Got pallets? Make a mobile home for your favorite tropical plant by putting a planter box, constructed from shipping pallet planks, on wheels.
Since this box will support a lot of weight, take the time to choose sturdy, blemish-free pallets for your building materials.
You should be aware of some challenges. It can be hard work to dismantle a pallet to harvest the planks. You may need to pound and pry to remove the nails. Try a flat, clawed hammer or a pry bar to avoid damaging the surface. Smooth rough patches with sandpaper or a wood plane to avoid compromising the wood’s character.
The porous wood may harbor bacteria, so scrub it with bleach and soapy water before using. Still intrigued? Collect a stash of pallets and start building your boxes!
To avoid a lot of dismantling, start, as we did, with two pallets of the same size that feature even, undamaged planks set close together.
Then, using a circular saw to cut through the center of each pallet’s width, split the pallets into four equal pieces, preserving the ends to use as attachment points (and reduce the amount of nailing you’ll have to do).
On the four ends of the pallet pieces, mark a straight line about 2 inches down from the planks.
With the circular saw, remove the wood below the marked line. Clamp the pallet piece to a sawhorse to stabilize the wood as you cut it.
Place the cut planks of one piece atop the attached end of another piece. Adjust the placement of the planks so they are spaced evenly on the end.
Narvas used the tailgate of his pickup at this stage but a worktable or sawhorse would work as well.
When the planks are placed where you want them, fasten them in place with finishing nails. Two per plank is plenty.
Following the same process, assemble the third side of the box. Now that it can stand on its own, Narvas found it easier to put together the remaining pieces of the box on the floor.
Use a clamp to keep the third side stable while you add the fourth.
When everything is assembled and square, nail the planks in place.
Tap the ends of the pieces as needed with a hammer to create a straight and square edge before driving in the nails.
To ensure your box is square, measure from one corner to the opposite corner. Then do the same for the other two corners. The measurements should be equal.
Cut a piece of plywood to fit the bottom of the assembled box. Attach with two large screws at each corner piece and secure with small screws every few inches along the sides. Drill holes in the plywood for drainage.
Use at least 3/8- or ½-inch plywood (or MDF) for stability. Plants can be heavy, especially after watering.
On each corner of the bottom, attach a screw-plate caster for mobility. Align the plate and mark the holes for screws. Remove the plate and drill holes.
Replace the plate, insert and tighten screws. Repeat on all four corners.
Coat the box with a wood stain inside and out. (Only Narvas, with his steady hands, could do this without latex gloves and a protective sheet or drop cloth under the box. If it were me doing it, the stain would be everywhere but on the wood.). When dry, add a second coat if you want a darker finish.
When stain is completely dry, apply polyurethane sealer inside and outside to protect your finished box from the elements.
Place a contained plant inside your box and top with moss. Or add potting soil and plant directly into the box. The casters will make it easy for you to move heavy plants in and out of sunshine or rain.
Look for free materials on craigslist.org or freecycle.org. Spread the word on Facebook.
Visit retail stores, appliance companies, and small manufacturers; they’re more likely than big companies to toss pallets and shipping crates in the dumpster.
Other likely suspects include construction sites, distribution centers, processing plants, trucking terminals, recycling centers, and landfills.
Always ask before you take someone’s discarded lumber. Try first thing in the morning or late in the day when staffers have more time to help you.
Think long term, since your pile of pallets is not likely to materialize with one call. When you develop a relationship with business owners or construction managers, they’re more likely to give you a head’s up about available materials.
© Caruth Studio