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Shelving Made Easy

Clutter..... ACCCCKKKK! What a waste of time looking for things or stepping over boxes and cartons of stuff. I have had to do this at my house too many times. I've found the best solution is to build custom shelves that maximize storage space and accommodate the items that I have.

My system is actually one I modified. My wife Kathy and I bought our second home in 1976. I think the house was built in the early 1900's based upon the solid stone foundation. In the basement, a carpenter had built some handy shelving. He used 1x6's and other 3/4 inch material to build the system. It was a brilliant piece of work that allowed me to store heavy tools, boxes of nails and electric motors. I had tried to do this on some prefabricated metal shelving, but the metal shelves bent!

Two to Three Hours and Presto!

If you have any experience with cutting lumber, and you have a few handy tools, you can build my shelf system in less than four hours. The biggest challenge will be attaching the system to a masonry wall. I had to do this in my own basement. To achieve this goal, you will need to rent or borrow a masonry hammer drill with a 1/4 inch drill bit. If you are attaching the shelves to a wood wall, this is a piece of cake!

The Cut List

Let's start out with an easy set of shelves - those that require a minimum of cutting. Your best bet is a shelf system eight feet long. Let's build a system with five shelves all the same depth. Here is the cut lumber list you need just before you start to assemble the system:

  • 5 pieces of 1/2 inch plywood 11 7/8 inch wide by 8 feet long

  • 5 pieces of 2x2 eight feet long
  • 5 pieces of 2x3 eight feet long
  • 2 pieces of 2x4 eight feet long

The plywood shelf depth is 1/8 inch less than 11 inches for a reason. This will allow you to get four pieces from a 4 by 8 foot piece of plywood.

The 2x4's will need to be cut, but I can't tell you the height because I don't know how high off the floor your last shelf will be AND I don't know if your basement floor is level.

The Legs

The only difficult part of building the shelves is the final height of the 2x4 vertical legs. Here is how I do it. I install all of the 2x2s on the back wall at predetermined heights. I then build the shelves by attaching the front of the shelf to the 1.5 inch edge of the 2x3 front shelf beam supports. You then take one of the shelves and screw down through the back of the shelf into the top 2x2 wall cleat. I like to put screws every one foot on center. If you have decent coordination, you will not need any help doing this.

It is now time to set your first vertical leg. If you want the top of the 2x4 to be flush with the top shelf (my preference), you need to make sure the 2x4 can stand vertically without hitting the ceiling. If it doesn't, trim it off a little. Take a short level, the 2x4 and stand on a ladder at one end of the shelf. Place the 2x4 so it projects about 16 inches out from the wall down at the floor. Hold it plumb next to the top shelf and use the small level to level the shelf. Since the 2x4 should be higher than the shelf, use a pencil to mark where the shelf passes by the vertical 2x4. Cut it off at this mark and then attach it to the 2x3 front shelf beam using two three inch long drywall screws. Do the same thing for the other end of the shelves. You can't necessarily cut both 2x4 legs the same length since the floor is probably out of level or the top 2x2 might be slightly out of level.

Once both legs are cut and screwed to the top shelf, the rest of the assembly goes lightning fast. Simply level each shelf as you go. A screw gun or a drill with a Phillips head bit in the chuck will make this job very easy.

The Three Inch Rule

I am planning to build additional shelving in my basement. I will modify my design slightly. I want to minimize the amount of air space above the objects on my shelves. In other words, if I want to store gallon paint cans, I want there to be just a 1/2 inch clearance space between the object and the 2x3 front beam of the shelf above.

To achieve this goal, you must keep in mind certain dimensions as you install the back wall 2x2 cleats. Let's say you want to have 10 inches of clearance between the top of a shelf and the 2x3 shelf beam above. To do this, you must install the back wall cleats so that the top of the one cleat is 15 inches higher than the one below! You will loose the three inches in the following way: The shelf itself is 1/2 inch higher than the lower 2x2. The 2x3 beam of the upper shelf hangs down 2.5 inches from the top of the upper 2x2 cleat. 2.5 inches plus 1/2 inch equals 3 inches. Don't forget this rule......!

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