Cheap, Easy-to-Build Wood Storage Shelves

| 11/6/2009 3:13:03 PM

Tags: DIY, DIY project,

If you have an unfinished basement, a garage or a storage shed, you can store much more in it if you have shelves. Built-in shelves are great, but if you’re renting or want the flexibility to rearrange the shelving units, you could make some free-standing shelves. Here’s a simple method for building some inexpensive wood storage shelves — and you can build them without power tools.

cheap shelving unit

Materials to make two shelving units:

  • 1 1/2-inch-thick sheet of plywood or oriented strand board (OSB). A full sheet is 4-feet-by-8-feet. Cost: about $7.50
  • 16 8-foot 2-by-4s. Cost: $1.85 x 16 = $29.60
  • 5 pounds of 3-inch deck screws. Cost: $28.24. You could probably find cheaper screws.


1) Cut the 4-foot-by-8-foot sheet of plywood or OSB into six pieces that are 4 feet by 16 inches. This requires five cuts. The lumberyard or building center where you buy the materials might cut the plywood for you if you don’t have a power saw. Accounting for the width of the saw blade, these pieces will be slightly less than 16 inches wide.

2) Cut 12 pieces of 2-by-4 to 13 inches, for the end supports of the shelves.

3) Cut six of the 2-by-4s in half. These will be slightly less than 48 inches and used to support shelves between uprights.

4) Make six frames for the shelves. Put the 13-inch pieces between the ends of the 48-inch pieces and join each corner with two screws.

8/7/2013 11:02:18 AM

The name I chose says it all. I just rip 2- 4X8 sheets of 3/4" plywood (or OSB )lengthwise (4 - 24"x 96" pieces) then lay down 8 2x4 studs tight together and cut notches across all at once 3/4" wide X 1-1/2 deep at 2' increments vertically. This gives a 2' X 8' set of 4 shelves..Plan ahead to fit what you want to store.

the point is you don't need 2X4 s horizontally to support the plywood. I've used this method in construction storage sheds for HEAVY items like jack hammers and cases of nails etc. The horizontal 2x4s decrease the access needlessly - sometimes such that a container won't fit.

Just keep the notches tight and screw(or nail) into the shelf board in the center to lock it all together. The verticals are movable so as to allow placement to fit containers. The shelves are not destroyed and so can be re-used if necessary.

I've even used this method in a moving truck so as to allow stacking of houshold items to best use the space, then set up the shelves in the garage of new home to allow sorting while un packing.

hope this helps

8/7/2013 10:35:42 AM

sorry the strapping they are referring to is what I call plumbers strap and not furring strips. 


8/7/2013 10:30:23 AM

I see a few people asking about strapping and I'm not 100% sure but I believe what they are referring to is furring strips. These are much cheaper and since they will be used in a way that puts them so they are holdind the wieght with there width and not thee thickness they do a fine job. You will want to be sure to screw the plywood to the strips in front and back so they can't bow in or out but for holding up the wieght they will do fine.

8/7/2013 9:55:06 AM

Fast,easy,cheap strapping, go to the supply house of your choice, look or ask in the plumbing,or hvac dept dept for strapping. It will come in small rolls (metal and a grey plastic) that are about 1/2" wide with holes punched in it along its lenght. Have notice no difference between the two although I do use the plastic in wet walls,areas that are moist an to me always in applications that have vibrations,ie plumbing. It's versatility on the job sites has made it a constant mainstay in my supply box over the yrs

8/7/2013 8:47:04 AM

I've bilt these with furring strips and helf inch plywood, and they are sturdy enough to hold a LOT of weight.  2 x 4s are kind of overkill unlesss you are storing boxes of rocks.

jonny appleseed
11/30/2011 5:13:52 PM

Coming from earthquake country (which we all do really) I would recommend adding some 16p nails along with the 3" screws. The screws hold tight but have the potential to sheer in an earthquake. The nails do not hold as well but will not sheer off. Also attaching the tops to the floor joist is a must in addition to anchoring the shelving to the floor. Not a real big issue for what Troy has on his shelves but if you have food storage in glass jars it is a must. We also have strapping around the shelving about 3 inches up to help prevent things from dropping off in a small quake. Our jars are kept in cardboard boxes with cardboard dividers to help reduce the possibility of breakage during an earthquake. No illusions as these are just small fixes to deal with the tremblors we get. When the big one comes we have a shovel, mop and garbage can to deal with the mess that will follow.

ron willing_1
10/20/2010 1:41:57 PM

I just made shelves like these for the local Red Cross shelter truck. A note of intrest, you can get 3 wider shelves by cutting the plywood into 3 32" X 4' sections. 2 of them make an 8' shelf. Also, ask for plywood 'blows' which are cheap.

william hathaway
10/20/2010 9:09:38 AM

I hooked mine to the floor joist.A lot more stable and I can sweep under them.You dont need as strong of lumber pulling down as holding up

randy c almendinger_3
1/29/2010 6:22:08 PM

Like the first post, about 25 years ago I used doors also, but I got really cheap full size interior doors. All I did adjust the dimensions. They are still holding up today! Thanks TMEN for all the great articles. A reader since 1974.

1/13/2010 6:51:36 PM

I did something similar but in the spirit of recycling I found a pack of 8 closet doors that someone was throwing out. These worked great as they are stiff enough to support the weight, have very smooth surface, will not sag and are the perfect size to store totes and bulk food storage. Best thing of all they were free ;o) The rest of the framing and support was left overs from other projects so an overall good use of material at very low cost.

1/13/2010 1:17:16 PM

I made similar shelves to these, although I took another approach that used a bit less lumber. Because the plywood is cut into smaller pieces, you don't need so much reinforcement. I used a 2x3 board and screwed it to just the front edge of each shelf. I then screwed a 2x2 to the wall, my garage has exposed framing but you can use a stud finder and do the same. You then attach teh piece of plywood, which has a 2x3 attached to just the front edge, to this 2x2, screwing the plywood into the top of the 2x2. Then use a 2x4 for the vertical support, 1 at each end of the shelf, using a level to mark where to attach to the 2x4. I used 2-3 screws driven through the 2x4 into the end of the 2x3, drill pilot holes to minimize a chance of splits. With this setup, it takes you 1 piece of plywood, 2 pieces of 2x3, 2 pieces of 2x2, and 2 pieces of 2x4.

paul _1
1/13/2010 12:04:51 PM

I need to make some shelves that are similar, but I need to make them lockable, any insight as to how to enclose and lock these safely? Also, can Dave expand on the strapping he used instead of 2x4s?

1/13/2010 10:35:50 AM

I have made shelves similar to these and have found that using 2x2 for the shelf supports works just as well and cost less. I used 3/4 plywood for the shelving and 2x4 for the shelf supports. Also, if installing in an unfinished basement, cappint the tops of the shelf supports with framing grade 2x and the bottoms with pressure treated 2x, you can create a pressure fit between the basement floor and the floor joists above. My shelved are going to have to come out with a saw or sledge hammer.

bob hines
1/6/2010 2:25:49 PM

Concerning Dave's comments on the wood storage shelves on your website - he said he used strapping instead of 2x4's - Could you explain further - I don't know what you mean "strapping" Bob

11/19/2009 8:09:50 PM

I would like Mother Earth to show how to use PVC pipe to form a storage unit for the small and large Tote Boxes. At present they are stacked on top of each other and it is bothersome to get at the ones on the bottom. I have the 2x4 shelves in the other part of the cellar. Works and takes the weight

11/11/2009 3:37:10 PM

I have used strapping instead of the 2x for the shelf stiffeners. It's quite a bit cheaper, the stiffeners occupy less space, and the shelves seem just as strong. I screw the plywood to the strapping at about 12 inch spacing with drywall screws.

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