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A new line of potting benches at Chicweed, a garden accessories and design boutique in Solana Beach, California, is made from wooden pallets; only the screws are new. Chicweed owner Susie Teisl came up with the idea and asked local woodworker Jon Hawley if he could build them.
He could -- and so can you. Hawley starts with two pallets that initially held boxes of tile because tile box pallets provide the longest and strongest lumber. Teisl says the potting bench's 37-inch-high work surface is perfect for potting plants.
Once you've assembled the bench, you can attach salvaged or inexpensive hardware along the countertop edge to hold gardening tools, or screw casters to the leg bottoms to make the bench more mobile. You might even cut a hole and drop in a plastic or metal pan for holding potting soil or seed-starting mix. You can paint the wooden surfaces lively colors or stain them.
One or two wooden pallets
Miter saw or circular saw
2x4 lumber (optional)
1-5/8-inch galvanized exterior screws
Tack cloth or vacuum
Stain and polyurethane or primer and paint
Disassemble the pallet(s) using a hammer and pry bar. Be careful not to damage the ends of the boards during deconstruction. Select the widest, best-looking boards for the countertop. Measure the salvaged wood; its dimensions will determine how wide the finished bench can be. (Hawley's benches usually measure 40-42 inches wide.)
Using a straightedge, pencil, and miter or circular saw, mark and trim away splintered wood and square the edges of the boards -- "unless you want to keep the nail holes," Hawley says. "Some people think they look unique." He suggests cutting off knotholes and other weak parts of the boards.
Use the pallet base or 2x4 lumber for the legs. Because most pallets have three 2x4 pieces, you need to break down a second pallet or join two pallet pieces with screws to make a fourth leg. To get the hutch top above the countertop height, notch with the table saw 8 inches out of each of the two 2x4 pieces (for the back legs), and add another notched piece for the desired height of 60 inches. "Sister" these two notched pieces with screws, and glue, if you wish. These pieces can come from the other pallet's 2x4 base pieces or from 1x material cut to match the width of the leg pieces. After you've notched out all four of the back legs and extension pieces, connect them with screws.
Starting with the two back legs, attach a 1x26-inch board; this will be the depth of the bench. Screw it in perpendicular to the inside of the leg pieces so the tops of the boards will be 36 inches from the ground. Screw in the other front leg to the 1x piece so you have a configuration resembling a lowercase h. Repeat so you have two identical pieces that will serve as the framework for the left and right sides of your bench.
Add one countertop board at the back of the bench to support it, then position the front face board, or skirt, and install it. "Sister" the front legs to match the thickness of the back legs. Flip the bench over and install the back skirt to complete the frame.
Measure and install blocks on the back legs in the spaces directly in front of the back skirt. You will screw the final countertop piece into these blocks.
Choose your countertop pieces, lay them flush with each other from front to back, and screw them into place. The front countertop piece can overlap the front skirt slightly if you wish. You will have to cut the last piece to the appropriate width and length.
To create supports for the bottom shelf, about 7 inches above the base attach two 1x pieces to the front and back legs on each side. To ensure consistent shelf height, you can install temporary spacers (the longer pieces parallel to and touching the ground) and measure the distance between the tops of the spacers and the tops of the shelf-support pieces.
Screw in the bottom shelf pieces using 1x material the same way you did the countertop. Add the top shelf, screwing it into the tops of the back legs.
Install more 1x boards to form the back slats, generously and evenly spacing the boards so you can hook things over them in the future. Use a level to make sure the slats are straight.
Using 1x material, measure for length and cut two blocks with 45-degree ends. Drill holes into the edges so the blocks won't split when you screw them into place. Start screws into the blocks.
Position the bracing blocks on the insides of the back legs. Drive screws into the back legs, the countertop, and the back skirt. Drill in the back-skirt screws from the outside. These blocks will prevent side-to-side motion of the bench.
Remove all rough, splinter-inducing spots with sandpaper.
Wipe down or vacuum the entire bench to remove wood dust. Stain or paint the bench. Hawley applies one coat of stain, then two coats of polyurethane, following the label instructions for drying times. If you paint, apply two coats of primer and two coats of paint for a long-lasting finish.
"Embellish your bench any way you want," Hawley says. Popular choices include hooks and freestanding containers for corralling smaller items.