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DIY Tips For How To Build Storage Shelves

By on May 14, 2014
DIY Tips For How To Build Storage Shelves

A flexible shelving system is one of the best ways to handle storage problems in the basement, garage or utility room. But finding a system that suits your particular needs and budget could be a problem.

Still, you don't have to settle for one of the store-bought varieties. You can buy the raw materials and build your own. When the job's done, you'll have a custom storage system, and maybe you'll have saved a few bucks along the way.

Our storage system is built of readily available No. 2 common pine and held together with knockdown (K-D) connectors for easy assembly and flexible shelf arrangement. The basic unit is comprised of four four-inch-wide posts, or uprights, upon which the shelves are hung. The shelves are made up of slats screwed to a crossrail at each end. The rails fit into grooves in the posts and are secured with K-D hardware through uniformly spaced holes.

You'll need four two-inch connector screws and four steel cross dowels for each shelf.

The double grooves in each post make expanding the system simple. You can join the components to make a long wall unit or wrap the shelves around a corner. You also can build extra-deep shelves that handle drawers, or you can install a closet rod for clothes storage.

Starting Construction

Begin by using your circular saw to rip four-inch-wide posts from 1 x 6 stock. Then crosscut each post squarely to exact length.

Each post has two rows of 1/4-in. shelf holes spaced on five-inch centers. Each row is one inch from the edge of the post. Instead of laying out the hole centers on the posts, make a template out of 1/4-in.-thick plywood. Cut the template to the same size as the posts, accurately mark the centers and bore a 1/4-in. hole at each location.

Place the template over the outside face of the first post and align the edges. Use clamps to hold the template in place and bore through the template into the post.

After all of the holes have been bored, rout the 1/4-in.-deep grooves in the back, inner face of each post with a 3/4-in.-dia. straight bit. Make each 1 3/16-in.-wide groove in two passes.

With a post secured to your bench or sawhorses, set your router edge guide to position the groove 3/8 in. from the edge. After this cut has been made from both edges of every post, reset the edge guide to bring the grooves to their finished width and complete the job.

Rip 5/4 stock to 1 1/2 in. wide for the shelf rails and crosscut each rail to exact length. The K-D fittings that secure the rails to the posts are made up of 10mm steel cross dowels and connector screws that thread through the cross dowels at right angles. The cross dowels fit into blind holes bored in the top edges of each rail.

If you have a drill press, you can use a 10mm bit (No. 46771, The Woodworkers' Store) to bore the cross dowel holes. However, you also can do the job with a doweling jig and 3/8-in. bit. Although the holes will be a shade small, the cross dowels will fit snugly in the pine stock. Mark the centers for the cross dowel holes 1 1/4 in. in from each rail end and bore the holes 5/8 in. deep.

Reset the doweling jig to bore 1/4-in. holes in the rail ends that intersect the cross dowel holes. Center these holes across the stock thickness and place them 3/8 in. down from the rail tops.

Install the cross dowels in the rails. Use a screwdriver in the slotted end of each cross dowel to align the threaded holes with the holes bored in the ends of the rails.

Cut 1 x 4 stock to length for the shelf slats. Bore and countersink screwholes for attaching the slats to the rails. When locating the screwholes, plan for the slat ends to overhang the rails 3/8 in. and position the screws so they miss the K-D fittings at each end. Hold the slats in place over the rails and use the screwholes as guides for pilot holes in the rails. Allow the rails to protrude 1/4 in. to match the grooves in the posts. For 12- or 24-in.-deep shelves, use a 1/2-in.-thick spacer to align each slat successively.

To assemble the shelves and posts, place the end of a shelf rail into a post groove and align the hole in the rail end with a hole in the post. Insert a connector screw through the aligned holes and thread it into the cross dowel. Tighten the screw with an Allen wrench.

If the unit is to be a single, four-post assembly, you can use either the inside or outside grooves for the shelf rails. If you want to join two or more units in line, use the inside grooves. To extend the shelving unit, simply tip a new shelf into place in the outside groove and install the connecting screws.

If you'd like your shelving system to wrap around an inside corner, build a transition unit made from standard posts and shorter shelves. Make the width of the transition unit correspond to the depth of the adjacent wall unit. Clamp the units together and assemble the units with screws.

Adding a Drawer

If you've built a deep shelving unit, you can join two shelves to create a drawer opening. To join the shelves, first screw two 3/4 x 1 1/8 -in. cleats to the top of a shelf, directly above the rails. Then, screw a sidepiece to the inside edge of each cleat. Place another shelf over the sides and screw through the sides into the upper-shelf rails.

Note that the sidepieces must be sized to position the holes in the rails of the upper and lower shelves to match hole spacing on the posts. For a shallow drawer–with the holes on 5-in. centers as shown—make the drawer—opening sidepieces 4 1/4 in. wide. For a double-depth drawer, make the opening sidepieces 9 1/4 in. wide.

To build the drawer, first rip 3/4-in.-thick pine stock for the front and sides 1/16 in. less than the drawer opening height. Rip the 3/4-in.-thick drawer back 1/2 in. less than the sides. Crosscut the front 1/8 in. less than the opening width and cut the back piece 3/4 in. less than the front. Cut the length of the sides to 1/4 in. less than the shelf depth.

Use a router to cut a 3/8-in.-deep x 3/4-in.-wide dado across each sidepiece, 3/4 in. from the back end. Then, cut a 1/2-in.-deep x 3/4-in.-wide rabbet in each end of the front piece. Install a 1/4-in. straight bit in your router and cut a 1/4-in.-deep groove along the sides and front to house the drawer bottom. Locate this groove 1/4 in. from the bottom edges of each piece.

Glue and nail the sides to the drawer back, keeping the top edges flush. Then, secure the sides to the front piece in the same way. Cut a 1/4-in. plywood drawer bottom to size so it slides snugly in the drawer grooves. With the bottom in place, nail it to the back piece. Finish the drawer by adding a handle and checking for a good fit. If the drawer is too tight, sand or plane it to fit. Apply wax to the sides and bottom edges to keep it from sticking.

Clothes Storage

To further increase the utility of your modular storage system, you can adapt one or more deep-shelf assemblies for clothes storage. In combination with shelves and drawers, your system will handle just about any storage problem.

To install a closet rod for hanging clothes, use 3 1/2-in.-wide x 1 1/8-in.-thick rails under the top shelf instead of the 1 1/2-in.-wide rails specified for standard shelves. When the shelf has been installed at the top of a unit, mark the center of each wide rail and install closet rod sockets at these locations. Cut the closet rod to length and tip it in place.

Step-by-Step Illustrations

  1. Use a circular saw and rip guide to trim 1 x 6 stock down to 4 in. wide. Clamp or tack workpiece to sawhorses.
  2. To bore accurately placed holes in each post, use a template made from 1/4-in. plywood. Clamp template to work.
  3. After the holes have been bored, rout pairs of 1/4-in.-deep x 1 3/16-in.-wide grooves along the back of each post.
  4. Use a doweling jig to accurately place holes in rails for K-D cross dowel connectors. Bore holes 5/8 in. deep.
  5. Move to a 1/4-in. bit for the holes in the ends of the rails. Again, use a doweling jig to accurately place holes.
  6. After removing all sawdust from the holes, carefully press the steel cross dowel fittings in the rail ends.
  7. Use the slot in the top of each cross dowel to align the threaded hole with the connecting-screw hole in the end.
  8. After boring screwholes in the ends of each slat, position slats over rails and bore pilot holes in rail edges.
  9. Use 1/2-in.-wide blocks to accurately space slats. Then, secure each slat to the rails with 1 1/2-in. No. 8 fh screws.
  10. To attach a shelf to a post, place rail end in post groove. Then, align post hole with rail hole and insert screw.
  11. Use an Allen wrench to thread connector screw into cross dowel. Tighten until snug–avoid overtightening.
  12. Shelves can be joined end to end to form a long unit. Simply tip a new shelf into the grooves and secure.
  13. At a corner, make a shorter shelf unit to act as a transition unit. Clamp to standard shelf assembly.
  14. Secure the units together by screwing through the posts. Bore pilot holes and use three screws per post.
  15. To create a drawer opening on a deep shelf unit, first attach 3/4 x 1 1/8-in. cleats directly over shelf rails.
  16. Then, attach 3/4-in.-thick drawer-opening sides to the cleats. Side width is 3/4 in. less than post hole spacing.
  17. Set a second shelf on top of the drawer-opening assembly and fasten with 1 1/2-in. No. 8 fh wood screws.
  18. After the drawer sides, front and back have been prepared, glue and nail the back in the side dadoes.
  19. Place the drawer sides in the rabbets at each end of the drawer front and secure with glue and nails.
  20. After cutting the 1/4-in. plywood drawer bottom, slide it in place. The bottom should be snug, yet slide easily.
  21. Use small finishing nails to secure the drawer bottom to the back. Set all nails on the drawer and fill with wood filler.
  22. Test the fit in the drawer opening. If necessary, plane or sand the drawer. Apply wax to the sides and bottom.
  23. To use a unit for hanging clothes, first build a shelf with deep, 3 1/2-in.-wide rails. Then, attach rod sockets.
  24. Center the closet rod sockets between the posts. Cut a length of closet rod to size and tip it into position.

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