Build Your Own Potting Bench
By Charlie Self
Here’s a heavy-duty garden bench for the DIY’er with a green thumb.
When it’s time to pot flowering plants, or even some food plants, most of us are on our hands and knees, scrabbling around for the tools we drop and spilling sacks of potting soil over the lawn or walkway.
There’s a better way, though it does take some wood, fasteners, paint and effort. A good potting bench may have hangers for trowels and other tools, a lower shelf for bags of potting soil and pots, and a top surface sturdy enough to take whatever is thrown at it over years of use.
My design is extra heavy-duty, so it may be the last one you ever need. It is also fairly simple, with a series of rabbets into which the top sits being the only cuts that can’t easily be made with a non-powered hand tool. You can make the rabbets using a router or a table saw. I cut mine with a table saw and Bosch’s 6-in. dado set.
Potting Table Top
The outer frame is made from 2×6 with 3/4” rabbets along the full length of their inside edges. Four pieces are needed, two 28” long and two 72” long.
Internal supports are 2×6 ripped to 4-3/4” high. The plywood top is screwed to the center struts at approximately 12” intervals. It is fastened at the sides at the same intervals, and at the ends with 6” spacing.
Top & Top Framing Materials
3 pcs. 8’ 2×6 pressure-treated SYP
3 pcs. 8’ 2×4 pressure-treated SYP
1 pc. 3/4” 4×8 pressure-treated plywood
Fasteners as described in text
Kilz primer, 2 quarts
Valspar Porch & Floor Paint
(All material available at Lowe’s)
Start by selecting your 2-by-6s. Use the straightest you can find, whether PT or plain pine or fir. Using a table saw or router, cut the 3/4-by-3/4-in. rabbets on one edge of three 2-by-6s. If you haven’t used your table saw for rabbeting before, you may have to do as I did—clamp on a sacrificial fence. The outer blade just scrapes the fence, which saves the actual fence facing from being torn up. These sections of 2-by-6 become the outer frame, and the rabbet forms a shelf onto which the top fits.
Using pressure-treated lumber to build the top frame was almost a mistake; use regular 2-by-6 pine or fir lumber instead. I learned this after I assembled the top late one morning, and came out two days later to find that the 2-by-6 side boards had warped. Because the unit is going to be primed and painted, there is no real need for pressure-treated lumber anywhere but in the legs and plywood parts. The amount of warp I got wasn’t enough to justify buying more material and re-cutting the four pieces involved, but it may look a bit odd from one angle.
Remove the dado set, install a rip blade and take 3/4-in. off a fourth 2-by-6. That provides cross-bracing at the same height as the dadoed rabbets.
Begin final sizing by squaring up the ends of the three 2-by-6s. Check square with a good, accurate try-square. Cut the 72-in. long pieces first. The end pieces are 28 in. long. Assemble these with 3-by- 1/4-in. lag screws (use double-dipped, hot-galvanized lag screws). Use two screws at each junction, for a total of eight. Drill pilot holes for these, and for any other screw-thread fasteners used on this project.
Use water-resistant wood glue to seal the ends of all cuts. The glue coat is in addition to a later coat of primer. Primer is essential with freshly treated lumber; this batch took two coats for good coverage. Hold the corners together with 36-in. clamps as you drill pilot holes. Drill two pilot holes per joint, going into the end piece as well as through the face. Pilot holes should always be at least one drill size under the fastener size.
Square each corner as you go. When all four corners are fastened, check the diagonal measurements. Diagonals should be exactly the same or so close as to make any difference meaningless—1/8 in. is probably OK, but less than 1/16 in. is better. If the diagonals are off, you need to track down the culprit and re-square it, which usually means taking the entire frame apart.