beehive shape. Each module was made out of 5 pieces of wood (one upright, and 4 side pieces). For 6" pots, the sides of the hexes need to be 3.5" (just take this as read for now, I'll explain why in an appendix type step). As the widest wood I had was 3.5", this gave me no margin for any angled cuts on the sides of the uprights. This meant that instead of many 30 degree cuts, I needed to make half as many 60 degree cuts.

The pots I used are about 5" tall, so two panels of my thinner stock are sufficient to cover that (2x2.75" is 5.5"). The uprights need to be at least 11" (twice the height of the sides) because the upright will cover two tiers of pots. The sides needed to be a parallelogram shape with very sharp angles, to hold the uprights 3.5" away from each other (see final photo for a view of the final profile). Happily, the lengths here resulted in the modules tilting by 30 degrees from the wall.

I did some maths (wait until that final step again) and worked out that the overall lengths of these bits would be 6.1" (seems long, I know). I also wasn't sure how I was going to make these angled cuts at this point, so I cut a few 7" x 2.75" pieces to test with (I could always cut some more off). I also made a couple of uprights (11"x3.5").

Step 3: Making Test Cuts and Test Fitting

It took me a little effort and a few tries to build a sled/jig I was happy with to produce the cuts I needed repeatably. The resulting monster is shown in the photos for this step. Its essentially a normal crosscut sled, with an upright screwed to it as close to the blade as I could get away with. To use it, I clamped the work-piece between a sacrificial board and the upright. The sacrificial board is to avoid clamp marks on the work-piece, and to stop it from splintering more than necessary.

This sled worked admirably, and produced me an angled piece which was about half an inch too long (so I cut the rest of my 2.75" stock at 6.5" rather than 7") and had a rather useful (if accidental) geometry. My circular saw didn't reach all of the way through the work-piece, and left a lip at the end of the angled cut. This allowed me to repeatably seat all of the modules. A happy accident indeed. Fitting these bits together showed me that the side pieces also protruded past the front of the uprights, so they would need slicing off.

For each unit, I needed 1 x 11" by 3.5" piece, and 4 x angled pieces. Each angled piece started out at 6.5" by 2.75", then two 30 degree angled cuts were made, and then a final cut to make the front angle flush with the level of the upright (see the final two photos of this step).

Step 4: Cut, Cut, Cut, Cut, Cut... Sand, Sand, Sand, Sand, Sand...

This took an age and a half... easily the longest step in time, but there isn't too much to say here.

I made all of these cuts on my table-saw, with the help of some sleds. This made it quicker and easier than it would otherwise have been to make clean, repeatable, consistent cuts. I only needed to measure once (then cut, and check before doing 80 cuts wrong). You could do these by hand I'm sure (though I don't know how I'd do the angles).

I also made a good stack more 6.5" by 2.75" pieces than I needed, because I got carried away, but they came in useful later. When you make this many cuts (at least 100 slices, plus 160 angled slices) it's easy to become complacent. Be careful, be gentle, be focused. If it's getting dark, stop. If you feel thirsty, stop. If you need the loo, stop. Getting it done 5 minutes quicker is no good if you lose a finger. Power tools are dangerous. But to be fair, so are hand tools.

Once all your cuts are done, clean all those bits of wood up! I knew I was going to paint/varnish mine, so I wanted a good, smooth finish. Again, its easy to skin yourself here. Be patient, take your time, have a cup of tea when you need one.

It's nice to see the change in the material at this point. Projects seems to come together for me at this stage.

Step 5: Assembling the Body of the Hive, and Adding Braces

Each module was glued up separately, with tack nails to hold them until the glue dried. They were clamped as needed at this stage until dry. Each module was screwed to another with one 25mm drywall screw through each 'side' piece (a total of 4 screws per module).

I actually assembled this in stages, assembling half a dozen modules, then putting them together. Then another half dozen modules, adding them to the growing hive. You'll need a few clamps here. While I was assembling the body of the hive, it struck me that I needed some way to give the units a little more strength and something to give them a bit more shape. So I machined some hexagonal braces.

Each brace was made out of a 2.75" by 6.5" length of board, and was cut with two 60 degree angles. I also cut a circle out of the inside to allow my pots to sit in them comfortably. These also gave me a handy place to attach a shelf to hold the pots... These braces are not ideal, because two of the screws to attach them are running in the same direction as the grain. Drilling pilot holes, and going in at an angle here helped.

The shelves I used were just extra 6.5" x 2.75" pieces screwed up into the braces, though I did attach a block at the back of the shelves to stop the pots from being pushed backwards - but I didn't fit them until the next step.

My hive is 4 units wide at the widest, and 6 tall. That means that it has 4 modules on the floor, where the uprights needed to be shorter (5.5" rather than 11"). I just cut a couple of my uprights in half.

Step 6: Framing the Hive

I tried to keep screws and other fixings to the inside rather then the outside of this, because it's a nicer finish that way. However, at this point it was clear to me that the hive was going to be painted. My wife didn't like the mixed wood finish, and it was also clear I was going to need to get the filler out because of warping and differences in thicknesses of the wood I'd used. From here on, I didn't worry too much about where the screws went, as I'd be using filler anyway.

Once the hive body was complete, it was time to make it look finished, and to square the whole thing up. I cut a length of 2.75" board for the top, and one for each side, then screwed into the sides from the inside of the modules. The top piece was screwed down into the sides

This left lots of gaps, top and sides, which I filled one by one.

Gaps between pots on the highest layer were covered with half hexes with 30 degree chamfers to give a good fit against the top of the frame. 30 degree triangles cover the edge of the modules, and 'quarter' hex ledges sit above those triangles (notes on photo 2).

Attaching those took screws all over the place, and gave some more rigidity. I did split the upright of one of the modules while doing this, because it was already warped and bowed before assembly. I put some extra braces on the back, and got the filler out. My method of attaching the frame here was messy and awkward, and exactly the kind of detail you should plan instead of following my example.

I then filled the remaining holes in the sides of each layer with 30 degree angled triangles behind each upright, and short bits of board to cover the backs (notes on photo 4). These were mostly screwed because I was too impatient for glue at this point. There are still many holes on the undersides, which allow for drainage and airflow.

Finally, I screwed the aforementioned shelves in (just a bit of board to hold the pots up). Two screws each, from the underside of the shelf into the angled braces.

You're done! Kinda..

At this point, I got the filler out, and spent a long time filling the cracks that opened during the framing out step. If it's going to live outdoors, you will want to weatherproof it somehow. I painted mine with masonry paint, which gives a wonderful finish on wood, and has good staying power.

Remember to paint inside and outside, to protect the wood properly, and so that it doesn't swell in the rain! When painting, its best to do multiple thin coats, after making sure that the surface is clean. This will give you a nice even drip free finish.

Step 7: Enjoy!

I then attached mine to the wall by screwing some thick batten (more pallet) to the wall, and then screwing the hive top and sides to that batten. You could do this with french cleats, or any fixing method you want!

Touch up any paint you need to now that you've fitted it, and fill those holes with plants! I've got half a dozen basil plants, some (half dead) chives, and some strawberries in there at the moment. The weeds in the patio are doing better than my herbs right now...

If anyone makes something like this, I'd love to see how you got on, and I'd also love to see how you attach the hive to a frame! I made a mess of it, but I'm not sure how I'd do it better!

Step 8: MATHS!!!

As promised, some maths here so that you can work out what sizes you need for different sizes of pots. You'll have to put up with photos of scribbling here, because MS paint is harder than a pen and my phone. Though my phone does struggle to focus without natural light.

A hexagon to hold a 6" pot needs to be 6" at the smallest internal dimension (side to side), and we need to know the length of a side. A hexagon can be thought of as 6 equilateral triangles. If the whole is 6" across, each triangle is 3" high (red pen). If you cut that triangle in half, you have a right angled triangle of 3" on one side (green pen).

Now we need to know the length of the hypotenuse (the slanted edge). Trigonometry can tell you this is 3" divided by sin(60 degrees) (the angle opposite the side we used the length of). This works out as ~3.5" (3.464101615....)

If it's assembled like mine, there also needs to be 3.5" between where the sides cross over each other and where they meet the uprights. This is a little more painful to work out. I dealt with this by lying to myself, and saying that I just needed 3.5" plus the angled sections at each end, and adjusting the cut to what made it work (this also contributed to the warping in my planter). You also need to use trigonometry here. Tan(60) x Wood thickness (0.75" for me) will give you the length of the angled section of the piece (1.299"). Double it, and add it to the width of the hex you worked out above. (3.5+1.3+1.3 = 6.1)

I really hope this step helped someone, because it was really hard to write. And I still don't think I did a good job of it.

Comments

author
Arghus made it!(author)2016-06-19

After all; Proper Prior Planning Prevents (insert rude word here) Poor Performance

since when piss is a rude word?

author
ratMoose made it!(author)2016-07-01

Ruder than I like. It's also my curse of choice if I seriously hurt myself. Said quietly but with vehemence it's the only curse that makes my wife come running to check I'm ok.

That and I'm British. Here most scatological words are seen as rude, if not actively offensive.

author
eltel16 made it!(author)2016-06-08

Fantastic design and build project, well done!! I now have my pallets curtesy of a local builders merchant (all free to a good home) taken apart and ready to be planed, cut and built. Thanks for sharing you ideas and build.

author
ratMoose made it!(author)2016-07-01

I'm so slow at replying!

You have to love anyone who gives you materials to turn into good stuff! I hope your build goes well. And I would love to see if you make something similar to mine. I'd also love to see any differences in detail.

author
iceng made it!(author)2016-06-24

A neat project... I really like the color, all though I'm sure my wife would not stand for hot pink. Good pictures and very thorough details too...

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swimspud made it!(author)2016-05-23

The geometry in this project is beautiful! Great job!

author
Vyger made it!(author)2016-05-21

Isn't it amazing that bees use this geometry and they do it all with out any measuring.

Now that you have the prototype down you can go on to bigger things like a shoe rack. Hope I don't get you in trouble with you wife for that idea. This was a good learning project to tackle, Your results are good and with a practical result.

Even though it looks complicated and does take a bit of thinking this is one of my favorite geometry figures. I made a big project with it and showed some of the possibilities of it. You might find it interesting ----

https://www.instructables.com/id/Making-Dementia-Pu...

I gave up on trying to find clamps that could work and made my own gluing jigs.

https://www.instructables.com/id/Making-and-Using-C...

Maybe these can help you with your shoe rack. Rats no smiley faces.


author
slo5oh made it!(author)2016-05-20

Looks great! Add a drip system to it and you've got a low maintenance herb hive.

author
ratMoose made it!(author)2016-05-21

I considered all kinds of things for a drip feed, including lining the spaces and having running water. In the end I decided that is was outside, and under some semi leaky guttering. That and I couldn't make an auto irrigation system out of pallets! If you make one (which I'd love to see) you could always incorporate something. And I'd be really interested to see what you put in there!

author
Meglymoo87 made it!(author)2016-05-19

Wonderful!

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DorisC20 made it!(author)2016-05-18

You need to patent this and bring it to someone who can make it from recycled plastic. They'd sell like hot cakes! I'd buy two. Purple, please or boring green!

author
kathymccown made it!(author)2016-05-18

I love this! You are very patient, it looks like. I have a job making raised bed vegetable gardens for the agricultural extension services and I have about a million pallets (but they are my personal stash that I use for nearly everything I build) and access to all I could use. So I may make one for myself for practice and then do one for work. I would love to see a picture of it with all your plants in it. I would bet the green looks so pretty with the pink!! Really great project. Thanks for posting!

author
dieter+demeyere made it!(author)2016-05-18

Nice!

Once the house is finished and I'm starting on the garden ... this will be for sure a TO DO on my list.

great work!!

author
kbbaktha made it!(author)2016-05-18

This is a mind blowing beauty of woodworking for garden. Thanks for sharing. Since lots of angular cuts etc are involved in is tough to explain in plain English, probably a brief video of one of the module making would have helped. Thanks for sharing the drawings and little trigonometric lesson as well, to take us back to school days.

author
ratMoose made it!(author)2016-05-18

Thank you!

I agree that some video would probably help, unfortunately I don't have the facility to make video right now. I hope that it was understandable enough for you to puzzle out (even if it was a puzzle). And I'm sure that the more you think about it, the more you can improve upon it.

author
antioch made it!(author)2016-05-18

When I saw the geometrical forms and the violent color I almost puked and assumed it was a rich hipster's project to see if he could 3d-print his way into herb gardening with 40 pounds of pink filament and a CAD-program. Thank god you proved me wrong and thank god I'm not the only one who has to shut out his wife to prevent proper completion of sane and sound projects.

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ratMoose made it!(author)2016-05-18

Thanks! After a difficult morning at work, your comment really made my day.

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kas227 made it!(author)2016-05-17

Wow, love this. Sadly, beyond my ability - must find me a man! Lol :D

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%D7%A9%D7%A8%D7%9C%D7%99%D7%9E made it!(author)2016-05-17

Man housework? Or pleasures and delights.

author
CraftAndu made it!(author)2016-05-16

Great design, though I would have used some other colour or natural oil. Thanks for sharing!

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ratMoose made it!(author)2016-05-17

I was originally planning to oil/varnish it. It's all down to who else is looking at it too. It's not just my garden, so approval has to be sought! The colour is still growing on me, against a white wall it works well with the green of the plants, but it's not for everyone.

author
SateeshM made it!(author)2016-05-17

A wonderful project, great colour too, I would use PVC pipes though, that's half the work done already. Great work

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cbjack made it!(author)2016-05-17

It's beautiful, I love it!

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patpenguin made it!(author)2016-05-17

Wow, I love it! I have a small wood shop, but this has way too many angles for my skill! LOL Great job!!

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shogun21Jimi made it!(author)2016-05-17

I have to show this to my dad. Great job!

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artisanerd made it!(author)2016-05-17

Awesome job! This is a great project :)

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PerryG5 made it!(author)2016-05-17

Rather than cutting the half-circle out for the bottoms, put in a solid piece to hold up the pots, and drill a largish hole in the front piece of each module that would let the excess water drain into the next pot down. Depending on potting soil composition it might even be possible to automate watering from the top tiers, with trickle down flow keeping them all happy.

Awesome build! If I had the mats laying about, I'd be building one already!

author
silkier made it!(author)2016-05-17

Love it!

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dkistner made it!(author)2016-05-17

This is drop-dead gorgeous! If anyone comes up with plans for the hexagonals suitable for printing on a 3D printer, please post!

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GeeB6 made it!(author)2016-05-17

If you don't have access to all the tools, use pvc pipe from the hardware store. You can cut that with a handsaw and then attach it with a screw to a plywood backing. I would cut them at an angle, like you do with vegetables, and use 2-3 layers of plastic screen at the bottom to keep in the soil and allow drainage.

If you paint the pipe with plastic paint, it will last outside.

author
belsey made it!(author)2016-05-17

I love modular design, and I'm in awe of your patience! I could never pull something like this off.

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jose.f.branco made it!(author)2016-05-17

very creative and looks awsome.

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dirty_valentine made it!(author)2016-05-17

This is so creative and beautiful. Very well done!

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shazni made it!(author)2016-05-16

My sister would love this!

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JadeC5 made it!(author)2016-05-16

That is absolutely beautiful and I really like that magenta color. It all depends on personal taste.

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bobimsom made it!(author)2016-05-16

Good design

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TheCureForSin made it!(author)2016-05-16

Seems confusing but looks awesome!

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customyota made it!(author)2016-05-16

Looks like a great space saver, too. Love the design and ingenuity. Awesome build!

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ratMoose made it!(author)2016-05-16

Thanks!

The 30 degree angle from the wall means the plants should be happier bushing out, but they will still grow strait(ish) up. And there is actually a little less room per layer than normal shelves, because of the wasted space at the corners of the hexes.

author
seamster made it!(author)2016-05-16

Whoa! I love the design!

And the construction looks so clean and sturdy. I know I'd struggle with all those angles and getting it pieced together as well as you. Very nicely done! :)

author
ratMoose made it!(author)2016-05-16

Thanks!

It's a shame I didn't take any photos of the back - you'd see that "clean" really isn't true. It's sturdier than I expected it to be, but it wouldn't support my weight (which most of my other pallet projects do)

author
jessyratfink made it!(author)2016-05-16

What a neat design!

author
SurreyTrnsPlnt made it!(author)2016-05-16

Amazing build

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