Introduction: Staggered Pallet Planter

About: Sailor in the Merchant Navy for work, hacking and modifying monkey on leave!

No space in your garden? Grow up with this staggered planter!

Instructables has a vast collection of pallet-related projects, and it’s easy to see why. As a waste product, pallets are often made of decent quality softwoods and are utterly versatile. With a little bit of effort, they can be turned into fantastic items. Better still, you don’t need much skill to work with them.

I’ve wanted to make a pallet-project for a while, and as I’ve recently moved into a flat with a small garden, I thought I’d build something to increase to my planting space.


The simplicity of this project is reflected in what you need to make it, basic tools only here! The cost is minimal too, most of the stock was free, and the bought parts came to £10! (USD$14)

  • Tape Measure
  • Hammer
  • Pry-bar or wrecking bar (better to have something that can remove nails)
  • Handsaw, with a 45-90 handle for quick marking!
  • 2 x Clamps (G-Clamps are fine, but Quick Clamps are much more efficient!)
  • A pencil and a permanent marker
  • Hand drill or cordless drill/driver
  • Drill bits and drivers (or you can use a screwdriver)
  • Sandpaper and paintbrush

The stock required is an even shorter list!

  • Two pallets (see ‘Breaking Apart the Pallets’ for tips on choosing which ones)
  • Two wine-boxes or wooden boxes
  • No.8 x 1” (4.0 x 25mm) screws (A box of 200 cost about £3 / USD$4.25)
  • Fence Paint or Exterior Wood Stain
  • Two small general-purpose tarpaulins.

Step 1: Planning and Charm-Offensive...

My partner wanted me to build a large planter for an awkward corner of our garden. As we’re only renting and we ideally want to take our plants with us when we move, I suggested making something a little smaller but where we can grow double the amount of plants without them stealing each others light.

As you can see the plans were carefully drawn-up, utilising our considerable art skills.

The next day, I went up to my local wine-merchant and asked them if they had any wine boxes which they wanted to get rid of. Fortunately they did, and so I made off with two large pine boxes for free.

My next stop was a garden centre which is nearby. They had a ten-foot high stack of pallets. I asked for two (I figured I would only need one, but better to ask for a spare!) and they kindly let me have them for free. Up to now, I had all the materials needed for the project (excluding fixings etc) for free!

Before I set any plans in stone, I needed to break down the pallets into planks. I was expecting some of the planks to split or be utterly unusable once taken apart, and that would give me the amount of stock I could work with.

Step 2: Breaking Down the Pallets

Oh boy, this was fun for the first few minutes and then became a trudge. The first mistake I ran into was in my choice of pallets. The smaller pallet (with the softwood blocks) was simple to take apart, and I took it apart in three hours. The larger one (with the particleboard blocks) was an absolute devil to take apart. So if you can, choose a traditional pallet with softwood blocks.

The best method I found was as so:

  • Turn the pallet upside-down.
  • Remove the nails from the planks in the base. You can do this using a crowbar or a small wrecking-bar.
  • Some nails will be below the surface of the wood, and impossible to get to using the crowbar.
    • For these nails, lever up the plank between the block and the plank, and rock it gently. You should see a gap beginning to form between the block and the plank.
  • Remove the crowbar, then hit the plank to close the gap. The nail heads should stand above the plank now, and you can remove them with the crow bar.
  • Once all the planks have been removed, hit the softwood blocks from the side with a hammer.
  • Once you’ve removed the softwood blocks, the sharp ends of the nails will be uncovered.
  • Hang the pallet over the edge of your workbench, and hammer the nails through.
  • Flip the pallet over, and remove the nail heads with the crowbar.

Hopefully, this method will mean you end up with a lot of undamaged wood!

The last thing I did with the planks was to inspect them carefully for any imperfections. Splits, knots, and nails I couldn’t extract were all marked and made visible, so I could choose the best bits of wood for the project.

Step 3: Making the V-Frames

Once the planks were all marked, I could start with working out how to make the legs.

I clamped a (relatively) straight edge to the end of the workbench. On the straight edge, I marked a centre-point. I did a bit of trigonometry, and decided I would need the inside apex of the triangle to be 1000mm (40") high. I marked the the base on the straight edge (equal distance from the centreline), and then lay two planks with the inner point resting on the two outer marks on the straight edge. I then marked the length of the hypotenuse on the inside edge of the two legs. Finally, using a straight edge perpendicular to the clamped-straight edge, I could mark off the mitre at the top of the legs. Given how confusing that last paragraph was, the process actually worked, and the two legs fit together perfectly. I cut a brace for the top section; then counter-bored, pilot-drilled and screwed the legs together.

Finally, to ensure the legs sit flush on the ground, I butt the bottom of the legs again against the clamped-straight edge. Using a square, I measured up from the inside points of the legs and scribed a line across both pairs of legs. Using my handsaw, I cut off the pointy-ends from both pairs (clamped together) and surprisingly, they sat flush on the ground!

Step 4: Making the Top Shelf

For the shelf rails, I cut one of the planks in half. The width of the plank was perfect for the rails, as the slats would be screwed into the rails on the top edge. The rails would then be screwed to the V-Frames.

The shelves are 800mm (31") wide, which is the length of the short planks from the pallets. This is also wide enough for a standard-length plastic trough which is a happy coincidence!

Using the handsaw, I split three planks lengthways, to give me six slats. Obviously, if you have a table saw or band saw, you could probably do this job in a fraction of the time! But, if you’re a bit rubbish at sawing wood in a straight line, you’ll probably be very good by the end of doing this!

Once the rails and slats were all cut, I laid them out dry on the table. Using an off-cut piece of wood to give me a uniform gap between each slat. Once I was happy with how everything looked, I marked the ends of the rail. As I didn’t want any sharp corners on the underside of the shelf, I marked a 45 degree mitre at the ends of the rails. I then clamped both rails to the table and cut off the ends. Once the rails were ready to be fixed to, I counter-bored, pilot-drilled and screwed the first and last slat to the rails. By only fixing these two, I could make sure the shelf was square. To do this, you measure diagonally across the corners; if the measurements are the same, its square! If its not square, tap one end to make it square. Once it is, tighten the screws and then fix the remaining slats to the rails.

To finish the top shelf, I used one piece of wood under the shelf to give the shelf a bit more stability. Once completed, I was confident the shelf was more than strong enough to hold a wine-box filled with soil and plants. This project should last a few years!

Step 5: Making the Bottom Shelf

The bottom shelf is made in much the same way as the upper shelf. However, there are some important things you would need to consider:

  • The bottom shelf actually weighs a lot less than the top. I used the thinner planks as slats, and the eagle-eyed of you will notice there are five slats on the bottom shelf as opposed to six on the top.
  • The slats need to start from the inside edge of the V-frame leg.

The reason for the two points above is to make sure we’re not hanging this shelf so far that it tips over, and to ensure the heavy weights go through the centre of the V-Frame (i.e. by using the top shelf).

The bottom shelf was a bit of an experiment, but once the shelves were attached to the V-Frames, I stood on the bottom shelf and it didn’t tip over at all. I also added one plank at the back to add a bit of strength to the structure. It doesn't move or wobble at all.

Step 6: Attaching the Shelves

This was pretty tricky. I used my trusty, clamped straight-edge on the table, and put the base of the V-Frames against it. I then measure from the straight edge to where I wanted the top of the upper shelf to be. Measuring a few times to double-check the shelf would be level, I then screwed the shelf rail to the V-Frame. I then put the other V-Frame on the table, and screwed the shelf rail to that too.

The bottom shelf was fitted in the same way, and then the build was complete!

Step 7: Weatherproofing and Turning Wine Boxes Into Planters!

I managed to pick up a five-litre tin of fencing stain from a supermarket for £5 (USD$7), which was perfect for the rough-sawn pallet wood!

To paint the planter shelf, I broke it down into its four parts, and painted each separately. In the future, I’m just going to be painting it as a complete unit, but to give it some protection against the British weather, I thought it best to paint every inch! Prior to painting, I took a knife-edge to the facing edges of the shelves and the V-frames. This was just to remove any splinters on sharp edges. Two coats of the fence stain was applied, with a light sanding in-between coats.

For the wine-boxes, I gave these two coats of fence-stain too, and they looked ready to go! However, its better to put a lining in the box to ensure the wood doesn’t get too waterlogged and rot, and to prevent the plant roots from escaping through the sides! My local supermarket came to the rescue again, with a 1m-square tarpaulin for £1 each. I bought two, and then these were stapled into the wine-boxes. Finally, to give the boxes some drainage, I drilled six holes in the base of the box, lining up with the gaps between the slats on the shelves. To stop the soil from leaking through the holes, porous rocks were placed on top of the holes, and then over-filled with soil.

Step 8: Finished Product and a Good Reason to Use Pallets Over Store-bought...

As you can see from the photos, the herbs in the planter boxes are now well-established and thanks to the British weather, well-watered and wind tested too! The boxes drain well, and there is plenty of room either side of the boxes for plant pots.

The total cost of the project was £10 (USD$14), not including the plants. I spotted this planter in a German lo-cost supermarket chain for £40 (USD$56), and it's smaller with less planting area and you'd still need to paint it!

Moreover, from taking apart the pallets relatively carefully, I still have one pallets worth of wood left to build something else! The best part of this project is that it can be built by anyone, over the course of a weekend for next to nothing!

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