How to Build a Plant Dolly

Planters made from old wooden whiskey barrels look great and work well, but they are heavy and difficult to move around. Also, if you want to put them on a wooden deck, water can build up underneath and damage both the planter and the deck. Here's one solution: a movable plant dolly, mounted on casters.


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    Choose a barrel. Ideally, use an oak barrel that has a relatively flat bottom – sometimes they become warped during outdoor storage. They are probably fine but won’t sit perfectly flat on the dolly.
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    Make a paper template for the dolly platform. Turn the barrel upside down and cut a circle of paper to size. The aim is to produce a circle that fits well into the bottom of the barrel, inside the lip with a bit of clearance (about 1/2" or 1.25cm). That way, the bottom of the barrel will be fully supported by the dolly. It also looks better – the rough plywood is largely concealed by the lip of the barrel. A typical barrel such as the one shown here has a diameter of about 2 ft (60cm) at the top, and a bit less (about 22" or 56cm) at the bottom.
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    Transfer the template to a piece of plywood. Use a marker pen to trace the outline of the template onto the plywood – 3/4" or 1.9cm ply works well. It need not be pretty, since it is barely visible once completed.
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    Cut the plywood with a jigsaw. Fit it onto the bottom of the barrel, and trim with the jigsaw if necessary. (You may need two people for this step: exercise caution when using power tools.)
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    Screw 4 casters onto the dolly close to the edge (about 1 inch or 2.5 cm seems right – if they are too close the center, the dolly will be less stable). Use screws of length appropriate for the thickness of the plywood. They will go in better if you drill small pilot holes, using the caster as a template to mark the positions of the holes with a marker pen.
    • Choose rotating casters rather than those that are fixed. The ones illustrated here are rated for 125 lb, for a total limit of 500lb, which should be sufficient. (The oak planter shown here is a traditional half whiskey barrel, weighing about 40 lb and with capacity of 106 quarts; estimated weight when full of waterlogged soil is about 250 lb.)
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    • You could probably get by with three casters, but it would be slightly less stable – a consideration if you expect to move the dolly often or if you have small children.
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    Drill a few drainage holes in the plywood. Avoid placing them too close to the casters.
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    Coat the dolly with a weatherproof coating to reduce water damage. A clear deck sealer should be sufficient. (The oak barrel planter has a limited lifespan so there is no need for perfection there). Allow to dry.
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    Drill some drainage holes in the bottom of the barrel. Seven holes (one central and 6 surrounding) with a 3/8” drill bit seems about right.
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    Stand the barrel on the dolly. If it wobbles a lot or does not sit flat, you can shim it with a small piece of wood.
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    Create extra drainage by drilling additional holes into the dolly through the holes in the bottom of the barrel – by aligning them you will have a direct drainage channels that should minimize pooling of water on the dolly. Wait to do this until you are satisfied with the position of the barrel, and make sure you don’t hit the casters.
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    Put stones over the drainage holes, then fill the barrel with soil, plant and water as desired.


  • One easy way to make the paper template is to fold a sheet of newspaper in half, then into quarters, eighths or more, then trim the circumference, unfold the paper and test for size – repeat as necessary.
  • Choose large sturdy wheels for wooden decks and other surfaces not perfectly smooth. Small inexpensive wheels will not roll and swivel smoothly under heavy load.


  • Make sure the casters are strong enough for maximum weight of plants, soil and the barrel.
  • Use common sense precautions if using the power jigsaw.

Things You'll Need

  • Half-barrel planter (~2 ft diameter) plus 3/4" plywood (at least 2ft x 2 ft), four casters, screws, jigsaw or hacksaw, drill, wood sealer.

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