Introduction: How to Build a French Cleat Organizing System

Picture of How to Build a French Cleat Organizing System

A French cleat system is great for organizing any wall. I'm building one for my shop, however I really believe this is an awesome solution to any space where you want things in order, no matter whether that's a craft room, office, kitchen, pantry etc...

I have a lot of different things that needed to be organized in my shop, so I decided to build a set of French cleats for the wall, and then to build a couple of different organizers to hang on the wall. In this instructable I will go over hanging the cleats as well as building the organizers.

Step 1: How French Cleats Work

French cleats work like this: You have a piece of wood with a 45 degree angle on the wall, pointing up. Then you have another 45 degree angle board that you can slip in and it stays put.

What's cool is you screw these cleats into the studs, and then you can hang things with a 45 degree wood back all across the wall without having to worry about attaching each one individually to the wall. You can attach anything to this board. A shelf, a cabinet, some kind of holder, anything. And you can move them around, change things up, do whatever you want.

Step 2: Cuts

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For the French cleats, I'm cutting 4 inch strips of 3/4 inch plywood with one side at a 45 degree angle. How long you make the cleats depends on your wall!

Step 3: Planning...

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Then I'm mapping out where I want them on the wall, marking out where the studs are and countersinking before drilling them into the wall. I'm making sure to use a level to get all the cleats straight.

I decided to make a grid of these cleats all over the wall, however you could certainly do whatever you find most appropriate for your setting. Perhaps you simply need one cleat on a wall, or you might need a section with a couple of cleats. I spaced out mine about 8 inches apart.

You could either leave them the color of the wood or the plywood, however I decided to paint my cleats so they blend into the background. That way, whatever I put on the cleats will "pop" more.

Step 4: Screw Organizer

Now, we have the cleats, so what's really necessary are some storage units to hang on them. First of all, I decided to build a large screw organizer box to hang on the cleat. In this box I wanted to store all of my metal hardware in little cubbies so I built one large box, and 36 tiny boxes to go inside the big one using my new box joint jig that doesn't require a dado stack (video above). I created a separate Instructable about that build here: How To Make an Organizer Box for Screws

Step 5: Holder

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I needed to store miscellaneous tools and I wanted to be able to hold several things in one holder. So I built two of these, and you can use the concept and create one that fits your needs in terms of size, I built these out of 1/2 inch plywood.

I have one large back piece, measuring 12 x 9 inches, one front piece measuring 6 x 9 inches, and two side pieces 4 inches wide, cut at an angle between 12 and 6 inches.

I predrilled and secured the back to the sides, and then the sides to the front. For a bottom, I decided to use hardboard cut to size.

Also, I cut up a piece of 9 inch long french cleat board (4 inch wide with a 45 degree angle at one side.) I attached the cleat with the 45 degree angle pointing down, to create a gap for for the holder to slide onto the wall.

Step 6: Medium Box

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I loved the large box so much, I decided I might as well make another, but a smaller one to hang

with a shelf or two. This one measured 16 x 12 inches with dados cut out for two shelves. To build this box I used the same technique as the large screw organizing box, so please check that out for more information on the build: How To Make an Organizer Box for Screws

Once I had the box built, I again, attached a French cleat back measuring the width of the box.

Step 7: ​Mallet Shelf

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I've been meaning to find a better place to keep the mallets I build, so I decided to build a hanger

for those as well. So, I got a board, the size of my wall, and then I marked out how far apart the mallets needed to be. I drew some lines, and sawed the holes with a panel saw, since it's such a long board. I chiseling out the backs.

Then simply putting on a back, and screwing the back onto a cleat, ready to put it on the wall.

This type of holder would be perfect to make to store any hammers, mallets or similar shaped tools.

Step 8: ​Small Clamp Rack

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I also wanted to fit some small clamps, so I used the same concept as the mallet hanger, however on a smaller scale and I cut it up on the bandsaw. Then attached a back, and a French cleat.

Step 9: Finishing

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I sanded all the holders to remove any rough edges and then I spray painted everything white with an HVLP sprayer. You could of course leave them the color of the wood or the plywood, however I really like the fresh, clean look of the white. I also decided to paint the cleats themselves.

Step 10: Shop Vac Shelf

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I also made a shelf for my small shop vac. This one of the reasons why I love this system: I want to be able to move my shop vac between my drill press and my CNC machine. So I attached a French cleat above the CNC, and then the drill press is located right below my French cleat wall. So now, I can easily move the shelf with the shop vac from one location to the other without any efforts at all, and it's off the floor and not in the way which is really cool.

Step 11: Organizing

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When everything was ready I was so excited to put all the holders up. I love all the white, and it really looks more like a craft or maker space here than a woodshop really. It's so awesome how you can move things around.

And then putting on the big box. And I really like having the French cleat attached to the back of

the big box because then it won't ever fall over, so it's much more secure to the wall.

Then it was simply a matter of organizing everything and putting it up on the wall. I just think this system is awesome and this whole set up would be great for pretty much any hobby,

no matter whether you're into woodworking, electronics, or sewing, crafting, jewelry making.

Step 12: Conclusion - Watch the Video

For a much better perspective on the build and all the different parts, make sure to watch the video!

Comments

Doyeah (author)2017-08-02

nice ible...i like the video too and btw you are talented and beautiful... :)

DaveH127 (author)2016-11-03

You have a seriously organized shop. It actually looks like you have a place for pretty much everything.
Good post. I think I want to do this, as soon as I find my walls, which are hiding behind all the other crap I keep accumulating.

MbsS1 made it! (author)2016-04-13

Really nice post. French cleats have been around for centuries. They are now manufactured in aluminum and called z-clips. At MBS we offer them in very affordable sizes. Sure scrap wood is free but calculate all your time in making them and our quick install with a level and screw gun might be a consideration. Visit us at z-clips.com.

kathyh3068 (author)2016-01-23

You are my hero. Very inspiring.

LarryW3 (author)2015-11-16

Good job, Linn, as usual. I started my first French Cleat project in my work shop, with the initial target being my pocket hole work board and one table saw cross cut sled. So far, so good. I figure I'll get all of my flatter, thinner things out of my way first, then start on the smaller hand tools and jigs. Thanks for the inspiration! Maybe I'll get brave and try some still photos soon.

steve000 (author)2015-08-18

I am surprised by how much weight it appears to hold. very nice idea.

copperaxe (author)steve0002015-08-27

A long as your screws are long enough to get a good bite into a secure stud, nothing should happen until the wood gives way or you reach the shearing limit of the screw... which either way, most impressive is you getting that much weight up there in the first place.

Marnus89 (author)2015-08-26

Wow awesome work! I love your workshop!

ark19 (author)2015-08-25

Great idea :)

TonyT19 (author)2015-08-19

i have been trying to create this for my electric power washer. i have tried 2x4s, 2x6s, 1x6s to support this piece of equipment. The power washer always falls out the top piece of wood. i am using a long strip (80 inches roughly) screwed to the wall studs with a small (12-14 inch) support piece across the power washer. Can anyone tell me what im doing wrong?

Phil_S (author)TonyT192015-08-20

It's called gravity.

With that amount of timber, don't attempt a house build. I find that when all else fails, a simple loop of nylon cord works wonders. If you really want to fix it, try a Prusik loop, another example of the self-tightening fastening. A triple Prusik would support a fully grown elephant.

3366carlos (author)TonyT192015-08-19

great, thanks. i did notice that on my jigsaw but did not think of it.

Phil_S (author)2015-08-18

There used to be a commercial system called Toprail that just needed one horizontal aluminium channel fixed at high level on the wall and everything from shelf supports, cabinets, whiteboards, fire extinguishers etc would hang from it. I used when designing a new laboratory in the 80's. This relied on an angled engagement between the rail and the hanging support. Once the rail was up, you could arrange things how you liked.

I suppose the beauty of the 45-degree support is that that heavier the load, the more tightly it is pulled in towards the wall. It also prevents the load from pulling away horizontally or verticly - a bit like a coat hook.

Cleats come in many forms and the classic form is the marine cleat where a rope passes between two teethed, hinged jaws and once the rope catches on the teeth, more pull on the rope tightens the jaws together. Climbers rely on the cleat action to ascend ropes.

A bit puzzled what the French had to do with it - most things starting with "French" are top shelf stuff.

espdp2 (author)Phil_S2015-08-20

Like French Fries! :-p

Comfort_Cube (author)2015-08-19

Woman. You are awesome. Love this project.

3366carlos (author)2015-08-18

Very nice. Im An average guy with no way of cuting 45 deg angles.

AntonioA10 (author)3366carlos2015-08-19

of you have a skill saw, there will be a wingnut to loosen that will allow the baseplate to adjust to 45 degrees relative to the blade. To make a straight cut, run the base plate along a factory edge of Plywood clamped or nailed into position.

plecat (author)2015-08-19

A small addition might be to cut some saw kerfs in the walls of the boxes for dividers. You could then store several types of fasteners in one drawer if you don't have many of them. This would save space (and drawers!)

I supposed you could have a set of drawers for each interest (electronics, screws, other hobbies) and store the others not in use in an inconspicuous place. Great job!!

plecat (author)2015-08-19

If you figured this out yourself, you must have some French blood in you! :)

jeanniel1 (author)2015-08-18

Nice 'ible - easy to follow! Great for organizing, and the cleats are super strong, depending on if they are mounted to the studs or anchors. I make clay ones for hanging the murals of clay slabs or artwork that's heavy.

GabrielP9 (author)2015-08-18

inoble (author)2015-08-18

hi I liked your project very much I am a master carpenter and can appreciate your attention to detail and your use of your homemade jigs . Very nice thank you for sh

JohnGilchrest (author)2015-08-18

Nice job Lynn, & great video.

Thanks John!

arvevans (author)2015-08-18

Years ago I built a large clamp rack and some speaker mounting strips using this technique.

If French-Cleat mounted items get bumped they can be dislodged and fall down. To avoid this you only need one screw through the back to keep them from lifting off.

darbinorvar (author)arvevans2015-08-18

Thanks for the tip.

tem494 (author)2015-08-18

nice job very useful. I like the idea of being able to move where needed.

You have a great shop by the way

darbinorvar (author)tem4942015-08-18

Thank you, the shop is always ready for more changes :)

ladiesmanjoe97 (author)2015-08-18

This is amazing! Very neat, very precise, very versatile! Just wonderful! I'm just wondering how well does the cleat system work for heavy objects like the vacuum or other heavy tools? Does the cleat hanging stay nice and tight with the shelves? i.e. since you built it have any backings started to come loose?

Everything is working well. A few months ago I did a french cleat for my drill press cabinet, which you can see in the video and that holds a lot of weight, so I think it should work out. Here is the link to the drill cabinet video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtqqTIXN2jk

Kevin-AprilY (author)2015-08-18

What a great video! So clear and so inspiring! I never even knew about French cleats but can imagine so many applications. We are newbies when it comes to these sorts of projects and are just getting started with collecting tools. Do you have any videos where you discuss all your tools? I realize no two shops need the same things, but knowing some essentials to start would be great.

darbinorvar (author)Kevin-AprilY2015-08-18

Thanks so much! I guess my Shop Tour that I did last year has many of my tools in it, but on my DarbinNotes channel I do a lot of behind the scenes as well.

rsucgang (author)2015-08-18

I envy your workshop! And love how you make those wood joints.

darbinorvar (author)rsucgang2015-08-18

Thank you, it is a constant work-in-progress :)

charlesd.parker.33 (author)2015-08-16

Your wooden mallet storage is impressive. Looks like it is right at hand. Good job!

Thanks, it is so nice to have a permanent place to store the mallets.

Malkaris (author)2015-08-15

I've used a similar method for my computer wall. I'm curious how long plywood handles the strain. I always used 1x4.

darbinorvar (author)Malkaris2015-08-18

The plywood is pretty strong, but you could really use anything.

kaddigart (author)2015-08-15

I'm surprised you don't see the cleat method used more often. My father was a custom cabinet maker and from time to time I'd help him with installs for the bigger jobs. He always used French cleats to hang wall cabinets in kitchens or wherever. They made the install extremely easy, and also made fastening them to the wall much simpler since you weren't at the mercy of stud locations.

darbinorvar (author)kaddigart2015-08-18

I agree they are really nice and safe to use.

teddibear1 (author)2015-08-15

Very nice job indeed. For an example of another shop storage instructible, check out Ryans example at shopbuilt.org

http://shopbuilt.org/2015/08/03/bank-of-drawers/

darbinorvar (author)teddibear12015-08-18

Thanks for the link!

IltizamSpeed (author)2015-08-15

wowo this is cool

darbinorvar (author)IltizamSpeed2015-08-18

Thanks!

3366carlos (author)2015-08-16

i don't have wood tools. how can i cut 45% angles? not for the average guy like me?

You can ask them to cut the lumber at the place where you buy your lumber. Best to ask for this favor at a time when they aren't busy! Some lumber yards will charge you per cut. This is also a good reason to go to a smaller lumberyard rather than one of the big chains (like Home Despot or Lowe's).

davidchecker (author)2015-08-18

Maybe you could glue one of each fastener to the fronts of the drawers, so you know where what is.

FlorinJ (author)2015-08-18

I would have just used your linseed beeswax instead of paint. And I'm interested in replicating your finger joint rig - if you have plans or something published somewhere. I'll need to make some 18 boxes myself no farther than two weeks from now, but I guess the rig will come after that anyway.

kooth (author)2015-08-15

Once again, another great job! Thanks for sharing!

darbinorvar (author)kooth2015-08-16

Thanks so much!

About This Instructable

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Bio: Hi I'm Linn and on my Youtube Channel I have lots of great videos about building, construction and fun projects. You can also check ... More »
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