Build Your Own Low-Cost Wall Rack

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In these illustrated figures, we can see how the author used his kitchen-table woodworking method to square corners, use books for weight and aligning layers.
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Strong and trim, this handsome wall rack holds more than 40 cans, jars, bottles, and boxes between a door and window.
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A charming spice rack with lots of room for tall jars.

You don’t need a fine workshop to build these problem-solving projects!

You say you’re up to your boot tops in cans, cartons, bottles, and jars of food . . . because there’s no place in your kitchen to store them all? You tell me you need some shelves . . . maybe an attractive, inexpensive wall rack to take care of the clutter? You say you’d like to build one yourself, but you have few tools, little carpentry experience, and no workbench? Is that what’s bothering you, friend? Well, buck up, because we recently faced that same situation at our house!

With the pantry filled to bursting, we needed more kitchen storage space. The wall rack that I found myself trying to design had to meet the usual criteria of being reasonably eye appealing and low-cost, and — in addition — it needed to be:

[1] strong enough to support 60 or 70 pounds of food,

[2] built with a minimum of equipment (and skill), and

[3] constructed right on the kitchen table . . . because I had no other indoor work area, and the temperature outside was -15 degrees Fahrenheit.

However, I was able to overcome all of those handicaps . . . by using a technique I call “kitchen-table woodworking”. It’s simple, clean, and can save a lot of work because it allows the would-be builder to take advantage of two factors:

[1] Preshaped molding is readily available from virtually any lumber company, and

[2] millwork shops, and many lumberyards, will cut that wood to size (and do so with great accuracy) for a small fee. The design I worked out was successful, and — I was glad to find — proved easy to adapt to numerous other projects . . . all of which required nothing more than molding (cut to whatever length I needed), professional wood glue, and a sturdy work surface.

A Wall-Hung Can Rack

To begin making my shelf, I measured the available space in my kitchen and worked up a basic design. The can holder would be 3′ vide, 4′ tall, and approximately 3″ deep, with eight shelves. Because the rack’s 3″ depth would accommodate regular cans but not the larger bottles and boxes we also needed to store, I decided to extend the two bottom shelves, making these 4″ deep.

Preshaped molding is straight and smooth, and can be purchased in various sizes and configurations. For example, three types that are generally available in my area are parting stop (1/2″ X 3/4″), lattice (1/8″ X 1 1/2″), and banister (3/4″ X 3/4″), all of which come in lengths of 14′ or less. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Molding names and specifications often vary from one region to another, so the amateur woodworker should learn what’s available locally, and plan accordingly.) To build my shelf, I ordered 72′ of parting stop cut into 3′ lengths (three pieces per shelf for eight shelves), and 24′ cut into 4′ lengths (three pieces per side for two sides). In addition, I purchased two 3′ lengths (for shelves) and a pair of 10″ strips (for side pieces) to construct the extended bottom shelves. By having these trimmed to size at the lumberyard, I was able to be sure that the lengths were all exactly the same.

Once I got the wood home, I cleared the kitchen table and set it up for working by drawing a right-angle grid along one side and across one end, and marking off lines in 2″ increments. Then, using these scribes as guides, I laid down the first two 4′ side pieces. Next, I positioned the 3′ top and bottom shelf sections (see Fig. 1 in Image Gallery). When everything was perfectly square, I lifted up one end of a shelf piece and very carefully placed a fat drop of wood glue underneath . . . to secure it to the side piece on which it rested. I repeated this operation on all four corners, readjusting the squareness as necessary, and “clamped” the corners by the old-fashioned gravity method: laying a second strip of wood next to the ones being glued and placing a heavy book on top of the joints.

After taking a 15-minute break to allow the adhesive to set up, I marked the positions for the remaining shelves. To accommodate larger boxes and cans, I measured 8 1/2 inches up my side piece from the bottom shelf, Pod made a pencil mark. A 3/4″ space followed that, to allow for the second shelf’s molding. When I marked off another 8 1/2″ space and a second 3/4″ one, I knew where to put the two shelves that would hold the bigger items. And, since I wanted the remaining racks to hold only regular-sized cans, I made them each 5″ high, again leaving a 3/4″ space between each one for the molding strips.

Next, I put a drop of glue in the middle of every 3/4″ space, and positioned the remaining shelves so that each one was exactly centered inside the marks. To weight down the shelf pieces while the glue set, I laid two 4′ moldings down the center of the rack, spaced 6 inches apart, and put several heavy books on top (as shown in Fig. 2 in Image Gallery). 1 removed the books and loose molding 15 minutes later, put a drop of glue on each end of every shelf strip, and laid down the second layer of side pieces. To do so, I simply eyeballed where the glue should go, then made my final adjustments by setting two soup cans against each first-layer shelf and nudging the corresponding second-layer shelf up against them, insuring that the two layers were perfectly aligned (see Fig. 3 in Image Gallery). The third and (partial) fourth layers were added in the same manner as was the second.

When all the parts had been assembled and glued, I lightly sanded the outside edges and rubbed the rack with a penetrating oil stain. Finally, I mounted it on the wall by attaching four angle irons to the wall studs and hanging the rack on them.

The can shelf served without mechanical fasteners of any kind for two years, but when my little daughter grew large enough to begin crawling, exploring, and grabbing hold of things, I drilled small holes in each joint of the rack and drove in nails for added security.

One for All

The kitchen-table woodworking method is easy and versatile, and all my other projects have followed the same basic low-cost system. Once I decided on the dimensions, I bought the molding, had it cut to size (or cut it myself, if there were only a few pieces involved), and glued it together. And, although the can rack was moderately expensive at $18.37, many of my smaller projects were real bargains. For instance, I spent only $1.40 for a spice rack, $1.15 for a knife rack, and — excluding the glass top — $3.65 for an end table. All in all, I couldn’t be happier with my woodworking technique. I take a lot of pride in having built things that we need . . . and in having paid for the “expensive” can rack with the profits from two others that I made and sold!

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