DIY: Upcycling the upcycled – turning planter boxes into shelves part 1

I love our little flat, but being a rental I can’t really fix anything to the walls in terms of storage. I’d love to pop some shelves up above my desk however the need for a hammer drill and much planning isn’t really a part of our rental contract.

I hunted around on eBay for shelves to sit on my desk instead. I couldn’t find anything suitable so thought outside of the box and found some planter boxes: two lots for $40. They needed a little work to bring them up to shelf standard but I was up for the challenge. We picked the already upcycled pallet planter boxes at the start of January, but the weather hadn’t exactly been suitable for being outdoors here in Melbourne until last week. We went to the hardware store and picked up a bunch of supplies for me to tackle my project, and I made a start.

Upcycled pallet planter boxes

Upcycled pallet planter boxes

We removed the feet from one of each in preparation for sanding them back, and the others fit perfectly on our stoop to be used as planters.

If you’ve never sanded anything before or you’d like to make sure you’re on the right track, I highly recommend talking to someone at your local hardware store. The Mister calls me his ‘Tradie Lady’ but I’m no pro. I still like to make sure I’m getting the right product and that I have the right knowledge of how to carry out the task. I went to Bunnings for convenience (we had an appointment just down the road from the Hawthorn store; ordinarily I’d go to our local independent) and picked up different sandpapers (the higher the number, the grittier the paper), a hand sander, a new paint brush, some paint, and some curtain wires (for another project!). So glad I did ask questions because I’d probably have walked out with the wrong stuff, or right stuff but needing more. I may need more paint but that’s okay, I’d rather not have enough and go and get more than have too much and have it go to waste.

What You’ll Need:

Wooden Planter Box (or whatever you’re converting to a shelf)
Cork Block
Protective Glasses
Protective Mask

You’ll notice I included PPE items such as protective glasses and a mask. I was silly and didn’t think to buy either, so I wore my regular sunglasses but went without the mask. Horrible mistake. I did not think as to how much sawdust I’d create! If you’re using an electric sander (belt or orbital), I imagine it will be much worse, so please do invest in both of these items. If you’re doing this on a day when the UV Index is high, please use sunscreen. I came in and applied sunscreen after a short while (less than 30 minutes), but also stayed indoors for periods of time to rest my porcelain white skin.

How TO:

First thing, you need to prep your work space and materials. Living on the ground floor of our building and not having a work space as such, I worked on the stoop with the kitchen door open so I could go back and forth for my tools which were set out on our kitchen table. Next I assembled the hand sander: I took a piece of the 120 grit sandpaper, folded and tore it in half (1), line up your sandpaper with the sander (2), remove wing nut and closure (3), fold sandpaper over the edge (4), and fix the closure and wing nut to secure (5). Turn around and repeat at other end (I’d already done one end in these photos).

Before starting the sanding process, I did a final check for any rogue nails in the planks of timber and removed them. Not only do you risk tearing your sandpaper, but you could tear a finger open or your arm if you slip.
Once your sander is assembled* and you’ve removed the rogue nails, grab your planter box and start sanding! I started with the external surface area of the smaller box first using 120 grit sandpaper. I thought it would take me all afternoon to do just the small one, but I was pleasantly surprised.
*If you’re using an electric sander please ask for help if you don’t know what you’re doing. I didn’t see the need to hire one for such a small job, and I quite enjoyed the solace of putting in a bit of elbow grease.

It was getting hot on the stoop, so I moved to the shadows to finish off the smaller planter box. You’ll see just how quickly I burned from being on the stoop. You might notice I’ve switched sanders too: in the shadows out front I’m using a cork block wrapped in sandpaper. The other sander didn’t fit inside the small planter, and the wrapped cork block was great for putting in the extra strength to even out the roughness in the more hard-to-sand places.

It took about an hour or two to get the small planter from proper pallet condition to nice and smooth and ready to paint. It was lovely to sit in the sunshine and get grubby, even if I did have to retreat indoors every so often to give my skin a rest.

The larger planter box needed a lot of rogue nails removed, and as our claw hammer is MIA, The Mister went to purchase a new one. I continued on, working carefully around the nails. Again, I was surprised at the ease of sanding this former pallet back. Previously you couldn’t even pick it up without the worry of getting a splinter. Now I’d be confident to run my fingertips along it! I found that by using the 120 grit sandpaper I needed only to use the 80 grit to get my desired finish.

To go from rough, splinter-heavy boxes to smooth and delicate boxes is just what I hoped for. On his run to pick up the claw hammer, The Mister grabbed some nails too for me to fix one of the panels on the large box above. Unfortunately he grabbed the wrong size, so we’ll need to trade them for the right size, and once I’ve fixed the panel, then I can move on to painting. Hopefully before the month is out, I’ll have my shelves all ready and on my desk just in time for my final subject at uni! Stay tuned over the coming weeks for the completed project.


5 thoughts on “DIY: Upcycling the upcycled – turning planter boxes into shelves part 1

  1. Katie Writes Stuff says:

    Love the headscarf! It’s practical and rather fetching, too.

    I’m looking forward to seeing how these shelves turn out. It will be so rewarding to use something you created on a regular basis – hopefully that makes all the hard work worthwhile!


    • alexiericrac says:

      Thanks Katie, a Dangerfield special from a few years ago. This is one of the things I want to do when I get a sewing machine, make an abundance of head-scarves to better match my wardrobe. Will be a good way to practice sewing in a straight line 😉

      As predicted, haven’t had the time to look at them yet this week, so Monday cannot come soon enough!


  2. Claire says:

    Can’t wait to see how the shelves turn out. Have been trying to find something for my sewing room, might have to ‘borrow’ your idea?


    • alexiericrac says:

      Borrow away my dear!

      I’ve been rather slack and also busy so haven’t painted them up yet. I also need to brush off the fine sawdust before painting them. Must try to schedule the time to finish the project.


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