Well, it's spring. At least in the desert Southwest it's properly spring. I know plenty of other people around the US are still getting pummeled with snow, but here on the Colorado Plateau it's time for planting.
Last summer we replaced a big area of river rock with soil. You can see the corner of that area in the picture of the planter. I didn't get sod for it, so you can see that it's still a fairly patchy chunk 'o lawn.
Doris wants to grow herbs, and her arthritis makes kneeling down for a garden bed difficult, so she asked me about getting a raised planter.
Having done extensive home renovations on this house and my previous house, I have a moderately robust collection of tools. However, as I've never done much fine woodworking or cabinetry, I don't have any experience building furniture--indoor or out.
So I googled around to see what people were selling. It looked like I'd be spending anywhere from $200 to $500 for a decent sized planter, give or take exactly how big it is and how fancy it is. I'm as averse to work as anyone, but I'm also cheap. If I'm going to spend the money, I figure I might as well consider it an investment in tools and skills. So instead of giving my money to someone else, I spent about $100 on lumber and another $50 on router bits to put my own together.
You don't have to be particularly handy to put together a 2x4 frame, but a planter has five panels to it (bottom and four sides). I had never done any joinery. Yeah, I could always use a crosspieces to hold together some slats to make panels, but I had visions of water and soil coming through the gaps. Besides, last year I bought a Mikita compact router (about $90), and I love to learn new, useful skills.
I decided I wanted to do 'real' joinery on the planter panels. Specifically, I decided I would rabbet the panel pieces. I write that like everyone knows what that is. Two months ago, I didn't know the word. It's what you might call a 'stair step' joint. The picture below shows you the pieces of the end panels after I rabbeted them. If you look at the upper panel, you'll see how the wood comes together. Those are rabbets:
Unless you're a hand-tool maven, you'll use a router to create those edges. I'd explain the process, but YouTube is full of proper cabinetry experts who can explain it better than I.
On top of the panel pieces you'll see my cheap-ass pin nailer from Arrow. I'm happy to report that the $30 nailer has performed flawlessly for me. The bigger name tool companies want something like $100 for a pin nailer. I used the pin nailer when I glued up the panels. You might ask: Why nail the boards if you are gluing them? Well, the pin nails are so tiny that you can hardly see them, and they make the gluing process a lot easier. Instead of clamping up all the panels carefully, I just glued them and nailed them with 1/2" pins. The nailer is driven by a compresser. I use a Porter Cable pancake compressor. You can get one of those with a couple of nailers for about $300. When I bought mine fifteen years ago, that's what I paid. I was stunned to see them selling the same compressor with three nailers recently for $300!! Those same Porter Cable guys still want over a hundred bucks if you just want a pin nailer. That's why I bought the Arrow one. If you don't have a compressor, I highly recommend one if you do a lot of moulding or door installations. That's almost all I've used mine for until recently.
Getting back to the planter. In my Googling, I found that everyone said to use cedar for the planter body because it resists rot. You can't use pressure treated wood because you don't want the chemicals to leech into the soil and consequently the food you grow. The thing is, good cedar finish wood is expensive, and I'm cheap (frugal really, there is a difference). One piece of 1"x4"x8' cedar is about $12 at Home Depot. I couldn't help but notice that everyone uses cedar for fence pickets, and those are cheap enough to fence a yard with. At my local Depot, a 5/8"x6"x6' cedar fence picket is about $3.50. Bingo. I designed my planter around those. It's about one picket long, three picket-widths wide, and about three picket-width's tall.
The planter pictured is a 2x4 frame holding five cedar fence picket panels. Being eager to do something cool with my router, I didn't just nail the panels to the frame. I grooved the 2x4 frame to receive the bottom panel, and I rabbeted the outside of that 2x4 frame so the four side panels would be flush with it. Since I don't have a router table, it was a huge pain in the butt to do all that. Having never grooved or rabbeted with a router, I enjoyed it. With some scrap lumber and clamps you can set up jigs to get it done. Again, people on YouTube can guide you if you're eager to explore that pain.
Other than the frugal usage of fence pickets for the panels, I incorporated one other cool thing into the design. If you look at the corners, you'll see they are 4x4s that have had 2x2 chunks cut out of them so the frame corners could sit in them. That was surprisingly hard to do without a table saw. The short story is that I used a circular saw. Mine cuts to a depth of 2.25 inches. So on each post, I made long cuts 2.25 inches in from the edge, and then one at the end. Of course, a circular saw doesn't cut a nice vertical line, so when you cut the surface as far as you want to go, the kerf underneath is shaped like a sector of the saw blade. That is, none of the cuts meet neatly to excise a perfect inside corner from the 4x4. A small bit of wood remains, holding the chunk you are trying to remove. Worse, if you try to lever it up and break the wood, you quickly find out that you don't have any space to pull. There's only one kerf (about 1/8 inch) of space before you are jamming the piece into the rest of the 4x4. What I did to solve this was simply make a few extra end cuts. That gave the chunk being removed more room to bend up and snap the little chunk 'o wood holding it to the rest of the 4x4. The only downside is that instead of a perfect little concave corner, you have little imperfections where the blade didn't cut and you ripped the piece out. So I was stuck chiseling that inside corner smooth. It only takes a few minutes per corner.
Anyway, that's my little build-a-planter adventure. The money I might have given to a manufacturer to do the work for me was spent on some nice router bits. The time it cost me to do it I chalk up to educating myself. The satisfaction I get from the finished product is a nice offset for all those story rejections I get.
I'd post the plans, but I didn't make any formal diagrams, just a lot of notes and some hand-drawn bits with sloppy dimension lines on them. Besides, if you haven't figured it out yet, I'm not really qualified to tell you how to build a planter.