Q&A / 

Garage Cabinets

DEAR TIM: Because of my tendency to keep too many things, I need garage cabinets. There seems to be an abundance of different garage-storage products, but once I start to price them, I quickly run out of money. What kind of garage cabinets would you suggest for a person who can't afford new, fancy cabinets? Are there things I should avoid? Can I just nail the cabinets to the wall? Kristin, K., Newfields, NH

DEAR KRISTIN: Garage cabinets are absolutely more popular now than I can ever remember. Many building-products manufacturers have started to respond to the marketplace demand of consumers like you. There are many types and styles of garage cabinets, and most of these can really cost a king's ransom once you design a complete solution for your garage. Add to this professional installation, and it takes no time whatsoever to get into four figures.

You have several highly-affordable options, if you want to clean up the clutter in your garage. The first places I would call would be local remodeling contractors, especially ones who specialize in kitchen remodeling. These contractors often have a constant supply of used kitchen cabinets they remove from homes. Frequently these cabinets are in very good condition, and when combined together, they can create a massive wall of cabinetry in a garage.

This garage cabinet was salvaged for free from a remodeling job. It is well-built, and the glass doors let you see what is on the shelves. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

This garage cabinet was salvaged for free from a remodeling job. It is well-built, and the glass doors let you see what is on the shelves. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

Keep in mind that most kitchen wall cabinets are made in standard sizes. Often the cabinet box is 12 inches deep, and comes in different widths and heights. This means you can often combine cabinets from different kitchens and they will mate with one another nicely. You can often mix different styles, and the look is not too bad.

To solve garage clutter, don't think your garage has to end up looking like a kitchen. Keep in mind that you can easily stack wall cabinets on top of one another to create a solid wall of storage. Once the cabinets are fastened to one another and then securely fastened to the wall, you have a garage that may become the envy of many neighbors.

If you want open storage shelves, think about removing the doors from salvaged cabinets. There is no need to try to make shelves from scratch.

Used cabinets can sometimes be found at stores that sell recycled home building and remodeling products. We have several such stores in my city, and they offer unbelievably low prices for cabinets in great condition.

Cabinet companies and plumbing-supply stores that sell cabinets often have a dusty corner of a warehouse dedicated to damaged or mistake cabinets. You might be able to get workable cabinets for pennies on the dollar by visiting these stores or putting your name on a call list for when new cabinets are added to the bone yard.

If you can find a remodeler who regularly works on older homes and you are patient, you may get very lucky one day. Every now and then a remodeling job may involve removing old cabinets that were built-into the house. Most of these cabinets are premium quality made from old-growth lumber. Some often come with glass doors and cabinets with drawers and doors.  I know of several houses where cabinets like this were doomed for the dumpster, the most recent one being a film location for a reality-television show.

If you work with old painted cabinets, be careful about the hazards of lead paint. Any cabinets made before 1978 might have lead paint on or in them. Any cabinets that were made and painted before WW II probably have multiple layers of lead paint.  Sanding these cabinets can create toxic lead dust. If you need to refinish them, think about carefully removing the paint with chemical strippers. Be very careful, and follow all recommendations offered at http://www.epa.gov/lead.

Cabinets should never be nailed to a wall. Always use screws to attach cabinets to a wall. The weight of a single large wall cabinet and the things stored inside it can often exceed several hundred pounds. Nails can pull away from a wall without warning, while screws offer tremendous holding power. Be sure the screws penetrate through the cabinet and into solid framing lumber at least 1.5 inches. You will often discover the minimum length for a cabinet screw is 3 inches long.

Another way to locate good, used cabinets is to put the word out to all of your friends, neighbors, relatives and co-workers. I guarantee you one or more of them will know someone who is planning to remodel their kitchen in the near future.

Keep in mind that stained cabinets can be easily painted to make your garage look neat and clean. You do not have to paint the interior of the cabinet, just the exterior surfaces that you see.

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