Building Storage Shelves

A Guide To Do It Yourself Storage Shelf Construction

When building storage shelves, your main purpose is to take advantage of the space you've got in the most efficient way,and create an organized and stable environment for your stuff. Storage shelving isn't a feature in your living area, so you'll want less expensive materials for construction. If these shelves will still be visible to your guests and you want them to look halfway decent, you need to buy materials that look good to begin with or that you can spruce up with paint.

Materials for Building Shelves

The easiest and most flexible way to build decent-looking storage shelves is to make them out of wood. While there are many types of wood available, not all of them are good for storage shelves. Whole wood isn't the right choice since it's much more expensive and it tends to be weaker. You're looking for wood that's strong, durable, not too expensive, and nice looking. Plywood or particle board are your best bets.


Plywood is easy to work with, reasonably inexpensive, and it'll last well. It's made from thin layers (plies) of wood that are bonded together. Because each layer is layed by the grain perpendicular to the next, the finished product is quite strong. The 2 outer layers are finished, and the quality of the finish is how the grade of the panel is determined. See the following chart to understand the grades.

Plywood Grades


Best quality. Very few marks and blemishes are visible on the panel.A grade is easily paintable. Any repairs made to the surface will be done with similar wood with the grain aligned to the rest of the panel in order to hide the defects.


B grade panels also have very few blemishes. However,repairs to the surface will be more visible. You might also find occasional tight knots up to 1 inch across the grain, and some minor splits. Repairs may be done either with wood or a synthetic material.

Knotholes and other defects up to 1 1/2 inches are permitted on C grade panels. You may also find other repairs or discolorations that are visible on the panel, but they won't impair the strength of the panel. Some splitting may be allowed. Repairs may be done either with wood or a synthetic material.

Blemishes, cracks and knotholes up to 3 inches wide can be found on the panel. D grade plywood is intended for indoor dry conditions only.

Exposure to moisture is a problem. In addition to grading for the quality of the panel surface, there is also an exposure rating for plywood:


Fully waterproof bond. These panels are designed for maximum exposure to water.

Exterior - Exposure 1

Fully waterproof bond, These panels can be exposed to moisture, but they are not intended for constant exposure.

Exterior - Exposure 2

Interior type panels that might be exposed to a limited amount of moisture, like in a garage.

Interior 2

These panels have no moisture rating, and are for interior dry use only.

Both the grading and the exposure rating affect the price of the plywood. It is really important to know what quality wood you'll want and where you're putting it. You certainly don't want to save now only to find your shelves falling apart in a few years because you didn't buy the right materials.

Particle Board

Particle board is durable, cheap and nice-looking. It made out of wood chips, sawdust, and other "leftovers" from milled wood. The pieces are mixed together with a strong resin and then pressed hard into the shape of a board. It is then coated with a durable laminate that is strong, stable, and stain reistant. Particle board comes in many colors, so you can choose whichever shade you like. It also comes in a variety of wood grains.

After you get the boards cut to size, you can have the lumberyard glue on edging to the exposed edge of the board in the same color as the laminate or any other color you want. Now you have finished shelves that look great and are sealed against moisture. This is a great option when you want to build storage shelves that will be easily seen, and you want them to look a little nicer than simple wood. Also, the coloring is done for you, you don't have to paint, lacquer or do anything else to prepare the boards.

A downside to particle board is its weight. It is significantly heavier than plywood. This isn't a great concern though, since your storage shelves are (hopefully) not going to be moving very much.

Sealed particle board will not be affected by moisture, but if the edging should get damaged or accidently peeled off you could have a problem. In this case we recommend to reseal the damaged area. Otherwise moisture will find it's way into the board and eventually it will swell and fall apart.

Deciding Where and How

The location of the shelves will be a factor in the cost of the materials If the shelves are in a shed for tools or gardening equipment, then there's no reason to invest a penny more than necessary. If, however the shelves are in a semi-public place such as your garage or basement, then you might want to spend that extra penny for a nicer finish.

Take into account the physical conditions of the place where you want to install the shelves. If the area is exposed to humidity then the cheapest wood will suffer and in time will fall apart. If the shelves are metal then they might rust, and any exposed wood will swell and eventually bend and rot.

When you build the shelves, make sure that they are really well supported and reinforced. Remember that you'll be dumping a lot of stuff on them (they're storage shelves after all!). Get advice from the lumberyard as to how much space you can put between the supports of the shelves. Skimping on the building process now will cost you later when the shelves are banana shaped and you have to rebuild them!

In order to build your shelves right the first time, it's important to have the right materials, hardware and tools. We recommend that you take a look at

for all of your needs. They have a great selection of quality products that will help you to build your shelves.

Following are a few examples of storage shelves that others have built. After you take a look at them, go over to our page on building, and psych up to do it yourself!

A garage shelf made from plywood and 2x4's. Lots of good ideas here and comments on how to build.

Here's a great DIY (Do It Yourself) site including materials, tools, measurements and pictures on a weekend storage shelf installation for your garage.

A more complex and versatile storage shelving unit is shown here made from plywood.

Take a look at our page on building shelves for a full guide on doing it yourself!

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