Introduction: Ammunition Storage Rack
Buying ammunition in bulk saves a lot of money, but the problem you quickly run into is how to store all of those boxes of various calibers and types of ammo in a space-efficient, organized, easy to access way. This instructable is one solution to that problem, and will show you how to put together a sturdy, easy to build rack that holds six ammo storage crates, capable of holding from 1,500 (shotgun) to 10,000+ (pistol) rounds of ammunition in a footprint 48" high, 12" wide, and 20" deep. The cost of materials for the rack itself is just over $50, and six of the recommended ammo crates will run you another $72-$90. To give you an idea, an equivalent volume of storage using milspec metal ammo cans would cost at least $30-$60 dollars more, and you wouldn't have a rack to store them in. The total time to build the rack is about six hours.
This design is built around the ACR4-18 Ammo Crate manufactured by MTM Case-Gard. I chose the ACR4-18 for a few reasons:
- Each one is big enough to hold upwards of 1000 to nearly 2000 rounds of pistol ammo in 50-round boxes, and can neatly hold an entire flat of 2.75" 12ga shotgun shells.
- They're small enough that even fully loaded the weight doesn't make them a chore to carry around.
- Although made of plastic, they're well-constructed, rugged, lockable, and have a rubber o-ring seal.
- They're inexpensive. As of today (8/1/2019), Amazon is selling them for $11.99.
Please note that I have no affiliation with MTM, other than being a satisfied user of a number of their products. You can use whatever ammo crates/cans you want, but the dimensions of the parts in the project will likely have to change significantly. One exception is that this design still works perfectly for a rack of four ACR7-18 ammo crates (another MTM product), or a mix of three ACR4-18s and two ACR7-18s. If you're interested in that, take a look at "Step 9: Variations".
If anyone builds one of these, or has any ideas about improving the design or these instructions, please leave a comment and let me know!
There aren't a lot of materials required to build the rack:
- Five 8' 2x4s
- One 4'x8' sheet of 1/2" plywood (may be labeled 15/32")
- One bottle of wood glue (any kind)
- About 100 2.5" coarse thread pocket hole screws (sub biscuits if you're using a biscuit joiner)
- About 100 #6 or #8 1.5" flat head wood screws, preferably ones that self-countersink
- A small box of 1.5" wire brads, or a couple of strips of 1.5" brads if you have a pneumatic brad nailer
- A pack of four threaded metal furniture glides, to allow the rack to be leveled. Something like these: Threaded Metal Furniture Glide (4 pack)
- A pack of four t-nuts with threads that match the glides. The glides above have 1/4"-20 threads.
All of these materials can be had at your local big box store for just over $50.
There aren't a lot of fancy tools you have to have for this project, but having them will make the job much easier, so I'm going to give you two lists: one list of what I consider the bare minimum to complete the project, and another list of the tools you would ideally have. Please note that this instructable makes use of a pocket hole jig to join most of the pieces together. If you have a biscuit joiner, that would work too, but the instructions here won't cover that alternative.
- circular saw
- drill - and a selection of drill and driver bits
- pocket hole jig with face clamp (something like these: pocket hole jig and face clamp), or biscuit joiner
- a few trigger or bar clamps (you'll need more and longer clamps if you're going to biscuit join)
- tape measure
- utility knife or equivalent (for marking cuts)
- combination square
- miter saw
- table saw
A cheap, portable, job-site saw is fine, as long as it's capable of making cuts at least 12" wide. If not, use a circular saw (preferably cordless).
- cordless drill - and a selection of drill bits
- cordless impact driver - and a selection of driver bits
- pneumatic brad nailer and compressor
- pocket hole jig with face clamp, or biscuit joiner
- a few trigger or bar clamps
- tape measure
- utility knife
- combination square
- router and flush trim bit
Step 1: Buy the Materials
For the 2x4s, check each one to make sure you get the straightest ones you can find. If you can't easily transport 8' pieces of lumber, cut each one roughly in half.
For the plywood, if you don't have a way to transport a full 4'x8' sheet, or even if you do, but you don't have the tools/facilities to easily process a full sheet, have the store cut it into quarters for you: cut in half width-wise, then cut in half length-wise. That way each piece will have a corner with a factory edge on each side of it.
I prefer Lowe's, but went to Home Depot, because the ones in my area have a cutting center with a panel saw where they can cut sheet goods for you, and a self-service cutting center where you can cut your 2x4s if need be. The Lowe's stores around here don't have those facilities.
Don't forget the screws, brads, glue, glides, and t-nuts.
Step 2: Cut the 2x4 Pieces
The 2x4s will be cut into 32 pieces that you'll assemble into 8 separate frame assemblies that will be joined to form the body of the rack.
1) Mark and cut 30 pieces at 11" long. If you're using a miter saw, set up a stop block so that you only have to measure the first piece. If you don't have a stop for your saw, you can make one using whatever you have on hand. I used a five gallon bucket with a fifty pound bag of sand in it as a field expedient stop. See the first picture above.
2) For the last two pieces, take two of your 11" pieces and lay them flat, long sides butted together. Take two long pieces of 2x4, and butt them against - and perpendicular to - the short pieces. See the second picture above.
3) Measure 46.5" from the edge of the short pieces, down the length of the long pieces. Mark one of the long pieces. Use a combination square to transfer that mark to the other long piece. See the third picture above.
4) Cut the long pieces at those marks.
We're measuring and marking the long pieces this way because dimensional lumber almost always has variations in it cross-sectional dimensions; i.e. 2x4s often aren't exactly 3.5" wide by 1.5" thick. But, we need the final dimensions of the large frame to be exactly 11" x 46.5", so to ensure that, we take the actual width of the 2x4s into account by measuring this way.
5) Set the long pieces aside along with the two short pieces you used to measure them.
6) Take two pieces of scrap 2x4, and cut them both to exactly 6" long. We'll use these later to space the shelves.
Step 3: Assemble the Frames
1) Take 14 of the 11" pieces and drill two pocket holes in each end, on the same face of the board. The exact placement of the pocket holes is not important. See the first picture above.
2) Do the same with the two long pieces.
3) Take two undrilled 11" pieces and two drilled 11" pieces, and join them together with pocket screws to form a frame 11" wide by 18" long. Because of possible variations in the width of the stock (as I mentioned before), these frames probably won't be exactly 18" long, but in this case that dimension is not critical. See the second, third, and fourth pictures above
TIP: I would recommend not using an impact driver to drive the pocket hole screws. In softwood it's too easy to accidentally over-drive a screw and end up with the tip sticking out of the back of the piece you're driving it into.
4) Because construction lumber like this is almost never perfectly flat or straight, you'll probably need to use a clamp to coax the last joint of these frames into alignment before you drive the screws. See the fifth picture above
5) Join the two long pieces, along with their mating 11" pieces, into a frame 11" wide by 46.5" long.
6) You will now have 7 small frames, which will be the shelves and top, and one large frame, which will be the back of the rack. See the sixth picture above.
Step 4: Join the Frames Together
1) Take one of the small frames, and drill six pocket holes at one end on the underside (same side you drilled the pocket holes before). See the first picture above. This frame is going to be the top of the rack.
It would be good if you had a helper for the next four steps.
2) Stand the long frame on end on your work surface, pocket holes facing away from you, and lay down the frame you just drilled butted up against it, being careful to keep the sides of the two frames flush to each other. See the second picture above.
3) Drive the screws to join them together.
4) Take another small frame, and drill six pocket holes at one end on the top side (the opposite side you drilled the pocket holes before). This frame will be the bottom shelf.
5) Stand the long frame on end on your work surface, pocket holes facing away from you, and the already attached small frame up in the air. Lay down the frame you just drilled butted up against it, and drive the screws to join them together. You have now attached the bottom and top of the rack.
6) Measure the inside distance between the two small frames, where they join to the long frame. The measurement should be very close to 43.5". If it's a little off, that's fine, but if it's more than half an inch shorter than 43.5", you have a small, but fixable, problem. The issue is that each shelf is supposed to be 6" high, which is why we cut the 6" spacer blocks. If the space between the top and bottom frames is 43" or less, however, that means the last shelf will be too short to fit an ammo crate into (the ACR4-18 is 5.5" tall). To deal with that, you'll have to figure out what length to use for the spacer blocks so that you end up with six equal height shelves. I'll leave the math to you, but in no event would I make the shelves less than 5.75" high. If you're that far off though, you made a serious mistake somewhere.
7) Drill four pocket holes in one end of the underside of each of the remaining small frames.
8) Lay the long frame down on its back, with the top and bottom frames of the rack sticking up.
9) Working your way from one end of the rack to the other, use the 6" spacer blocks and clamps to join each of the remaining five frames to the long frame. See the third picture above.
10) The frame is now completely assembled. See the fourth picture above.
Step 5: Skin the Rack With Plywood
Install the Bottom
1) With the frame on its back, clamp a piece of scrap across the top of the bottom shelf. See the first picture above.
2) Cut a strip from the first quarter sheet of plywood, from the long side that doesn't have a factory edge. The width of the strip should be the width of the bottom frame, or 1/4" oversized if you're going to use a router with a flush trim bit.
3) Cross cut the strip to the exact length of the bottom frame, or 1/8" oversized if you're going to use a router. Cut this piece from the end of the strip that has a short factory edge; i.e. trim off the end with a non-factory edge.
4) Drive two brads about an inch in from the edge of the side with a factory edge. Drive them until their tips protrude about 1/16" from the opposite side. See the second picture above.
5) Spread a generous amount of glue on the underside of the bottom shelf. See the third picture above.
6) Carefully position the plywood piece against the bottom shelf, factory edge butted against the stop, and sides flush with the sides of the frame (or centered from side-to-side if the piece is cut oversized).
7) Squeeze the plywood against the bottom shelf, so the points of the brads dig in.
8) Clamp the plywood in place, and nail it down, all around the perimeter of the frame. Unclamp it.
9) Use the router with a flush trim bit to trim the overhanging edges of the plywood flush with the edges of the frame.
Install the Back
1) Flip the frame over onto its front.
2) Clamp a piece of scrap to the top of the frame, so the top of the back has something to register against. Clamp the 6" spacers between the top and the first shelf of the frame. See the fourth picture above.
2) Take the remaining piece of the first quarter sheet of plywood, and trim it to the width of the back by cutting on the non-factory edge side (or 1/8" oversized if using a router).
3) Cross cut the plywood to the length of the back by cutting on the non-factory edge end (or 1/8" oversized if using a router).
4) Spread a generous amount of glue on the back of the frame.
5) Lay the plywood on top of the frame with the factory corner at either the top right or left corner of the frame's back.
6) Position the plywood so the short factory edge is against the stop, flush with the top edge of the back, and the long factory edge is flush with the side edge of the back. Drive brads about an inch in from the edges at each corner at the top of the back. See the fourth picture above.
7) At the bottom of the back, pull the plywood into place (if necessary) so the long factory edge is flush with the side at the bottom, and nail the corners as before.
8) Drive brads all the way around the perimeter of the back to finish securing it.
9) With the router, flush trim the overhanging edges on the side and bottom.
Attach the Sides
1) Turn the frame onto one side.
2) Cut a second quarter sheet of plywood to the exact width and length of the side of the frame, or 1/8" oversized in each dimension if using a router. Be sure to trim on the non-factory edge sides.
3) Put a fat bead of glue down the center of each piece of the side.
4) Put the plywood on top of the side with the factory corner at the top front edge of the frame.
5) Move the plywood so that the short factory edge at the top is flush with the edge of the top, and the long factory edge is flush with the end of the top frame (only the end of the top frame - we'll align the side with the ends of each of the shelves in subsequent steps). Clamp the plywood into place at the top of the frame.
6) Drill pilot holes across the top edge of the plywood, into the side of the top frame. One at each corner, and three more evenly spaced between them. Drive screws into the pilot holes. Remove the clamps.
7) Clamp a 6" spacer between the front of the top frame and the first shelf. See the fifth picture above.
8) Push/pull the plywood into place (if necessary) to bring the long factory edge flush with the front edge of the first shelf.
9) Drill a pilot hole about an inch in from the edge, and centered on the first shelf. Drive a screw into it, and remove the clamp and spacer.
10) Repeat steps 7-9 for each of the shelves, from the top of the rack to the bottom.
11) Clamp the back edge of the plywood down to the frame, and drill pilot holes and drive screws all the way along the back edge. Place one screw at each shelf, and one centered between each shelf. Remove the clamps.
12) Drill three evenly spaced pilot holes along the length of each shelf, and drive screws into them.
13) Use the router to flush trim the overhang at the back and bottom of the side.
14) Flip the frame over and repeat steps 1-13 for the second side.
Attach the Top
1) Set the rack upright on the ground.
2) From the last quarter sheet of plywood cut a piece to the exact dimensions of the top, or 1/8" oversized in width and length if you're going to flush trim it. Be sure to cut the piece so that two adjacent sides are factory edges.
3) Spread a generous amount of glue on the top of the rack.
4) Put the plywood on top of the rack, positioned so that the short factory edge is at the front of the rack.
5) Move the plywood so that its edges are flush with the edges of the top. Or so that the factory edges are flush with the front and one side of the top, if using a router.
6) Nail the plywood down, all around the perimeter of the top.
7) Use the router to flush trim the overhang on the side and back.
Step 6: Install the Leveling Feet
1) Using the combination square, mark a location 1.5" in from each side at each corner.
2) Drill a hole 1.5" deep at each of your marks. Use a drill bit just larger in diameter than the barrel of your t-nuts.
3) Put the t-nuts in the holes and tap them into place with a hammer.
4) If your glides came with plastic inserts, remove the inserts and throw them away. Given the weight the rack could be carrying, we want something more heavy duty, which is why we're using t-nuts.
5) Screw the glides into the t-nuts.
Congratulations, you just finished building your rack. Unless, of course, you want to secure its contents...
Step 7: Safety and Security
Given how much weight could be in this thing, it'd be a good idea to install an anti-tip device of some kind, especially if children are around. In fact, I would consider an anti-tip device mandatory if children could ever be in the area where you keep your rack.
For about another $10 you can put a bar on the front of the rack that will prevent the crates from being pulled out. It slips into a flush mount hanger at the bottom, and is padlocked to a hasp at the top of the rack. Take a look at the first four pictures above. This is not a high-security setup by any means. It's only meant to keep kids and casual thieves from getting access to your ammo. I would strongly urge you to put a locking bar on if kids are around.
Installing the locking bar is pretty simple:
1) Measure the distance from the top of the rack to the top of the bottom shelf. It should be 45.5", but regardless, add 1.5" to the measurement, and cut a piece of 2x3 to that length. This will be your locking bar.
2) Center the staple/post that came with your hasp on one end of the bar, drill pilot holes, then drive the screws. A self-centering bit makes this task easier. See the fifth and sixth pictures above.
3) Clamp the bar to the front of the rack, flush with the top, and centered from side to side. Lay the hasp in place to see where it needs to be attached. Drill pilot holes and attach the hasp to the top of the rack. See the seventh picture above.
4) Mark the center of the bottom shelf, and clamp a piece of scrap to it. Put one half of the flush mount hanger on the front edge of the shelf, flush against the scrap, and centered on your mark. Drill pilot holes and attach the hanger. See the eighth picture above.
5) Attach the other half of the hanger flush to the bottom of the bar, centered from side to side. See the last picture above.
Your rack is now lockable.
Step 8: Paint
There's no reason you have to paint your rack, but if you want to spiff it up a little, go for it. That said, if you're going to keep your rack in a damp, or non-climate-controlled space, like a garage, painting it's probably a good idea, especially if you live in a climate with high humidity. Exposing interior plywood to high humidity and/or dampness can cause it to deteriorate over time.
If you do paint it, you might want to put something on the shelves so that sliding the crates in and out doesn't scrape the paint off of them. The rack in the picture has pieces of 1/8" tempered hardboard on the shelves. Cut the hardboard into pieces 1/8" smaller than the shelves in length and width. Put some glue on the top of the shelves by the front of the rack, and lay the hardboard in place. You don't have to clamp the hardboard to the shelves, but leave the rack undisturbed for a couple of hours to give the glue a chance to set, or tack the hardboard to the front of each shelf with two or three brads. You can get five shelf tops out of a quarter sheet of hardboard.
Step 9: Multiple Racks
If I were going to build multiple racks, rather than installing leveling feet on them I'd build a plinth like the one in the first picture. That way I could put the plinth down, level it, then put the racks on it, which would be a lot easier than trying to level individual racks, and guarantees that you can line your racks up perfectly.
Those things in the corners are corner bracket levelers. If I were going more than two racks wide I'd start adding a pair of levelers on either side (front/back) of the plinth for every odd-numbered rack after the first two; e.g. I'd add a pair of levelers in the middle for the third rack, another pair for a fifth rack, etc.
I'd join the racks together at the back with pocket holes at the top and bottom. At the front I'd just shoot screws up through the side of one rack into the top frame and bottom shelf of the adjoining rack. Lay one rack on it's side, place another rack on its side on top of the first, get their bottom and front edges aligned, clamp the adjoining sides together, then drive the screws to join them. After that, set them on the plinth as a unit, and fasten to the plinth with screws down through the bottom racks.
Step 10: Variations
If you'd like to use larger crates, like the ACR7-18, there are a couple of variations you might consider. In both cases the completed rack has the same outside dimensions as the original design.
- The first one pictured has three shelves for ACR4-18s at the bottom, and two shelves for ACR7-18s at the top. The only real difference in building it, compared to the six-shelf version, is that in addition to the 6" spacer blocks for locating the bottom three shelves, you'd also need a pair of 9.75" spacers for the top two. The materials required would be identical, except that you'd use slightly fewer screws.
- The second variation is four shelves, all for ACR7-18s. For this one you'd only need 9.75" spacers, and one less 2x4.