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This is a great project to maximize any dead space you may have under a staircase.
The storage drawers can be used for shoes, hats, bags... or anything else! The instructions here are based on the configuration in my house, it may be different for different spaces. The benefit of this system is that it can be adapted for any under stairs space, even including much taller drawers for larger items such as a coat rack!
The configurations are endless, I hope you enjoy and are able to build a similar project with these instructions!
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Step 1: Tools and Materials
In this project I use the following list of tools and materials, however as with all projects, a number of alternative tools or materials can be used.
- Sketchup - Free to use online 3D modelling software.
- Wood saw. A few options are available
- Table saw. This is most accurate for straight cuts
- Electric hand circular saw + straight edge
- Hand saw (not recommended for a good finish)
- Ask your local DIY store if they can cut large sheets to your dimensions
- Spirit level
- Angle finder
- Drill plus wood bits, masonry bits, driver bits
- Pad saw
- Hot glue gun
- Small paint roller and tray
- 4"x2" timber
- 2"x1" timber
- Metal "L" brackets
- Heavy duty drawer runners
- Iron-on edge banding
- PVC angle
- Push-to-open latches
- Wood glue
- Construction adhesive
- Wood screws
- Wall plugs
- Double sided tape
- Water based primer undercoat
- Water based interior paint. Matt (flat) or satin finish.
Step 2: Measuring Your Space and Designing in 3D.
A well thought out design is key to a smooth implementation. It's very easy to fall into the trap of 'designing as you go' but this does make the implementation much longer and can be risky should you come up against any unforeseen issues that a robust design would identify.
There's no reason why you can't hand draw your design with a pen and paper, but I prefer using a 3D modelling software like Sketchup. This allows you to draw everything to the exact scale, and also take measurements off the model once it has been drawn.
If you're new to using Sketchup I would recommend spending some time working through their free YouTube tutorials I found it easy to use and picked it up quite quickly.
To start drawing your area in Sketchup measure everything you can and put this into your model. I started by doing a few hand drawn sketches of the area then marking the drawing up after crawling around the space with a tape measure.
Once the space is modeled you can then start on the design of your drawers. You can then transfer each section onto a cutting plan that will help you to estimate how much materials you will need, and how to cut the sheets of wood for minimal waste.
The Sketchup file for this set of draws can be downloaded in this step.
Step 3: Making the Frame
Note: If the wall under the stairs is made of brick rather than plasterboard (drywall) in my case, you may want to start demolition of the wall in the next step first.
The frame that holds the drawer runners is made out of 4"x2" timber. Cut a housing (dado) into the upright pieces that would support the horizontal supports at each end and screw these uprights into a piece of 4"x2" that will fix to the floor. It is important that the horizontal supports are supported from the top and the bottom with the housing (dado) to prevent them coming away with a see-saw action when a heavy drawer is fully extended.
Once you have the uprights installed at the front and back you can install the horizontal cross members the the drawer runners will fix to. Before fixing down it is important to spend the time to ensure all your horizontal pieces are square, level, and all parallel with each other. This will ensure the drawer runners are parallel when fully extended.
When fixing everything down it's best to fix in as many places as possible to make this as rigid as possible. This frame is going to take the weigh of the drawers so it is not ideal if there is any room for movement or vibration. In my case I used a lot of metal "L" brackets to support this frame from all angles. This was mainly because my walls and floor were not square and these brackets allowed a square frame to be fixed to a wonky wall.
Step 4: Cutting Out the Wall
Bravery test! Now the project gets serious as you start cutting holes in your previously nicely finished wall!
In my case I was lucky enough that this was a plasterboard wall (drywall) and could be easily cut with a hand saw (pad saw). Drill a pilot hole to start with and get cutting following the lines of your frame. I found it easier to drill a pilot hole for every straight line instead of trying to cut around a corner. Don't worry too much about the rough edge, this will be covered with your PVC angle later in the project.
You could also use a jig saw here. I opted for the hand saw as I felt it would make less mess and would be easier to control. It didn't take me long to complete this step.
Tip: Putting a sheet down before you start will save a bit of time on clean up.
Step 5: Installing the Drawer Runners
This step is the most important to get right to get a smooth running set of drawers. If your drawer runners are not level and parallel your drawers could be stiff and difficult to open and close.
Offer your first run up to the first horizontal support and use a clamp to hold in place. The clamp needs to be firm enough to hold it and allow some wiggle room to make adjustments. Use a spirit level to make sure this is as level as possible. Once level screw it in place.
When installing the 2nd runner in the pair, follow the same process by clamping in place, but this time you will need to ensure it is not only level but at the same height as the first level. Use a spirit level across the two runners to make sure they are at the same height. Once in position it can be screwed in place.
Now that both runners are screwed in place it is worth fully extending the runners and checking that they are not only level with each other, but that they are parallel. You can do this by measuring the distance between them at the front and back to ensure the distance is the same. You can then go one step further by measuring diagonally from the front of one runner the back of the next, and making sure this is the same for both sides.
In one case I had runners that were not parallel so I used some penny washers to pack out the back of one set of runners to bring them parallel with the 2nd in the pair.
It is possible to now leave these and move onto building the drawers, however I went one step further and mounted a strip of 1"x2" timber onto each drawer runner, and installed a cross piece between them, so that I had a sliding solid base that the drawers can sit on and fix to. This extra step will really help getting the draws in if they are larger heavier units.
Step 6: Making the Drawers: Cutting the Wood
I used 18mm (3/4") thick plywood for this project. This was the thickest in the shop. It made a really sturdy set of drawers, but in hindsight the next thickness down would have also been adequate and would have made the drawers a little lighter.
The shop I got the plywood from give a free cutting service on all their large sheets. Up to 15 cuts for free and a small fee for additional cuts providing they are all straight line cuts and not on pieces too small. I found all the cuts on the large sheets were accurate to the exact measurement I gave. I only used this service to cut down the large sheets so they were small enough for me to get them home.
TIP: If you model each piece you need to cut out in the Sketchup model, you can get the most pieces out of your sheet of wood with the least waste.
I used a table saw to cut each piece out. You can also use a hand circular saw with a straight edge if you don't have a table saw, or you could try your hand at cutting with a hand saw if you're brave enough to cut a straight line.
To find the angle of the stairs, I used an angle finder which I transferred over to the table saw sled.
TIP: If using a circular saw or table saw with plywood, you're likely to get some splintering on your cuts. To overcome this you can make the cut in 2 passes. The first pass with the saw at half the dept of the wood, and the second finish off the cut. I found this gave a much smoother cut.
Step 7: Making the Drawers: Assembling
I used a combination of wood glue and wood screws to get the strongest joints, but screws alone would have been adequate.
First drill a hole the size of your screw shaft in all the 'top' pieces. These are the pieces which you will see the screw head in. Next, using a drill bit slightly smaller than the thread of the screw, align your two pieces and mark the receiving piece with your smaller dill bit.
Once you have all your holes marked out, drill a pilot hole deep enough to take the entire shaft of the screw. As plywood is multiple pieces of wood sheets glued together, if you are to screw into the end grain without a pilot hole you will force the single sheets apart and your plywood will split. A decent pilot hole will prevent this from happening.
Lastly, make sure you are using a screw that is partially threaded. That is a thread for most of the shaft but a smooth section of the shaft by the head of the screw that will not bite into the top piece of wood. This will allow the pieces to be pulled together when you screw them up tight.
I started by fixing the bottom and two sides of the drawers together first. This allowed me to use two spacers on each side to sit the shelves on before screwing them together. This ensures the shelves sit level.
Step 8: Fixing the Drawer Units Into Place
One your drawer units are assembled its time to fix them into place.
Pull out the bases fixed to the drawer runners as far as they will extend and carefully place the drawer units on to them. If you have larder heavier drawer units you may find it helpful to have someone help you lift them into place.
Next take some time to ensure they are in the right place, push the drawers in and out (by pushing and pulling the bases) to ensure the drawers conceal completely under the stairs and they they aren't fouling on anything as they are pulled out.
Once positioned in place they need to be screwed into place. You could now just screw down from the top into the timber bases, however you will see the screw heads on your drawer surface so a cleaner look will be to screw up from the bottom.
To do this, use wood clamps to hold the drawer to the base so that both drawer and base will stay attached to each other and you can use the release mechanisms on the drawer runners to remove both parts from the frame under the stairs.
Once removed you can drill a pilot hole from the bottom and screw into place.
TIP: If screwing in from the bottom, make sure you check the length of the screw isn't going to piece through to the top side of the bottom shelf on the drawer.
Step 9: Making the Front Panels
The front panels are the decorative fronts that you will see when the drawers are closed. I used a thinner sheet of MDF for my drawers. I chose MDF as it has a smooth finish and I wouldn't have to do too much to prep it to make it look like its part of a hidden drawer.
I checked the measurements twice for this piece, and allowed for a 5mm gap around each drawer front. Rather than cutting each drawer front individually, I cut a piece to fit in the the space where the wall was and then cut down into drawer sections last. This meant I would have accurate edges that would align perfectly.
I cut the sheet down on the table saw so that the bottom and sides were the right size. The sheet was too large to cut the angle of the table saw sled, so I used a circular saw and a straight edge to cut the angled edge.
TIP: Cutting MDF with power tools can usually cause burning on the edges. I find that making the cutting blade as shallow as possible reduces the amount of burning on the edges.
Once the sheet is the right size it can be cut into the pieces to cover the front of the drawers. At this point it's worth checking it fits and checking where each drawer starts and finishes to make sure you're cutting in the right place.
Using the longer edge against the rip fence, cut this piece down on the table saw.
Lastly, using a chamfer bit in a router will give the edges a clean edge that will be less likely to suffer damage from minor bumps from everyday use.
To fix the front panel to the drawer, first wedge the drawer forward so that the drawer is sticking out and you have a solid edge to push against. Use a small amount of hot glue on the MDF front panel and stick it to the drawer that is sticking out. If your hot glue gun is set to a hot temperature you will have 10-20 seconds working time before it dried solid. Use this time to align the front panels so that they fit in place perfectly.
Once the front panels are held in place you can drive a series of small screws in through the drawer front to the front panel to hold firmly in place.
TIP: Once again, drilling a pilot hole in the MDF will help the screw catch and not rip out the MDF.
Step 10: Installing the "push to Open" Latch
There are a variety of push to latches available. I first used a magnetic push to open mechanism but the drawers were too heavy for them and tended to bounce back open if they were closed too firmly.
I changed these to a mechanical 'loft hatch' latch which worked much better. I got these off EBay.
If I had made the drawers a little deeper I could have fixed the latches directly to the drawers, but as I had a bit of space between the back of the drawer and the back wall I screwed these to a scrap of plywood that would stick out the back of the drawer. I stuck this piece of wood to the drawer with double sided tape, this made it possible to adjust the positioning before screwing in place.
Another scrap piece of wood fixed to the back wall held the 'hook' that the mechanism grabbed on to.
It took a few attempts to get into the right place, but once aligned I took the drawers back out and screwed the latches down.
Step 11: Finishing: Paint
For the front panels I wanted a smooth finish so that the drawers would look like the were part of the wall. I contemplated emulsion but after some research went with a water based wood paint.
The base coat was a 'primer/undercoat. I used a small roller to apply this. Once dry I used sand paper to knock down the bumps on the end grain of the MDF which swell when wet.
I then applied a water based sating finish top coat. I applied two coats with the roller with a brush around the edges.
Step 12: Finishing: Edge Banding
Some people don't mind the look of plywood edges, but I wanted to solid wood effect to used an edge banding to cover these up.
I used an iron wood veneer edge banding that was wider than the thickness of the drawers. It is easily cut to length with a knife or pair of scissors and ironed on on a high heat setting. Once dry you can trim down the edges with a sharp knife or edge banding tool. Try to leave a slight overlap to you can sand the remaining edge back flat.
TIP: when trimming wood veneer edge banding, sometime the grain runs away from you and can split over the top of the clean edge, if this is the case, try cutting in the other direction so that the grain is running away from you finished edge.
Once trimmed, use a light sand paper to flat the edges back flush to the width of your boards.
If I had to do this again I would have applied the edge banding to the pieces before assembling the drawers. I found it tricky to trim the edge banding off on the corners of pieces where they had been screwed to another face. Also if applied before assembly the width of the edge banding can be taken into consideration to ensure flush edges.
Step 13: Finishing: Varnish
I have dark wood flooring throughout my house so wanted the internal wood colour to match the flooring in my house so I used an interior 'walnut' varnish that gave a much darker finish.
I applied with a brush but found brush marks were hard to get out. Next time I would try applying with a foam pad or maybe even a roller to get an even streak free finish.
I applied 2 coats with a light sanding in between.
Step 14: Finishing: Trim
The trim around the cut outs was my last step, but this was only so that it didn't get damaged with me taking the drawers in and out when building them.
The trim was hard to find from any online retailers other than Ebay. I used a white PVC 90 degree trim strip that had one longer and one shorter side. The longer side went inside the drawer leaving a thin finished edge around the front of the drawer.
I cut with a knife and stuck in place using a construction adhesive with a quick drying time.
For the corners at funny angles, I overlapped the pieces and lined my knife up with the overlap to cut a perfect angle. I'm surprised with how well this worked!
And that concludes this instructable. I hope you enjoyed following it and can take what tips you can for making you own set of hidden under stairs storage drawers!
Step 15: Completion!
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