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How to Build DIY Garage Shelves

If you’re running out of storage or simply want to take advantage of unused wall space in your garage, shelves are the answer. These simple shelves are easy to build, sturdy, and inexpensive.

A woman constructing shelves in her garage iStock

When it comes to garage storage, a sturdy set of DIY garage shelves are pretty tough to beat. They’re easy and inexpensive to build, and they take advantage of unused vertical wall space.

And, since they’re a DIY project, they’re even customizable. Best of all, these shelves will keep tools, totes, equipment, and other items neatly organized and off the floor. Here’s how to tackle this DIY garage shelf project for your space.

How to Build DIY Garage Shelves

DIY garage shelving unit Ian Warpole

The following guide is totally customizable, but we’ll focus on building one shelving unit with 48-inch wide by 16-inch deep shelves. Feel free to adjust those measurements as needed, but recognize that you’ll need more (or less) materials. Also, do your best to design your custom shelf to be as efficient with those materials as possible.

Also, due to this project’s size, it’s best to have a flat spot like a driveway or garage floor to work on.

Step 1: Cut the legs to length

Place four studs on edge, side by side, and ensure that they’re evenly aligned on one end. Hooking the aligned end with the tape measure, mark one of the boards at 72 inches. Lay the speed square on the boards and transfer this mark to all four. Then, using the circular saw or miter saw (with proper safety gear), cut each board to length at the mark.

Step 2: Cut the shelf frames to width

Place another four studs side by side and align the ends. Use the tape measure to mark one of the studs at 48 inches. Again, use the speed square to transfer this mark across all four studs. Cut all four of the studs with the miter or circular saw, resulting in eight 48-inch-long boards.

Step 3: Cut the shelf frames to depth

Place two studs side by side and align their ends. Use the tape measure to mark one stud every 13 inches (13, 26, 39, 52, 65, 78, and 91 inches). Transfer these marks across both studs with the speed square. Use the miter or circular saw to cut the boards at all six marks, resulting in twelve 13-inch-long boards.

Step 4: Pre-drill

Pre-drill the 48-inch boards, drilling two holes in the face of the board, ¾ of an inch from each edge. Also, drill two holes in each of these boards at 24 inches (center).

Step 5: Assemble the frames

Separate the boards into four piles of two 48-inch boards and three 13-inch boards, with the shorter boards stretching between the longer boards at the pre-drilled locations.

Working with one frame at a time, apply a bit of glue or construction adhesive to the edge of each short board and place them between the 48-inch boards to form the frame. Use the 2 ½-inch wood screws to attach the shorter boards to the longer boards, taking care to keep the frame as square as possible during assembly. Repeat with the other three frames.

Step 6: Cut the plywood

Cut the remaining stud in half and use both halves to lift the plywood off the ground. Use the tape measure and chalk line or T-square to mark across the short side of the plywood at 16-inch increments (16, 32, 48, and 64 inches). With the circular saw unplugged or battery removed, adjust the saw blade’s depth to roughly 1 inch. Taking care to position the scrap studs underneath the plywood, cut the plywood along the marks, producing four 48-inch by 16-inch plywood boards.

Don’t throw away the extra plywood as you’ll use it for bracing later in the project.

Step 7: Attach the plywood to the frames

Apply wood glue or construction adhesive to the top edges of the shelf frames and place the plywood on top. Taking care to ensure that the frames are square, align the plywood as best as possible. Pre-drill around the perimeter of the plywood and attach it to the frame with 1 ¼-inch wood screws.

Repeat for the other three shelves.

Note: It’s more important that the frames be square than the plywood. As long as the plywood isn’t overhanging the frame, it will work. If the plywood does overhang the frame, assemble the shelf and carefully trim the plywood with the circular saw.

Step 8: Mark the legs

Place all four of the 72-inch legs side by side, this time on their flat (the wider dimension). Ensuring that their ends are even, mark one board at 2 inches, 24 inches, 46 inches, and 68 inches. Use the speed square to transfer these marks across all four boards.

These marks represent where the bottom of each shelf frame should sit to provide 18 inches of space between each shelf. It will also provide a slight toe kick, allowing you to get a little closer when lifting heavy objects.

Step 9: Attach the shelves to the legs

Lay two the legs approximately 13 inches apart on the floor with the shelf location marks facing up. Starting at the top, apply glue or adhesive above the mark and place a completed shelf frame on top. Align the bottom of the frame with the marks before pre-drilling from the inside of the shelf and drive two 2 ½-inch wood screws into each leg.

Repeat the process with the other three shelves, being careful to align the bottom of each shelf with the lines.

With the four shelves attached to two of the legs, leave the unit on its side and lay the two remaining legs on top, marked sides up. Working with one leg at a time, apply a bit of adhesive or glue above each line before flipping the leg over and laying it in place. Align the bottom of the frame with the marks before pre-drilling and driving 2 ½-inch screws through the inside of the frame and into the legs (this is where squeeze clamps can come in handy, though they’re optional).

Repeat the process with the other leg.

Step 10: Stand and brace the shelf

With help, stand the shelf upright. It might feel slightly wobbly, but you’ll fix that in this step. First, pre-drill from the outside of the legs and drive two screws through the face of the legs and into the long boards at the front and back of each shelf frame.

Next, cut six right triangles from the remaining plywood, with the square sides measuring approximately 8 inches long. These triangles will form gussets that prevent the shelf from racking or wobbling. Using the 1 ¼-inch wood screws, attach the gussets to the back of the shelving unit, one at each shelf corner. Each gusset should lay flush against the back of the frame and the legs.

Bottomline

Between the sturdy construction, adhesive, and extra bracing, these shelves will hold a lot of weight without sagging or failing. With 18 inches of space between each shelf, they’ll also hold large totes, tools, and other storage items. Without a big investment, you’ll be well on the way to an organized garage.


What You Need

Materials

Tools