A couple of months ago hubby and I built a few storage shelves for our basement. We have lived in our home for 4 months now, and I wish I was exaggerating when I say that we haven’t really unpacked yet. Don’t believe me? Here’s proof.
When late spring rolled through, it brought some pretty consistent rainy days. If the rain wasn’t an issue, mud certainly was. Oh my word, the mud…that’s a story for another day.
But with a solid 10 days or so of rain (and mud), our outdoor projects were halted. If the rain and mud weren’t an issue, the mosquitoes were. Seeing rain in the forecast prior to the rain actually coming, we hit up the hardware store and stocked up on lumber so we could begin a weekend project of building some storage shelves for the basement. The idea was to at least get boxes off of the floor and bring some order to the madness.
I’ll give you the basic instructions for this project, but you can use these instructions as a guide for any size unit you want to build. I know there are many experienced folk out there that could eyeball this, measure everything, cut everything, assemble pieces, and it would end up perfect.
But we like to complicate things around here and live life on the edge of sanity.
This may seem like a lot of steps, but honestly, once we figured out the basic steps, it was relatively easy to build these. We ended up building three of these units in one day.
We measured, cut, and built each section as we were going along, rather than measure and cut everything all at the same time.
Here is a picture of the end product for the largest system we built. You’ll notice that we did not add any additional supports in the center. In researching how to build these, we saw some that showed additional uprights and some that didn’t. In the end, we went with the simpler design because the items we need to store on the shelf would not weigh enough to jeopardize the stability of the shelves.
To build one, you’ll need 3 measurements. The total width, the depth, and the height. For this one pictured, we wanted 8 feet wide, 21(ish) inches deep, and 6.5 feet high.
So to make this one, you would need a total of  2″ x 4″ x 8′ boards and 2 sheets of plywood (or similar) board, plus screws and casters. We used 3-inch and 1.5-inch wood screws. And obviously, you’ll need some power tools. We used a table saw, cordless drill, three different bits, and an impact driver.
We wanted to make the fewest number of cuts possible. Since the main storage area of our basement had a wall space about 12-feet long, we decided to keep it as simple as possible, and go with an 8 foot length. This meant we did not have to cut half of the 2x4s we needed since they are already in 8-foot lengths.
We began by measuring off 18-inches from four of the 2x4s. As you can see in the picture above, the 18-inch pieces will be the depth support in the shelves. We used four for each shelf. Also, for each of these  boards, we cut one 18-inch piece off of one board, thereby giving us the  6.5-foot uprights we needed for the unit as well as  of the short-side framing supports.
We still needed another  18-inch short-side framing supports, so we measured and cut those from  more 2×4 boards, with minimal scrap.
So if you’re keeping a tally, we now have all  2x4s accounted for.
-  at 8-foot lengths, shelving frames-long side
-  at 6.5-foot lengths, uprights, set aside for later
-  cut into [qty 12] at 18-inch lengths, shelving frames-short side
Now that all of your 2 x 4s have been cut, you can start assembling the frames for the shelves. I know you are thinking that I forgot to tell you to measure and cut the plywood. But the way we built them, we built the framing first so we could get an exact measurement on the width for each shelf. We had several different batches of lumber we were using, and not all lumber is cut perfectly straight, nor are they exact in measurements. So we built just the frames, and then took exact measurements for the shelf boards. Am I making any kind of sense at all?
Assembling the shelf frames
To assemble the shelf frames, you will need  of the 8-foot long boards and  of the 18-inch boards for each. To prevent your boards from splitting, you’ll want to drill pilot holes. Clamp your boards together to prevent the boards from slipping. Or have someone hold them really really super duper tight while while you drill pilot holes. We drilled from the side of the long boards into the 18-inch boards. Do wha?? See picture below.
As you can see in the picture, we drilled/screwed the holes in to hold the 18-inch boards from the side of the longer boards. I’m sure there’s a technical term for all of this. But just follow the picture and put the thing on the thing. I’m pretty sure I’m making myself perfectly clear. But in case you’re still not tracking, just keep reading. After the next step there will be another picture and you can see the screws in that picture. Also, to ensure your boards are held together nice and strong, use two screws at each joint. Once we had the basic shape secured, we added the middle supports.
Go ahead and build all of your frames, as many as you want. For this DIY, we made 3 shelves.
Cutting shelf boards
Once your frames are built, take exact measurements. Here is where that rule
measure once cut twice measure twice cut once is really important. Seriously. Measure the length at both sides on the lengths and widths. I’m hearing crickets. Mmkay…so when I wrote that out, I confused myself. Here’s a picture I just now took because I didn’t actually take one of this step in the original DIY process. So this picture is not showing the measurements we are using for this DIY.
Does that make any kind of sensical reason now? So, for instance, if the length on one side is 96″ exactly but the opposite length is 95-1/4 you’re going to want to know that before you cut your plywood pieces. We have found that we can have any oddball number of uneven measurements on those longer pieces. Unless you’re just that good and a master builder and you measured the long boards before you assembled them to ensure their equality before you assembled the framing. Me? I like to be surprised. Also, at this point, stop where you are and go back a few steps to before you assembled the frames and measure your long boards to ensure they are of equal length. Just sayin’.
Each plywood board would give us two shelves. We made several units of various sizes, so we did not have much scrap here. If you’re only making this one unit, you’ll have just over half of a plywood sheet left over for another use.
Here’s a tip for drawing out your measurements on the plywood: use one of your longboards to help with getting your marks in place to ensure straight lines. We chose to set marks in place using the tape measure, marking the board every 18- to 24-inches, then connecting all those marks with one continuous line the required length so as not to lose our exact dimensions as we were cutting the boards. We may or may not have learned the hard way that eyeballing the line from marks that are spaced can result in uneven cuts. 😐
Finishing the shelves
Now that you have your shelf board cut to size, align the board onto the frame and either clamp it in place or have your trusty board holder hold the boards super duper tight in place while you drill pilot holes into each corner and secure the board in place with the smaller screws, being careful that you avoid the larger framing screws already in place. After you have each corner secured, secure the board every 12-18 inches using pilot holes and screws.
Now that your shelf boards are done, you can work on the uprights. We chose to add casters to ours so that the shelves could easily be moved. Because let’s be honest here, these things is a-hevv-ey. You could skip this step if you so choose. The uprights are the first  boards you cut 18-inch sections off of and then set aside.
Drill the holes using the fat daddy drill bit. You’ll need to use your casters as the guide for how big and deep to drill these holes. For this unit, we bought the large casters. We had to use the largest bit we had and still had to drive it around to get a larger hole than the bit could do. You’ll need to drill in as deep as the caster spike is long. Whatchyoutalkinboutwillis?
I have no idea how to word that. If you’ve got any casters, you’ll see what I’m talking about. The part that goes into the board to hold it in place. That’s what I’m talking ’bout. It’s ok if the hole is a little loose, because it’s really not fun or easy to get the caster in place with an exact fit. If you’re using casters, you’ll see what I mean. The weight of the unit itself will hold the casters in place once the whole thing is done.
Assembling the big boy
Ok, so now that all your parts are ready, it’s time to assemble them all into one ginormous beauty. Let’s get started.
Remember those four long boards you were supposed to either set aside or add casters to? It’s their time to shine. Go ahead and get those ready while I take a coffee break.
To make this part easier, we arranged all of the completed shelves on their long sides facing the same direction and spaced them approximately how far apart we wanted them. Make sure they are all laying on one of the long sides with the flat tops facing the same direction. Once you have the general spacing, it doesn’t have to be exact yet, place one of your uprights on a corner. We found it easier to work with the top shelf first. Also, we wanted the top shelf flush with the top of the upright and spaced as evenly as possible, leaving enough space under the bottom shelf that we could slide larger items underneath it if we wanted to. Remember, if you are adding casters to your shelf, they will add to the height of your finished product, so take that into consideration when determining the right size for the space you have.
Again, you’ll need clamps or a helper to hold the boards in place while you drill pilot holes and attach the upright to the top shelf. Use two screws at each section that needs to be attached. Do the top shelf in one corner, and then repeat the steps to attach the second upright in the other corner. I’m sorry I did not take many pictures of these steps.
To this point, you should have all three shelves on the floor with 2 uprights attached to two of the top shelf corners. The other shelves are in approximate place to support the upright as you work.
After you’ve secured the two corners on the top shelf, measure the distance you want to the next shelf. Repeat the steps to attach each shelf in place. Be sure to use two screws for each joint, and also be careful to avoid the existing screws from the shelf frames or shelf tops.
When you have finished these steps, you should have two uprights and three shelves secured in place. For this next step, you will definitely need another set of hands to assist in turning the beast over. Here is a picture of the shelves to this point, midway through the turning over step.
After you turn the unit over, repeat the steps to attach the last 2 uprights on the other long sides, being careful to use the same measurement spacing between shelves as you did on the first side.
That’s it! The most basic, simplest 299-step DIY to gain valuable storage space in your unfinished basement!
It really is pretty easy to build these once you understand the basic steps.
- Determine your measurements
- Cut lumber to those measurements
- Frame the shelves
- Attach the shelves to uprights
Here are the completed shelving units we made in one day.
As you can see, we still have boxes on the floor. We are in the process of building one more medium size unit, but we are waiting for either a sweltering humid day or another rainy day to finish it.
Finally, I’m sure you may be wondering what it costs to build one of these and if the DIY resulted in any value over buying shelves already made. There are two answers to this. But basically yes and no. It was cheaper for us to build than to buy.
Yes, it’s cheaper if you already have the tools and if you happen to have lumber or at least some of the supplies needed. It’s definitely cheaper if you want a large unit such as the one in this DIY. But the answer would be no if you did not already have the tools and screws, because the screws (and casters) can set you back your firstborn. We priced out a 4×6-foot wide metal unit at Lowes for $90. With supplies we already had on hand, we spent less than that on all three, not counting the casters.
I hope you found this DIY to be helpful, or at the very least entertaining. Also, do you know anyone who would be willing to finish our basement? We have a budget of $2 we would like to spend on it. Any takers?