We live in a heavily wooded area, which means lots and lots of deer. Previous attempts to use deer repellent spray on our garden just resulted in our dogs constantly licking the plants (I think the stuff was supposed to taste like rotten eggs, which really isn't a deterrent for my dog). We already have a 5-foot split-rail fence around our yard, but that's to keep the dogs in, and doesn't do squat to keep deer out. Deer can jump really high, and we didn't want to have to put up a 7 or 8 foot fence.
I wanted to build raised garden beds anyway, so I decided to make them deer-proof by adding a simple wooden cage structure with deer netting on top, and gates to allow easy access to the plants inside. I'll say right off the bat that this is not the cheapest way to do this. The project came out to about $300 per bed*, most of which was for the wood. If you just want to keep deer out of your existing garden, then it should be much cheaper to just build a simple PVC frame and hang up the netting. We wanted something that would be sturdy, long-lasting, and aesthetically match the adjacent 5-foot cedar split-rail fence - so no PVC, and no secondary 8-foot fence. Even though the resulting structure is only 5 feet tall, it's small enough (length x width) that deer can't really jump into it. If you want to build a bigger one, you could always put netting on top too (we didn't do that because tomato plants have a habit of growing freakishly large in our climate - they're already poking out the top).
I am by no means a master woodworker - I don't own a table saw, and I didn't know what a lap joint was before I started this project. I needed something that would be relatively simple for one person to build using a drill and a circular saw or miter saw (you can actually do the project with just a drill and a hand saw, assuming the lumber yard will cut everything to length for you, and you forgo one of the diagonal supports on the gates - more on that later). I've also never written a woodworking Instructable before. So, I've written the directions in a very step-by-step, (hopefully) beginner-friendly manner, and also included a video. This might seem like overkill to more experienced builders, who can probably just look at a drawing of the complete design and go from there. But, I figure it's analogous to electronics projects, which I'm more familiar with - just throw an entire circuit at a newbie all at once, and it's confusing. Better to take it one component at a time.
If you're an experienced woodworker and this project makes you cringe - because my methods or results are ugly or flat out wrong, or because you see me doing something where I might cut my fingers off - please leave a constructive comment. It will help me out in the future and I can update the Instructable accordingly with useful notes.
Ready to get started? Head on to the next step for a complete materials list.
* Update: I thought that seemed pretty expensive compared to the PVC-and-netting alternative, then I saw this. Definitely WAY cheaper to build it yourself!
Step 1: Materials
- (6) 4"x4"x8'
- (9) 5/4"x6"x8' (referred to as "five quarter decking" - slightly beefier than 1"x4" to hold the weight of the soil)
- (10) 1"x4"x8'
- 3", 2", and 1 1/4" decking screws
- T50 8mm staples
- (2) gate latches (see pictures)
- (4) gate hinges (see pictures)
- Garden netting, at least 4' high and 25' long (although typically sold in at least 50' rolls so this shouldn't be an issue). This stuff comes in a variety of colors (typically green, black, or metallic), can be plastic or metal, have hexagonal or rectangular grids, and different size grids. Pick whatever suits you best. Available at both hardware stores and on Amazon. I went with black plastic in a rectangular grid.
- Power drill
- Drill bit set
- Circular saw
- Miter saw
- Safety glasses
- Hammer or mallet
- Bar clamps
- C clamps
- Carpenter's square
- Wood glue
- Tape measure
- A flat, level surface like the floor of a garage is ideal. If possible, make sure you have enough space to flip the whole structure over onto its side, which makes some of the assembly easier.
* After some quick googling, it seemed like cedar was a pretty common "natural rot resistant" choice for garden beds, so I went with it. I purchased all the wood at Medford Cedar Products in Medford, NJ. They had a much better selection of lumber and price per foot was better than Lowe's. I was also able to get some lower-quality 4x4's at a 25% discount since I wasn't using them for anything structural like a deck. Check around with local lumber yards to see if you can get discounted lumber. Cedar is very expensive - here's a good summary of your other options if you don't want to spend as much money (summary: regular lumber is cheap but will rot much faster, pressure-treated lumber is cheaper than cedar and will last forever, but the chemicals can leach into your plants so you probably don't want to use it for anything you plan to eat).
** I started out with 10mm staples but they wouldn't drive all the way into the cedar. Also, the 2" screws probably weren't necessary, but I used them in some places.
***This is a complete list of the tools I used, but you can do the project with less. If you don't have some of these tools available, then:
- Get the lumber yard to cut everything to length for you (see next step), and you won't need the miter saw. You will still need a hand saw to make a few diagonal cuts.
- Just make a single diagonal support for each gate ("/" instead of "X"), and you won't need the circular saw, hammer, wood glue, or C-clamps.
- Get a friend to help you hold things in place and eyeball 90 degree angles and you won't need the bar clamps or the carpenter's square.
This step starts at 0:14 in the video.
Step 2: Cut the Wood to Length
Here's a cut list for the wood. Remember to ask if you can get this done at the lumber yard if you don't have a way to do it at home. Also note that many "8 foot" pieces you purchase might not be exactly 8', so double check their length and shorten if necessary (I made that mistake with my first few pieces, then wondered why things didn't line up).
- (6) 4"x4"x5'
- (6) 5/4"x6"x8'
- (6) 5/4"x6"x3'
- (4) 1"x4"x3'
- (2) 1"x4"x8'
- (4) 1"x4"x41"
- (4) 1"x4"x39"
- (4) 1"x4"x53" (note - these will be mitered diagonally later)
This step starts at 0:30 in the video.
Step 3: Assemble the Two Short Sides
Assemble the two sides as shown.
- Line up two 4x4s so they are parallel and about 3 feet apart.
- Lay three 3' pieces of decking across the bottom.
- Lay one 3' 1x4 across the top.
- Make sure everything is square.
- Pre-drill holes and then secure each piece of wood with two screws into each 4x4. I used 3" screws for the 5/4" decking and 2" screws for the 1x4.
Note: sometimes I have a hard time just following pictures in woodworking projects, so I've included drawings for most steps as well. If you want to click through all the drawings at once (without pictures), jump to the last step. I made the drawings with Inkscape.
This step starts at 0:43 in the video.
Step 4: Connect the Two Short Sides
- Stand the two short sides up as shown, with the 4x4s flat on the ground. They should be thick enough that the sides won't fall over if you're on a level surface. The decking and 1x4s you attached in the previous step should be facing outward, away from the other side.
- Lay three 8' pieces of 5/4" decking across the bottom and an 8' 1x4 across the top. This is where the clamps or a friend to help you hold things steady will start coming in handy. Make sure everything is square, then pre-drill holes and again, attach each piece of wood to the 4x4's with two screws.
This step starts at 1:25 in the video.
Step 5: Flip the Whole Thing Over and Repeat
- Carefully flip the entire structure over, so the long side that you just assembled is now resting on the ground.
- Repeat the previous step - lay three 8' 5/4" decking pieces across the bottom, and one 8' 1/4" piece across the top. Pre-drill holes and screw into place.
This step starts at 1:47 in the video.
Step 6: Attach the Middle 4x4s
- Measure the center mark of the 8 foot 1x4s and 1x5/4s on each long side.
- Clamp a 4x4 in place, lined up with the center marks.
- Pre-drill holes and screw into place.
This step starts at 2:19 in the video.
Step 7: Add Top Cross-supports
- Clamp two three-foot 1x4s into place at the top of the 4x4s you added in the previous step, as shown in the pictures.
- Pre-drill holes and screw into place. Again, I used 2" screws on all the 1x4 connections.
This step starts at 2:31 in the video.
Step 8: Building the Gate: Square Frame
- Get two 41" 1x4s and two 39" 1x4s.
- The gate is slightly wider than it is tall. Line the pieces up as shown, with the 39" pieces on bottom and the 41" ones on top.
- Make sure everything is square, then pre-drill holes and screw into place. Here is where screw length does matter - you want to use the 1 1/4" screws, as 2" screws will be too long.
This step starts at 2:47 in the video.
Step 9: Building the Gate: First Diagonal Piece
Just because I'm an engineer doesn't mean I wanted to do math. This is where things probably get a little ghetto, so advice from skilled woodworkers on how to properly make diagonal braces like this would be appreciated. But, here's what I did:
- Take one of the 53" 1x4s and lay it diagonally across the square frame.
- Take a straight edge and, looking down directly from above, draw a line on the diagonal piece that lines up with the edge of the 41" piece below it (look at the picture and that will make sense). Do this on both ends.
- Cut along those two lines, and you should have a diagonal piece that fits into the frame - on top of the 39" pieces, flush with the 41" pieces. Don't screw it into place yet!
- Not perfect? Good thing you're building a garden bed and not a house.
This step starts at 3:07 in the video.
Step 10: Building the Gate: Second Diagonal Piece
Repeat the process from the previous step with a second 53" diagonal piece, forming an "X". If you don't have the tools to make the lap joint (next step), you can skip this step and make a gate with just one diagonal.
This step starts at 3:29 in the video.
Step 11: Building the Gate: Lap Joint
By now you might have realized a problem. The second diagonal piece can't really sit flush with the other one. It's on top of it. This is where a lap joint comes in - essentially cutting away half of the depth of each piece of wood in an overlapping area, so the two pieces can be flush. I had no idea how to make one, but googled it and found this incredibly helpful tutorial. While it looks like it's a lot easier to make lap joints with a special blade for a table saw (which I don't have), you can also do it with a circular saw, hammer, and chisel. Here's what I did:
- If you weren't wearing safety glasses already (shame on you!), wear them for this step. I had a 2" splinter of wood bounce right off them as a healthy reminder of why we wear safety glasses.
- Temporarily screw two pieces of scrap wood in place to prevent the top diagonal piece from rotating.
- Clamp the two diagonal pieces together at their centers.
- Draw lines on top of the bottom piece and on bottom of the top piece, along the edges of the other respective piece (see picture).
- Unclamp the pieces. You'll be cutting out the area between the two lines you drew on each piece of wood.
- Clamp one piece down to a table or workbench.
- Set your circular saw cut depth to half the thickness of the 1x4 (remember that 1x4s are actually 3/4" thick, not 1").
- Make a whole bunch of parallel cuts with your circular saw. As you can see, I was not very systematic about this.
- Use the chisel to knock out the remaining wood. Like the guy in the video said, make sure you're holding the chisel the right way, with the beveled side down.
- Repeat the whole process for the other piece of wood.
This step starts at 3:44 in the video.
Step 12: Building the Gate: Attaching the Diagonal Pieces
- Pre-drill holes and screw the first diagonal piece (with the lap joint facing up) into place (see picture for screw locations).
- Put down wood glue in the lap joint, place the second diagonal piece, and screw into place.
- Secure with C-clamps while the glue dries (read the directions for drying time).
This step starts at 4:56 in the video.
Step 13: Building the Gate: Attaching Hinges
- Prop the gate up on some scrap wood (which you should have at this point). The screws that come with the gate hinges are long enough that they'll poke through the 1x4.
- Line the hinges up along the vertical (39") piece, one at the top and one at the bottom.
- Screw into place using the screws that came with the hinges. I did not pre-drill these holes and it turned out OK. Note that the screws might actually be slightly too long, and stick out the back of the 1x4 slightly. I just used a Dremel to cut off the tips of the screws later on, because I was too lazy to go back to the hardware store to buy shorter screws.
This step starts at 5:15 in the video.
Step 14: Hanging the Gate
- This is another step where having a friend to help you hold things in place is great.
- Cut small shims that you can use to rest the gate on while you're hanging it. Rest the gate on the shims and see if the gaps above and below it are even.Their exact thickness will depend on the tolerances of everything you've built so far, so this may require a couple tries.
- Adjust the left-right position of the gate so the hinges line up with the 4x4 post.
- Screw the hinges into place onto the 4x4.
- Make sure the gate opens and closes. If not, you may need to adjust the hinges and try again.
This step starts at 5:29 in the video.
Step 15: Attach the Gate Latch
Screw the gate latch into place on the center 4x4 post. Follow the directions on the package to make sure you get the two pieces lined up correctly.
Important: depending on where you will be placing the garden bed, you may want to wait until it is in place to do this. The entire frame is pretty weak in torsion. So, if you attach the gate latches while it's sitting on a perfectly level surface, then move it to a not-so-level surface, they might not line up anymore. I learned that the hard way the first time around.
This step starts at 5:48 in the video.
Step 16: Build a Second Gate!
Repeat steps 8-15 to build and attach a mirror image of the first gate.
Step 17: Attach the Netting
Here is where you REALLY need a friend to help out. One person should pull the netting taut while the other person operates the staple gun.
- Get started with one of the 4x4 posts on the outside of one of the gates. Staple the netting to the outside of this post, but make sure you leave a few inches of overlap at the top and the bottom (in this case, I had 4' netting, which was more than tall enough - so I had plenty of overlap at the bottom, but made sure to leave some at the top).
- Use scissors to make vertical cuts at the top and bottom of the netting so you can tuck it inside the horizontal pieces of the frame.
- Work your way around the frame, pulling the netting taut and adding staples as you go. Cut vertical slits at the corners to avoid warping the netting (see pictures). The way I stapled the netting (outside the 4x4s and inside the horizontal pieces) is really an aesthetic choice - you could do everything outside, everything inside, or invert what I did. The point is to keep the critters out - so do whatever you think looks good!
- Cut rectangular pieces to staple inside each gate.
- All done! Now you're ready to move the thing and set it up!
This step starts at 6:12 in the video.
Step 18: Lesson Learned: Be Careful Moving the Thing
I built two of these. My wife and I were able to lift the first one with a bit of a struggle, and had to walk it all the way around our house, through or driveway, and into the side yard. I had the brilliant idea that I was going to put casters on the second one to make it easier to move. However, I didn't attach the gate latches because of the previously-mentioned alignment problem. This meant the gates could swing inward. The moment I tipped the whole thing on its back so I could attach casters to the bottom...one of the gates swung inward under its own weight and promptly broke. Poor decision. Luckily I had purchased one too many 1x4s and was able to quickly cut a new piece and repair the gate...and then make sure I secured the gates with zip ties before trying again.
An easier solution might be to just have four people lift the thing instead of two. If you're incredibly ambitious, maybe you could stand in the middle and lift the whole thing yourself. Just try to avoid sliding, and be ESPECIALLY careful when rotating it since it's weak in torsion. Ultimately, just get the thing to wherever you're going to put it.
Step 19: Level the Soil and Place the Frame
Again, the whole frame is weak in torsion. This means you really want to put it on level ground. It doesn't have to be perfect, but do your best. We raked out a patch of dirt and eyeball-leveled it, then placed the frame and shoveled more dirt (or removed it) under the four corners as necessary until the whole thing was level-ish. Again, you're building a garden bed, not a house. One note on location: the gates actually add a bit of shade, so try not to have them south-facing if possible (or north-facing if you're reading this in the southern hemisphere).
Note: "I have to take pictures, I'm writing an Instructable" is a great excuse to get your spouse or significant other to do the manual labor.
Step 20: Plant a Garden!
This part I'll leave up to you. We ordered two cubic yards of topsoil and used about 3/4 of it to fill these. As seems to be typical in southern New Jersey, our tomato plants are growing like mutants. Do deer even eat tomatoes? Hopefully, now I'll never have to find out!
Step 21: Appendix: Drawings All in One Place
If you want to click through all the drawings all in one step, here they are.