Building Cheap Shelves

Discussion in 'General Survival and Preparedness' started by UncleMorgan, Jun 6, 2015.

  1. UncleMorgan

    UncleMorgan I like peeling bananas and (occasionally) people.

    Once a person starts prepping in a serious way, the first thing they run out of is usually shelving.
    Cheap steel shelves can be had from auctions, but that's catch-as-catch-can. When you need shelves right away, it often becomes a choice of build or buy.

    I'd rather build, and (fortunately) there are a number of cheap shelving schemes out there in Internet Land, but I'll start this off with the cheap system I designed and presently use.

    The 1X2 Shelf System is used against stud walls, and incorporates the strength of the wall into the shelving. The only materials used are 1/2" plywood, 1X2 furring strips, and nails or drywall screws.

    Sort thru the wretched pukewood they sell for 1X2s these days, and pick out only straight solid ones.
    Building with crooked wood just builds crooked things.

    A miter saw makes the cutting easy, but a table saw or even a jigsaw can get the job done. Other than that, all you need is a hammer or screw gun, a tape measure and a pencil, a level, and a small try-square.

    Decide first on the length and width of your shelves. I usually go with 9.5" W X 8' L shelves, because five will cut out of a sheet of plywood with zero waste. Have the shelves cut on the panel saw at the Big Box DIY Store when you buy the plywood. (1/2" plywood is a lot cheaper than 1" boards, BTW)

    Decide on your shelf spacing. I usually go with 12.25", which nicely accommodates a standard Christmas can/popcorn can.

    12.25" spacing in a room with 8' ceilings will give you 7 shelves, with the top space being only 6.75" tall.

    That's not a very handy space at the top of the shelves, but if you put it in the middle of the shelving, it becomes very handy indeed. It's just right for a lot of small stuff.

    So your shelves would be four spaces 12.25" apart, one 6.75", and three more 12.25" apart.

    That gives you a nice tall 12.25" shelf at the very top. It's a useable space even if the ceiling is a little bowed or the room isn't quite square.

    I use four posts on a 8' long shelf, which requires four 1x2 front posts that reach to (about) the bottom of the top shelf. They should be 83.25" long.

    (Don't worry about the fact that 1/2" plywood is slightly less than 1/2" thick. It'll work out ok.)

    The four back posts are (preferably) four studs in the wall the shelves are built against. So find the studs, and mark them at the middle with a long vertical line.

    The next step is to cut the shelf spacers. You'll need 56 spacers. 48 will be 12.25" long and 8 will be 6.75" long. Cut them on a miter saw, if possible, so they are all exactly the same length.

    The shelf spacers eliminate the need to notch posts for shelves to fit into. Better to do 58 crosscuts than 58 notches. Trust me on that.

    Attach one long spacer flush with the bottom end of each front post.

    Half of the spacers will be attached to the wall. If you have base trim in the room, measure its height, and cut that amount off the first four back spacers. They're the bottom row. Attach them to four studs, set firmly against either the floor or the top of the base trim, whichever way the wall is made.

    You are now ready to turbo-assemble the shelving unit.

    Lay a shelf on the back spacers, and hook a front post under it at each end to hold it level.

    Attach the shelf to the front and back spacers with one vertical nail/screw, each.

    Position the other two front posts along the shelf and attach them. Use the square & level to keep things, well, square & level as you go.

    Attach four long spacers set firmly against the first shelf to the wall, and four to the front posts, and then add another shelf.

    After four shelves, put in the short spacers to make the short shelf, and then continue right up
    to the top of the posts.

    If the posts are a tiny bit taller (or shorter!) than the top shelf it matters not at all.

    By the time all the shelves are attached to the posts, sandwiched in the spacers, and attached to the spacers and the wall, you shelves will be a solid as a rock.

    And they will be plenty strong enough.

    One thing about the shelves: 9.5" may seem a little narrow for, say, a 12" diameter Christmas can.
    I've found that having large cans or boxes slightly overhang the shelves makes getting them down a lot easier.

    If you are building into a corner, the side wall become a front post. (Saves wood!)

    As for finishing the shelves, why bother? It just makes them more expensive, not more efficient.
    But do so if you wish.

    This has been a wordy post, but I make it a thousand words longer by adding a pic.
  2. sarawolf

    sarawolf Monkey+++

    Right shelving gets used up quickly, and we are the same, we like to build.
  3. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    Check to be sure your ceilings are really 8 feet. Many these days are less, often roughly 7'-6" to 7'-9".
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  4. Ganado

    Ganado Monkey+++

    Nicely done.
  5. kellory

    kellory An unemployed Jester, is nobody's fool. Banned

    Nicely done. I go heavier grade, and larger, but size them to fit your needs.... Before you build them;)
  6. Brokor

    Brokor Live Free or Cry Moderator Site Supporter+++ Founding Member

    Building your own shelves is an excellent way to manage space and save money. For folks who want a more temporary storage solution, the modular units can be had on sale, and if you shop around they can become useful. Just be cautious because many of these units are not very sturdy, even if fastened to a wall. The best route is build your own, but you can build modular units, too.

    This is a pretty good video on the subject:
  7. ditch witch

    ditch witch I do stupid crap, so you don't have to

    I've been building shelving in the garage using pallets. So far I've got 4 rows, 12" deep and 9.5' long. There's a 2x4 along the back wall screwed into the wall studs, so the ripped pallet slots onto it, then I screwed 2x4 studs onto the front for front legs. Need more pallets to get the very top shelf done. No sooner do I get one up than the Mr. loads it up with crap. :/

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  8. UncleMorgan

    UncleMorgan I like peeling bananas and (occasionally) people.

    Nice design, ditch witch. Clean, neat, fast, ez to build & economical. And green. And down-right decorative, too.

    Generally, anything made from 2X4s is going to be strong enough to hold up anything you can load into them, even shelves full of batteries.

    My shelves are lighter in construction, but can hold all the groceries I'm ever likely to store in them, with plenty of safety margin.
    For stronger shelves, just put in a couple more posts.

    My shelves are also designed to be reasonably easy to tear down without destroying the wood, in case I want to build something else out of them.

    Like anti-zombie barriers, for example.

    Good point. I live in an older home that was made back when men were real men and they hammered the nails in with their fists. Before breakfast.

    Higher ceilings, yes. But the walls aren't particularly square anymore.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 7, 2015
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  9. Ganado

    Ganado Monkey+++

    Thus the name hammer fisted ;)
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  10. Brokor

    Brokor Live Free or Cry Moderator Site Supporter+++ Founding Member

    Not to be confused with "Donkey Punched". :eek:
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  11. tacmotusn

    tacmotusn RIP 1/13/21

    I also tie into wall studs, but on a horizontal basis at the back. I prefer 2 by supports throughout vice 1 by. One thing to consider with your plywood shelf material, make your shelf depth deep enough to serve your purpose, but divisible into 8 ft (96"). Such as 12", 16", or 24". This way you will not have waste pieces. Don't forget saw cuts subtract about 1/8 inch from your desired shelve depth. All of this has to be the plan from the start, for framing and shelving to exactly match, or not. I frame full size, say 12 inch depth, and the shelves actual cut 11 and 7/8ths". 16" depth shelves would be cut 15 and 7/8ths. 24" depth cut at 23 and 7/8ths.
    jus my 2 cents .... happy building
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  12. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    Last year I remodeled our pantry based off of some pic the Mrs handed me. Built with 2X10's and threaded half inch rigid pipe. I stripped and painted all of the pipe and we stained the boards. The pipe pieces add up in cost and may not fall in line with the threads "cheap" aspect, but easy yes, when you have a plan.

  13. Brokor

    Brokor Live Free or Cry Moderator Site Supporter+++ Founding Member

    I have to say, I have never seen anything like that before @Yard Dart
    Very interesting.
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  14. UncleMorgan

    UncleMorgan I like peeling bananas and (occasionally) people.

    When you have pipe, what a great way to use it!
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  15. john316

    john316 Monkey+++

    very nice clean look,yard dart.....strong too....i also use 2x12's
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  16. ditch witch

    ditch witch I do stupid crap, so you don't have to

    I love those shelves YD. Saw some similar on Pinterest but I think I like yours better.
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  17. Ganado

    Ganado Monkey+++

    I'm so glad you posted that yard dart. I've been looking at those for a year wondering how they would hold can goods. They seem sturdy how are they working?
    Yard Dart likes this.
  18. Tully Mars

    Tully Mars Metal weldin' monkey

    They look GREAT DW. Hell of an idea that I plan on shamelessly bogarting:D

    Yeah well, that's what guys do-take advantage of ya whenever we can-at least that's what I keep telling my 3 daughters;)

    Very nice YD! I've seen this done in a couple of different shops over the years, but none of them looked nearly as nice as yours.:)
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2015
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  19. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    Don't hate my Pillsbury Dough guy, he has been around a long time.

    If I did it over, I would have added shorter vertical segments.... but I was a little concerned about the weight of two or three extra shelves plus product. The unit is solid as a rock though and anchored to the wall properly. I had to remove the bottom leg pieces last week to change the floor out and the whole unit remained fixed in place with just the horizontal members for a few days.

    Just as a side note, this is not my primary storage area but the main pantry for our general house foods and other storage.... I have some heavy duty shelving stuff elsewhere for the can storage and so on.... ;)
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  20. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    Thank you.... I used 12-inch horizontal sections and with the flange and tee-section... it only allowed for a 10 inch wide board to seat properly.
    Ganado likes this.
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