Introduction: Storage Bin Organizer Shelf

I've previously just stacked tackle boxes up; but it becomes an annoyance when they are six high and you need to pull something out.

I've seen a variety of ways to make shelves for the Harbor Freight / Stanley organizing bins and tackle boxes (on Instructables, Pinterest, and YouTube).

I don't think I've seen an example yet with just a dado slot to hold the bin (I did see a much smaller bin stored that way). The advantages of this method is lower parts cost, not much wasted space between bins, and being able to mix the standard and deeper bins at will.

The Harbor Freight organizing bins I'm trying to store are: 16 1/2" wide by 13" deep. The standard height is 2 1/4". The deeper version is 4 1/2" in height. The lip of the lid/top (that will be hanging in the dado slot) is less than 1 3/8" tall, and likely 1/4" wide.

It took me a little too long to figure out how to cut a 1 1/2" wide dado slot… the max width of my dado stack is 7/8"… just make three 1/2" dado cuts. (If you’re using a router you'll need to make a jig). Likely a lot more work, but you could use a chisel as well. I used some scrap plywood to test my dado slot width and depth, along with the spacing.

I had some nice birch 3/4" plywood left over from another project, otherwise I would have likely used a less expensive 3/4" plywood. (I wound up building a second one, and tried the less expensive plywood. It works, but had some chipping issues). I thought about making the box only 10" deep so the top handle would be better exposed, but decided to cut a small slot on the lid instead.

Time lapse video of construction

Note: I've bought additional storage bins, and while the large ones appear consistent; the medium/20-bin cases appear to have gotten slightly wider. Like one millimeter. It's weird. Manufacturing fluke?




Step 1: Time-Lapse Video Construction Overview

Step 2: Cutting the Panels to Size

Some math… keep in mind your 3/4" plywood may really only be 23/32".

We'll be cutting a 1 1/2" dado slots 2 1/2" apart. The first slot will be 1 3/4" from the bottom. [Desired Number of Bins] x 2 1/2" + 1 1/2" (for the top and bottom panels). I opted for eight bins: 8 x 2 1/2" + 1 1/2" = 21 1/2" tall side panels.

The bins are 16 1/2" in width. We'll be cutting 5/16" deep dados on both sides. Resulting in the inner width of the box only needing to be 15 7/8".

So these are the cuts I want from the 3/4" plywood:

  • (2 sides) at 21 1/2" x 13".
  • (2 tops/bottoms) at 13" x 15 7/8".

We will also need a back panel out of either 1/4 or 1/2" plywood, or hardboard. It might make more sense to wait until the box is cut and assembled, to ensure you cut the right size piece. But, it should be close to 21 1/2" x 15 3/4".

For the 3/4" plywood, if building a single cabinet, you could get away with using one 48"x24" piece, and one 24"x24" piece.

Step 3: Cutting the Dadoes

I used a dado stack. Configured for 1/2" wide dadoes. (dados?). Adjust so the height of the blades, depth of the cuts, are 5/16". For consistency, once I have the fence set, I alternate between the two side panels.

Note: I'm not sure if plywood counts for not using the fence for rip cuts, and I haven't built a sled yet. Because the dado stack is positioned differently than the standard blade DO NOT rely on the tables ruler. Double check the distance from the blade to the fence. We want the first dado to start 1 3/4" from the edge.

Make the first 1/2" dado cut. Adjust the fence by 1/2". Make a second 1/2" dado cut. Now adjust the fence by another 1/2". Make a third 1/2" dado cut. Now adjust the fence by 1 1/2" to provide spacing between the bins. Repeat the three cuts and adjustments. Repeat for the number of bins you will be storing (in this case the deeper 4 1/2" bins counts as two).

Here's my table for lining the edge of the dado blade with the fence. I used a ruler for each adjustment (not the tape on the table saw).

  • 1 3/4", 2 1/4", 2 3/4"
  • 4 1/4", 4 3/4", 5 1/4"
  • 6 3/4", 7 1/4", 7 3/4"
  • 9 1/4", 9 3/4", 10 1/4"
  • 11 3/4", 12 1/4", 12 3/4"
  • 14 1/4", 14 3/4", 15 1/4"
  • 16 3/4", 17 1/4", 17 3/4"
  • 19 1/4", 19 3/4", 20 1/4"

Step 4: Notch on Top Panel (optional)

If desired, you could use a jig saw to cut a small notch out of the top panel, to make grabbing the handle of the top organizer easier.

Note: I originally cut the side pieces a 1/2" longer (22"), giving extra space inside the cabinet box for removing the bins. With the shorter sides (21 1//2"), I find it more convenient to have the handle notch cut at the top panel.

I marked the top panel 6" from each side, and 3" inward. And then connected them making a rectangle I got slightly fancier in the corners to make them slightly rounded.

I used a jigsaw to cut the "rounded" rectangle out.

Note: I probably should have used a forstner bit to drill the corners first, and then used the jig saw to cut the rest of the shape.

Sanded the cuts smooth. For the rounded inner corners, I wrapped/stapled sand paper around a 1/4" dowel.

Step 5: Attaching the Panels

I find the pocket hole joinery convenient, but use whatever joinery method you prefer.

For pocket holes, adjust the drill bit and guide for 3/4" wood. Drill the pocket holes into the top and bottom panels (for attaching to the sides). According to the directions that came with mine, 9/6" from each edge, and not more the 6" in between.

The box will be sturdier once the back panel is installed. You can likely staple or tack a 1/8" hard board or 1/4" plywood in place. If using 1/2" plywood you may want to opt for nails and/or glue. Actually, for some reason hard board is a heck of a lot harder to staple and nail than 1/4" plywood. I almost rented a brad nailer. I wound up using finishing nails.

If you have corner clamps, use them. If you don't, you should consider getting them. I now have a few.

Note: At the time of construction I hadn't decided yet if I was going to wall mount it, or stand it on a shelf. I've since decided to wall mount and went back to install wood screws to secure the back panel. I don't want the nails working loose when the cabinet gets fully loaded.

Step 6: Sand the Dadoes As Necessary

I opted to sand the dadoes where necessary to correct the fit. I wasted a few sponge sanding blocks until I wised up…

I took some scrap 1/2" plywood that was 1 5/16" wide, and stapled some 40 grit sand paper to it. I later added a 1/2" handle with some pocket screws.

Note: I spent several additional hours getting the bin fit right :( I originally cut the top/bottom plywood pieces 16" (not 15 7/8"). The bins seemed too loose. It looked to be an 1/8" to far. Rather than being smart, and trimming 1/16", and testing it, I took off an 1/8". It seemed fine at the time, because the back panel wasn't attached yet, and the cabinet was flexing. Once I had the back panel attached, there was less flex, and some of the drawers were tight. On the second unit I built, with the top/bottom cut at 15 7/8" and the dado depth set correctly at 5/16"; there was very little sanding required.

Step 7: Finishing Touches

Fill in any surface or edge plywood defects with wood putty; and let dry.

Sand the surfaces smooth. If you want to get fancy, you can apply edge tape to the edges to cover up the plywood paneling. Paint, stain, or leave as is.

I painted mine. Originally a light gray left over from another project. I went back and repainted yellow to match the trim on the bins. About three coats on the outside of the cabinet. I also painted the protruding part of the shelves, but not the dados themselves.

Step 8: Finished

Slide you bins into the dadoes.

Mount on the wall or place the cabinet shelf where desired.

Step 9: Wall Mounting (optional)

If you opt to wall mount, make sure the back panel is firmly secured with screws.

Determine the location and height you want the bin cabinet installed at.

Identify where the studs are located in the wall, and mark them. Use a level make a horizontal line at the bottom of the intended height.

Install (temporarily) a 2x4 ledge lined up with the horizontal mark. This will help line up the bin(s) and help hold them up during installation. I used 3 1/2" deck screws.

Drive 2 1/2" cabinet screws through the back panel, through the drywall, and into the 2x4 studs. I used self drilling cabinet screws, so predrilling wasn't necessary.

When you're done, you can remove the temporary ledge.

Step 10: Extra - Labeling and Cutting Custom Foam Inserts

Labeling or coloring the handle will help you find bins. You could also label the side of the shelving box. I've added additional labels inside the containers as well.

For some of the bins, I've cut foam (or foam floor mats) to fit, making custom foam inserts.

  • Harbor Freight: Anti-Fatigue Foam Mat Set 4 Pc - 25"x25"
  • Michael's Craft Store: Foam sheet 12"x18" x 2mm - various colors for under layment

I used hot glue to attach them. Though I've also seen spray adhesive recommended.

More details here

Shelving Contest

Runner Up in the
Shelving Contest