case study planter DIY, poverty style

 

Can you believe that there’s no Wikipedia article for Modernica’s Case Study planter? (Of course you can, but I was legit surprised until I came to my senses.) I wanted to look up its history because sometimes the most boring things turn out to be super interesting–a bad example is how the Ikea Frosta stool is a copy of the Artek 60 Stool designed Alvar Aalto in 1933. (I’m having a brain fart and can’t think of any of the actual fascinating examples, but I swear there are a bunch. Did you know the whole exposed zipper trend was actually pioneered by Elsa Schiaparelli in 1935? She was pretty much the OG of everything I love about fashion.)

Anyway, I drove myself nuts all morning trying to find out stuff about this planter (I will do literally anything to avoid my accounting homework, apparently) and came up pretty dry until it occurred to me to check the “about” section on the Modernica website. Turns out there is nothing particularly interesting about the planter–it’s “inspired” by the iconic Case Study houses of the 50’s and 60’s (which are interesting as fuck) but was actually probably just an invention of Modernica’s design team. Snore. The earliest internet mention I could find of it was in this 2008 Apartment Therapy roundup of white plant pots. Here are the first two comments on that article:

 

I FEEL YOU, BROOKLYNJENNIE.

$150 isn’t TOO insane for a walnut stand and a handmade ceramic pot made by a family-owned ceramics studio in California, I guess. But the company that used to make the pots semi went out of business in 2013 and I feel like $150 as a bit much for something whose country of origin is now listed as “USA and Imported.” (This is according to Room & Board, because  the country of origin isn’t listed at all on Modernica’s website.)

Also, regardless of the quality of the ceramics, I’m sure I don’t have to explain why I’m not going to spend $150 on a plant pot.

There are a billion DIY plans for this planter, but they all have one of the following problems:

  1. They require  a bunch of power tools nobody owns (and if a person does happen to own a table saw, it’s pretty unlikely they’d need any instructions to build such a simple piece)
  2. They use SQUARE DOWELS, which make the entire thing scream “weekend DIY project!”
  3. They just plop any old tapered Ikea pot on top of the stand, which absolutely RUINS it. This stand is not meant for a tapered pot. Yeah, I get that cylindrical pots are hard to find, but that’s why Modernica gets away with charging so freaking much.

The pot thing is so key. I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to find ANY kind of large rigid cylindrical container. Unless there’s some major category of rigid cylinder that I haven’t thought of, they simply do not exist in the size I want for less than $50. I came up with a ton of off-the-wall ideas, too, but none of them panned out.

I even tried to get in contact with the company who made the original ceramic planters. They supposedly still exist as a company, and they have a Facebook page, but their website is permanently broken and they don’t respond to Facebook messages. I think I might have been able to order some in wholesale quantities (which I actually looked into via Alibaba and now I get at least 5 emails per day in Mandarin) but I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do with 60 pots. Yesterday, obnoxiously, I stopped by my local plant store to buy some dirt and I ACTUALLY FOUND SOME AFFORDABLE CYLINDER PLANTERS. AFTER TWO GODDAMN MONTHS OF LOOKING AFHSDFJ;SAF

Here is a boring grey one, but there were tons of fun colors. I think the 11″ pot was like $40. It was too late, though, because I’d just finished my poverty bucket pot the day before. If you’re in America and would like to purchase one of these cylindrical unicorns of the plant pot world, I cannot help you. Because that would be too easy, right? I literally can not find a single place to purchase medium to large Scheurich pots online, nor can I find anywhere  that says they sell them in person. It’s insanity. If you’re in Chicago, the Gethsemane nursery on north Clark has some. If you’re not in Chicago, it’s hopeless, probably.

I’m not saying Modernica has some kind of underhanded illegal market scheme going on with pottery companies, but yes, they absolutely do. That is the only thing that explains this weird hole in the market. So in a very real way, my shitty poverty bucket pot is actually Very Meaningful Economic Protest. Yep.

So just a warning, this is less of a “How To” and more of a “How I Finally Managed to Produce Something Kind of Okay, But I Guarantee You Could Do a Lot Better.” Have I rambled enough? Let’s start.


Supplies

  • (2) 3-foot lengths of 1″ dowelling (or, now that I’ve stared at this for hours, probably more like 3/4″ or even 1/2″ dowelling because I think the 1-inch is too thick)
  • 3-ish feet of 1″x2″ select pine
  • 1 orange 5-gallon bucket from Home Depot (I’m sure you can use a different kind of bucket, just make sure the bottom is tapered as little as possible)
  • 1 can of spray paint for plastic (I used this by Krylon but I just found this by Rust-oleum for only $2.50
  • any kind of paint in whatever color you want the planter to be
  • air dry clay
  • joint compound
  • any kind of tape that isn’t super super sticky (like, not duct tape)

Tools

  • hacksaw
  • electric drill
  • jig saw (it’s only $25 and will change your life, I promise
  • dowelling kit–a shitty one like I used (cheap but DO NOT RECOMMEND) or a drill block, some dowel marker thingys, and dowels. Or save future you a ton of trouble and just get this.
  • 1″ forstner drill bit (I got this set at Home Depot for a little cheaper than Amazon is selling it–probably not the best quality but who knows when I’m going to use it again, so whatever.)
  • a smallish speed square or something similar
  • sandpaper and wood stain

 

Step 1: cut the bucket

I cut off the top of the orange bucket with my jigsaw.

I used the rim of the bucket as a guide for the saw, so figured out where the blade would hit (the distance between the blade and the edge of the shoe) and drilled a 1/4″ pilot hole to stick the blade into. Then I just sawed all the way around while making sure to keep the edge of the shoe right up against the rim. Having a second set of hands for this part makes it WAY safer and easier, btw.

 

Step 2: cut the 1″x2″ pieces

After cutting the top off, the top of my bucket was about 11 inches in diameter, so factoring in a little wiggle room I wanted my cross pieces to be 11.5″ long.

Just for reference, this is approximately what the cross pieces should look like when they’re joined to the dowels. I used the 1″ forstner bit so the curve of the 1×2 would match the curve of the 1″ dowel.

THIS PART WAS QUITE A FUCKING JOURNEY FOR ME, BTW.

These are a few of my many failed attempts to drill straight down with the forstner bit. This is the reason drill presses exist, apparently. I eventually ended up setting a speed square up next to my drill to help me eyeball the straightness of the bit, and it helped a lot–

–but some of my joins still ended up looking like this:

A friend suggested I used a pilot hole, since a skinny drill bit is way easier to keep straight than a giant forstner bit, but for some reason I decided a pilot hole couldn’t possibly help (probably because googling “how to drill straight with a forstner bit” resulted in zero suggestions to use a pilot hole. WTF, internet?) . After I was all finished with everything, I gave it a try just for science, and OBVIOUSLY it totally worked and could have saved me literally hours of frustration. If I’d had a drill block to use on the pilot hole, it would have been basically effortless.

Anyway, I eventually got two pieces that weren’t awful and measured 11.5″ from the inside of the curves on the ends. If that doesn’t make sense, here’s a picture from another step that also will probably not help:

 

Step 3: cut some notches in the cross pieces

The notches are obviously so the cross pieces can fit together in an x shape. First I drew out the outline of the notches–they’re 3/4″ wide and 3/4″ deep (because a 1″x2″ is actually 3/4″x1.5″, obvs.) Then I drilled a hole in one of the corners of the outline with a 1/4″ drill bit (to stick the jigsaw blade through), and used my jigsaw to cut out a definitely-not-perfect notch.

It’s not SUPER critical to get this part totally accurate, because it will be hidden and you can use shims if you’re too sloppy. I obviously required a few shims.

This would have been a GREAT place to use a chisel, but I still haven’t gotten around to buying one of those, because then you have to buy a sharpener and based on the instructor at my woodworking class at the Parks Department, chisels and hand plans are a Major Lifestyle Choice. You have to start buying blocks of glass and sand in little shakey containers and special rulers and you are Never Allowed To Use Sandpaper Ever again. It’s like a whole thing, apparently.

 

Step 4: drill some dowel holes

THIS IS HARD AND TRICKY WITHOUT THE RIGHT TOOLS. Which, obviously, I did not have, because I never do. Mentally reliving this experience has inspired me to go buy a drill block as soon as I am done writing this, though.

Oh hey, I think I skipped the part where I cut up the big 1″ dowels. Apparently at some point I made four 17-inch lengths for the legs. Then I drilled one hole in each of them, about 8.5″ from the end with the bit that came with my shitty dowel kit. (AGAIN, DO NOT RECOMMEND.) I used the stop collar on the bit to stop from drilling all the way through the dowel, and set up the speed square again to help me drill straight.

To make sure each hole was at exactly the same place on each leg, I stuck a dowel marker thingy in the first hole and used it to mark all the other holes like so:

     

It’s basically just a pointy little metal thing that sticks in a hole, then you press another piece of wood against it to make a mark. This made sure all the legs were exactly the same length.

After that I drilled the dowel holes in the ends of the cross bars. Getting all of these holes level is way more important than on the legs, and definitely more annoying. The dowel markers won’t work here (because the surface of the ends of the boards is concave) so after I drilled the first one I popped a dowel in it and used some paint to mark the other ones.

(Side note: it would probably be better to do two dowels per joint, but I didn’t realize that until it was too late.)

Drilling horizontally is super hard, so I clamped the boards together then to the table so I could drill vertically:

Once all the holes were done, I did a quick dry fit to make sure I hadn’t totally screwed something up and magically everything fit together pretty well.

 

Step 5: Stain

I decided to stain everything before it was all assembled because it’s about ten billion times easier. I gave everything a really good sanding with some 220 and 400 grit sandpaper, then used some generic American Colonial sounding stain and two coats of matte spray-on poly.

This is what everything looked like after one coat of stain. I should definitely have used wood conditioner, but oh well. (For the legs, I screwed an eye hook into the bottom of each one and used that to hang them from my shower rod while they were drying, btw. There might be a better way but if you do it my way you get to accidentally hit yourself in the face with them a bunch of times because you forgot they were there, so…)

Step 6: glue

This is pretty simple. I just grabbed a cross piece and two legs, squirted wood glue into the four dowel holes, inserted some dowels, and stuck everything together. I must have felt like it was very complicated at the time, though, because I took like 800 pictures of this step.

Did you know that this is what wood glue looks like??

The only tricky part was getting everything lined up correctly due to the kind of questionable angles of the ends of the cross pieces. To make sure everything was square, I squished everything against my speed square then just crossed my fingers that it would dry in that position. (I didn’t have any clamps that were long enough, and I’m not even sure that would have worked since everything was so crooked.)

Once the other three pieces are glued together, that’s it for the frame!

 

Step 7: the bucket!!

This bucket is the closest thing I could get to a cylinder. It’s really actually not super terrible. If you’re not an insane person, this could totally be the end of the project for you–just grab the bucket you cut the top off of in the first step, sand the edges smooth, and do some coats of spray paint. It will look totally fine.

I’m an insane person, though, and I wanted my bucket to look a little more like pottery. The following method is COMPLETELY ridiculous and came at the end of many days of failure, during which period my entire life began to revolve around the sunk costs fallacy. I should have probably used this recipe for air-dry paper mache clay, but after weeks and weeks of obsessing about cylindrical pots I wasn’t really thinking straight.

So, onto my ridiculous faux-ceramic pot thing.

Note: this requires at least 12 hours of slightly-hands-on time. You’re not actively working on it for 12 hours, but you kind of need to check it every 30-60 minutes and make adjustments as necessary. Oh, and did I mention that when you’re done the bucket will be ridiculously fragile? Honestly, just paint your bucket and be done with it. It’s not worth it.

So basically, to hide the flimsy plastic edge of the bucket and make it look like ceramic, I sculpted a fake edge out of air dry clay. (Normal clay would have been better, obviously, but you unfortunately cannot put a plastic bucket in a kiln. Or at least not in a kiln owned by anybody you like.) Air dry clay is like the worst material possible for this application though–it says specifically on the box not to use it over a “rigid armature,” because it shrinks as it dries and a rigid surface underneath forces it to crack and crumble–unless, of course, you tend to it every 30 minutes and make painstaking adjustments and force the shrinking to only affect areas you give it permission to. This is a plant stand, but also a celebration of Man’s dominion over the earth.

Step 7a

I rolled out a little clay snake and sculpted two short fake edges, mostly as a proof-of-concept, but I ended up using one of the pieces as a patch later.

(Oh BTW, the outside of my bucket is already painted because there had already been some hilariously bad attempts to approximate this process with caulk and bucket scraps and I don’t even remember what else.)

Step 7B

I rolled out a much bigger clay snake and sculpted it around the entire edge of the bucket, but without joining the two ends where they met. There absolutely has to be a small gap there.

Do you like how the relevant part of the picture isn’t in focus? Well, you’re going to love the rest of this post.

After I got everything looking tolerable, I cut one more small gap in the clay edge then taped everything down pretty tightly with washi tape.

the waiting begins…

The clay is going to be an asshole and shrink a ton as it dries. It won’t do much for the first few hours, but the drier it gets the more obnoxious it is to deal with. I don’t have any great pictures of this part because I was too busy being consumed by anxiety, but as it drys the clay will shrink inwards and pull away from the bucket. This picture kind of shows it on the bottom section:

The only way to deal with it is going over every 30-60 minutes and bending it a tiny bit so it lines up with the edge of the bucket and taping it down. Since the clay is shrinking (duh) the more times you do this, the bigger the gaps in the sections will get. That’s fine. Just check and bend and tape and check and bend and tape and check and bend and tape until the heat death of the universe.

Step 7c

After everything was FINALLY dry, I scooted all the pieces together and was left with about a 1.5″ gap. I used one of the small pieces I made first to patch it. You can hardly even tell, right?

Seamless! I glued everything on with some Elmer’s glue then smeared on a very generous amount of joint compound in an attempt to smooth everything out. It actually worked surprisingly well.

It actually looks kind of surprisingly non-shitty, right? I’m not sure it was worth 12 hours of near-constant vigilance but it doesn’t totally look like a bucket anymore.

As usual, I have no photos of the painting process, but I just did two coats on the inside and outside with the plastic spray paint, then two coats with some regular interior latex I had sitting around. I finished off with a few applications of some kind of spray-on clear coat, but I’m not sure how necessary that was.

 

The end! I probably should have just bought one. I do feel like I learned a lot about myself and the world and clay and tape, though. So that’s something. Also now my super trendy monstera has a super trendy home.

 

And, for all your Pinteresting needs:

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