How to Build Your Own Potting Bench

Build an indoor-outdoor potting bench to be proud of, using inexpensive lumber, peg-board and simple tools.

| June/July 1995

You can't buy a decent potting/planting bench any more. The garden-goods mail-order catalogs occasionally list mini-benches stapled of thin mystery wood and dyed to resemble California redwood. With some reinforcing they might do for a space-short apartment dweller repotting a few house plants, but they are too puny for any half-serious country gardener.

You can buy seed-starting batteries ...if you have money to spare. A pair of four-foot-high, bobby pin—shaped metal tubes holding tiers of trays under dual-bulb/4-foot- long, full-spectrum fluorescent lamps go for prices ranging from $300 to $1,500 or more. Worth it maybe if you grow prize-winning African violets, but mighty pricey for giving the tomatoes a few weeks head start each spring.

Here's a combination potting bench/ starting battery large enough to handle all your indoor-gardening chores. It is made from inexpensive 3/4-inch-thick #2 pine shelving and 1/4-inch-thick peg-holed hard-board panels. You can buy the major components cut to size at most large home-improvement centers. It's easy to construct with household tools, tough enough to hold up, and if you stain the wood, will look great in the back hall or out in the sun room.

The work counter can be as high as your legs dictate, and it is a robust 4 feet wide by 2 feet deep—though, if space is limited, you can lower the top and narrow it to three or even two feet in width. The top has a 3-foot-high (or two-foot or 1 1/2-foot-high) peg-board back offering space to hang tools or install shelves or a shallow cupboard. With the addition of a few plugin light fixtures and sturdy, easily adjustable shelves, it will hold enough seed-starting flats to start the tomatoes plus plenty of broccoli, eggplant, celery, early cabbage, and annual flower seedlings for most homestead-sized gardens.

Dimensions and specifications needn't be followed exactly. Boards should be cut to lengths given unless you change height or width. But, since the actual width and thickness of lumber is about 1/4" or so less than "nominal" (you pay for wood removed all around to plane it smooth), all measurements incorporating width or depth are done on the job.

If you have a bench saw you can rip (cut lengthwise) any inch-or-so-thick lumber, new or scrap-the more dirt-and waterproof the better if you will be using it outdoors. A good alternative would be nominal 4/5" (actually 1-inch-thick) cedar or pressure-treated pine decking; rip the 6-inch-wide boards to the widths specified in the plan. Especially for the bench top, you can use thicker soft wood. hardwood such as oak or hard maple would be better if you want to use the bench for heavy work and if you have the stock, tools, and skill to work it.

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