How to Build Garage Shelves
Garages offer enough space to store all of those large or infrequently used items that don't belong in the house. But without a proper shelving system, things can get messy.
Garage shelves are an inexpensive, quick way to move items off the floor, organize them, and display them for easier access. With just two-by-fours, plywood, and basic power tools, you can have one or two large garage shelving units up and ready to go in a day.
Before You Begin
Consider the type of items that you will need to store, sizes, and frequency of use. Garages are often used for long-term storage of specific items. Enough space—especially height—needs to be carved out for them. Build garage shelves to accommodate a dense matrix of storage totes or build open shelves that have a more freeform nature.
Garage Shelves for Storage Totes
If you've ever dreamed of tossing out your mismatched storage bins and buying a new, standardized set, now is the time. Designing garage shelves around storage totes maximizes the shelves' storage capacity and helps protect items.
This project is designed around a popular type of container: 27-gallon plastic storage totes, each about 15-1/2 inches tall. The garage shelves are 32 inches deep, 8 feet wide, and 8 feet tall. Five shelves stack four totes across for a total of 20 totes.
|19.1 inches||12.7 inches||9.8 inches||7 gallons|
|15.75 inches||11.25 inches||11 inches||12 gallons|
|26.88 inches||18 inches||12.5 inches||17 gallons|
|28.55 inches||19.61 inches||15.27 inches||27 gallons|
|38.18 inches||22.03 inches||15.51 inches||38 gallons|
Open Garage Shelves
If you're not interested in storing all garage items in totes, you can build shelves in a more freeform style.
Shelves can be expanded up or down to adapt to large, heavy, or oddly sized items like tents, strollers, car seats, wading pools, computer boxes, gym equipment, or car supplies.
Garage shelves of this size and weight must be securely attached to wall studs. Unattached garage shelving units can tip or collapse. Use only wood screws or deck screws, not drywall screws.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Electric miter saw or circular saw
- Drill bits and drivers, set
- Laser level or bubble level
- Stud finder
- Tape measure
- Hand saw
- Chalk snap line
- 20 two-by-fours
- 5 plywood sheets, 3/4-inch
- Wood screws (3-inch, 2-1/2-inch, and 1-1/2-inch)
First, gather your parts. The table below will help you organize the parts and label them for use while building your garage shelves.
Wood Quantity Cut Details Purpose Part # Two-by-fours 5 Full size. Do not cut Back braces A Two-by-fours 5 Full size. Do not cut Front braces B Two-by-fours 20 29 inches Lateral braces C Two-by-fours 2 Site-determined Side vertical posts D Two-by-fours 1 Site-determined Front vertical post E 3/4-inch plywood 5 8 feet by 32 inches Shelves F
Shut Off Power
At the electric service panel, shut off power to all circuits that run through the garage wall where you intend to install the shelves.
Check Garage Floor Slope
Lay the bubble level on the garage floor under the intended shelves. Place the level in different directions 90-degrees to each other to check for a slope in both directions. All garage floors should have a slope but code does not specify the amount of slope. Generally, floors should be sloped at about 1/8- to 1/4-inch per foot—acceptable for this project.
Mark Stud Locations
Use the stud finder to find the locations of the studs on the garage wall. Mark the top of the stud near the ceiling and make a second mark close to the ground. Run a chalk snap line down the center of each stud. Snap the line to create a faint chalk line all the way down the stud. Repeat for six studs across.
Dry-Fit Shelf Frame
Five frames for the shelves will be built from two-by-fours. Lay out the pieces for one of the frames on a flat, level surface.
- Place one full-size two-by-four (A) on-edge.
- Place another two-by-four (B) parallel to the first board, also on-edge, with the two boards about 29 inches apart.
- Set the four lateral braces (C) between the two two-by-fours and perpendicular to them.
- Shift two of the lateral braces to the ends of the two-by-fours.
- Place the remaining two lateral braces in the middle, spacing them about 32 inches away from each other.
Build Shelf Frames
Use 2-1/2 inches screws to assemble the frames. Begin with pilot holes to prevent the wood from cracking. Screw from the outside to the inside. Do not use pocket holes. Repeat four more times to produce five complete shelf frames.
Attach Bottom Shelf
Mark up from the garage floor 17 inches. Place one of the shelf frames against the wall, so its bottom rests on top of the 17-inch mark. Have an assistant hold the frame in place. Drive a pilot hole halfway across the back rail of the frame (48 inches). Then, drive a 3-inch screw through the pilot hole and into a stud.
Level and Secure Bottom Shelf Frame
Each shelf must be level from side to side. Run a horizontal laser line across the top of the frame or rest a bubble level on top of the frame. Tap the frame up or down on either side to slightly rotate and level out the frame. Once the frame is perfectly level, secure the frame to the rest of the studs. Aim for at least four attachment points per frame.
Add Side Vertical Posts
Place the two side vertical posts (D) against the sides of the shelf frame with their bottoms resting on the garage floor. With the bubble level, check the front-to-back level of each shelf frame before driving two 2-1/2-inch screws through the side vertical posts and into the side of a shelf frame. Minor slopes can usually be remedied by having an assistant slightly push the shelf up as you screw it into place with 2-1/2-inch screws.
Secure Remainder of Shelf Frames
Working upward, secure the other four shelf frames to the wall and side vertical posts. Measure 17-3/4 inches upward from the top of each shelf frame and make a mark on the wall. Then, attach the next frame to the top of that mark.
Marks will be placed at:
- 17 inches
- 34-3/4 inches
- 52-1/2 inches
- 70-1/4 inches
- 88 inches
Place shelves (F) on the shelf frames and screw into place with eight 1-1/2-inch screws per shelf.
Add Front Vertical Post
Place the front vertical post (E) at center-front (48 inches) of the shelf frames, pressed against all five frames and with its bottom resting on the garage floor. Secure with 2-1/2-inch screws through the front vertical posts and into the front of each shelf frame.
Cut Vertical Posts
With a handsaw, cut off the tops of the three vertical posts, using the top shelf as a cutting guide.
DIY Garage Shelf Variations
- The garage floor under the bottom shelf can be used for storing items, too. It's the best area to place heavy or large items.
- If you have different shelf height needs, size each shelf individually as you work your way upward. Not all shelves need to be the same height.
- Use storage totes as spacers for each level. First, lay down a sheet of shelf plywood. Then place two totes on the shelf, one on each end. Place a scrap piece of two-by-four on top of each tote as a spacer to create 1-1/2 inches of buffer room.
- To create a lip on the front of the shelves to keep items securely in place, nail or screw down one-by-two boards.
- If you have tall items that need to protrude from one layer to the next, install just a partial section of plywood. Make sure that the plywood touches lateral braces on each end. Don't leave an end hanging.
When to Call a Professional
Call a professional carpenter or a contractor to build garage shelves if you're unable to meet the shelves' structural requirements. A professional can build strong shelves that remain securely in place, along with other types of shelves such as garage loft shelves.