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How to Make a Wooden Elephant Planter Box

Anthony enjoys spending time in the workshop, the kitchen, the garden, and out fishing. Many of his projects are featured in his yard.

The elephant planter box was made from scraps of mahogany decking.

The elephant planter box was made from scraps of mahogany decking.

How I Made This Elephant Planter Box

Many years ago, my wife's grandfather made a small wooden elephant planter. He ordered the plans and, using pieces of scrap and bits of found wood, he built a cute little planter for her. The special elephant spent many years on our deck, filled with different types of annual flowers.

Grampy's version was made mostly of pine and painted gray. In spite of the harsh New England weather, the little elephant held up well for many years. Time and weather finally took its toll and sadly, the wood wasted away and the elephant fell apart.

I decided to make a new elephant planter for my wife. Instead of pine, this time I was lucky enough to pick up some scraps of mahogany decking from a neighbor's remodeling project. Mahogany is resistant to moisture and insects, and the color of the wood weathers naturally to rustic silvery-gray. To help protect the wood, a coat of Danish oil every spring will help to preserve the wood while bringing out the grain and darkening the wood tones.

Though her grandfather's original elephant planter can't be replaced, my wife might enjoy this version almost as much.

The planter was made from scraps of mahogany decking

The planter was made from scraps of mahogany decking

The Cutting List

The mahogany decking is approximately 5-1/2" wide and almost 1" thick, and its side edges are rounded over. The boards are wide enough for most of the pieces except for the head, so I had to mill and glue a couple of short planks together.

If you don't have mahogany scraps laying around, cedar and redwood are also good choices for making a planter box. Pine will work too, though it won't hold up as well against prolonged exposure to moisture.

Cut the materials to the following dimensions:

  • Head = 9" H x 7" W
  • Ears (Qty = 2) 9" H x 5" W
  • Sides (Qty = 2) 11" L x 5-1/2" W
  • Ends (Qty = 2) 12" L x 5-1/2" W
  • Floor Supports (Qty 2) 9-1/2" L x 3/4" x 3/4" (trimmed to fit)
  • Floor = 9-1/2" L x 5-1/2" W (trimmed to fit)
Elephant Pattern (1" x 1" grid)

Elephant Pattern (1" x 1" grid)

Step 1: Make a Pattern

The old planter was rotted and falling apart but there was enough left of the original elephant to trace new patterns for the head and ears. The diagram (above) shows the basic shapes and can be used to create new patterns. The reference lines on grid are 1" square. My new patterns are made of cardboard.

I made another pattern for the legs. Resembling the shape of a Moorish door, the pattern is 4-1/2" tall. The bottom is 2-1/2 wide, then flares out to about 3" wide in the middle before curving up to a point at the top.

The elephant's eye

The elephant's eye

Step 2: Make an Eye, Two Ears and a Trunk

As I mentioned before, the deck boards are 5-1/2" wide with rounded edges along the sides. To make a wider piece for the head and trunk, I milled off the rounded edges on two planks using my table saw, applied exterior glue along the newly squared edges and then clamped the pieces together.

After the glue dried, I used the pattern to trace the head and trunk. I used a 1" diameter Forstner bit to drill the hole for an eye, and drilled another hole where the trunk curves sharply upward. This second hole is neater, cleaner and easier than trying to cut around the tight radius curve with a band saw blade or jig saw.

A band saw makes quick work of cutting out the pieces for the elephant planter

A band saw makes quick work of cutting out the pieces for the elephant planter

Step 3: Cut Out the Pieces

I cut out the rest of the head and trunk using the band saw, followed by the ears and the legs. To round off the top of each leg, I traced around the lid of a large can.

The mahogany decking is dense, so I took my time while cutting just outside of the pencil lines. I'll clean up the cut marks in the next step.

 Smoothing out the edges with a drill press and a sanding drum

Smoothing out the edges with a drill press and a sanding drum

Step 4: Smooth Out the Edges

I used a drum sanding attachment for my drill press to sand away most of the saw marks and to smooth out the curves. In the areas where the drum won't fit, such as the inside curve of the trunk and the apex of the legs, a little filing and hand sanding finished the job.

Laying out for the screw holes

Laying out for the screw holes

Step 5: Put It All Together

The planter is assembled using simple joinery, exterior glue and screws. I started by attaching the head to one of the leg sections. The head is centered across the leg section and about 1" from the top of the curve.

When I was happy with the positioning, I traced around the head as show in the photo. This outlined an area for pre-drilling the screw holes. I drilled through the front of the leg first, then flipped the leg over and countersunk the hole on the backside. A dab of glue and couple of screws driven through from the backside secured the pieces together. Just make sure that the head is plumb and vertical.

The ears and head are attached to the leg section with screws

The ears and head are attached to the leg section with screws

Step 6: Add the Ears

The ears are attached to the leg section with more glue and screws. I positioned the ears in place, making sure that they looked even with each other. After spreading more glue, I double-checked the orientation of the ears then clamped them in placed before driving in a couple of screws from the back side.

Wood plugs cover the screw holes

Wood plugs cover the screw holes

Step 7: Plug the Holes

The sides and rear leg are attached with more screws. To hide the screw heads, each hole is pre-drilled and countersunk and then covered with a small plug. Though pre-cut plugs are available commercially, I prefer to make my own using an inexpensive plug cutter that fits into the drill press. This makes it easy to cut matching plugs from scraps of the same wood or in some cases, I'll make the plugs from a contrasting wood.

Cutting plugs to cover the screw holes

Cutting plugs to cover the screw holes

The plug cutter quickly forms perfectly sized little circles of wood. The plug should be taller than the depth of the screw hole. Apply a dab of glue into the screw hole and tap the plug in place with a hammer. Use a sharp chisel to cut the plug flush and sand it smooth.

Step 8: Add the Finishing Touches

The original planter had a solid pine bottom that just didn't stand up to the weather. For the new and improved version, I replaced the solid floor with a scrap of vinyl lattice that will provide good drainage and should extend the elephant's lifespan. A couple of 3/4" x 3/4" strips cut to fit inside the planter support the lattice. Rather then filling it with potting soil, I'll place potted plants inside the little planter.

A little final sanding and several coats of Danish oil, and the new little elephant planter is ready for plants. I hope my wife likes it.

The little elephant planter is ready for plants

The little elephant planter is ready for plants

Variations on the Theme: DIY Cat Planter Box

The following video was made by Above the Garage. The cat planter was built for donation in support of the Make A Wish foundation.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Anthony Altorenna