How to Make Your Locker Hold More Stuff




I rented a locker at my local TechShop location so I can keep project materials and various personal tools conveniently located.  The lockers are tall and narrow so everything accumulates in a pile at the bottom.

I whipped up a simple shelving system to organize the clutter using scraps for the shelves and some left overs long plywood pieces to support the shelves.  I made this at the San Jose TechShop location. For more info on TechShop, see their website at:

Step 1: Materials & Tools

  • 3/4" plywood, 1' wide by at least 4' long
  • 3 or more pieces of 1/2" plywood at least 12" wide x 18" long
  • 4 @ 48" shelf standards
  • pack of shelf clips
  • 4 @ small magnets (optional)

  • Panel saw or table saw
  • Chop saw
  • Band saw
  • Router
  • Drill press
  • Hammer
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Tape measure
  • Speed Square
  • Pencil

Step 2: Measure Your Locker's Inside Space

Measure your locker's interior space in case your shelves need to be a different size than mine.  I found the interior to be roughly 12" wide by 17" deep…so I sized by shelves about 1/8" smaller so they slip into place a little easier. If you make them too snug, you can damage the sides of your locker (especially if you try forcing shelves into position).

Step 3: Cut the Vertical Pieces

You'll need to rip four pieces from the 3/4" plywood…these should be cut to 1 5/8" wide by 48" long. I prefer the table saw for this cut but it could also be done accurately enough for this project on either the band saw or the panel saw.

If you have enough 3/4" plywood, create a fifth strip, then cut it into shorter pieces to use as test pieces in the next step.

Step 4: Route Dados in the Verticals

Routing a 1/2" wide by 3/16" deep dado down the center of each vertical piece will let the shelf standards sit flush with the surface of the verticals.  This makes the shelves simpler and keeps the finished project looking a little nicer. 

Measure your shelf standards for width and thickness in case they don't match the ones I used.  Adjust your dados as needed so they match (or are slightly oversized) for your shelf standards.

It's not critical that the dados are centered on the vertical pieces but I think it looks cleaner. I like to use a router bit that's narrower than the desired dado but at least a little more than half the final width of the dado.  For a 1/2" wide dado, I used a 3/8" dado bit.

It will take four passes through the router table for each dado…set the router fence so it just touches one inside edge of your dado and is cutting no more than 1/8" thick per pass.  Run a test piece over the bit, flip it so the opposite edge is now against the fence (but the same face is still down) and run it again.  Verify your dado is now as wide as you want (though not yet deep enough)…adjust the router fence as needed so that the shelf standard fits neatly in the dado.

Repeat for the all four verticals before adjusting the router bit's height to the full depth needed for the shelf standards to fit flush (~3/16"). Run both edges of all four verticals through the router table now that you've raised the bit's height.

Step 5: Add a Small Magnet to the Back

This step is optional but highly recommended.  It makes it much easier to hold the verticals in place as you insert the shelves.  Without the magnets, the verticals flop around and installing the first two shelves requires patience (or somebody to help).

Drill a hole in the top, right hand corner of the BACK side of each vertical.  The hole should be large enough to accommodate a small rare-earth magnet.  The magnet holds the vertical in place prior to shelves being installed.  Positioning the magnets in the top, right corner means they shouldn't conflict with who ever has the other side of your locker if they install a similar setup…

A drop of superglue should hold the magnets just fine.

Step 6: Install the Shelf Standards

The tiny nails that came with my shelf clips are a hair too long.  They will protrude from the back of the verticals just enough to scratch up the locker.

It's much easier to fix this before using the nails than to deal with it after they're in place.  Simply grip each nail one at a time with needle nose pliers so that the nail's head is flat on a firm surface and the nail's pointy end is sticking up.  Tap each nail's pointy end a few times with a hammer to blunt the tip (which also shortens the nail just enough to prevent it from sticking out the back of the vertical pieces).

Use the needle nose pliers to hold the tiny nails in place as you install the shelf standards in the dados.  Make certain to line up the tops of the shelf standards with the tops of your verticals…this is especially critical if you opt for verticals that are taller than your shelf standards (having empty space at the bottom of the dados is less important than having empty space at the top - and it's important that all four shelf standards line up once they're in your locker).

A half dozen nails per shelf standard should be plenty to hold the standards in place.

Step 7: Cut Shelves to Size

Rip your 1/2" thick plywood to 11 7/8" wide then cut it into 16 7/8" lengths (for a 12" x 17" locker interior).  I prefer to use the SawStop tablesaw for ripping the shelve, but they can also be cut fairly easily with either the panel saw or bandsaw.  Cutting the shelves to length is easiest with the chop saw.

Step 8: Notch the Corners of All Shelves

It's quicker to grab one of the test pieces from Step 3 to mark the notches in the shelf corners.  Measuring and marking can be done of course, but we're making locker shelving not fine furniture, so we can work with a bit less formality in the interest of finishing sooner.

Place the test piece on the shelf so that the test piece's long edge (1 5/8") runs along the shelf's long edge (17" edge).  Tracing will be slightly easier if you use a test piece that didn't get a dado or have the dado face outwards.  That prevents your pencil from dropping into the dado while tracing the width and thickness needed for the corner notches.

Mark all four corners on both sides of each shelf.  Marking both sides will make it easier to cut the notches on the band saw…we'll have to make half the cuts with one side facing up and the other half with the other side of each shelf facing up.

Position the band saw's rip fence so you can cut the short (3/4") side of each notch first.  We have to back the shelves out of the cut and that's much easier (and safer) on the shorter cuts.

Make one short (3/4") cut, rotate the shelf 180 degrees, and cut the opposite corner.  Flip the shelf face down and cut the short side of the other two corners.

Repeat for all of your shelves then reposition the rip fence to make the long (1 5/8") cuts. Make one cut, rotate the shelf 180 degrees, and cut the opposite corner.  The waste piece should be completely loose at the end of the cut (so you're not backing the workpiece out of the long cut).

Flip the shelf face down and cut the long side of the other two corners. Repeat for all of your shelves.

Step 9: Install the Shelves

Set each vertical piece in place along the sides of your locker, one per corner. The long (1 5/8") side of each vertical should be against the longer (~17") dimension of your locker.

Place one shelf on the bottom of your locker to lock in the bottoms of the vertical pieces.

Add shelf clips at various heights then install your shelves.  Don't get too close to the top or you'll find it's too easy to dislodge that top shelf.  Staying one or two notches below the top seems to work fine (or, secure the top shelf to the clips).

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    15 Discussions


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Schools out here seem to have gotten rid of lockers. My kids ended up carrying a giant backpack daily with everything they'd normally stash in a locker. I'm sure lockers will make a come back…and when they do, we can all tell our grandkids about the cool locker projects we used to build. :-)


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Most schools have lockers, but most students choose to not use them. Schools have homework from the textbooks, as well as classwork, so you end up carrying your books back and forth. Most schools have lockers, but it is a hassle to stop by when you only have 5 minutes between classes.

    If the locker has a built in lock you can usually "fix" it so you do not need to enter the combo, the locker will stay unlocked this way.

    1. Enter Combo
    2. Pull handle up and hold it.
    3. When holding the handle to open the locker turn the dial about a 1/4 turn or till it sticks. The handle will not drop all the way keeping it from locking but allowing it to stay closed.

    To reverse turn dial back.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    When I went to school we never tried to go to our locker between classes, just carried our morning stuff around, exchange it for afternoon stuff at lunch, never needed anything to carry the stuff with. We never had to carry as much home as kids today do.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    The public schools my kids went to only had lockers in the gym for use during P.E. class. There was nowhere to stash books, etc.

    Students were sometimes issues a book for home…it went home and stayed until the end of the year. That way, they didn't have to carry text books around.

    The classrooms had more copies of the textbooks to use during class. So their backpacks mostly hold notebooks, calculator, etc.

    There were some classes that didn't have enough copies of the textbook to keep one at student's houses. Those classes had the students lug the textbooks around all day…which caused plenty of complaining from students.

    When I was a student, we got our first locker in Middle School (6th and 7th grade) and from then through the end of high school.

    No such luck for the schools my kids went to…somebody had the bright idea of getting rid of lockers…


    7 years ago on Introduction

    At my high school, we have lockers and are not allowed to carry bags. Apparently, they think we'll carry guns, bombs, and drugs around. Lockers are easier to search than bags.

    And I go to school in a fairly wealthy rural neighborhood. I wonder how they do this stuff in the inner city...


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Good work, but where would I hang my winter coat? to secure it, and the contents of the pockets.

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    If you use shorter shelf standards, you'd have more room for your winter coat. I used 48" standards because that's what I found close to home (and they were deeply discounted). carries shelf standards as short as 24" though that doesn't leave much room for stacking project supplies.

    Winters out here are usually pretty mild so I can get by with a light sweatshirt (which stuffs nicely into any open spot in the locker) or I can leave my jacket in the car since it's a very short walk from the parking lot to inside.

    For truly cold weather, I'd probably compromise and remove the top shelf and lighten up for a couple months on how much stuff I cram in the locker.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    So nice! I wish I thought of this when my kids were in high school and complained about losing stuff. Then everything showed up when they had to clean out their lockers.

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I don't miss the days of thinking I'd lost something only to discover it at the end of the school year buried in the debris at the bottom of my locker! :-)


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Very nice. Your space considerations and removeability/non-marring needs reminded me of another narrow-space shelving project:

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the link…interesting solution but I like the adjustable shelving that I came up with (OK, I'm probably biased a bit). I expect I'll need to move, add, and remove shelves over time as the things I'm storing and working on change which is why I went with traditional shelf standards (and I hadn't seen the project you mentioned before today). :-)