How to Make a Cold Frame Step by Step

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Homemade cold frame

Cold frames are a vital component in the gardener’s toolkit. Use them to start off seedlings earlier in spring, to carry on cropping vegetables well into winter, or to help harden off tender plants such as chillies in early summer. They really are the gardener’s best friend! You don't need to splash out lots of money buying one - here's our step-by-step guide to making your own.

Homemade Cold Frames

A cold frame is simply a box frame with a clear lid (also known as a ‘light’) on top. The frame is normally constructed from wood but other materials such as blocks or bricks are also common. The clear lid lets in the sunlight, trapping warm air inside while protecting plants from inclement weather.

Because of its uncomplicated structure, a wooden cold frame makes an excellent DIY project. Salvaged windows will give you an instant lid, with the frame measured and cut to fit. Slope the lid towards the midday sun for maximum light and warmth. Position your cold frame directly onto the soil or on concrete or slabs.

Materials and Tools

The Lid

To make a cold frame start with an old, salvaged window or windows or a clear door, such as a shower door. If you can’t get one, use a sheet of glass or twinwall polycarbonate secured to a simple wooden frame. To fix the lid to the frame you will need some strong hinges, and if you wish you can also add handles.

DIY cold frame

The Frame

To make the box that the lid sits on, cut lengths of pressure treated lumber to match the dimensions of your lid (or lids). Make sure the back of the cold frame is one board higher than the front to give a slope that will shed rainwater and maximise the amount of sunlight available to the plants inside.

In our project, we’re using three boards at the front and four at the back. Seven shorter boards make up the sides. The seventh length is cut in half diagonally to give two identical triangular boards – one for each side, to match the slope.

All of the boards will need screwed to four vertical corner posts which match the height of the front and back boards. You will also need two battens of different lengths, which will enable you to prop open the lid on sunny days.


To put the frame together you will need some wood screws, a drill and a screwdriver.

Making a cold frame

How to Make a Cold Frame

Begin by screwing the side boards to their corner posts, using two screws at both ends of each board. You will find it easier to drill pilot holes before screwing the boards into place. You will need to screw the narrow end of the triangular top board at each side vertically down into the board below.

Now screw the front and back boards to their corner posts in exactly the same way.

The completed frame is now ready for the lid or lids. Carefully position the lid onto the frame so it is flush with the frame at the back, and screw on your hinges. Longer lids may need several hinges along their length.

Lid supports allow you to vent your cold frame

The only thing left is to screw the lid supports into place. Position these on the inside of the frame, a short one on the front, and a longer one on the side. They should be just loose enough to swivel up, enabling the lid to be propped open at different heights to allow more or less air in.

You can also screw some handles on the lid to make it easier to open. And there you have it – your cold frame is ready to use!

Using a Cold Frame

Cold frames can be used to grow hardy salads throughout winter, or to get a head start on the growing season. For example, strawberries grown in a cold frame will be ready to pick a whole two weeks ahead of those grown outside, or you can use it to start off tender crops such as squash. You can also use your frame as a halfway house between your house or greenhouse and the garden to harden off plants before they’re planted out.

Adding a cold frame to a plan in the Garden Planner

You can find cold frames to help plan your growing season in our Garden Planner. Select ‘Structures’ from the selection bar drop-down menu, then scroll through to choose a cold frame. Drop the cold frame over your crops, using the handles to adjust the exact orientation and size of the cold frame. Then click on the Plant List to see the effect this has had – often crops planted in a cold frame can be sown, planted out and harvested a full half month ahead of those grown solely outside, while the harvest period can be extended by a similar length of time.

Make a cold frame and you’ll enjoy a longer growing season, which as a gardener is certainly great news! If you have a homemade cold frame why not share your tips for building one by dropping us a comment below.

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Show Comments


"That Was Just Amazing...!! Cool idea..!! Thanks for posting."
Kapoor Plastics on Monday 27 March 2017
"Glad you like it. Give it a try - cold frames are amazing for extending your growing season."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 28 March 2017
"Thanks that was good and clear"
Paul on Sunday 28 January 2018
"Your welcome, thanks Paul."
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 28 January 2018
"You're welcome, thanks Paul."
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 28 January 2018
"Hi Ben,I am interesting building a cold frame,but dont where to start. Please help ,what type of timber do I need and where to get the timber I am in England."
yuk ng on Monday 18 November 2019
"You want to source timber that has been pressure treated. In other words, timber that is exterior grade, and sold specifically for use outdoors. If you go to any DIY store or timber merchants such as Jewsons they should be able to advise on suitable wood and even cut it to size for you."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 25 November 2019
"Pressure treated lumber may be different in the UK than in the US. The chemicals used for pressure treating in the US are poisonous and have no place in the garden. If you care about longevity, get cedar or redwood (expensive). I do much of my garden construction with regular pine lumber from the lumber yard; it lasts 5 or more years before having to be replaced."
Dale on Thursday 2 January 2020
"Thanks for that Dale. Yes, you'd need to check the the pressure treating is done is a way that doesn't imbue the wood with nasty chemicals that could then leach out into the soil. Naturally long-lasting wood is always preferable."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 2 January 2020
"Good Cold frame plans - I don't use glass any more too dangerous so I staple plastic sheeting onto my lids and replace it annually as the UV sunlight does deteriorate it by the end of the season. Plus removing the lids lets one grow in the cold frame crops that a replanted all summer long like lettuce. My plans are for 3/4 in plywood and my lumberyard will cut the sheets except for the sloped side which I can cut at home. Thanks again - good plans "
Dave Parsons on Saturday 2 January 2021
"Thanks for that insight Dave. Plastic sheeting is a great option, especially where young children and pets are involved."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 4 January 2021
"Can you locate a cold frame in very shady spot but adjacent to walls of a house "
Terry on Tuesday 23 March 2021
"You could do, and it would get some protection and hence warmth from the house. But cold frames main means of warming up is catching some of the sun's rays, so if it's completely shaded then I don't think it would be very effective. If you can, locate it where it gets some sunshine, or at least afternoon sunshine (so it warms up a bit before nightfall)."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 24 March 2021

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