How to Make Your Own Soil Sifter

I was ripping up my summer vegetable plants when I realized the soil in my containers needed some serious TLC.

Even though I removed my plants’ root bases as carefully as possible, the dirt was still laced with hundreds of small roots. These roots were holding the soil together, which would make it much more difficult for the new vegetable plants to send their roots deep and thrive.

I dumped the dirt out from one container, and started breaking up the dirt by hand. Part-way through the container I stopped. What I really needed was a soil sifter, where I could quickly sift out the roots and other large debris in my dirt and leave the good stuff behind. I called my local garden supply store to see if it sold sifters. It did not.

Then I got to thinking: Assuming I could buy the supplies cheaply, building my own soil sifter was not that difficult of a proposition. The key component of a sifter is 1/2-inch wire mesh, which is strung across a wooden frame. At The Home Depot, I found a 5-foot roll of wire mesh (sometimes called poultry netting) for $9. I was in business.

I bought an 8-foot length of 2×3 wood, 8 2 1/2-inch screws, and a box of U-shaped nails (also called poultry net staples). All my supplies cost me $17. My biggest concern was getting the wood home in my Toyota Corolla. It fit, with about a foot to spare, if I fed it through the trunk.

The tools you’ll need to complete this project are a saw (circular or hand) to cut the 2×3, a drill for the pilot holes and to drive the screws, a hammer and tape measurer, and pliers to cut the wire netting to fit.

My soil sifter won’t win any points at a beauty contest. My cuts with a hand saw weren’t perfectly straight, which made my finished square sifter slightly off kilter. Thanks to the mesh, however, it’s sturdy as hell, and will serve all of my sifting needs for the indeterminate future.

Step 1. The mesh comes in a 2×5-foot roll, which makes life easy. Trim the wood into four equal 2-foot lengths.




Step 2. Determine which pieces of wood will form the inner and outer sides of your square, and measure and drill pilot holes accordingly.



Step 3. You’ll need at least 2 1/2-inch-long screws. Screw the frame together.




Step 4. Trim the wire screen to fit your frame. Make sure it’s long enough to bend around the outside of the frame. Be careful, the trimmed wires are wicked sharp.



Step 5.  Nail down the wire screen using the poultry staples. The wire can be shaped with a hammer, too. Bang it tight against the frame anywhere it is standing out. Make sure to fold under the trimmed edges of the screen, too, so there aren’t places where you might catch your hand.

I was eager to try out my new soil sifter. Guess what? It works! Sifting through big shovelfuls of soil at once was a lot faster than breaking up the dirt by hand. Plus, I knew I had removed all of the roots. I was ready for planting.

  • Daniel

    Looks useful and doable.

    • Mark Evitt

      Once you have the materials, this project will take about an hour.

  • Brad Lang

    Check out for a variety of reasonably-priced soil sifters, plus instructions for building one. 

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