Introduction: Designing a Customizable Desk Planter With LED Using Tinkercad

About: An electrical engineer with a passion for any DIY.

Being a runners up for the last year's planter challenge, I decided to do better this year and make something more customizable. For that reason, this instructables will involve sharing my thought process and loads of steps so that you can modify it the way you want.

The design process is done in Tinkercad and the file is publicly available (I have included the 3D model below):

I have also made this project in such a way that you can make it in many different ways depending on the tools that you have; you are only limited by your imagination in this project. As we go along this instructable, I will put forward some other ways to accomplish the same that that I have done using alternative method/tool.


Here are the list of programs/tools/supplies that I have used for this project:

  1. A notepad and a pen to brainstorm
  2. Tinkercad to design
  3. CAD + CAM for CNC
  4. 3D printer to print some of the parts
  5. Scrap piece of wood
  6. CNC to cut wood
  7. Sliding mitersaw to cut wood
  8. Sandpaper
  9. Acrylic based clear coat
  10. Spray paint
  11. LED
  12. RF based LED controller
  13. Hot glue
  14. Wood glue


The primary objective for this project was not to spend a single dime on additional supplies and use whatever I have lying around, be it in good shape or scrap. Here's a list of my initial points that I made for this project:

  • Use Tinkercad
  • Use 3D printer and PLA filament that I already have
  • Use CNC to cut scrap wood
  • Use powertools to power through some cuts
  • Make base & planter out of scrap wood
  • Planter should be customizable (will have 3D printed swappable faces/designs)
  • Use LED (because everything is better with LEDs)
  • Use ONLY existing materials on hand
  • Spend only time and not money on this project.

The last point is probably the most important point because through this, I will show you that you do not need fancy materials/supplies to come up with something nice; all you need to do is improvise!

Step 2: Making the Planter Base

I had a 300mm by 210mm (19mm thick) piece of pine board lying around in my garage, begging me to use it. So I figured why not make a planter using this! Originally, I was planning to make the planter out of plywood but plan changed and I went on making the planter using this.

Since the wood is 19mm thick and I wanted the planter to be a cube, I figured that I will do four cuts of 76mm by 76mm in the CNC, one is going to be the bottom and the other three will have a wall thickness of 10mm and when stacked up, the height will also be 76mm.

So I open up my CAD program to make a DXF file for my CNC.

Then I fed my DXF file to my CAM software to cut the shapes out of the wood

Then I fed my DXF file to my CAM software to cut the shapes out of the wood

Once the cuts are done, I sanded them and then glued them together using wood glue.

Wood glue requires a bit of clamping force in order to glue the wood joints properly. Unfortunately I did not have any clamp that was wide enough to hold the pieces together so I decided to use a dumbbell as clamp.

Once the planter was done, it was time to move to designing the whole project using Tinkercad so that can have a clear picture of how things will come together.

Step 3: Designing the Project in Tinkercad

My work involved working in parametric designing software (Solidworks) so using Tinkercad to design the project was a fun learning experience, although a very unique one too..

Lets start by creating a BOX (solid red colour in the basic shapes). Use the tiny corner white boxes to set the dimensions at 116.50 mm and 80 mm. Click the tiny white box at the top of the model to set the height to 18.50 mm.

After that, create a hole box (the grey with strips box on the basic shapes panel) of 80 mm by 80 mm by 8.2 mm. Hole box (or any shapes) is used to combine with another solid body for creating hole of that shape.

After creating the hole box, select both boxes (clicking on each box while holding down the SHIFT key) and hit L on your keyboard. This will show the aligning dots on the bodies. Click on the red box and select the yellow highlighted black dots to align the hole box with the red box.

The alignment will look like this.

Once again, select both boxes and hit CTRL + G on your keyboard to group them together. This will cut out the hole shape from the red box.

Similarly, create a 10 mm hole at the back of the red box using a cylinder hole and grouping the cylinder with the red box. This is going to be the pass-through for the wiring of the LED.

Now navigate to the bottom of the box and using the same method as before, make a 57 mm by 20 mm by 10 mm hole at the bottom. This will hold the controller and the wires for the LED.

Now, lets recreate the planter that was made in the previous step using the same solid box, hole box, align and group method. Pretty straight forward!

Now we are getting into the fun territory! The main target of this planter is to be customizable and a very easy way to do it is to have a face/skirt/cover around the planter. This way, you do not have to change your planter but depending on your mood, designing experience and creativity, you can simply switch the skirt/face/cover to give your planter a different twist! Over here, I created a simple 80 mm by 80 mm by 80 mm cover with a 2 mm thick wall. The planter will sit in it nice and snug.

But if you use the cover shown above, it will be very hard to take out the planter when you want to change the cover. For that reason, I cut off the bottom with a lip around it so that the planter sits on the lip but you can easily change the cover by pushing the planter out from the bottom.

And now, you can go wild with the design on the faces of the cover. I used some roof patters from basic shapes to create this grid list design.

Once you group them, you get the design shown below.

Your imagination is your only limitation; you can use all sorts of crazy shapes and arrangements to come up with designs that compliments your skills and taste.

And if you want to take things to the next level, try Scribble (shown in the blue badly drawn circle).

Over here, you can draw whatever shape you want and it will become a 3D shape. Why not let your kid draw something fun and then you can print/make the cover!

As you can tell, I am not the best at freehand drawing using a mouse but the house does look pretty cool on the cover. The only thing that you need to remember over here is that if you are 3D printing the cover, you should be aware of the geometric shortcomings of 3D printing like overhangs.

Now, align all the bodies; the desk planter is looking like a desk planter now. Now let's design the LED fixture for the planter.

From the drop down menu of the Shape Generators, select Featured under SHAPE GENERATORS.

You will see a bent pipe option. Select that and make a pipe with the dimensions shown in the image.

Now, bring in another pipe with the dimensions shown below.

Afterwards, align and join the two pipes.

Align the pipe with the hole at the back/side (however you see it) of the red box (the planter tray). This pipe will be carrying the wires through it and connect the LED to the controller.

To hold the LED, I designed a small cylindrical shape (orange).

After this, align all the shapes; we are almost done!!!

Now, the joining surface between the pipe and the red box has a gap and to cover that, we can make a small ring adapter. I made a 20 mm by 20 mm tube with a bevel of 3.

Afterwards, I cut the bottom using hole box.

And this is what it looks like.

And the designing part is done! YAY!

I am going to 3D print the cover, pipe, adapter ring and the LED holder. So from here, I will select each of those objects and export to STL file using the export option on the top right side.

Step 4: 3D Printing the Parts

This is a fairly simple part; using the STL files, I used my 3D printer to print the parts and they all fit nicely. I will be keep the cover red (because I like red!) but will spray paint the LED fixture.

You can choose whichever colour your want; I chose a rusty brown spray paint because I like how this colour looks and also because this was one of the few spray paints that I had on hand!

If you don't have a 3D printer to print these out, you can always use other ways to make these. For example, you can easy make the cover using some dollar store craft boards, exacto knife and patience. Alongside, if you are a laser loving person with a laser cutter, you can cut the four sides of the cover using that.

For the light fixture, you will have to be a bit more creative. You can find nice chrome/brass pipes that you can use to make the LED fixture.

Once again, you are only limited by your imagination on how you can make these and not by what tools you have.

Step 5: Making the Planter Tray

Instead of 3D printing the base, I decided to make it out the remaining of the pine board that I made the planter out of.

Using my CNC, I cut the 10 mm hole for the wire pass-through and the grove at the bottom that is going to hold all the wires and the LED controller.

Afterwards, I marked the width of the planter with the cover on the wood and cut the sides using a sliding mitre saw.

Using the mitre saw, I trimmed down the tray to the correct size while referencing the cuts using the planter.

Then came the tricky part of making the recess on the top of the tray, where the planter will sit. I marked the point up to which the recess should be, set the depth stop on my mitre saw and took my time to pass the saw blade over the tray multiple times, taking my time to do it safely. After a lot of passes, I was able to get a nice recess on the tray.

After a bit of sanding, the tray was done. I sprayed both the tray and the planter with acrylic clear coat to make it water resistant.

This can be made in so many ways. In fact, doing this with mitre saw was quite a workout but that's the only rotary saw that I have. You can use table saw to do this easily too. Or you can simply 3D print the tray!

Step 6: Installing the LED

I am using generic LED strip and RF LED controller for this. You can easily get these from your favorite local/offshore online store.

The controller runs off 5V USB power which is great. The LED for the controller uses four separate wires to operate. So I passed four wires through the LED fixture. Unfortunately, I only had green wires on hand so I used only one colour plus some tape markings to differentiate which wire goes to where. One end of the wires get connected to the LED and the other end get connected to a 4 pin connector. This is the connector I used since the LED controller accepts this without any modification:

Since the cylindrical holder that holds the LED is small, I cut off a single LED from the strip (the strip that I used can be cut after every LED). After that, it was a fairly simple process of soldering the wires and putting the LED into the holder.

After all the soldering was done, the LED fixture was ready and the complete planter can be assembled.

Step 7: Assembling the Desk Planter

Now that all the parts are ready, we can start the final step of assembling the complete planter.

Pass the wires through the hole on the planter tray.

Afterwards, put a dab of hot glue underneath the ring adapter and hold it in place for a minute for the glue to hardened up.

At the bottom, connect the LED controller with the connector and put the controller and the wires into the cutout.

At this point, I noticed that I made a mistake of not making a channel/groove for the USB cable. But nothing to be worried about! Projects will also have some form of boo-boo and there's a good chance that you can fix it. I used a fat drill bit to drill a channel and then put a lot of hot glue into the channel and the cutout to put everything in place. Please excuse my incompetent hot gluing style; I was running out of hot glue sticks!

And to add a little bit of "sophistication", I added four rubber legs to the bottom.

And then it was DONE!!!!

Thank you very much for reading through my instructables. Hope you have enjoyed it :)

Planter Challenge

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Planter Challenge