Rain Barrel Stand

February 20, 2012 § 4 Comments

A few posts back I showed myself practicing handsaw skills by cross-cutting some pieces to length, and followed with a post on cutting #$&^@ cedar end grain. This was part of the process in building a rain barrel stand. Outdoor wood furniture, more associated with rough carpentry than fine woodworking, doesn’t get a lot of love from proper cabinet makers. But they can be fun projects, and, like your fine indoor pieces, it’s much more satisfying to sit outside on a chair you built rather than a set of junky imposters from Costco. They also provide great practice pieces. Often the joinery need not be perfect, only strong and functional. I practice joinery on scrap boards just like everyone else, but I much prefer to actually have a finished product as a result of practicing.

Water conservation is becoming an increasingly important part of life, especially in the drier western U.S. states. Western Oregon will never be compared to a water-starved desert, but capturing rainwater is as popular here as even the driest places in the country. A while back we attended a workshop where a basic barrel was made from a 55-gallon food-grade storage container. When connected to your downspout, it collects rainwater that can be used to water plants in your garden in lieu of turning on your hose. There is one catch – the water is gravity fed, so they work best when elevated. At the workshop we could have purchased a round galvanized steel drum stand. Of course, I rejected that option at the time, declaring, “I can easily build a better looking one from wood”. Months later – and after missing out on the biggest storms of the season – I’ve finally finished the stand.

Made from cedar, it was constructed as a simple square, with 4×4 legs and 2×4 stretchers on all four sides to help prevent racking. I decided to half lap all the stretchers into the legs. Simply bolting everything together would suffice, but it was an opportunity to try different methods for cutting a half lap. Some techniques worked fairly well, others not so much. The methods included – sawing straight down the line (result: fair), sawing out corners first, then finishing straight down (result: decent), sawing out horizontal stop-cuts, and then popping out with a chisel (result: fair, but lots of clean up). And there were a few others that were variations and/or combinations of these. If I had a table saw, a stacked dado would have made quick work of these. I am of the belief that the better you get with a handsaw, the less efficient a table saw becomes due to the time and effort in set up that is required. Still, with a dialed-in stacked dado, a more true and accurate half lap (or tenon shoulder) cannot be achieved.

What did I learn?

  • A sharp chisel can fix almost anything.
  • At this point in the game I am a much better at crosscuts than rips when using a handsaw. I was using a big 300mm ryoba for ripping, which is probably oversized for the job at hand – I was having challenges keeping it balanced and square in the cut. It also left a rather rough surface that needed some cleanup. A proper rip-filed tenon saw is on the list.
  • Vises are good things. So is anything that makes your board immovable when you are trying to cut it. I fashioned all sorts of clamping mechanisms to get the boards to keep from moving on my work table when cutting the half-laps.
  • When doing everything by hand, I need to get more in the habit of varying my tasks. I went about building the stand in a very production-oriented fashion. First I cut everything to length. Then I did all the sawing of the half-laps. Then I did the chisel and/or router plane cleanup. Sawing, especially ripping, can get tiring. After doing several in a row, fatigue started to set in – probably resulting in a few sawing errors. Had I worked on one stretcher at a time, from start to finish, the chiseling work would have broken up the sawing routine a little.
  • If the top pieces look as if they could use move overlap, you are correct. Here is one of the hazards of working in a cut list frame of mind. If I had to do it over again, I would have built the base first, then cut the top pieces to the length that looked best.

The joints aren’t airtight, but they don’t need to be; this is a stand that will prop up a rain barrel. Glue and screws will help hold everything together. And again, it’s a practice piece. One of the purposes of building this was to try out a few different methods for cutting half laps. Still, even with building it completely with hand tools it came out remarkably square. Next time, I’ll probably add a few more details to make it look more custom. And for the joinery, maybe mortise and tenons…

(The installation at this point looks like a Rube Goldberg machine. I’ll work on streamlining everything as I have time.)

Using food-grade storage containers like this has become quite popular. If you live in a city, chances are someone is probably selling them. Or you can try Gardeners Supply, which sells different sizes of rain barrels that are ready to go. When I lived in Arizona I had two of their green ones.


§ 4 Responses to Rain Barrel Stand

  • Although rain barrels may seem like a new trend, their origin dates back many centuries. The most noticeable difference between old fashioned water barrels and the ones used today is probably the different materials they are now being made of. Modern barrels also look a lot better and can fit seamlessly into most gardens and décor. Water barrels are practical but their most important aspect is functionality and the fact that they help us preserve one of our planet’s largest resources. To top it all off, rain water is free too!

  • Chris Vandiver says:

    It’s Rube Goldberg(not Ruth Goldberg). The rain barrel stand looks nice.

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