How to Make a Dirt Sifter




About: I have a compulsion to make stuff, all kinds of stuff. I'm glad to be here...

After putting up an instructable on making raised beds I realized I should probably go a little more in-depth on the dirt sifter since it’s a vital part of my gardening routine.  If your dirt is in need of as much amendment as mine you’ll be doing a fair amount of sifting too.  If not, well lucky you.

My sifter was scrapped together in an afternoon.  Even though it’s not real easy on the eye it functions quite well.  I’ve put thousands of pounds of dirt through it and it’s still holding up.

Step 1: The Base

The base holds up the tray for sifting.  It needs to be sturdy but also easy to carry around.  I used my favorite building materials for this project- stuff I had lying around and drywall screws.  I used angle aluminum in the corners as posts because it is nice and rigid as well as lightweight.  2x2s would work just fine.  The plywood on the horizontal pieces needs to be fairly wide to help with bracing.  In the corners of each of the posts I put 3″ deck screws to loop the cord from the tray over.  You only need them on one side but this way is more versatile.

Step 2: The Tray

The tray is were all the action happens.  The tray needs to be light.  You are going to be lifting the tray on and off the base over and over again.  It also needs to be sturdy.  The tray gets filled with heavy rocks and dirt and then gets shaken dozens of times until every thing that’s going through has done so.  Your construction needs to hold up to the abuse.

The tray sides are made out of 1x4s screwed together with metal angle brackets in the corners.  The screen is 2 layers of hardware cloth one with 1/2″ holes and one with 1/4″ holes.    The 1/2″ cloth is to provide support to help hold the weight of the dirt.

After you have screwed the sides together place the tray face down and lay the hardware cloth on it.  Take some strips of 1.5″ wide x 3/4″ thick wood (or plywood) and screw them into the bottom of the tray.  Make sure the screws go through the holes of the screen.

The handles are 16″ pieces of 2×2.  I used an angle grinder with a sanding disk to shape them so that they would fit comfortably in my hand.  Use 3″ screws to attach them to the bottom of the tray.  I had them screwed in the sides for the first year but eventually they failed and ripped out chunks of wood from the sides of the tray.

Drill a 1/2″ hole about 3″ in from the end to slip the cord through.  I like to use reinforced clothesline.  It holds up the best.  I also wrap the ends in tape to make an eyelet.  This helps with wear as well as keeping the cord secure on the corner posts.

The cord is just tied in a circle with the ends poked through the holes in the tray.  Set the length so that the tray sits about two inches above the base crossbar.  This way it won’t bang into it while you are sifting.

The handles should rest on the crossbar on the other end.  They keep the tray stable as you are filling it.

Step 3: Using It

Using the sifter is very straightforward.  You fill it with as much material as you can comfortably shake.  Push and pull the tray in front of you and the sifted dirt will fall through leaving the big stuff behind.

You’ll be amazed at how nice your dirt looks after a trip through the sifter.  Your plants will thank you too!

If you like projects there's plenty more at our site: Mike and Molly's House where we chronicle our Mighty Projects on our Mini Farm (AKA our backyard).


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    5 Discussions


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I have been using a wire dish drainer/plate drying rack. You can only do half a bucket at a time and you have to put some effort into it but it stores easier. I only need to do a couple of hundred litres of compost at a time otherwise I would be looking at one of these for sure.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I made a smaller version of this a couple of years ago that fit atop a plastic storage container. I later ran across an old sewing machine motor and attached it to the wood frame, drilled an off-center hole in a round piece of scrap plywood, then afixed that to the shaft of the sewing machine motor, plugged it in and pressed on the speed control foot peddle that came along with the motor, and let 'er shake the contents for me. Works great.

    One the size of yours would need a wee bit bigger motor but the same concept would work just the same. Speeds up the process and saves the arms and shoulders for things like shoveling dirt to keep the screener full.

    If I decide to build a bigger one, I think I'll put the screened in box on automotive valve springs to give it even more shaking action.

    2 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Please post a photo of this...I am trying to understand the placement of such a device in relation to the load it can handle. I'm debating whether to build a trommel or something like what you have done. Thanks!


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    That sounds like a great machine. You should post a picture of it. I thought about making an automated one but the idea of lugging a motor and a cord along with the rest of the sifter around the yard seemed too much to me. I could see it being useful for a stationary setup.