81 Can FIFO - Bulk Can Dispenser / Organizer




Introduction: 81 Can FIFO - Bulk Can Dispenser / Organizer



It is always a good idea to have bulk food supplies available in case of an emergency. There are a couple challenges to keeping a well stocked emergency food supply. One challenge is how to minimize the space required to store the food supplies. Another challange is how to turn over your emergency food supply. Ideally you want to eat the oldest items and replace them with new items. Without a good strategy for turning over your food supply you could (and probably will) end up with a lot of expired food.

Canned goods make good emergency food supplies. The shelf life of most can goods is in excess of a year and most can goods can be eaten cold. There are a couple issues with storing can goods. First, most commercially available metal or plastic shelving has a shelf space of 12-18". Even stacking cans 2 high leaves a lot of unusable space above the cans, and cans stacked 2 high are unstable without some base material (such as cardboard) between them. Bumping the shelving can cause cans to fall and become damaged, significantly shorting the can's shelf life. Another issue is turning over your can stock. Ideally you would use the oldest cans and replace them with new cans. Minimizing the unusable space above the cans makes it a pain to get at the oldest cans which typically end up at the back of the shelf when fresh stock is place in the front.

This is where the gravity fed can FIFO (First In First Out) helps. The can FIFO works by dropping new cans in the top which work their way to the bottom (via gravity) as the oldest cans are pulled out the bottom. There are many different commercially available can FIFOs typically made of plastic or plastic coated wires. I found the commercially available can FIFOs to be very cheep in construction and some what expensive at $1 or more per can stored. Additionally, I did not find any FIFO can storage systems that would allow the area above the cans to be used without iminent collapse of the cheep plastic. Thus, I decide to make my own.
I am not a wood worker by trade or by hobby. I have hacked many functional items from wood, but do not have extensive wood working tools or training. I would be very interested to hear how this project could be made better from individuals with more wood working experience. Ultimately, the can FIFO presented here, though not a work of art, is very strong, functional and can be made with some simple wood working tools.

This project requires the use of tools. You can hurt yourself with tools if not used correctly. By attempting this project you are taking sole responsibility of your actions. The author holds no responsibility for any positive or negative consequences of your actions if you attempt this Instructable. Use your head, if something does not seem safe DON'T DO IT! If you fail to use your head and things go bad, then man up and accept responsibility for your actions. I HATE HATE HATE that I even need a disclaimer but we live in a litigious society for better or worse (mostly worst IMHO).

Step 1: Items Required

One 4'x8' sheet of 3/8" or 11/32" finished plywood
Small 9/16" nails or staple gun with small brads (see pic above)
4d finishing nails
Wood Glue

Tape measure
1/8" and 3/8" drill bits
Reciprocating saw
Circular Saw (optional)
Polyurethane (Spray or brush)

Make sure the plywood surface is sanded and smooth. A rough surface and knot holes may keep cans from rolling smoothly causing them to jam rather than roll. I purchased a 4' x 8' sheet of  "Finished" birch plywood for less than $20. It was more than double the cost of the cheapest grade 3/8" plywood, but I think it was worth the extra cost.

Step 2: Cut Out the Plywood Pieces

Use a pencil and square to mark out the pattern above on the plywood. Remember the old adage to measure twice and cut once. If you mess up you still have about 22" of plywood left to recover. I used a circular saw to cut the pieces out, but you can use a reciprocating saw if you like. I find that I can get a straighter, more professional looking edge using a circular saw vs a reciprocating saw. Either way just be careful not to cut your fingers off. Don't forget to take into account the blade width when marking the plywood. When you are done the pieces should measure close to what is shown on the pattern.

You will also need to cut 9 pieces that measure 4 1/2" x 2 1/2" (not shown in picture) for step 7 of the project.

Step 3: Cut Inside Pannels

Take one of the 9" x 14" plywood pieces and mark it up as shown in the first photo below. Now Drill out the both ends of the slots using a 3/8" bit as shown in the second photo. Finally use the reciprocating saw to cut out both slots as shown in the third photo. When cutting the slots make sure you cut just outside the lines because they need to accommodate the 9 1/2" x 44 5/8" and 11" x 44 5/8" pieces as shown in the fourth photo. Once you have the slots cut out test fit the 9 1/2" x 44 5/8" and 11" x 44 5/8" pieces as shown in the photo. Each board should be able to pass all the way through their respective slot.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The two remaining 9" x 14" plywood pieces will be used for the ends and do not get cut in the next step so set them aside.

Use the board you just cut out as a pattern and mark up 7 of the 9" x 14" plywood pieces as shown in the final photo.  Cut these 7 pieces out using the same method you used to cut the first one. Remember to test fit each piece as instructed earlier before moving on.

Step 4: Finish the Wood

Now that everything is cut out you can apply a thin coat of polyurethane to the faces of all 9" x 14" ply wood pieces as well as the 9 1/2" x 44 5/8" and 11" x 44 5/8" pieces. Do not apply polyurethane to the edges of the 9" x 14" pieces as we will need to apply wood glue on the edges.

Note the knot holes in the surface of the 11" x 44 5/8" piece shown in the first photo. This side will be used as the bottom and the cans will roll on the other side. Once the polyurethane is dry, you need to mark the bottom the 11" x 44 5/8" piece. Starting from one end draw lines parallel to the 11" side every 5". After drawing each line draw an arrow pointing toward the side you started measuring from. The arrow is very important because this is the side that will align with the inside panels. If you have marked the piece correctly, the last box (opposite side you measured from) will only be 4 5/8". This is on purpose, because once the inner walls are all placed each can opening will be 4 5/8".  Mark the 9 1/2" x 44 5/8" piece in the same manner. Don't forget to include the arrows!

Step 5: Assemble Inner Panels and Ramps

Assemble the top and bottom ramps through the wholes cut in the eight inner panels. The marked side of the top and bottom ramps should be facing up as indicated in the photo. Align the first inner panel with the mark on the bottom ramp (11" x 44 5/8" piece) and use a square to keep the inner panel perpendicular once aligned. Now use a drill with a 1/8" drill bit to drill two holes down through the center of the inner panel and through the bottom ramp. The first hole should be about 4" back from the front of the inner panel and the second should be about 8" from the front. Once the holes are drilled; drive a 4d finish nail into each hole to secure the bottom ramp to the inner panel. Apply this same method to attach the remaining 7 inner panels.

NOTES: 1: Do not skip drilling the pilot hole as the plywood is very thin and will crack and bulge if nailing without drilling. This bulge will cause the cans to catch and not roll down the ramp. Also the top ramp should still be floating in the inner panel slot once all inner panels are nailed.

Step 6: Attach Ends

The end panels are the remaining two 9" x 14" panels. Place one end panel at the end of the assembled pieces and use the 11" x 45 3/8" board to align it with the front of the inner panels (see first photo). Now mark the location of the top and bottom ramps on the end panel (second photo). Drill 1/8" holes 2" in from the ends of the top and bottom ramps as marked on the end panel (you should have 4 holes). Drive a 4d finish nail into each hole from the side opposite the markings. Only drive the nails in until the point sticks out about 1/8" from the marked side (third photo). Now place the end panel back on the end as you did to mark the panel and press it into place letting the nail points mark the top and bottom ramps (fourth photo shows mark). Remove the end panel and at each marked location on the ramps drill with 1/8" hole about the depth of a 4d nail. Put wood glue on the end panels in the area marked for the ramps (fifth photo). Place the end panel back on the assembly and nail into place. If you were real careful the nails should follow the drill holes and not split the ply wood ramps. Repeat this process for the other end.

NOTE: This step is tricky. Be very careful to drill all holes as perpendicular as possible. If the holes not aligned well you risk splitting the ramps which could cause the cans to get stuck and not roll down the ramp. Since the end is getting glued you could potentially just use small brads to attach the end and skip all the drilling, but that is not how I did mine.

Step 7: Attach Back

Position the assembly so the the back side of the inner panels is facing up. Run a bead of glue down the back edge of each inner and end panel (see first photo). Place the back panel (11" x 45 2/8" piece of plywood) over the panels you just glued. Use a couple small brads to tack the  back flush with one of the end panels. Now measure from the panel you just tacked to the next panel to make sure the panel to panel spacing is 5" exactly. Then tack the panel in place using a couple small brads (see second photo). Do this for all the inner panels, measuring each time from the end panel you started from, but add 5" each time. Thus, the third panel you tack should be spaced 10" from the end, the fourth 15", and so on.

From the plywood scraps left over, cut 9 pieces that measure 4 1/2" x 2 1/2". Attach 4 1/2" x 2 1/2" pieces to inside of back plywood you just attached. The small 4 1/2" x 2 1/2" blocks lined up with bottom edge of the back. Use wood glue and small brads to attach the 4 1/2" x 2 1/2" blocks as shown in the last two photos. I actually added these blocks at the end when I found that the cans could get stuck if the drop and don't roll forward before the next can drops. The small block kicks the can forward so that it can not get stuck by the next can. The last photo in the series shows the view from above where the cans will fall from the top ramp.

Step 8: Attach Top and Front Rails

Place the top panel (9" x 45 3/8" piece of plywood) on the top of the assembly flush with the ends and back (see first photo). Mark the front edge of each of the inner and end panels. Remove the top and run a bead of wood glue along the top edge of each panel to the mark. Replace the top and tack it in place using at one end using small brads.Measure the spacing from the end panel to the inner panel next to it to make sure the spacing is 5" (see third photo). Now tack the top to the inner panel to hold in place while the glue dries. The next inner panel should be spaced 10" from the end. Continue adding 5" to the last spacing and tack each panel in place.

Now place the lower rail (2 1/2" x 44 5/8" piece) on the front of the assembly flush with the bottom (see fourth photo). Mark along the top of the rail on each inner panel as you did with the top. Now remove the lower rail and put a bead of wood glue along each inner and end  panel where you just marked. Then put the lower rail back in place and attach with small brads to each panel. 

Now place the upper rail (2" x 44 5/8" piece) on the front of the assembly flush with the top (see last photo). Mark along the bottom of the rail on each inner panel as you did with the top. Now remove the upper rail and put a bead of wood glue along each inner and end panel where you just marked. Then put the upper rail back in place and attach with small brads to each panel.

Now wait the requisite amount of time for the glue to dry and you are done! Time to go shopping...

Step 9: Concluding Remarks

From the photo above showing my filled can FIFO. To fill the FIFO you simply drop the cans in through the slot on the top of the FIFO. You will notice that the FIFO actually overhangs the end of the shelf it is sitting on by about 2". This turned out to be a blessing as it is easy to remove the cans if you poke them up from below. It is difficult to get a grip on the cans from above to remove them, especially if your hands are really dry. The up-side of having the cans difficult to remove from above is that the cans seem to be well contained and I have never had an issue with any cans popping out without proper poking and prodding. You will also note from the photo that the top of the FIFO provides a sturdy shelf to store more supplies. Just make sure your shelf holding the FIFO is nice and strong to support all the weight. Each can weighs about a pound, so there is about 81 pounds of cans alone, and probably another 20 pounds in plywood.

Overall I am really happy with the can FIFO. The cans drop in and roll down very well. It is actually kind of fun filling it. The rolling and clunking sound it makes when I remove a can is satisfying to my inner child too. For the most part the cans rarely jam, but when they do it is easy to reach in and unjam the offending can. I did notice that symmetrical cans tend to jam less than unsymmetrical cans. In the photo showing two cans, the Del Monte can is unsymmetrical while the Swanson can is symmetrical. The Swanson can has a lip around the top and bottom of the can while the Del Monte can has a lip around the top but the bottom is actually depressed into the can. This tends to make the Del Monte not want to roll straight, which I think attributes to the occasional jam.

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    68 Discussions


    7 months ago

    These plans worked great, fabulous idea and instructable, THANK YOU so much for sharing

    In Step 3, a measurement is missing. In order to get the angle of the ramp correctly, the distance from the vertical 3 1/8" measurement in the top left to the 3 5/8" measurement in the top right is needed.

    If anyone is doing or has done this before, do you know what the angle of the ramp is or this particular measurement? I'm trying to eyeball it, but I'm afraid I'll end up with some stuck cans if I get it wrong.

    2 replies

    You don't really need that dimension but you can calculate it using Pythagorean Theorem: A^2 + B^2 = C^2
    Where A is the difference between the two heights (i.e. 0.5") and C is the length of the ramp (i.e 9.5"). Doing the math you get:
    B = ( 9.5^2 - 0.5^2 ) ^ 0.5 = 9.487"

    You can also figure out the angle if you want:
    Angle = sin-1 ( 0.5" / 9.5" ) = 3 degrees

    Wow, thank you! I didn't think of finding the difference of the heights (or using inverse sin, for that matter)

    Has anyone tried this with other materials besides plywood? I'd like to make this for my pantry, but plywood just isn't very aesthetically appealing. I'd prefer a more finished look to it.

    3 replies

    Paint it or buy plywood that has a finished side for the outside and stain it....

    3/4 bc plywood is good that way it's pre-sanded then then primer it with whatever kind of material you want for your finish coat like lacquer has to have a a lacquer base primer where a painted surface can have kilz primer

    Absolutely gorgeous, a great organizer for the OCD in us, but not practical in terms of FIFO. It would need to hold at least two years worth of inventory in order to be a practical device for the purpose of FIFO.

    Canned foods could last for decades, so it really doesn't matter if you take the first or last item if they were all purchased in the same year.

    2 replies

    I don't use a tremendous amount of commercially canned goods and I think that 1 or 2 of these units will be perfect. jThey will fit my shelving units and organize the products that I buy, No more stacks falling over, etc.

    Why take the time to complain about this? Most of us go through cans more quickly so this is a great project. Seems disingenuous to complain about something not suiting your needs--just move on and find something you like better.

    There's no picture for step 2 or dimentions for those pieces.

    2 replies

    It doesn't show up on Chrome or Edge for some reason. For those of you that don't want to get Firefox, here's the image.

    STEP 2.jpg

    I also have an improvement to your design use 3/4 inch plywood and dato cut the shelves to fit tightly and use a good wood glue so there is no need for nails or screws

    Try lacquer instead of polyurethane it's more durable

    The Step 2 pattern photo is missing from your instructions

    1 reply

    I just looked and the pattern is there. There must be a problem with your browser.

    If you cut out the bottom so the cans could drop would you be able to stack multiple units on top of each other so that you could store 18, 27, etc cans in each stack? Have you tried this? I typically have 48+ cans of any given food and it would be great to have them all in a single rotating station. I'm thinking about building out my food storage room with these units.

    1 reply

    I have thought about it but have not tried it. It should work. Let me know how it goes if you do try to do it. The cans do get stuck once in a while so make sure you can reach into each level to un-stick the cans if needed.