Introduction: Recycled Pallet Rain Barrel Stand

The city we live in is under year round water restrictions, so having a rain water collection system helps keep the garden growing while reducing stress on the city water supply. The city supports water collection by supplying barrels and fittings as a DIY kit at a nominal cost to homeowners. We purchased two 55 gallon pickle barrels ($15 each) and associated fittings ($15 each) from the City for a total of $60. Pickle barrels will sporadically pop up on craigslist costing anywhere from $5 to $30 each, so the city option was cost effective one stop shopping.

To support the barrels, a stand was constructed from recycled shipping pallets which I was able to find on craigslist for free. This Instructable details the construction of the rain barrel stand, and the assembly of the rain barrels to enable rain water collection. The remaining decking planks from the pallets were used to make a trellis to surround the tanks so that we can grow a creeper around them to beautify the installation.

Initially our plan had been to use the rain water for our vegetable garden. Several resources on the web, including university research reports, advise against this due to the chemicals present in the typical USA asphalt shingle roof, and the presence of bacteria from birds, squirrels and other small animals. Things might be different in your country but do your research first. A steel roof is better than an asphalt roof from a harmful chemical point of view, but the animal issues are constant. The water is perfectly good for watering your lawn, shrubs and other non-edibles which is a major water source of water consumption anyhow. So lets get building!

Step 1: The Stuff

It's quite likely that I will miss a tool/part/material or 7 from this list. If you see something pop up in a photo that wasn't on the list, get that item as well!

For the recycle pallet stand:
  • 3 x Pallets – I used standard 42” pallets. Make sure you select heat treated pallets – search Instructables for detail information on pallet types.
  • Claw Hammer – a roofing hammer would be ideal
  • Big Hammer – I found a 3lb hammer to be a great help
  • Pry bar – longer is better. I used a 18” pry bar
  • Electric/Battery Drill
  • Kreg Pocket Hole Kit with 1 -1/2” and 2-1/2" pocket hole screws
  • 1-1/4" All weather screws for screwing down the decking
  • Miter Saw
  • Table Saw
  • Woodworking clamps

For the trellis
  • Table saw to cut the decking planks into 1" wide strips
  • Miter saw to cut strips to length and cut joining strips as needed
  • Nail gun and air compressor to drive nail gun with ¾” brads (18 gauge)
  • Elmer Max waterproof wood glue
  • Square – carpentry or roofing square
  • Measuring tape

For the rain barrels:
  • 2 x 50 gallon Pickle barrels. Check craigslist in your area for the best pricing.
  • Faucet with standard ¾” house thread for connecting a garden hose
  • Hose Reel Leader hose for connecting the two barrels together
  • Replacement house nut
  • Dual channel valve
  • 1 ½” PVC tube 6 foot long and right angle PVC fitting for the same
  • 5/8” Drill bit for the faucet.
  • 1” spade drill bit for the PVC fitting
  • 6 foot lung plastic gutter extensions (the extensions supplied in the kit from the City were too short for my barrel location
  • Gauze/Mesh to use as a leaf trap
  • Utility knife
  • Heatgun for shaping the overflow tube
  • Channel Locks (Waterpump pliers) for assembling the faucet
That's all for the materials. And here's the disclaimer:
Please make sure you understand safe working practices for your power tools. They can cause serious injury very quickly. Make sure your wear appropriate safety equipment recommended in the manuals that came with your power tools. Always read the manuals for safe operation. A power saw can kick the work piece back at you at high velocity - always work outside of the "line-of-fire" - check your manual..

Step 2: Pallet Wrecking... or Deconstruction

Deconstruction of the pallets is a back breaking job with the basic tools I used. I have subsequently seen a much better tool on  Instructables that will make the job a lot easier: Unfortunately seeing this tool after the fact didn't help me at all so here is a brief run down on the deconstruction as it happened.

With the pallet flat on the ground, hammer the pry bar underneath the edge of a decking plank and pry upward. The nails they use hold like crazy and take a lot of force to get them moving. It is also likely that for a number of slats the nail heads will pull through the wood. Wood is also going to split on you so work carefully so as not to completely destroy the slats….. you are trying to use the wood for new construction! I made a short (bad) video of the deconstruction of a pallet.

What you should end up with is a pile of decking planks and the 3 main beams from each pallet. One of many things I learned is that sometimes pallets are re-decked. When they do this they cut the nails with a sawzall or similar leaving the bottom half of the nail embedded in the wood. This can be dangerous if you cut the wood to size with a power saw and your blade hits one of the embedded nails. I only noticed when I got the pallets home that one of the pallets had been refurbed in this fashion. You can still make straight cross-cuts in the wood taking care to avoid the nails, but miter cuts could be a medical disaster if the blade was to catch a  nail.

When all is said and done you should have a pile of wood for construction of the barrel stand so on to the next step.

Step 3: Constructing the Frame

I have no idea what type of wood they use for pallets but it is very dense and very sturdy. The beams are 42” long. The combined diameters of the rain barrels are about 45”. By running the legs on the edges of the beams, the overall length of the stand is 48”. The cross pieces are 24" long. This gives the overall width of the stand of roughly 25” which is enough for the barrel diameter. 

During construction, keep in mind that 100 gallons of water will weigh about 800lbs. This is serious weight so take care during the build to do things right.

The main frame consists of
  • 2 x 42” x 1” front and rear beams
  • 2 x 24” x 1” side beams
  • 4 x 18” x 1” mitered angle supports or struts
  • 4 x 16" x 1" mitered angle supports or struts
  • 4 x 24” x 1” Legs
I tried to model this in 123D Design, but had difficulty trying to get the pieces to assemble to each other. I am trying hard to like this tool but I found making an L-Shape from 2 rectangular pieces a challenge. I could get the parts to snap together, but never the way I wanted! None the less, it was useful for showing the parts that you will need for frame construction. 

Start the frame construction by making the long sides which consist of 2 legs and a horizontal beam. Attach the legs to the beam using 1-1/4" Kreg pocket hole screws. Make 3 pocket holes in each beam. Use waterproof wood glue to make a sturdy joint. This joint will carry some serious poundage (160lbs worst case - the struts will transmit some of the load to the lower legs - I'm not a mechanical engineer so can't tell you how much!) so it must be done right.

Now add the struts which will help transmit some of the load in the horizontal beam down to the lower parts of the leg. They will also stabilize the frame and prevent the legs from collapsing from side loads. Use glue and 1-1/4" fine thread pocket hole screws for the struts. The wood is not perfect so you may need to adjust the miter angle a bit to get the angled supports to be flat against the horizontal beam and the leg. This is one of the characteristics of working with pallet wood - you make small adjustments as you go.

The horizontal cross pieces join the two halves to make the overall frame structure. Make 3 pocket holes in each side and use glue and 1-1/4" pocket hole screws to make the joins. I used a 3ft long wood working clamp to hold things together while screwing the screws in. When working on your own, clamps provide the extra hands.

Because of the problem with nails embedded in one of the re-decked pallets, I was unable to make miter cuts for the angled supports on the beams with embedded nails. This meant I was out of wood... until I realized that I had enough decking planks to use for the angled supports. The decking planks are only 1/2" thick so I laminated two together using screws and wood glue. You should not need to do this if you select your pallets so as to avoid ones with embedded nails.

The off-cuts from the angled supports were used to stabilize the structure from twisting. The triangular pieces get a pocket hole in each direction as shown in the pictures, after which they get glued and screwed into each corner. I clamp is handy to hold these in place while you screw them in. The gussets (I think that is the right term for these triangular pieces in framing terminology) help to stop the frame from twisting. Additional support will come from the top deck but we will get to that later.

At this point you should have a very sturdy frame. Remember to let the glue cure properly before stressing the frame so that you have the maximum strength possible. The pocket hole screws will keep the joints stable while the glue cures.

Step 4: The Top Deck

The first picture shows what you should end up with after this step.

The decking planks recovered from the pallets are use to make the top deck of the barrel stand. The ends of the planks are usually in the worst condition. Simply lay the planks onto the frame so that the best parts are between the long beams. The plan is for the deck to overlap the frame by about ½” on each side. Leave about a ¼” to ½” gap between planks to allow for drainage. The gaps on my stand look a little large and I wish I had made them narrower.

Screw the planks to the frame using outdoor screws as shown in the picture. Then place a saw guide guide along the ragged ends and trim the deck with a circular saw so that you have a ½” overhang. You could use a Jig saw, sawzall, hand saw or a pack of angry beavers to trim the decking. The circular saw just makes the job quick and easy, and the beavers might bite you.. 

Step 5: Strengthening the Frame

Even after a successful 500lb weight test without a single creak or groan (entire family of 4 standing on the table and moving around - a good 40% of the weight is mine!),  I was a little concerned that at roughly 800lbs of load ( 2 x 50 gallons of water), the table would not be able to support the rain barrels. Various web sources have a single yellow pine 8ft 2x4 able to support upward of 600lbs compressive load. All I know about the pallet wood is that it is harder and more dense than pine so should be able to carry more load, but it has a smaller cross section than a 2x4 (1 1/8” x 3” versus 1 ½” x 3 ½”). At roughly 200lbs per leg assuming a uniformly distributed load and ignoring the load transfer down the struts for a worst case scenario, the design at this point should easily carry the 800 lb load.

But what if I’m wrong?  This thing could tip over and hurt someone really badly.  So I made another foraging trip and came back with an additional pallet.  This was a 60” standard pallet. The beams and decking planks were much thicker than those on a 42” pallet and would have made a good pallet to start this build with.  The beams are roughly 2” thick on the 60” pallet versus 1-1/8” on the 42” pallet.

The center beam was cut to roughly 45 ½”. You will need to measure your exact dimension and cut accordingly. Glue and screw in place using 1-1/4” pocket hole screws.

Then measure the length of the 2 side stabilizer pieces indicated in the picture above and screw and glue them into place using 1 -1/4” pocket hole screws. Finally, lay a long beam diagonally across two of the legs and measure the height of the centre leg. Cut this leg to length and then glue and screw it in place using the long 2-1/2” Kreg pocket hole screws.

The carrying capacity per leg is now reduced to 160lbs (worst case ignoring load transfer in the struts) which allowed me to sleep more comfortably at night. With full barrels, the table stands firm. Solid!

Step 6: Making the Trellis

The barrels surrounded by the trellis are shown in the first picture. To make the trellis, proceed as follows:

Rip the remaining deck planks down to 1” wide strips on a table saw. These strips are then nailed and glued together to make a trellis structure.  You will need to make one front trellis and 2 side trellises. The front trellis is about 48” long by 36” high. This provides good coverage of the rain barrels. For the sides, the trellis is 20” deep by 36” high.

The trellis is made by laying out the pieces on a large table. The center spacing between the vertical pieces worked out to about 9-1/2”. Some spacings are a little more, some a little less – adjust as you go. Not all the pieces are exactly 1” wide so keep that in mind. I did a dry lay-out and then moving from left to right, glued and nailed everything into place. Where the wood is not long enough, cut a 3” joining piece of wood and glue and nail it to the backside to join 2 pieces to give the desired length. This is free form construction so have fun with it.

The trellises are joined to each other with nails and glue. I added gussets in the corners for extra stability as shown in the pictures. These were nailed and glued in place.

The trellis construction pretty much consumed what was left of serviceable wood from the 3 main pallets.

Step 7: Constructing the Barrels

The first picture shows what you want to end up with at the conclusion of this step.

The barrels stink. Badly. Unless you like the smell of concentrated old pickle juice, this is a dirty job. Fill the barrels with water about 1/10 of the way and squirt a liberal amount of dishwashing detergent into the barrel. Close the lids and roll the barrels around the garden for about ½ hour. Open the barrels and empty them. Leave them empty for ½ hour or so and come back and do a smell test. If it still stinks badly, repeat the procedure. Basically you can stop when the smell is acceptable to you, and all visible remnants of dried pickle juice have been removed. You may need to scrub some of the tougher spots by hand.

Drill a 5/8” hole in the bottom of the barrel about 5” up from the bottom. With a rubber washer on either side of the barrel plastic, screw the PVC adapter into the rear of the faucet - faucet is on the outsode of the barrel and the PVC adapter on the inside.. The kit from RainBarrel USA has the correct size PVC adapter that screws into the back of the faucet. This ended up being a two person job with one person head and shoulders inside the barrel (stinky!) holding on to the PVC fitting, and the other person rotating the faucet until it seals. Then fill the barrel until you are about 1” over the faucet and make sure you have no leaks. If you have leaks, fasten the faucet some more. Be careful not to over tighten.

Repeat with the next barrel.

Step 8: Leveling the Pavers

The barrel stand rests on concrete pavers that I bought from Lowes for about $1.50 each. The pavers measure about 6" x 4". Without pavers, the contact pressure of the legs will drive the legs into the soil. The pavers distribute the pressure of the legs over a larger surface area making for a more stable setup.

Leveling the 5 pavers is done with the help of a spirit level. It is important to level the pavers with respect to each other so that the table is horizontal and  the load is evenly distributed across the legs. Be sure to pound on the pavers to compress the dirt underneath them as you make adjustments. I used a 3lb hammer and a block of wood to distribute the hammer force across the surface of the paver. You don't want the pavers moving due to uncompacted soil underneath them when the rain barrels are full.

Step 9: Connecting the Barrels and Installing the Overflow

The first picture is the end result of this step. The remainder of the pictures are in construction order.

The plan is to connect the two barrels so that we only need one gutter inflow for both barrels and a single overflow for both barrels. Staring at the garden plumbing parts at Lowes (USA Home Improvement Store) I was able to piece together a system that I thought would work.  Fortunately they did. The parts you need
  • Hose Real Leader 5/8 in  x 6ft  (Lowes)
  • Gilmore 2 hose connector (Lowes)
  • Gilmore 5/8” diameter ¾” fitting hose mender (Lowes)
  • 6ft x 1-1/2” PVC tubing for overflow
  • 1-1/2” PVC Elbow for overflow
  • 1-1/2” PVC Threaded fitting to screw the overflow into the barrel

Place the rain barrels on the stand. Attach the hose leader to the left side barrel. This is the gutter inflow barrel. Measure the distance to the right side barrel and cut the hose. About 4ft should be fine – don’t cut the hose too short or you'll be making another trip to the hardware store!

Attach the tube mender to the hose. This is quite difficult but after much cursing (make sure there are no kids within earshot) you will be able to get it on. Then fasten the clamp as shown in the pictures.

Attach the “2 hose connector” to the right side tank and screw the leader house onto it. Now when the water enters the left barrel (assuming the faucets are both open), it will flow into the right barrel (making sure that the outflow valve of the “2 hose connector” is in the off position). Displaced air will flow out of the overflow pipe which we haven’t constructed yet!

For the overflow pipe, drill a hole about 5” down from the top rim of the right side barrel. I used a 1” hole saw for this. The resulting hole was a little larger than I would like but it works.
Thread the fitting into this hole after covering the threaded part with PTFE tape to seal the threads. Using a heat gun, heat a bend in the PVC as shown in the pictures and then run the pipe through the table. Make another bend to direct the overflow toward the front of the table. You may need to drill a hole in the deck of your stand for the PVC pipe to pass through.

Step 10: Hooking Up the Gutter.... and Done!

What we want to accomplish with this step is the final hookup to a gutter down spout as shown in the first picture.

Pick a gutter location that has good flow. Some roofs have a downspout at each end and one side will tend to flow more strongly than the other. The gutter down spouts at my house are thin aluminum which is easily cut with a utility knife. The short plastic extension supplied in the rain barrel kit was screwed to the gutter using stainless steel sheet metal screws. Then the longer plastic gutter extension was screwed to the short extension using the same screws. Finally a hole is cut into the rain barrel lid in such a way so as to make a tight fit in the lid to keep the mosquitoes out. I added a piece of gutter mesh to the end of the pipe to form a leaf trap. I’m pretty sure my gutter has a leaf trap but a second one won’t hurt.

And that’s it – wait for rain to fill your tanks and you have a free source of water for irrigating your garden.

We have bought a creeper to grow over the trellis, I'll update with a picture at some point in future once the trellis has started to fill out.

Project complete!

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