Home projects, Miscellaneous

Building a ‘salad bar’

I have an elderly client, let’s call her Lisa, who has orthostatic hypotension. This means that whenever she moves from a sitting (or bending) position to standing, her blood pressure drops dramatically. Enough to make her pass out or at the very least feel dizzy. Obviously this is a bad thing as she loves to garden and wants to grow vegetables.

I suggested that I make her an elevated raised bed, which sounds redundant but it would help her to stay upright while allowing her to reap the benefits of a rich garden. She decided she wanted a 10″ deep bed which leaves enough depth for carrots during the winter months.  I found this plan through Pinterest and made all the necessary cuts, substituting 1″ x 10″s in place of the 1″ x 6″s. I didn’t use the threaded insert nuts, which led to a bit of a headache when I followed the plan, more on that later. Because Lisa wanted a deeper bed and I didn’t want to have the extra 4″ busting the side of the bed, I added an extra lag bolt (aka hex bolt/lag screw/hex screw) on each SIDE of each corner, so that would be 8 extra lag bolts (4 corners x 2 bolts/corner).

I made sure all the cuts were precise according to the plan.

  • 4 ~ 4″ x 4″ x 32″
  • 2 ~ 1″ x 10″ x 48″
  • 2 ~ 1″ x 10″ x 24″
  • 6 ~ 1″ x 4″ x 24″

My fantastic uncle left his drill press at my ‘workshop’ which helped a ton! Make sure you clamp your 4″ x 4″ to the table if you’re using one, if you aren’t it’s no biggie. But still clamp your wood to whatever surface you use otherwise it can wiggle all over the place. pilot_hole_widthsIn the plan directions it says to use a ½” bit, the problem with this is that the bolts are ½” on their outer width. This image nicely explains the difference between the inner and outer width, the reason you don’t want the outer width to be the same size as the pilot hole you drill is because the thread won’t have anything to ‘bite’ into. I completely forgot about this part and happily drilled 24 ~ ½” holes on my 4″ x 4″ posts. When I started trying to assemble the bed the lag bolts wouldn’t grip the damn wood. On top of that, the plan was very confusing about the locations to drill on the posts.

Due to my overzealous drilling, I had to find a solution for the oversized holes. I tried to find bolts that would fit the holes but couldn’t find any that were short enough (2″); then in my desperation the Home Depot hardware specialist recommended I try inserting wooden dowels and re-drill the holes. I bought a long wooden dowel and cut it to length to plug each hole. It didn’t work out as planned.

At this point I was exceptionally frustrated with the posts as I had holes drilled all over, with wooden dowels sticking out, and generally looking like shit. I decided to eat the cost of a new 4″ x 4″ as it would look better and I would feel better delivering this product. I decided the best way to avoid having a bazillion holes would be to mark on the old posts the orientation of where the new holes would be and use it as a guide. hole placementI drilled holes 1 ½”, 4″, and 7″ from the top of each post, 3″ from the edge using a 5/16″ drill bit. This image shows where the holes should be placed from the view above each post, essentially the placements are mirror images of each other. By staggering the placement of the bolts you keep each bolt from hitting one another. Make sure you adjust your drill press to 1 ½” depth or if using a normal drill mark on the bit with tape or a bright marker. I drilled holes using the same 5/16″ drill bit completely through the boards, again at 1 ½”, 4″, and 7″ from the top edge. A word of caution though, make sure you triple check the top edge is the same on both ends of the boards, i.e. mark and orient the board before moving it so as to not confuse yourself. On the long boards (48″) drill the holes 3″ in from the cut ends, on the shorter boards (24″) drill the holes 1 ¾” in from the cut ends.

I assembled the bed on the garage floor to make the all the boards even from above, also just to make things harder for myself. I put ½” washers on each bolt before using a socket wrench to assemble the bed. I used tin snips to cut a 24″ x 48″ piece of hardware cloth, cutting out 4″ x 4″ sections from the corners to make space for the legs; the type of hardware cloth I used is ¼” which helps to keep the soil inside the bed. Hardware cloth is made of metal, so please be VERY careful when cutting the screen as the edges are extremely sharp and will scratch you. Using my trusty staple gun, I attached the screen to the bottom using ½” staples.

IMG_1685I placed the 1″ x 4″ boards evenly spaced across the bed and drilled pilot holes for ¼” hex screws. Not wanting a repeat of the 4″ x 4″ situation, I made the pilot holes 5/32″, drilling straight through the 1″ x 4″s and a small distance into the sides of the beds. I attached the boards once again with a socket wrench, and let me tell you this bed is SOLID! This is pre-stain, please note my dog Sophie’s arms, for some reason she loves to lay under things.

I stained the bed after it was assembled using this stain from Lowe’s; in retrospect I should have stained everything before it was constructed. C’est la vie! When I delivered the raised bed to Lisa she was ecstatic; she had been saving the newspaper for a few days which made a nice liner for the bottom.

We filled it with dirt that is specifically formulated for use in raised beds, it helps to keep the moisture within the soil. We filled the bed about 2″ from the tops of the boards, the soil settled from watering and by the time we got around to planting plants in it, it had settled about 3-4″ from the top of the boards.

We planted an eggplant, a super sweet 100 tomato plant, and marigolds; we left room for rosemary and other herbs as the season goes on. Once fall and winter come around she can plant cold weather crops such as lettuce, radishes, and carrots.


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