Separating stones from soil is often necessary in gardens and landscapes. Good topsoil is the Holy Grail among gardeners, but isolating the fine rich stuff from rocks and larger debris can be backbreaking work. Stones or gravel may need to be recovered from dirt for use in various projects around the landscape. Most gardeners will need a soil or stone screener at one time or another. Do-it-yourself methods vary from hand-held screening trays to engine-propelled barrel models.
Consider both the application and the strength of the person when choosing materials for soil and stone screeners. Most homemade screen frames use 2-inch-by-4-inch boards, but 2-inch-by-2-inch boards are suitable for lighter loads. PVC pipe can also be used for light screening. The frame size should be large enough to hold a good shovelful of dirt or more, but small enough to be picked up and shaken over a wheelbarrow or container.
The size of screen holes will vary depending on material you wish to separate. Use a screen with small openings for separating light, sandy topsoil. Some gardeners sift compost through as many as three successive screen sizes, separating it for further composting or immediate use. Others prefer only one screen size that fits most of their uses. Use screens with larger holes to remove soil from rocks. Chicken wire, kennel wire, and hardware cloth are all suitable for screens. Secure wire and screening to frames with bolts, washers and wing nuts for easy removal.
Save your back by building a table model sifter. In table models, the frame is on wheels and sits on a base, allowing you to shake the frame without picking it up. Attach small wheels to the sides of the screen frame. Build a base of 2-inch-by-4-inch boards with side rails wide enough to accommodate your wheeled frame. Size the base so that it will fit over your wheelbarrow or container. Attach the wire of your choice to the screener frame.
Trommels or drums are wire-walled barrels that turn and sift stones from soil. Huge trommels are used in commercial enterprises, but do-it-yourselfers can make home models. A trommel should be suspended on a sturdy base for easy turning and sifting. Hand-turning the barrel is okay for small jobs, but it will quickly become tedious for larger projects. Automate the trommel with a gas engine or electric motor. Bolt the motor securely to the base and install a turning belt from the motor around the barrel. An Internet search will provide plenty of information for building your own soil and stone sifters.
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