Sunset garden work center

A potting table project for the intermediate woodworker
Peter O. Whiteley

This versatile garden work center is made from three h-shaped modules connected to each other with horizontal wood spacers. I used redwood 2-by-4s, but you can substitute other wood suitable for outdoor use. The table shown measures 8 feet long (the length of a standard sheet of plywood), but dimensions can be changed to suit your needs.

The 5-foot-tall back gives the table a stylish appearance and adds flexibility: inset panels of plastic lattice mask views of the sheet metal tabletop and lower storage area (with shelves and garbage cans) from the rear, turning the table into a garden screen. If you don't need a screen, just place the table against a wall of your house or garage and use the lattice as a place to hang garden hand tools.

An intermediate woodworker can build the table in a weekend. All the connections of the 2-by-4s are butt joints held together with 21/4-inch deck screws. The plastic lattice panels fit between the modules and are mounted to the framework with sheet metal screws. (I used a plastic lattice product by TuffBuilt; call 800/394-6679 for a local source.) You can paint or stain the frame to contrast with the white lattice. The materials for the table cost about $300 at a home center. The sheet metal counter was fabricated at a sheet metal shop.

MATERIALS

  • One dozen 8-foot-long 2-by-4s (redwood, fir, cedar, or pressure-treated wood)
  • One sheet CDX plywood or oriented-strand board
  • Two 4- by 8-foot panels of plastic lattice
  • Seven 8-foot lengths of lattice-panel trim
  • 94 2 1/4-inch deck screws
  • 32 1-inch sheet metal screws
  • Two dozen 2-inch galvanized finish nails


TOOLS

  • Tape measure and pencil
  • Circular saw or handsaw
  • Combination square
  • Electric drill
  • Framing square
  • Hammer


Options

You can shorten the length of the table by changing the length of the spacers (and the top 2-by-4s), and you can adjust the width and height of the counter. You can also:

  • Use rolling garbage cans to hold potting soil or fertilizers in the open side of the under-counter storage.
  • Purchase one extra sheet of lattice and four trim pieces to make doors to cover shelves and open storage. Instead of using hinges, simply hang them from screws to allow easy access to storage bays (see above).
  • Add brackets to each back module to hang plants.
  • Train vines up the back and side lattice panels.
  • Add a stainless steel sink to the table. Cut the opening with a saber saw, tack down the sheet metal edges, and drop in the sink.
  • Cut openings for stainless steel or aluminum containers sold by restaurant supply companies, and use them to hold garden hand tools.
  • Use J-hooks to hang tools from lattice.
  • Purchase a lockable storage box to hold chemicals.


Garden Work Center Directions

1. With the saw, cut six 2-by-4s for the three h-shaped modules. Each module requires a front leg (A); a rear leg (B); and three crosspieces (C).

2. On both broad (31/2-inch) sides of each front and rear leg, mark points at 51/2, 18, and 36 inches from the bottom end. Using the combination square, draw horizontal lines across the boards at these points. (The lines locate the top of each crosspiece.)

3. On one broad side of each leg, draw a vertical center line, and mark points 1 and 21/2 inches below the three reference lines drawn in step 2 (36 points total). Use the electric drill with a 1/16-inch bit to drill pilot holes through the legs at each point. (Vertical lines will be on the outside of the front and rear legs.)

4. On the inward-facing side of each leg, draw two vertical lines, each 1 inch in from the long edge. These lines will locate the vertical sides of the crosspieces.

5. Using deck screws, assemble each module, checking squareness with a framing square. Use lines from step 4 to center crosspieces between legs.

6. Lay two modules on their backs, spacing their inside edges 89 inches apart. Make sure they're parallel, then join them with an 8-foot-long 2-by-4 (D) that's flush with their tops, using two deck screws per module. Center and add the third module.

7. Stand the joined pieces on their legs, checking for verticality and squareness. The horizontal space between the crosspieces of the modules should be 44 3/4 inches; cut eight horizontal spacers (E) from the 2-by-4s to that length. Butt six of the spacers between bottom rear, top rear, and top front crosspieces. Secure with screws running into the front or rear legs. The remaining two are shelf supports: add them to the left or right side between the middle rear and middle front crosspieces.

8. Cut a 29- by 96-inch length from the plywood (this will be the top). Set it on the top spacers to check alignment and squareness of the modules, then set aside. Cut the remaining plywood piece to make the shelf. (You'll need to cut two pieces to make the 27- by 47 3/4-inch shelf.) Nail the shelf in place.

9. Screw the remaining 2-by-4 (D) flat across the top of the frame.

10. Cut a rear and side panel from each sheet of lattice and add trim pieces so each panel fits snugly in its opening. The finished side panels should each measure 27 by 34 inches, and the two rear panels should each be 42 3/4 by 58 inches. Temporarily screw them in place with sheet metal screws to check fit, then remove.

11. Paint the wood frame with exterior paint or stain. When dry, reattach the lattice panels.

12. The top of the table has a "lid" of sheet metal that slips over the 29-by 96-inch plywood piece you cut in step 8. Take the plywood piece to a sheet metal shop to have the lid fabricated. Our top cost about $50, and it has 1-inch-long front and end lips folded under to avoid sharp edges. The corner seams are soldered and rounded with a file. Nail plywood top to frame, then slip on metal top and secure it with sheet metal screws through its edges.