Craft, Cultivate

Building Garden Boxes

  • Finished garden box

One of my goals for January is to get a garden planted. A real, live garden with lots of different veggies. This is something we’ve been wanting to do for a while. It was even one of the criteria when we were house hunting – at least enough yard space for a garden. Our yard is not big, but there is space for a few raised beds! I am going to try out the square foot garden method to get me started in my gardening adventures. You can read more about what that entails here, but the purpose of this post is to focus in on the building of the garden boxes themselves.

Since one of my other new-found loves is woodworking, I’ve been looking for good, simple projects that can help me hone my skills. Like using the miter saw, for example. Building garden boxes seemed like a perfect fit! They required some planning, measuring, cutting, and drilling, but they certainly didn’t need to be perfect. With some advice from Hubby, I decided to tackle the building ALL BY MYSELF.

Supplies

We decided to use redwood for the garden boxes. The heat here in Phoenix is brutal on wood, so we decided to give these boxes the best chance of long-term survival by using redwood (cedar would have worked well here too). The rest of the items listed are what we used for finishing the wood and then putting it all together.

  • 12 foot – 2×8 redwood boards (x3), cut into 4 foot lengths
  • 10 foot – 2×4 redwood boards (x4), cut into 5 foot lengths
  • (One extra 6 foot 2×4, you’ll see why later but here’s a clue — **measure twice cut once**)
  • Deck screws – 3 inch and 1 1/4 inch
  • Corner brackets (x16)
  • Screw Eyes
  • Twine
  • Watco Danish Oil

Cutting

We got the 2×8 boards pre-cut, so building the main box frame was as easy as screwing four of them together with the corner brackets, while doing my best to keep it square and the ends flush.

We used the 2×4’s to build a cap for each box. This required some more specific measuring and a miter cut on each end for the corners. There was some complex math for a beginner involved here, which Hubby helped with. How long to make each cap? The 2×8’s we used for the frame were 1.5″ thick, and the 2×4 would sit flush across the top of them. The width of the 2×4 is actually 3.5 inches. So take the width of the 2×4, subtract the thickness of the 2×8, and split that difference to calculate the overlap for each end of the cap: 3.5 – 1.5 = 2/2 = 1. So the cap should be 1 inch longer on each end than the edge of the box it is sitting on.

To make the cuts, I measured the length of the box, plus 2 inches. Then I cut the first 45 angle on the 2×4, measured from the longest part of the tip, and marked where I wanted the opposite tip to end up. Carefully scrutinize where the blade is going to make that cut, and make sure it is just on the outside of the line, so as not to cut into the actual board length needed.

Placing these cap pieces on top of the box also required some careful measuring. There was a 1 inch overhang from the box to keep them centered, and then careful placement to get those corners to line up as best as possible. I partially screwed down the first three boards with very careful measurement of the 1 inch overhang (so they were in place but could still be tweaked in or out). Then I fit in that final board, making adjustments to the full square cap, and set the final screws.

Measure Twice Cut Once

So about that… there was one little mistake that I made while I was building the caps for the garden boxes. For one of the 2×4 boards, I only measured the length of the side, and forgot to add the extra 2 inches to my cut length. The result? Well the board was too short, obviously. And since we hadn’t purchased any extras, I had to wait a few days to finish the boxes, until we had a chance to get that extra board.

Believe me — every cut after that one was measured more like three times!! The newbie woodworker here definitely needs to double check EVERYTHING she does. Especially before something so permanent as a cut. Lesson learned (hopefully)!

Finishing

Once they were all put together, I added three eye screws to each side, evenly spaced. I am going to use these once the garden boxes are filled with dirt, to run twine across the box as separators for each square foot “plot.” Lots of people use thin pieces of wood (like lathe) as a more permanent divider, but I opted to use twine for now.

The last step was to apply two coats of Danish oil to seal the boxes. I did a lot of reading about “safe” sealers to use. As best I could find, linseed oil seemed like a good solution. Danish oil is boiled linseed oil, and while you wouldn’t want to use it on something that is in direct contact with food (like a cutting board or wooden utensil), it is non-toxic and even safe to use on children’s toys! It was the most readily available solution I could find, so I went with it.

After the sealing, voila – the garden boxes were ready to make their debut in the backyard! Can’t wait to see them full and overflowing with veggies!

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