Build Easy Free Standing Shelving Unit for Basement or Garage




Moving into a new house, we need quite a few shelving units to store stuff. We don’t have a finished basement, and we haven’t figured out how it would be finished yet, so we need some free standing shelving units that are not attached to the wall, and also have some options to move around later on.

Another reason for the free standing units was because of the flexibility. The storage section of a finished basement is normally not all completed with drywall, part of it will be concrete so it’s a bit difficult to attach something onto.

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Step 1: Materials

(6) 2x4x12' Beams
(6) 2x4x7" Vertical supports
(3) 2x4x10' Frame pieces
(2) full sheet 4'x8' 3/8" plywood, plus additional 2'x4' piece (or you can use 1/2' OSB) cut to 2'x8' (actually they will be 23 7/8" x 8') Shelving surface material
3" drywall screws or 3" nails
Some 1 1/4" drywall screws

Drill or impact driver
Tape measure
A pencil
Speed square
A hand saw or miter saw / circular saw

The picture is showing my folding sawhorse in use of holding a bunch of 2x materials to make this shelving unit.

Step 2: Dimension

Our basement has 9' ceiling, based on your application, the shelving units could be different than what I have here.

We have a lot of file boxes that will fit into 3’ space when they stack together, so that's what I chose for beam spacing.

We wanted to have the bottom shelf a foot above the ground in case of water heater tank rust out or some other water damage (we all have that experience).

Normal sheet goods from home center comes in 4’x8’ size, so it’s kind of nature to cut them in half – 2’x8’, only make sure to tell the person in the store to count in the width of the saw blade (1/8”), otherwise, you are going to end up with two half sheets that are not the same dimension in width.

Step 3: Lay Out

I lay-out everything with tape measure, speed square and pencil before put anything together.

·Mark where vertical supports are on the beams.

·Mark where the cross frame pieces are on the beams.

·Mark where the frames are on the vertical supports.

Things to note,

·Lay out everything on one board, double check all dimensions, then transfer every marking to all samegroup pieces at once by putting them together side-by-side with ends aligned.

·Draw two lines to represent two edges of the adjacent board instead of the center-line to have a better alignment.

·Do not do anything with cross frame pieces at this stage.

Step 4: Cut Frame Pieces

The only cut we had to make was the cross frame pieces. In my case they are 21”, as they should be 3” short of 24” counting for the 2x4 beams at each end.

I cut them on the miter saw with a stop block clamped at left side of the fence so I don’t have to measure 15 times and align marks to the saw blade every cut - all of them should be machined in one set up to speed up the process, as well as ensure the same dimension so the final frame should be square.

Step 5: Assemble Frames

Assembly process is fairly easy. With all the lay out marks, just align the parts and screw them together. I was lucky enough to have a friend who owns a framing nail gun that he is willing to let me use, so my build went quickly than I expected, makes me thinking about buying one of them big powerful thing…

·Align cross piece to the beam at the marks and put one nail or screw at the joint first.

·When the frame has all the elements, lay down to a fairly flat surface to make sure it square and not twisted (check for the square by measuring diagonally, two measurements should be the same). Adjust if needed.

·Then nail (screw) it together with one or two more nails (screws) at each joint to lock it firmly.

Step 6: Final Assembly

·Stand up three frames with long side on the ground and parallel to each other with about 3’ spacing, doesn’t have to be precise but close enough.

·Align vertical support piece to the marks on the frames (a little adjustment here and there is needed), and hold the speed square to ensure the alignment, shoot a nail (or a screw) through

·Continue until two end supports are in place. Lift the frame a little and slide two vertical pieces under the assembly, repeat the second process.

·Now you can stand up the whole unit on it's 4 vertical legs. Check the square by measuring diagonally. If all square (which I was luckily), fire up your nailer or screw gun to lock it down.

·Attach the two middle support after the unit is all square and secured.

·Drag the whole thing into the place you want, shim at the floor under the vertical support for level.

·Put all your plywood pieces into place and screw them down to the beams and cross pieces with 1 ¼” drywall screws every 16”.

Step 7: After Thought

The project took me about two and half hours to complete, not counting shopping for material, (but did include a couple of “12oz-lifting” event), thanks for the powerful nail gun. I missed the pictures of the assembly process as I was trying to get it done, and once it’s in the grove, it would be hard to stop and take a picture.

The most important step of the build was the lay-out process. As long as the 2x4 are fairly straight, everything would fall into places without too much problem. You shouldn't be forcing anything and the unit would be level and square.

Attach the unit to the ceiling or wall if you see the possibility of tilt or tip over. Once it got leveled, the unit seemed very stable due to its weight, but I will secure it with a couple of board to the ceiling just for the safety measure. We have two little guys and nobody knows what they are going to do next…

Please have all your safety protection gears on while you are working, I do all the time, even with hearing protection on. If you work alone, when something doesn’t look or feel safe to you, then it’s NOT. Please be safe.

If I purchase the units this size at home center, it would cost me at least three times as much, and they could be possibly not fit my spacing need. So in my case, it would make sense to make my own.

3 People Made This Project!


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17 Discussions


3 years ago

I love such shelves which are perfect for every room around the house. I also use one of these shelves to maximize storage space in my self storage unit so I can fully utilize every inch of space in there. It also helps to organize my belongings for easy retrieval later on that saves time and effort too.


3 years ago

This would be so nice to have, not to mention a great place to put my food storage. I have this big storage room in my basement that has the perfect amount of space for a shelving unit about this size. I'm glad you shared the step by step process. I'll see if my husband is up for the task! Thanks.


3 years ago

When it comes to storage shelves, I think the ones that you can buy are actually not too expensive. And at least they'll have a guarantee for how much load they can take.

I went to Lowe's website, and plugged all the items into my Shopping Cart. Shows the cost, tax, etc. AND, if you really DO have a Lowe's nearby, you can pay for the stuff online, too.

For this specific unit, it will use (6) 2x4x7', (6) 2x4x12', 2 and 1/4 sheet of 3/8" plywood, and (3) 2x4x10'. I had some 2x4 left over to use in place of the (3) 2x4x10', so I ended up spent less than $70. If you buy everything from home center, it could be close to $100 with the price of the lumber right now.


4 years ago on Introduction

Nice, simple, and sturdy design. If you follow this design exactly, be aware that 2 sheets of plywood is *not* enough to cover all the shelves. You will need an additional piece 2'x4'.

I had to make adjustments to the height of the shelves because my garage has a 7' roof


4 years ago on Introduction

Two questions as I set about making these for our basement:

1) I think there's a typo in the Materials potion: vertical supports should be 7' high (not 7")?

2) Big Q: if you rip the plywood to be 2'x8'... how does that cover the shelves which appear to be 12' long? You'd end up with 16' of shelf that's 2' wide. (Should you use 4'x6' plywood ripped in half?)

1 reply

Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

Yup. the list does not have enough plywood. 36' of shelving and only 32' would come from 2 sheets. I didn't catch that till after I was back home with the supplies. I was able to patch things up with some scrap plywood I previously had


6 years ago on Introduction

Nice, but I would consider a couple of changes that I think would make it even better..
Instead of 2 x 4's I would use 2 x 2 which are just 2 x 4's cut in half the long way. Still
plenty of strength, but saves money and is less clunky, I have built a bunch this way with good results.
Add some diagonal elements, this stops the shelves from "racking".
A detail picture from a unit of mine shows both elements.

1 reply

6 years ago on Introduction

This is pretty much the design my father used to build a bookcase for my first apartment (it was dismantled and replanted in my home, then taken part in pieces and reassembled when I moved again a year later...with some modifications). The structure is more or less the same, save that there were sides and a back and additional decorative pieces attached on the front of the shelves to give a uniform front even while stained/painted for a nice two-tone color. He only had basic measurements to go by since it was conceived and constructed from four hours away, but it fit well enough. Customizing it for its current location to go around a large beam in the ceiling was fun (*sarcasm*). But the basic structure is incredibly sturdy and holds a lot of weight.

1 reply

Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

Thanks for the comment, StoryAddict.
Yes, I agree, the basic structure is very strong. I learned this basic form from an old builder, as an engineer, I modified it to be more efficient in support. Also, I used plywood instead of OSB, I think plywood would hold them together better.
There is room for improvement - by using construction adhesive at each joint will make it even stronger if it's build for heavy duty application, for my basement, this is plenty sturdy.


6 years ago on Introduction

Just what i was looking for to organize my garage. Great instructions!