How to Make a Panel Planter

Put your plants on a pedestal with an eye-catching DIY panel planter from Michael R. Johnson’s how-to guide Deck & Patio Furnishings.

Deck & Patio Furnishings: Seating, Dining, Wind & Sun Screens, Storage, Entertaining & More
Deck & Patio Furnishings: Seating, Dining, Wind & Sun Screens, Storage, Entertaining & More

There are countless ways to build a planter. It is, after all, just a pretty box into which we place our plants. This version is a bit different as it mimics the kind of wood panels typically used in tabletops and other interior furniture. The traditional way of building wood panels requires exacting work, starting with a planer, jointer, and other advanced woodworking tools. This planter design, however, is much simpler by comparison. It uses standard dimensional cedar and mahogany, pocket joinery, and glue. The resulting panels may not be as perfectly smooth and flat as they’d need to be for a dining table, but you can build it in a few hours and get results that look great.

By using contrasting 2 x 4 cedar and 1 x 2 mahogany stock, the panels are striking in appearance. The ribbons of dark mahogany contrast dramatically with the lighter cedar. Choose the best quality lumber you can, looking for the straightest boards. You can cut the lumber into individual lengths, or build one large panel and cut it into sections after construction, as shown on the next page. Whatever method you use, you’ll end up with a beautiful planter that will stand out from the usual box.


Materials and Tools List

  • (10) 2 x 4 in. x 8 ft. cedar
  • (10) 1 x 2 in. x 8 ft. mahogany
  • 2½-in. stainless-steel pocket screws
  • Exterior glue
  • Plastic lining (optional)
  • Drill/driver
  • Saw
  • Tape measure
  • Clamps
  • Square





Pocket screws create butt joints in wood that are practically instant to make and outperform plain butt joints in strength and reliability of alignment. To make them you need an inexpensive clamp-on pocket hole jig (photo A), special drill bit for drilling pocket holes and a long screwdriving bit (photo B), as well as some self-tapping pocket screws that are designed so the screw head will be recessed below the wood surface when the joint is done (photo C).




(#1) Cut the cedar and mahogany boards to 56 inches. You should be able to locate stock that is sized to the dimensions shown in the cutting list at your local building center or lumber yard. If not, you’ll need to purchase random-width stock and use a planer and jointer to dimension it. Drill pocket holes into the top and bottom of the 2 x 4 cedar following the layout diagram.



(#2) Arrange the boards with the 1 x 2 mahogany in between the cedar boards. Apply wood glue (exterior rated) between each layer of wood and then lightly clamp them together. Use scrap 2 x 4s as cauls to clamp the boards down to the work surface, which should be as flat as possible. Use a rubber mallet to help push the boards into place and then tighten the clamps.

Drive 2½-inch screws into the pocket holes from both directions and into the mahogany strips. Allow the glue to dry.



(#3) Remove the clamps and lay out cutting lines to divide the glued-up slab into four smaller panels (the front, back, and two sides). Cut the panel along the cutting lines with a circular saw and a straightedge cutting guide.



(#4) Drill pocket holes into the two narrow side panels and then attach them to the front and back panels with 2½-inch pocket screws, forming the box. Take care to make the joints between panels as flush and smooth as you can.



(#5) Attach the 2 x 4 base cleats to the bottom, inside surfaces of the box using more 2½-inch screws. The cleats should extend 1½ inches (and no more) outside of the box panel bottoms to create a “foot” for the box so it rests more stably and limits ground contact with the nicer-quality cedar and mahogany stock. Add a pair of 2 x 2 shelf supports midway up the inside of the box to create a support ledge for the shelf. Cut a shelf from ¾-inch exterior plywood and attach it to the 2 x 2 ledge. Line the box and shelf with plastic and plant it, or just insert a container with plants.



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Get everything you need to know to build 25 outdoor projects, from benches to birdbaths!

Deck & Patio Furnishings is a collection of easy to intermediate projects that any homeowner with basic tools can build. These practical projects for outdoor living range from seats, benches, tables, and lounges to overhead arbors, wind and sun screens, deck boxes, storage, bars, and even side tables and cooler stands. Most are made with standard dimensional lumber, so finding the right materials will be a snap!

Each of the 25 original, never-before-published projects includes dimensioned plan drawings, cutting and shopping lists, complete step-by-step instructions with clear how-to photos, and a gorgeous finished photo so you can be sure your work will go smoothly.

Michael Anderson is an art director, photographer, and writer with a passion for designing buildable projects with simple elegance. In addition to his magazine and advertising work, he has supplied the illustrations for several Cool Springs Press books and shot all of the photography for the 2013 title Easy Birdhouses & Feeders. He lives in Chanhassen, Minnesota.