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Basic skills and a potato bin

Posted by joeabbott on April 9, 2015

I built a potato growing bin a couple weekends back and am now onto the extension to our chicken coop. But, along the way I realized that I’m continuing to pick up new skills and refine a few I’ve been working on for a while. So, I’ll share a bit of what I’m learning and show you how to build a potato bin!

Potato Bin

Let’s start with the important stuff: this design is neither original, nor is it the only one. Just search on potato-growing bin and you’ll get more hits than you could flip through in a day. But, if you dug into Whole Home News Build Your Own Potato-Growing Box, well, you’d be using the plan I followed.

The beauty of this plan is that it has few parts, no screws to deal with after you’ve built it, and will stack easily in the off-season. It does have one tricky detail that I solved differently than the blog posting suggested you should. But first, let’s look at the plan!


For the sides, you’ll end up needing sixteen boards cut from 2×6 lumber that are 29.5” long. If you get an 8’ 2×6 board, you can cut three boards at 29.5” and have an extra cut-off part (~7.5”) that you’ll need later.

So, to get sixteen of them, buy yourself six 2x6x8’ boards.

Once you have the sixteen boards, you’ll need to cut 2.75”x1.5” slots at 2” from each end. You’ll end up with all of the boards looking like this:



The cleats are created by simply cutting 1.5” sections of the cut-off you had left over from making the sides; again, you’ll need sixteen of these. The good part about this is, if you kept cut-offs from the five boards you completely cut-up for sides, you should easily get four cleats from each of these boards, giving you all sixteen and a couple extra!

Once you have the sixteen cleats, you’ll screw these into the sides of half of the sides. That is, eight of the sides will have cleats attached: two cleats on a side. You’ll attach them just inside of the notch you cut out, sticking over the long edge, half way. The eight sides will look like this:


Stacking them up

You then just need to nest two of the sides without cleats into two of the sides with cleats!


The cut-out you created when building the sides will hold all four sides on any tier together, and then the cleats on the boards opposite each other will nest into the tier below and it’ll hold the different tiers together! You’ll note that you really don’t need the cleats in the first level, but by having them, you can go into “production mode” and not worry about which tier you’re on and you get the added benefit of those cleats holding the whole bin in place as they engage the earth below!

Details details

Now, I’m on the hardware end of things … I just build them. So, once you have it built, you’ll either need to talk to Suzy or read the article on how to fill it and when to do what to encourage more potatoes.

And the final detail I’ll share is that I used cedar lumber. You can use any old fir, I’d imagine, but avoid pressure-treated (PT) woods. The PT wood that had used cyanide treatment in it has been long since phased out, but if you wouldn’t eat the solution they’re using to PT the lumber now (and you shouldn’t!), you don’t want it in the wood you’re using to contain your vegetables.

Coping with a coping saw

OK, here’s the part I wanted to write about … learning new stuff.

When it came time to cut out the notches in the sides, I realized I’d need to raise my table saw 2.75” high, not use a blade guard, and then I’d still have to chop out a bunch of wood with chisels. None of that sounded fun, so I thought: hey, I’ll use my handsaws to cut out the waste!

To start with, I clamped the boards in my vise and cut the four sides with a standard saw; then I’d use a coping saw to cut the bottoms.


While that may sound easy, it actually was a lot of work. Enough work that I, more than once, thought about firing up the table saw and using that option. Why didn’t I? Well, I told myself that I’d never learn the saw skills I wanted unless I put in the time using those tools.

And so, in each of the sixteen boards, I cut four vertical cuts with my handsaw and would then follow those up by cutting across the base with my coping saw. The handsaw part went fine, but the coping sawing was a challenge.

At first I was having trouble cutting to the line: the blade would wander and I constantly had to track both the front and the back sides. Then I broke a blade. Overall, however, after you do a half-dozen, you start getting the feel for something. By the time you’ve done a dozen (and aren’t half way through with the job), you’re in a groove of understanding. And when you finish the lot, well, you figure you’ve learned something … in addition to sweating a lot!

For all you budding woodworkers who are having troubles … know that yes, yes you will have troubles. And then keep at it!


WP_20150404_12_28_48_ProThe handsawing I did on the potato bin was fairly easy: just under 3” cuts. On the chicken coop I had some tougher cuts!

In order to get these cuts made, I had to not only use my vise, but lock the far end in place with a bucket of kitty litter. You won’t find that trick on woodworking blogs, but I don’t care that it looks a bit ghetto as much as the fact that I found something that worked!

The coop has 4×4 posts that have cut-outs to support upper and lower trim. On the top I needed a cut-out to support a 3.5” piece of trim, and needed to support a 5.5” piece of lumber on the lower section. And because these are corner posts, I needed to cut the shoulder on two faces … as the top and bottom trim would continue around the side to the back.

  WP_20150404_12_31_06_Pro   WP_20150404_12_30_06_Pro

This was another good opportunity to tune up my handsaw skills!

I first marked out the lines I wanted to cut to using pencil. I’d then start the saw and continue to watch progress as I worked on it: both front side and back. While it made for slow going, I felt good about knowing what was going on and whether I needed to encourage the blade to move one way or the other. I never tried to “steer” the blade … just kept light pressure, letting the blade and weight of the saw to do the work, and kept it moving.

Looking at the pictures below, I did fairly good. I like more that I was a consistent distance from the line than I care about not being exactly on it. My goal is to continue working on skill and create reproducible cuts where I want them. So, first, get a clean line … once I can do that each time, I’ll worry more about exactly where it lands.



That’s about it. Just a lot of writing about a few small things: a potato bin design that’s someone else’s, and using my handsaws. Simple and yet … enough. Thanks for dropping in.


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