Step-by-step instructions for how to build a wood pallet potting bench. This is an inexpensive unit that you can stand at to do gardening jobs like sowing seeds and potting plants. The shelf underneath is also great for storing gardening materials. DIY video included.
Once upon a time, there was a gardener who made an absolute mess of her kitchen. All throughout the year she’d sit at the table to fill trays with compost and vermiculite, often spilling bits on the floor and that crack in the middle of the table. What a nightmare to clean and as she swept up potting mix for the hundredth time she dreamed of a dedicated workspace for sowing seeds, potting up plants, and other gardening jobs. Someplace out of the house and closer to her greenhouse. That woman was me, and my woes are a thing of the past since I figured out how to build a wood pallet potting bench.
I’m so pleased with the design that I’m going to show you how to build one too. All you need are two wood pallets, a few tools, long screws, and a couple of hours of your time. The end product is an attractive wood pallet potting bench that costs practically nothing to make. There are a few things that you need to know about pallets and potting benches though first.
Purpose of Potting Benches and Why you Need One
When you start up gardening as a hobby you tend to make do with the materials and space that you have. As that hobby grows into a passion, so does the size of your garden or plant collection. That means more potting mix, more pots, more trays, and more gardening things in general! Having a shed and greenhouse are the goals of many hobby gardeners but before you invest in those, you should definitely consider a potting bench first.
Potting benches are surfaces that you stand at to do gardening tasks. Seed sowing, planting up, propagating plants, and so on. They’re a work surface for dirty work, and they can have an easily cleaned surface so that you can use potting mix directly on it, or have space for a plastic potting-up tray. I prefer the latter since it’s easy to pick them up to dump extra potting mix back into the bag or bucket.
Potting benches are often a place where you can store gardening materials. Underneath your workspace, there’s usually space for pots and trays, and they can have hooks and shelves for storing tools, labels, string, and other items.
Sourcing Wood Pallets and Pallet Safety
For this project you will need two wood pallets, but not just any pallets. First, they’ll need to be the design that has wooden block spacers like the photo below. There are a few different pallet designs out there, but the most important thing is that they have those wooden blocks. They’re integral to the design of the wood pallet potting bench since both the top and bottom surfaces sit on them. The wood planks that create the back of the pallet, and those wooden blocks, will become your bench’s legs.
There tend to only be three planks that form the backside of pallets, so that will give you only three legs for your pallet potting bench. That’s why you’ll need a second pallet — for the fourth leg, and a few spare planks to make the structure more stable. Considering this, try to find two identical pallets if you can, or at least two that have very similar back planks down to the style of wooden block and spacing between them.
Lastly, I recommend choosing pallets that have been stamped with the IPPC marking. These are pallets destined for international travel and the stamp tells you a lot about where the pallet was created and how it was treated. Pallets are often heat-treated (HT) or sprayed with insecticides (MB or SF) to stop the spread of pests from country to country. Pallets without the stamp are used only within a specific country (and are common in the USA). There’s no way of knowing if these have been sprayed with chemicals so I’d avoid them if possible. Pallets treated with the chemicals Methyl Bromide (MB) or Sulphuryl fluoride (SF) are not safe to use for home and garden projects.
Build a Wood Pallet Potting Bench
This project is relatively simple but you do need to have basic skills with using hand tools. You don’t need to use an electric drill and jigsaw, like I have, either. Hand saws and a hammer and nails will do just as well. As far as pallets are concerned, I find mine at local industrial estates, around the back of shops, and my boyfriend brings them home from work. Builders and floor layers often have materials delivered to them on pallets so it’s worth getting in touch with friends and family who work in trades too.
How to Build a DIY Wood Pallet Potting Bench
- Electric drill/driver
- Splitting wedge or hatchet
- Measuring tape
- Safety glasses
- 2 Wood pallets see above guidance on selecting them
- 10-20 Long screws 2.5-3" long
- Source your two pallets that have a design using wooden spacers. Aim to use two identical ones and ensure that they've not been treated with chemicals by looking for the stamp on the side. Guidance on this is further above.
- Using a mallet (or hammer) and a splitting wedge (or old hatchet) to pry four of the reverse-side planks off of the pallets. When you remove the planks, the wooden spacers should still be attached. You'll need to remove all of them from one pallet, leaving it as a flat surface with nails jutting from the back.
- Cut these four planks down to 35.4" (90 cm) to create the legs of your wood pallet potting bench. Make only a single cut so that each plank has a wooden spacer at the top and a second one a bit further down. The distance between the wooden spacers should all be the same. Mine are 15" (38 cm) apart, but this measurement is arbitrary. The important thing is that the distance between the spacers on all four of your legs is the same measurement.
- Return to the pallet that you've removed all of the reverse side planks from. Hammer the nails/screws down flat.
- Next measure the width of the pallet and mark out a cut that you'll make in the middle, between the front-facing slats. You'll cut it in two, but one side should be 2" (5 cm) wider than the other. Cut the piece into two using a hand saw, jigsaw, or another cutting tool. You should not be cutting through any of the front-facing slats, only the wood frame that they're attached to. The extra 2" (5 cm) on one is so that the top surface has an overhang at the front, for you to lean against.
- Lie two of the legs down on a work surface — I've just used the ground. Screw the shorter surface that you've just cut into the wooden spacers towards the middle of the plank. Situate the lower surface against the legs so that there's no overhang at the sides.
- Screw the remaining two legs onto the lower surface. When they're affixed, pull the wood pallet workbench vertical. If the spacing between the wooden blocks on the legs is not exact, you'll know it at this point and need to do some extra work as the entire build will be wonky.
- Screw the top surface on, making sure that it sits flush against what will be the back of your wood pallet potting bench. That gives it a 2" (5 cm) lip at the front.
- To give the build more stability, remove extra planks from the second pallet and screw them in against the back and/or sides of the potting bench. Diagonal braces are stronger, but even horizontal planks will make the potting bench sturdier.
- You're finished! Kit the top out with a potting tray like mine and store your pots and trays underneath. I also have an old tub that fits underneath and is where I store potting mix, vermiculite, and other odds and ends.
A Simpler Wood Pallet Potting Bench Design
This pallet potting bench is not my first, and my previous one was much simpler. If you’re after an extremely easy build, feel free to use this alternate design. Some time ago my boyfriend cut a standard-sized pallet in half and then attached four legs. It doesn’t have the extra storage shelf that my new one does but it was still very functional. I used it for several years and it was a simple and inexpensive potting bench design that works. I also had it in my greenhouse so it worked as both potting bench and staging in one.
The legs of this potting bench were a little shorter than my new potting bench at 2x2x30″ (5x5x75 cm). They were some off-cuts from my old chicken run which is why they are green. I did have to stoop over the surface a bit though, so if you use this design I’d recommend that you make the legs 35″ (90 cm) long. They may look spindly in the photo above but they were actually really sturdy though! That’s because Josh screwed them in from both the top and the side of the pallet.
Pallet Gardening Projects
I’m over the moon with my new pallet potting bench! I love how rustic it looks and have no plans to paint the wood. The fact that I used recycled materials to build it makes me incredibly happy too. Not only did it give an old wood pallet(s) new life but I saved a lot of money. Potting benches are pretty standard gardening equipment but they can cost you upwards of a hundred to buy. It shows once again that ‘why buy when you can DIY?’
If you have access to pallets, I have plenty more ideas for you to try. Over the years I’ve made a lot of pallet projects for both home and garden and can recommend these ideas:
- Deep Pallet Planter
- Pallet Compost Bins
- Herringbone Pallet Table (beautiful effect!)
- Strawberry Pallet Planter (instructions also in my book, A Woman’s Garden)
- Cute Wood Pallet Trugs (great planter)