Our patio will be awesome this year. There – we said it. We will step our game up like never before and disallow the hail storms, late starts, or basement floods (God forbid) of yore to slow us down. Our ambitious goal for the year involves a complete makeover, including the construction of custom flower boxes to more than double our planting space. Like most of our projects, this one started with a trip to Home Depot, but this time Jack tagged along.
Our first trip involved some hands-on research in the lumber department. We quickly ruled out pressure-treated wood because it can’t easily be painted. We ruled out Cedar because it comes in weird sizes and is crazy expensive if you want high-grade.
This left us a little stumped and somewhat downtrodden, but after some googling I stumbled upon this tutorial, and we finally set out to build some simple, affordable planter boxes out of good-old-fashioned plywood. The great thing about this design is that it’s inherently simple and can be built to fit any area with a little adjustment. It can also be embellished and trimmed to any degree you see fit.
We were shooting for approximately 10 linear feet of 9″ by 9″ boxes, so we began by having a HD associate rip our plywood into 9″ strips on the horizontal. We then had the 9″ x 8′ strips cut to 4′ and 2′ lengths, but admittedly, we wish we hadn’t. The cuts weren’t perfectly square on the ends, and a few were more than 1/4″ off in length. This isn’t a huge deal, since all of the seams will be trimmed, but I’m confident that I could have done a more precise job at home.
4′ x 8′ plywood, cut to 9″ strips
45′ door & window corner trim (to trim finished boxes)
8 – 6″ L brackets
galvanized 1 5/8″ screws
paintable caulk (with appropriate gun)
Zinsser Bullseye 1-2-3 primer
exterior semi-gloss paint
2 mil plastic drop cloth (for lining)
drill(s) with spade bit, screwdriver bit, and countersink bit
tape measure & square
All of these tools and products are pretty straight-forward. Our goal was to spend under $100 on materials, but it ended up a little over budget and came in right around $120. (Keep in mind, we purchased everything, down to the last nail for this one. We just so happened to be out of supplies that we normally have on hand, except for the primer.) We actually found this to be quite a nice price point, as many of the 48″ solid wood boxes we found online were upwards of $100 each. We ended up with two 48″ boxes and one 24″ box for nearly the same price.
As with any of our projects, if you’re not comfortable safely operating any of these tools, please enlist the help of someone who is. We certainly don’t want anyone getting hurt in the name of patio flowers.
Enough about materials. On to the fun part! As I mentioned, the design is really nothing more than a plywood box. All of the cuts for the box can be simple chops of your plywood strips. Just remember to measure twice and cut once, since we always try to plan things so that we waste as little material as possible.
Again, we weren’t out for perfection on this one, as the boxes will sit outside our deck’s railings and will be mostly out of view. We were however concerned with a sturdy final product that looked good, and could be safely supported to hang 20′ off the ground. We jumped right in and started measuring and cutting our desired lengths.
Our small box, which is designed to grow a few tasty herbs, measures out to around 9″ x 9″ x 24″. Here’s how the dry fit looked. Again, incredibly simple.
We again put our entire line-up of Milwaukee drills to the test, with one drilling pilot holes, one countersinking (or chamfering if you prefer) and one driving screws. This is certainly a job that can be easily accomplished with one drill, but we had 3 on hand, so it was easiest to have one bit on each drill for speedy construction.
Remember to assert a bit of pressure when joining the end pieces to the bottoms and sides. This will ensure a tight fit. Oh, and remember to hide your face.
Here’s how the 24″ box came together. Once we had our cuts made, it was assembled in just a few minutes. Total time for this simple box, start to finish was around 20 to 30 minutes.
…And just for scale, here’s how the 3 boxes turned out. Admittedly, they’re a little larger than we initially envisioned. We think 7″ to 8″ would be more than adequate width x height, but again, the most important thing here is scale. Like I said, we’re going big this year.
Here’s the approximate screw pattern we ended up using. Again, not pretty, but the ends will be trimmed, caulked and painted when it’s all said and done. If you end up with any unsightly gaps in your corner junctions, don’t worry too much. We’ll be caulking everything later to keep it all as water-tight as possible.
A quick sand (with our new Ryobi sander that I convinced Kim was absolutely necessary for this project, mind you!) to remove splinters and ready things for primer is a good idea at this point.
Next we moved on to the corner trim. Careful measuring and 45 degree cuts on the ends will ensure a nice, tight fit. Remember, the trim will serve to spruce things up and hide the unsightly, open ends of the plywood, so take your time on this step. We used simple finish nails (and a nail set tool where necessary) to attach the trim to the plywood.
After trimming the tops and bottoms with this pattern, I cut end pieces with 90 degree ends to hide the vertical plywood ends. You get the idea:
We then used a 1/2″ spade bit to cut drainage holes approximately every 6″ in the bottom of the boxes. (A standard drill bit would work out just fine.) This will let excess water drop swiftly out the bottoms, and keep the wood from rotting.
All in all this project has been pretty painless so far. It’s taken a bit more time than we estimated, but the weather was gorgeous this weekend, so it was a perfect excuse to spend a couple of afternoons out on the deck. I would say I’ve invested around 4 or 5 construction hours so far, with Kim helping out when I needed another set of hands.
All we’ve got left to do is caulk, prime and paint, then line everything with plastic and we should be pretty good to hang the boxes and start planting. Part 2 of this here tutorial will be coming as soon as we can get those ducks in a row.
Has anyone else tackled custom planters from wood or any other material?