How to Make a Soil Sifter

Learn how to make a soil sifter that takes the weight off your back with these plans for a wheeled sifting box in a frame.

March 2015
By Chris Peterson and Philip Schmidt

Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency

Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency (Cold Springs Press, 2014), by Chris Peterson and Philip Schmidt, shows you exactly how to build dozens of projects for a self-sufficient lifestyle, with beautiful photos and complete plans for each. Four categories—Food Prep & Preservation, Homestead, Garden and Animals—cover a broad range of popular projects, often with a creative touch or two to make them easier to build or more efficient to use.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency.

Sifting your soil is an excellent way to refine the foundation of your garden. The basic idea is to sift the soil through a screen much as you would sift ingredients for baking. Sifting “cleans” the soil, removing large organic objects such as rocks and debris like broken glass. The process improves the texture of the soil, loosening it to allow for better water and air penetration. It can also remove old weed rhizomes—root systems that could grow new colonies of weeds. The benefits include improved drainage and moisture retention so that your plants’ roots are more likely to get the water they need without becoming waterlogged or rotting.

You can take the opportunity of sifting your soil to blend in amendments such as compost, manure, or other nutritional additions. It’s a great way to create a premium top soil that will get your garden off to a great start—and keep it growing strong throughout the season.

Sifting soil can be done with nothing more than a sturdy, thick mesh screen held by the edges. But if your garden is like most, you’ll be faced with sifting quite a bit of soil and a simple hand-held screen will be quite laborious to use. That’s why the design of the sifter described in the pages that follow is a bit more sophisticated. It uses a sifting box equipped with wheels, and this box sits in a frame. You sift the soil by rolling the box back and forth within the frame, saving a lot of energy, effort, and sore backs. If you want to make the rig even handier and easier to store, add handles to both the sifting box and frame.

The sifting frame has been sized to fit perfectly over a standard wheelbarrow. But if you are using another container to catch the sifted soil, or if your wheelbarrow is a different size, adjust the measurements to suit. This could even be used over an empty garbage can or barrel. Once you’ve constructed the sifter, sift soil for your whole garden, container plants, or anywhere you want clean, effective top soil. Your plants will thank you.

Tools and Materials

• (4) 1-inch rigid casters (uni-directional)
• 1/4-inch or 1/2-inch galvanized screen
• Cordless drill and bits
• 1-1/4-inch washer head screws (also known as lath screws)
• 2-1/2-inch deck screws
• 1-1/4-inch wood screws
• 1-1/2-inch-wide metal angle
• 3/4-inch x #8 pan head screws

Cutting List

Materials table

Make the Soil Sifter

Build rails

1. Drill pilot holes through the frame guides and into the 1 x 3 frame stiles. Screw the guides to the stile with 1-1/4-inch wood screws, ensuring that the guides are aligned along one edge of each stile. These guides will serve as tracks for the soil-sifting box.

Corner brackets

2. Join the frame rails to the stiles with a metal angle at each corner.

Attach screen

3. Screw the sifting box ends to the box sides with 2-1/2-inch deck screws. Cut the screen 1/4-inch less than the size of the box. Screw it to one side with washer head screws, then stretch it tightly and screw it to the opposite side. Use at least 4 screws per side.

Attach casters

4. Screw the casters to the back and front ends of each box side so that the wheels face toward the ends.

Soil sifter

Sifting soil is largely a lost craft in the garden, but one that can go far toward improving your soil and making your plants grow as healthy as possible.

More DIY Plans from Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency:

DIY Compost Bin Plans
Multi-Purpose Garden Trellis Plans


Reprinted with permission from Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency: DIY Projects to Get Your Self-Reliant Lifestyle Started by Chris Peterson and Philip Schmidt and published by Cool Springs Press, 2014. Buy this book from our store: Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency.

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