How to Make a Heavy Duty Sorter and Sifter
by Damien Andrews
There are far too many uses for a heavy duty sorter and sifter to list here. In fact, their uses are only limited by imagination, so the list is practically endless. Lately, however, one problem that can be easily solved with a heavy duty sorter and sifter has moved to the front of the line. Hence this article.
People are creating their own compost more and more. This only makes sense. You can process the things you used to throw away, and have something quite valuable in its place – think of the money you'll save on fertilizers and potting soil! The availability of varying sizes, shapes, colors, and designs of compost bins grows monthly. You can get a small, attractive stainless steel compost bin that can sit on the kitchen counter and process a gallon of food waste, or you can have a 20-bushel outdoor compost bin that easily gobbles down all the kitchen waste of a large family, and most yard clippings as well.
People who want to expedite their composting programs use additives containing microorganisms in their compost bins. These compost bin additives are great, and do indeed hurry the process of composting along substantially.
People who are very serious about the creation of lots and lots of top quality compost take a different route. These people farm worms – red worms, to be a bit more precise. Their compost bins are designed specifically for this purpose. Red worms can handle their weight in quality garbage every day – and that equates to lots of nutrient-rich worm ¹castings that are ready for use in the garden, greenhouse, orchard or houseplants.
Irrespective of how you compost, if you have a compost bin (or several compost bins) then you'll benefit often from having a heavy duty sorter and sifter in your shop or garden shed. If you use red worms to compost, then you can separate the red worms from their castings. You can also separate the castings from undigested waste. If you do not use red worms in your compost bin, then you can separate quality compost from waste matter that is not yet ready to be used as a soil additive. The heavy duty sorter and sifter we'll be making is also excellent for sifting down soils, or for removing small rocks and other debris from soils.
The materials you'll need to build your new heavy duty sorter and sifter are: 1-1"x4"x8' piece of good lumber • A piece of ²hardware cloth that is 24"x24" • 12-2"x#8 wood screws • a handful of small fencing staples • some clear polyurethane. The most unusual tool you'll need is a miter saw, but since you must only make a few mitered joints in small wood, a hand miter saw will do just fine.
Step 1: cut the 1"x4"x8' piece of good lumber into four 24" pieces – each one mitered at 45°. Make sure that the 24" is along the longest edge of the miter-cut lumber – as shown in Diagram A.
Step 2: layout the four pieces of cut lumber in a perfect square – as shown in Diagram B.
Step 3: drill one corner to accept three of the #8 wood screws. Drill in from both outside corners to maximize strength – as shown in Diagram C. Repeat this process until all four corners are secured.
Step 4: OPTIONAL, but highly recommended! Apply a good coat of polyurethane to the entire frame – being sure to let the polyurethane get into the wood ends and joints. If you intend to use your heavy duty sorter and sifter with wet or moist materials, this will make it last lots longer, and also allow for a reasonable rinsing/cleaning after use.
Step 5: lay your coated frame on a flat surface with the top side facing down. Lay the piece of hardware cloth out onto the frame, as shown in Diagram D. Secure one entire side of the hardware cloth to the frame using the small fencing staples. Then proceed to an adjoining side and repeat the attaching process, being sure to keep the hardware cloth as tight as possible. Do this until all four sides are solidly attached to the wood frame.
Congratulations - you're done! You can now turn the heavy duty sorter and sifter over and place whatever you like inside and either sort it or sift it. When sifting things, use an appropriate tool or your hand to move materials around to grind them down completely. To get red worms sorted from the castings they leave in your compost bin, put the material into the heavy duty sorter and sifter and shake it sideways, and slightly up and down. When you're done using your heavy duty sorter and sifter, rinse it off with clean water and let it dry.
¹ Worm castings are the solid waste produced by living worms. They are rich in nutrients and can be applied directly to plants without burning. They also make an excellent addendum to potting soil.
² Hardware cloth is very heavy galvanized screen. It is available in 1/8" and 1/4" sizes. While a heavy duty sorter and sifter made with 1/8" hardware cloth is great for many do-it-yourself projects, for soil separation and handling the ¼" hardware cloth is recommended.