Monday, June 21, 2010

Building Shelves

Welcome Preppers and Survivalists,

As a prepper, you and your family are going to acquire a lot of stuff, and this stuff needs to be properly stored. One way is using shelves.

Now, your shelves can be store bought or made by you and your family.

Store-bought shelves are fast. Just go to the store, lay down your money and walk out the store with your shelves, but there is a problem. Store-bought shelves may waste space, or they may not fit where you want the shelves to fit. Plus, they can be expensive.

Homemade shelves are slow. They take about one to two hours to build, and that doesn't include going to the home improvement store, but they are always the right size. Plus, you can learn and practice skills you might need in the future.

Building the Shelves

The shelves, I am going to explain how to build, use dimensional lumber. Dimensional lumber is wood that is cut to standard sizes. An example is the 2x4 (two by four). It is actually 1 1/2 inches by 3 1/2 inches.

I know; another one of those "secrets" nobody tells you about until you ask, and I forgot the reason why 2x4s are really 1 1/2 by 3 1/2s

So on with the building.

First, you're going to need a plan because home-built shelves can be any width, depth, or height. Plus, the spacing between the shelves can be customized. For this project, I am building an 8 foot wide shelf that is 2 feet deep and 8 feet tall. Each shelf will be 2 feet apart.

Next, assembly your stuff. You are going to need at least a hammer, a saw, and your safety gear. Don't forget the lumber and your fasteners. (nails or screws)

After you have collected your material, you will need to mark where the supports for the shelves are going to go. First, you will need to make marks for the height of each shelf. Next, you will need to make another mark for the bottom of each shelf support.

Because I am using 2x3s for the shelf supports, I make that other mark 2 1/2 inches below my marks at 2, 4, 6, and 8 feet on the 2x4. This insures my shelves will be 2, 4, 6, and 8 feet above the floor.

If you want to use 2x4s for the shelf supports, you will need to make your other mark for cutting 3 1/2 inches below your shelf height marks.

If you click on the above picture, you will notice my cuts on each of the 2 x 4s. You will also see a "W" written on the waste piece; I will be knocking out with a hammer. Also notice, I was cutting into the thinnest side of the 2x4s, so I made my marks for cutting on that side.

If you are using a handsaw, you will have to draw a line 1 1/2 inches long on the longest side, so you know how deep to make your cut.

If you are using a circular saw, you can set the blade to the correct depth by taking a 2x3 and lay it on its side. (For the next step, please, make sure the saw is unplugged)

Next, place the circular saw on top of the lumber and adjust the blade until the blade is a little past the bottom of the 2x3. After you plug in the saw, put your safety glasses on, and your ear protection on because you're ready to start cutting.

When I am using a circular saw, I am very careful to know where my fingers (and other body parts) are at all times. Heck, I try to curl my fingers, so I don't cut them off. Plus, I always take my time, too.

Now, folks I try to complete every step before moving on to the next step. Measure and mark all the 2x4 s then I make all my cuts to the 2x4s. Then I knock the cut pieces out ... and so on. This seems to make the shelf building go so much quicker.

In the above photo, you can see the cuts I made using a circular saw. Notice, each cut is the same depth. Also notice that I cut each line that I drew. This insures that the notch for the support will be large enough for the support.

Now about that chisel and mallet that you have seen in previous pictures.

Originally I was going to cut a line using the chisel to connect between each of my cuts.

Bad idea because it is a waste of time. Instead I hit the small piece of lumber between each cut with a hammer.

I sacrifice some neatness for speed doing it this way and it's not a big sacrifice on neatness. (You will have to watch out for splinters though)

If you expand the picture to the left, you will notice a 4 between two lines marked on the right 2x4, that is where the four foot shelf should be when I'm finished.

After you have knocked all the waste pieces out of the 2x4s, take a minute to clean up because you now have 24 little blocks of wood underfoot. Next, you will need to cut two 2x3s into 21 inch long pieces, These eight 21 inch pieces will act as supports for the plywood shelves. (You'll get four 21 inch pieces from each 2 x 3)

Assembling the Shelf Supports

If you have room, lay out the 2x4s on the floor then attach the shelf supports with your choice of fasteners. (screws or nails)

I didn't have room to do that, so I leaned the 2x4s up against the wall and nailed the supports to the 2x4 uprights. Next, I measured two feet from each end then nailed a 21 inch piece of 2x3 to the shelf support. After I did that I turned the whole thing around.

Now, I had a concrete wall to act as a support to assist me in nailing everything. If you have drywall, you can take a piece of lumber to place between the wall and wood that you are nailing to keep from punching through the drywall.

Next, I placed a notched 2x4 in the middle. Do not nail this piece. It has to "float" so the plywood shelves can be easily positioned. Next, I leaned two other notched 2x4s against the wall and nailed the 2x3s to them, just like the first set. Once that was finished, I measured two feet from each end and made a mark. I positioned the 2x3s that are sticking out then nailed the 21 inch pieces of 2x3s to the shelf supports.

The steps above take some "wiggling and jiggling" to get everything in the right position, but as you can see in the photo to the left everything worked out.

With all the supports done, I was ready to cut the oriented strand board (OSB). I prefer to use plywood, but for this project we used OSB for the shelves.

The thickness of the OSB and the plywood are not important because the supports will end up supporting the shelves.

With that said, I try to use at least 1/4 inch plywood, but I have never used thicker than 3/8 plywood for shelves.

Since a whole sheet of plywood is 4 feet by 8 feet, you can get four (2 feet by 4 feet) shelves from one sheet of plywood.

To cut the plywood, you will need to mark the plywood. First, measure 24 inches (2 feet) from the (4 foot wide) shortest end. You will need to make at least three marks to insure a straight line. The first mark should be about 6 inches from the longest edge, the next mark in the middle, and the last mark about 6 inches from the other end.

In the picture to the right, I used a 2 x 3 as my straight edge. The pen and tape measure show where two of the three marks are located. Once the straight edge is lined up, I draw a line using the 2 x 3 as a guide.

If all three marks don't line up on the straight edge, you will need to remeasure because one of the marks was mis-measured.

Remember, measure twice, cut once.

Once you have finished cutting your plywood into four 2 feet by 4 feet shelves, you will need to notch each corner to fit onto the supports.

To do this, measure 1 1/2 inches from the short side and 3 1/2 inches from the long side of the OSB/plywood then cut.

When you make these cuts, you can do this two ways. The first way is to saw until you get to the end of the line then stop. Next take a handsaw and cut the little bit of wood that remains holding the little chunk of wood.

The second way is to just keep cutting until the small piece of would falls off.

On the other side, you are going to do the same thing but measure 3/4 of an inch from the short side and 3 1/2 inches from the long side of the OSB/plywood then cut.

There is a reason for this madness.

The sides of the shelves will go all the way to the wall, and ...

(To the left is the 1 1/2 inch by 3 1/2 inch cuts)

(To the right is the 3/4 of an inch by 3 1/2 inch cut)

they meet in the middle. This prevents stuff from dropping off the ends of the shelves and through the middle of the shelves.

That's it. The shelves are finished.

Not really because if you expand the picture to the right, you will notice another 2x4 notched every 12 inches connected to the side of the shelves.

We are planning to expand the shelves along a 20 foot wall, so we did some pre-building to help us.

Materials Needed:
6 - 2" x 4" x 96"
10 - 2" x 3" x 96"
2 - sheets 4' x 8' plywood
32 - screws or nails 2 1/2 inches long

Tools Needed:
Saw, curricular or hand
Screwdriver or Electric Drill with proper Drill Bit

Safety Equipment:
Hearing Protection
Eye Protection
Your Brain


Wikipedia - Lumber

Wikipedia - Oriented Strand Board

I tried to take pictures as I was completing this project. In some cases, I took some good pictures; in others, I didn't take a good example. Plus, I have some that don't fit into the post.

Here's one of them. This is a picture of two 2x4s, one notched every 24 inches the other notched every 12 inches. The 2x4 notched every 24 inches; we used in this post. The 12 inch notched 2x4; we will use when we expand the shelves.

We attached them by nailing them together with 3 inch nails. Yeah, 3 inch nails that stick out of 3 inches of lumber.

To prevent the nails from sticking out and hurting someone (me). We hammered them at an angle. Plus, you can see how I took some shorter scrap pieces of lumber and used them to make the 12 inch notched piece.

In this picture, you can see how I attached the 2x3 shelf support to the 2x4.

I forgot to take a picture showing how it would look attached with just one 2x4.

Plus, you can see a cheat I made. I accidentally broke off a small section of the scrap lumber. The accident required me to nail a little piece of wood to the bottom to fix it.

Now, about some of the pictures I didn't take. One is how I attached the shelves. I don't; they will stay in place because of the notches in the plywood except the piece for the top shelf. It has to be screwed or nailed down. Plus, the top piece doesn't have any notches, since it sits on top.

Another picture, I didn't take, deals with how I solved some of the problems I encountered. I step back, take a breath, and think of a solution. If it's wrong, I try another solution. I try to refrain from any cutting to solve a problem because I can't put wood back on in most cases.

Lastly, If the shelves start to bow, you need to add another notched 2x4 to the front and back of the shelf supports. This happened to me when I was making the shelf supports out of 1x2s. To correct the problem, without having to rebuild everything, I added a notched 2x4 (front and back) to the shelf supports.

OK. Really lastly. I have made about 20 sets of these shelves. They have been different heights, depths, widths, and spacing between shelves. My first set was made from found lumber. On that set, I used parts of a water bed and used nails that I straightened with a hammer.

I have improved with each set built, but I still make mistakes. That's why a serious prepper practices their skills; you get better doing them, most of the time ; )

Update: 19 July 2010
I made a mistake in the length of the pieces of lumber that go between the shelf supports. They should be 21 inches long not 20 inches long [24 inches - 3 inches (1 1/2 inch + 1 1/2 inch wide lumber) = 21 inches]. It has been corrected in the article.

If you have already built your shelves and need to correct my mistake here are three solutions that involves no money.

Cut all the notches in the OSB/plywood 1/2 inch longer. Instead of 3 1/2 inches they will need to be 4 inches. This will give the shelf a 1/2 inch overhang, front and back.


Make the front notch 1 inch longer, 4 1/2 inches not 3 1/2 inches, this will give an overhang of 1 inch.


Cut the OSB/plywood shelves to 23 inches depth then cut the notches as stated in the article. You will have 23 inch deep shelves.