Thursday, February 27, 2014

How To Make a Stand for a Rain Barrel

We recently bought two rain barrels for our house and realized we needed stands both for elevation and stability.

Project Description

This how-to details the step-by-step process for constructing a rain barrel stand out of salvaged pallets for basically no cost. You can certainly use store-bought or nicely milled lumber depending on the look you're going for.

Time: 3 hours
Cost: $8.47 for a box of screws

Completed rain barrel stands; design 1 left; design 2 right

We ended up making two different stand designs using the same materials. The first one has the barrel sitting at the top of the stand with a 1" lip to prevent the barrel from sliding off. The second one drops the barrel 6" below the top of the stand to provide more stability against being blown off the stand when it's empty. I'll reference both designs in the walk through.

Supplies Needed for This Project

The lists below reflect what we used for our stands for 55 gallon plastic barrels.

Measure your barrel and adjust the lumber cuts as needed to accommodate the size of your barrel and your elevation needs.


  • Lumber from pallets
    • Short supports: 6 pieces of 2x3 boards cut to 22"
    • Long supports: 6 pieces of 2x3 boards cut to 25"
    • Legs: 8 pieces of 2x4 boards cut to 24"
    • Slats: 5 pieces of 2x4 boards cut to 22"
  • A box of 3" decking screws


  • Wood saw; we used a compound miter saw
  • Measuring tape
  • Square
  • Drill; we used both a corded and cordless
  • Large C-clamps (3)
  • Pencil


These are the steps we took to complete this project. Please modify to fit your own project. :)

Step 1: Decide on the stand size and design

  1. What size stand do you need to accommodate your barrel?
    Design 1: Turn the barrel over and measure the diameter of the bottom; this is the minimum width that the inside of your stand will need to be; the bottom of our barrel is 18" and the inside of our stand is 22" square.

    This is reflected by the short cut which is 22". The measurement of the long cut is [short cut] + 3". (Note: A 2x3 is actually 1.5" x 2.5"!) So, you can pretty easily adjust these measurements as needed if your barrel is larger in diameter than 18".

    Design 2: Calculate the circumference of the barrel at the widest point where it will sit inside the stand. We measured the first ribbed ring on our barrel that sat below the spigot (so that the stand would not interfere with it) and got 67". Divide this by pi (3.14) to get the diameter; on our barrel this was 21.34" which still fit nicely inside the same 22" stand from design 1.

    For design 2: Measure the circumference 
  2. How tall does your stand need to be?
    If your rain barrel is on level ground and the area you need to water is at the same elevation or lower, then the height of 21" of this stand should be sufficient. However, if you plan to try and water anything uphill from your barrel, then this is probably not the stand design for you.
  3. What lumber do you want to use?The project time estimate does not take into account gathering materials. It took my partner a couple of hours to break down some large pallets and another hour to pull out the nails; but it saved us a lot of money.

    Removing nails from salvaged lumber

Step 2: Make all the lumber cuts

The number of boards and cuts will vary depending on the material you salvage or buy.  Lay out your boards and using a tape measure, mark the places for each cut. Then using a square, draw a straight line at each point.

We had several 93" 2x4s which is 3" shorter than a standard 8' board so we were able to get two legs (24") and two slats (22") from each board with the least amount of waste. For our 2x3s, we were able to get two long pieces (25") and two short pieces (22") with the least amount of waste.

Measure and mark the lumber for all cuts

I suggest labeling everything to keep your materials straight using leg, slat, long, or short on each piece as you cut.

Cut the lumber to size using a wood saw

Step 3: Assemble the legs

We decided to put two 2x4 pieces together instead of using 4x4s. Look over the eight leg pieces and decide which ones you want to face out and which ones should be hidden. (This matters more for salvaged wood that might look crappy.)

On four of the leg pieces, you'll need to mark the areas where the three side pieces will attach, as well as mark the screw holes for attaching the two pieces together. Decide which end is the top and which is the bottom of the leg and write that on the wood. Perform all measurements from the top to the bottom for consistency.

Design 1: Mark the following on each leg.
  • Mark a line 1" from the top; this is where the top lip will attach.
  • Mark a line 3.5" from the top; this is where the middle 2x3 side piece will attach.
  • Mark a line 18.5" from the top.
  • Mark a line 21" from the top; this is where the bottom 2x3 side piece will attach.
  • Measure the distance between the middle and bottom side pieces; on our legs it was 14.5". Mark three holes roughly equidistant in this space. We marked holes at 2", 7.5", and 12". 

Lines and holes for design 1

Design 2: Mark the following on each leg.
  • Mark a line 2.5" from the top; this is where the top 2x3 side piece will attach.
  • Mark a line 6" from the top.
  • Mark a line 8.5" from the top; this is where the middle side piece will attach.
  • Mark a hole between the first two side pieces.
  • Mark a line 18.5" from the top.
  • Mark a line 21" from the top; this is where the bottom 2x3 side piece will attach..
  • Measure the distance between the middle and bottom side piece; on our legs it was 10". Mark two holes roughly equidistant in this space. We marked holes at 3.25" and and 6.75".
Lines and holes on legs for design 2

Take one of the leg pieces you marked and sandwich it with an unmarked piece, then clamp them together using two C-clamps. Drill pilot holes at the three places marked on each leg. Use 3" screws to attach the 2x4s together. Do this for all four legs.

Design 1: Leg assembly

Step 4: Attach the short pieces to the legs

Using the lines marked on the legs in step 3, line up short pieces (22") on top of two legs, making sure that the nice sides of the legs are facing you. Attach one side piece at a time for stability.

For each side piece, mark and drill pilot holes first, then attach with two screws on each end of the side piece. Repeat for the other two legs.

Short side pieces attached to legs for design 2

Design 1: We attached the side pieces that create the top lip at the very end to make it easier to attach the slats (see step 7).

Step 5: Attach the long pieces to the legs

Place the two assembled sides from step 4 on their edges and line up long pieces (25") across the legs, attaching one at a time.

For each side piece, mark and drill pilot holes first, then attach with two screws on each end of the side pieces.

Design 2: Attach the long pieces to the frame

Once you have three sides of the frame together, flip it over and attach the final long pieces to complete the stand frame.

Design 1: completed stand frame minus top lip

Design 1: We attached the side pieces that create the top lip at the very end to make it easier to attach the slats (see step 7).

Step 6: Install the slats

Attach a slat to the legs on one side of the stand using two screws per leg on a diagonal for added support. Mark and drill pilot holes first. You might have to shave a little wood off the length of your slats depending on how tightly the frame fits together. Repeat on the other side.

Design 1: The slats should be flush with the top of the legs.

Design 2: The slats should be flush with the tops of the middle side supports.

Design 1: add the two side slats first

Measure and mark off three, equidistant 1.5" segments for the remaining three slats.

Measure and mark the center slats

For each slat, put the slat in place in the frame, then use a scrap piece of wood to clamp it in place and ensure it is level and even with the side slats. Measure and drill pilot holes and attach all three slats to one side of the frame. Then using the scrap piece of wood, clamp the slats in place on the other side of the frame and attach with screws.

Clamp slats in place to attach

Step 7 for Design 1: Add the top lip

Attach the remaining four side pieces to create the top lip using the same methods in steps 4 and 5.

Design 1: Completed stand

Voila! You're now ready to install your rain barrels on your stands. The reason we left 3" below the bottom slat is to allow for some leveling and anchoring into the dirt but if your stand will be on a flat surface like a deck or cement, you can lower this slat to meet your needs.

We used heat-treated and pressure-treated lumber so we're not too worried about protecting it (plus we like the "rough" look), but you can always paint or stain your stand for durability and to achieve the look you want.

Last but not least, we got to try out the rain barrels for the first time yesterday. They started to overflow after a mere 0.2" of rain.

Did this walk through work for you? What changes or improvements did you make?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

How To Build a Raised-Bed Planter from Salvaged Materials

This project was inspired by a video from the Food is Free Project about how to create a salvaged pallet planter using a wicking bed method. I was quickly frustrated by the lack of detail in the plan and the implication that this is a quick and easy project. I hope this walk through will make the process less painful but also outline the amount of work! Two people are recommended for this project.

Project Description

This how-to details the step-by-step process for creating a raised-bed planter out of salvaged materials that wicks moisture from a reservoir underneath so more moisture is maintained in the soil, meaning you don't have to water as often.

We first made a small planter then created a double-sized one for more planting space. If you can find the materials and have the space, I would recommend creating the larger planter to give yourself more versatility in what you are able to grow.

Time: 6–8 hours
Cost: $0–$50

The time and cost of this project will vary widely depending on several factors namely what materials you already have on hand; how long it takes and how far you have to go to procure materials you don't have; and how much you have to pay for those items you don't have or can't get for free.

I will note in each step what our costs were.

planter boxes made of pallets, on a lawn in front of a fence
Completed double and single planters

Supplies Needed for This Project

The amount of supplies for this project is extensive and will vary based on what items you are able to salvage. The lists below reflect what we used for our planters.


  • single-sided pallets measuring 29" x 41" (small planter: 4; large planter: 6)
  • wood joiners—metal plates with teeth (small planter: 4; large planter: 6)
  • 4" decking screws (8-12)
  • short, galvanized screws (8-12)
  • a box of penny nails
  • large political sign, 4' x 8' or equivalent corrugated plastic material (small planter: 1; large planter: 2)
  • piece of heavy plastic large enough to cover the bottom of the planter and go up the sides 8"
  • crushed glass or gravel, enough to fill the bottom of the planter 6" high
  • 1" PVC pipe, two pieces, length dependent on the size of the planter
  • wicking material (cloth), like burlap sacks (small planter: 1; large planter: 2), an old bed sheet, towels, etc.
  • garden soil


  • large C clamps*
  • crowbar
  • hammer
  • measuring tape
  • corded drill
    • drill bit the size of your decking screws
    • 1/4" drill bit
    • 1" spade bit
  • extension cord*
  • wood saw
  • hacksaw
  • large T-square*
  • long level
  • box cutter
  • shovel
  • wheelbarrow or bucket
*helpful but optional


These are the steps we took to complete this project. Please modify to fit your own project. :)

Step 1

Figure out what size planter you want to make and stake out a spot in your yard that gets at least six hours of sunlight daily and is fairly level as the planter needs to be level. The less level the ground is to start, the more work you'll have to do to level out the ground.

Step 2

Procure your materials. See what you have lying around and what you need to get. The greatest time sink for us was finding materials we could salvage. The main component of the project is the pallets so start there. You can often find pallets being given away on Craigslist, but we ended up calling a local pallet company that sold used pallets for $2 each. When we showed up and explained our project, the guy gave us a whole stack of them for free.

I can't stress this part enough: Try to get pallets that are the same or very similar. This will make putting your planter together much easier and minimize or prevent having to make special cuts or adjustments to the frame.

Cost: Free, minus gas money to haul them back home

small trailer loaded with pallets and a man standing next to it
Getting our pallets from a pallet company

Step 3

Decide on the height you want for your planter box based on the pallets you procured. Our pallets had five horizontal boards and for the look and height we wanted, we needed to remove the bottom boards. This did two things: firstly it created "legs" for the planter box that we used later to anchor it into the ground; secondly, it provided a board we could re-use for the top of the planter (see step 6).

To remove the bottom boards, position a crowbar between the board and support, then use a hammer to jam the crowbar under the board to where you can start to pry off the board. Be careful because these boards tend to be brittle (pallets not being made of the best wood) and can easily crack. You'll need to do this in two to three places on each pallet.

As you remove each board, remove any nails or hammer them flat so they are out of the way. Set the boards aside.

Planter height of 21.5" after removing the bottom board

Optional step: Our pallets had two end boards and a middle support. We decided after building the small planter that the middle supports were not really necessary but they were impossible to remove. We wanted to avoid having to dig extra holes, though, for these legs so we cut them off, leaving just the four corner posts (six posts on the large planter).

Step 4

On flat, level ground (we used our garage), dry fit your planter box together up-side-down so that what's level is the top of the planter box; if you removed the bottom board in step 3, then the feet of your planter should be up. Figure out how the pallets best go together. Again, this will vary based on your materials. Once you have a general idea of how you want it, clamp the posts together at each corner. This isn't necessary but makes putting it together a lot easier.

Small planter dry fit and held with clamps

If building the large planter, Step 4.5: The long sides of your planter will require two pallets. The horizontal boards on the pallets extend past the supports so you will need to cut off this excess material on the pallets you'll be using for the sides. Removing this material allows the support posts to fit together flush. I recommend deciding which pallets you'll be joining for the sides then writing clearly which piece is which (front right, back left, etc.). Once you have marked the pallets, cut off the excess material with a hand saw. You should only be removing the overhang of one side of each of the four pallets that will make up your sides.

Center of the side for the large planter with excess wood removed so supports fit together flush

Step 5

Okay, so you have your planter essentially created but now you need to put it together. Using the 4" decking screws and a corded drill, secure the pallets at the corner posts (and the center posts along the sides for the large planter). You might need to drill pilot holes for the screws if the wood is particularly dense. We used two to three screws per post. For additional support, we used one wood joiner per post. This is a metal plate with teeth that is hammered into place where two pieces of wood come together. You can find these in the decking and fencing area of the hardware store.

Cost: $0.68 per wood joiner and $5 for a box of decking screws

Secure the pallets together with 4" decking screws

Wood joiner used for extra support

Step 6

It's time to flip the planter box over; you might need help with this, especially for the double planter. Everything should hold together. If not, check your screws and make any adjustments necessary. To give the planter box a finished look, we'll use the boards we removed in step 3 along the top of the planter. Lay the boards across the support posts, ensuring each board goes across the top of at least two posts. You might need to make a few small cuts with a wood saw if the boards hang off the end. Once you have the boards where you want, attach them with small screws, one per post. If any of the boards cracked or split, you can fix this with wood glue.

Cost: Free, we used screws we had already. You can try to salvage the nails that were used to attach these boards to the pallets, but we did not have success with that.

Finishing boards added to the top of the small planter

Step 7

Haul your planter outside and assess the ground where you want it to sit. Note any slope in the ground and use a long level (both front to back and side to side) atop the planter to determine where you'll need to level the ground, keeping in mind that the legs of the planter will likely be uneven.

Checking the planter with a long level; note the slope of our ground along the bottom

Start to clear the area where the planter will sit and dig the holes for the legs. You will want to put this dirt in a wheelbarrow or on a tarp. This step took us a couple of hours for both planters because of the slope of our ground and because it's just tricky to get something like this level.

It's very important the planter be level! The reservoir holding the water needs to be even to work consistently across the entire bed.

Clearing the ground and digging holes for the large planter

Step 8

Once the planter is in place, line the inside with corrugated plastic. This keeps dirt from coming out the gaps in the pallets and, along the ground, keeps grass and plants from poking at the plastic liner we'll be adding next. Using a large T-square or measuring tape, figure out what size pieces you'll need to cover each gap. I started by cutting pieces for the planter walls, then used what I had left over to cover the ground. Use small strips to wrap around the post bottoms to at least a height of 6" to protect the plastic liner from snagging on the wood. Use penny nails to affix the plastic strips to the pallets.

Note: Face any writing on the signs to the inside of the planter so that it is not visible through the gaps.

Cost: Free for the signs and $2.50 for a box of penny nails

Small planter lined with corrugated plastic

Step 9

Add the plastic liner. It's important to use one piece large enough to cover the bottom and sides of your planter to at least 7" up the wall. Ensure the plastic is in good shape without any rips, tears, or holes that would allow water to seep out. Once the liner is in the bottom, start adding some of the crushed glass to keep the liner in place. It can be helpful to have one person holding the walls of the liner and the other shoveling in material.

Planter with plastic liner and crushed glass

Cost: Free for the small planter as we were able to re-purpose an old shower curtain liner. $5 at Harbor Freight for the large planter to get a long enough tarp.

Step 10

Attach the liner securely to the planter using penny nails. If you have excess liner, roll it up before nailing in place. Add enough crushed glass to fill the bottom of the planter to 6".

Attach the liner with penny nails

Cost: $25 for 1/2 cubic yard of crushed glass from Gardenville as this is no longer available for free from the City of Austin. This amount of material is enough for one small planter and one large planter with some left over. It's much more cost effective to buy a large quantity, so consider this if you have a way to transport and store it.

1/2 cubic yard of crushed glass

Step 11

Figure out where you want the runoff from the reservoir to drain. Measure the width of the planter and cut a length of 1" PVC pipe to size using a hacksaw. With a drill, make 1/4" holes every 4" along the length of the pipe. 

Drill 1/4" holes in the drain pipe

Lay the pipe on top of the crushed glass, holes down, making sure there is a slight downward slope back to front, front being where the water will drain out of the planter. Mark where the pipe needs to exit the planter and cut a 1" hole using a spade bit. Stick the pipe out the hole about 1.5" to keep it from moving.

Cost: Free since my parents had some old pipe to donate

Drain pipe on top of the reservoir and exiting the planter

Step 12

Figure out where you want the fill hole to be located; this is the vertical pipe used to fill the reservoir from the top of the planter. We opted to place ours on one of the sides to where it would be secured in place by going through one of the finishing boards.

Measure the height of the inside of the planter from the top of the crushed glass to the top of the finishing board. Cut a length of 1" PVC pipe just slightly longer than this measurement using a hacksaw. Cut a 1" hole through the finishing board using a spade bit. Push the pipe down through this hole to the top of the crushed glass.

Fill pipe secured in place through the finishing board

Step 13

This is the easiest step! Lay down the cloth you've chosen as your wicking layer so that it covers the top of the reservoir.

Cost: $6.50 for three burlap sacks from Mangold Grain Co in Lacoste, enough for one small planter and one large planter

One burlap sack, cut open, used as the wicking layer

Step 14

Time to fill that planter up with dirt! We had grandiose ideas of filling the planter using soil from other areas of our yard, but that proved both time consuming and frustrating. Also, the quality of our topsoil isn't great. If you have the dirt and want to use it, that will cut down on your costs. We filled the planters about half way with dirt from the yard, starting with the wheelbarrow full of dirt from leveling the planters, then added some quality garden soil to finish.

Cost: $40 for one cubic yard of garden soil, though we used only a little over 1/2 yard to fill the remainder of both planters, leaving us extra soil for other projects.

Fill the planter with soil

Well that's about it. Something to keep in mind is that cats seem to really like fresh dirt. Our cats, and the neighborhood cats, started using our planters as litter boxes; we covered both planters with some old fencing to keep them out while our seedlings get established. We are in the process of building proper mesh covers so be on the look out for our next how-to.

Did this walk through work for you? What changes or improvements did you make?