Soil sifting screen Lawn and Garden:

Building A Soil Sifter
To Remove Rocks And Debris

 
In This Article:

A simple box is made from treated 2x4's. Hardware cloth is fastened to the bottom and extensions are added to keep the sifter box from sliding off the wheelbarrow.

Related Articles:
Skill Level: 2 (Basic) Time Taken: About 1.5 Hours

By , Editor

When doing yard and garden work I often find myself picking rocks and debris from the soil. It's much easier and faster to use a sifter screen to remove large chunks from dirt. I also wanted to screen large pieces from the compost that I make every year.

I wanted the soil sifter to be able to fit easily on top of my wheelbarrows.

The plastic wheelbarrow (on the right) is wider than the steel one, so I planned the dimensions of the sifter box to fit the larger width.

 

Starting Point:
A Simple Box

I designed the length of the box to be 36 inches, which is the width of the hardware cloth I bought.

I designed the width of the box to be 28 inches, which is the width of my widest wheelbarrow. Since 2x4's are 1½" thick, the shorter boards needed to be 25 inches long.

Dimensions of soil sifter box

 

I cut the treated 2x4's on a miter saw.

 

These are the 4 pieces of wood that I used to make the box.

The longer 2x4's are 36 inches long, and the shorter boards are 25 inches long.

 

I pre-drilled 3 holes at each end of the long 2x4's.

Nails or screws driven near the ends of a board usually cause the wood to split. Pre-drilling the screw holes will help prevent splitting.

Pre-drilling holes near end of board.

 

Tip:
Accurate Hole Location

I sometimes place a block of 2x4 aligned with the end of my board. This makes it easy to estimate the center of a 2-by board.

With holes accurately placed 3/4" from the end of the board, I can ensure that my screws will go into the center of the board below, and not poke through the surface of the wood.

 

To assemble the sifter box, I stood the shorter pieces on end.

Then I placed the long board (which has the pre-drilled holes) on top of the standing boards, aligned the edges, and drove in 3-inch deck screws in three places.

Of course, I could also assemble the box with all the parts laying on a workbench. I did this "standing-up" method because it allowed me to push on the boards to keep them in place.

The completed box.

 

Cutting The Hardware Cloth:

There were three different widths of hardware cloth available at Home Depot: 24", 36" and 48". I bought the 36" wide hardware cloth, which was 60" long (5 feet).

In a pinch, ordinary wire cutters can be used, but this is painfully slow. Cutting hardware cloth with wire cutters.

 

Cutting hardware cloth with tin snips. I used tin snips, which cut very quickly and easily.

I cut the hardware cloth about 1/4" smaller than the dimensions of the box.

 

Handling hardware cloth is a pain in the neck. To make the material more manageable, I clamped one end of the hardware cloth to the work table. Tip for handling hardware cloth, clamping to table.

 

Tip for storing partial roll of hardware cloth, using zip ties.

Tip:

For easier and safer storage of leftover hardware cloth, I used a couple of cable ties (a.k.a. zip ties) to keep the mesh from unrolling.

The edges of this stuff are sharp.

 

Fastening The Hardware Cloth:

I began fastening the hardware cloth by stapling the mesh to one side of the box.

I tried using an ordinary staple gun, but sometimes the staples wouldn't go into the treated yellow pine lumber.

Stapling hardware cloth to box frame.

 

Air stapler fastening hardware cloth to box frame. A better tool was a 1/4" crown pneumatic stapler. I used staples that were 7/8" long, though shorter staples would also work.

I drove staples about 2 to 4 inches apart. These staples only need to hold the cloth until I do the "real" fastening.

 

After I had fastened the hardware cloth on one edge, I pulled the mesh tight by using a small screwdriver as a prying tool.

I stabbed the screwdriver into the wood and leaned it over (in the direction of the red arrow) to pull the cloth tighter.

The hardware cloth was not exactly tight as a drum (which would be ideal), but it was better than nothing. Getting the mesh tighter would probably involve some fancy fixtures.

Pulling hardware cloth tight with a screwdriver.

 

In Hindsight...

I can see a way to make the mesh tighter. I could have taken a block of 2x4 and driven in a row of small nails (something with a head the size of a carpet tack), leaving the nail heads sticking out by 1/4 inch or so.

These nails would need to be spaced accurately apart by 1 or 2 inches so they would grab the hardware cloth in many places, thus spreading the force over more points.

Then this pulling board would need to be pulled relative to the box frame, and held while staples were driven into the hardware cloth.

 

Folding over excess hardware cloth. At this point I realized that the size I chose for the hardware cloth wasn't very wise, because I ended up folding the edges back anyway. I didn't want sharp wires poking out the sides of the box.

It might be better to cut the hardware cloth about 1/2 inch smaller than the box dimensions, so the cut ends are plenty far from the edges of the box.

 

The Real Fastening:

Ripping 1x6 on table saw to make 1x2. On the table saw, I cut a 1½" wide strip from several pieces of 1x6.

I kept the remaining boards (which were about 4 inches wide) for later use.

I could have bought treated 1x2's, but I had the 1x6's in my stash of lumber.

 

To hold the hardware cloth secure, I fastened the 1x2's over the wire mesh.

Using this clamping board is a FAR BETTER method of securing the hardware cloth than just staples alone.

I used a pneumatic stapler with 1½" staples, but this could be fastened with deck screws or small galvanized box nails.

Stapling board over hardware cloth to hold it tight.

Deck screws would work too, but I would recommend pre-drilling the holes to prevent splitting this narrow strip of wood. In fact, using screws would be smarter, in case the hardware cloth gets ripped and needs to be replaced someday. But I wasn't feeling smart when I built this sifter.

 

Soil sifter, bottom view. The bottom view of the sifter after fastening the clamping boards.

 

I could use the soil sifter at this point, but it will keep falling off the wheelbarrow because there is nothing to prevent it from sliding around. Soil sifter on wheelbarrow.

 

Improvements:

Fastening extension boards to side of soil sifter box. To keep the soil sifter from sliding off the wheelbarrow, I added a piece of 1-by treated lumber to the sides of the box.

These boards were the leftover pieces I had after I ripped those 1½" wide clamping boards used earlier. But ordinary treated 1x4's would work just as well.

 

I made these side extension boards extend about one inch below the bottom of the box, to keep the sifter box from sliding off the wheelbarrow.

 

The sides and back had full-length extension boards, while the front had short extenders like this.

 

Since the wheelbarrow was longer than my 36 inch long sifter box, I had to use these two short pieces at the front.

With these extension boards, the sifter box won't slide off the wheelbarrow at all, which makes it much easier to use.

 

The completed soil sifter, which fit snugly on top of a wheelbarrow.

 

To use the sifter, I dumped a couple of shovel-loads of soil onto the screen and used a garden trowel to wipe the soil back-and-forth, causing the fine particles to fall through and the coarse chunks (stones, sticks and roots) to stay on top.

If the soil is damp it requires more wiping. Dry sandy soil falls through with little wiping required.

Using soil sifter screen, separating stones from dirt.

While this sifter does a good job of separating larger stones from the soil, small pebbles often fall through the 1/4" screen holes. I suppose another sifter made from aluminum window screen might work to further separate the pebbles from the fine soil. Maybe I'll try that someday.

More Info:

Tools Used:

  • Hammer
  • Flat Screwdriver
  • Miter Saw
  • Cordless Drill/Driver
  • Staple Gun
  • Pneumatic Stapler (Optional)

Materials Used:

  • Treated 2x4x8' (2 pieces)
  • 1/4" Hardware Cloth, 3'x5' Roll
  • Treated 1x6x10' (or 1x2 and 1x4 of appropriate length)
  • Staple Gun Staples
  • 1/4" Crown Staples (Optional)
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Written June 17, 2007