Gilles' Outlet

July 9, 2007

Making a cedar planter

Filed under: Woodworking — Gilles @ 4:30 am

A cedar planter is built out of cedar 1x6x6 fencing. Custom molding is cut on a router table and installed at the base of the planter. 


Skill Level: 2 (Basic)

Time Taken: About 3 Hours

There are countless design for cedar planters. This article describes how to build a long lasting square planter box for about $5. The custom molding at the bottom adds an extra touch to the project.  

The fabrication starts with the bottom of the planter. This picture shows the dry assembly of the bottom, seen from the side onto which the planter will rest when finished.

Sides and bottom are cut from 1x6x6 cedar fence board (about $2.79 at the Home Depot at the time of writting). I decided that the planter woud be a square of about 11-1/2” so a little less than one fence board will be needed to build one planter.

I cut two 11-1/2” long pieces from a fence board to form the bottom. The planter will rest on two "feet" cut out of 1×2 rough sawn cedar (a 1x2x4 sold for about 90c at a local lumberyard). I used rough saw (aka unsurfaced) wood because it will not be visible and it is much cheaper. There is also something called "S1S2E 1x2x6 Cedar" but it is much more expensive (about $5 a piece).

I laid the boards flat on a workbench, leaving a slight gap in between (about 1/16”) to ensure good drainage. I laid one "foot" on each side, making sure they were flush with the boards.

Left: I put some exterior waterproof wood glue on the bootom of one "foot".

It is critical to use an exterior waterproof glue instead of a water resistant glue. A water resistant glue will resit water but eventually fail if exposed to water for a while. Once cured, waterproof glues are, in theory, not affected by water.


Right: Using a plumber’s flux brush, I spread the glue evenly on mating surfaces. Notice how a band of about 1/4” was left without glue near all edges of the board: when clamped, the glue will ooze under pressure and fill this space instead of escaping out of the joint. This elminates wood glue cleanup almost completely.

Left: I put the glued surface of the "foot" onto the boards, made sure the drainage hole was consistent and clamped everything in place.

Right: I decided to add mecanical fasteners to further increase the sturdiness of the planter.

Planters are usually left outside, exposed to rain and sun. For this application, galvanized fasteners must be used.

Moreover, the box is made out of cedar which is extremely corrosive. In theory, only stainless steel fasteners should be used in cedar but they are expensive so I settled for much cheaper 1” galvanized narrow crown staples.

I made sure fasteners would penetrate the bottom enough to provide a good grip.

Left: I used a pneumatic narrow crown stapler to fasten the foot to the bottom. I got a little carried over and put a staple about every two inches. Yep, that’s a lot of staples and I think that 3 ~ 4 staples would have been more than enough.

Pneumatic nailers / staplers provide a level of accuracy hand nailing / stapling can rarely match. They save time too.

You do not actually need a penumatic stapler to complete this project. Hand driven 3d hot dipped galvanized finish nails would work equally well here.

Right: I flipped the assembly over so the bottom of the planter would face up. I decided that sides would rest in a 5/8 wide, 1/4 deep rabbet. I used a Japanese Pull Saw to cut along the edge of the rabbet.

Left: I removed the waste using a wood chisel. It was pretty easy when going along the wodd’s grain and a little more difficult when going cross grain. Make sure your chisel is sharp and this step will take only a few minutes.



Right: The bottom with all four rabbets cut, ready to receive sides.

Other ways to cut rabbets

Saw / Chisel is not the only way to cut rabbets, by far. Here are a few other ways:


  • Table saw with combination blade, using multiple passes
  • Table saw with daddo cutter and sacrificial fence
  • Hand held router, equipped with rabetting bit w/ bearing
  • Table mounted router with a straight bit

I am going to demonstrate how to cut those rabbets using the last technique.

When using power tools to cut rabbets, it is necessary to make the cut before assembling anything. Cutting rabbets after assembling, and specifically after stapling could expose the cutting tool to a staple. This would greatly damage the carbide tipped cutting tool.

In order to cut these rabbets on a router table, I installed 5/8” straight bit and adjusted the height (1/4”) and the fence. This took about 3 minutes.  

I then machined three sides of all bottoms. It took about 3 minutes to cut all rabbets for two planters. The quality and precision of the cut was clearly much better than the one obtained with the saw / chisel method.

Back to the construction of the planter. I turned my attention to the sides of the planter.

Left: I cut the sides of the planter out of the same 1x6x6 cedar fence board and dry fitted them in place. They fit snuggly.


Right: I applied the same waterproof exterior grade wood glue to all rabbets and assembled the first side. I maintained it in position temporarilly with a lightly tightened clamp.

Left: I assembled the full box, clamping as I progressed. I checked for square and made all the necessary adjustments. I tightened all clamps to hold the box.


Right: I drove three 1” galvanized narrow crown staples in each side of the box.

Left: I secured the sides to the bottom using 1” galvanized narrow crown staples. Notice how the stapler is held at an angle so the staple bites in the bottom of the box.

I borrowed this technique from the well known "toenailing" framing technique where nails are driven at an angle to reach the stud. I guess I "toe-stapled" the sides of the box.


Right: After stapling all sides, I removed all clamps and gave the box a quick sanding with 60 grit sand paper. Cedar fencing is rather rough and I wanted to knock the grain down more than actually making the box completely smooth and flat.

The box completed, I wanted to hide the rabbet jointery at the bottom. I decided to cut a custom molding on my router table. Alternatively, you can purchase pre-cut molding by the linear foot, install a piece of 1×2 cedar or skip the molding part alltogether.

Left: I installed a 3/8” radius beading bit in my router and used the table to bead a piece of 1×2 rough sawn cedar on both sides.


Right: The custom molding: simple but effective.

At this point, installing the custom made molding on the planter is just like installing baseboard on a wall.

Left: Using a power miter saw, I cut a 45 degres miter at one end, positionned the molding in place and transfered the end of the box on the molding. I cut another 45 degrees miter with the smallest end starting from the mark.


Right: I installed the molding on the box using 4d hot dipped finish nails. I installed the molding around the whole box.

Tools Used:

  • Pneumatic Narrow Crown Stapler
  • Power Miter Saw 
  • Router / Router Table
  • 5/8 Straight Router Bit
  • 3/8 Radius Beading Router Bit
  • Power Sander    
  • Clamps 
  • Basic Carpentry Tools

Materials Used:

  • Cedar Fence Board 1x6x6 (one board)
  • Cedar rough sawn 1x2x6 (one board)
  • 1” Galvanized Narrow Crown Staples
  • Galvanized, Hot Dipped 4d finish nails
  • Sandpaper 60 Grit
  • Exterior, Waterproof Wood Glue


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