Introduction: 3-Cabinet Storage Unit With Adjustable Shelves
It's garage makeover time - starting with trading in my wire shelving for something more robust! While there's nothing wrong with wire shelving, no matter how well I organized my items it always looked cluttered. As my tool and supplies grew, I continued putting up those shelves without much of a plan and ended up with random shelving along the walls.
I checked out a whole bunch of store-bought options but it would cost a lot and still not give me the storage I wanted. For instance, most garage wall cabinets that are part of larger "systems" are only 12" deep. There are a few that are 16" but that's what I already had. I figured I could build my own for less than buying a garage storage system and customize it exactly for my needs.
The goal is to build a wrap-around storage system with plenty of shelving and cabinet doors to hide the mess. In order to tackle such a large project, I divided it into 3 parts. In PART 1, I build this 3-unit storage system. Parts 2 and 3 will be coming up in future Instructables!
SPECIAL THANKS: Before getting started I'd like to give my Wrench Army a shout out for making projects and videos like this possible! Interested in joining? You'll enjoy exclusive perks like:
- Bonus Monthly Live Stream Project or Build
- Free Project Plans
- Access Wrench Army Discord
- Collaborate on Future Projects/Content
- Secret Giveaways
Now on with it...
Although having a miter saw and table saw makes projects like this easier, you can build this using only a circular saw. Big box home improvement stores can also cut down the larger pieces of wood to your dimensions to make them easier to fit in your vehicle. The only other items you need are a pocket hole jig and a few clamps to help hold things together while working. A speed square is helpful to keep your pieces aligned too.
- 3/4" x 4' x 8' Birch Hardwood Plywood (maple or oak work too)
- 1/4" x 4' x 8' Birch Hardwood Plywood
- 1" x 3" x 8' Pine or Whitewood
- 1" x 2" x 8' Pine or Whitewood
- Pocket Hole Jig
- 1 1/4" Pocket Hole Screws - Coarse
- 1 1/4" Brad Nails
- 3/4" Staples
- 1/4" Shelf Pins
- Wood Glue
- Miter Saw
- Table Saw
- Drill + Bit Set
- Measuring Tape
- Speed Square
I made the center cabinet 20" wide and the left and right cabinets 32" wide each.
Step 1: Prepare Center Cabinet Uprights
I had the store cut down my plywood boards to an 18" depth. My previous wire shelves were 16" deep and my larger items would poke out beyond the edge so although 16" would save me some money in materials I wouldn't be able to put doors on the final build (or at least they wouldn't be able to shut all the way - lol).
Starting with the center cabinet I glued 2 uprights together to make up each side, making sure the "pretty" sides were on the outside. Make 2 of these, clamp until the glue has dried and use brad nails to secure them.
The reason I'm doubling up the boards for the center cabinet is that in each set, one board is for the center cabinet and the other is for the one next to it so all three will be fused into one large unit (left+center+right cabinet). Since my garage floor is sloped I thought it would be easier to shim one large unit rather than trying to level three separately.
Step 2: Make a Base for Each of Your Cabinets
Drill pocket holes into your base plywood pieces and attach them in an "I" shape with glue and pocket hole screws. Then attach your "I"-shaped piece to the bottom shelf with glue and pocket hole screws to make a base for each of your cabinets.
Set the three bases aside to dry.
Step 3: Drill Shelf Pin Holes
I've found the easiest way to drill holes for shelf pins is using a piece of pegboard. Measure the length of the shelf pin's stud (part that will go into the wood) and add the thickness of the pegboard to mark that length on your drill bit. This will give you a visual guide and prevent you from having to guess how far to drill or possibly drilling too deep and through your piece.
Drill shelf pin holes along the front and back edges of all your tall upright pieces. For all cabinet uprights I started 14" from the top. For the right and left cabinets, I stopped the holes about 20" from the bottom because I need to leave that portion clear to access outlets on the wall. Normally I'd stop at 14" from the bottom, which I still did for the center cabinet.
Step 4: Build the Center Cabinet
Before you get started it's a good idea to label your wood pieces as well as which end is the top/bottom for your uprights because it's easy to zone out and accidentally attach things to the wrong end ...or maybe that's just me - lol!
I used glue and pocket hole screws for every joint.
Start by attaching the top piece to one of the of the center upright pieces along its top edge. Then attach the other upright piece to the top's other side. I then attached the base and finally a permanent center shelf. Having a permanent shelf somewhere along the length of your cabinet helps provide extra strength. It doesn't necessarily have to be exactly in the center.
For this permanent shelf I doubled up the shelf with 2 pieces of plywood more for style than function.
Finally, attach an anchor board to the very top of your cabinet. This is the area where you'll eventually drive a screw to secure your unit to a wall stud. Normally I like to put the anchor board so the pocket hole screws are on the back but this cabinet is so big I don't have much room to flip it in the shop so they'll have to be in the front for this project.
Step 5: Build the Left & Right Cabinets
Build each cabinet just like you did the center one. We'll just be adding on to the center cabinet.
Start by attaching the top to the center upright, followed by the remaining upright on the other side of the top piece. Then attach the base and permanent shelf. For the left and right cabinets, my permanent shelf was about 20" from the bottom because I plan on keeping that area open to access the outlets on the wall.
Step 6: Add a Face Frame
When you're done building the entire 3-cabinet frame, you'll notice that there are exposed plywood edges - which isn't very attractive. So the next step is to add a face frame to cover all these edges up.
Using glue and brad nails, attach all the vertical whiteboard/pine pieces first. For the center cabinet, center your frame piece along the exposed plywood spine so the overhang is equal on either side of the edge. For the remaining left and right cabinet frame pieces, I left an overhang of 3/4" over the outside edge because I'm going to be joining it with another frame on the outside.
Then cut up all horizontal pieces and attach them using glue and brad nails.
On the outside left of the 3-cabinet unit, I made a frame to add a little interest. I did not repeat this on the right side because I'll be joining that side to something else (which I haven't decided yet) as part of the larger wrap-around system. If you build something like this as a stand-alone, then add a frame on the outside right too.
Step 7: Attach Cabinet Backing Panels
I decided to leave the middle cabinet open in the back because I have a cool white brick wallpaper that I thought would look good showing through.
As for the left and right cabinets, I wanted to leave the bottom portion of them open so I'd still have access to some outlets along the wall. I only covered the top portion of the those cabinets (from the top to the fixed shelf) with 1/4" plywood backing panels using glue and staples.
Step 8: Staining the 3-Cabinet Unit
You can use any color stain you want but I went with Jacobean. Before the staining process, I sanded down any irregular spots along with any left-over hard glue that didn't get cleaned off while it was still wet. Glue doesn't stain well and you'll definitely notice lighter spots when you run the stain over the glue.
If you look really closely, you'll notice a few small areas where I didn't sand down the glue enough but they are all in places that won't be seen so I didn't worry too much about it.
It's also a good idea to use a pre-stain wood conditioner first (after sanding) so that your stain "takes" more evenly.
Step 9: Secure the Unit to the Wall
Now that the frame for your 3-cabinet unit is done and stained, it's time to secure it safely to the wall. Using a stud-finder I marked the stud locations with tape.
Move your unit into place and shim the bottoms if necessary to get it level. My garage floor slopes so I had to shim the left side and a bit in the middle for it to look level in comparison to the ceiling. Once you like the way your unit is leveled, use at least a 3" screw to drill through the anchor board at the stud locations you marked (at least two should be fine).
Step 10: Add Shelves
I cut up 4 shelves per cabinet. After staining them I noticed that you could still see the plywood edges on the front edge and there are a lot of options to cover them.
You could use a veneer strip, paint them, or take 3/4" off the depth to add a little face frame to the front of each one. Since I plan on eventually putting doors on the left and right cabinets which will cover these anyways I decided to add some gold paint to the exposed front edges because I'm thinking about leaving the center cabinet open. This way all the shelves look the same.
Now put in your shelf pins and space out the shelves anyway you like to accommodate your items.
Step 11: Final Thoughts
Unfortunately this unit is too big and the garage too small to be able to back up enough to photograph it in its entirety but you get the idea of the size!
Even with some beginner woodworking skills you can build something to fit exactly your needs without having to settle for a store-bought option that may not resolve all your problems.
I plan on building a single cabinet on the adjacent wall to hold taller lawn tools like rakes, shovels, brooms, etc. and then I'll have to figure out how to connect the two around the corner. As I complete the next 2 parts I'll update this Instructable with links to them.
Want the plans for this project? Join the Wrench Army!
Until next time, follow me on social media: