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How to Install Simple DIY Shelving

lowes_DIYShelves_01Practically everyone has a weird closet that’s just wasted space. There’s mine. It’s in the kitchen, around a corner. It has a 24-inch deep shelf up near the top that you can’t reach the rear of. It has a bar for hanging something… apparently a bag full of other bags. And we keep an extension cord and a vacuum in there. Do you have a closet like this? In just a few hours, you can transform it to useful space. Read on…

Creating shelving is simple, you really only need 2 rails (one for each side) and a shelf. If you’re spanning a long distance or storing heavy items you might want to use a third rail along the backside of the shelf as well, but for my 40-inch span I was good with two rails.


Step 1: Measurements & Materials

The first thing you have to do is get some measurements and figure out how deep you want your shelves to be, and what kind of vertical spacing you need between them so you can get materials. I knew I’d be storing cleansers, some small kitchen gadgets, and miscellaneous items I’d put in shoebox-sized clear storage containers so 12-inches deep with about 15-inches between shelves was plenty of room. That spacing would allow me 3 new shelves plus the top shelf (which I cut in half so it would be 12-inches deep to match the rest). For 3 new shelves I needed enough 1×3 boards to make 6 rails and enough 1×12 boards for 3 shelves.

Step 2: Patch & Paint

Clear everything out of the closet, patch all holes, prime, and paint if needed/desired.


I painted my rails and shelves OUTSIDE of the closet so my walls were clear to slap paint on without painting around the rails. The rails you see still in the closet are the pre-existing rails.

Step 3: Measure & Mark

Mark you shelf heights and draw your level lines. I used my tape measure to tick off marks at the shelf spacing I wanted, then used the level to get them, um, level.


Step 4: Tap & Drill

It’s usually a good idea to find at least one stud to which you can secure your rails. Since this closet is mid-wall, and the only stud finder in the house is my wife, I usually resort to the “tap, tap, tap, thud” method. That’s where you tap tap tap with your finger until you hear the thud of a possible stud. Then I drill little pilot holes until I find a stud, then I measure out 16 inches to see if I hit another one. For shelving you can drill the exploratory holes behind there the rails will be so they’ll be covered. It ends up looking like this when you’re like me and do a very poor job at the tap tap tap method.



Step 6: Pre-drill & Install

I never want my wood to split so I always pre-drill my wood. I put a screw where the stud is and a screw at each end of my rail. You can get crazy and use wall anchors where the screws will be in the non-stud locations, but I’ve never needed that in all of my shelf building exploits.



Step 7: Level & Repeat

Now I dealt with the rails on the other side. Rather than measure down and all that business on the other side I just take a shelf, put the level on it, and tick off where the rail should be on the other side. It’s a million times easier with a helper, but I was doing this alone, which means I was holding a light in my mouth, the camera in one hand, and leveling the board with the other. once you have your tick marks you can draw your level line.

Another way to do it is use your level to tick a mark on the back wall, then move your level to the tick mark and continue on across the wall until you can mark the opposing wall. As always, double check by measuring if you want, but a level doesn’t lie.



Step 8: Fill and Organize

Now you can set your shelves in place and start your newly organized life. You will immediately feel a sense of accomplishment, happiness, and pride. You will have visions of family members patting you on the back saying how awesome you are. You will open the door to the closet numerous times over the next few days to admire your shelves. And that’s when you realize it’s DARK in that closet. You need a light.




The light I used.

Lowes_LED_LightI found an awesome battery powered, motion sensor, LED, stick-on light meant for under-cabinet use. It’s this Utilitech Wireless LED Light. It throws a pretty wide beam which is enough to light up what I need to see. The best part is the motion sensor so I don’t need to click a button or pull a string, I reach into the closet and BOOM, light.




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  • Amanda Matheny

    It sounds like you are pretty handy which is great, and great advice. My mom is pretty handy and does a lot of DIY but unfortunately I didn’t inherit that gene from her. I can do really really extremely basic stuff, but nothing very involved. I wish I was a little more handy than I am though. I remember when I was a kid, the first time I ever changed a doorknob, I was so proud of myself, lol.


  • Lexi

    So helpful and love the stud directions and comment :))


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