DIY: How to Build a Raised Garden Bed Using Reclaimed Pallet Wood

bed

Sometimes, digging into your yard is not an option due to underground utilities, or perhaps you wish to take advantage of better drainage. Many benefits may compel you to consider a raised-bed garden, but that is all for another article. Whatever your reasons, you will find the Internet awash with many methods to building a raised bed using different materials, from landscaping timbers to reclaimed concrete. Here at the Kinky Hose Garden Project, we like ingenious ways around common problem. Perhaps more importantly, we are also always looking to save a buck or two, and what better way to save money is to use FREE building materials? Shipping pallets are free and always in abundant supply, and here is what we came up with.

What follows are instructions on how we at the Kinky Hose Garden Project built ours using reclaimed shipping pallets. Due to sites like Pinterest, the popularity of pallet-wood projects is on the rise, but you should still be able to scrounge for a few pallets. Ask friends, employers, or your local store. You never know unless you ask. We ended up with 15 pallets of various sizes. Out of this, we made three 68×34 in by 15 in high (approximately 3’x6’x12″) beds and had some left over for a quick compost bin, but that is yet another article.

A Brief Note on Materials and Dimensions:

The materials and dimensions listed herein are approximate. Not all pallets are of the same dimensions. Neither are the boards they comprise. The drawings used in this article depict perfectly trimmed, 3 inch wide planks. The Kinky Hose Garden Project used these initial sketches to plan the project, but maintained a little creative license while constructing the beds. We were sometimes forced to make adjustments due to the quality and dimensions of the wood. For example: not all garden bed panels we built ended up with five perfect 3-in. wide boards. Some pallet boards were wider, and some narrower. Keep this in mind if you try building these for your garden. Of course, trimming your boards to uniform sizes will make assembly easier, but we opted not to do this, as we liked the rustic look that various plank widths provided.

We settled on 34 in. length per board and 15 in. overall garden bed height. We were hoping for at least a foot of soil with a few inches for mulch. You may find that different dimensions accommodate your situation better. In that respect, these instructions are meant to be a guide and simply explain how WE built ours. Although you can make creative adjustments due to board width, you must not deviate from your board length, as the length of your boards dictates the length of your beds. Whatever dimensions you choose, keep them sacred. Maintaining them is important, or the beds might look a little more “rustic” than you intend.

The Materials

Photo Apr 11, 2 35 47 PM

  • 3-5 Shipping Pallets (approximate)
  • 3         2″x4″x8′ (or 2  2″x4″x10′) treated lumber
  • 20+     3” galvanized wood screws
  • 120+   1-5/8” galvanized wood screws
  • Enough plastic sheeting to line the inner sides of the pallets to reduce erosion (optional)
  • Landscaping fabric to aid in drainage at the bottom and reduce weed/grass infestation (optional)

Note: We found that three to five pallets gave us enough materials to create one raised bed of our desired dimensions. You can most likely get away with three pallets, but remember that not all pallets are built to the same specifications, and you will likely damage some boards when dismantling them. Also, we decided to use treated lumber for the supports, as many of them are going to be in the ground, but you can reclaim stringers from the pallets to use for this if you want a cheaper option.

The following image depicts the boards after trimming. Click on the image below for a larger view.

raised-bed-materials

Recommended Tools:

  • Table Saw (not required, but recommended)
  • Circular Saw and/or Reciprocating Saw
  • Cordless Drill (Two will be helpful for quicker assembly: one to drill pilot holes and one to act as screwdriver)
  • Pry bar
  • Hammer
  • Pencil
  • Square
  • Tape Measure
  • Level
  • Garden pick, mattock, or post-hole digger
  • Staple gun
  • 5/8-in. Staples (too long a staple and you might punch through your wood)

Important Safety Considerations

Always use proper care when operating any hand or power tools. Read operating and safety instructions carefully that came with the equipment and use proper personal protective equipment to ensure your safety. We recommend the following:

  • Work gloves (not gardening gloves)
  • Ear protection, such as plugs or earmuffs
  • Safety goggles
  • Knee pads
  • Close-toed shoes or boots

The Plans

This section displays the plans we developed for this project. It bears repeating that these plans assume perfectly sized boards of 3 x 34 inches, which is not what we ended up with, exactly. However, we needed to start somewhere and so do you. These plans provide the framework (pardon the pun) in which to create.

Click on the images below for larger view.

raised-bed-dimensions

raised-bed-2D-plan

The Steps

Part 1:  Dismantle the Pallets

Pallets have plenty of nails (we’re talking about those twisted pallet nails here). The pieces you’re after are the flat boards nailed across three thicker, stringer pieces. That means you potentially have three pry points per board. That is a lot of work. To speed things up (and to save your backs and fingers) we suggest cutting the boards along the length of the stringer inside each pallet’s outer stringers. This sacrifices some wood, but it likely saves hours of prying and banging away with hammers. This way, you only needed to pry up boards from the pallet’s center stringer.

Tip: When picking out your pallets, look for ones with good wood, but also look to make sure they are not re-manufactured pallets. These will have many more nails in them, making dismantling much longer and more difficult.

To dismantle a pallet:

  1. Measure the length of the pallet boards between the inside edges of the two outer stringers before cutting. You don’t want to short yourself, as this method reduces the effective length of your boards.Our pallet boards were anywhere from 36 to 42 inches long. Keep in mind that you want the boards to be a little longer than your final goal in case you need to trim.
  2. Being very careful to avoid any nails or staples, use a circular saw or reciprocating saw to cut through the boards just inside each outer stringer as shown below.pallet-cut
  3. Use a pry bar and hammer to pry the remaining nails in the center stringer. If necessary, use a metal cutting blade on a reciprocating saw to cut through nails to avoid prying. Photo Apr 11, 2 17 50 PM
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 on the other side of the pallet.
  5. After prying, use a hammer to remove and discard all nails. Exposed nails pose a safety hazard, whether just lying on the ground or when they contact a saw blade. Be careful!

After dismantling 3-5 pallets, you should have enough wood for 30-40 (34” x 2-5“) boards, or one (roughly) 3×6 ft bed.

Part 2: Trim Your Boards to Length

  1. Using a tape measure, square, and pencil, mark the desired length of each reclaimed board to create a uniform length. We initially intended to make our boards 36” long, but we did not quite get there on all our boards. We found that 34” long boards worked out well.Photo Apr 11, 2 55 13 PM
  2. Remove ALL nails or staples from any boards before cutting; these can damage saws or injure you or others nearby.
  3. Use a table saw or circular saw to trim the boards. Trim both ends of each board to attain the desired length, making clean, square cuts. Photo Apr 11, 2 50 49 PM
  4.  Pile the trimmed boards in the assembly area.

Part 3: Cut Your Supports

  1. Measure your supports as you cut.Photo Apr 12, 1 35 36 PM
  2. Using a table saw or circular saw, cut the vertical and horizontal supports from the treated 2x4x8s or 2x4x10s. You can reclaim the stringers from the pallets if you opt not to use treated lumber and save a few bucks. Again, remove all nails or staples before cutting.
  3. After cutting the three 2x4x8 or two 2x4x10s (or the reclaimed stringers), you should have the following:
      • 6   21” Outer Supports (we added spikes to these, see below)
      • 4   15” Inner Supports
      • 1 34” Horizontal Support Stringer (we decided on 34-in. long boards. The inner horizontal support should match the inner dimension of the bed, which is the length of a panel/board.

Note: If you decide not to spike your vertical supports, then all supports can be 15 inches long. We decided to spike our outer supports for stability in the ground.

Part 4: Spike the Longer (21”) Supports

To embed the garden beds into the ground, we suggest creating 4-in. spikes on each of the longer, outside supports using a table saw. This will help when placing the beds in the ground.

To cut spikes into vertical supports:

  1. Measure and mark 4 inches from one end of each of the six long (21-in.) supports.
  2. Use a square to mark this line.
  3. Repeat steps 1-2 at 6 inches as well.
  4. Mark the centerline on the end.
  5. Draw a line from the middle mark made in Step 4 to each end of the 4-in. mark created in step 2, as shown.Photo Apr 12, 1 50 35 PM
  6. Cut along the diagonal lines to create spikes.

Important Tip: We strongly suggest using a table saw for this part. If using any other method, properly secure the board with clamps to your work surface before cutting.

The 6 in. line designates the board placement during assembly. The 4-in. mark is the depth of the spikes.

Part 5: Pre-assemble the Long Panels

This pre-assembly step is for aesthetics. These instructions assume you are assembling the boards as if you were looking at the inside of the bed (the long supports go on the OUTSIDE of the beds). Start by assembling one long panel.

Part 6: Assemble the Long Panels

  1. Place three long supports on the work surface.
  2. Place the side of the board you want to be visible on top of two supports, facing down toward the work surface.
  3. Mark the centerline of the middle support. Each long side panel has three outer supports.
  4. Square one pallet board by aligning it to the centerline you marked in Step 1 and the 6-in. mark you made previously. Rest the other end of the board on the outer support. Ensure the board is squared to the centerline and the 6-in. mark.
  5. Drill two pilot holes (5/16 bit) into both the board and the support below it. Always drill into the narrower board first.
  6. Use two 1-5/8 in. outdoor wood screws to secure the board.
  7. Align the other side of the board FLUSH with the outer edge of the outer support as shown.raised-bed-2D_long-panel-assembly-1
  8. Continue in this manner with the remaining boards until you get to the last (top) board.
  9. Chances are the top board will not be flush with top of the support. Add the top board to finish off this section of the side panel:
    1. Measure the width of the remaining gap from the top of the support to the top of the last-installed board.
    2. Use a table saw or circular saw to rip a board to fit the gap. This ensures that each side panel is of the same height.
    3. Attach this last board in the same manner by drilling pilot holes before securing with a screw or screws. For example: We wanted15-in. high beds, and the next-to-last board did not go all the way to the top (flush with the top of our vertical support). We measured the space to find that we needed a top board that is 2.5 inches wide. We then found a suitable board and used the table saw to cut it to 2.5 inches wide. If filled the gap, so we screwed it in place. Photo Apr 11, 4 06 06 PM
  10. Repeat Steps 1-9 for the other side panel.

Part 8: Assemble the Short Side Panel

You now need to create the two short panels.

raised-bed-2D_short-panel-assembly

  1. Place two short supports (15 in.) on the work surface.
  2. Pre-assemble the boards as you did for the long panels, be aware that we are now assembling the short panels as if the outside of the bed is facing us. When determining the most aesthetic arrangement of boards for the short panels, you want the pretty side to face you.
  3. Square one pallet board by aligning it to the edges of the support. Rest the other end of the board on the support. Ensure the board is squared to the support’s side and bottom.
  4. Drill two pilot holes (5/16 bit) into both the board and the support below it. Always drill into the narrower board first.
  5. Use two 1-5/8 in. outdoor wood screws to secure the board.Photo Apr 12, 3 14 18 PM
  6. Continue in this manner to complete the panel with the boards flush with the supports.
  7. Again, you will find that the top board likely is not flush with the top of the support. Measure and trim a board to complete the panel as you did for the long panels.
  8. Repeat Steps 1-7 for the remaining short panel.

You should have two long panels with three spiked outer supports and two short panels with two non-spiked inner supports.

Photo Apr 12, 3 15 49 PM

Part 9: Assemble the Bed

It is far easier to assemble the bed upside down (those spikes create a gap that makes it difficult otherwise). Do this on a level work surface.

  1. With assistance, place each panel on level ground with what you intend to be the outside of each panel facing down and the top of each panel facing inward, as shown. That’s: Inside up, top in. The spikes should be facing away from you, as shown. Click image to enlarge.raised-bed-2D_assy-prep
  2. Lift the bottom edge of one short panel and the bottom edge of one long panel so the tops are resting on the ground.
  3. Square the corner where both panels meet.
  4. Ensure that the boards are flush with what is to be the top of the bed and secure with three to four 3-in. outdoor wood screws. Drill pilot holes before attaching screws and ensure you drill through both the long and short upright supports. See the exploded view diagram for assistance.Exploded-Assembly
  5. Repeat Steps 2-4 for the second short panel.
  6. Line up the remaining long panel and secure with screws in the same fashion, drilling pilot holes before attaching screws. The long panels should sandwich the short panels, as shown.

Part 10: Attach the Horizontal Stringer Support

  1. Measure roughly 7 in. from the top of the bed.
  2. With assistance, secure the 34-in. horizontal stringer support in the middle of the span of the two long panels as shown.
  3. Secure with 3-in. wood screws.

Part 11: Install the Bed

IMPORTANT: Call your local utilities location service to mark any underground utilities or cables before digging.

  1. Mark the locations in the site where the spiked supports will be at the location where you intend to install the bed.
  2. Dig roughly 6 in deep at these locations using a mattock, garden pick, or post-hold digger.
  3. Place the bed upright, with the pointed ends of the vertical supports embedding into the ground.
  4. Make the bed as level as possible in all directions. The posts should be deep enough for the bottom of the pallet boards to rest against the ground.
  5. Back fill any gaps in the holes near the supports.Photo Apr 11, 6 08 37 PM

Part 12: Prepare the Bed

Now, all you need to do is apply a liner for the bed. This is optional. If doing so, use a staple gun and no more than 5/8 staples to secure these materials. We used plastic sheeting to cover the lower 12 inches of the side panels along the inside of the beds to mitigate erosion. Along the bottom (ground), we installed garden/landscaping fabric to line the ground and bottom 1/3 or so of the side panels to mitigate Bermuda grass or weed infestation. We used about 20 linear feet of plastic at 12-13 in width and 8 linear feet of fabric. Photo Apr 19, 10 43 51 AM

Part 13: Fill with Dirt and Plant Your Crops

Now, all you need to do is fill in the bed with dirt. As described, each bed holds 3/5 of a cubic yard of dirt. We used trucked-in garden-rich dirt. We filled each bed up to about 13 in. with soil. The dirt will settle a bit, so we wanted to make sure we had enough to fill our desired 12 inches, leaving 3 inches for mulch.  We made three beds in all, for a total of 2 cubic yards. We picked up the mulch for free from our local recycling center.

Photo Apr 19, 3 27 28 PM

Feel free to use these for your next project. Just remember to take care when using any tools or powered equipment and take necessary precautions to ensure your safety. If you wish to change these dimensions to suit your needs, just remember to maintain a consistent board length. We hope you enjoy these instructions and enjoy your new garden bed. We love the rustic look of these beds and they have held up quite well so far.

If you use them, please let us know. If you improve upon them, then great! Please let us know that too. We are always happy to hear what others are up to. Happy building and happy gardening!

Photo Apr 12, 6 08 10 PM

Acknowledgements:
Special thanks to: Carolyn, Kris, Bob, Nate, CJ, Emma, and Claire for all your assistance.

cropped-kinky-hose.jpg

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2 responses to “DIY: How to Build a Raised Garden Bed Using Reclaimed Pallet Wood

    • I couldn’t agree more. We love intelligent ideas, reuse, and (not to put too fine a point on it) sustainable cooperation with nature. Thanks for the reblog and the kind words. We’re glad you liked the post! 🙂

      Like

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