Introduction: Quick-and-Dirty Modular Storage

About: I'm an inventor / maker / designer based in Portland, OR. My background is in residential architecture, film set design, animatronics, media arts, exhibit design, and electronics. I use digital design and fabr…

Furniture should have the flexibility and versatility of a good building toy. Stacking, combining, and re-configuring discreet elements to make storage for any space would save money and reduce waste. Instead of replacing the old furniture that doesn't fit in a new space, just take apart what you've got and re-assemble it in a configuration that works. With the multitude of rapid prototyping tools at our fingertips these days, we can produce dozens of copies of basic elements, then make highly specific specialized pieces for unique applications.

This quick-and-dirty laser cut modular storage system does just that. It's a 14 1/2" X 14 1/2" square box with one open side, allowing you to snugly fit a dairy crate in the box. There are also 4 evenly spaced holes on each face. The spacing of the holes allows you to stack and attach the blocks in a number of different configurations: side by side, vertically, horizontally, and stepped (like bricks).

Instructables' office is on the second floor of Pier 9 where there is limited space, even more limited storage, and exposed overhead steel trusses all over the place; so for the first use of this modular storage system, I made an attachment for an industrial truss trolley so we can move the storage around the office.

Step 1: Tools, Materials, & Files


  • Laser Cutter or CNC Router. I used a lastercutter, but the same files would work very well on a standard CNC router.

LOW-TECH OPTION: If you don't have access to anything like this, use the files I've provided as templates. Print out the pieces, spray-glue them to the plywood (use something like Super 45 since it will un-stick easily), and follow the lines with a jigsaw. If you're careful and take your time, you'll end up with the same result.

  • Hand drill and/or drill press, drill bits. You'll need to drill pilot holes for screws and countersunk pockets for screw heads and nuts.


  • Plywood. I used 3/4" maple veneer finish grade for the boxes, and 1/4" for the spacers. If you use the files I've posted here, your box material will need to be 3/4" thick (actually .71"), and your spacer material must be 1/4" thick.
  • Hardware.
    • #10 X 1 3/4" #2 sq. drive screws.
    • 10/24 2" flat head machine screws.
    • 10/24 lock nuts.


  • The files included here were made in inventor and intended to be used on a shopbot. The pieces in the Inventor file have recessed pockets for the spacers that would allow for easier assembly and more relieable alignment, but since our shopbot is out of commission for the moment, I made a simpler version that doesn't involve CNC fabricated pockets.
  • These files will give you one hanger and three boxes using one sheet of 3/4" plywood, and they also include the 1/4" thick round spacers.

Step 2: Assemble and Connect the Boxes


The boxes are designed so that there is only one way to put them together. There are 2 interchangeable sides, 2 interchangeable top/bottom pieces, and one back.

I didn't add pilot holes for screws on my CAD files, but I would recommend adding them yourself- you'll get a more consistent result.


Once you've got a couple of boxes made, insert the machine screws with the 1/4" wooden spacers on one box, then push the screws through another box and tighten them with the locknuts.

Step 3: Assemble the Trolley Hanger

First you'll need to drill countersunk holes in line with the bolt holes on both sides of the X piece. I used smaller washers (1/4") on the screw side, and larger washers (5/8") on the nut side. The holes need to be deep enough to make for flush conditions on both sides of the X once the bolts are fully attached.

Add the bolts, washers, and nuts, then tighten them all with a hand drill. These need to be snug since you won't be able to get to the machine screw caps when the hanger is assembled.

Next add the hanger pieces and the crossing joists to the side of the X that is opposite the protruding machine screws.

Clamp the assembly together, then drill 1" pilot holes into the joists using the pilot holes from the laser cut as a guide.

Step 4: Connect the Hanger to the Trolley

The protruding bolts will align with the holes in the boxes. Just use some 1/4" spacers and ratchet the nuts snugly on the inside of the box.

Step 5: Attach the Hanger to the Trolley

These trolleys come with washers to help you align the trolley wheels with the truss. Measure this all out first so you know how many to use. This doesn't have to be exact, but it needs to be snug enough to be safe.

The rod part of the trolley goes through the holes in the top of the hanger, then the other half of the trolley threads onto the other side. This is a 2-person job.

Step 6: Reconfigure, Add On, Move It Around.

These can be configured in lots of different ways. It's really just a matter of balance and weight limits.

This is the first iteration of a much bigger project that will involve lamps, desks, wardrobes, dressers, chairs, beds and pretty much any other kind of furniture using the same standard connection method (or a more advanced and easy-to-assemble version of that).