Stackable Shelves

It's shelving, storage, a desk and work surface combined

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Multiple Days






Make your own stackable shelves. A simple shop-made jig makes this project simple to build and a snap to assemble.

Tools Required

  • Circular saw
  • Clamps
  • Cordless drill
  • Drill bit set
  • File
  • Forstner drill bits
  • Framing square
  • Hacksaw
  • Jigsaw
  • Miter saw
  • Orbital sander
  • Rubber mallet
  • Safety glasses
  • Straightedge

Materials Required

  • 3/4-in. brad nails
  • 3/8-in. steel rod
  • Baltic birch
  • MDF
  • Wood edging
  • Wood glue

If you need shelving, storage, a desk or a work surface, check out this modular system. It’s got lots of storage space for your electronic gear and books and a nifty recess to accommodate a stool. And you can easily customize this system to suit your storage needs and wall space.

The T-shaped standards are simple to cut and glue. We used Baltic birch because we liked the look of the multiple laminations on the edges, but any 1/2-in. hardwood plywood will do. We chose sturdy, easy-to-clean 3/4-in. Melamine for the horizontal shelves because it has a tough, plastic-like surface, but you can use plywood, MDF (medium-density fiberboard), or particleboard and paint it any color you wish.

The plywood standards and the shelves are drilled precisely with a homemade jig and are held together with 3/8-in. dia. steel pins. The pins slide through the shelves and into the standards, so putting this together is sort of like stacking blocks or Lego pieces.

Project step-by-step (11)

Step 1

Build a jig to assemble and drill the T-shaped shelf standards

You can’t successfully build this project without maintaining exact consistency. This handy jig will help. You make the jig by gluing and nailing 1/2-in. plywood strips to a 3/4-in. scrap plywood base. Use a square to lay out everything precisely as shown in Fig. B. This jig helps you assemble the parts of each standard precisely. And you can flip it over and use it to accurately drill the pin holes (Photo 6).

The jig will also be your guide for drilling the holes into the horizontal shelf boards, which need to perfectly align with the standards (Photo 8). All you need to do is screw an auxiliary fence to the jig to maintain the proper overhang on the front and back of each shelf. (For a larger, printable PDF of Figure B, see “Additional Information” below.)

Use the drilling jig when you assemble the stackable shelves.

Step 2

Rip the Pieces

  • Rip the 1/2-in. plywood into pieces to make the standards.
  • Cut the lengths with a circular saw.
    • Pro tip: Cutting large sheets with a straightedge guide and a circular saw is easier than wrestling large sheets through a table saw.

Step 3

Glue the Part A’s Together

  • Glue together the two pieces that make up part A of the standards.
  • Nail the two pieces together at two corners with 3/4-in. brads once you’ve aligned them.
    • Note: This keeps them from drifting apart when you clamp them.

Step 4

Clamp the Pieces

  • Clamp three laminated pairs (A) together using 2x4s to help distribute the pressure evenly across the sheet surface.
  • Leave the assembly clamped for at least two hours.

Step 5

Build the T-shaped Standards

  • Glue and screw the 1/2-in. plywood back (B) to the laminated part A to form the T-shape of the standard.
    • Pro tip: Be sure to center the standard and make sure everything is aligned. The jig will help with the correct alignment.

Step 6

Add Parts C

  • Glue and clamp parts C to each standard.
    • Pro tip: Be sure to glue around the perimeter of each piece and also run a bead of glue along the inside corner. Use as many clamps as necessary. For tall standards you may need up to four clamps per side.
  • Remove the standard from the jig and glue another standard together while the glue sets.

Step 7

Drill Holes for the Steel Pins

  • Drill 25/64-in. dia. holes 1 in. deep into the tops and bottoms of the standards at the locations shown in Fig. B.
    • Note: We used a portable drilling guide (available at home centers) for precise perpendicular holes. You can also use a drill press, if you have one. If you have a good eye for drilling straight holes, you can drill freehand.

Step 8

Add the Shelf Edging

  • Using a medium to high setting on the iron, iron the pre-glued strips onto the edges of the shelves.
  • When the glue has set, use a special edge trimmer (available at home centers) for perfect edges.
  • Sand the edges lightly with 220-grit sandpaper or a fine mill file.

Step 9

Use a Carbide-Tooth Blade

  • Cut your Melamine or plywood using a 60-tooth carbide blade in your circular saw.
  • Cut with the good side down to minimize chipping.
    • Pro tip: If you’re using black Melamine, you can hide minor chipping with a permanent marker.

Step 10

Stack the Shelves and Standards

  • Assemble the standards and shelves one tier at a time.
  • Position the bottom standards first, then continue adding shelves and standards.

Step 11

Tap In the Pins

  • Align the shelf and tap the pins through the shelf and into the standard.

Additional Information