Introduction: Mobile Classroom Cubbies

Picture of Mobile Classroom Cubbies

Lockers. Every middle school teacher knows the drill--ask students to take out a pencil or piece of paper and five kids need to go to their lockers. There, in the hallway, they encounter three other friends and ten minutes of class time is suddenly gone. Plus, when the winter coat season begins they don't have enough room for their binders, books, bags and such.

We tried to solve this problem with classroom cubbies for their school materials. In theory, they would have their supplies in the same room, making for easy access. Unfortunately, wall space was lacking--the only place was by the door, which created a huge bottleneck of students every class change. Toying with creating a free-standing cubby structure, we found that it took about a third of the space away from the classroom. For many activities, classroom space is at a premium.

Solution: Cubbies on wheels!

For most of the day (and week), the cubbies stay put. The wheels are locked. But, when we are doing something active and need the space, we simply unlock the wheels and roll it out of the way. And, because it has two sides, it takes up much less space.

This design will give you 15" x 15 1/4" cubbies (perfect for binders) for 36 students. Extra cubbies are great for storage and supplies! If you are somewhat handy, you can build this in a day. Materials cost about $200 for each unit.

Step 1: Materials

The materials are pretty basic:

  • 4' x 8' sheet of 1/4 inch lauan board
  • 136 feet of 1" x 10" pine
  • 8 feet 1" x 4" pine
  • 5 lbs 1 5/8 inch sheet rock screws
  • 2 rotating caster wheels rated for heavy weight
  • 2 rotating caster wheels that lock
  • 1 1/2" bolts for casters

The lauan board only serves to keep the whole thing from racking. I find lauan smoother than plywood, and half the price.

Sheet rock screws do the job (and are cheap), but if you are purist use wood screws.

Make sure the caster wheels are rated for a decent amount of weight. In addition to the lumber, you will have 36 students' worth of binders and textbooks. Mine are 3" and rated for 210lbs each, which have given me no problems.

Step 2: Create the Frame

Picture of Create the Frame

Begin with the frame.

You want to cut the top and bottom boards first. They will be the same length as the lauan board, most likely 8 feet, but measure to make sure.

Then, cut the vertical boards. They will be 4 feet, minus the thickness of two pine boards, most likely 46 1/2 inches.

Because weight is going on top of the cubbies (people throw all kinds of things on there), you want the side pieces to support the top. So stack it. Here, I use three screws at each juncture.

Do this twice--one frame for each side.

Step 3: Attach the Back

Picture of Attach the Back

Lay your frame down the ground.

Then, lay your sheet of lauan on top of it. You will have to fidget with it a bit to get it square.

When you do have it square, put a screw through the lauan in a corner. Then, put one in at the opposite corner. If those are lined up, everything else should be. I put four screws on the sides and four on the top and bottom.

Move it out of the way. Lay the other frame down on the ground. Then, lay the first frame and lauan down on top. You are going to screw through the lauan and into the second frame.

Again, start with the corners. You will be screwing it in at an angle. It's tough--too straight and it doesn't go in, while too much and it comes out through the pine. Check each screw as you go for it coming out--you don't want a student to get pricked by a screw.

Now, stand it up. You have two sides.

Step 4: The Shelves

Picture of The Shelves

Measure the interior from the inside of one side to the other. Do so at the top and bottom, as measuring the middle is inaccurate (bowing). It should be 94 1/2 inches.

Each side will require two shelves, so cut four.

To put them in, figure this: After you take away the thickness of the top, bottom and shelves (3") from the total height (48") you are left with 45" of space. Three rows means each should be 15".

Cut two 15" boards. Later, you'll use them, but for now they will serve to hold the shelves as you screw them in place.

Place each of the 15" boards at the ends of each row. Then, rest a shelf on it. The 15" boards should be holding it in place. Now, you can easily screw each shelf in place. I used three screws on each, knowing that later it would have plenty of support from the dividers.

After you screw in the first shelf, move the 15" boards on top of that and do the same with the second shelf. Then, the other side. In theory, the distance between the second shelf and the top is also 15"--you'll want to confirm this before you cut your dividers.

Step 5: Dividers

Picture of Dividers

Now that you have rows, you need columns.

The dividers are a number of little boards, all screwed into place. Your shelves should have 15" between each, making for easy, boring cutting. Still, you'll want to check each row before you assume and cut.

For my cubbies, I wanted six columns. That meant five dividers for each row, or fifteen for each side and thirty overall. In theory, it was 15 1/4 inches between each.

I stared with the bottom row so that I could screw down into the divider from the shelve above. Putting the divider in place, I screwed down. Two screws did the job. Again, check witch each that you hit the board, and not empty air. I did this for all thirty.

Next, I turned it over and screwed at an angle to fasten each divider completely.

Pedagogy Note: The width of each cubby (15 1/4") is such that binders can stand vertically or lie horizontally. I have noticed, though, that my successful students stand their binders vertically, while my less successful students lay them down. I suspect the messy disorganization of the latter makes vertical stacking impossible. You could decrease the width of each cubby, and gain an extra column, if you wanted to force students to go vertical (and thus have to keep their binders tidy).

Step 6: Dividers From the Bottom

Picture of Dividers From the Bottom

Turn the whole unit over.

You want to fasten the dividers down, but since each divider is on top of the others you will need to screw at an angle.

Do this for all thirty, and make sure you do not miss the divider as you go.

Step 7: Add the Wheels

Picture of Add the Wheels

Now you have two-sided cubbies, but they aren't mobile. Yet!

First, fasten a 1" x 4" piece of pine across each end of the unit on the bottom. This will serve to hold the two sides of the cubbies together, in addition to serving as a base for the wheels.

Next, put your wheels where you want them. I keep the locking wheels opposite each other diagonally. With a pencil, mark where the bolts will go to hold them down.

Take away the wheels and drill in where the bolts will go. The hold will be narrower than the bolts (so they still grip), but you need to pre-drill or the bolts will split the wood.

Bolt down the wheels.

Step 8: Finish and Roll

Picture of Finish and Roll

Flip it upright.

With some use, I found that the two sides began to pull away from each other. A 1" x 4" at each end on the top (as you put on the bottom for the wheels) will hold it all together. Instead of on the top, fasten it on the end--it can also serve as a bumper if you are doing to have multiple cubby units (I built them for one classroom that needed a barrier and so used two in tandem).

Now, roll it around.

I waited some time until I painted it. With a few screws needed here and there and other minor adjustments a paint job would have been ruined. When I was convinced it worked for my needs, I painted it.

Comments

AllisonK20 (author)2016-07-28

Would love to make one about half this size. I will only have 16 students and this way it will take up less space in the classroom. Would I just 1/2 the sizes of the wood to do so? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

I like it. A couple of observations, I've found really long pieces like this can suffer a bit of racking over time, but yours look lighter. I've been making mobile shelves(with 2x4's so heavier) about half the length for garage storage. Also at 4ft long I find them a bit more modular and mobile than at 8ft.

A pocket hole jig would a nice investment for the inside dividers(on the fence about using them for the outer casework) maybe even connecting the front the back. Especially if your going to make more of these or similar projects(like shadow boxes, hmm gotta get my son to make some of his own soon).

Personally I like the look of the wood, I'd have gone with polyurethane. But school colors are always popular for school furniture. If any of the teachers or scouts I know need cubbies or a project it's nice the have a place to start. Thanks for sharing

They are very light--all pine. They move very easily.

We were inspired by another school, which had five full height cubbies a total of four feet in length. Very flexible. They also had supply carts the same four foot length, as you suggest.

A friend suggested the pocket hole, too. I'm not that much of a craftsman (I didn't put filler over the screws, either). Had I been a craftsman, I would have used polyurethane, but paint covers my errors better. School colors is a nice idea (I used what I had in my basement).

Well pocket hole jigs like the Kreg brand jigs are marketed to the enthusiast or occasional woodworker. I'm about to try one out for making some quck shop furniture, hopefully I be able to make a instructable on it.

Personally I've never hid my screw heads, sometimes I even highlight them with screw cup washers. Sometimes craftsmanship can be a matter of taste, kind of like some woodworkers who like to leave the strike marks for their dovetails vs others like to clean them up.

MsSweetSatisfaction (author)2014-08-17

That looks like a brilliant design, and sounds perfect for your needs. Thanks for sharing!

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