How I Built Heavy Duty Freestanding Shelves

Our house was a disaster zone.

A lack of storage space for our stuff, which honestly I think we have a lot less than the average couple because we are constantly purging, had caused the floor of our guest bedroom and sunroom to look like one of the over stuffed lockers on one of those storage hunter reality tv shows. After looking around what was actually cluttering our spare rooms, we came to the realization that it wasn’t an accumulation of unnecessary jello molds and triplicates of frying pans; in reality, we just didn’t have a place for any of our stuff to “live”. What this meant is that whenever we finished using the hand mixer or needed to put away our sleeping bags and tent after a camping trip, we just kind of tossed them into a spare room because we didn’t know where else to put it. I knew our stuff needed a place to live, so I thought building some heavy duty shelves would provide just the fix.

At first I considered purchasing some metal heavy duty shelves. For shelves that were truly heavy duty, we were looking at spending about $300 for the 5 @ 8′ x 2′ shelves that we were looking for. Instead, I designed the above shelves in SketchUp and priced them out to under $150. The materials list includes:

  • 16 @ 2′ x 4′ x 8′
  • 25 @ 2′ x 4′ x 21″
  • 10 @ 2′ x 4′ plywood sheets (or less if you are okay with rafter style shelves)
  • 160 3″ drywall screws
  • 100 1.25″ drywall screws

In addition to the above materials, it would be really handy to have a miter saw and nail gun on hand. Unfortunately, I have neither, so I had to cut everything on my table saw sled and use screws to attach everything together.

Here’s all of the 2′ x 4’s that will be used for the shelf frames and legs

And the 25 2′ x 4’s I cut down to size for the frame cross beams:

The first step in building the shelves is to assemble the frame for each shelf. I found that a clamp helped hold the wood together at the ends to help with the alignment and drilling.

Check the alignment of the beams before clamping them down to ensure squareness.

After checking for 90 degree angles, I drilled in only one screw into each corner so that small adjustments could be made once the rest of the cross beams were attached.

After 5 crossbeams are attached to the rails of the first frame, I checked squareness one more time, and then drilled in a second screw at each crossbeam.

I then repeated this process for 4 more frames.

Next, I attached 2’x’4 plywood sections to each frame.

At this point, I realized that I would prefer to have two separate shelving units (read: I miss-measured and needed to split the unit up so that it would fit into the room) so I cut up the 6 2′ x 4′ x 8′ leg pieces so that I would have legs for two units.

I attached the legs by laying the frames on their long sides on the ground and sliding the leg pieces underneath. Then, I checked for squareness and screwed together the frames and legs. After finishing the legs on one side, I did the same on the top side with the three remaining legs. Flip the shelving unit up off the floor and it’s done!

Loaded up with stuff. Look how nice and organized! I added some additional risers made out of plywood and 2′ x 4’s on the food shelf to make it easier to see what condiments we have.

On the second unit, I didn’t feel like buying additional plywood for the top frame, so I left it bare. This worked out well because we would be storing large things on top of it.

Originally published at on August 12, 2014.

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