Make a Garden Work Table from a Pallet

Pallets are a ubiquitous building material, your free lumber yard in tough times. Homegrown Evolution patched together the garden work table above for use with seedlings and storing pots and watering cans. Hopefully the picture is all you need to put one together yourself.

Some tips for working with pallets:

1. We prefer projects that don’t involve disassembling the pallet. The nails in pallets aren’t meant to be removed. Trying to take one apart with a crowbar will, in most cases, result in a lot of split, useless wood. A Sawzall reciprocating saw would work better if you must take one apart. For the table above we simply cut the pallet in half with a circular saw and handsaw.

2. Use screws not nails and predrill all holes. Pallet wood is very brittle and splits easily.

For some other design ideas check out:

This nice coffee table. Note that you simply use the whole pallet.

And this cool idea: an art/architecture collective Municipal Workshop has a nice way of avoiding the problem of pulling pallets nails. They cut pallets apart and use all the small pieces of wood like tiles. Here’s some more info on their “Autotron Unit”, pictured above.

A Tensegrity Table

Tensegrities are an attractive structure that can be built with rods and string or wire. The term is Buckminster Fuller’s combination of “tension” and “integrity”, though Fuller probably did not invent the concept. Having seen a coffee table that used a tensegrity as a base, I decided to see if I could make a similar table, only out of scavenged materials (scavenging seems appropriate in these crummy economic times!).

To make your own tensegrity table, molecular biomechanics professor Dr. William H. Guilford has some very nice step-by-step instructions here. My version is slightly different, but frankly Guilford’s design is probably more stable. I used some electrical conduit tubing left over from remodeling the house, some rope and a stop sign that I found laying in a driveway (note the “anarchy” graffiti – is that “stop anarchy” or a pro-anarchy statement?). Putting the tensegrity together was a bit more time consuming and frustrating than I expected, but once I got my head around the geometry of the concept and learned how to tug the rope, my slightly wonky scrap tensegrity miraculously seemed to assemble itself.

Tensegrities make a nice project for using up short scrap materials and can be stacked to form a tower. An example of a very tall tensegrity structure is sculptor Kenneth Snelson’s “Needle Tower”, installed at the Hirshhorn in Washington D.C. While more of a traditionalist when it comes to architectural forms, tensegrities make a nice addition to the Hoemgrown Evolution design vocabulary and I’m contemplating a tensegrity bean trellis for the backyard . . .

A Used Tire Hose Caddy

Here’s a cheap and easy way, using one of our favorite junk building materials–used tires, to keep that hose from trippin’ you up in the back yard.

Cut out the sidewall of one side of a tire using a sabre saw. You could use a sharp knife, but electricity makes this task a lot easier.

You’ll end up with the half cut out tire you see above. But your work is not yet complete.

Drill a bunch of drainage holes in the bottom of the tire, at least one hole every three inches. This is to keep water from pooling when it rains. Incidentally, used tires combined with water make the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes (more on the tragic global consequences caused by mosquitoes incubating in tires here). With a bunch of drainage holes you won’t have a problem.

Got more used tires? See our used tire composter here.

FEMA Plans for a Bar That Folds Into a Fallout Shelter

Sometime back in the early 1990s I signed up for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s free home study course in radiological emergency management. Along with the text book and quizzes came a couple of plans for home built fallout shelters. Most of these shelters were what you would expect, underground cinder block cubes accessed through a trap door on your back patio. But one plan really stood out for its cocktail era inventiveness, a basement “snack bar” that converts into the perfect place to ride out Armageddon.

“The principal feature of this shelter is a sturdy wood overhead canopy which serves as a part of a pre-built snack bar in a basement recreation room. Consisting of three units hinged to the back wall, the canopy can be lowered to rest on the snack bar in an emergency.

In basements where the level of the outside ground is above the top of the canopy, adequate shelter from fallout radiation is provided for 6 people when the canopy is filled with 8″ solid concrete block or brick.

The snack bar should not take more than 5 man-days to construct.”

Incoming missles? Just fold down the snack bar’s false roof, toss in those cinder blocks and hunker down for a few weeks of endless martinis and canned cocktail wieners with five of your best friends. To help you prepare for the possibility of Kim Jong Il interrupting your holiday party (assuming you’ve got “5 man-days”), I’ve posted a pdf of the plans for this bit of FEMA genius here.

Incidentally, despite the 1960s vibe of this publication, it’s dated 1980 and some of the other designs were kept up to date until at least 1990, proving that cold warriors kept up the fight late in the game. I wonder if FEMA had any nifty hurricane plans . . .

Make a Rain Barrel

There’s a lot of advice floating around the internets about how to make a rain barrel. Most barrel pundits suggest drilling a hole in the bottom of a barrel and installing a faucet, a kind of connection called a “bulkhead fitting”. Unfortunately such improvised fittings have a tendency to leak. My favorite way to make a rain barrel is to take a 55 gallon drum, use the preexisting fittings on the top and turn it upside down, a process explained nicely here (complete with a list of parts), by B. Chenkin who will also sell you a kit at Aquabarrel.com.

To get started, you get a ubiquitous 55 gallon drum with two threaded “bung” holes that look like this:

A good source for this kind of barrel is your local car wash. Just make sure that the barrel you scavenge didn’t have nasty chemicals in it. You punch out the center of one of the bungs, as shown, and insert a threaded PVC fitting. A few more PVC parts from the sprinkler section of your hardware store, a brass hose fitting with a valve, and you’ll have this:


Glue that up with some PVC cement, wrap the threads with teflon tape, and you’re almost ready to collect rainwater. But first, turn the barrel upside down, drill a hole for the down spout another hole to insert an overflow pipe made out of a threaded 3″ waste pipe fitting:

The last step is to prop the barrel up on some wood or concrete blocks to give some clearance for your hose connection and some extra elevation for a gravity assist to help push the water through a garden hose.

The overflow connection is another reason I like Chenkin’s design. It’s important to keep rainwater away from your foundation especially when, like us, you live on a hill. The picture at top shows our barrel installed with the overflow pipe connected to a pipe that runs down to the street. Los Angeles’ building code required us to run our rainwater out to the street, where it helps wash pollution into the LA River and the ocean (see creekfreak for more on LA’s pesky water issues). At least we’ll be channeling some of that water, via the barrel, to our new fruit trees. Those of you with flat yards could simply connect up an overflow pipe that would take the water at least ten feet from the foundation.

In Southern California, where rain never falls between May and October, a 55 gallon drum won’t meet much of our irrigation needs, though Chenkin’s design does allow you to chain multiple barrels together. What we really need is an enormous cistern, something with a capacity in the neighborhood of around 10,000 gallons. Ideally houses here, as in the ancient Roman world, would have been built with huge underground holding tanks. A small rain barrel like this makes more sense for those of you who live in places with rain throughout the year, where a small amount of collected rainwater could be used to bridge a gap in rainstorms. I put this rain barrel together as a test and because I was tired of looking a blue drum that sat in the backyard for a year giving our patio a methamphetamine lab vibe.

Again, for complete instructions and a list of parts visit Chenkin’s ehow page or, if you’re not adept at perusing the isles of the local hardware store, buy a kit from him through Aquabarrel.

[Editors note: due to spamming (are rain barrel enthusiasts really that excited about internet pharmaceuticals?) we’ve had to shut down comments for this post.]