You’re forgiven if the act of sifting something makes you think of baking. But did you know that sifting is something experienced gardeners do, too?
Removing rocks, debris, and large clumps of soil by hand can be a very time-consuming process. This is why professional landscapers use electric sifters to make short work of the task.
However, for the average homeowner buying an electric sifter isn’t necessary. Besides, you can build one that gets the job done very cheaply. Free even if you have the materials lying around.
Let’s go over how to build your own soil sifter box.
- Tape measure
- Wood – can be scrap/repurposed wood. As long as the edges are relatively straight. Old window and door frames work well.
- Wire mesh/hardware screen/insect screen
- Fasteners (nails/screws)
- Wheelbarrow (optional)
Step One: Measure
You can make your soil sifter in whatever shape and size you like. Most times you’ll be limited by the size of your materials, specifically your mesh material. If you use a new mesh, you can build your frame as big as the mesh allows.
Pro Tip: For ease of use, make the frame slightly larger than the tub of your wheelbarrow. That way, you can lay the sifter on top of the wheelbarrow, dump your soil onto the sifter, and then sift your material directly into the wheelbarrow.
Don’t have a wheelbarrow? Use a box instead or a five-gallon bucket, or whatever you plan to use to transport the finished sifted material to its final location. The idea here is to move the material as little as possible. Not because we’re lazy, but because we’re efficient.
Step Two: Build Your Frame
If you’re using old window or door frames, try to find two that are as close to identical as possible.
If you plan to paint or treat the wood in any way, this would be the time to do it.
Pro Tip: If you plan on sifting a lot of soil or compost, here’s a tip for you. Make one of the short ends of your frame higher than the other, resulting in the mesh at a 45-degree angle. When you use the sifter, dump the soil on the higher end of the sieve, and let gravity move the larger particles down the mesh and into a separate collection receptacle.
The resulting increase in efficiency is immense.
Step Three: Position The Mesh
A note on the mesh here: make sure you’re using a mesh that’s appropriate for your intended use. If you’re sifting gravel or another heavy substrate, a thick, wire, hardware screen would be most appropriate.
If you’re only sifting compost, on the other hand, an insect screen will work just fine. Also, pay attention to the size of the holes in the mesh you’re using and match it to the maximum aggregate size you want in the finished product.
Hardware screens have bigger holes, which will result in a finished product with larger particle sizes. Insect screen has very small holes, which will result in a fine finished product with small particle sizes.
Step Four: Secure The Mesh
As you fasten the two frames together, make sure the screen is taught and overlapping the frame all the way around. Screws would be the preferable fastener, but use whatever you have.
The more fasteners you add to the frame, the stronger your sieve will be. Each additional fastener distributes the weight of the material further, adding strength to the whole situation.
There You Have It
If you follow this tutorial, you will have your own soil sifter in an hour or two. You may even be able to build the whole thing with repurposed materials, which is always a fun challenge.
At the end of the day it’s the size of the holes in the mesh that will have the biggest effect on the final product, so pay the most attention here. If you’re looking to remove rocks and larger debris, a hardware mesh with larger holes should be enough.
For a finer, finished material, an insect screen works very well. Remember that if you’re using an insect screen, don’t put too much material on the screen at one time, otherwise, it might tear.
In terms of efficiency, it’s always a good idea to customize your sieve to fit the receptacle that will receive the finished product. You can even make multiple sieves for multiple boxes or wheelbarrows or with different mesh sizes to accommodate all your needs in the garden.