When we bought our home, one of the things we were most excited about was the storage room. It was lined on either side with shelves and we had never had a room dedicated to storage before. What a great thing to have!
Fast forward to moving day and the issue became very obvious. Though the room had lots of shelves, they were only about 10 inches deep and 12 inches high. This puts a pretty tight limit on the things you can store on the shelves, and everything else ends up stacked on the floor in the middle of the room.
“Stacked” is a bit generous. More like tossed. But with some planning and basic construction know-how, we’ve turned the above, into this:
Once a shelf is in place, we tend to only worry about how much room is available, and that’s how we determine what to put on it. But what about the weight? Have the shelves you’re putting your boxes on been engineered to hold that box of old books? Or maybe all three of those boxes of books?
To ensure your storage shelves are ready to handle whatever you decide to put on them, we’ll take a look at how decks are built, and follow those standards. This will give our shelves the strength needed to ease our minds as our storage needs grow. First, here are a few things to plan for.
The span of the shelves refers to how long of a space they will extend over, without support. The longer the space, the wider you’ll want your joists to be. For example, a 2×10 will support the same weight over longer distances that a 2×4 will support over a short distance. To calculate the type of joist supports you’ll need, first measure how far you’d like your shelves to span, and use this online span calculator. If your span is too far, you may consider adding supports in the front of the shelves every few feet to bring the unsupported span length within the suggested parameters. It’s also worth noting that, the closer together your joists are, the longer the span can be before adding supports.
The thickness and type of material you use for the shelf surface will also have an impact, and you’ll want to choose a product that matches your use. For example, MDF or particle board are paintable, but easier to break if the joists are spread out more than 12 inches. To combat this you’d want a thicker MDF, which adds more dead weight (the weight of the shelves themselves) to the shelves and decreases their live weight limit (the weight of all the things you put on the shelves). Subfloor materials are stronger and lighter weight, but some products like OSB (oriented strand board) are difficult to paint. For this tutorial we used a 1/2in subfloor-grade plywood that was sanded smooth on one side, which provided the strength we needed, but was also paintable.
Before you build your shelves, you’ll want to have an idea of the things you’ll be storing on them to ensure it all fits. For this tutorial, we picked out a few large plastic storage bins, and measured the heights and widths to ensure our shelves were deep enough and spaced out from each other enough that we could fit as many bins on the shelves as possible.
For this example, our shelves each spanned a space of just under 7 feet. We decided that 2x4s would make the perfect joists, which would also maximize our floor-to-ceiling space. Here are the materials used for the following example:
- 28 8ft 2x4s
- 1 8ft 2×2
- 6 4×8 sheets of plywood
- 1lb 3in wood screws
- 1lb 2.5in wood screws
- 1lb 1.25in wood screws
- 21 joist brackets
- 6 fence brackets
Here are the tools needed to build the shelves:
- Measuring tape
- Miter saw
- Drill bit set
- Circular saw
- Painting supplies
Once you know how far apart you’d like to space your shelves, measure and cut 2x4s to fit along the wall as the back support of the shelves. Hold each board in place and level it, then make a mark along the top. Using a stud finder, locate all the studs in the wall along where the board will be placed, hold the board back up and mark the stud locations on the 2×4. Pre-drill holes into these locations using a 1/8in drill bit (pre-drilling the holes will prevent the studs from splitting). Hold the boards in place and attach them to the wall with 3in wood screws.
For sections of shelving that will span wall-to-wall, using 1.25in wood screws, mount joist brackets opposite one another where you plan to have the joists placed. In this example, the joists were 12 inches apart from each other. Place the measured and cut 2x4s into the brackets and secure.
If the shelves will be in a corner, like this example, you can support it one of two ways. First would be to add a support in the corner. This is the quickest and simplest way but will leave a support in the way of the shelves, which can be in the way at times. The other option would be to reinforce the front support of the wall-to-wall shelves with an extra 2×4, and have the adjacent shelf attach directly to the front of the wall-to-wall unit using fence brackets for the visible boards and joist brackets for the others. To reinforce the front joist, screw a second 2×4 directly into it from behind, and then attach it to the wall supports by screwing it in at an angle (pre-drill the hole to make this easier).
Level each section of shelving as you go.
For any front or corner supports needed, measure and cut one leg out of the 2×2 to match the height of the top of the bottom wall support, and attach to the front end corner of the frame using 2.5in wood screws. Once the shelf supports are in place, measure and cut the tops, and screw or nail them in place with a finish nailer. Repeat for each shelf.
Once constructed, lightly sand to remove splinters, and paint if desired.
For extra deep storage bins, constructing your shelves on a back wall will allow you to make them deeper while still having ample walking space in front of the shelves. In the above examples, the back shelves were 46 inches deep, and the side shelves were 26 inches. This provides plenty of options for storage, without making the room feel cramped.