My wife enjoys having a small garden of garnishes and herbs close to the kitchen for in fresh summer salads. I had built her a large concrete planter at our previous house, but we had been getting by using large terracotta pots on the deck so far at our new place. It was a stop-gap solution though, and this year for Mother's Day, I wanted to have a better planter solution in place.
I am fairly exacting though, so this planter would have to hit some design points first though.
- It must be raised, so gardening and picking can be done at a comfortable height. (We are all freakishly tall in this family)
- It must be classy looking.
- It must weather well so it lasts. ( rot-proof and sturdy materials)
- It must be light enough to easily move around on the deck, as well as not stress the wood decking.
We managed to do all this through using plastic "Stacked stone" panels, "Home-Depot" storage tubs, a welded steel frame, and a cedar cap. Overall, we are happy that this planter achieves our design goals, now we just need to wait for it to fill out and grow.
Step 1: Materials
Steel:(cut lists are in the plans, this is what you need though overall)
- 1" Square tubing - A bit over 20 feet total
- 1" angle iron - A bit over 17 feet total
- 3/4" Square Tubing - A bit over 38 feet total
- Home Depot, 64L - 3 of them
- Tando Stone panels - 4 of them, I used the "Lewiston Crest" finish (Can be found and ordered online if you want to use this exact set of prints. Or find a local dealer. They are plastic and can be cut with a regular circular saw.)
- 1x4" nominal cedar - 4x 8 foot pieces
- 1 tube of outdoor silicone, gray or clear.
- 1 can of spray foam (low expansion would be best, more about this later...)
- 1/2" self-tapping screws.
- Rust-inhibiting paint for the frame
- Cedar Stain
- Fasteners for the cedar (I used biscuits and pneumatic staples)
Step 2: Drafting and Plans.
A few years ago, I had managed to pickup a number of molded plastic panels at a lumberyard that was clearing them out. There wasn't enough to do a house, and they were cheap enough I could afford to sit on them and think about what I might use them for. I'd been fomenting this planter idea for a while, and I wanted to use them here, so I started by measuring them. I also went to the Home Depot and bought 3 of their 64L Storage totes. We have used these for storage before, and they are durable and would work well as the soil carriers.
With both those parts in hand, I measured off them and built up a plan and cutlist for a steel frame. This frame would need to support the tubs, as well as be able to use the panel clips to attach them. to do this, I would need to use 3/4" square tube, as well as 1" square tube and 1" angle iron.
Sorry my metric friends, but these prints are in imperial because of the steel dimensions. Everything else I do is in metric, as it is clearly and unarguably better, but this was faster to do like this. Thankfully, measuring tapes with metric/imperial are readily available here in Canada, so I adapted and you can too! (Also my cuts list is in decimal inches just because I can't fully accept the fractional nonsense.)
Everything was drawn on Microsoft Visio for those interested.
Step 3: Tools
This is a pretty simple project, and you basically only need 4 tool types for this.
Something to cut metal:
- I used a bandsaw, but you could easily do this with a hacksaw or angle grinder with zip disc.
Something to weld metal:
- We used a Miller MIG, which is great for light materials. Any welder that can do thin stock, even brazing, would work though.
Something to cut plastic panels and wood:
- I used a panel saw, but I've cut the same panels before with a Skilsaw and regular table saw. Depending on the speed of your saw, you can reverse the blade to get a smoother cut in plastic. A saw will also be needed to cut the cedar.
Something to drive self-tapping screws:
- I used a drill for the self-tapping screws, but an impact driver would also work fine. I also used the drill and a step-bit to perforate the tubs for drainage, but you could do that with a nail or awl if needed as well.
Step 4: Cutting and Layout
With a cutlist in hand, I went over to my good friend Chris's shop and made use of his bandsaw. He gave me a quick rundown on the operation and safety, I donned my PPE, and went to work.
This went pretty quick, as all metal joints would be butt jointed, so there was no mitre calculations or angles to offset. As I cut the pieces I did some test layouts to make sure it was all sized correctly. Things went together quickly and well.
Step 5: Welding
With the pieces cut, I headed over to my parents place where my brother, Ryan, keeps his welder. The idea was that I would weld them all up using that Miller MIG welder.
I started the welding, but I am at a hobbyist skill level at best. My welds are slow, imprecise, and nothing to write home about. After I did a few welds, Ryan's meticulous standards were being crushed by my unpractised and talent-less welds, and he was graciously, although barely, holding back from asking to take it over. I know him well enough, and happily conceded the welding gun to him and took over holding the pieces in place. He is fully certified as a welder and millwright, so this meant that it also went way faster.
We tacked up the overall frame first, and then made the internal tub support frame. Once those corners were fully beaded, we flipped the frame over, populated it with the tubs, and then welded the support frame in. This way they were all guaranteed to be level with the top lip.
I left that evening as Ryan wanted to check and grind the top welds the following morning. I suspect he might have redone my junky welds as well. When I came back the top welds were ground, and the frame also magically had a coat of rust paint.
Bonus Activity: Find all the antlers in the shop pictures. There are at least 7 individual sets visible
Step 6: Test Fit and Plastic Cutting.
With the frame ready, I did a test fit of the panels. I snapped them together and then marked where I would be making my mitred cuts on the panels to join the corners.
I neglected to get any pictures of the plastic cutting because I was watching my fingers, but it was all done on a panel saw at my work. It's a special type of table saw designed for cutting large panels. But you could do the same thing with a regular tablesaw and guide. I used a regular ripping blade,and just fed the materials slowly. It cuts well and cleans up nicely.
Step 7: Fastening Panels
This part went quickly. I put the frame on its side, and then slid the panels down so the built-in bottom tab clipped over the bottom angle iron. Then I screwed the top panels on with 1/2" self-tapping screws. I did the front and then did the sides as well. You can see the shiny screw heads in the picture, but not for long as we'll be covering over them soon.
Step 8: Finishing the Panel Corners
Although the corners were mitred, and lined up well, I wanted to make sure they would stay, and not gap or sag over time.
I started by taping off overtop with painters tape, then I laid a thick bead of silicone into the corner to seal it. Once that was dry, I then filled all the corners with expanding foam. If you've ever worked with it, you know that stuff sticks to anything. I put foam along all the middle and bottom rails and completely covered in the corners so that the steel of the frame and plastic panels would all be tied together by the foam when it dried. (You can see a better detail of how the bottom plastic clips in these pics and how they go over the angle iron. )
I stripped the tape once it was dry. The corners were perfect. However the following day, weather got quite hot and I guess some of the foam at the core was still liquid. It expanded and forced the corners out to about 3mm gap. Sad times, but nothing that a bit of gray silicone can't hide
Step 9: Preparing the Tubs
While I was fastening the panels to the frame, I had my 7-year-old son working on preparing the tubs. We don't want any root rot, so they needed to have drainage. I setup a drill with a 1/2" step bit and had him drill out the bottoms around the perimeter. Then he filled them all with 3" of lava rock as a drain substrate from a flowerbed we are taking out. Now they were ready to be placed and topped with Soil.
Step 10: Cedar Trim
I bought a bit of cedar, and then made the top according to the print dimensions. All corners were mitred, and all joints were biscuited. It was all glued, but I also used an air stapler to tack it as well. Then I gave it a coat of Deck varnish.
It sits over the top and hides the top of the totes, but is independent of the frame. This way I can remove it and take totes in and out as needed still.
Step 11: Fill and Plant!
I like making things. So planting seemed a bit anticlimactic to me, but who cares. It is the purpose of the project. I topped the tubs with soil, placed them in the frame, and then we planted an assortment of herbs and salad vegetables.
The frame isn't really that heavy. And because the facing is plastic, not stone, and only has 3 tubs of soil, the planter is fairly easy to move. I can drag it by myself, or lift it with the help of one other person. If this were a real stone and concrete planter, it would be hundreds of pounds heavier. Possibly too heavy for our wood deck. But as is, it fits the bill perfectly.
Good luck if you build one. I'd like to see the pictures. Once I catch up on a few more of my other projects, I might come back to this one and add in automatic watering. I have enough room in it to be able to hide some nice controls and route some hoses discreetly in the back....
This is an entry in the