How to Make a Dirt Sifter

After putting up the post on making raised beds I realized I should probably go a little more in-depth on the dirt sifter since it’s a vital part of my gardening routine.  If your dirt is in need of as much amendment as mine you’ll be doing a fair amount of sifting too.  If not, well lucky you.

My sifter was scrapped together in an afternoon.  Even though it’s not real easy on the eye it functions quite well.  I’ve put thousands of pounds of dirt through it and it’s still holding up.

The Base

Sifter Base

The base holds up the tray for sifting.  It needs to be sturdy but also easy to carry around.  I used my favorite building materials for this project- stuff I had lying around and drywall screws.  I used angle aluminum in the corners as posts because it is nice and rigid as well as lightweight.  2x2s would work just fine.  The plywood on the horizontal pieces needs to be fairly wide to help with bracing.  In the corners of each of the posts I put 3″ deck screws to loop the cord from the tray over.  You only need them on one side but this way is more versatile.

Sifter base corner detail

The Tray

The tray is were all the action happens.  The tray needs to be light.  You are going to be lifting the tray on and off the base over and over again.  It also needs to be sturdy.  The tray gets filled with heavy rocks and dirt and then gets shaken dozens of times until every thing that’s going through has done so.  Your construction needs to hold up to the abuse.

Tray with dimensions

The tray sides are made out of 1x4s screwed together with metal angle brackets in the corners.  The screen is 2 layers of hardware cloth one with 1/2″ holes and one with 1/4″ holes.    The 1/2″ cloth is to provide support to help hold the weight of the dirt.

Tray bottom

After you have screwed the sides together place the tray face down and lay the hardware cloth on it.  Take some strips of 1.5″ wide x 3/4″ thick wood (or plywood) and screw them into the bottom of the tray.  Make sure the screws go through the holes of the screen.

Handle detail

The handles are 16″ pieces of 2×2.  I used an angle grinder with a sanding disk to shape them so that they would fit comfortably in my hand.  Use 3″ screws to attach them to the bottom of the tray.  I had them screwed in the sides for the first year but eventually they failed and ripped out chunks of wood from the sides of the tray.

Rope attachment

Drill a 1/2″ hole about 3″ in from the end to slip the cord through.  I like to use reinforced clothesline.  It holds up the best.  I also wrap the ends in tape to make an eyelet.  This helps with wear as well as keeping the cord secure on the corner posts.

Corner detail

The cord is just tied in a circle with the ends poked through the holes in the tray.  Set the length so that the tray sits about two inches above the base crossbar.  This way it won’t bang into it while you are sifting.

Sifter assembled

The handles should rest on the crossbar on the other end.  They keep the tray stable as you are filling it.

Using It

Sifting

Using the sifter is very straightforward.  You fill it with as much material as you can comfortably shake.  Push and pull the tray in front of you and the sifted dirt will fall through leaving the big stuff behind.

Sifted

You’ll be amazed at how nice your dirt looks after a trip through the sifter.  Your plants will thank you too!

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