Introduction: Make a Desktop Zen Garden (Japanese Rock Garden)

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There may be no better way to de-stress than by tending to your Zen garden. And hopefully making it won't be too stressful if you follow my simple guide.

This would make a great gift for a stressed executive, or parent for that matter ;-)

You'll need:

  • A few lengths of wood, approximately 2' x 1½" x ¼"
  • Some thin plywood, approximately 10" x 16"
  • Two wooden cocktail sticks or thin bamboo skewers
  • Wood glue
  • Three nice stones
  • Some fine dry sand (sandpit sand or similar)

I've entered this into the Homemade Gifts contest, so please vote if you like it.

Step 1: Prepare the Sides

Plane, or sand, two lengths of wood, approximately 2' x 1½" x ¼" (each piece will make a long and short side) so that they are identical, smooth, and have squared ends

Divide each length into two pieces, on short and one long, using the Golden ratio (1:1.618). Roughly 9" and 15"

If possible, make a tiny rebate on one long edge of each piece, which will capture the base board. This needs to be the width of the base's thickness, by about 1/32". (Don't worry if you can't do this, any gaps around the edge later, can be filled with a mixture of sawdust and wood glue)

Step 2: Jointing the Garden Walls

Finger (or box) joints make for a very strong connection, and are quite easy to make (below), but feel free to butt joint, dovetail, lap, or anything else

Finger Joint:

  • Stack the four sides together (with the rebates aligned to the same side) and divide their width by four
  • Square across the division marks, and drop them down the face by the width of the pieces
  • Saw down each division
  • Chop away two, non-touching, fingers for each piece


Step 3: Jointing the Garden Walls (cont.)

  • Transfer the finger lines from one piece to the blank end of the piece to which it will be joined to when assembled
  • Square these marks down the face for the width of the pieces
  • Saw, just cutting the line, down the face to define the matching fingers (most of the saw kerf should be kept in the waste portion of the wood, so that the finished fingers are a snug fit)
  • Chop out the waste to reveal the fingers, and adjust to achieve a snug fit
  • Repeat for all corners

Apply glue to the joint surfaces, assemble, and clamp

Step 4: Base

Lay the assembled sides on top of the plywood, rebate down, and carefully mark out for the base

Cut the base out, and plane or sand until it fits snugly in the rebate (or just the sides if you didn't rebate them)

Apply glue to the edges of the base, insert it into the rebate, and clamp

Once the glue dries, plane or sand the joints smooth

Step 5: Feet (optional)

To make the feet, first plane the remaining length smooth

Cut in a rebate of about 1/8"

Round over the upper rebate corner (face with the rebate facing up)

For each foot:

  • Saw across the face of the main piece, with the saw tilted to create an undercut
  • Saw a 45° cut across the face, to remove a right angle triangle from the main piece
  • Saw a 45° cut the opposite way on the main piece
  • Saw across the face, with the saw tilted to create an undercut, to remove a right angle triangle from the main piece
  • These two triangles are then glued together to make a foot

Repeat three times for the remaining feet

Attach the feet to each corner of the garden with glue

Step 6: Rake

You'll need a rake to make designs in the sand

Prepare a piece of the remaining wood to make the rake head, approximately ¼" x ¼". I leave it long for easier handling, and trim it at the end

Mark and drill for four tines and one shaft, using a bit that matches the diameter of your cocktail sticks

Cut four tines from one stick, and remove the points of the remaining stick to make the shaft

Glue the tines and shaft into the rake head

Trim the rake head for a symmetrical rake

Step 7: Finishing Off

Apply a coat of finish (I used tung oil) and buff off if appropriate

Add a layer of sand

Rake, and add the stones to complete your garden

Thanks for reading my instructable. I hope you liked it. Please post photo's if you make one yourself.

Cheers, Mitch

I've entered this into the Homemade Gifts contest, so please vote if you like it.

Homemade Gifts Contest 2017

Participated in the
Homemade Gifts Contest 2017