An indoor plant grow light stand is almost a requirement if you're growing tomatoes from seed indoors. In fact for the serious gardener I would actually recommend investing in a commercially available grow light stand because they are admittedly more attractive and sturdier than my solution.
Gardener's Supply has simple table-top stands like the Garden Starter Kit up to large, sturdy metal stands like their Standard 3-Tier SunLite® Garden with Jump-Start Kit that includes absolutely everything you need to start vegetables except the seeds.
However, if you're on a really tight budget and can operate a few basic power tools, there is definitely a way to build a cheap grow light stand yourself.
I've seen several home-built stand designs on other gardening sites as well, and mine isn't all that different. But there is one aspect to my stand I didn't see anywhere else -- it's stackable.
You can build as many shelf units as you need and stack them vertically. My thought was, why build a three shelf unit when I only needed one? Well, I ended up building three units anyway as my seedlings grew and demanded more shelf space (photos below).
If after looking over these plans you decide you'd rather spend your time gardening and less time woodworking, go back to the top of this article and check out the commercial options. It's what I'd do if I didn't have access to a miter saw and table saw. But since I had the tools it took very little time to build the units I wanted at low cost. (Scroll to the bottom of the page to see the stands in use.)
|1/2- or 3/8-in. plywood shelf||45 x 133/8-in.||1 each|
|2-in. x 2-in. horizontal shelf supports||45-in.||2 each|
|2-in. x 2-in. side vertical pieces||30-in.||4 each|
|2-in. x 2-in. side horizontal pieces||131/2-in.||4 each|
|1-in. x 2-in. top horizontal brace||45-in.||1 each|
|1-in. x 2-in. diagonal brace||50-in.||1 each|
|3/8-in. light chain||30-in.||2 each|
|Med. size hooks for chain||2 each|
|3-in. wood screws (drywall screws okay)||20 each|
|11/2-in. wood screws for 1x2's||4 each|
|48-in. shop light (wide reflector)||1 each|
|48-in. fluorescent bulbs||2 each|
|3/8-in. dowel pins (optional for stacking)||4 each|
|Intro: The light stand is simple to build because it is constructed using butt joints, which are simply docking the end of the horizontal cross pieces against the side of the vertical pieces and screwing together with two screws. You wouldn't build fine furniture this way but it is adequate for our purpose and makes it easy to take apart.|
|Cut all pieces to length: I bought three 8-ft. 2x2's, and two 8-ft. 1x2's from Home Depot for a total of around 10 USD to build the frame.|
|Assemble the two sides: On a flat surface use a piece of scrap 3/4-in. wood as a temporary spacer to offset the horizontal bottom and top cross pieces from the ends of the 30-in. vertical pieces. Clamp (or temporarily nail) the 2x2 horizontal pieces in place.|
|Finish the two sides: Pre-drill then screw together using two 3-in. screws on each joint.|
|Cuts should be square: Make sure the angles of the sides are square -- ensure they are close to ninety degrees. If they're not your light stand could be wobbly. You'll have best results if you have a miter saw (aka "chop" saw).|
|Attach the shelf supports: Stand up the sides and set the 45-in. horizontal shelf support boards on the horizontal cross pieces. Have the end of the 45-in. boards flush with the outer edge of the side. Pre-drill one hole from the front through the vertical board and secure with one 3-in. screw.|
|Attach the top brace: Center the 45-in. 1x2 across the top of the light stand and pre-drill then attach with a 11/2-in. screw.|
|Attach the diagonal back brace: Using a carpenter's square, twist the stand if needed until the vertical uprights and the horizontal cross pieces are at a 90 degree angle. Have a helper hold it in place while you attach the diagonal cross piece to the back of the stand.|
|Chain and hooks: Examine your shop light and determine whether the chain hooks should be inserted on the inside or outside of the upper horizontal side. Drill two holes, one to permanently attach one end of the chain and the other in the center for the hook. Attach one end of the chain permanently with a small screw. Screw in the two hooks.|
|(Optional) Dowel pins: If you plan to make more than one shelf for stacking, drill a 3/8-in. hole 3/4-in. deep at the center on the top and bottom of each leg. Glue dowel pins inserted half their length on the top of each leg.|
|Shelf board: It isn't necessary to attach the shelf board. Just slide into place. I cut a piece of heavy, clear plastic to place on top of the shelf board to protect from stains.|
|Shop light: I paid 28 USD for a 48-inch shop light at Home Depot with a wide white plastic reflector that is perfect for this application. It also has a pull-chain off switch. Hang the light, and your new light stand is ready for use!|
The plant grow light stand is working out great for me. I use it for all my seed starting tasks -- including seed germination on heat mats. And if you want to grow taller plants on the stand and need a greater distance between shelves, it's easy to modify the vertical dimensions to your liking. I hope you find these ideas helpful.
It's easy to plant too many seeds in those compartmentalized seed trays. When all those plants are transplanted to four-inch pots and you still need fluorescent lighting, guess what? You need a lot more light space!
I already had an extra light fixture hanging over my workbench so I ran to Home Depot for a few more 2x2's and 1x2's. After you build one or two units you get very fast at building more.
I only had 241/2 inches of headroom in my basement so I cut the four vertical supports to 231/2 inches. That makes my top shelf shorter than the others so I'll use this one mainly for seed trays. The four-inch pots can go on shelves with more space between shelf and light fixture.
Below are some more pictures of the 3-stack unit. I'm growing about twelve different tomato varieties. Oh, and one more thing I plan to do with these shelves is to attach some short sides to the edge of the shelf boards so I can cover a couple of them with heavy plastic sheet, probably 6-mil. That way I can crowd more of the pots onto each shelf without needing trays. You have to have some way to keep the water from running all over as the pots all have porous bottoms.