DIY Produce Storage Bins

Turn your pantry or basement into a portable storehouse with fresh crops stashed in these stackable produce storage bins. The plans offer two versions of DIY storage bins: tall and short. Best of all, these pantry storage containers can be easily moved from the garden to the house and back again.
By Steve Maxwell
August/September 2014
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Build towers of stackable produce storage bins by knocking together a mix of tall and short wooden crates. For added maneuverability, you can add casters to the bases of the DIY storage bins you'll be placing at the bottom of the towers.
Illustration by Keith Ward
Slideshow


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These inexpensive, stackable produce storage bins are designed for bringing in the harvest from your garden or the local farmers market. They stack together so you can store your crops neatly. The basic design produces a 14-inch-high bin measuring about 16 inches wide by 26 inches long, with a slatted base for good air circulation in the cool, dark and damp conditions of basements or root cellars.

We also include specifications for how to build a wooden crate that’s shorter and more suitable for storing vegetables in a pantry or closet. Standing about 10 inches high, these bins are easier to move than the tall bins when fully loaded with produce. If you plan to use these DIY storage bins in your kitchen or pantry, you can opt to make them with solid plywood bottoms to prevent vegetables from dropping dirt as you carry bins of freshly harvested produce into your house. (Find recommended storage conditions in Food Storage: 20 Crops That Keep and How to Store Them.)

If you prefer a taller, all-in-one unit that’s not stackable, check out the storage rack with pull-out shelves in the  Slideshow.

How to Build a Wooden Crate

Simple tools, common materials and basic building skills are all you need to make these produce storage bins. Lightness and strength are their standout features because they’re made mostly of standard cedar fence boards. Stocked at every building supply outlet, such boards are lightweight, long lasting and easy to work with. Typically marketed as “three-quarters-inch thick,” commercial cedar fence boards actually measure only five-eighths-inch — perfect for this project. You can construct the uprights from 1-1/2-inch square stock and the handles from three-quarters-inch-thick hardwood.

Make your first cuts. To begin, you’ll need to cut all the side boards, end boards, slats uprights and handles for as many pantry storage containers as you intend to build. The cutting list (found later in this article) provides measurements for individual pieces as well as the total lumber needed for each size of crate. You can make them longer and wider if you prefer — just adjust the cutting list measurements.

Consider setting up a sawing assembly line in your home workshop to speed up your work. A stop block with a miter saw in one powerful way to cut all components to precise lengths. Prepare some kind of out-feed support or table, and clamp a block to the support so it will stop your wood at exactly the right point for crosscutting. Your setup time will be minimal, and you’ll be happy with the results: fast, perfectly consistent cutting.

To create a pair of slats, simply cut standard 8-foot cedar fence boards into lengths of 15-7/8 inches, and then rip them in half lengthwise. Each fence board will produce 12 slats. You’ll need seven slats to build a base for one slat-bottomed bin.

Assemble the sides. Although you could use a carpenter’s square to ensure 90-degree corners when you assemble the sides, it’s easier to use a sheet of plywood or waferboard with the original, uncut factory edges as a reference guide for creating a square assembly. Place two of the uprights you’ve cut onto the sheet, aligning their bottom ends with one edge of the sheet and positioning one of the uprights in a corner. Fasten a sidepiece cut from a cedar fence board across the top of the uprights with weatherproof wood glue and 1-3/4-inch No. 8 deck screws driven into predrilled holes. (Predrill all holes to prevent splitting when you drive the screws.) If you’re building the taller crate, fasten a second board on the uprights next to the first one, with a three-eighths-inch ventilation gap between them. Repeat the process to assemble the second side.

You don’t need to wait for the glue to dry to complete the box. Stand both side assemblies upright on one end on a flat floor, and connect them with a single cedar end board secured with No. 8 screws and glue. Carefully flip this assembly, then add an end board to the opposite side of the crate. Add a second board to both ends if you’re building the tall bin.

Slatted or Solid Bottom?

Whichever height of container you’re knocking together, the next step is to install the bottom. These plans allow you to choose between two different styles of base: solid or slatted.

Solid bottom. To install continuous wooden bottoms on your DIY storage bins, simply flip them upside down and secure a quarter-inch plywood base measuring 15-7/8 inches by 25-1/8 inches with glue and finishing nails. If you’d like the bottom to be replaceable, use 1-1/2-inch No. 6 screws driven into predrilled holes instead.

To make a rolling crate, skip the locking strips (described later in this article) and screw the plate mounts of swiveling dolly casters to the corners of the base — but remember that this wheeled crate will always have to be place at the bottom of a tower.

Slatted bottom. A slatted base will provide better air circulation — helpful for most stored crops. Turn your crate upside down and lay out seven cedar slats, evenly spaced across the base. Fasten each slat to the bottom edges of the side boards with glue and 1-1/2-inch No. 6 screws driven into 3/32-inch predrilled pilot holes.

How to Make These Produce Storage Bins Stackable

Locking strips. Complete the bottoms of both the tall and short bins by adding two 1-1/2-inch-by-11-1/2-inch locking strips onto the base at the ends (see construction drawing in Slideshow). When you stack your pantry storage containers, the locking strips will nest between the uprights of the crate below to create a secure tower. You can cut the locking strips from leftover cedar fence board. Use two No. 6 screws per locking strip.

Handles. Add the hardwood handles to the top of the crate’s short ends by pre-drilling holes for two 1-3/4-inch No. 8 screws in both the handle and upright pieces, then fastening the handles to the uprights with glue and screws. Because the short bin is shallower and lighter, you could use 2-inch-wide pieces of cedar fence boards for the handles instead of the hardwood.

Don’t bother applying wax, varnish or shellac to finish these produce storage bins. Finishes would be difficult to apply due to the rough surface of the cedar, and even non-toxic options, such as boiled linseed oil, could affect the smell and taste of your produce. You don’t want anything to taint the great meals that will be made from homegrown food stowed in wooden storage crates of your own making.


Materials List

Use these lists to calculate how much material and hardware you’ll need to build a collection of DIY storage bins. Note the lumber required for each bin type, then follow the cutting list to trim all the pieces needed to assemble that bin.

Pay attention to the optional parts listed below. The solid bottom panel could be installed on either bin instead of slats. Omit the locking strips if you install casters to create a rolling bin.

Optional parts, both bins
1 bottom plywood panel, 1/4” x 15-7/8” x 25-1/8”
4 swiveling casters with plate mounts, 3”

Tall Bin (14 Inches High), Slat Bottom

Total lumber and hardware required
3 cedar fence boards, 8 ft. long
1-1/2” square stock, 57”

3/4” x 1-1/2” hardwood, 32”
40 No. 8 screws, 1-3/4 ”

18 No. 6 screws, 1-1/2”

Cutting list
4 side boards, 5/8” x 5-3/8” x 23-7/8”

4 end boards, 5/8” x 5-3/8” x 15-7/8”
4 uprights, 1-1/2” x 1-1/2” x 14”

2 handles, 3/4” x 1-1/2” x 15-7/8”
7 bottom slats, 5/8” x 2-5/8” x 15-7/8”

2 locking strips, 5/8” x 1-1/2” x 11-1/2”

Short Bin (10 Inches High), Slat Bottom

Total lumber and hardware required
2 cedar fence boards, 8 ft. long
1-1/2” square stock, 41”
3/4” x 1-1/2” hardwood, 32”

24 No. 8 screws, 1-3/4”
18 No. 6 screws, 1-1/2”

Cutting list
2 side boards, 5/8” x 5-3/8” x 23-7/8”
2 end boards, 5/8” x 5-3/8” x 15-7/8”

4 uprights, 1-1/2” x 1-1/2” x 10”
2 handles, 3/4” x 1-1/2” x 15-7/8”

7 bottom slats, 5/8” x 2-5/8” x 15-7/8”
2 locking strips, 5/8” x 1-1/2” x 11-1/2”


Contributing Editor Steve Maxwell has been helping people renovate, build and maintain their homes for more than two decades. “Canada’s Handiest Man” is an award-winning home improvement authority and woodworking expert. Contact him by visiting his website and the blog, Maxwell’s House. You also can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook and find him on . 


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