Introduction: French Cleats for Tool Storage
Some years back, I decided to set up a modest workshop in the corner of my basement.
I started with a workbench: Building a real woodworkers workbench
And then I got distracted and did nothing while my basement filled up with assorted junk.
This last winter I decided to put some work into making my "shop" more functional and organized. Starting with a new assembly table, so I'd have some place to put things while I was working on my bench, and with a system of french cleats along the wall, so I could place cabinets, shelving, etc., where ever was most convenient to store my tools.
This I'ble describes the french cleat system.
In essence, french cleats are very simple - you simply rip a board lengthwise, at a 45-degree angle, and mount one half on the wall and the other on whatever it is you want to hang. Kitchen cabinets are normally hung using french cleats, though they're not usually visible once things are done. For my shop, I wanted flexibility, so I mounted cleats at various heights along the entire wall.
Step 1: Prepping the Wall
First problem, the paint on the basement wall was bubbling and peeling. It seemed like it made much more sense to repaint the wall, before I put so much into building something that would have to be removed.
In truth, the whole basement needs repainting, but I only did the section where I was putting the cleats. The rest is in my "I'm going to do that someday" pile.
A couple of minutes with a wire brush convinced me I needed a power tool, so I put a wire wheel on an angle grinder, hung some plastic, and got to work.
With the old paint mostly cleaned off, I used a roller to apply two coats of Dry Lock.
Step 2: Cutting the Cleats
Conceptually, the first step of installing the cleats would be to install the uprights, but I wanted to have the cleats in-hand, while I positioned the uprights, so I cut the cleats first.
Some months ago, I'd joined Twin Cities Maker, and hence had access to The Hack Factory. Among the many tools they have available are a couple of table saws, including a very nice cabinet SawStop, and a radial arm saw.
So, from a sheet of 3/4" birch plywood, I proceeded to cut my cleats. I started by ripping 7-3/4th strips, so I'd have just a little bit over, at the end, and all 6 pieces would have identical width.
Then I ripped each at 45 degrees, just off-center, so I could rip the wider side, again so both pieces would have identical width.
I'm putting in cleats across 12 feet of wall, so I cross-cut a number of my cleats so I'd have both four and eight foot lengths.
Step 3: Putting in the Uprights
I'm mounting these against a basement wall. My basement is mostly dry, but I didn't want to hang things directly from the wall. What I decided to do was to mount 2x2 uprights of pressure-treated lumber, and to hang the cleats from that. This way, only the pressure-treated uprights would be in direct contact with the wall.
I mounted the uprights with Tapcon Concrete screws. For these, you'll need a hammer drill. For them to work, you need to remove the dust from the hole, after you've drilled it. You can do this with compressed air, if you have a compressor in your shop. You can do it with a shop vac, if you have one. I don't have a compressor, and my shop vac was buried under all the stuff I'd moved out of the way to make room for this project. But I'm a computer geek, mostly, and I always have cans of air, lying around. Worked just fine.
Drill one hole, then check for level then screw in a second.
My cleats are 48" and 96" in length, so I wanted my uprights to be 16" apart - except for the two ends, which I wanted inset by half the width of my uprights. The idea is that the ends of each cleat would be flush with the edges of the outside uprights, but the butt joints where the two cleats in each row would meet would be centered on an upright.
So, position the second upright, drive one screw. Either check for level, or check for parallel with the first, and drill a second hole.
Do the same for the third upright. For the fourth upright, use one of your four-foot cleats to make sure that the joint will be centered on the upright. The last upright should be flush with the ends of the cleats.
After I had everything fixed to the wall, I went back and added four more screws to each upright. That may be overfill, but I've always thought that anything that might be climbed on should hold the weight of two 10-year-olds.
I painted and primed, then proceeded to mount the cleats, using clamps to hold them in position while I checked for level.
I was about half-way through, when I realized that if I wanted to mount some electrical outlets on this wall, I should do it now.
Step 4: A Diversion - Electrical Outlets
There is a severe shortage of electrical outlets in my basement. I'm not an electrician, and I don't feel qualified to wire anything connected to mains. I don't, though, have any problem with mounting a junction box and running some conduit.
Since it would be far easier to do that before I had the cleats in place, I mounted a couple of boxes on the wall and ran conduit up to the ceiling.
Some day, I'll have an electrician in and wire up the circuits.
With the conduit in place, I finished the cleats.
One thing I noticed, working with these cleats, is that the outer layer of laminate on that 45-degree edge was perfect for generating splinters. I found myself collecting splinters every time I touched them. So finally, when I was almost done, I took a block plane and knocked off the sharp edge.
Step 5: Hanging Stuff From the Cleats
If you browse around the internet you'll find many examples of cleat hangers, custom-built for specific tools. I may well find myself building some of these, but to start, I was thinking more generic.
First, I had an old cabinet that had been sitting on the basement floor, for I don't know how long. A cleat on the back and I could hang it on the wall.
Second, I took some peg board, build a frame for it, ala Workshop pegboard, and then mounted some cleats to it so I could hang it on the wall.
Third, I mounted some shelf rails to some 1x3's, put some cleats on the back, and I could hang shelves where ever I wished.
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