Introduction: Cheap Storage Shelves

Picture of Cheap Storage Shelves

Our kitchen was getting too cluttered with not enough counter-space, so I decided to make some cheap heavy duty storage shelves.

Total cost was around $55 not including tools. Each of the 4 shelves are 21"x 45" and the assembled structure stands 78" tall.

Step 1: Materials & Tools

Picture of Materials & Tools

                     I got all necessary materials at Home Depot. Luckily, my local Home Depot cuts all lumber for free which significantly cut down on the total cost of this build. Some lumber yards charge up to 50 cents per cut, so that would have gotten expensive very quickly. I certainly had the capability to cut my own wood, but it is just so much faster and easier to transport in a sub-compact if you get the store to cut it for you.

10 * 8'    2 x 4's @ $2.59 each  = $26
1 *  4' x 8'   sheet of 1/2" thick plywood = $20-$30
80 * 2.5" exterior screws = $5 (just buy a 1 lb box)
1" finishing nails

Power drill
Set of drill bits
Measuring tape
Clamps (optional)


Step 2: Cutting the Lumber

Picture of Cutting the Lumber

You are starting with 10  2 x 4's and one 4' x 8' section of 1/2" plywood. 

The plywood will go on to become the shelves, so it will need to be cut to dimensions of 21" x 45". You will need 3 of these sheets and one sheet of 21" x 48" for the top shelf.

4' x 8' plywood --> 3 * 21" x 45" plywood + 1* 21" x 48" plywood

Each shelf consists of two 4' boards with three 18" boards sandwiched between them. These shelves rest on four vertical 78" boards.

Four boards should be cut at 18" --> 4 * 78" boards + 4 * 18" boards
Four boards should be cut at 48" --> 8 * 48" boards
The remaining two boards should be cut into 18" sections until the total number of 18" sections is 12.

Step 3: Measure

Picture of Measure

Line up all four 78" sections and mark off lines at the point where you want your shelves to lie. 

Measuring is the most important step, so make sure you are accurate or else the shelf will not be level.

Each shelf height is up to you, but my suggested measurements can be seen in the image.

Step 4: Build a Ladder

Picture of Build a Ladder

Line up an 18" section with your line, ensure it is square.

Pre-drill 2 holes with a drill bit only slightly smaller than the diameter of your screws. This is necessary to keep the wood from splitting when you insert the screws.

Screw the two pieces of wood together. 

Wash, rinse, and repeat until you basically have a ladder, then build another ladder which will make up the other side of the shelf.

Step 5: Start on the Shelves

Picture of Start on the Shelves

The first part of making the actual shelves involves attaching a cross-beam to four of the 4' sections exactly in the middle. There's no good way to do this, but the best way I could figure out was to place both boards on a flat table, lined up the best I could, then attach then with screws - taking care to pre-drill holes.

Step 6: Putting It All Together Part 1

Picture of Putting It All Together Part 1

Now you have all the pieces you need to attach everything together.

Lay both ladders on their sides with the 18" segments on the insides, then lay the cross-beams built in the last step across the ladders where the 18" segments attach.

Make sure everything is square, then start screwing everything together (after pre-drilling holes) with 2 screws per joint to prevent rotation.

Step 7: Putting It All Together Part 2

Picture of Putting It All Together Part 2

Now that you have the rough shape of the storage shelves, all that needs to be done is to flip it over and attach the four remaining 4' boards to the other side.

Make sure to secure the remaining boards to the cross-beams as well.

You may need straps to hold the sides in as you secure the final boards.

Step 8: Attaching Plywood

Picture of Attaching Plywood

Use finishing nails to tack on the plywood sheets to the shelves.

Because this thing was so tall, I did the top shelf while it was laying down, then flipped it up to attach the remaining pieces of plywood.

REMEMBER: the top piece of plywood is the largest piece because it over-hangs the supporting studs.

Additionally, once you raise your shelves upright, make sure to check to make sure they are level,

Step 9: Finishing Touches

Picture of Finishing Touches

Move your shelves into position and add any finishing touches you want, like wood-stain, polyurethane, paint, or kitchen appliances.


MollyH30 made it! (author)2016-09-11

did a slight variation of this plan and another one I found online for my kitchen/living space. stained grey with water based stain.

PaulChau (author)2016-02-29

If these storage shelves are cheap to build, I think that it might be a good idea for me to go pick up some extra plywood or planks from the neighbours so that we can put them out for some of our customers to use! Lord knows some of the storage units here could definitely use a little bit more organization and as a value added service, I'm sure my customers would love the material to build their own shelving!

rebelfish made it! (author)2016-01-03

I made it!!! Even though my measurements were a smidge off (due to cutting left or right of my pencil line ex 1/32- 1/16 of an inch or so) the project fit together. As I was putting the wood together the materials werent perfect ( cheapest lumber from big name chain store) and eventually I began to accept that. I also learned that the use of pistol grip clamps made my life easier when assembling towards the end. In the end, the shelving isnt going to be in a museum, and i can live with that, but, I CAN TAKE PRIDE IN WHAT I BUILT. Its an awesome feeling.

kandie.watson.56 (author)2015-12-01

Ok you guy's seem awfully helpful so im gonna lay it out here....i have three in college budget is extremely tight we need three shelves
i have a little knowledge
i have a drill
i have a circular saw
measurements are approximately :
6'/2'/18"/15" kitchen/bedroom
then one in bath over toilet
please help

UdyRegan (author)2015-10-15

Shelving units are a wonderful storage solution and the wood puts a nice touch to the room!

mjupiter1 made it! (author)2015-02-08

6' long and 28" wide 6' high. and plus since my fiance does hairstyling, i put a board on the inside of one end and created an open cabinet for her hair products, with room for adding more 2x4 shelves.

mjupiter1 (author)mjupiter12015-02-08

just added to the side.

mralex42 (author)2014-03-25

nevermind, I forgot about the two from the 78" boards

mralex42 (author)2014-03-25

How would you cut 2 x 10ft board into 12 x 18' sections? math doesnt add up there..

About to make a similar set of shelves 2ft by 4ft, but with 2x3's and OSB with wheels for the garage. Check out the way this guy does his screws on his shelves with templates(a little OCD) but very secure looking.

Leafsicle made it! (author)2014-01-30

Sturdy as all get out and it was a great first project!

xiutehcuhtli (author)2013-08-20

Nice drill. Exact same one I have, so we must both be cool.
This is a project I am probably going to undertake on my day off, glad I found it!

Also, could you offer some advice on anchoring this? I have kids who will climb and I don't want them to have this tip over on top of them.

drcj (author)xiutehcuhtli2013-08-20

Theres plenty of room on the undersides of the shelves to use some woodscrews to anchor the top shelf into some studs in your wall. Good luck!

Otto von Korbecke (author)2013-08-04

Drcj, I just today completed a set of shelves based upon this instructable.  I used wood on hand (1x2s) for the side and center supports and 2x4s for the rest of the structure.  I also departed from your plans, making a 5-shelf unit instead of the 4-shelf unit featured.

As a novice woodworker, here are some things I've learned in the process of doing this project -
(1) You can never have enough clamps!
(2) Take the time to line up everything square and level, especially when assembling the two side "ladders."  I didn't , and had to re-attach 8 of the 10 side supports.

The unit looks great at our hackerspace.  It's already full of stuff!  I'll need to make another set.

drcj (author)Otto von Korbecke2013-08-04

That's great! could you upload some pictures of your take on the design?

Otto von Korbecke (author)drcj2013-08-06

Let's see if I did this right.  The first two images are of the completed shelves.  The third is of the shelves in use.  Around here it filled up fast.

Oh, I forgot to tell you that I altered the dimensions a bit. The depth was changed from 18" to 23", and the width shortened from 48" to 44". This to accommodate the wood I had on hand, and not out of any engineering or design considerations.

drcj (author)Otto von Korbecke2013-08-06

Very cool! It looks amazing. Good job, I hope they last

songbirdfeeder (author)2013-07-09

Perfect timing. I'm going to build some shelving for between our two garage doors. Now I can use your plans!! Thanks!
FWIW, my cat lays like that too. She also likes to lay on her back with all four legs in the air.

da rippa (author)songbirdfeeder2013-07-11

If I could lend some advice. I build some for my garage. Garage floors usually have some slope to them so that water will drain out. If you build them free standing and move them in place they could be sitting off kilter. I nailed a board on the wall level, set my shelf on it, then nailed the legs on.

drcj (author)songbirdfeeder2013-07-09

I'm glad to know my cats aren't the only weird ones. Good luck with your shelves!

drwebster (author)2013-07-10


Geedox (author)2013-07-10

A great way to "dispose" of some packing cases and odd lumber laying around! Keep it up! BTW: We have a Cat that loves to lay just like yours!

smalcolm (author)2013-07-10

Your cat lays like a corgi LOL.

trevormac (author)2013-07-10

not exactly a work of art but what the hell,it does a job.Congratulations

trevormac (author)2013-07-10

The Craftsman's Rule; measure twice,cut once

chuckyd (author)2013-07-09

While the shelves are attractive and sturdy, I have a few suggestions:

1. Use 1 x 4 trim, instead of the framing lumber. The 1 x 4 will carry as much load on the shelves as the 2 x 4, and present a more finished look.

2. Use a finhish grade plywood, instead of the framing plywood. The surface will be smoother and easier to keep clean.

3. The edges of the plywood need to be protected, to prevent creatures from growing within the plys, and to avoid the inevitable splintering along the edges.

4. Finally, the wood needs to be protected with several coats of water resistant finish, such as polyurethane. Not only does this protect the wood and prevent mold growth, it makes clean up a snap.

kewrw28 (author)2013-07-09

This is one heavy duty group of shelving! I think it will withstand a TANK driving over the top of them. Good Job.

jwebsd (author)2013-07-09

Excellent job and instructions! Thanks

drcj (author)jwebsd2013-07-09

Why thank you!

criggie (author)2013-07-09

Thoughts - no cross brace anywhere - what stops it rhombusing ?

Is it screwed to the wall - think earthquakes.

Since this is in your kitchen and holding food and equipment, untreated timber is a must. A layer of varnish or something to protect the wood from water and cooking oils and cooking smell would be good.

You MUST not use pallet wood for something like this - that stuff could have any sort of insecticide or anything on it - fine for outside but not in the kitchen.

And something on the bottom of the studs to protect the floor covering? a scrap of lino folded up the sides and screwed on would be ideal. Carpet scraps will get wet when you wash the floor so not suitable.

drcj (author)criggie2013-07-09

The shelves are actually fairly stable in the left-right direction due to the way the joints are screwed together. Additionally, I currently have them wedged between one wall on the left and the door-frame on the right which prevents any movement. if I had these as standalone shelves though, I would either add a cross-brace (which would interfere with the open design) or reinforce the joints with some metal plating.

I have scrap cardboard on the bottom to protect the floors. I am hoping to protect the wood with some type of finish soon, but I currently have no time.

jwhyman (author)2013-07-09

I made kitchen shelves using oak pallet wood, which was free. Only problem was the time it took to get the nails out.

criggie (author)jwhyman2013-07-09

Pallets can have all manner of chemicals in them - not recommended near your food or kitchen. They're fine for outside though.

Did you consider a protective layer of varnish to keep the nasties enclosed?

crkalino (author)2013-07-09

Not bad! Functional, durable and cheap! It could be made very attractive with another hour or two and some stain!

zawy (author)2013-07-09

You can get a same-sized steel-frame shelving from a big box store for about the same price, but I like wood. As another commenter said, I would use 1x2's for the under supports. It gives 2" more headroom for each shelf and comes out a lot lighter. The design looks like it will be flimsy in the left-right directions because there is no back-plane like in a book shelf. Even the front-back plane looks like it needs two 45 degree cross brace. Again, I would use 1x2's for the 4 extra cross-braces. The 3 2x4s under each shelf in the front back direction are giving this design some of that support I am saying appears missing.

DDW_OR (author)2013-07-09

these are my 2 cats. Tigger & Nuisance. Nuisance lives up to his name.

JoshHawley (author)2013-07-09

That is a really good, and simple way to ensure evenness!

JoshHawley (author)2013-07-09

A "T" square would be handy here.

Wantashi Na (author)2013-07-09

Well, done and sturdy too

ballegre (author)2013-07-09

You can probably get big-box store to rip cut the 2x4s or use circular saw rip fence.

Shadow351 (author)2013-07-09

This is very similar to the shelves I built for my parents and my sheds. I used 2"x3"s as they were a bit cheaper and plenty strong enough for our application. And yes, that is exactly how my cat lays, always thought it was strange

Kenoo2 (author)2013-07-09

Perfect utilitarian shelves. They're more than up to the task. I made similar ones with off-the-shelf furring strips. With all the connections and a diagonal brace in the back, they were also super strong with a "lighter" look to them. I made several sets and the wife keeps buying more useless stuff I need to store...

russ_hensel (author)2013-07-06

I used to build shelves pretty much like that but found that they were somewhat over built. Now I usually rip the 2x4's into thirds. Still very strong. I also add some diagonal elements to stop the shelves from racking. These are usually in the back and sides. Just a suggestion, no problem with the way you have built yours. Nice execution.

drcj (author)russ_hensel2013-07-07

How did you rip 2x4's into thirds? That seems difficult.

russ_hensel (author)drcj2013-07-08

Just a table saw. It does protest some, a sharp clean blade helps.

espdp2 (author)drcj2013-07-08

I bought 2x2's for the vertical pieces and 1x2's for the shelf under braces. I used steel tie wire and sheet rock screws for diagonal racking support. It was still *plenty* strong enough to lie down upon. Quite a bit cheaper and easier to move. Unfortunately, it's on the other side of the world from me, so I can't share pictures.

bob3030 (author)2013-07-06

Thanks for the post. Great idea and they look sturdy .

jessyratfink (author)2013-07-06

They look great!

(And nope, I don't have a cat that lies like that, that's hilarious. :P)

jessyratfink (author)2013-07-06

They look great!

(And nope, I don't have a cat that lies like that, that's hilarious. :P)

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