Building Utility Shelves and Racks

Utilitarian shelves and racks for a workshop or garage can be made of unfinished plywood and 2-bys. Locate them so lumber and sheet goods can be easily stacked and removed. Make some shelves deep enough for your largest items, and others shallower so cans of paint don’t get lost in the back. Before you buy lumber to build your own unit, check the storage options at a home center. Ladder brackets (right) and metal shelf units are often more cost-effective than shelves built from scratch.

Store-bought ladder brackets. Ready-made ladder brackets are available at most home centers and will probably cost little more than homemade. Have helpers hold the ladder brackets plumb while you attach 3/4-inch plywood shelving with screws. Anchor the unit to the wall with angle brackets and screws driven into studs.

1. Assemble the lumber racks. Cut 3-inch-wide strips of plywood and assemble them into a U shape, using mending plates and 3/4-inch screws to join them.

2. Hang the racks. Chalk a line on the underside of the joists so that the racks will be in line with each other. Attach the the tops of the racks to joists by driving four 2-inch screws through each of the plywood supports and into the joists. Stack the lumber neatly, putting the widest pieces on the bottom to support the other boards and to keep them from warping.

Shelves and plywood storage. This arrangement will keep sheet goods easily accessible and prevent them from warping. Build standard shelves with 2x2 uprights and 1x2 horizontal supports. Make the bottom plywood channel out of two 1x4s and one 1x2; drill pilot holes and drive screws to fasten them into a U-shape. Drill a hole in the middle of the 1x2 and tie a rope to it. Use the rope to hold sheets of plywood securely in place.

Hanging jars. Your grandfather may have used this system to organize screws and small items, and it still works. Drive screws to fasten jar lids to the underside of a shelf, and screw the jar onto the lid.

Between-joist rack. Use the space between open joists in a garage or basement to store lumber, pipes, or other long objects. Attach 1x2s to the underside of the joists for an instant rack. If the stored objects will be heavy, attach 2x4s instead of 1x2s.

Over-joist storage platform. If your garage or attic has space above the joists, slide pieces of 1/2-inch plywood up there, and attach them to the joists with 1 1/4 inch screws. Make the platform roomy, and leave enough empty space on the sides so you can easily get to all the stored objects.

Building Adjustable Entertainment Shelves

These shelves have an informal look, but if you finish them with a solid covering of enamel paint, or build with oak plywood and stain, they will be classy enough for most living rooms. The shelves are made of plywood, cut at a gentle curve and edged with veneer tape. The standards are made of 2-inch galvanized conduit, the kind used for heavy-duty outdoor electrical installations. Conduit couplings support the shelves.

1. Cut the shelves. On a sheet of plywood, draw lines for a 6-foot-long, 14-inch-wide curved shelf. Use a framing square and pencil to divide part of the plywood sheet into a grid of 6-inch squares. Then draw the top curve, using the illustration above as a guide. Experiment until it looks smooth and even. Draw the second line parallel with the first line, and mark for a square cutoff. Cut the first shelf, and sand the edges smooth. Use the first shelf as a template and draw the next two shelves. Use the framing square to draw a line dividing one of the shelves in half, and cut.

2. Drill the holes. On one of the shelves, mark for centers of holes 3 inches in from each corner. Mark for another hole in the center of the shelf’s width and 33 inches from one end. Drill with a 2-inch hole saw, then use the shelf as a template to mark for holes in the other shelves.

3. Apply edging. Cover the plywood edges with veneer tape. Attach it by applying glue to the plywood edge and holding the veneer tape in place with masking tape.

4. Cut the conduit standards. Cut five pieces of 2-inch conduit (the non-threaded kind) to 54 inches or so, depending on how tall you want the unit to be. Use a hacksaw or a tubing cutter. To prepare the pipe for painting, first sand the conduit with a loose sheet of medium-grit sandpaper.

5. Sand and paint standards and shelves. Sand the shelves smooth. Apply a coat of primer and two coats of enamel paint to conduit, couplings, and shelves. If you like the silvery look of galvanized conduit and couplings, just leave them alone; the finish will last.

6. Slip on shelves, attach couplings. At the bottom of each standard, slip on a coupling and tighten the setscrews. Slip the bottom shelf onto all five standards, and slide it down. Slip on couplings for the next shelf, and measure to see that they are all at the same height. Slip on the shelf. Repeat for all the shelves. If the standards fit tightly into the holes, the unit will be stable. If it wobbles, anchor it to a wall with angle brackets and screws.

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