Introduction: Friendly Monster Planter

We'll be making a planter with a funny twist, because houseplants don't have to be boring. This Instructable is an entry to the Remix Contest, because I got inspired by the shampoo bottle monster pencil holder from Bianca Barreto:

Mine is made from wood instead of a shampoo bottle. It's made mostly with hand tools, with the exception of an electrical jigsaw (see further). I'd like to point out that although the body of the monster is round, there is no lathe required. The process for making it is somewhat similar to coopering, the long lost art of making wooden barrels for wine, beer and other spirits. For the main body of our planter, I chose oak. Mainly because I had it at hand but also because it's quite durable, which means it doesn't rot easily. Of course, any other durable hardwood would do fine too. You could even get away with softwood if you meticulously coat the inside with a waterproof finish.

If you're new to hand tool woodworking, I suggest you take a peek at the YouTube channel of Paul Sellers. There you will find everything there is to learn: planing, sawing, chiseling etc. For this Instructable, I'll assume you already have some basic knowledge. Feel free to ask me anything in the comments. About this project, of course :-)

Without further ado, let's get building!

Step 1: Dimensioning Your Lumber

As I mentioned earlier, I had some oak strips available (pic 1). These will become the so-called staves of the barrel. They are 2.5 cm (1 inch) thick and a little over 5 cm (2 inch) wide. This thickness might seem a bit excessive, but later on we'll shape the body and we need to remove a lot of wood without the body getting too thin and fragile. Using a crosscut saw (pic 2), all pieces are cut to 30 cm (almost 12 inch). This resulted in the stack you see in pic 3. After taking a good look at it, I decided to cut them all in half using a rip saw (pic 4). This will make it a lot easier to approximate a cylinder, since the facets will be narrower and will require less shaping to get a round object.

Next, plane all the inside and outside faces of the staves (pic 5) and choose how they will go together (pic 6). Mark them with a triangle to establish their order. Try to pay attention to grain direction. Now we're ready to join them into a barrel shape.

Step 2: Making the Barrel Shape

This step is where the magic happens. If you were to make a panel, you would plane all the edges square before gluing up. But here we will plane the edges at an angle on purpose (pic 1 and 2). At what angle you say? It depends on the radius you want. In my case the angle is about 5° off from 90°, so 85°. Regardless of the angle you choose, it's a good idea to set your bevel gauge to that angle (pic 2), so that you get a consistent angle on every stave. Of course you need to plane both edges of each stave at that angle. The outside part of the stave should be wider than the inside part. Picture 3 shows that with just 3 staves, you already see the beginning of a curved surface.

Continue planing all staves at an angle on both sides. Test each stave against the previous one to test the fit. I find it best to create two halves first, and then later glue those halves together. Before the glue up, you can wrap rubber bands around the staves to test the fit and get an idea of the diameter (pic 4). To glue up one half, use painter's tape to connect the staves on the outside (pic 5). Then apply glue (pic 6) and add more tape and rubber bands to hold everything together until the glue is dry (pic 7). Repeat to make the other half and leave both halves to dry for about half a day.

You'll notice the two halves won't exactly fit together. You can make corrections by planing the edges at the correct angle (pic 8). Test the fit regularly while doing this. Once you're happy that both halves fit together nicely, apply glue to the edges and clamp everything up (pic 9). And tadaaa, you made yourself a barrel.

Step 3: Making Face and Arms

While the glue dries, we can start making a face and arms for our monster. I had a piece of Meranti laying around (pic 1), which is perfect as a contrasting wood. Using an electrical jigsaw (pic 2), all pieces are cut out. All edges are refined and rounded with some sandpaper (pic 3 and 4). The eyes, teeth and arms are cut from a leftover sheet of birch plywood (pic 5). Take extra care when cutting out pupils and teeth. I would not recommend sawing out small pieces like this with a jigsaw if you're not experienced. Alternatively, you could use a coping saw or a fret saw for this.

Lay out all pieces on a flat surface, and arrange them to your liking (pic 6).

Step 4: Shaping the Body

Next, we will shape the body so it looks more like a barrel, and less like a cylinder. This means we will thin down both bottom and top, using a scrub plane (pic 1). This is a plane with a cambered blade, that takes off lots of wood quickly. Picture 2 shows what it looks like after 5 minutes of shaping. The furthest edge has already been thinned down. Keep planing down bottom and top, until you have a barrel-shaped object like in picture 3. Refine this shape further with a smoothing plane (pic 4), until you get rid off the roughness. Use your cross cut saw to make top and bottom edges straight (pic 5). Finally, refine both edges further by planing the end grain (pic 6). Make sure to plane in circles, so you don't tear out the wood fibers.

Step 5: Adding a Bottom

A planter wouldn't be worth much without a bottom. So let's add one. I found a scrap piece of oak that would do. Choose which side you want to be the bottom, and trace it with a pencil (pic 1). Cut it out with a jigsaw, and make sure to keep away from your line. It's a good idea to mark how the bottom corresponds to the body (pic 2), because chances are your planter won't be exactly round. Apply wood glue to the edge (pic 3), let it soak in a bit, apply some more and then clamp everything up (pic 4). We are gluing end grain to face grain here, so that's why the glue needs to soak into the end grain a bit.

Once the glue is dry, remove the hard edge with a sharp chisel (pic 5). This bevel will prevent the fibers from tearing out when you plane the end grain flush with the body (pic 6). Refine the bevel with your smoothing plane (pic 7). If you want, you can refine the body further with a card scraper, to get a silky smooth surface all around (pic 8).

Step 6: Creating Sockets for Face and Arms

By now you may realize that the mouth and eyes, which have a flat bottom, don't exactly fit on the round body (pic 1). There isn't enough gluing surface. Therefore, we will have to make some flat areas to accommodate the face. After tracing mouth and eyes with a pencil, this is simply done with a sharp, narrow chisel and a chisel hammer (pic 2). The flat area for the mouth should look like picture 3. The bottom edge is a bit sloppy, but that's fine because it won't be seen.

Chisel away the eye cavities as well (pic 4). Glue on teeth and pupils first, leave to dry, then glue everything to the body with clamps (pic 5). Use a block of wood while clamping if needed.

Lastly, make 2 sockets for the arms as well, using a chisel that has the thickness of your plywood (pic 6). You can use the same technique as for chopping mortises. Again, for all woodworking techniques related to hand tools, I can refer you to Paul Sellers.

Step 7: Applying Finish

Before we put any soil in our planter, we need to protect it from moisture. I used two types of finish to achieve this: shellac and epoxy (pic 1). Start with a coat of shellac (pic 2). Once this coat is dry (shellac dries quickly), coat the inside of the planter with a 2 part epoxy. Mix the 2 parts according to instructions, pour it into the planter, and roll it around until the entire inside is covered. Any epoxy that hasn't adhered to the sides can simply drip down to the bottom to form a waterproof surface (pic 3). After a light sanding (with high grit sandpaper), you can apply a second coat of shellac on the outside. A third coat is optional, but definitely wouldn't hurt.

Step 8: Adding Soil and Plant(s)

The final step is to add a plant, preferably one that looks a bit like hair. Start by adding clay pebbles (pic 1). These will help absorb any excess water, since our planter doesn't have holes in the bottom. You still need to be careful not to over-water your plant. Alternatively, you could either drill holes and put a scale under it, or you could fit a plastic pot on the inside. Next, fill the planter with regular potting soil (pic 2).

As for the plant, I chose a very easy to keep house plant called spider plant (Chlorophytum sp.) It grows in a wide variety of conditions. It spontaneously forms new shoots that easily take root, so it's very easy to propagate. Fun fact: this plant made NASA's list of air-purifying house plants. All plants produce oxygen, but the plants on this list also remove pollutants like formaldehyde from the air. Formaldehyde is a common pollutant in houses, originating from foam insulation, particleboard, fabrics and various other synthetic materials.

Anyway, select a couple of shoots, cut them off (pic 3), plant them in potting soil (pic 4) and water them. Picture 5 shows the result just after planting.

As a bonus, this is our same friendly monster planter after a couple of months:

If you liked this Instructable, I would appreciate it if you give me a vote in the 'Remix Contest'.

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