Storage Ideas

How to Install Utility Shelves

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BLACK+DECKER B+D Contributor 120 Projects

You can build adjustable utility shelves in a single afternoon using 2×4s and plain 3/4" plywood. Perfect for use in a garage, utility shelves can be modified by adding side panels and a face frame to create a finished look.

The quick-and-easy shelf project shown on the following pages creates two columns of shelves with a total width of 68". You can enlarge the project easily by adding more 2 × 4 risers and plywood shelves. Do not increase the individual shelf widths to more than 36". The sole plates for the utility shelves are installed perpendicular to the wall to improve access to the space under the bottom shelves.

CG Garages_Utility Shelves

Utility shelves built with ordinary 2x4s and plywood are an easy, inexpensive way to create flexible storage in a garage.


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    Mark the location of top plates on the ceiling. One plate should be flush against the wall, and the other should be parallel to the first plate, with the front edge 24" from the wall. Cut 2 × 4 top plates to full length of utility shelves, then attach to ceiling joists or blocking using 3" screws. 

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    Mark points directly beneath the outside corners of the top plates to find the outer sole plate locations using a plumb bob as a guide (top). Mark the sole plate locations by drawing lines perpendicular to the wall, connecting each pair of points (bottom).

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    Cut the outer 2 × 4 sole plates and position them perpendicular to the wall, just inside the outlines. Shim plates to level if needed, then attach to the floor with a powder-actuated nailer or 3" screws. Attach a center sole plate midway between the outer sole plates.

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    Prepare the shelf risers by cutting 7/8"-wide, 3/4"-deep dadoes with a router. Cut dadoes every 4" along the inside face of each 2 × 4 riser, with the top and bottom dadoes cut about 12" from the ends of the 2 × 4. Tip: Gang cut the risers by laying them flat and clamping them together, then attaching an edge guide to align the dado cuts. For each cut, make several passes with the router, gradually extending the bit depth until dadoes are 3/4" deep.

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    Trim the shelf risers to uniform length before unclamping them. Use a circular saw and a straightedge guide.

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    Build two center shelf supports by positioning pairs of shelf risers back-to-back and joining them with wood glue and 21/2" screws

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    Build four end shelf supports by positioning the back of a dadoed shelf riser against a 2 × 4 of the same length, then joining the 2 × 4 and the riser with glue and 21/2" screws.

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    Position an end shelf support at each corner of the shelving unit between the top and the sole plates. Attach the supports by driving 3" screws toenail-style into the top plate and sole plates.

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    Position a center shelf support (both faces dadoed) at each end of the center sole plate, then anchor shelf supports to the sole plate using 3" screws driven toenail-style. Use a framing square to align the center shelf supports perpendicular to the top plates, then anchor to top plates.

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    Measure the distance between the facing dado grooves and subtract 1/4". Cut the plywood shelves to fit and slide the shelves into the grooves.