"What the hell is a Plant Press and what is it good for?" I hear you ask? Well... as the name suggests it is something used to flatten and dry plants in order to make herbaria. It can be simply for hobby use or one can use it for scientific studies.
Most of the Plant press designs on the internet consist of just two wooden boards clamped together with bolts or straps. I decided to try out something bit more challenging in terms of woodworking. I am quite glad how it turned out - let me know in the comments what you think! What do you think what else could be pressed with this contraption (books, cheese, tofu, tortilla?!?)
The idea for this build came when I was finishing my studies at university and had a floristics course. I had to make herbarium consisting of 20 different plants. As you might have guessed the main tool in making a herbarium was a plant press. I saw the press that my university had and thought to myself "This is a nice woodworking project to try out!". I just needed a reason to build one as I was certain that a press in my hands would not get too much use. The reason came when a colleague asked me to build one for her. As I was really excited (as always) and decided to build two and give one as a gift to my university. I plan on giving the other one to the university as well since the client got cold feet.
This plant press is a cool little project that can be built in a single day with not too complex tools. Follow me along as I give tips and show you how I built mine. Be sure to check out the YouTube video (will be added soon!) that I made and if you like my work be sure to leave a comment and subscribe!
If you this ´ible worthy be sure to give it a vote in the Woodworking Contest!
Step 1: Tools and Materials
For this build, you will only need
- A wooden board with a thickness of around 2.5 cm or 1 inch. It should be big enough to make two sides out of. The size of the press depends entirely on how big you want it. As newspapers are mostly used to dry plants, I decided to make mine so that one entire sheet would fit with a bit of space left over. You can also use this wood for the supports of the shaft or use scrap wood as I did.
- Wood for the shaft. This should be something you can easily turn. In the end, the shaft should be around 7-10 cm in diameter and just a bit wider than the width of the press. Alternatively, you could probably find a round wooden post that you can cut grooves in ( Although I think you could even get away without the grooves and just with a straight shaft.)
- Something to turn the lever handle out of. I used firewood which worked well.
- Metal rod with a diameter of around 1,5 cm and length of 30cm
- Rope of your liking. Should be at least 5 mm in diameter. (1-2 meters)
- Wood glue (and epoxy)
- A few screws
- Finish of your liking
In this ible´ you will see me use quite a few scary power tools, but know, that it is not a must. As the saying goes "The best tool is the one you have"!
You will need:
- Something to cut the board to size. I used a table saw but a regular circular saw, jigsaw or hand saw would work as well.
- Coping saw or jig saw or scroll saw or band saw
- A lathe when you plan on turning the shaft yourself.
- Handheld drill or drill press with drill and spade bits
- Something to cut the metal rod with - angle grinder with a cut off disc or metal saw.
- Something to sand with
As I quite enjoy woodworking I decided to try out some advanced joinery rather than just glueing parts together. If you want to make a similar-looking plant press you will also need a router with a dovetail bit.
Interested in my depth gauge? See how I made it over here!
Step 2: Top and Bottom
I started by cutting the boards to size. Nothing special about it, just simple straight cuts. The base of my plant press ended up being 45x33 cm
Next up I decided to add some cross-supports. One could also just glue these straight to the wooden boards but I decided to try some interesting joinery. It adds much more strength and gives a sleek look. I used my homemade router table to route grooves to the wooden boards. I really would not recommend plunging right in as I did in the second GIF. This is really hard on the blade. Instead, I should have made some relief cuts with a table saw or a straight bit on a router.
If you are interested in my router setup you can find out how I built it in this article .
Step 3: Adding the Reinforcment
I first routed the groove and then cut the support piece to size. It could also be done the other way around, but I would say that it is much more hassle and when you mess up you lose more.
When cutting the width of the cross support I carefully crept up on the perfect fit on the table say. I left just a tiny bit of wiggle room to be later filled with wood glue. The glueing process was quite fun as you can see :D
To get a really good glue joint I also clamped the boards. You can see four sides clamped together as I was making two sets of presses simultaneously.
After the glue had dried I decided to also add a chamfer to the edges. I did it with a table saw. This added a really sleek look to it.
Step 4: The Shaft
As the wood I was planning to use for the shaft was square I decided to cut the corners off to make the turning process go faster. This is something a lot of woodturners do as it takes less time and is easier on the turning tools.
The turning process itself is pretty easy as well. Begin by turning it into a cylinder first and then make two grooves on both ends - one that hoses the supports and one that holds the rope once you start tightening the press. You can get a better hunch by looking at the fourth photo. I think the press might even work without these grooves so you could skip this step.
The only little mistake I made with this project was that I first made the shaft and its supports and then cut the chamfer to the main top and bottom of the press. The problem was that the supports were hanging over the sides just a few millimetres. Luckily it was not a big mistake as I could make some cosmetic changes to the supports. You can see my mistake when you look closely to the fourth photo. To avoid this mistake, of course, the solution would be to cut the chamfer first and then produce the shaft and its supports.
Once the shape is right I drilled holes in the shaft so that the press could be tightened with a lever. I marked the hole locations by taping an A4 paper spirally and marking the line. Then I just drilled the holes equal distance from each other and gave a little chamfer to the holes with a rotary tool.
Last but not least was attaching the rope. For this, I drilled a through-hole in both outer grooves for the rope and then enlargened the hole halfway through so that the knot could be hidden under the surface. The length of the rope is a personal preference. If you plan on pressing a large number of plants simultaneously then you should leave it a little longer. If not, then 20-30 cm between the top and bottom plate is enough.
Step 5: Supports for the Shaft
As the shaft needs to stand on something you also need to make "legs" for it.
Just simple bracket will do the trick. You can cut it out whatever shape you can come up with. The only important thing is that it has to hold the shaft in place.
These supports are attached to the top with wood glue and screws. I used some nice looking brass flatheads for this to give an extra little detail.
Step 6: The Lever
The lever is there to help you crank the shaft and thus put pressure on the plants.
If you are familiar with woodturning then you probably already know how to make a simple handle. If not, then here is how it goes. Find a suitable piece of (fire)wood and turn it to favourable shape. Cut a 30cm long section of metal rod and sand/polish it if needed. Take the handle and drill a hole right in the centre of one end with a right-sized spade bit. I did it freehand as my lathe does not have the capability to drill centred holes. The freehand method works but be prepared to mess up- I took me several tries to get it right. It is really easy to bore through the thin wall of the handle.
I also decided to add a metal ring on one end which adds strength and is visually appealing. I took a piece of metal pipe and cut around 15 mm section off of it. On the lathe, I crept up on the right size so that the metal ring would be a tight fit. Later when I attached it I also added a tiny bit of epoxy to make sure it definitely would not come loose. Epoxy was also used to glue the rod in place.
You might be wondering whether two levers would be needed to apply a good amount of pressure. This is exactly what I thought but as it turns out it is not true. One lever is enough as you can also hold the shaft by hand when cranking the lever.
Step 7: A Quick Introduction to Pressing Plants
The art of making a herbarium is easy. Simply take a plant, put it between a stack of newspapers and apply pressure with your newly made plant press. Change out the newspapers a couple of times a day until the plant is completely dry. The only challenging part is to actually find a specimen you want to dry!
Here are a few videos to get you started with making your own herbarium.
A few recommendations from me are:
- Remove excess material- drying a whole plant takes a lot of time and will not look so good. Remove some branches and leaves to make it more refined. Thicker branches and roots should be cut in half lengthwise with the cut face on the non-visual side.
- Set the leaves and blossoms positions before you start drying. It is really hard (nearly impossible) do it once the plant has dried.
- Change the newspapers once or twice a day - with "juicier" plants even more often.
- Once the plant is dry use thin strips o masking tape to attach the plant to a piece of paper.
Step 8: The End!
And that is it - I hope you liked my project and learned something new from it. I surely did enjoy making it.
Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions. I am more than happy to answer all of them.
If you think this ´ible is worth it, be sure to give it a vote in the Woodworking Contest!
Runner Up in the