Our Home-Built Archaeology-Style Shaker Sifter

By , September 3, 2011

I recently built a garden tool for Michelle’s birthday, an archaeological style sifter. It’s also been called an archaeological sifter, garden sifter, compost sifter, sifting screen, or soil sifter, depending on the use to which an individual puts it. A search of these terms on the Internet revealed that gardeners love them, but no one seems to be able to find plans for them!

The sifter operates by swinging the sifter box up parallel to the ground, balanced on the leg stand while the user holds it up (or braces it with one’s hip to use two hands in the box). The box is agitated briskly back and forth to sift the contents. It’s a lot faster and easier than a regular screen frame.

archaeological sifter

The brand spankin' new sifter, before Michelle went and got it all dirty (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

I got the idea to build Michelle’s after visiting Aly at one of the Beaver Creek archaeological field school. When I couldn’t find plans,  I made mine up as I went along, working off photos I’d taken of the sifters used in the field and adjusting as personal taste and need dictated. I made it with permanently attached ½-inch screen, and built a ¼-inch screen frame that can be set inside the box for finer sifting.

I’m pretty happy with the end result. It’s sturdy, it looks great, and it works wonderfully. Michelle’s been sifting up a storm as she prepares beds for next year’s growing season. The resulting soil is fine, loose, and wonderfully aerated.

If you’re handy, you can no doubt build one of these like I did, from photos. However, since most people seem to prefer to work off instructions,  I formalized the plans I created, and have put them on sale on our Web site as an additional “micro-income.” My set of instructions produces a strong, handsome sifter that should provide years of use for less than $40 in materials. With basic carpentry skills and proper tools, you can probably build it in about 5 hours.

NOTE: I built one of these for a friend in the spring of 2012, which led to design and plan improvements.

Michelle with her garden sifter

Happy birthday to you! Happy as a . . . well, really happy. (Photo: Mark Zeiger.)

Go here to order plans.

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