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Thread: Building closet organization shelves/drawers etc

  1. #1

    Building closet organization shelves/drawers etc

    Hello all,

    I am preparing and researching for a new project. We have 4 closets (walk-in and also with sliding doors) and we are not using that space efficiently because they only have one shelf with a hanging rod underneath. I would like to add shelfs, hanging rods, drawers etc...like those closet organization system found at ikea, but the cost is super high, thus I am now looking into building them myself. I would appreciate any tips on how to best accomplish this. The following questions come to mind first:

    1) I am thinking of using plywood. Are MDF or particle boards better options?
    2) I don't have a strong preference on the look. Is it easier to paint or stain plywood?
    3) where can we buy plywood for less than HomeDepot and Lowes? Any online that would ship?
    4) having closets that stand on the floor look much better to me than hanging on the walls. Given I have to build and finish them in my garage, and floor/walls might not be always square, is it feasible? Like building a box/platform for the cabinets to rest on?
    5) do we cut off the baseboards or build the cabinets above it?
    6) what is the best way to join the boards? Wood screws? Dowels? Dado? Wood glue & brad nails?

    Attached is a picture of one closet. They are all more or less like that. Some drawers, some box, some shelves, some rods. We don't need shoe storage. Only for clothes.
    The goal is to have a functional, durable, and easy to fabricate system at the lowest cost. It doesn't have to look fancy like having glass door on cabinets.

    Thanks much in advance
    Joe
    Attached Images Attached Images

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
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    Coastal Southern Maine
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    159
    Many, many questions in your post. The answer to most is, it depends.

    Do you have the ability to spray finishes?

    Do you have they ability to cut sheet goods to accurate, repeatable size?

    What type of fastening systems are you proficient in using?

    I remove any mouldings before the project, recur and replace them after the units are installed.

    One question that I word differently, "Where can I purchase higher quality sheet goods than are stocked at the big box stores?" My experience is that most sheet goods at the big box stores are a poor value.

    My other suggestion is take plenty if time to design & plan the project. I frequently use cardboard to mock up the shape/size of cabinets to insure that they fit in the space.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    Boston
    Posts
    1,724
    Just my opinion...

    1. Plywood, MDF and particle board aren’t the strongest to support shelves
    2. Paint. You can putty all of the holes, etc. it’s a closet
    3. The HD and Lowe’s poplar or birch plywood is ok. Have to make sure it’s flat which isn’t always the case. Your local lumberyard may have paint grade ply which is a better grade than HD. It may be a little more expensive but dealing with warped or bowed wood isn’t fun. Check out what HD has.
    4. Check the floors and walls and see if they are off. You always have the back set back an you inch so you can scribe and get a good fit. A piece of quarter round can also cover the gap and you don’t need to scribe, etc
    5. It’s easier to remove the trim so the cabs fit flush against the wall.
    6. Recommend dados and screws. The top, mid and bottom should be fixed and rabbit in the back. It will help the cab from racking.

    A few other tips. Since you are building them in the garage make sure can fit in the door and in the room. If you make floor to ceiling cabs I suggest you make the in 2 pieces. If they are too tall you won’t be able to stand them up. Trust me on this one. Also iron on edge banding looks nice if you don’t want to use face frames.
    Don

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2018
    Location
    Michigan, USA
    Posts
    305
    Joe,

    I built an organizer for a walk-in closet in our previous home. The closet was roughly 6’ x 8’ and we wanted shelves and hanging space on the two long walls. A little less complicated than what you have in mind, as we weren’t interested in drawers.


    I used white melamine-coated particle board from HD. They had, I think, a choice of 12” or 16” wide vertical panels, pre-drilled for shelf pins or hanging rod supports, and also matching-width solid panels for shelving. I built our organizer as “modules,” each about 2’wide, with a top shelf screwed to the two sides and, where we didn’t need “long” hanging space, a middle shelf screwed to the sides. I also added a 4” nailer just under the top shelf and near the middle of each module.


    The modules were screwed into studs, through the nailers, and sat on top of a 1x4 ledger board mounted just above the baseboard – so the bottom of each unit was about 7” above the floor. We thought mounting things to the wall would make it a little easier to clean underneath, and also easier to change flooring (our closet was carpeted). We also screwed adjacent modules to each other, as you would with kitchen cabinets.

    It’s been three or four years, but at the time, materials cost was $500-600 for that closet. Nobody would mistake it for fine woodworking, but it was functional, it was easy to clean, and after my wife filled it with clothes, you could barely see the organizer anyway . Best thing from my perspective was I didn’t have to do any painting/finishing.

    Gary

  5. #5
    Use UVA coated birch plywood, about $55 per sheet. Then use .75 inch x 1.5 inch solid maple or poplar (if youíre not a stickler in finish) rips for the edges and wall ledgers. Build it in place and putty the nail holes then spray satin poly on the raw maple to finish.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Silicon Valley, CA
    Posts
    711
    What tools do you have? (or what techniques are you already comfortable with?)
    And what are the closet dimensions? (my first thought is to skip the returns on the ends, and to ask if you really want a lot of shelves and drawers in the middle? How will the space be used?)

    One of the first projects I tackled was a closet organizer design from Family Handyman, except I kept trying to make it more complicated.
    (I don't see the exact project, but they have a decent article on closet organizers: )
    I grabbed red oak plywood from one of the local borgs because I thought oak sounded cool and it wasn't too expensive.
    I learned to really dislike this stuff -- when I encountered voids (the outer veneer would cave in because of a gap underneath), or places where the glue laminations failed, or where the pieces bowed when cut -- this was especially annoying when trying to make drawers. I also decided that I didn't really like edge banding. This was finished with general finishes wipe-on gel varnish. I decided that I did like that finish method.

    My second organizer was much simpler. For a 6' span, I had a top shelf near the top of the closet, then 2-level rods across 4' of span, and a tower with 2' of long hanging and then an intermediate shelf with some space below the top shelf. This used a sheet of birch plywood with solid edging. Finish was a light coat of watco danish oil (don't let this get too thick, and it will need some time to dry out). Overall, I preferred this simpler design and build.

    If you can get old plywood on craigslist, that can be very stable and much better (for the price) than what you can buy retail. If you paint, don't use paint designed for house walls -- it ends up very gummy. (this was a mistake I made on a rehabilitated corner hutch)

    Good luck!

    Matt

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by joe webb View Post
    Hello all,

    I am preparing and researching for a new project. We have 4 closets (walk-in and also with sliding doors) and we are not using that space efficiently because they only have one shelf with a hanging rod underneath. I would like to add shelfs, hanging rods, drawers etc...like those closet organization system found at ikea, but the cost is super high, thus I am now looking into building them myself. I would appreciate any tips on how to best accomplish this.
    If you're trying to save money over what you'd buy at Ikea, good luck with that! (Not trying to be sarcastic here.) Just go to Ikea, and buy what you want, resting assured that it would cost you more money to build it yourself (let alone the labor cost and the cost of getting the stinkeye from SWMBO for the extra time it would take.) There have to be other reasons to do this work.

  8. #8
    In terms of strength, the strongest is solid wood, next is plywood, next is particle board and firmly in last is MDF. I don't like painted particle board and I don't think I am unique. MDF is very thirsty but can be painted to look good. Solid wood and plywood need a stain blocking primer or a coat of shellac but with this they take paint fine.

    I do not use shelves in closets for clothes. In my opinion, that is what dresser drawers are for. I hang clothes in closets but mine also has a high shelf for other stuff (mostly guns at the moment). My closet is 3 by 7 with double hanging rods on the three foot dimension. So I have 12 feet of hanging space. That is sufficient for me. Most women need some long hanging and some men do too. I would start by figuring out how much long hanging you need and use that to divide the closet up. I would use plywood to support clothes rods where there is no wall handy. You could also make shelves or drawers out of it too. I do have three drawers in mine on the end with no upper shelf. The top rod is almost on the ceiling. That is OK for me at 6'2" and a 8 foot ceiling but wouldn't work for everybody. The drawers are in between the upper and lower hanging space. They are shallow but are big enough for my underwear and socks.

    First step is to figure out what goes in the closet including long versus short hanging space and drawers/shelves.

    If you do not have a good way to make really accurate cuts on sheet goods I would get a track saw. Wen has one that is really inexpensive as does Grizzly. They are not equivalent to a Festool or even my DeWalt but they will make accurate cuts. I would put a Freud blade on, however. I like to cut on a sheet of rigid insulation. Glue and screws make a solid tight joint pretty quickly. A shallow dado can be very handy for locating the pieces.

  9. #9
    Thank you so much for all your input. Very good tips. This site is so great. Let me first answers some of your questions


    1) I have some common tools: router with various bits, 10" sliding miter saw, 7" circular saw with jigs to cut straight (like a track saw), jigsaw, small job site 10" table saw (i can't rip big sheets coz I don't have a workshop), power drills, air brad nails gun. I don't have painting spray machine. I have been painting with rollers and staining w/ a piece of cloth. I enjoy staining much more than painting.


    2) Skill wise, I can do good work if given proper guidance as I take my time to learn, understand, and do things. Most of my DIY projects have been first time and turned out really good. I have been able to cut sheets fairly accurately by measuring careful and using various templates, but I don't have that big table saw to cut every piece to same width. Thus far, I have only done butt joins (with screw, pocket holes, or dowel) and miter joins. As far as my woodworking experience, I remodeled my stair case and built a desk with a matching night stand.


    3) @Don Jarvie, what does "A piece of quarter round can also cover the gap and you donít need to scribe" mean? Would you have a picture to help me visualize? Insert shims at the bottom of the cabinets and use the quarter round to hide the shims?


    4) @Matthew Hills, thanks for the link. I have seen it before and it gave me inspiration to do this project on my own. Although it will likely take me more than one weekend but time isn't an issue as I enjoy doing this stuff. I do have all the tools listed though :-)


    5) @Doug Dawson, I looked at a similar (to the picture attached) closet system from IKEA, and the cost was $465. I think this would take no more than 3 sheets of plywood ($50 each) and $100 of hardware. But yes, cost is not the entire reason. The IKEA items are generally hard to customize to my closets to optimally use all the space. Given it is made with particle boards, cutting it would be a pain and would chip the finish. I am also not impressed by IKEA furniture quality.


    6) @Jim Dwight, I debated about putting drawers in the closet because I have sliding doors and that imposes some constraints on the layout. The reason I cramped them in there is we have small rooms and the bed, desk and bookcase is taken most of the space.


    At this point, I am leaning toward plywood because they are easier to cut, affordable, and structurally strong. What are the advantage of Maple, Oak over Douglas Fir plywood besides look? Given they will be hidden by clothes, I can compromise on the look. Only the edge and drawers front are highly visible and I can get the nicer wood if needed.


    * $55 Maple https://www.lowes.com/pd/Top-Choice-...X-8/1000096506
    * $55 Oak https://www.lowes.com/pd/Top-Choice-...X-8/1000096488
    * $36 Douglas Fir https://www.lowes.com/pd/23-32-CAT-P...x-8/1000015783


    I am also looking for staining the plywood. Do I need coat of poly if I use Danish Oil as stain? I have 3/4 gallon water based poly left from my stairs project.


    To clarify, by "building in the garage", I mean I would like to do the cutting, fitting, staining, and poly coating in the garage and only do the assembly and minor touch up in the room. Just like if I would have bought the unit from the store.

    Sorry for the lengthy reply.

  10. #10
    Joe,

    We just went through this with our master bedroom closet. In the end, we decided to go with a manufactured kit and I made an enclosure for the air handler with matching laminate.

    Major part of the decision for me was cost vs. shop time. No, I wasn't happy with the quality of the kit, but it wasn't that bad and the end product looks good.

    MDF would not be a good choice IMO. It is very heavy and does not hold screws well. Same with particle board.

    If you're going to paint then I would go with melamine rather than painting plywood (this will probably limit you to white). It will be hard for you to beat kits when you add up materials and time. Plus, you're looking at spraying to do a nice job, which gets you into a whole 'nother arena.

    Truthfully you're not going to find quality plywood or cheaper plywood than at HD. Even their "baltic birch" is not the greatest. My biggest issue with theirs is flatness. That said, I have used their "Sandeply" for many utility cabinets. Paints very well.

    They don't have to go all the way to the floor, in some respects its easier not to because avoid the whole baseboard issue. Just like cabinets, you mount them to the wall if the walls aren't plumb you can always add a trim strip. To address baseboards we just cut a notch at the back, since they were hidden by either shoe racks or clothes.

    Cabinets are normally joined with screws. If exposed you can cover with caps or filler. But you can also use dowels, biscuits, or dominoes.

    So much depends on your ability, ambition but based on your machines etc, but I promise this will shape up to be a challenging project if you don't have a lot of experience building cabs. I recommend you give the closet kits another look before you jump in.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Engel View Post
    Joe,

    We just went through this with our master bedroom closet. In the end, we decided to go with a manufactured kit and I made an enclosure for the air handler with matching laminate.

    Major part of the decision for me was cost vs. shop time. No, I wasn't happy with the quality of the kit, but it wasn't that bad and the end product looks good.

    MDF would not be a good choice IMO. It is very heavy and does not hold screws well. Same with particle board.

    If you're going to paint then I would go with melamine rather than painting plywood (this will probably limit you to white). It will be hard for you to beat kits when you add up materials and time. Plus, you're looking at spraying to do a nice job, which gets you into a whole 'nother arena.

    Truthfully you're not going to find quality plywood or cheaper plywood than at HD. Even their "baltic birch" is not the greatest. My biggest issue with theirs is flatness. That said, I have used their "Sandeply" for many utility cabinets. Paints very well.

    They don't have to go all the way to the floor, in some respects its easier not to because avoid the whole baseboard issue. Just like cabinets, you mount them to the wall if the walls aren't plumb you can always add a trim strip. To address baseboards we just cut a notch at the back, since they were hidden by either shoe racks or clothes.

    Cabinets are normally joined with screws. If exposed you can cover with caps or filler. But you can also use dowels, biscuits, or dominoes.

    So much depends on your ability, ambition but based on your machines etc, but I promise this will shape up to be a challenging project if you don't have a lot of experience building cabs. I recommend you give the closet kits another look before you jump in.

    Thanks for all the tips Robert. I don't like painting very much and I would most likely stain the plywood. Do we need to use wood glue with screws to join? If we do, then I am more inclined to use dowels and avoid having to do the filler.

    I looked at the closet kits from several online stores for the past few months, and for all 4 closets, the cheapest (and not so good looking ones) would run over $6000 for all 4 closets. That's quite bit of money for just closet organization. But after reading this thread, it might not be as easy as it look to make closet storage. I can try with the smallest closet first and see how challenging it is, then decide for the remaining 3 closets.

    One point I didn't clearly understand from your reply is the trim piece. I am attaching a picture to visualize my understanding. Is that correct?

    Cheers
    Attached Images Attached Images

  12. #12
    And do we use 1/2 or 3/4" plywood for closet? I would think the long horizontal shelves must be 3/4 to minimize bending.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Aug 2018
    Location
    Michigan, USA
    Posts
    305
    Joe,

    I'd definitely stick with 3/4" for both vertical and horizontal components.

    I understand you're not interested in the pre-fab organizers, but for planning purposes, you might want to look at the design tool at SimplyNeu's web site. You can put in the dimensions of your closet, and then try out different configurations of hanging/shelving/drawer space to help you figure out what will work best for you.

    http://www.simplyneu.com/

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Ragatz View Post
    Joe,

    I'd definitely stick with 3/4" for both vertical and horizontal components.

    I understand you're not interested in the pre-fab organizers, but for planning purposes, you might want to look at the design tool at SimplyNeu's web site. You can put in the dimensions of your closet, and then try out different configurations of hanging/shelving/drawer space to help you figure out what will work best for you.

    http://www.simplyneu.com/

    Thanks for link Gary. I used several of those designer tools first to figure out the possibilities. They are great. Once I have the desired configuration, I pulled my CAD software and draw each piece with its exact dimensions. It will help w/ the cutting and also help me understand and visualize how the pieces will be joined together.

    Using 3/4 for everything will probably be easier to cut. Simpler than juggling between 2 thickness.

  15. #15
    I would rather buy anything at Home Depot than at Lowes. But part of that is where they are in the town I live in. Home Depot carries a formaldehyde free plywood that is pretty good. I am using it in a cradle right now in maple and birch. They did not have thinner maple but had 1/2 birch and it will be painted - with Resisthane. The inner plys of the maple are poplar. I'm not sure about the 1/2 birch - it is noticably not as good. I have also used half a dozen sheets of a pine plywood HD sells that is made in Chile. It is cheaper and a white painted cabinet in my bathroom made from it came out very good. I would not hessitate to use it on a closet organizer.

    I justify tools by projects - or at least I used to. I think this project justifies a track saw. I used to use a circular saw with a shoot board but a track saw is in a different category with respect to smoothness of cut and accuracy. I use a DeWalt but I think even the low end saws are worth having versus a circular saw. Because the rib guides the blade in both directions, you are less likely to ruin a piece of wood wandering off the guide. You basically cannot. Low end to me is a WEN or Grizzly. With a good blade (freud) either would be better than a circular saw. The Kreg is probably better and can be had with a bench that folds up - could be good for your situation. Makita and DeWalt are equivalent to table saws in performance and still a lot less than a Festool.

    I would use screws and glue to join things together and get a plug cutter and a little solid wood of the plywood species for plugs. Plugged screw holes don't show much and glued and screwed joints are strong. You can skip the glue if you think you will need to take it apart but it adds a lot of strength. After the screw dries you could pull the screws and be fine. Shallow, 1/16 deep, dados are really nice for locating pieces during assembly. You can do them with a router but may need a bit less wide than the nominal plywood thickness because the plywood is not really 3/4 wide.

    You might think about prefinishing the plywood with a roller. You need a coat or two of poly for durability. But you can roll it on the full sheet and then cut it up. A wipe on coat after assembly can cover any scuffs.

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