Building Shelves from Salvaged Materials

I am really happy with this shelf design.  I like it because I can build these shelves completely on my own and the design is very easy to adjust for specific measurements and uses.  I’ve tried to share some of the details here.  If you’re a visual learner like me you can probably figure it out from the pictures.  Scroll down and look at the finished product first if you need to.

We were in desperate need of shelves for the basement but I definitely didn’t want to buy any.  We had a giant pile of lumber in the backyard that we salvaged from the shed fire…

…and we had lots of metal shelves that were here when we moved in.  I looked it up and they are called gondola shelves.  Who knew?

The shelves themselves are flat.  They would typically mount on to a bracket coming off of a backboard.  That type of shelving wouldn’t work out well in our basement but I knew the flat shelf pieces would come in handy.  I measured several of the pieces we had.  Then, I made several rectangles out of 2x4s.  The rectangles are just large enough that the metal shelves sit right on them.

I made the shelving units assembly line style.  I set up the saw on the picnic tables and cut all of the 2x4s at once.  2 short pieces and 2 long pieces for each individual shelf.  I originally planned for 3 shelves per unit but then dropped back to 2 (more on the later).  I cut 4 long legs pieces per unit.  The measurements that work for my shelves were 17″ and 45 1/2″ for the rectangles and 78″ for the legs.

The only thing I had to buy were screws.  I used these kind because it’s what we had when I started and I liked them.  They don’t really need to be exterior screws.  The star shaped head is excellent for someone like me who doesn’t quite have the strength to hold the screwdriver in place when it wants to slip out of the head.  They come with a star shaped driver bit in case you don’t have one.

After all the pieces were cut I assembled the rectangles.  I had measured them to work with shorter pieces on the outside like so.

I don’t know if you can see it but I started all my screws first.  I used 2 in each end of the short pieces.  It is important to place them like that consistently so the other screws won’t hit later on.  Since the screws were already started I found it easiest to hold the long piece upright and line up the top piece.  I held them together with one hand and drove the screws in with a cordless drill in the other hand.  I’m not very coordinated so trust me, one person can do this on their own!

After all the rectangles were made it was time to add the legs.  You could add as many shelves on one unit as you wanted and space them however far apart depending on what you’re going to put on them.  I wanted 18 gallon Sterilite storage containers to fit on mine.  The ideal spacing I ended up with was the rectangles top edges 25″ and 51″ from the bottom of the legs.  Here’s a picture of a finished shelf to show you what I mean.

I changed up the way I attached the legs depending on if I needed the units to fit in a certain tight spot.  In the pictures above the legs are attached to the long sides of the rectangles.  That way the legs don’t add any length to the unit but they do add take up extra width.  Below you can see that the 2 units on the right have their legs attached to the short sides.  It just depends on where you have the room.

The legs can be put on without a helper too.  It is easiest to put the legs on the long sides if you’re doing it alone.  Stand the rectangles up on their long sides and lay the 2 legs across them.  Mark the legs at the proper positions and screw through the legs in to the rectangles.  Remember to watch where you position your screws so you don’t hit the other ones.  Then flip the whole thing over and attach the other legs the same way.  I put most of the legs on the short ends myself too but it is harder to get the rectangles to stand up on their own that way.   After the legs are on just stand the units up and pop the shelves in to place.

On the above unit you can see that I used 3 rectangles with 1 at the very top.  I had that up there to stabilize the unit but later realized the units were sturdy enough without the extra support so I started making them with only 2 rectangles.  I left the legs tall because I guess I like the idea of them keeping the containers from falling off.  An added thought is that I could always hang herbs and things to dry from ones with top boards.

I realize not everyone has so many metal shelves laying around but you could easily make these units to fit with any pre-made shelves or cut plywood or other lumber to work.  The Sterilite containers actually sit on these units fine even without the metal pieces in place but they obviously wouldn’t hold anything else that way.

So, ladies, next time you’re complaining to your husband to build you some shelves you may want to just do it yourself.  After all, then they’ll be exactly how you want them to be! 😀  Do you have enough shelving at your house?  Is there a place that could make more efficient storage with a few shelves?



One thought on “Building Shelves from Salvaged Materials

  1. Dea-chan

    Yay for shelves! I always want more shelving/closet/storage space that I have — but I live in an apartment, so can’t really build anything permanent. Nice to see you putting them to good use already!


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