Make spring cleaning simpler with this easy-to-make shelf from PlyDesign by Philip Schmidt.
Imagine, if you will, the unutterable bliss of having every little shoe, every backpack, every hat and glove, and every ball not strewn about the floor or piled in a corner, but neatly displayed in an attractive, wonderfully rational storage unit designed by a cabinetmaker and fellow parent (he feels your pain). This state of serenity can be yours with two simple steps: 1) build this project, and 2) nag your kids approximately 1,200 times to use the darned thing. This organizer measures just 3′ x 4′ x 1′ and contains 20 cubbies ranging in size from about 7″ to over 11″ square. If you need a different configuration or overall size to fit your space or storage items, you can easily modify the given plan and stick with the same basic construction. Serenity now!
- One 4 x 8′ sheet of ¾” plywood
- One 4 x 4′ sheet of ½” plywood
- Scrap materials for dowel jig (see steps 1 and 5)
- Wood glue
- 1½” long, ⅜” diameter wood dowel pins
- 1⅝” #8 coarse-thread drywall screws
- 6d (2″) finish nails (for optional base)
- Wood veneer edge tape (optional)
- Finish materials (see step 9)
- Drill with ⅜” straight bit, #8 combination pilot-countersink bit
- Circular saw with straightedge guide
- Table saw (if available)
- Framing square
- Bit stop (or masking tape)
- Hammer and nail set (for finish nails in optional base)
- Utility knife (if using veneer edge tape)
- Clothes iron (if using veneer edge tape)
- Sandpaper (up to 220 grit)
1. Build the dowel jig.
All the parts of the organizer (except the back) are joined with glued dowel pins (precut dowels). A homemade dowel jig will help ensure that the dowel holes line up between mating parts. You use the same jig for all the parts. To account for the ¼” setback between the vertical dividers and the horizontal shelves, you will simply add a ¼”-thick spacer to the jig before drilling the holes in the vertical pieces.
Create a jig with two pieces of scrap plywood, as shown in the illustration of the jig for face dowel holes, joining the jig base to the ledger with screws to form a right angle. Draw a centerline perpendicular to the ledger, then mark the centerline at 2″ and 8″ from the inner edge of the ledger. Drill a ⅜”-diameter hole at each mark; these are the guide holes for drilling the dowel holes in step 4.
2. Cut the parts.
Cut the vertical dividers, shelves, sides, bottom, and top from ¾” plywood, as listed at right. Arrange the parts so the length of the pieces parallels the grain of the plywood’s face veneers. Cut the back panel from ½” plywood.
Cut all the parts with a circular saw and a straightedge guide to ensure clean, straight cuts. If available, a table saw is preferable for ripping the ¾” plywood pieces.
3. Mark reference lines for dowel holes.
The divider and shelf locations are shown on the plan drawing. On the bottom face of the lowest shelf (not the bottom piece), make a mark 11-7⁄16″ from each end of the shelf. Use a framing square to draw a line at each mark perpendicular to the front edge of the shelf. Next, draw a line at the precise center of the shelf’s length, again perpendicular to the front edge. Transfer these line locations to the top face of the bottom piece.
On the top face of the lowest shelf, mark lines at 9⁄16″ from each shelf end, then mark two more lines at 9-7⁄16″ from the first marks. Transfer these lines to both faces of the next shelf up and to the bottom face of the top shelf.
On the top face of the top shelf, mark lines at 7½” from each end, then three more lines at 7⅞” in between. Transfer these lines to the bottom face of the top piece.
Finally, mark lines on the inside face of one of the side panels (perpendicular to the front edge). The first line is ⅜” from the bottom. From that line make a line at 12″, then make three more lines spaced at 7¾”. The topmost line should be ⅜” from the top of the side piece. Transfer these lines to the other side piece.
4. Drill the face dowel holes.
Position the dowel jig at the front edge of one of the workpieces, and align the jig’s centerline with each marked line on the workpiece face; see the drawing of the jig for face dowel holes. Clamp or securely hold the jig in place, and drill a ⅜”-diameter hole straight down through each guide hole in the jig, going halfway (⅜”) into the workpiece. Mark the drill bit with tape or a bit stop at the proper depth, to prevent drilling all the way through the material. In this way drill the two holes at each line on the faces of the top, bottom, shelves, and sides.
5. Drill the edge dowel holes.
Now you will use the dowel jig to drill holes on the edges at the ends of the dividers, top piece, and bottom piece (the holes will be parallel to the front and back edges of the pieces). But first you have to modify the jig so the holes will be 1¾” and 7¾” from the front edge of each piece (instead of 2 and 8″) and centered on the ¾”-thick edge of the material.
Modify the jig by gluing a ¼”-thick strip of wood to the inside face of the ledger, so it is centered on the jig’s centerline. Then screw a second ledger cut from a straight piece of scrap to the underside of the jig base so it is perpendicular to the front ledger and its inside face is ⅜” away from the centers of the holes; see the drawing of the jig for edge dowel holes.
Set the tape or stop on the ⅜” drill bit for a depth that’s ¼” shorter than the length of your dowel pins (or 1¼” for 1½”-long pins). Drill the dowel holes on both ends of the dividers and top and bottom pieces, making sure to register the ledger of the jig against the front edge of each piece.
6. Dry assemble the organizer.
Glue dowel pins into both holes in all the top and bottom edges of the dividers, and let the glue dry.
Dry fit the organizer to make sure everything fits before the final glue-up. Start at the bottom, and work up, fitting together all the shelves and dividers, then adding the top piece and finally the sides. Remember that the dividers will sit ¼” back from the front edges of the shelves, top and bottom. Make sure the assembly is square, and fit the back panel into the recess created by the sides, top, and bottom. Make any necessary adjustments.
7. Complete the final assembly.
With clamps at the ready, begin the final glue-up, again working from bottom to top, then adding the sides. Apply glue not only to the dowels but also to the edges of the mating pieces. To save on clamps you can add screws to any joints where the screw heads won’t be visible, such as under the bottom piece, under the lowest shelf, and (if the organizer will abut a wall when installed) on either side. Drive the screws through pilot holes to prevent splitting an edge. Clamp the assembly securely, making sure it is square, and let the glue dry overnight.
Install the back by drilling countersunk pilot holes and screwing through the back and into the rear edges of the dividers, shelves, and bottom piece.
8. Add a base (optional).
A base adds a finished look and makes it easier to level the unit on an out-of-level floor. To create a base, rip 3″-wide strips of ¾” plywood. From these strips cut the front and back of the base to length at 44″, and cut the sides at 7½”. (If you prefer to miter the base’s corners rather than butt them, miter the ends of the strips at 45 degrees, and cut the sides to length at 9″.)
Glue and finish-nail the base frame together so the front and back cover the ends of the sides. Glue the base to the bottom face of the bottom piece so the front and sides of the base are 2″ from the front and sides of the unit.
9. Finish the unit.
If desired cover the front edges of the pieces with veneer edge tape, following the manufacturer’s directions (use self-adhesive, iron-on tape for easy application). Otherwise, sand the bare plywood edges smooth with sandpaper, rounding over the corners slightly to prevent splintering. Finish-sand the entire piece, working up to 220-grit or finer sandpaper.
Finish the piece with three coats of wipe-on polyurethane or other desired finish. Because the unit is assembled, wipe-on poly and other rag-applied finishes are easier to work with than brushed-on materials.