How to Build Pantry Shelves
Whether your pantry doesn't currently have shelving or you're simply after a functional, stylish upgrade, DIYing your own pantry shelves is the way to go. With custom wood shelving, you can easily increase the storage and organizational potential of your pantry, while creating a visually pleasing space you'll be dying to show off. You have to look at your pantry every day, so why not make it something worth looking at?
Before You Begin
The key to maximizing the efficiency of your pantry as well as the storage and organizational potential is to design a layout that fits the space and is adaptable. Trying to fit too many shelves or overly customize the layout may seem like a good idea, but it will often come back to bite you, as your use of the space may change over time.
Laying Out Your Pantry
Start by heading to your pantry and measuring a few staple items like cooking oils, cereal boxes, and anything else that comes in taller containers. At least one of your shelves should feature enough vertical space to accommodate these items.
For smaller items, consider shopping for storage containers and round-up baskets and bins before designing your shelf layout. Knowing what pantry storage options are available beforehand will greatly aid in determining shelf depth and height.
Thoroughly planning your pantry's layout is important, but not as important as locating the wall studs. Without locating and fastening your shelving to the studs, the strength of your shelves will greatly suffer.
Consider Additional Lighting
When you add wood shelving to a small pantry space, things can get hard to see quickly. Unlike wire shelving, which allows light to pass through from shelf to shelf, a wood shelf will totally shadow the shelf below it. So, it may be worthwhile to consider alternative light sources such as low-voltage strip lighting beneath the shelf. Furthermore, dark colors, while undeniably beautiful, can make a pantry even more difficult to navigate.
Types of Wood
- Frame: For the shelf frames, 2x2 pine lumber is ideal, as it is inexpensive and strong. And, while pine isn't the prettiest wood, the frame members will be totally hidden once the shelves are complete.
- Shelf: Finish-grade plywood is ideal for the shelves, as it can be cut to a variety of widths while maintaining a low cost per shelf. The unsightly plywood edge can easily be covered with a front trim piece.
- Front trim piece. The front trim piece is the most important visual piece. If you plan to stain, pine will work, but you may consider poplar or even oak for a more elegant look. If painting, any wood that is smooth and free of knots will do.
Staining vs. Painting
Whether you stain or paint your pantry shelves is totally up to you, but there are a few things to keep in mind when making the decision:
Requires more expensive stain-grade wood
Harder to hide imperfections like joints and nail holes
Soft woods and plywood requires pre-stain wood conditioner to prevent blotchiness
Lighter colors can brighten a small pantry
Easy to hide imperfections like joints and nail holes
Painting raw wood requires a primer coat
The steps below outline how to build floating pantry shelves with no visible hardware. However, if your pantry is more than 6 feet wide or you plan to load the shelves up with heavy items like canned goods, adding at least one vertical support column that ties the shelves together aren't a bad idea.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Measuring tape
- Circular saw or table saw
- Miter saw
- 4' level
- Brad nailer or hammer
- Stud finder
- Chalk box (optional)
- Orbital sander
- Painting supplies (optional)
- Staining supplies (optional)
- Safety glasses
- Dust and fumes mask
- 2x2 x 8' pine boards
- 1x3 x 8' lumber
- 1/2" x 4' x 8' finish-grade plywood sheet
- 1-1/2" brad nails
- Self-tapping 3-1/2" wood screws
- Heavy-duty drywall anchors (optional)
- Wood glue
- Wood filler
- 220-grit sandpaper
- Stain or paint (optional)
- Primer (optional)
- Pre-stain wood conditioner (optional)
How to Build Pantry Shelves
Measure and Mark Vertical Shelf Placement
Using your pantry items as your guide, mark your shelves' vertical placement using a level. Mark the back wall as well as the side walls. Remember to account for the shelf and shelf frame thickness, which is 2 inches. So, if you're planning for 10 inches between each shelf, mark the walls at 12 inches.
Locate and Mark Studs
Use a stud finder to locate and mark the studs on each of your horizontal lines. Finding multiple studs on the back wall should be no problem, but there's a chance you may not find more than one on the side wall. In this case, use heavy-duty drywall anchors.
Cut Frame Pieces
Each shelf frame will resemble a ladder. A front and back board will span the full width of the wall, while multiple short "rungs" will tie the two pieces together and support the middle. All frame pieces will be cut from 2x2 lumber.
For each shelf, cut a front and backboard to the full width of the wall. Cut the rungs to the full depth of the shelf minus 3 inches. So, if you're building a 12-inch-deep shelf, cut the rungs to 9 inches. The number of rungs needed will depend on the width of your shelf, but plan for one every 12-16 inches with one flush on each end.
Partially Assemble Frames
Partially assemble each shelf frame by screwing 3-1/2-inch wood screws through the back boards into the end of each rung, leaving the front piece unattached until later.
Place the backboard against the wall. After ensuring the board is aligned with the mark on the wall, screw through the board into each marked stud using 3-1/2-inch wood screws. Adjust each side rung until it sits level and screw it into the marked studs.
Attach Front Frame Member
Lift the front frame member into place and fasten it to the mounting portion of the frame by screwing through the front piece into the end of each rung. Start with the end rungs to ensure the piece sits level, then attach the rungs throughout the middle.
Cut Shelf Pieces
Cut each shelf piece out of finish-grade plywood. To determine the dimensions for each shelf, use the exact dimensions of the frames. If you don't have a table saw for making precise cuts on plywood sheets, mark perfectly straight lines using a chalk box, then use a circular saw.
To do this, mark the length of your cut on each side of the plywood, stretch the chalk box line across the plywood, and pop the line, linking the two marks with a perfectly straight line. Turn the sheet 90 degrees and mark the depth of the shelf on each side, then repeat the process. Cut along the chalk lines.
Mount Shelf Pieces
Apply a bead of wood glue on top of every frame member and set the shelf in place. Use a hammer and brad nails or a pneumatic brad nailer to secure the shelf. Small brad nails are all that's necessary, as the glue will do the majority of the holding once it dries.
Cut Trim Piece
To cover the edge grain of the plywood and the front frame piece, cut a 1x3 to the full length of the shelf. If you have access to a table saw, rip the 1x3 to two inches to perfectly match the thickness of the shelf and frame.
Attach Trim Piece
Apply a layer of wood glue to both the trim piece and the frame and shelf edge. Align the top of the trim with the top of the shelf, then secure the trim using brad nails.
Mount Remaining Shelves
Follow the steps above to mount additional shelves.
Fill Nail Holes
Fill each brad nail hole with wood filler, sanding smooth once dry. If you plan to stain the shelves, choose a stainable wood filler. If you plan to paint, any wood filler will do.
Sand the Shelves
Sand the shelves and the front trim pieces until smooth. Be sure to sand any excess wood filler. Once finished, remove all dust.
Stain the Pantry Shelves (Optional)
If you desire to stain the shelves to maintain the visible wood grain, follow this process:
- Apply a pre-stain wood conditioner. This will prevent the stain from being blotchy.
- Once dry, follow with your stain of choice, following the manufacturer's instructions for drying times.
Whenever staining or painting in a confined area, always wear a mask rated for fumes and allow the area to thoroughly air out before operating without a mask.
Paint the Pantry Shelves (Optional)
If you prefer to paint the pantry shelves, follow this process:
- Prime the raw wood.
- Once dry, sand the primer if specified by the manufacturer's instructions.
- Caulk the gaps around the shelves and the joint between the front trim piece and the shelf and let dry.
- Paint the shelves.
How to Add Corner Shelves
If your pantry features enough side wall space to utilize for storage, you may consider continuing the shelving around the corner. To do so, attach additional 2x2 frames to the existing framework and the next wall. Add at least one 2x2 middle support if the length spans more than 1 foot. Cut a shelf piece to fit the space and attach using the same glue and nail method found above. Finish with a 1x3 trim piece on the front.
How deep should pantry shelves be?
The depth of pantry shelves will depend on the size of your pantry and what you intend to store on the shelves. However, making shelves too deep will often lead to poor organization and lost items. For more pantries, shelves should be no more than 12 inches deep.
How far apart should pantry shelves be?
There's no standard spacing for pantry shelves that will suit each individual's needs. However, creating one shelf that's 16 to 18 inches tall will offer plenty of storage space for large items—while a few shelves around 8 to 10 inches will offer more storage space for small to average items with enough clearance for easy access.
How far apart should the bottom pantry shelf be?
Space the bottom pantry shelf far enough from the floor to store large boxes and bulk containers beneath the shelf. 18 to 24 inches will be enough space for most large items.