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calendar   Monday - May 26, 2014

the essential garden tool you have to make yourself

If you play in the dirt, sooner or later you’re going to need one of these.

Separating the wheat from the chaff is child’s play compared to separating the dirt from the rocks. Until that little lightbulb goes off in your head and your brain says “hey, if we had a bit of really heavy duty screen, it would catch the rocks and the dirt would go on through.”

And you’ve just come up with the concept of a soil sifter.

image
Not mine. Too fancy pants a design for me.

One of a million instructional pages on how to make a soil sifter. Good grief. Come on. Whack together a wooden frame, then stick some steel mesh on it. Done. Instructions???? Please. But there are just as many different pictures of them out there, so Google a few of those to help focus your idea and your actual needs. Don’t forget: we’re sifting dirt here to get the rocks out, not mining for gold or diamonds. Do it cheap, do it quick, get back to work.

While the tool is little more than a bit of steel mesh stuck onto a simple wooden frame, everyone makes theirs differently. Some folks screw on handles. Some folks cut the long side boards way too long and carve handles into them. Some folks add some swing out legs to one end. Other folks size theirs to fit a wheelbarrow, some going as far as nailing on some extra boards as tabs to hold the sifter just so on the wheelbarrow.

Steel mesh? Yeah, the stuff used to be called Builder’s Cloth, but these days it’s called Hardware Cloth. It’s actually rebar screen, that gets used when masons build a sidewalk. You’ll find it in the concrete area of your local big box hardware store. Or else it will be over in the garden area, next to the chicken wire. But trust me, this stuff ain’t chicken wire. You want the 1/2” galvanized mesh, of as heavy a gauge (usually 18) as they sell. You don’t want plastic coated mesh. You don’t want 1/4” mesh right now, but you might want some of that later. The size of the roll for sale is going to limit the size of your finished sifter. You can get the stuff in 4’ wide rolls, often 50’ long. Big purchase. You can also get the stuff in 3’ wide rolls only 5’ long for $9. Ah ha, somebody at Big Box has her thinking cap on. Smart. Sell you $1 worth for $9 and you’re happy you didn’t have to spend $75 to get the big roll.

Mine is going to be made from 2x4, because that’s what’s out in the garage. 2x6 would be fine too, probably better, or even 1x4 for a lightweight bucket top sized model. If I have spare wood, I’ll put some pivoting legs on one end.

Ok, cut your boards and then nail your frame together. I’m using decking screws, because I have some and I know where they are. Angle irons for the corners? Sure, if you’ve got them. Cut the mesh about 2” wider than the outside measurements of the frame. Tin snips will cut the stuff. So will wire cutters. Genuine aviation snips will go through it like butter, but make sure you buy the heftier tool that can handle 18 gauge steel. Lay the mesh down on the garage floor or driveway, center your frame on it, and use a red Sharpie marker (or some duct tape) to mark off the little corners you have to nibble out so you can fold the mesh up around all 4 sides of the frame. Do that, fold up one of the long sides, then attach the mesh with some lineman’s staples or (best way) use a big bunch of short nails with really large heads. Like roofing nails. Galvanized steel ones are best, but use what you’ve got. Put the thing back on the garage floor mesh side down, kneel on it, and bend the other side up and tack it in place. This keeps the mesh tight, and by nailing it on from the side the nails will never pull out. Do the short ends too.

We had one of these sifters when I was a kid, and we put in a swimming pool on a slightly sloped yard. Much digging ensued. They work like magic. I like the kind of sifter with sturdy legs on one end, so I can stand it up like an easel and throw shovels full of dirt at it. And watch all the rocks and bits of gravel roll down the screen and pile up in the bottom.  If you do a set-top design to fit a wheelbarrow, a hefty Roughneck storage bin, or even a 5 gallon bucket, you’ll probably have to scoot the dirt around by hand a little to work it through. Or shake it about with the handles. Some folks make fancy frames with bungee cords and chains so they can make a sifting station where they can shake and wiggle their sifters like mad without fear of tipping the wheelbarrow. Nice, but a plain old pair of cheap work gloves works just as well. Great work for a smaller “helper” type person.

Oh yeah ... the 1/4” mesh.  If you’re really picky you don’t want any stone bits at all in your garden soil. So build yourself another sifter and use 1/4” mesh this time. Take the dirt you ran through the 1/2” sifter and work it through, and you’ll get out every last pebble, nail, and tiny twig. But don’t waste your time trying to throw raw dirt through this one. It will take you forever, and you’ll probably wind up wanting some kind of secure frame with chains and bungee cords and probably a motor with an eccentric drive rod to do the job. Much easier and cheaper just to have 2 sifters.

You also need a place to hide these things. You’ll only use them once or twice a season, maybe, and they last forever. Actually the uglier they are, the longer they last. So find other uses for them. Like a washing off platform for your entire crop of carrots. Be inventive!


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 05/26/2014 at 07:14 AM   
Filed Under: • Miscellaneous •  
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