Introduction: Organize Your Workshop With Low Cost Modular Shelving (AKA the French Cleat).

Getting your workshop organized can be a tricky and expensive task. You can spend hours hanging cabinets or wall-mounted shelves only to have to redo it all when you add a new piece of equipment. And at just over $3.00 a linear foot, wall mounted modular systems are often too expensive to cover an entire wall and by default become only partially modular.

The solution to this is to create your own wall-mounted system by using a french cleat to hang shelves, cabinets, hooks and hangers. At just under $0.32 a linear foot, you can afford to cover your entire workspace to boot.

Step 1: Materials and Tools

Materials you will need:
• a box of 2.5" screws
• 1 sheet of 4x8' plywood per 150 linear feet of rail.
• Wood glue or 3M "Super 77" spray adhesive
• Shelves, crates, hooks and hangers to suit.

Tools you will need:

  • A table or circular saw
  • A pair of clamps (if using a circular saw)
  • A power drill
  • A level
  • Tape Measure

Optional Tools

  • A chalk line with dust off chalk

Step 2: The 1st Cuts

We want to start the project by creating 2-1/2" strips with a 45 degree angle cut along the top and bottom.
If using a table saw:

• Set your blade at 45 degrees
• Set your fence at 2-1/2".
• Rip the 3/4" plywood longways
• Repeat

Each 4x8' sheet will produce about 18 strips.

If using a circular saw:

Create a rip guide:

Indicate the factory edge of one side of the plywood with a pencil. Set the blade of the circular saw at a 90 degree angle. Keeping the blade as straight as possible rip a 5" strip longways across the plywood. Don't worry if you can't get it perfectly straight. We will use the indicated factory edge.

Rip the 2-1/2" strips:

1. Starting on the factory edge, Mark each side every 2-1/2".
2. Set the blade of the circular saw to a 45 degree angle. Recheck the depth of cut
3. Position the rip guide with the indicated edge on the first mark
4. Clamp the rip guide
5. Cut a 2-1/2" strip
6. Repeat steps 3-6

Each 4x8' piece of plywood should produce about 14 strips with a circular saw.

Step 3: Hang the Wall Strips

Using a stud finder, determine the location of the nearest stud and drill a pilot hole where you would like the modular system to start. For me this was about waist high.

Ensure that the angle slopes away from the wall at the top and toward the wall at the bottom. Secure one end of a 2-1/2 strip with a 2-1/2 screw.

Place the level on the middle of the strip and rotate the free end until level. Secure the free end of the strip to the wall. Use a stud finder to find the nearest stud.

Most studs are 16 inches apart. If this is true for you, simply measure 16 inches from one of the screws, drill a pilot hole and sink a screw. Repeat until the strip is secured at every point.

Be careful of orientation: The bottom of the strip should angle into the wall and the top away.

Move up the wall, placing a strip every 12-16" vertically. it may help to make a shelf as described in the next step and use the shelf to hold your box of screws and drill as you move up, you can simply move the shelf.

To add on horizontally, simply align the ends of two strips and keep building. It may help to make the level span both strips to keep them aligned.

Extra Fancy:
Using the chalk line, create a grid on the wall to indicate where the studs are. Create a horizontal line every 12-16" to help keep the the strips level.

Step 4: Create Shelves

It is now time to create the shelves. I like to create two different types of shelves, depending on how much I will be placing on the shelves. For small shelves that will take light to medium loads (20 lbs), I use the width and length of the bracket (width A) and conceal the cleat completely behind the bracket. For shelves that will take larger loads, I use a width of 4" (width B) to improve the the carrying capacity and allow multiple screws to secure the cleat.

Cut a plywood strip to width (A or B) and to the length of the bracket.
Cut one a strip of cleat to width.
If the bracket does not extend past a 2nd wall strip, cut another 3/4 plywood strip to the width of the bracket

Glue the cleat and plywood strips together as shown in the picture
Mount the bracket.

Repeat for the second bracket
Mount to shelf.

Tip: in order to make sure the shelf hangs level it may be available to wait to secure the bracket until the system is hanging on the wall.

Step 5: Creating Other Modular Units

Do you have an electric battery charger with mounting holes? screw it directly to a cleat and mount it to the wall.

Do you have a box (or crate) full of rags. Add cleats and mount it to the wall. Now when it's time to wax the car you can remove the entire waxing box from the wall. No need for a shelf.

If you have hooks, cut a 4 inch strip of plywood add a cleat and screw them into to plywood instead of the wall.

You can do this with virtually anything: hooks for axes, hammers and even miter saws. Add cleats to the back of a peg board and allow the pegboard to move around. Just take a look at the attached images for examples.

Step 6: Conclusion

It took a little bit of work, but now you have a modular storage system that really allows you to move things around. Gardening tools can go up the wall in fall and come down in spring for easy access. The tile saw and grout can be placed on a high shelf and the entire shelf can be moved down when you need them for that project you have been neglecting. Want another shelf build a new one and place it where you want.

If you allow for enough clearance you can hang things under shelves.

While you have the table/circular saw out, cut some extra cleats for future use.

Boxes, containers, and shelves with little walls work really well with this system as you can relocate the entire unit as opposed to relocating the contents.

Group commonly used tools in the same container and bring the container to the site like you would with a tool box.

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