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One project begets another

Posted by joeabbott on March 17, 2013

WP_20130317_001imageWe have a small space in our garage under the stairs leading to the house; it’s a small space and we originally kept our many boxes of holiday decorations under here. During a previous project we had a loft area built in the garage, just above the garage doors. It was a huge amount of new storage space and allowed us to not only move all the holiday deer from under the house up onto it, but also move all the boxes from under the stairs up there as well … now all our holiday stuff was in one spot.

I’d planned on building a lumber storage shelving unit in the newly vacated space under the stairs but never really got around to it. Then we had one project after the other (and I wasn’t putting away my tools and equipment), and finally the amount of stuff piling up in the garage was about to hit critical mass: we could barely get to our cars without having to shuffle sideways.

Time to clean out the garage and build that storage unit. I only had a vague idea of what I was after so I headed to SketchUp and modeled the system to the right.

I didn’t go for details or to make it realistic (the shelving cubby holes are solid rectangles that intersect, all of the other sides/tops just butt up against each other), but I wanted to get my ideas down and I knew I could figure out how to make it work.

I figured I could build the whole thing from scrap materials in the garage: not only would I clear out some space by using my spare materials, but then I could stack the rest into the unit!

To start with I measured the space under the stairs for some rough dimensions: overall width (43”) and overall height (44 1/2”). When it came to details about how big the vertical bin would be or how deep the upper cubbies were, I used the available scrap lumber to get the final sizing down. Oh, and I only wanted this to be a foot deep, to work best with the space under the stairs I was filling.

The first step was to build the two “egg crate” portions of the unit. Both lower and upper portion were roughly identical, with the upper being only 6” deep, rather then the one foot deep.


It was at this point I was very happy to own so many clamps!

WP_20130317_003I didn’t have specific joint details worked out in the SketchUp model, but had an idea of how I was going to put this together. For the “egg crate” portions, I just cut halfway through the vertical parts and halfway through the horizontal parts and nested them together. Then I attached the tops/bottoms/sides. For this I cut a groove halfway through the 3/4” boards and nested the ends of the shelves into them. It was fiddly work to make sure I got this right without gaps, but I was very happy with the end results.


The final part was creating the vertical bin area that I’d use to stand cut-off parts in when it was done. There I reached for my plate joiner and cut some slots into the sides/back/front so I could use biscuits to hold everything together. In the end, I was surprised at how solid it seemed. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised … all the joints mentioned here are reasonably strong, but the material I was using should have just been tossed out. I had melamine coated particle board, cabinet grade plywood, old IKEA furniture parts, and whatnot. It was a hodgepodge of building materials, none of which should have been used in anything but a scrap pile.

But, I used them and was happy for having cleaned out my scrap piles and not having had to buy more materials! And, I’m now promising to be more realistic about the scraps that I keep from other projects. I know I’ll have a lot but at least they’ll be orderly!

And for those interested in how I go from the image in the above right to the shelf in the below right, well, I do take another step or two in the planning stage:


Some might notice in the picture above, the shelf between the upper cubbies and the lower was full-width (12”) but in the final product (and image at top) it’s about 8”. Yup, I was a victim of “not enough planning” and had cut that board too short by a half inch (I made it the same size as the shelves) but needed it wider to account for sitting atop the vertical sides. So, I fished through my scrap pile but didn’t have a board that was long and wide enough … so I picked one long enough and updated the model to reflect reality.

Such are the challenges for a man who tries to wing it a bit much!

Thanks for reading and, if you’re interested in more details or a model that truly reflects the final product, let me know and I can whip that up. I’ve re-read some of my building instructions and they’re a bit obtuse; but, if it would help you on your project, I’d be happy to be a bit more complete here!


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