The planter box project provides a multitude of design options. Planters can be modified and built to custom sizes, shapes, and soil depths, and there are many ways to explore different finishing elements for customization. The wood can be sourced new from a store, or from a local mill, or can be re-used or repurposed from another source. The pieces can be pre-cut and pre-drilled for novice builders, while more advanced makers can start by salvaging wood from a reclaimed source, processing and cutting the pieces to size. This project also supports a myriad of cross-curricular ties across the BC curriculum from biology to food studies, First Nations studies, art, metalwork, and many more depending on the interest of the students and instructors. This project is also an ideal one to introduce students to wood types, especially western red cedar, as a uniquely robust option for outdoor (and perpetually damp) projects. As the project does not require sanding, the cedar dust can be kept to a minimum, allowing for the safe use of red cedar in a classroom setting. Thank you to René Ragetli and his helper for developing this project tutorial! (Click "watch step-by-step tutorial" below) Go to https://youtu.be/QpQXxVv_ZhA to watch the project webinar hosted by two artists, Dean Heron, Indigenous Communities Catalyst for Construction Foundation of BC, and Adea Chung, entrepreneur and owner of Billy Would Designs. Download Project
Tools & Materials
- 1" x 2" SPF, fir, or cedar lengths
- #8, 1-1/4" decking screws (42 per planter)
- 1" x 4" SPF, fir, or cedar lengths
- Optional: finishing materials such as copper sheeting, copper wire, copper refrigeration tubing, paint, brass plates, etc.
- Safety glasses
- Robertson driver for cordless drill
- cordless drill
- Robertson hand screw driver
- Optional: to pre-drill, use a 3/32" bit
- Optional: to pre-cut, use a chop saw or cut off saw
- Optional: rotary tool for etching brass plate detail, propane torch and solder set-up for making wire decorations, etc
- Optional: work board with ~1/2" tall square for aligning boards during building (see webinar below for details)
- Optional: wood burner, carving knives, rotary tool, etc, for finishing work
Cut list: Four 1" x 2" x 13.5" side rails (long), four 1" x 2" x 10.5" side rails (short), twelve 1" x 2" x 11" side panels, three 1" x 4" x 9" bottom boards (interior), and two 1" x 4" x 12.5" external "feet" boards.
Pre-drill the long and short rails, as well as the bottom boards and exterior "feet" boards (see video tutorial for hole position and spacing).
Place three side panels (1" x 2" x 11") together side by side, then lay one short side rail (1" x 6" x 10.5" ) along the top. Secure with three screws: one into the middle of each side panel. Note: if the side rails have not been pre-drilled they may have a tendency to split. To avoid this, pre-drill the holes, or drive the screws in slowly, staying at least 1" away from the very end of the board.
Lay another short side rail on the bottom of the panel, and secure with 3 screws as in step 3.
Repeat steps 3 and 4 to make a second side panel.
Use the long side rails (1" x 2" x 13.5") and repeat steps 3-5 twice to make two more side panels. Centre the three side panels so the side rails overhang equally on each side.
Stand the four sides up, creating an open box. Screw the two sides with the long rails to the two sides with the short rails, placing one screw where each long rail sticks out over a short rail (8 in total, see video for screw placement details).
Decide which way is "up", then turn your planter upside down and lay the external "feet" boards (1" x 4" x 12.5") on the bottom, within 1" of the edge of the box's bottom. Secure with screws (6 in total), one into the middle of the bottom (end grain) of each side panel (not into the rail pieces).
Turn the planter right side up and place the three bottom boards (1" x 4" x 9") into the interior at right angles to the exterior "feet" boards. Secure the bottom boards with one screw into each end (6 in total).
Use thin copper strips to add a border, cutting a design into it using snips or scissors and attaching it with small copper nails. See webinar video for more examples from Dean Heron.
You can make a metalwork sculpture to "plant" amongst your plants. Bend a length of heavy gauge copper wire into a shape, leaving a length of about 5" of wire sticking straight down from your shape. Cut a piece of refrigeration tubing approximately 12" and insert your wire. Apply flux around the top of the tubing and on the wire that pokes out the top. Use a propane torch and solder the wire to the refrigeration tubing according to the photograph. "Plant" your new decoration into the soil of your planter.
See "extensions" section for more finishing ideas. Planters can be used as is, or painted, wood burned, and decorated as time allows.
Pre-cut (and pre-drill) boards (this can be prepared in advance for novice builders if needed)
Build the side walls (this works well if you build it with a partner, and have a work station with a 1/2" raised square to line up your boards on)
Put the box together
Finishing the planter - options:
- Invite an Indigenous local carver or artist to guide you in traditional techniques with which to decorate and customize the planter boxes. Knives and other tools can be used to add texture to the boards, or other embellishments incorporated such as painted designs, sheet copper detailing, etc.
- Use a wood burner to create designs on your planter.
- Use a rotary tool to etch a design onto a brass or metal plate/plaque, then drill holes in it and affix it to your planter box.
- Build two planters out of different wood, do not apply finish, and observe how the different materials degrade over time during outdoor use. Example: red cedar vs maple.
- Research a few different types of commonly grown garden plants or locally significant plants, or speak to a gardener who might want to use a planter you build, and customize your planter depending on the depth of soil required, the amount of drainage required, etc.
- Research types of trellises and build an addition on your planter to accommodate sweet peas, runner beans, or any type of vine that requires support.