Cheap Storage Shelves




Our kitchen was getting too cluttered with not enough counter-space, so I decided to make some cheap heavy duty storage shelves.

Total cost was around $55 not including tools. Each of the 4 shelves are 21"x 45" and the assembled structure stands 78" tall.

Step 1: Materials & Tools

                     I got all necessary materials at Home Depot. Luckily, my local Home Depot cuts all lumber for free which significantly cut down on the total cost of this build. Some lumber yards charge up to 50 cents per cut, so that would have gotten expensive very quickly. I certainly had the capability to cut my own wood, but it is just so much faster and easier to transport in a sub-compact if you get the store to cut it for you.

10 * 8'    2 x 4's @ $2.59 each  = $26
1 *  4' x 8'   sheet of 1/2" thick plywood = $20-$30
80 * 2.5" exterior screws = $5 (just buy a 1 lb box)
1" finishing nails

Power drill
Set of drill bits
Measuring tape
Clamps (optional)


Step 2: Cutting the Lumber

You are starting with 10  2 x 4's and one 4' x 8' section of 1/2" plywood. 

The plywood will go on to become the shelves, so it will need to be cut to dimensions of 21" x 45". You will need 3 of these sheets and one sheet of 21" x 48" for the top shelf.

4' x 8' plywood --> 3 * 21" x 45" plywood + 1* 21" x 48" plywood

Each shelf consists of two 4' boards with three 18" boards sandwiched between them. These shelves rest on four vertical 78" boards.

Four boards should be cut at 18" --> 4 * 78" boards + 4 * 18" boards
Four boards should be cut at 48" --> 8 * 48" boards
The remaining two boards should be cut into 18" sections until the total number of 18" sections is 12.

Step 3: Measure

Line up all four 78" sections and mark off lines at the point where you want your shelves to lie. 

Measuring is the most important step, so make sure you are accurate or else the shelf will not be level.

Each shelf height is up to you, but my suggested measurements can be seen in the image.

Step 4: Build a Ladder

Line up an 18" section with your line, ensure it is square.

Pre-drill 2 holes with a drill bit only slightly smaller than the diameter of your screws. This is necessary to keep the wood from splitting when you insert the screws.

Screw the two pieces of wood together. 

Wash, rinse, and repeat until you basically have a ladder, then build another ladder which will make up the other side of the shelf.

Step 5: Start on the Shelves

The first part of making the actual shelves involves attaching a cross-beam to four of the 4' sections exactly in the middle. There's no good way to do this, but the best way I could figure out was to place both boards on a flat table, lined up the best I could, then attach then with screws - taking care to pre-drill holes.

Step 6: Putting It All Together Part 1

Now you have all the pieces you need to attach everything together.

Lay both ladders on their sides with the 18" segments on the insides, then lay the cross-beams built in the last step across the ladders where the 18" segments attach.

Make sure everything is square, then start screwing everything together (after pre-drilling holes) with 2 screws per joint to prevent rotation.

Step 7: Putting It All Together Part 2

Now that you have the rough shape of the storage shelves, all that needs to be done is to flip it over and attach the four remaining 4' boards to the other side.

Make sure to secure the remaining boards to the cross-beams as well.

You may need straps to hold the sides in as you secure the final boards.

Step 8: Attaching Plywood

Use finishing nails to tack on the plywood sheets to the shelves.

Because this thing was so tall, I did the top shelf while it was laying down, then flipped it up to attach the remaining pieces of plywood.

REMEMBER: the top piece of plywood is the largest piece because it over-hangs the supporting studs.

Additionally, once you raise your shelves upright, make sure to check to make sure they are level,

Step 9: Finishing Touches

Move your shelves into position and add any finishing touches you want, like wood-stain, polyurethane, paint, or kitchen appliances.

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45 Discussions


3 years ago

If these storage shelves are cheap to build, I think that it might be a good idea for me to go pick up some extra plywood or planks from the neighbours so that we can put them out for some of our customers to use! Lord knows some of the storage units here could definitely use a little bit more organization and as a value added service, I'm sure my customers would love the material to build their own shelving!


3 years ago

Ok you guy's seem awfully helpful so im gonna lay it out here....i have three in college budget is extremely tight we need three shelves
i have a little knowledge
i have a drill
i have a circular saw
measurements are approximately :
6'/2'/18"/15" kitchen/bedroom
then one in bath over toilet
please help


3 years ago

Shelving units are a wonderful storage solution and the wood puts a nice touch to the room!


5 years ago on Introduction

nevermind, I forgot about the two from the 78" boards


5 years ago on Introduction

How would you cut 2 x 10ft board into 12 x 18' sections? math doesnt add up there..

About to make a similar set of shelves 2ft by 4ft, but with 2x3's and OSB with wheels for the garage. Check out the way this guy does his screws on his shelves with templates(a little OCD) but very secure looking.


5 years ago on Introduction

Nice drill. Exact same one I have, so we must both be cool.
This is a project I am probably going to undertake on my day off, glad I found it!

Also, could you offer some advice on anchoring this? I have kids who will climb and I don't want them to have this tip over on top of them.

1 reply

Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

Theres plenty of room on the undersides of the shelves to use some woodscrews to anchor the top shelf into some studs in your wall. Good luck!

Drcj, I just today completed a set of shelves based upon this instructable.  I used wood on hand (1x2s) for the side and center supports and 2x4s for the rest of the structure.  I also departed from your plans, making a 5-shelf unit instead of the 4-shelf unit featured.

As a novice woodworker, here are some things I've learned in the process of doing this project -
(1) You can never have enough clamps!
(2) Take the time to line up everything square and level, especially when assembling the two side "ladders."  I didn't , and had to re-attach 8 of the 10 side supports.

The unit looks great at our hackerspace.  It's already full of stuff!  I'll need to make another set.

4 replies
Otto von Korbeckedrcj

Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

Let's see if I did this right.  The first two images are of the completed shelves.  The third is of the shelves in use.  Around here it filled up fast.

Full Shelves @ Dayton Diode.jpgIMG00002-20130804-0926.jpgShelves - side view.jpg

Oh, I forgot to tell you that I altered the dimensions a bit. The depth was changed from 18" to 23", and the width shortened from 48" to 44". This to accommodate the wood I had on hand, and not out of any engineering or design considerations.

Perfect timing. I'm going to build some shelving for between our two garage doors. Now I can use your plans!! Thanks!
FWIW, my cat lays like that too. She also likes to lay on her back with all four legs in the air.

2 replies

If I could lend some advice. I build some for my garage. Garage floors usually have some slope to them so that water will drain out. If you build them free standing and move them in place they could be sitting off kilter. I nailed a board on the wall level, set my shelf on it, then nailed the legs on.


6 years ago on Introduction

A great way to "dispose" of some packing cases and odd lumber laying around! Keep it up! BTW: We have a Cat that loves to lay just like yours!


6 years ago on Step 9

not exactly a work of art but what the hell,it does a job.Congratulations