Turn a Dresser into a Potting Bench

Repurpose an old dresser into a station for organizing your seeds, pots and other garden essentials.

by Dani Yokhna
Turn a Dresser Into a Potting Bench - Illustration by Tom Kimball (HobbyFarms.com

If you drool over the beautiful garden benches found in garden- and farm-supply catalogs, but can’t manage to fork over the cash a top-dollar work station, you’re in luck. Armed with do-it-yourself skills and a few tools, you can make a potting bench all your own out of salvaged materials.

The foundation of the project below is an old dresser, which you might have around your house or can readily find at a local thrift shop. The majority of the other materials, with the possible exception of the drawer slides, can also be found around your home or at a secondhand store.

Before you start building your potting bench, browse your favorite garden catalogs to find the features you most want to incorporate. Our project included:

  • a workspace tall enough that we can pot our plants without bending over
  • a potting-mix container within reach
  • storage for record-keeping and reference materials
  • space to hang tools and hats

Think through your own needs before starting your project, and adjust your materials accordingly.

Tools and Materials

  • jigsaw
  • drill or electric screwdriver
  • hammer
  • flat-head screwdriver
  • sander (optional)
  • tape measure
  • dresser
  • 2 2x4s sized to dresser width
  • 2 2x4s sized to dresser length
  • screws
  • coarse sandpaper
  • outdoor paint or stain
  • 2 sets undermount drawer slides
  • toilet-paper dispenser
  • hooks or rigid metal-rake head
  • organizers of your choice
Turn a Dresser into a Potting Bench - Illustration by Tom Kimball (HobbyFarms.com)Step 1: Find your dresser.
We started our search for the perfect potting bench by looking at old desks but found they weren’t tall or wide enough for our needs. Dressers, though, come in a variety of heights, and many are long and wide enough to provide ample workspace. Determine an ergonomic height for your potting bench by standing up straight and bending your elbows; the tip of your elbow should reach the top of the dresser. The bench can be a few inches shorter, but not so short that you have to bend over to work. Any taller, and you’ll wear out your shoulders while working.
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Find a dresser with good construction. Pressboard from flimsily made furniture will not hold up to the wear and tear—not to mention the weather—your potting bench will endure. We found our dresser at a flea market. You might look for yours at a secondhand store or yard sale, on Craigslist or Freecycle, or in your own basement. Our dresser is 42 inches tall, 30 inches deep and 36 inches long with four drawers.

Turn a Dresser into a Potting Bench - Illustration by Tom Kimball (HobbyFarms.com)
Turn a Dresser into a Potting Bench - Illustration by Tom Kimball (HobbyFarms.com)
Turn a Dresser into a Potting Bench - Illustration by Tom Kimball (HobbyFarms.com)

Step 2: Deconstruct your dresser.
Pull all of the drawers out of the dresser, and set them aside. Keep the bottom two drawers intact for storing garden supplies. The top two drawer spaces will become a shelf: Half will be stationary, and half will pull out to hold a potting-soil container. Using a jigsaw, cut out the frame between the top two
drawers. You’re left with an open space approximately 20 inches tall.

If your dresser has side-drawer slides, remove these from the now-open space. Remove the bottom piece from one of the extra drawers. You can use the jigsaw to cut it off, if needed; however, you can probably work it apart using a hammer and flat-head screwdriver.

Remove the drawer slides, and cut the wood piece in half width-wise. You’ll use one of these pieces for the pull-out shelf and the other to reinforce the stationary shelf. If your drawer bottom is flimsy, use 1/4-inch plywood instead. This shelf will hold your potting mix, so it needs to have some heft. Remove the drawer pulls from the two drawers you’re keeping as well as the deconstructed drawer.

Turn a Dresser into a Potting Bench - Illustration by Tom Kimball (HobbyFarms.com)
Turn a Dresser into a Potting Bench - Illustration by Tom Kimball (HobbyFarms.com)

Step 3: Size your dresser.
If the dresser you’re working with is a little taller than necessary, use a jigsaw to cut off the legs flush with the bottom of the dresser.

Add a base for stability: Secure one 2×4, wide-side down, along each side of the dresser base. Insert our screws along each board (one in each end and two in the middle). Pay attention to the dresser’s construction. The very bottom of the dresser might be too thin to hold the screws. In this case, screw the base to the outside edge of the dresser.

Step 4: Paint your pieces.
Dressers are constructed for indoor use, so you’ll want to repaint yours to hold up to outdoor conditions. This is important even if you plan to keep your potting bench in a garden shed or barn, out of direct contact with precipitation; fluctuating temperatures and humidity will still take their toll on wood like this.

Strip the finish from the wood and stain it, or give it a good sanding and paint over the existing finish with outdoor paint. Give your potting bench personality. If you have a classic, rustic style, go with an antique-looking color or give it a distressed treatment. If you’re more bold and carefree, consider using a bright, glossy paint.

Invite kids to join in on this part of the project, as well, if they’ll be participating in gardening activities. Paint the dresser, the pull-out shelf, the stationary shelf and the two bottom drawers, inside and out.
Your hooks, drawer pulls and toilet-paper dispenser also become new again with a coat of paint that complements your potting-bench colors.

Continue the project when the paint has dried per manufacturer’s instructions.

Turn a Dresser into a Potting Bench - Illustration by Tom Kimball (HobbyFarms.com)
Turn a Dresser into a Potting Bench - Illustration by Tom Kimball (HobbyFarms.com)

Step 5: Attach pull-out shelf slides.
If your dresser has undermount drawer slides, you can use these for your pull-out shelf slides; otherwise, purchase undermount slides at a salvage shop or hardware store. If you buy new slides, these will likely come with installation instructions—follow the manufacturer’s instructions, if available.

Mount inner slide bars along the edges of the bottom of the pull-out shelf. Measure to space them evenly. Precision is important—if these are not parallel to each other, the shelf will not slide properly.

Slide the mounted bars into the base slides and set the shelf, slide-side down, on the left side of the dresser shelf base. Mark the base slides’ positions on the dresser shelf. Remove the sliding shelf and set aside, disengaging the bars from the base slides. Attach the bottom slides to the dresser shelf base as marked. Reassemble the slides, test your pull-out shelf, and adjust base slide placement as needed.

Turn a Dresser into a Potting Bench - Illustration by Tom Kimball (HobbyFarms.com)Step 6: Reinforce stationary shelf.
With a screw in each corner, mount the other half of the drawer base inside the dresser, next to the pull-out shelf, to reinforce the stationary shelf.
Turn a Dresser into a Potting Bench - Illustration by Tom Kimball (HobbyFarms.com)Step 7: Reassemble drawers.
Reattach the drawer pulls to the two bottom drawers, and replace the drawers in the dresser.
Turn a Dresser into a Potting Bench - Illustration by Tom Kimball (HobbyFarms.com)

Step 8: Create more storage space.
The sides of this potting bench are as useful as the interior. On the left side, secure the remaining two drawer pulls. Keep your gardening gloves and anything with a hook or loop here. Also attach a toilet-paper dispenser to keep your trellising twine.

On the right side, secure a series of hooks or the head of an old metal rake to hang your gardening hat and hand tools with hanging loops. (If the loops have broken off of your tools, now’s the time to replace them with trellising twine.)

Turn a Dresser into a Potting Bench - Illustration by Tom Kimball (HobbyFarms.com)

Step 9: Organize your bench.
No one can tell you how to organize your potting bench—you have to do what makes sense to you. For our potting bench, we used items we found at the flea market to provide a place for everything. In the top drawer of our potting bench, silverware-drawer organizers do wonders for keeping garden markers organized and handy. A waterproof, plastic photo box has a second life as a seed-packet organizer. Our garden journal, a box of colored pencils and pens, a favorite garden-reference book, and a three-ring binder with garden articles kept in plastic sleeves for reference have a home here, too. If your potting bench has the potential to get rained on, keep your printed materials in a waterproof, plastic container.

The bottom drawer holds bags of soil amendments, less-often-used tools, and a dust pan and hand broom to keep the bench tidy.

On our potting bench’s pull-out shelf, we keep a plastic tub for potting mix, and extra pots
and spray bottles sit on the stationary shelf. An organized potting bench gives you a central place to use as a garden workbench, making your garden chores that much more enjoyable.


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