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How to Build a Cedar Potting Bench

You don’t need any special woodworking skills to build this handy gardener’s bench in a weekend. We’ll show you everything you need to construct the bench, without having to hassle with complicated joints. And you can build it using basic carpentry tools. So make gardening easier and build this bench this weekend.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

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    There are no complex joints, so you can build this even if it's your first woodworking project.

Everything you need to get started

In this article, we’ll show you how to build this cedar potting bench in a weekend. We designed this bench to be strong without complex joints. An experienced woodworker can complete this potting bench in a day. If you’re a beginner, allow two or three days.

You’ll need basic carpentry tools like a tape measure, large and small squares, and a chisel. You could make most of the cuts for this potting bench with a circular saw. However, a miter saw will ensure perfectly square end cuts, and a table saw is almost essential for cutting the grate slats. If you don’t have a table saw, ask a friend, neighbor or the staff at the lumberyard to cut the pieces for you. You’ll also need a drill with bits and a jigsaw.

Use the Shopping List in the Additional Information below to buy your materials. We used cedar for our bench, but pine is cheaper. Consider using pressure-treated pine if you’ll be leaving the bench outside. All of these are available at home centers and lumberyards. But make sure to pick straight boards with at least one nice-looking side. You can hide a few minor defects on the back or underside of the bench. Also, avoid boards with large knots, which will weaken key parts and make it harder to cut the notches.

When you get your materials home, cut the pieces to size using the Cutting List below. Many of the parts, like the 1 x 1-in. slats for the grate and the 2-1/2 in. wide legs, have to be cut the length of the board. This operation, called ripping, is possible with a circular saw, but it’s much quicker, easier and more accurate with a table saw.

Make tight-fitting joints for a strong bench

Photos 1 and 2 show how to notch the legs for the horizontal cross members. Notching looks tricky, but it’s simple if you follow these key steps: First clamp each pair of legs together, and using dimensions from Fig. A (in the Additional Information), mark the lower edge of each notch. Use a square to draw lines across the boards at these marks.

Then align the corresponding horizontal board with this line and mark along the opposite edge to get an exact width. Using the boards in this manner to mark the width of the notch is more accurate than measuring.

When you saw the notch, cut to the waste side of the pencil line, leaving the line on the board. You can always enlarge the notch or plane the board to fit a notch that’s too tight, but you can’t shrink a notch that’s too wide. Tight-fitting joints strengthen the bench and look better too.

Assembly is quick once the parts are cut

Photos 3 and 4 show how to assemble the leg sections and connect them to form the bench frame. Before you screw the horizontal pieces to the legs, pick the best-looking side of the boards and make sure it’s facing the front of the bench. (The best sides are facing down in Photo 3.) Drill 5/32-in. clearance holes through the cross members to avoid splitting them and to allow the screws to draw the boards tight to the legs.

Use only one 1-1/4 in. screw to attach parts F and G to the front legs. Center the screw so it doesn’t interfere with the 3-in. screws you’ll be installing to secure the leg assembly (Photo 4). Use a 3/4-in. spacer block (Photo 4) to align the cross members (E) before you drive in the 3-in. screws.

If you’ll be leaving your bench outdoors, use stainless steel screws or corrosion-resistant deck screws. For extra strength and durability, put a small dab of construction adhesive on each joint before you screw the pieces together. To hide the 3-in. screws that secure the front legs, use a 3/8-in. brad point drill bit to drill 1/4-in. deep recesses before you drill the 5/32-in. clearance holes. Then glue 3/8-in. wood buttons into the recesses after you screw the parts together. Keep a framing square handy as you assemble the leg sections and bench frame and use it to make sure the assemblies are square before you tighten the screws.

Complete the assembly

Photo 5 shows how to mark and cut the plywood that supports the potting soil container. We used a plastic wastebasket, but any container with a lip will work. Trace the shape on a piece of plywood and then cut the hole a little smaller so the plywood supports the lip.

The bench top is made of 1-in. thick bullnose cedar decking. Join two pieces with cleats to make a removable cover for the dirt container (Photo 7). Glue 1 x 1-in. slats together with water-resistant wood glue to form the grate (Photo 6). Scrape off excess glue before it dries. Then allow the glue to dry overnight before you sand the grate and trim the ends flush. Screw cleats to the bottom of the grate to keep it positioned and allow easy removal.

The width of the end pieces (P) varies, depending on the dimensions of your decking. To determine the width, first center the grate, removable cover and three more boards on the bench top, leaving an equal space on each end. Then measure the distance from the last board to the outside edge of the back leg and cut and notch the end pieces to fit.

Glue 3/8-in. wood plugs into 3/8-in. by 1/4-in. deep recesses to hide the screws that hold the two end pieces (P) and lower shelf boards in place. Sand them flush after the glue dries. Complete the potting bench by notching the 1x8 shelves (Photo 9) and securing them with 2-in. screws through the horizontal 1x4 shelf rails (H). We used black metal shelf brackets to support the ends.

Protect your Bench with a Good Finish

Unfinished cedar has some resistance to decay, but the best strategy is to apply a top-quality exterior finish to keep the wood from cracking, splitting and rotting.

Penetrating oil–type finishes with a small amount of pigment provide a natural look and reduce fading. Finishes that leave a film provide the best protection. Spar varnish or Sikkens are two examples. Take extra precautions to seal the bottom of the legs to keep them from absorbing moisture from the damp ground. For interior use, any good-quality varnish will work.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • Hammer
    • Clamps
    • Cordless drill
    • Tape measure
    • Circular saw
    • Caulk gun
    • Drill bit set
    • Framing square
    • Hearing protection
    • Jigsaw
    • Rasp
    • Safety glasses
    • Speed square
    • Tool belt
    • Wood glue

You can make all of your cuts with a circular saw, but a miter saw will make them easier.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

See the Addendum for a Shopping List of materials, which details everything you need for this project.

Comments from DIY Community Members

Share what's on your mind and see what other DIYers are thinking about.

1 - 17 of 17 comments
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September 09, 9:12 AM [GMT -5]

I live in Australia and we use the metric system so I would love all the measurements converted! And I would also love to know exactly which board is used for what in the cutting list!!

April 22, 1:50 PM [GMT -5]

An excellent project. I made a potting stand but without the shelves and waste basket. Next time I'll add those.

I would recommend to anyone working around tools of any kind to use protective glasses.

February 09, 1:13 PM [GMT -5]

Great project, and simple to complete. As other commenters have said, pay close attention to the orientation of the legs before you cut the notches in them for the rails, and be ready to make adjustments to the widths of the end boards on the benchtop, as they are not correct in the plan

Also, buy the wastebasket and the pan first - you may need to make adjustments to the supports for those parts if you can't buy those with the exact dimensions specified in the plan.

December 07, 3:32 PM [GMT -5]

I need dimensions to build a cedar potting bench

August 07, 3:13 AM [GMT -5]

Awesome project! Completed it in a weekend and then an short afternoon to stain it by the girlfriend. She loves it and the strong joints help her keep a ton of stuff on it. I'm fairly new to the build your own stuff department, but I'm thoroughly enjoying it with these plans. The cuts were very specific in dimensions, but could use some more information on how exactly to get them....or more pictures.

April 27, 8:37 AM [GMT -5]

We just made this and it's great - time consuming but well worth it. Don't make the same mistake we did - we ripped the 2x6 in half (for legs) and instead of trimming to the required 2 1/2", left at 2 5/8" and consequently threw out the dimensions - we used lots of glue and it's still very sturdy. I didn't want a 'soil' bin (I wanted the bench a little narrower) so we shortened by one top slat, on left, and added the remaining loose slat to the 'grate covered dirt catcher'. We used cedar mainly, but couldn't get 1x so used clear pine. Cost was just under $200 Cnd.

April 25, 11:32 AM [GMT -5]

I made this over the weekend. Fantastic project! Something to keep in mind... be prepared to make some adjustments with the bench top end pieces (P). They are listed as 1" x 5-1/2" x 23" in the cutting list but don't need to be 5-1/2" wide. You can see in the photo and the explosion chart that they should be narrower. With that easy adjustment in mind, this project is a breeze. It's a clever design -- my wife appreciates the potting soil container, sliding lid and sliding grate cover!

March 26, 5:31 PM [GMT -5]

I picked up plans for this bench a few years ago and built three of them, including two for a charity auction. It's a beautiful piece and the "hidden" areas are a great feature. One thing to think about is your location - I moved the slatted section to the far left closer to where my water supply was. You can locate the three parts of the top section in any order you want depending on where you intend to use it.

February 18, 1:14 PM [GMT -5]

Can you describe how you use the grate and container? Are you supposed to move the grate over the container when potting to catch the overflow soil? Or is the container simply for soil storage?


November 17, 8:48 AM [GMT -5]

FHM Please add over all deimentions to the summary


September 16, 1:33 PM [GMT -5]

watch for the orintation of the front legs when cutting slots.

November 22, 3:16 PM [GMT -5]

I've noticed a few questions about where to find the material list. Under the story title you'll see tabs. One of them is labeled "Step by Step". Click on the Step by Step tab and scroll down to the bottom where you'll find "Additional Information". Click on the items there to download PDF's of the plan, material list and cutting list.

July 25, 11:38 PM [GMT -5]

I don't see the materials list with any measurements...can someone point them out to me please? I would really like to make this bench but not quite sure measurement wise which direction to move. Please help anyone...thanks!

July 19, 4:16 PM [GMT -5]

I built one in 2 weekends using redwood and pressure treated lumber that I stained and sealed. It turned out very nice and is very useful. I found a plastic garden sink that I attached to the open end of it and ran a garden hose to it and it works great.

June 19, 5:44 AM [GMT -5]

Built in a weekend, bought materials on Sat.Pressure treated pine.Then went to my daughter's soccer game.
Put it together Sunday, easy to follow instructions.I live in South Fla. with temps reaching 100 in the summer. Some heavy rain storms, and it still look like new after 2 years. I use it regularly. So many great storage ideas. I also use it as an outside work bench. I just installed a 20'x20' & did all the cuts on the potting bench.

June 09, 8:28 PM [GMT -5]

Unfortunately, I can't find the MEASUREMENTS for the potting bench....

May 06, 12:33 AM [GMT -5]

Completed in a week-end, stain and all.
A gift for my sister in-law, an avid gardener who never had a potting bench. She was as excited with it as I was to present it to her.
I could not have imagined how rewarding, fun and easy the whole process was.
Your pictures and detailed instructions made the difference, ( even with errors showing feet in place of inches in some of the dimensions; which I see, you have corrected).
I used my 10" table saw for ripping, sliding compound miter for the dadoes.
I highly recommend the truly great project.
Thanks. Thanks. Thanks.
Murchison, Texas

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