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Build It: DIY Shoe Rack

Ask This Old House general contractor Tom Silva and host Kevin O’Connor build a combination bench/shoe rack out of fir decking.

When his wife asked for a shoe rack to put by the entry, TOH general contractor Tom Silva didn’t really like the flimsy construction of the ones he saw for sale. So he went to his drawing board and designed this Craftsman-inspired, solid-wood version sturdy enough to also serve as a bench.

The material Tom chose for this project—clear, vertical-grain Douglas fir boards—is lightweight and easily worked but also quite strong. Dabs of wood glue keep the slats in place, but it’s pocket screws, driven at a low angle across each joint, that do most of the work in holding this piece together. A specialized jig and drill bit guarantee that the process of making holes for the screws is fast and consistent.

Consistency is also crucial when cutting and shaping the many pieces that go into this rack. Tom achieved that with a miter saw and a table saw. The miter saw, equipped with stop blocks, ensured all cuts were the same length. The table saw proved essential for cutting rabbets and dadoes, slicing stock down to ½ inch thick for the slats, and ripping rails and strips to size.

Altogether, this shoe rack uses about $150 in materials. An experienced DIYer will probably need around 5 hours to prep, assemble, and finish it. Up ahead, Tom demonstrates his clever techniques for building a classic furniture piece with the look of mortise-and-tenon joinery—without the tedious chiseling.

Ready for the entry

shoe rack, cut pieces, Sep/Oct 2020 Anthony Tieuli

Tom used a table saw to mill 1x4 Douglas fir boards into the dadoed rails, rabbeted slats, and 1/4-inch strips needed to assemble this project.

Overview and cut list

overview illustration, shoe rack, Sep/Oct 2020 Gregory Nemec
  • Legs: 2x2s, four @ 17 1/4 i nches
  • End-panel slats: six @ 1/2 x 1 3/4 x 12 1/4 i nches
  • End-panel rails: four @ 3/4 x 1 3/4 x 10 1/2 inches
  • Shelf slats: 18 @ 1/2 x 1 3/4 x 10 1/2 inches
  • Top rails and shelf rails: six @ 3/4 x 1 3/4 x 28 inches
  • Top: 1x4s, four @ 18 inches
  • Pegs: 76 @ 1/4 x 1/4 x 1 inch

Download the cut list

Steps for building a shoe rack:

1. Cut pieces to length and width

shoe rack, step 1, Sep/Oct 2020 Anthony Tieuli

Using a miter saw, trim the stock to the lengths in the online cut list. On a table saw, rip the slats to 1/2 inch thick, as shown. Here, a jig keeps Tom’s fingers safe. Also use that saw to cut 1/4-inch-thick rabbets in the slat ends, 1/4-inch-wide dadoes in the rail edges, and to rip the rails in half. Lightly sand all the cut edges.

2. Glue the pegs to the dadoes

shoe rack, step 2, Sep/Oct 2020 Anthony Tieuli

The slat ends fit into mortise-like slots in the rails of the end panels and shelves. To make those slots, glue 1/4 -inch-square pegs (shown at right in the photo above) into the dado using the slats to set the spacing. Gently remove the slats, and when the glue sets, sand the pegs flush with the tops of their dadoes.

3. Glue the slats and rails

shoe rack, step 3, Sep/Oct 2020 Anthony Tieuli

There will now be four pairs of rails with slots—one pair for each end panel and one pair for each shelf. Glue the rabbeted ends of the slats into the slots on one rail, then the other. Clamp together each slat-and-rail assembly, and check that it’s square. A tap with a mallet can square up a racked assembly.

4. Drill holes for pocket screws

shoe rack, step 4, Sep/Oct 2020 Anthony Tieuli

Clamp an end-panel rail into a pocket-screw jig and drill two holes through the inside face of the rail’s end. Do the same for the rest of the panel rails and the undersides of the shelf rails and crosspiece. Drill three evenly spaced cross-grain holes in the top rails and two in the end panels’ top rails.

Tip: Pocket screws offer a quick way to make strong no-glue joints where wood pieces meet at right angles. The screws fit into pilot holes drilled at a shallow, 15-degree angle by a special stepped bit guided by the jig shown (Kreg Tools).

5. Add the legs to the end panels

shoe rack, step 5, Sep/Oct 2020 Anthony Tieuli

Set one end panel on 1/2-inch-thick scraps, inside face up. Position a leg against the panel’s top rail, then, using a drill/driver with a 6-inch-long bit, fasten the panel to the leg with two pocket screws, as shown. Do the same with the opposite leg. Attach the other panel to its pair of legs the same way.

6. Attach the rails and shelves

shoe rack, step 6, Sep/Oct 2020 Anthony Tieuli

Screw the top rails to the end-panel legs. Keep the rails flush with the legs’ tops; inset them 1/2 inch from the legs’ outside faces. Fasten the crosspiece between the rails. Pocket-screw the shelves to the legs. Use a 6-inch guide block to set the spacing between the shelves and below the top rails.

Tip: Washer heads on these screws seat against a “step” made inside the hole by the drill bit. The step ensures the joint will be tight without splitting the wood or blowing through the piece being joined. Pocket screws are case-hardened to resist breaking, and take square-drive bits, which don’t slip.

7. Secure the top

shoe rack, step 7, Sep/Oct 2020 Anthony Tieuli

Lay four 1x4s edge to edge on your work surface. Center the rack’s base upside down on them, with the legs 1 inch from their ends and edges. Check that the base is square, then use the 1-inch bit to pocket-screw the crosspiece and the top rails to the 1xs, as shown.

8. Sand the top

shoe rack, step 8, Sep/Oct 2020 Anthony Tieuli

Starting with an 80-grit sanding disk, methodically sand the entire top: face, ends, and edges. Continue with successively finer grits—100, 120, 150, 220, and 320—to prepare the top for a clear finish. If you plan to paint the bench, stop sanding after 220 grit.

9. Protect with poly

shoe rack, step 9, Sep/Oct 2020 Anthony Tieuli

Dust off every surface, then go over them again with a tack cloth. Because Tom was working indoors, he opted for a water-based polyurethane, and because the bench has so many exposed surfaces, he chose to spray on the finish: a total of three coats.


For lumber, Tom and Kevin used fir porch decking, which can be found at home centers.

To assemble the shoe rack, Tom and Kevin used a combination of wood glue, which is made by Gorilla Glue and pocket hole screws using a K4 jig manufactured by Kreg.

For the finish, Tom applied a combination of Clear Satin and High Gloss Water-Based Interior Polyurethane Spray Paint, which is manufactured by Varathane.

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