Introduction: Soda Crate Spice Rack

About: Furniture hacker. Author of Guerilla Furniture Design, out now. Find me on Twitter and Instagram @objectguerilla.

Years ago, at a drafty, bat-infested flea market in rural Alabama, I picked up two antique wooden soda crates for $5 each. One was solid Coca-Cola red, the other a dusky orange, brand unknown. And then they sat, warehoused in a succession of closets until I had occasion to use them.

In my most recent apartment, I wanted to organize the spices and get them out of the cabinets, where the lesser-used ones got lost somewhere in the back. I cut down the soda crates, reorganized the wood a bit, and re-packaged all the spices in some cheap glass canisters from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. A coat of water-base finish preserves the graphics on the wood and keep seals everything to food-safe condition. It adds a pop-art vintage charm to the kitchen. With each spice bottle costing $1, the whole project cost $35 bucks and a Saturday afternoon.

You will need these materials:

2 vintage soda crates
A couple scraps of 1/2" plywood
A handful of #6 by 1-1/4" wood screws
2 #8 x 2" drywall screws
2 #8 washers
Wood glue
Water-based polyurethane
Drywall anchors

You will need these tools:

Flat-head screwdriver or cat's paw
2 14" bar clamps
Circular saw
Tape measure
Speed square
100-grit sandpaper
220-grit sandpaper

Step 1: Crate Breakin'

Carefully disassemble the crate with the hammer and pliers. These crates were put together with small nails and metal straps. Though the crates felt loose and weak, the straps and nails were pretty hard to get out cleanly. If necessary, use a small cat's paw or screwdriver to get under the straps and work the nails loose. Take care not to damage the wood.

Step 2: Cuts

Each spice rack is an open box, braced in the corners with triangular tabs. These measurements are based on a box with 3/4"-thick sides.

To make the top and bottom of the box, find the center of one of the sides, then measure 6-1/4" out from the centerline on each side. Strike two square lines. Measuring from the center out will keep the graphic (or the handle cutouts) centered in each side of the box, preserving the graphics. Cut that piece(should be 12-1/2" long), using the speed square and the clamps to make a straightedge guide. Repeat for the mirroring side. 

If I did this over I would make the handles into the top and bottom pieces and the graphics into the side pieces so that A) you could see the graphics from the side and B) the middle shelf didn't hit the middle of the handle cutout. Please learn from my mistake -- it'll make all the frustration worth it . . .

Using the same center-out measuring technique, cut two pieces out of the other two sides, each at 9-1/2" long.

Cut a strip of 1/2" plywood at 2" wide. Cut this strip into 4 45-45-90 triangles, with the two legs of each triangle at 2" long.

Cut another 2" strip of plywood to 11" long.

Sand all the old wood lightly with the 220 to remove grit, grime, and crap but not the paint and graphics. 

Sand the plywood more heavily, until smooth. 

Step 3: Assembly

Screw and glue the box together, butt-jointing the corners with two screws in each. The 9-1/2" pieces should be captured by the longer pieces. Some clamps may help here.

Screw the shelf across the middle with two screws through the sides of the . I dressed mine up a little by gluing and tacking on a thin strip of old wood to the front edge to keep the plywood from showing so much. 

Screw and glue in the corner braces, using the speed square to check for square.

Once the glue dries, ease all the edges and corners with 100-grit sandpaper. Clean with a damp rag and finish with water-base polyurethane, which won't yellow over time and sticks well to old finishes. 

Install with a screw through the top two corner braces into a stud or drywall anchor using the 2" drywall anchors with a #8 washer under the head of each. The spice bottles hardly weigh anything, but you also don't want the whole thing crashing down if someone bumps into it.