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In Japanese, shishi odoshi means “deer scarer.” These water fountains slowly fill with water and then suddenly tip. The resulting noise when the fountain falls back will scare away any critters eating in your garden. Many Zen gardens have also used these fountains as a meditation aid.

Now you can build one for your own garden, and make a peaceful space in your yard.

NOTE: For the updated, upsized version of this project, see Shishi-Odoshi Fountain from Make: Volume 43, here.)

Project Steps

Select your bamboo.

Working with bamboo is not like working with dimensional lumber. Surfaces are irregular and size and shape change along the length. The pieces I found are not going to be the same as what you find. Be prepared to adjust instructions accordingly.

You’ll need a large diameter piece for the top, and 2 upright pieces that are just small enough to fit inside.

Another fairly large diameter piece will be used for the pourer part that fills and tips (not pictured).

Another smaller-diameter piece is needed for the spout.

Determine dimensions.

The planter I used had an inside diameter at the bottom of about 8″ to 9″. (The PVC pipe is from my first prototype fountain.)

I wanted the bamboo parts to fit well within the planter, so I planned for the total outside width of the assembled uprights to be less than 8″ across.

Depending on the height of your planter, you may need to adjust the height of your uprights. My planter was about 10″ high, and I used 17″ uprights.

Cut the main bamboo parts.

Start with the top part, selecting the widest-diameter bamboo piece. Cut an 11-1/2″ length with no nodes.

At each node is a barrier inside the bamboo, and we don’t want any on this piece.

Cut two 17″ pieces for the uprights, making sure their diameter is small enough to fit inside the top piece.

Be sure that at least one of the uprights has no nodes for most of its length.

For the moving/pouring part, you need to find a piece of bamboo with about 7″ on either side of a node. In this case we want a node in the middle, which will form the bottom of the cup that fills with water.

Make holes for the uprights.

Figure out which end of each upright will be up. This is not just an aesthetic choice. You will run some tubing up one of the 2 uprights. There should be no nodes between the top of the tube to most of the way down.

In the first picture, I selected the piece on the left for running the tubing. There’s a node near the bottom, but it’s low enough that the tube can exit and be out of sight.

Measure the diameter at the top of each upright. You’ll need to make 2 holes in the crosspiece to fit the uprights. (Don’t cut yet, keep reading.) You should leave 2″ between each end of the bamboo and the edge of each hole. Since the crosspiece is 11-1/2″, measuring in 2″ on each side will make the uprights 7-1/2″ across.

I used a Forstner bit and a drill press to cut holes in the crosspiece. Forstner bits cut beautifully clean holes.

If you don’t have Forstner bits and don’t want to buy some, use your favorite method to cut the holes. You want a nice tight fit to help hold the fountain together.

Make a hole for the tubing.

Test-fit the uprights into the crosspiece. Decide where you will drill the hole for the tubing.

I selected the upright shown on the left in the first picture, and picked a spot at what will be the rear of the fountain, and just above the node. I made a 3/4″ hole to leave plenty of room for running the 1/2″ tubing.

Once again, Forstner bits rule.

Make the spout.

I selected a piece of bamboo about 1-1/4″ in diameter for the spout. Make a hole to fit in the center of the crosspiece, at what will be the front of the fountain.

Can you guess how I made the hole? (Hint: It starts for Forstner bit.)

Due to irregularities in the diameter of bamboo, you may need to file some holes to fit. The world is an imperfect place.

Initially I cut the spout 1-3/4″ long. I also made an angled cut. During final testing, this turned out to be too short, and I replaced the spout with a 2″ piece and no angled cut. You should leave your spout extra long and figure out the final length after some testing.

That should be all the large holes you need to cut, so you won’t have to listen to me talk about Forstner bits any more.

Cut 2 rods.

Use a hacksaw to cut 2 lengths of 3/16″ rod. Use a file to clean up the rough ends.

Cut one rod 10″ long. This will be the axis for the moving fountain part.

Cut a shorter rod for testing the pouring action. The rod has to fit between the 2 uprights without touching. For my fountain, that was about 4-1/2″. Depending on the diameter of your uprights, you may need to adjust this length.

Make the pouring part.

Remember the part we cut with about 7″ on each side of a node? Waaaaay back in Step 3? Go get it.

Drill a hole just a bit behind the central node and straight through the center of the bamboo. Use a drill bit a couple of sizes larger than the axis you cut in the last step. For a 3/16″ rod, that’s a 7/32″ bit.

Insert the shorter test axis through the hole in the bamboo, and secure it in a bench vise so the axis is straight up. Now saw off one end of the bamboo at a shallow angle of about 30°. Try to keep the saw perpendicular to the ground as you cut.

IMPORTANT: Just cut off a little of the end. You may have to trim more off later (I did), but it’s easier to cut more off than add more on.

Thread the tubing.

Feed the 1/2″ tubing through the upright that you cut the hole in and up through the top.

Now feed the tubing from the top of the upright into one hole of the crosspiece and out the spout.

You can use a piece of rod or another tool to help guide the tubing into the spout.

Do some testing.

You are getting close, but don’t neglect this step. Figuring out exactly where to mount the pouring part on the uprights is key. Fit the bamboo frame together and use a scrap of wood or bamboo to help support it.

Trim the tubing if needed, and connect it to the pump. My pump came with a valve that can partially restrict the water flow. We want the pump to go as slow as possible.

Run the pump and position the pourer while holding the shorter axis. You may want to test this outside — it’ll get splashy. Adjust the height of the pouring part between the 2 uprights and see how it works.

This is when you may need to adjust the length of your spout and/or the length of the pouring part.

Don’t be frustrated if it doesn’t work correctly right away. Play around until you think you have it about right.

Make adjustments and drill mounting holes.

After adjusting the length of the spout and the length of the pouring part so that water can pour from one to the other, I determined the right height to mount the pourer was about 3-1/2″ below the bottom of the crosspiece.

Disassemble the bamboo frame, removing the tubing and separating the uprights from the crosspiece. Use a 3/16″ drill bit to make holes all the way through each upright at the desired height.

Now reassemble the frame as you did before.

Install the pourer.

Use a hammer if needed and gently tap the axis through the first upright and just part of the way across.

Cut 2 short pieces of the 5/16″ tubing. You’ll use them to help keep the pourer from moving too far from side to side.

Place one piece of tubing on the axis, then the pourer, then the other piece of tubing. Now push or gently hammer the axis all the way through to the far side of the other upright.

Final Assembly and Fiddling

With everything back together, your fountain should look kind of like this. You may need to do some more testing and adjustment.

Using some rope, secure each bamboo upright to a piece of scrap wood or bamboo behind the frame.

I found I needed to straighten out the spout end of the tubing by inserting a short piece of 1/2″ PVC pipe. The pipe is in the spout. The tubing is inside the pipe. This helped direct the flow of water better for me. Your mileage may vary.

If the pourer doesn’t dump water out after it fills, the back of the pourer weighs too much. You may have to saw some off.

If the pourer spills its water but then doesn’t flop back into position, the front end is too heavy. Either trim some off the front or add some weight inside the back end of the pourer.

In closing, this project requires a fair amount of testing, fiddling, and adjusting. For me, the end result was worth it. I hope you enjoy it too.