Introduction: Wooden Planter - Easy Recycled Pallet Project for Your Garden
Below you will find a step-by-step guide to making an “almost free” wooden planter from euro pallets. Almost free as you will need some paint and... well that’s about it! I hope you will find it useful.
Any questions please get in touch!
Step 1: What Will You Need?
2 pallets ( I used the EURO pallets as the timber is thicker and generally better )
Decking Stain ( or any other weatherproofing paint or stain )
Speed Square or Set Square
Step 2: Getting the Timber Square and Neat
Once you took your pallets apart, you should be left with 16 planks ( six 120cm x 14cm, four 120cm x 10cm and six 80cm x 14cm ) and about 140 nails - plenty of materials for this project. (for an easy guide on how to disassemble pallets follow the link https://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Disassembl...).
Unfortunately, the pallet timber is far from perfect. The first thing to do is to make the edges square and neat using your table saw. Set the fence in the way that it only cuts off the unwanted edge of the plank. Once you cut it, flip your plank around, set your fence to the desired width (10cm in this case) and make the cut on the other side. Repeat the process for all the planks you are going to use.
Step 3: Routing the Edges
This is mainly a cosmetic touch but it makes a huge difference in the finished project. I used the Ogee Router Bit.
Please remember to wear all the safety gear when routing!
You will need to rout all the planks intended to be in the middle of the planter`s walls on both sides, and the ones used for corners, just on one side. For this particular project, I needed five 120cm planks routed on both sides and 3 routed on one side only.
TOP TIP: it's far easier to route your planks before you cut them to the desired length
Step 4: Cutting the Planks
Time to cut the planks! As the pallet timber is 120cm long I decided to cut it into just under 40cm pieces, so for every plank, I get 3 boards.
For the front of the planter, I wanted to get rid of the holes left after nails. Using the square I marked the line just after the last hole and I cut it using the mitre saw. Then I measured just under 40cm from the clean edge and made another cut using the mitre saw. As all the planks have to be cut to exactly the same length I simply used a corner of my table as a fence to stop the planks at just under 40cm away from the blade. (if you have a decent table saw you could just use the fence provided).
Step 5: Sanding
When it comes to rough sanding I much prefer using the angle grinder with the hook and loop backing pad rather than the orbital sander. Fair enough, it won`t give you the same detailing as the orbital sander but it`s SO much faster! For this project I didn't want the extra smooth finish hence I used the 80 grid sand discs to get rid of all the dirt quickly.
For your own safety, do wear a breathing mask, goggles and some hearing protection. An angle grinder is fast but messy!
Step 6: Pre-drilling
Place your boards on a flat surface, then take one of the pallet planks, flip it on its side and place it right on the edge of your boards. Using the pencil mark the line and drill 2 holes in both corners of each board, right between the line and the edge of the board. These will prevent the boards from cracking or splitting when you nail them to the frame. Also, its a simple guide to where the frame is.
Step 7: Building the Frame
Take the boards designated for the front (or back in that matter) of your planter (in this case 8 boards) and place them on a flat surface. Measure the length and take away the thickness of your boards times two. For this particular project the boards are 2cm, hence I minus 4cm of the total length (96,5cm) ending up with 92,5 cm.
Next, take the boards designated for the side of your planter place them on a flat surface and measure the full length. Then minus the thickness of your boards times 2. For this project, it was 36cm.
Once you have your measurements, take 3 pallet planks and cut them using your table saw. I decided to go for 4cm width as it allowed me to get 2 boards out of each plank and also plenty of room for the nails.
Take 4 out of the 6 boards and clamp them together. Measure out the length of the front of you planter minus thickness of the boards you are using times two (92.5cm in this case) and mark it with the pencil. Next using a mitre saw, cut the boards to the desired length. Cut the remaining two boards into 4 pieces, each the length of the side of your planter minus thickness of 2 boards (36cm in this case).
Next, place 2 longer and 2 shorter boards sideways on a flat surface, making sure the longer boards are on the outside (picture 14). Clamp your frame together and drill two holes at the at the end of the longer boards.
TOP TIP: once you drilled the holes using the small drill bit (no 3 or so) switch to a larger one (6 or 8) and make shallow holes to hide the screw's head.
Tighten your frame up with screws and repeat the process so you end up with 2 identical frames.
Step 8: Making the Base
For the base of the planter, I used the shorter (80cm) pallet planks. They already have lots of holes left after the nails so the planter will have good drainage - remember to place some gravel right at the bottom before you put any soil in your planter.
Measure the width of your frame, in this case, it was just under 40cm, ideal as I could get two boards out of one plank. Cut your planks using the miter saw and place the boards flat on the frame. Once you get to the end, measure the remaining distance between the end of the frame and the last board. For this project, it turned out to be just over 9cm. Use your table saw to cut the board to the desired width and nail the boards to the frame.
I predrilled some holes in the boards to avoid the timber splitting or cracking. One nail on each side is just enough as there will be quite a lot of weight pressing the boards to the frame once you put soil in the planter.
Step 9: Building the Sides
Take your base and the frame and place them on the floor roughly 40cm away from each other.
Starting from the right, place one of your boards with only one edge routed and nail it to the base and the frame. For the middle, you want to use the board with both edges routed. Repeat the process on the other side.
TOP TIP: clamp the boards to the frame for added stability when nailing.
Step 10: Building the Front and the Back
For the front of the planter, I selected the best looking boards without any holes.
Starting from the edge use the board with only one edge routed and nail it to the frame. Use boards router on both sides for the middle. Repeat the process on the other side.
Step 11: Staining
Bearing in mind the fact that our planter will be exposed to all sorts of weather conditions I used decking stain to preserve the timber. When staining the wood, less is more. Follow the grain and do not apply too much stain at once as you will probably end up with tears and droplets. It is far better to use just enough stain to cover the timber, wait until is dry and apply a second coat.
I also used PVA to seal the timber from the inside (sorry no pictures).
Step 12: Finishing Touches: Hiding the Nails
Take one of the pallet planks - I used the 120cm x 10cm - and clean it using the angle grinder with a sanding attachment.
Set the fence on your table saw to around 5mm and cut your plank lengthwise 6 times.
Place your laths on a flat surface one next to each other and polish them using the orbital sander. The angle grinder is too powerful for this task.
Now, measure the side of your planter and cut 4 laths to that length. Next measure the front of the planter, add the thickness of your lath times 2 (in this case 0.5cm x 2) and cut 4 laths to that length.
I used mahogany wood stain to bring some contrast to the project. Only stain your laths once you cut them to the desired length, making sure all the sides and ends are stained.
Starting from the side of your planter, place one lath at the bottom and one at the top of the planter, covering the nails in the boards. You can either use small nails as I did or alternatively use wood glue to adhere the laths to the planter. Once the side laths are in place, take the longer laths and place them in the front and the back of the planter.
Step 13: Finishing Touches: Top of the Planter
As you can see in the first picture the top of our planter is far from neat. I decided to cover it with some more mahogany stained boards.
First measure the side`s width together with the laths. In this case, it's around 5cm. Take 2 pallet planks and cut them lengthwise using your table saw so you end up with 4 boards, each 5cm wide.
Now, this will be the most visible part of your project, hence you want to cut nail marks. Set your mitre saw to 45 degrees and make the cut just after the last nail mark. Now take your board and place it at the top of the planter in the way that the end of the board is flush with the side of the planter. Now take a pencil and make the mark on the other side of the board. The line will indicate the longer side of your mitre cut. Now you can simply copy the board with the mitre cuts and replicate it for the other side. Repeat the process for the sides of the planter.
Step 14: Finishing Touches: Final Step
Now, that you`ve done your mitres, place your boards at the top of the planter to make sure all the edges are flush.
If they are, place your boards sideways on a flat surface and apply a thin layer of wood glue where the mitre cuts are. Move your boards from sideways to flat position and put your frame together. I used ratchet straps to tighten the frame and keep in in place until the glue dries. Wipe off all the excess glue with a wet cloth. Once the glue is dry, use the orbital sander to even the frame and get rid of all the imperfections.
Now apply a generous amount of wood glue to the top of your planter and clamp the frame to it making sure all the edges are flush. Once the glue is set, take the clamps away and stain the frame with the same stain as you used for the laths.
We have a be nice policy.
Please be positive and constructive.
"Once you get your pallets apart..." I find that I only get about 1 board in 3 off the pallet intact, and even that is badly mangled. After some struggle, I've come to the conclusion that it's not worth the aggravation.
Caveats: When you water the planters dirty water come through the joints. Line the box sides, but not the bottom, with black construction polyethylene plastic will reduce this.
Dirty water also comes out of the base. If you are on a deck this can be unsightly. Either build in directed drainage, or don't put on a deck.
A wood planter like this has a fairly short lifespan. One side is continually moist. After about 5 years of growing season time, the wood will be falling apart.
One way around this problem: Get some large nursery pots -- the ones used to sell trees. 5 gallon pails work too. Size the planter to hold 3 or 4 of these. Do the planting in the pots, set the pots in the planter box. This also allows you to do tricks like:
* Keep a set of inserts with tulips and daffodils in them. They go in the planter in spring, and come out when they are done.
* Meanwhile you have another set with summer lilies, and a third set with autumn lilies. The ones that aren't in the planter are in the back yard getting ready for next year.
* In winter you can remove all the inserts, put the planter upside down on blocks to dry out. You can apply another coat of stain, etc.
I have found the best way to disassemble a pallet is by standing it up on one side and using a reciprocating saw with a long bi-metal blade. My personal recommendation is the Porter Cable 360° sawsall. Instead of prying them apart, simply cut right through the nails. The gap between the planks and the rails makes a perfect automatic guide, better yet, you will save time, energy, and recover 100% of the pallet wood. There will be nails that stay in the wood and some that fall out on their own after you cut them, creating small holes.
As for the leaking: I use either thick quality industrial trash bags that I cut or layers of newspaper to line the bottom and lower sides. You can staple the lining along the sides which helps prevent black water from leaching out creating unsightly stains on wood, concrete, etc. I would also recommend a 3/4” drain hole on the bottom or back. You can use a small piece of pvc pipe or cut a piece of water hose if you have a scrap hose you planned to toss. You can fashion some rocks near the drain on the inside to create a space for the drain water to pool before it exits. Just make sure to cut the lining so the water can drain in the proper place.
Hope this helps.
Hmm. Don't seem to be able to respond to an answer any more.
PVA is only moderately water resistant. I wouldn't expect it to last longer than a year.
Wood is a natural material. It changes dimensions with changing humidity. Look at any cabinet. Changing shapes are the reason behind rail/stile and panel construction. let alone being rained on and with a block of variable moisture dirt adjacent to it. It *will* leak. I did this with oak barrel planters. Turned them over, and banged the rings on until they were very tight, then secured with screws. 2 years of weather cycles later there is a 1/16 gap between each stave. In wet weather they expand, and compress the edge wood. Next time they dry they open up. There is a reason people tell you to not let hardwood floors get wet.
Thank you for your comment.
For an easy guide on how to salvage 100% timber (and even the nails) from your pallets please follow the link below:
Regarding the nursery pots, in my humble opinion, it defeats the purpose of the project itself... To extend the lifespan of a wooden planter, simply treat the inside with undiluted PVA. This will create almost plastic like layer preventing any water soaking into the wood.
If you put your boards together tight enough you should not have any issues with water leaking through the joints. If you, however, still have an issue, why don't you staple some bubble wrap to the inside of the planter? This will not only waterproof your project but will also protect roots from frost.
Regarding the water getting on the decking, the easiest solution is to put your planters just over the edge of the decking in the way that small part of your planter is suspended in the air. Then drill some drainage holes in your planter, so all the extra water drains off to the soil, not on the decking.
Hope this helps!