A plant press is very easy to make from simple materials found around the house.
A plant press allows one to press plant specimens for educational use and to make unique crafts using pressed flowers and leaves.
This plant press is made from reclaimed wooden sticks that have been notched and fastened together with string to form two sturdy panels. Cardboard ventilators and newspaper are the only extra things that are needed to use the plant press to press plant specimens.
The plant press is easily expandable for multiple pressings and just as easily collapsed flat for easy transportation and storage.
Step 1: Cutting the Sticks for the Panels
I used reclaimed wooden sticks to make the panels for the plant press. As seen in Photo 1, landscapers often have piles of cut trees and branches and would be glad to give you all that you can use. Of course you can cut your own wood, just set it aside in the shade for a few weeks to let it dry.
For the panels, select wood pieces that are relatively straight and free of larger branches, as seen in Photo 2.
By using reclaimed wood, we avoid splitting and shrinkage of the wood as the wood is dry. Alternatively, .75 inch (19 mm) diameter dowels may also be used.
As seen in Photo 3, cut straight sections for the panels. Strip away the outer bark as seen in Photo 4. You can strip away the brown inner bark but I left it in place as I liked the patterns the knife made when the inner bark was removed in places.
Using a knife, round the edges of the wooden sticks as seen in Photo 5.
For each panel you will need 6 sticks 15 inches (38 cm) long and 6 sticks 21 inches (53 cm) long.
Arrange the sticks to create a panel so that the 6 longer sticks are perpendicular to the 6 shorter sticks in a grid-like pattern. This arrangement allows for the movement of moisture-laden air so that the pressed plant specimens dry as quickly as possible.
Exact spacing of the sticks is not important, just arrange the spacing to your liking.
Step 2: Cutting the Notches
To join the longer sticks to the shorter sticks, cut a notch in each stick, wherever two sticks come together. Cutting notches into the wood creates stronger joints and keeps the panel about the same thickness as the individual sticks.
Start by marking the width of the upper stick onto the stick below as seen in Photo 1 and 2. Using a hand saw, make two cuts halfway through the stick, as seen in Photo 3. Use a chisel to remove the wood (Photos 4 & 5). Use a knife or wood file to smooth any rough spots within the notch.
Repeat this procedure for the rest of the sticks. You will need to make 72 notches in total for each panel.
Step 3: Tying the Panel Together
Assemble the panel together so that each stick is nestled into the notches as seen in Photo 1.
Cut 6 lengths of jute twine 14 feet (4.3 m) long and starting with one, fold it in half to form a loop.
Place the twine loop diagonally around the front of the first joint in the panel, as seen in Photo 2.
Turn the panel over to the back side and ensure that the two wood pieces are snugly within the notch of the opposite piece and tie it together with a square knot as seen in Photo 3.
Use the jute twine to lash the joint together by making 4 diagonal wraps, 2 in each direction around the joint. Wrap above and below the joint 2 times as seen in Photo 4, and then on the back side of the panel tie a square knot.
Twist the two lengths of the jute twine together on the back side of the panel and proceed to the next joint as seen in Photo 5.
Continue lashing the joints together with the jute twine. The 14 foot (4.3 m) length is just the right length to lash 6 joints together following the method just described.
Remember that the panel has a front and back side. As seen in Photo 6, the front side only shows the lashing. The back side (Photo 7) shows the lashings and the knots and is a little messier looking than the front, which is why it is important to consistently make all of your knots on the back side.
Now that you have made the first panel, follow the same set of steps to make the second panel.
Step 4: Making Braided Cords
Two cords are needed to hold the plant press together.
Cut 12 pieces of jute twine 90 inches (2.3 m) long. Fold in half and hang over a wire hook or nail as seen in Photo 1. Separate the twine into three groups, each with 4 stands, and braid the entire length (Photo 2). Make a knot at the end, as seen in Photo 3.
Follow this procedure to make a second braided cord (Photo 4).
Step 5: Cutting Cardboard Ventilators
Cardboard ventilators are needed to press layers of plant specimens flat, while allowing sufficient movement of air so that the plant specimens dry without molding.
Cut a piece of cardboard 12 inches (30.5 cm) wide by 18 inches (46 cm) long. Make at least 10 of these ventilators.
With the completion of this step, your plant press is finished!
Step 6: Pressing Plant Specimens
Please ensure that you have all necessary permissions and permits needed to collect plants for pressing.
To press plants you will need newspaper or newsprint paper cut roughly to the same dimensions as the plant press.
Open up the plant press and lay one of the panels on a flat surface or on the ground. Place a cardboard ventilator on top of the panel as seen in Photo 1.
Take advantage of any offers of help (Photo 2). Especially if it is windy, a friendly assistant can hold down the ventilators to keep them from blowing away (Photo 3).
Place a folded sheet of newspaper on top of the ventilator. On the margins of the newspaper, write the date, name of the plant (if known) and the location where the plant was collected, as seen in Photo 4. If the plant collection is for scientific or educational purposes you will want to record other environmental attributes found at the site and record the location coordinates of the site.
As seen in Photo 5, open the folded newspaper and place the plant inside the folded newspaper and arrange the plant so that it will press nicely. Don't include too many plants on the same sheet as it will take longer to dry.
Fold the newspaper over the plant specimen and place a cardboard ventilator on top of the newspaper (Photo 6) and then add the upper wooden panel on top of the cardboard ventilator (Photo 7) and press down on the plant specimen. Place a temporary weight on top of the plant press and continue collecting additional plant material, pressing as before.
Once you are finished pressing plant specimens, use the two braided cords to tie the plant press together, as seen in Photo 8.
Apply stones (Photo 9), books or other similar items having weight, to the top of the plant press. The weight creates enough pressure, ensuring that the plants press and dry flat.
Step 7: Drying Plant Specimens
If you live in arid areas your plant specimens should dry within two days. Areas with greater humidity will require more drying time and periodic checks to note the condition of the specimens. If the newspaper is damp, replace it with a dry one, remembering to copy the information written on the original newspaper. Specially made blotter paper, or additional sheets of newspaper can be used below and above the newspaper to aid in drying the plant specimens.
Numerous plants can be pressed at one time. Cardboard ventilators can be added as needed.
Step 8: Scientific and Educational Value of a Plant Press
Despite its humble rustic appearance, a plant press is used to make important contributions to science. The famous Scottish-American naturalist, John Muir, was an avid botanist and made many new discoveries of plants. He used a plant press to document his discoveries by drying plant specimens (Photo 1) and in conjunction, recorded his observations in his journals. Muir also spent time drawing specimens as well as sketching some of the scenes from his botanical adventures (Photos 2-6). Can you see his plant press in his self portraits?
I have collected plant specimens (Photo 7) and used my rustic plant press to dry them. Many of my pressed plant specimens are now in the Smithsonian Institution as records of plants in my region.
Step 9: Final Thoughts
The plant press is simple to make from materials that are recyclable, reclaimable and freely available. The plant press is strong and durable. I regularly take my plant press with me on extended field excursions. It even doubles as a seat at the campsite!
When emptied of the dried plants, newspaper and ventilators, the plant press packs down compactly, tied together with the cords. The cords make a nice handle that allows the plant press to be carried easily. The plant press can be stored away on a shelf or tucked under the desk. The plant press has a wonderful woodcraft look to it and can even be hung on the wall, in display fashion.
Many people have asked me about my unique wooden plant press and so I wanted to share how I made it in case you want one too!