Introduction: How to Make a DIY Raised Planter Box
Planter boxes are a classic Springtime project and we’ve always wanted to design and build one in our own style. At the time of writing this, Jaimie is 8 months pregnant with our second child...which makes gardening...difficult. So, doing a DIY Raised Planter Box seemed like a great way to help her not need to lean over in the garden but still be able to get some exercise and spend time outdoors.
We spent quite a bit of time coming up with a DIY planter box design that was both simple and fun to build but was also stylish and modern looking.
We also have Raised Planter Box Plans with exact dimensions on our website:
You can build this planter box in an afternoon with simple tools and materials and if you use an outdoor wood like Cedar or Redwood, it will last many years!
We recommend watching the video above and following along with the written steps!
- Rough-sawn Cedar (2x4s)
- Cedar Fence Pickets (1x6)
- Exterior Black/Grey Paint
- Spar Varnish - https://amzn.to/3b98RZL
- Exterior Screws - https://amzn.to/3el2PXV
- Wood Glue - https://amzn.to/2wDkXLt
- Miter Saw - https://amzn.to/3bpoEUu
- Circular Saw - https://amzn.to/3bj2Z0m
- Drill - https://amzn.to/2SvF6tQ
- Impact Driver - https://amzn.to/2SvF6tQ
- Kreg Jig - https://amzn.to/2WbyFQ6
- Trim Router - https://amzn.to/3ba3sS7
- Tape Measure - https://amzn.to/2C00Jv7
- Table Saw (Optional)
Step 1: Preparing Your Materials!
We used Cedar, which is rot and weather-resistant and generally a great choice for outdoor projects like this. Alternatively, you could also use pressure-treated lumber or another outdoor-friendly wood like Redwood or even a nicer, pricier hardwood like Ipe.
To keep the cost down, we used "rough-sawn" cedar 2x4s for the frame, which means none of the surfaces of the wood have been sanded. It's important that the boards are as straight as possible, so when choosing lumber from the store take a look at each piece and try to get boards with as little twist and bend as possible.
To get them nice and smooth, you can use a sander. Start at 80-100 grit and work your way up to at least 180 grit. This should go relatively quickly if you start with a low grit and you'll have a beautiful cedar surface in no time!
Alternatively, you can use a planer to do it even more quickly if you have access to one. See the video in step one for more detail!
For the slats on the sides, we used 3/4" cedar fence pickets -- the same ones you'd use to build a fence! These are usually pretty rough looking but they worked great after a bit of sanding. Similarly, we sanded them to 180 grit using an orbital sander to reveal a clean and smooth surface.
Step 2: Cut the Frame Parts and Slats!
There are six pieces of the frame: four legs and two top bars. The legs are 34.5" long and the top bars are 30" long. We started by cutting all these to size from the cedar 2x4s.
Next, we cut all the slats to size. There are eight long slats and eight short slats. The long slats are 53" long and the short slats are 27" long.
The cedar fence pickets are 6" wide from the store but we wanted them a bit thinner so we ripped them down to 4.5" wide on the table saw. To get a nice clean edge on both sides, we started by ripping off about 3/4" from one edge and then set our final width and ripped the other edge.
Lastly, to give it a nice detail we used a trim router to put a small 1/8" chamfer on the long edges of the front of each slat.
Step 3: Cut the Other Parts!
There are several other parts: the battens for the sides, the bottom rails to hold up the bottom, and the bottom slats that go across the rails.
If you've watched the video, you know that we made these extra parts from scrap cedar we had left-over from the rest of the pieces. None of these parts are critical in size, and they'll never be seen, so if you have any left-over material you can change the sizes a bit to efficiently use what you have available.
Here are the approximate sizes for what we used:
- (2) Battens (3/4" x 2" x 18")
- (4) Bottom Rails (1.5" x 1.5" x 27")
- (10) Bottom Slats (3/4" x 4.5" x 27")
Step 4: Drill the Pocket Holes!
To assemble the raised planter box, we used pocket screws. These are super easy to use and get hidden on the inside so you don't see any screws from the front, giving you a nice, clean look.
To drill the pocket holes, you'll need a tool called a "pocket hole jig". A popular option is known as the "Kreg Jig". It makes it incredibly easy to align and drill the holes to the exact size you need.
All four of the legs get pocket holes on the inside so they can later be attached to the top bars. You should position these pocket holes close to the edge of the legs so they're not in the way of the side slats. We recommend about 1/2" from the edge.
All sixteen slats get two pocket holes drilled on the inside so they can later be attached to the legs.
Step 5: Finish and Paint!
To protect the wood, as well as to give it a nice, clean look, we applied a finish to both the frame and the slats.
The frame pieces (legs and top bars) get painted with two coats of exterior dark gray/black latex paint. We recommend doing a third coat on the end-grain of the pieces for additional protection against water. We used a roller to apply the paint to avoid brush strokes.
For the slats, we wanted to retain the natural color and look of the cedar so we used a Spar Varnish and applied three coats, letting each dry completely before applying the next.
When all the finish was dry, we took some time to arrange all of the slats into a pleasing composition. We take things like wood grain, color, and contrast into consideration and try to arrange all the available pieces into the best-looking sets of four we could find. This only takes a few minutes but makes a HUGE difference in the quality of the end result.
Step 6: Assemble the Long Sides!
Next, we pre-assembled the two long sides by attaching four long slats to two legs. We wanted the back of the slats to line up flush with the back of the legs so there's a 3/4" reveal on the front. As we demonstrate in the video, it’s easiest to lay the pieces upside down and use a piece of wood to shim the slats so you can line up the back edges of both.
Once everything is aligned, you can attach the slats to the legs with the 1.25" exterior screws.
We started with the top and worked down all four slats and repeated this process on the opposite long side.
Step 7: Attach the Side Slats!
The next step is to attach the side slats to one of the pre-assembled long sides.
We started by flipping the long side upside down on the table and starting at the bottom, working our way up all four slats. Like before, we used a piece of wood to line up the back flush with the legs and then attached the side slats with the pocket screws.
Tip: Use a square to ensure your side slats go on squarely and perpendicular to the long side!
Repeat this process on both sides so that all eight side slats are attached to one of the long sides.
Note: One of the pocket holes on the legs will be outside of the side slats, as shown.
Step 8: Assemble All Four Sides!
Position the second pre-assembled long side upside down on the table so that the side slats line up with the leg in the appropriate place. Ensure everything is nice and square and then use the pocket screws to attach all eight slats to the second side.
You should now have all four sides assembled and your raised planter box is starting to take shape!
Step 9: Attach the Battens!
To support the long sides, we attached one batten in the center of each long side. This helps prevent the side from bowing out from the weight of the dirt.
We measured and marked the center of each long side, then used a square to position the battens. We attached the battens with wood glue and a single screw in each slat.
We recommend clamping it in place and pre-drilling pilot holes for each screw so that everything stays aligned.
Step 10: Attach the Bottom Rails!
The four bottom rails are used to hold up the bottom slats and ultimately the weight of the dirt and everything inside the planter. They get attached at an angle so water drains towards the center. There are two on each side.
We raised the outer edge 1” from the bottom and positioned the rail centered between the batten and the side slats. Each piece is attached with wood glue and five screws.
Step 11: Attach the Bottom Slats!
The bottom slats support the weight of the soil and dirt inside the planter. They won’t be seen so they don’t need to be ultra-precise or pretty. We attached them with wood glue and one screw on each side.
Tip: You can use whatever scrap pieces you have for this part. Just ensure you cover the majority of the bottom, as we’ve done in the images.
We ended up with a ~1/4” gap between each board which gives us the option to add more drainage in the future if necessary.
Step 12: Attach the Top Bars!
The last woodworking step is to attach the top bars to the frame. We positioned them in place and then used pocket screws to attach them. This step can be a little challenging since there's not a lot of room to get a drill in there, so you might need to use a long screwdriver.
These top frame pieces give it a stylish modern look and also serve as a nice platform on the top of the planter as well as great handles to carry the planter!
Step 13: Chicken Wire, Fabric, and Plastic on the Inside!
To give some added strength to the bottom and to help to evenly distribute the weight of the dirt, we added a layer of chicken wire. We then put a layer of landscape fabric to hold the dirt in but let the water seep through. Lastly, a layer of black plastic holds all of the dirt securely while protecting the wood from moisture.
All three layers are attached by cutting a piece roughly to the right size, squishing it down into place, and then using a stapler to secure it. The wire and fabric are attached only on the bottom. The black plastic goes all the way up the sides to protect the wood.
Finally, poke holes in the center bottom of the black plastic for water drainage. This is really important, don't forget to do this part! :)
Step 14: The Results!
There are a MILLION ways to make a DIY raised planter box, so we appreciate you taking the time to read through ours. We're super happy with the way it came out and we really hope this Instructable inspires you to make something awesome of your own. Happy gardening!
Thanks for reading! Want to see more of our projects?
6 People Made This Project!
- ErnestI5 made it!
- nathanpb made it!
- tjpmi1 made it!
- VickieD2020 made it!
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2 years ago
Plants absorb what they are exposed to: using pressure treated lumber will literally poison any edible plants. Plastic on the bottom will lead to fungal rot of the roots, due to inadequate draining: the chicken wire will cause small pockets to fill and not drain. Plastic on the sides keeps the dirt from breathing freely, lowering the grow medium quality; just use weed fabric on the sides to pen the dirt inside. But, this thing looks GREAT!
Reply 1 year ago
Was going to point out the same points, especially about the treated lumber.
1 year ago
Attach the Battens!
1 year ago on Step 1
I’m making mine enclosed at the bottom, drilling holes then tar inside and underneath the wood , covering them with window screen, which allows for slow drain, while keeping about 99% of fertilizer. Given throughly drying tar and distressed wood look, with water resistant clear
2 years ago
These look awesome !! I thought at first that the black beams were welded metal and almost skipped over this project. So glad that I didn't because this is exactly the aesthetic I want using the tools and skills set I have !! Thanks for sharing - this is going to be an awesome addition to the back yard next summer :)
Tip 2 years ago
I would have painted the ends of the wood and the inside to make it last longer, but a good design and I will be making some smaller ones so they could be moved if needed. Thanks for the idea. Keep it up.
2 years ago
I really like the look of this planter box. I am currently building a ground deck with one section that is 12x8 and another section that is 16x12. The 12x8 section is right next to the house and I would like to make planter boxes that runs the length of the deck(12ft) along the house. To save on soil and also to keep the wood dry as possible, I will probably use plastic storage containers and hide the top edges of them. This to can help with drainage. I was thinking of putting another plastic container underneath for water storage, and could incorporate a small pump to recirculation the water back into the soil. If the water container gets to full I would have a drainage piped into the house drain system that's under ground. Being in the northwest we get alot of rain in the spring. Which would help maintain a good supply of water for growing plants and vegetables.
Reply 2 years ago
If you are making this for growing vegetables, I wouldn't use varnish. You should use a eco/food safe waterproofing like Linseed oil to prevent chemicals from leeching into the vegetables.
Question 2 years ago
What was the total time to complete the project and what was the total cost in US dollars?
Thanks, very neat project!
2 years ago
Great work guys with an amazing result!
2 years ago
Very nice project. I did this box for my wife and it turned out great. I used regular spruce for the painted black feet and stands but I used 2x6 instead of 2x4 (a little sturdier). Also for the joints I used wood glue, dowels, and brad staples (2 inch) as I used cedar boards 5/4" x 6' (again to make it a bit sturdier). Other than that this is a perfect and quick job that can be done in one day easily :)
2 years ago on Step 14
A lot of dirt,but,SUPERB!THX
Reply 2 years ago
There is an Instructable on filling with mulch, leaves, small branches, limbs, etc., for the bottom, instead of soil.
Reply 2 years ago
Haha, yes. 15 cubic feet!
2 years ago
Love this planter and I plan to make it. I was getting a supply list together. Do you know how many of the 2x4 Cedar and fence pickets you need for this project?
2 years ago
I like it - being in the UK the cost of timber is a LOT more than the USA so it'll be on the when we win the lottery list (I joke not). Larch may be an alternative but that also either costs a fortune or is rough sawn (and I mean ROUGH) and don't deliver unless charging a fortune.
The only thing I would have added is a self watering system which would be pretty easy to make and solve any of the drainage issues as well.
The black legs with the natural cedar are what makes it special. Should still look good when the cedar greys over time as well.
Reply 2 years ago
That's what you get for overtaxing the colonies. Revenge is sweet!
Just kidding. That must stink. Lumber is so much fun to use in builds!
Reply 2 years ago
Thanks! We ended up adding a self-watering system, good call. :)
2 years ago
Very Nice. My next next next project.
2 years ago on Introduction
Hi there. Nice project. My mother can't kneel down anymore so this garden would be higher for her to reach. Much thanks for your video and plans for me to make her some.