Introduction: Shelving With Concealed Toe-Kick Compartment

About: I build drums, make costumes, work on house projects/repairs, dabble in Genealogy, eat tacos, and sometimes work in IT.

My name is BALES ... and I'm an addict. For the past 18 months, I've been using any and every opportunity to incorporate hidden storage into projects. It doesn't matter if it's practical. It doesn't matter if it will never be used. I'm obsessed ... and I'll probably never stop.

It started with a valet box. Then it progressed to a built-in shelving unit, which was part of a bathroom renovation. With space at a premium, so it only made sense to make use of an otherwise neglected dormer cavity ... and why waste the space obstructed by the baseboard, when a false bottom can easily be added to the design.

The most recent project was a laundry room shelving unit. I told myself I was just going to close in the bottom toe-kick area and be done with it, but I just couldn't do it. That's useable space ... I could put stuff in there ... I could over engineer and drag this project on for at least two more days.


3/4" plywood
1/4" poplar
Dowel scrap
5/16" T-Nut
Wood glue

Step 1: Cutting Down Sheet Goods

This project was built using two sheets of 3/4" plywood and poplar offcuts for the face frame. Dimensions don't really matter since this was custom for the space, but it's 89" in height x 32" in width x 15" in depth. So tight to the ceiling that it had to be assembled in the room. Width was determined by the laundry machines and depth was determined by the window top crown and stool.

I considered cutting down the full sheets on the table saw, but I took a few dry runs and it was a challenge to keep the material against the fence, so I heeded on the side of caution and used the circular saw to break them down. I cut everything "heavy," so that I could cut them to final dimension with the table saw.

I also failed to take more than one picture of this process, but it's straight forward. The two part aluminum fence was purchased at the orange big box store and the OSB spacers were clamped in place to keep it from deflecting during the cut. The 1" insulation board under the plywood supports the entire sheet and cutting into it is no big deal. No more overhanging stock and trying to catch to hold the off cut, which never works, so it falls and tears out a big chunk at the end. You to try and use a few 2x4s, but they cup and twist so the sheet is rocking as you try and make a cut.

Sheet 1
Rip #1 gave me the top, bottom, and fixed shelf
I crosscut the remaining sheet to 89" and set the off cut aside

Sheet 2
Rip #1 gave me stock for 3 shelves
Rip #2 gave me stock for another shelf and the drawer
Remaining material will be used for other projects

Step 2: Dadoes and a Rabbet

The side panels get bottom and middle dadoes, as well as a top rabbet and I wanted to do cut those into the larger sheet, so that the sides are identical. Since the sheet was so large and I couldn't use the table saw with a dado stack, I used a trim router and extruded aluminum as a temporary fence.

An 18" speed square was used to ensure the extrusion was perpendicularly aligned to the sheet as it was clamped in place. It took some fiddling about, but it worked.

I was running a 1/2" diameter router bit at a depth of 3/8", so I'd make one pass with the router against the fence and then a second pass with a 1/4" spacer (scrap acrylic). To my surprise, this resulted in the perfect fit.

Step 3: Separating the Sides

To split the sides, I clamped a plywood off cut to the saw top, which kept it tight against the fence.

Once it was divided, I ran each half through the saw to achieve the final width. The in-feed support was a benefit as it took some of the weight and let me focus more the cut.

Step 4: Shelf Pin Dominos

The middle shelf is fixed for rigidity so the sides can't bow in/out, nor does the entire unit lean and become a parallelogram. Even though the shelves will probably never be moved after their initial positioning, I wanted some adjustability for the remaining 4 shelves. Items being stored in here could change, so it's nice to have options.

I don't have a Kreg shelf pin jig, but I do have a Domino ... and it's a fun machine, so I use it at every opportunity.

I stuck a piece of 3/4 stock into each dado and then used a 12" spacer to establish the position of the first course of slots. For each successive course, I inserted two dominos into the slots and used the 3/4" stock as a spacer. Rinse and repeat.

The number of courses for any system is up to you, but I did 15.

Step 5: Notches and ​Stretchers

The back of each side needed to be notched for the tile baseboard and to do that I used scrap 1/2" plywood as a pattern.

I cut the required notch height and depth using the table saw, clamped that to the side, and used the trim router to make the clean cut.

I needed stretcher stock under the middle shelf and top, in order to keep the shelving unit from racking. This was cut to length from scrap and then ripped in two halves.
Note: This cut is safer using a miter gauge or crosscut sled, but I wanted tight tolerances and knew my fence measurements. In order to make this safer, I added the board behind the stock being cut, so that it wouldn't rock away from the fence.
I'm comfortable making this type of cut. If you are not comfortable and/or question your safety and/or ability in the slightest, do not make the cut.

Step 6: Shelf Pin Recesses

You could throw the shelf atop the pins and call it a day, but they could slide around and you'd see the pins. Also, we all know that I like to over complicate matters, so I added recesses.

My center points are 3/4" from the short edge and whatever the distance to center front and back ended up being. I didn't measure - I set one shelf in place, marked were the dominos were, set a combination square to that line, and marked all the shelves.

The hole was drilled with a 7/8" Forstner bit to around a depth of 1/4". I then extended the sides of that diameter to the edge of the board and removed the excess material with chisels.

Step 7: Assembly, Install, and Facing

I failed to get any assembly pictures because I was working alone and my priority was to get it screwed together without falling over becoming damaged ... and also tearing up walls in the process.

Since I made the unit as tall as possible, it had to be assembled in the room. Planning ahead, I laid out and drilled the holes in the sides while still in the shop. I used a 3/8" tapered countersink, so that I could plug the visible screw holes with dowel stock.

I started with the bottom and middle shelves because they had the dadoes and with the help of a few clamps, I could hold the unit together while I drilled pilot holes into the shelf boards and drove in 2" screws. With those secure, I could slide the top shelf into its rabbet, drill the pilots, and drive the screws - without the risk of the sides moving and the board splitting open my head when it inevitably fell onto my head.
Note: I didn't not use glue just in case anyone wants to remove it in the future without needing to cut or smash it up.

The unit was slowly slid into the corner - being very mindful of ceiling clearance and window trim. I had marked the stud locations beforehand, so that I could secure it to the wall in two locations - the top and middle stretchers. I used 4" screws with 1 1/4" fender washers. I didn't make recesses for the washers with a Forstner bit, so they wouldn't be proud of the board.
Note: Used 4" screws to get through the 3/4" stretcher, 5/8" sheetrock, 1" insulation board, and then get a good purchase in the wall stud.
This room was once a three season porch - then someone closed it in around a hot tub and added the bathroom - I ripped out the hot tub and converted to a laundry room. The hot tub was from the early 80s (4 jets total), not easy to access or clean, and no venting for the condensation.

Face Frame
I used 1/4" thick poplar. It started as a 1x6 board, which I re-sawed in half using the table saw and bandsaw, and then planed each half down to 1/4".

The top piece was cut to a width of 2", left end scribed to the wall, right side marked in place and cut flush with the overall width of the unit.

The left side was cut to a width of 1 1/2", so I could scribe it to the wall for a built-in appearance, and length cut to fit.

The right side and shelf fronts were all cut to a width of 3/4" and then the lengths cut to fit.

The bottom was cut to a width of 5", left end scribed to the wall, right side marked in place and cut flush with the overall width of the unit.

The bottom was left off for now since it will be attached to the concealed drawer. All other pieces were attached to the carcass with wood glue and pin nails.

Step 8: Finishing

I didn't want to paint the shelving unit for a few reason:
1. Putting items on painted shelves always results in the paint getting scuffed and scratched up.
2. This is storage in a laundry room so the shelves with be covered by stuff.
3. I really dislike painting.

That being said, leaving the plywood raw is also a bad idea, because it will get dirty with dust, oils from hands, etc ... and that will basically meld with the wood fibers. I opted for two coats of clear shellac with a very quick and light sanding in between coats.

The Warden wanted to visible side and face frame painted white, which seemed like a fine compromise. I applied three coats before while I had access because a ledger board and countertop did get added as part of this overall project.

Step 9: Hidden Drawer Fabrication

The drawer was made from 3/4" plywood and I started by ripping some plywood to a width of 3 1/2" for the sides. I cut 5/16" deep rabbets on the short sides, as well as around the bottom.

The sides were assembled with glue and brad nails, then re-enforced with screws. The bottom panel was cut to fit, dropped in with a bit of glue, and secured with brads.

Final dimensions ended up being 30 1/2" x 14 1/4" x 3 1/2"

Step 10: Simple Drawer Slides and Runners

Now .. it would be quicker and easier to reduce the width of the drawer and use full extension drawer slides, but this isn't an everyday use type drawer and I didn't want to buy drawer slides. I wanted to try a wooden drawer slide design I've seen on old dressers.

First I cut 3/4 wide and 5/16" deep grooves into the sides of the drawer using a dado blade at the table saw. The offset from the fence to blade was 7/8". Middle of the drawer would be fine ... maybe even better, but I had already placed screws to avoid.

Next I cut the runners from plywood scrap. 3/4" wide and 15" long. The thickness was to 1/4" which is just shy of the 5/16" deep grooves to eliminate binding.

To attach the runners to the carcass I used wood glue and brad nails. To ensure they were equally spaced and running true parallel, I just used a 1" plywood spacer strip.

Step 11: Hidden Drawer Pull

It wasn't until after the drawer was assembled that I decided on the opening mechanism. Drilling these holes in the unassembled board would've been much easier.

After finding the center of the drawer front, I clamped a 1" drilling guide to it and my bench. This helps keep the Forster bit from wandering and possibly tearing up the veneer. This 1" hole is 1/4" deep and then the remaining depth is drilled out with a 5/16" bit.

A 5/16" T-nut is embedded in this hole with superglue and a few whacks with a rubber mallet on a socket. The hole is then plugged with a slice of a 1" poplar dowel. It was a tad proud, but nothing a block plane couldn't resolve.

The last step was to mount the toe-kick/drawer front to the drawer box. This was attached in place with wood glue and brad nails to ensure prefect alignment. After several brads, I pulled the drawer out, added clamps, and left it overnight.

Nail holes were filled with putty and sanded flush. Then shellac and white paint.

The drawer sides, grooves and runners were all liberally coated with paste wax for smooth operation.

Step 12: In Room Shots

I will be adding top crown to this shelving unit, but I don't currently have any stock long enough and I mill it in batches as I work on rooms within the house. That will conceal the top gap and exposed screw.

Aside from the small hole in the drawer front, no signs of a drawer are visible. I've had several people check out the room and not a single person has noticed the hole until I point it out.

The hole only exists as a way to pull the drawer open. It was difficult to get a good grip on the face frame and a drawer pull defeated the entire purpose of a concealed drawer. My solution was to use an eye bolt as a key/pull, which is the reason for the embedded T-Nut. Just give it a few turns into the T-Nut and pull out the drawer.

I do plan on dressing up this key a bit and then finding a hidden home for it, but that's for another time.

What do I plan on putting in here? A binder dedicated to the history of this house for sure ... land plots, deeds, census records of past (dead) owners. I'm still looking for old pictures. Then possibly a binder dedicated to all the work I've put into the property. It will just be left in the drawer to be found by whomever once I'm gone ... if they can find it.

Yes I love coffee.
Yes I have worked in retail .. and was a merchandiser part of that time.
Yes I'm still annoyed that this looks a bit cluttered.
No I'm not hoarding TP. That's from a case which was bought in early 2019.

Secret Compartment Challenge

Second Prize in the
Secret Compartment Challenge