Renovating a Pantry With French Cleat Shelving




Introduction: Renovating a Pantry With French Cleat Shelving

About: Maker, paddler, outdoorsman, engineer and just about everything in between.

My pantry was in a sad state of affairs. Wire rack shelving that wasn't installed properly, poor lighting, and inefficient use of space. I wanted to do something about that. I designed some custom shelves to be CNC cut, assembled and installed to solve my pantry woes. I had a few requirements. It had to be: adjustable, practical, and good looking. I wanted to save the existing pantry and solve my problems rather than do any major demo and remodel work. Mounting them on french cleats gave me adjustability and a practical and simple install. Splitting the shelves in to 3 segments gave me additional flexibility. Moving one shelf to accommodate a larger item would be much easier.

My tools included:

  • 4x8 CNC Router (used at a local hackerspace - not my own)
    • Whiteside 2102 compression bit
  • Table saw
  • Orbital sander
  • Drill and impact driver
  • Caulk gun
  • Brad nailer
  • Soldering Iron

My materials included:

  • 2 x 3/4 plywood sheets. I used "Blondewood" plywood from the blue store
  • Wood glue
  • 1 1/4" brad nails
  • Construction adhesive
  • Wipe-on polyurethane & rags

Step 1: Design and Cutting

The first step was design. I took measurements of my pantry, and designed the shelves to fit it. The recess in the center was to make items easy to reach, but the shelves were full depth on the edges to make the most use of the space covered by the wall and door trim. Make sure to take detailed measurements at multiple heights and depths - it's rare that closets and pantries are square. I learned the hard way.

Everything was designed in Fusion 360 and my files are attached. Note that the full laid out file has some spare parts, and is split into 3 foot, 3 foot and 2 foot sections. I don't have a truck, so I have to design around the largest section of plywood I can fit in my car.

Cutting was interesting. For the first time we pushed our CNC Router Parts Pro 4x8 machine hard to see what it could do, and we were very impressed with the results. We ran a feed rate of 200 inches per minute, with a maximum cut depth of .375 for the rabbets I cut (one pass) and .35 for the rest (3 passes). The whole sheet was cut in about 40 minutes. Two full sheets were cut.

You are responsible for your own design and cam work. Know the limits of your machine and design for the equipment you have. This would not be practical on a smaller CNC, but may be doable with some design changes.

A CNC router is not the only way to do this! Using a combination of other tools like a tablesaw and a jigsaw you could very well build this project. The CNC router can certainly be a time saver, but is not required for this project.

Step 2: Assembly

Once parts come off the CNC, cut 45 degree bevels on all the shelf and wall cleats, so they can be cleats.

All the parts should be sanded, but thanks to that compression bit, most of the cuts will likely be very clean.

Cleats and brackets can then be glued and brad nailed into the shelves. I made some simple jigs to help line everything up and speed up assembly, and make it more repeatable.

Step 3: Finishing

All the shelves are to be finished with a wipe-on polyurethane. Put some on the rag, wipe it on the part, and wait to dry. It's that easy.

If you have any sanding details you need to take care of or voids in the plywood to fill, be sure to do it before applying any finish.

Step 4: Preparing and Installing the Cleats.

All the cleats should be marked, pre-drilled and countersunk to match the studs in the back of the pantry. This leaves no guesswork for installation.

Remove the old shelving - I'm leaving this step out as it can vary widely depending on what you have. Thankfully the wire rack shelving I had practically fell out with a couple jiggles. It was poorly installed.

Prior to installing the cleats, I did spackle and paint the pantry to cover up the holes and crumbling drywall around the original shelf mounts. Your work on this task may be much easier or much harder than mine. Luckily it was just 7 holes per shelf I had to cover.

Apply a small bead of construction adhesive to the back of the cleat, line it up using a piece of scrap cut to size as a spacer, and screw the cleat in. Repeat until the desired number of cleats are installed.

Note: be mindful of spacing. Too narrow and the shelves won't fit, too wide and you'll lose flexibility with your installation. If your time and budget allows for it, install high quality plywood over the entire wall the cleats are being mounted to. This ensures the surface is flatter and gives you more options for attaching the cleats if you don't have studs to screw into.

Step 5: Installing the Shelves.

Almost done! Time to mount the shelves. Experiment with mounting positions to see what works for you. You have a completely flexible and adjustable system now - no sense in boxing yourself into a specific layout.

Slot them into the cleats and give them a few light-medium taps to ensure they're fully seated in the cleats.

Bonus puppy :)

Step 6: Lighting and Extras.

I installed some lighting in the pantry using basic 12V white LED strips. A normally-closed* switch was installed so the lights turn on automatically when the door opens. They're powered off of an AC adapter plugged into a nearby surge protector. I did need to drill through the wall and pull wire for this. There are battery powered solutions if you're looking for something easier.

*A normally closed switch means that the switch closes, or completes the circuit when its in its resting position. In this case, with the large ball bearing pushed in, the circuit is open, when released, it closes the circuit. These switches are typical for security systems, refrigerator and appliance lights and more.

Step 7: All Finished!

See the before and after shot there. Big difference if you ask me. I'm glad I went through the effort to renovate my pantry.

Load up your groceries and your done! Any suggestions or comments? I'd love to hear feedback. Did you make your own? I'd love to see it! What did you do differently? What did you like or dislike?

Thanks for checking this out!

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    6 Discussions


    Question 1 year ago on Step 7

    I do not have a CNC, nor do I know someone who does. Could you make the shelving cuts and ship them to me, if I give you the measurement of our pantry?


    Answer 1 year ago

    Hi! Unfortunately I'm not interested in doing this as a business, but you can certainly do this without a CNC! If you have a tablesaw, and a jigsaw or bandsaw, you could cut the basic shapes of your stock down, then do all the curves and such with a jigsaw or bandsaw. Or even a handheld router. The CNC is just a time saver - it's not the only way to do it!

    A suggestion for the next person to build your well-designed shelving system, is to leave the angle brackets off the center shelf. Then when assembling the outside (left and right) shelf sections, glue the inside-positioned angle brackets with an offset (or hangover) of 3/8 inch (1/2 of the 3/4 inch thickness of the plywood.)

    That should be plenty of support for the edges of the center shelf and would reduce the number of angle brackets by two for each shelf. That would significantly reduce the shelving that's in the way of your groceries.

    Good job!


    Reply 1 year ago

    Thanks for the suggestion and compliment! The only issue I see there is that removes some of the functionality - I wanted to be able to adjust and place each shelf independently, which I've done at the bottom of the cabinet. Without supports, the middle shelf wouldn't be able to hold much.


    2 years ago on Step 7

    I saw this on reddit this morning. I like the idea and plan on doing something similar for my kitchen


    Reply 2 years ago

    Thanks! Be sure to post your build out! I always like to see others' work.