How to build shelving for walk-in storage closets. There’s nothing better than an organized space.
We have one storage closet in our house and we’re determined to never get more stuff than what fits in that closet. But, we’re only 1.5 years into living in our house and the closet is a disaster. Like can’t walk in, things might fall on you when you open the door disaster.
Sure, we went through our storage containers and got rid of some of the stuff we no longer needed, but the space still wasn’t working. We decided it was time to tackle some DIY shelves to organize our walk-in storage closet. And I’m happy to say that it worked! We ended up having extra space leftover in the closet and we can easily find what we need!
Alright, let’s start DIYing!
After moving to another house, we tackled this project yet again. It’s so nice to have the extra storage!
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What You’ll Need:
Every built-in will be unique to the space in terms of quantities needed. You can use this free cut list calculator to determine your cut list and material quantities.
- 1x3x8 boards for the supports (we’ve built these shelves twice. One time we used common board, one time we used primed pine. The benefit of primed pine is that you don’t have to prime it or sand it as much, but it is a little more expensive)
- 3/4″ MDF sheets
- Brackets (for the 24″ deep shelves, we used these in the 15.63″ size. For the 18″ deep shelves, we used these.)
- 3″ wood screws
- Caulk (make sure it’s paintable)
- Spackle or Wood Filler (since we painted, we opted to use spackle, but both work)
- 120-220 grit sandpaper
- Primer (we used BIN Shellac-Based Primer. A quart was barely enough for the smaller 4×5′ closet we did)
- Paint (we used a gallon of Sherwin Williams Extra White in Semi-Gloss for one of our closets. For the slightly smaller closet where we didn’t paint the whole room, we used closer to a half gallon of paint)
How to Make DIY Storage Shelves for Organization
STEP 1: CLEAR THE CLUTTER
Yup, get everything out of the closet. While you’re at it, go through and sort into sell, donate, trash, and keep piles. Let’s purge and start this store closet transformation on the right foot!
If you have pre-existing wire shelves in your closet, you’ll go ahead and remove those and repair any holes in the drywall. We ended up placing a shelf support right over the area where most of the holes were from our wire shelf, so we have pretty minimal repairs to do.
STEP 2: PREP
Mark all of the studs along any area that a shelf will be. We recently got this magnetic stud finder with a level that makes this super easy.
As you’re marking your studs, pay special attention to the corners. If you’re putting shelves on multiple walls, you’ll need to cut your 1x3s so that the supports on both walls can be secured into the stud. That may mean making your 1×3 on your longer wall go all the way to the corner or it may mean making your 1×3 on the shorter wall go all the way to the corner based on how the corner studs are oriented.
Determine your spacing for your shelves. Our bottom shelf is 25″ off the ground and then we have 15″ between the top of one shelf to the bottom of another.
Our deep shelves are approximately 24″ deep and the side shelves are 11″. Make sure you leave enough room for your brackets! You’ll want to include brackets on your shelves (especially if they are deep) to prevent the shelves from sagging in the middle over time.
When we recreated this project in our new house, our shelves were 24″ and 18″ deep. Really, it’s based on whatever your space allows for! If you have room for the 24″ deep shelf, we highly recommend it. It’s perfect for plastic storage bins.
STEP 3: MEASURE
Measure the distance where the front of your shelf will be as well as the back of the shelf. Sometimes walls are pretty warped and the measurements might be different enough that you have to cut the sides of your shelf at an angle.
If you are making corner shelves like we did, first cut the deeper ones. Put them in place and then measure for the other shelves. Alternatively, you can just subtract the depth of the shelves that will be up against the smaller ones.
As you’re determining the depth that you want your shelves, consider what you are putting on it (we wanted one side to be deep enough for plastic storage bins) and how much space you need to open the door.
Step 4: CUT
Cut your shelves using a circular saw. We also used our Kreg circular saw guide to help make cutting long straight lines a little easier, but you could also clamp a straight piece of scrap wood to your MDF to use as a guide.
Cut your 1×3 support boards. You should have a 1×3 support board under every side of your shelf that is touching a wall. For the support boards where the ends will be visible, we cut the bottom 2″ at a 45-degree angle. This is optional-we just prefer the look compared to a straight cut. We also made them about 1/2″ smaller than the depth of our shelves.
Cut your bracket supports. If you are spanning a longer wall, I’d recommend 1 support every 2-3 feet, but you can use this sag calculator to determine the recommendation based on your exact space and material type.
Measure the short side of your brackets and then subtract 2″ from the measurement. This will be the size of your support board. The exact size doesn’t matter as long as it’s big enough to support the bracket and small enough to fit between the shelves.
Note: the 1×3 that the support will be pushed up against is 2.5″, so we subtract 2″ so that there is only a half inch of extra board beneath the bottom of the bracket.
STEP 5: SAND YOUR 1x3s
We used 120, and 220 grit sandpaper for a smooth finish. We sanded the top of the MDF shelves with 220 grit sandpaper as well.
For an extra detail, you can round the outside edges of your shelves slightly using 120 or 220 grit sandpaper. If you have shelves that will come together, make sure to not round the front edge of the shelf that will be pressed up against the side of the other shelf.
STEP 6: INSTALL SUPPORTS
Install your 1x3s by screwing them into the studs using 3″ screws. We started from the ground and measured 24″ from the ground and marked that measurement in the middle. We then placed a level on the 1×3 and made adjustments until it was level. For the rest of the shelves, we measured 15 3/4″ from the top of the 1×3 to the bottom of the next 1×3 to account for the shelf thickness.
Install your bracket support boards by screwing them into studs underneath the 1×3 supports you just installed.
STEP 7: PREP FOR PAINT
Test all of your shelves for sizing. Make adjustments if needed. If the shelves have a little gap along the back or sides, don’t worry, we will fix that! If your shelves were unique sizes, label them so you know where they’ll go after being painted.
You’ll want to caulk the underside of the support boards, but you can wait to caulk the top until after the shelves are installed. Spackle all of the screws and any imperfections in your boards. If you opted to get common board, spackle any big knots in the wood. Once the spackle is dry, you can lightly sand off any excess using 220-grit sandpaper.
STEP 8: PRIME AND PAINT
Prime your MDF. You must prime your MDF to prevent it from swelling and just soaking up all your paint. A paint + primer combo isn’t recommended. Use a primer first.
Paint your shelves. For the closet, we’ve done it both ways: paint the entire closet or just paint the area between the shelves.
Paint your MDF shelves, paying special attention to the fronts of the boards.
STEP 9: INSTALL YOUR SHELVES
Once the paint has dried, it’s time to install your shelves! Start with the top shelf and work your way down. Place the shelf on top of the 1×3 then screw the bracket into the 1×3 support and the shelf.
If you want a little added security you can pop a few 1.5″ nails into the top of each of the shelves and into the 1×3 support boards. We didn’t nail them in one of the times we built these shelves and didn’t have any issues with them moving.
As you’re installing the shelves, caulk where the shelf meets the wall and where it meets the 1×3 supports. This might seem like an unnecessary step, but it will make your project look a lot more professional and complete.
If you have a side shelf that meets your back shelf, you can also caulk the seam. Technically you would want to use wood filler and sand, but if you are good at smoothing caulk, it’ll look pretty much the same without as much work!
Touch-up any paint that you might have scraped or scuffed during the install. You can also paint over the caulk if it doesn’t match your paint color.
STEP 10: FILL THOSE SHELVES
Now for the best part. It’s time to fill those shelves! Hopefully you took step 1 seriously and purged so this step will be extra fun. Fingers crossed you find out you have extra room like we did!