How to Build Storage Shelves for a Basement | Free-Standing Shelves
A step-by-step tutorial on how to build storage shelves for a basement that are free-standing and durable.
As you sprinkle the last few crystals of your laundry detergent into the washer, you shake the box a little harder to see if there’s any still left. Nope – it’s time to grab a new carton from the storage room.
It’s a large container you’re looking for so it should be easy to find! You enter the room and you immediately notice four other things you’ve been searching for….but no laundry detergent.
The panic doesn’t set in yet. You’ll just move a few oversized items and it’s bound to appear. There’s no way you’d ever let your inventory get so low that you don’t have ANY detergent!
Wrong. After a careful search through the clutter and a few new discoveries later (including your childrens’ excess artwork that you tried to hide), you still did not find what you were looking for.
As you pause the washer reluctantly, you decide it’s time to do something about the mess.
Our basement storage room was a disaster and needed some organization. We spent too many frustrated hours looking for things or realizing at the last minute that we didn’t have something critical in stock.
This brings us to our tutorial today on building basement storage shelves.
Here’s what our basement looked like before:
And then, after building the shelves:
It’s incredible what some 2×4’s and plywood can do to transform a disorganized room. Now we have more shelf space to put things, instead of piling them on the ground, and we can easily spot what we need.
How much does it cost to build a storage shelf?
Now, you’re probably thinking, “Yes, it looks great, but how much did it cost you?”
The total amount to build these storage shelves is about $200. This is for all four storage shelves.
Please note that this is just an estimate – your design could be smaller or larger. The cost of materials will vary depending on your needs.
Now, let’s get building!
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How to build storage shelves
- ½” plywood
- 2”x4” boards
- 2-½” wood screws
- 1-¼” wood screws
- #220 sandpaper
- table saw or circular saw
- miter saw
- orbital sander
- tape measure
- safety glasses
- face mask (for dust)
- ear protection
Design a Plan:
Like most building projects in a home, I cannot give you the exact quantity of materials you will need because every home is different. You will determine what you need for your space by creating a plan.
To help you design your storage shelf plan, I created a free printable with all the measurements I used to make my storage shelves. You can subscribe to my newsletter to receive the FREE PDF – fill out the form below if you’re interested. And, if you have questions, please visit the Q&A page on free printables/plans.
Storage shelves – FREE PLANS
Subscribe to the TwoFeetFirst newsletter and this free PDF storage shelf plan will be sent to your inbox!
Or grab a copy of the premium printable plans to build this project by clicking the button below. The premium plan walks you through every step of the build, with detailed diagrams and clearly written instructions.
Measure the size of the space:
The first thing you need to do to create your plan is to measure the dimensions of the storage room.
These dimensions will be the height of the room from floor to ceiling and the length and width of the space where you want to add shelving. If there are any windows or other immovable items in the room, you need to work around them.
For example, our storage room houses our furnace, water heater, and water softener and there is also a window in the room so I had to include these items in my plan.
Make a sketch of your room on a piece of paper, making sure to add the dimensions to this sketch. Or if you purchased my premium plan, use the grid paper provided.
Determine the distance between each shelf:
SIDE NOTE: You can use the measurements provided in the plans and skip this step but if you want to customize your plan, read on.
When drawing up your plan, think about what items you want to store on each shelf. This will help you determine the space you need between each shelf.
For example, the longer shelves in my plan are taller because I wanted to store plastic tubs on these. I determined the size of the plastic tubs and added 1” to give me the space I needed between those shelves.
Use the piece of paper you created your sketch on and make a list of the different heights needed to store the items you plan on putting on the shelves. This list will help you determine the spacing needed between each shelf.
TIP: If you have two things that you want to store on the shelf, write down the measurement that is larger to allow both items to fit on the same shelf.
For example, the middle shelf in my design is for storing cans because this is my pantry. I wanted to be able to stack two cans on each shelf or store a mason jar of peaches. I took these specific measurements to determine the height I needed between each shelf.
Once you have your list of heights, it’s time to determine how many shelves you can fit.
TIP: Make sure you add an 1”-2” between each shelf to allow space to easily remove each item from the shelf.
In the plans provided, I predetermined that the tallest legs to be 76” (this will be where the top shelf will sit). Each shelf will use 2” of that measurement (½” plywood plus 1-½” 2×4).
To determine how many shelves you can fit, grab a calculator and start writing down your options.
- Distance from bottom to top shelf: 76” – 2” (top shelf) – 12” space between shelves – 2” (shelf) – 12” spacing – 2” (shelf) – 12” spacing – 2” (shelf) – 32“ amount of space under the bottom shelf.
TIP: Use my free plans or premium plans to give you some more examples.
Draw each unit of shelving:
Once you determine the spacing of your shelves, you can draw each unit of shelving in a sketch (my storage room has four units of shelving).
THINGS TO NOTE:
- You need at least four legs for each shelving unit but you might need more depending on the size. The legs are to support the weight of the shelves.
- This tutorial uses pocket holes to attach the back and some side legs to the shelves. It also uses pocket holes to secure the framing of each shelf together. Again, the free printable or premium plan shows where these pockets are placed but it’s a good idea to note them on your sketch.
- The legs have bracing to support the shelves but to also help with building the system. The leg bracing is a 3-½” block of 2×4 that will be placed on each leg at the bottom of where each shelf will be (this is explained later).
- Remember that 2×4’s come in different lengths so design your plan to fit these lengths (8’, 10’, 12’, and 16’ are common lengths). If your design is too long to fit these lengths, break up the unit into two smaller units.
- If you are building multiple units, make sure you plan on securing the units together to make them stronger with bracing; I will talk more about this later.
- I designed my shelves to be 24” deep so I could use a 4’x8’ plywood sheet cut in half to eliminate waste and to allow for easier cutting.
Design the shelf frame:
Now that you have seen an example of my plan, let’s talk about the shelf frame and how this is constructed; then, you will know how to design it.
Each shelf will be made up of its own 2×4 frame. It will have a front, back, sides, and inside support(s).
The sides and inside support will have two pocket holes on each end to attach them to the front and back pieces of the frame.
The front and back pieces could also have pocket holes to attach the legs to the frame but this will depend on the design you created.
For example, I didn’t need pocket holes for the legs for the 4-foot unit because I built this unit in the middle of the room. This gave me easy access to attach the legs from the front to the frame. The other units were too heavy and bulky to move into place after construction so they were built in place, meaning I needed to attach the back legs to the frame with pocket holes.
Create a cut list:
The plan(s) that you have created will then be used to determine the amount of wood needed for your build.
I like to create a cutting diagram for plywood sheets and board lengths to help me reduce waste.
SIDE NOTE: I explain in detail how to do this in the premium plan.
Cut the wood, add pockets, and sand:
Now that you have your plan and purchased your wood, it’s time to cut the pieces.
Use your cutting diagram, if you created one, to cut each piece of 2×4 and plywood needed for the project.
Here’s a quick list of the pieces you will be cutting:
- Leg bracing
- Frame of shelf (front, back, sides, and inside supports)
- Plywood shelf
After you have finished cutting all your pieces, add the pocket holes to all the boards that require a pocket hole to attach them to another piece of wood.
Next, using an orbital sander with #220 grit sandpaper, sand all the wood to give it a smooth finish.
Build Storage Shelves:
At this point, you’re ready to start assembling your storage shelves. But, if you are more of a visual person, I have created a video tutorial to help you see the process of assembling the shelves. And don’t forget to subscribe on YouTube so you don’t miss out on future projects!
Let me walk you through the steps.
STEP 1: Add blocking to legs
The bracing is added to the legs to support the shelf but also to help when attaching the frame to the legs. It gives the frame something to rest on.
Take the leg blocking pieces, 3-½”, and pre-drill two holes into each block. Try to center the holes and have them about 1” from the side of the block.
Then, slightly drill two – 2-½” screws into each pre-drilled hole.
TIP: You don’t want the screw protruding out the bottom.
Place all the legs for one unit on a flat surface. Clamp the legs together so that the bottom of each leg is flush with the others.
SIDE NOTE: You will be clamping the boards again so it’s helpful to place them on top of scrap 2×4’s to bring them off the floor slightly.
Mark from the bottom to the top of the legs, the distance from the floor to the first shelf.
TIP: Mark both outside legs and middle give you a straight line.
Then, take a long ruler or a scrap board and clamp the bottom edge of the board/ruler on the marks. The board/ruler will be above the marked lines because the blocking goes below the line.
Double check to make sure the distancing is correct for each leg board. If it isn’t, adjust the ruler/board or the leg.
After, place one of the blocks on the outside leg. Align the edges of the block to the edges of the leg. Then, drill the screws into the block to attach the blocking to the leg.
Complete this process for the rest of the legs.
Next, adjust the scrap board/ruler to the distance of the next shelf, using the clamps to hold the board/ruler into place.
Check your distance on each leg to this new shelf. If everything looks good, attach the blocking the same way.
Continue this process until all the legs have blocking for each shelf.
STEP 2: Build shelf frame
Now that the legs are prepared, it’s time to build the frame of each shelf.
Place the boards needed to build one shelf on a flat surface with the pocket holes facing up.
Mark where the inside support(s) will be placed on the front/back boards of the frame. After, arrange the wood to the layout needed for the frame; then, clamp the wood together.
Using 2-½” wood screws, attach the sides and inside frame pieces to the front and back pieces using the pocket holes.
Continue building the other frames for the rest of the shelves.
STEP 3: Assemble shelf frame to legs
TIP: I recommend having two people to help with this part of the assembly.
To attach the shelf frame to the legs, place the frame onto the legs so that it rests on the blocking of the legs.
SIDE NOTE: Because of the size, I recommend assembling the frame to the legs in the location you plan on the storage shelves being.
Make sure the edges of the frame are flush with the leg.
TIP: It’s helpful to use clamps to hold the frame in place.
When everything is flush, start securing the frame to the legs by pre-drilling two holes at each front leg where the frame is in line with the leg. After, attach the frame to the front legs by using 2-½” wood screws through these holes.
SIDE NOTE: I always recommend pre-drilling holes to prevent the wood from splitting when the screw is secured.
Then, attach the back legs to the frame by using the 2-½” screws through the pocket holes on the back of the frame.
STEP 4: Secure plywood top to frame
Once the frame is attached to the legs, you can install the plywood onto the frame. To do this, place the plywood on the frame; then, pre-drill holes along the outside edge of the plywood.
Drill the holes about 1” from the edge placing one about every 12”-18” inches and be mindful of where other screws are placed.
Next, secure the plywood to the frame with 1-¼” wood screws.
Complete steps 2-4 until all the shelves are installed.
TIP: Make sure you add one frame and plywood top (shelf) at a time before installing the next shelf. If you don’t, you may not be able to fit the plywood piece onto the shelf.
STEP 5: Brace the shelves together (Optional)
Once all the storage shelves are built and in place, secure them to each other using a small brace. This is optional but will help make the system stronger.
Now you have a fantastic way to organize your basement storage room. You can set up your items exactly how you want them. The best part is that you’ll quickly find what you need and you’ll also see, at a glance, what you’re running out of.
Now, maybe you can finally finish the laundry!