Assembling a Potter’s Bench
When we’re not pecking away at the computer sharing our passion with you via this column, we spend time as the home improvement editors on television. Recently, our producer asked us to come up with a project that would be fun to build, be useful in the garden and wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. Bingo! We had the perfect project in mind – a potting bench that one of us had recently come across in our collection of old how-to periodicals.
The potting bench is to an avid gardener what a good workbench is to an eager do-it-yourselfer. Since we qualify as both, this was an appealing project.
This is no ordinary potting bench. It is a garden work center that gives seedlings and cuttings a coddled start. For gardeners and plants alike, it combines the best of all worlds – a plywood work surface for potting and pruning, a built-in metal bowl for potting soil storage or as a water supply and a soil bed for seedlings. And, the base is open allowing you to tuck your knees under the bench when seated at a stool or to store bags of soil or other tools and materials below. You can build one of these in a weekend, for less than $150.
First, the materials needed: Our potting bench is made of a combination of pressure-treated wood, redwood and exterior-grade plywood. It can be left outside without fear that a season or two of rough weather and voracious pests will ravage it. We brought our material list, complete with cut lengths, to our local home center and, for a small extra charge, had all of the material cut to size for quick and easy assembly.
Materials: Pressure-treated lumber: three 6-foot 4-by-4s, three 6-foot 2-by-4s, one 8-foot 2-by-4, two 8-foot 1-by-4s and one 10-foot 1-by-4.
Redwood: one 6-foot 1-by-2, two 6-foot 1-by-4s, two 6-foot 2-by-8s, one half-sheet of three-quarter-inch exterior plywood, one 4-foot square of one-half-inch mesh galvanized screen, one 4-foot square of landscape fabric, one 16-inch-diameter stainless steel salad bowl, one box of two-and-one-half-inch coated construction screws, one box of one-and-one-quarter-inch coated construction screws and 14-gauge wire staples.
When it comes to tools, you don’t have to have a full-blown workshop for this project. If you have the material pre-cut at your local home center you won’t even need to pull out a circular saw. However, you will need a saber saw to cut a hole in the plywood for the bowl. The most important tool you’ll need is a powerful cordless drill to drive the screws used to fasten the various parts. A tape measure, combination square and level will also come in handy.
With a 2-by-4 in one hand and a screw gun in the other, let the project begin. We found that building the frame of the potting bench upside-down on a flat, dry surface to be easiest. A garage, patio or carport floor will do. Start by making a horizontal box by attaching the front and back pieces (A) to the side pieces (B).
Stand the 4-by-4 legs (D) in each of the four corners and attach them with three screws at both sides of the corner. Next, using the measuring tape and a pencil, mark a point 31 and a quarter inches from what will be the potting table end of each of the 2-by-4s. Also, mark a center point on one side of two of the 4-by-4 posts (D) about 3 to 4 inches in from one end. Align the marks on the posts with the marks on the front and back pieces (A) and fasten them using three construction screws.
The next step is to install the three short pieces of 2-by-4 (C) that will be used to support the seedbed. Screw one to the middle legs and evenly space the other two on what will be the seedbed side of the potting bench. The last step before turning the frame over is to install three leg braces (F) and two cross braces (E). The braces will ensure a sturdy assembly by preventing the frame from rocking side to side or back and forth. Before attaching the two cross braces with screws, use a level to make sure that the pair or legs at the center and at one end are plumb. The frame is now finished and can be turned over to complete the rest of the work.
Use the four pieces of 2-by-8 (G and H) along with two screws at each corner to make a square frame that measures 34 and one-half-inches per side. This will serve as the frame for the seedbed. Cut the mesh screen to 34 and one-half-inches square and attach it to one side of the frame with the 14-gauge staples. Flip the completed seedbed over and line the bottom (on top of the mesh) with a layer of landscape fabric to prevent the soil from falling through. Position the seedbed on the frame so that it is flush with the front, back and one side. Place the precut plywood top (I) on the frame next to the seedbed and fasten it with construction screws.
Place the bowl upside down on the plywood top (I) and trace a pencil line along the entire rim of the bowl. Use a saber saw to cut approximately one-quarter inch inside the line – the entire length of the line to create a hole for the bowl. You will need to drill a small hole in which to insert the saber saw blade to begin cutting. Place the bowl into the cutout. Complete the construction by installing 1-by-4 trim (K and L) at the rear and two sides and 1-by-2 trim (J) at the front. By this time you should have used all of your precut material. If you still have pieces remaining, go back and check the plan and retrace your installation steps.
With the bench complete, the fun begins. Fill the seedbed with potting soil and dig in. Your thumb will be greener than ever and you’ll be the envy of your neighbors.