Introduction: Backyard Planter and Seating

About: Unsurprisingly, I like to make stuff.

I got a new house with a teeny tiny backyard (roughly 15 x 10) that ends at someone else's side wall. When you look out the dining room window, all you see is brick. So I thought it would be nice to make some planters in which to grow climbing green things (so far, got cucumber, tomato, and various peas). But it would also be nice to have someplace to sit out back when we're grilling, so enter the planter-seats. 

The real thing ended up remarkably like the digital plan. I'm impressed, and for that I have to thank Patrick, who made this plan into a reality. 

Step 1: The Plan

The nice thing about having a plan is it kind of allows you to measure twice and cut once (though you should also still measure twice and cut once...). Here we used google sketchup, which is a really nice and simple free product. Patrick did a great job getting the plan just right.

Creating a detailed plan also helps you conserve your resources and use only as much material as you really need. We decided to make the long planter 12 feet long, 1 foot wide, and 18 inches deep. Short one in 5 x 1 x 18. The seats are 4 feet and 11 feet, and 15 inches deep.

Once you have the plan, it's time to get the materials...

Step 2:

I'll just give generic materials, since my particular measurements aren't necessarily relevant to the reader. The large bench in this case was 12 feet long with an 11 foot seat, and the short bench was 5 feet long with a 4 foot seat. For that, we got:


  • Wooden boards for the outside - cedar, cypress, or black locust are most advised for outdoor use as they are all very rot-resistant. I asked a cabinetmaking friend of mine what he thought of black locust, since it's all the rage in "green" circles, and he said it's good, but very hard to mill. In the end, our local place only had cypress or cedar anyway, and the cypress was very cheap (as it turned out, mainly because they were crappy boards), but seemed like a good bet.
  • Plywood for the inside- We went with pressure treated plywood, since it will stand up best to the elements.
  • Pressure-treated 2x2 - for the corners
  • 1 1/2 inch, 14 gauge steel square tubing- for the structure. Oh by the way, you're going to have to know how to weld...
  • Inch by 1/2 in steel channel - For holding up the seat boards.
  • Decking screws - specially coated stainless steel screws to hold up to the elements.
  • Plastic lining
  • Rocks, dirt - to fill. I got my topsoil amended with leaf compost (50/50 mix) in bulk from a local place in Alexandria. $15 for half a cubic yard, which didn't quite fill up the whole planter.


  • 115V flux core wire feed welder
  • Abrasive cut off saw
  • Chop Saw
  • Grinder
  • Cordless drill
  • Sander
  • Vacuum - this wasn't technically used in the creation of the planters, but you're sure going to need it afterwards...

Step 3: Build the Skeleton

I don't have shots of the tubing being cut, but you can imagine it's not that exciting. Weld up the skeleton. This may take more than one person to make sure things are level and at right angles and whatnot.

Make sure you have enough support. Don't forget, when you add wood, rock, and dirt, this things going to way a ton (possibly literally). So err on the side of too many legs. Plus, it makes it less dangerous 20 years down the line when this thing is rusting out. Patrick couldn't stop thinking about the potential lawsuit down the road. But I guess there's plenty of time to save for that contingency.

Step 4: It's Ply Time

Now cut the plywood for the inside of the planter boxes. We considered many different ways of attaching the cypress boards to the side, but in the end, Patrick liked this best. You lose an inch on the inside, but in the end there's still plenty of space. Make ply inserts, reinforced with the 2x2, and slot them into the planter skeletons.

Drill holes in the bottom of the plywood, approximately a dime-sized hole every 6 inches (we did kind of a zigzag pattern, so 6 inches along the hypotenuse).

You might want to spraypaint the metal where it touches the plywood, as the chemicals in the pressure-treated plywood can make the metal corrode faster. In the end, we actually just lined the plywood with plastic which folded over between the plywood and the metal, so it should not be a problem.

When you line the box with plastic, make sure to cut the bottom open so that the water can drain out of the holes you've made.

Step 5: Attach the Boards

Screw the boards on from the bottom (on the seats) or from the plywood-side (for the back and sides) so that you can't see any screws from the outside. It will give it a more clean, modern look.

Next, sand them and seal them, or don't. I haven't decided, but I'm leaning toward either plain old butcher block conditioner (oil and beeswax) or teak oil. I'd like to keep it natural, and I like that gray, weathered look that the wood gets eventually.

Step 6: Finish It and Watch It Grow...up!

I lined the bottom with big rocks, then littler rocks, and then compost-amended topsoil. 

Next up: plant seedlings and watch them grow!

Next up after that is probably building a rainbarrel irrigation system, but at least give me some time to bask in the glow of a mostly complete project...

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Woodworking Challenge

Finalist in the
Woodworking Challenge

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Participated in the
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