005: scrap cutoff shelves #1: Finally got some of this lingering idea together

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Blog entry by Gary Fixler posted 02-22-2010 02:16 PM 10614 reads 4 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of 005: scrap cutoff shelves series Part 2: and now there are two »

I have redesigned this thing several times, waaay overdesigned it in SketchUp while briefly mad with visions of increasingly elaborate designs in even the most utilitarian of shop storage solutions, and tried to build it 3 times previously, giving up nearly immediately each time when things failed to work out. I’ve switched between construction grade ply and premium baltic birch ply. I’ve failed to account for kerf and cut things undersized, and failed to check ply for square before making first cuts, ruining pieces. I’ve thought of so many ways to mount this thing, including screwing it with wall anchors to the drywall while simultaneously screwing it to 2×4 rails suspended above from chains, eye-hooks, swiveling doodads, and complicated linkages. Here’s an example of one overly-designed version I was not just considering, but in the process of building at one point:

SketchUp shelving idea

I was going to sink tons of decorative walnut pegs through the sides to support the shelving, then mirror it by sinking maple pegs through the edge of a long walnut plank, cutting off thin strips to veneer the front edges of all the plywood. I think I had recently seen that incredible Studley Tool Chest and was keen on the inlaid dots look. What I designed looks a bit gaudy to me now, though. I had also been planning to build this as one long piece with 4 stair step sides, with the shelves sharing these walls inside. This would make for a very unwieldy installation process.

I got to thinking about it again this week while cleaning up the garage, and seeing piles of small cutoffs all over the place in my way, and the big pile on the floor spilling in all directions from under my back workbench. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it once before, but suddenly a French cleat seemed the perfect idea. I had even used this on the same wall for that cabinet I made. I don’t know why it hadn’t occured to me. I found a 7’ long piece of scrap poplar in my wood shed, cut it down the middle at 45°, smoothed the sharp edges with my little Buck Bros. 3-inch block plane, and hung it level on the studs, 2 drywall screws per stud.

Here it is installed, perfectly level, and with the cleat resting inside it:

French cleat hung

The studs are 24” apart in this very old structure, so there was nothing at the end to screw into. I shured it up with a toggle bolt and some creative chiseling to fit it through:

hole carved for toggle bolt

toggle bolt in chiseled hole

Had to sink a washer into a chiseled counterbore:

toggle bolt installed in French cleat system

Looking back, I don’t know why I didn’t just drill a small hole through board and wall, remove the cleat from the wall, counterbore the board hole just enough for the screw head, bore a larger hole in the wall, insert the bolt through the board and screw on the toggle bit, and finally reinstall the board. There’d be no chiseling required. I guess I just hate taking things back apart again, and didn’t want to unscrew the perfectly level board from the wall. Sigh…

I put these stair-step sides away in my shed after they didn’t come out exactly to spec last year, probably in the summer. I was about to cut out new ones from some new ply today – something I did buy despite my recent and heavy budgeting – but then it occurred to me that I’ve been acting insane. These are negligibly off of the planned specs, but they’re also all identical with one another. It will never matter that a dimension is 23-7/8” instead of 24”. I could just cut shelving to fit the slightly wrong dimensions. I really need a shop assistant to give me a good stern look when I’m being ridiculous. It would save me countless hours of aggravation and wasted time:

plywood shelving sides

Not too long later I had used 3 of my new 2’x4’ ply sheets to carefully create the oddly-dimensioned panels, complete with measurements that included caveats like “1/16 less than the full 7/8ths, minus the 3/4 for the back, but plus an additional ~1/32 because it’s actually a metric thickness.” Sigh… Thankfully, I didn’t screw up any of this – all of the panels were perfect:

cut panels for shelving

As a side note, I have no idea what the surfaces of these plywood sheets are, but they are lumber-core, which means not sheets of veneer all the way through, but a sandwich in which the middle is all blocks of wood. I love the look of it. Bamboo, or Plyboo® comes in this style, among others, and it makes me want to leave the edges showing. Feel free to disagree. Of note, something I wouldn’t expect was that all of the ply panels I got from Home Depot earlier this year feature rather beautiful spalting in the cores:

spalted plywood

spalted plywood

spalted plywood

I pocket holed all of the shelving, and had another minor screw-up visible here (2 holes in one corner – first was the wrong hole in the Kreg jig, and too close to the edge for my liking):

shelving pocket holed

A somewhat surprising amount of time later (like 1.5 hours!?) I had glued, clamped, and pocket screwed the shelving into the sides:

shelving installed

As seen in the next shot of the back of the unit, the top and bottom shelves are full depth – flush with the back of the sides – but the 2 middle shelves were designed to be flush only with the front, with the backs shy enough to allow a sheet of wood to be cut later to slip in between the top, bottom, and sides, and press up against the backs of the middle shelves. Then I’d pocket screw the middle shelves into the back, and the back into the top, sides, and bottom. After gluing and screwing the first shelving unit together, it was clearly unnecessary. It was so solid, no back would be necessary to true anything up, which was great, because it was already pretty darn heavy:

back of unit with shelving installed

I cut out some 3/4” wide strips and drilled some countersinks. These would screw to the bottoms of the shelving unit’s sides to space the bottom from the wall the same distance the top would be spaced from the wall by the French cleat system. I made enough for 3 shelving units, as I’d originally planned to build 3 of them, each 2’ wide, for a 6’ wide set of shelves:

spacing strips for bottom of back of shelving units

I cut off a section of the free cleat to the width of the shelving unit and installed it with a lot of screws, because I wanted to be completely sure it would never pull free as the unit was loaded. I also installed the bottom spacers. Here you can see a clamp is pressing the cleat back together as glue dries. The top left corner’s screw split the wood:

cleat and spacers installed

It was only at this point, weary from hours of building with heavy sheet materials in a cramped garage that I realized my mistake. The unit is upside down here, because it can’t stand on its tiny bottom. I had installed the cleat and spacers upside down :( Thankfully it didn’t take long to unscrew them, reclamp them to the proper locations in perfect alignment, predrill through the holes, and sink the screws back in:

cleat and spacers swapped to correct sides

I could finally hang it! Looking in my projects folder, that ridiculous SketchUp mockup was from early March, 2009, almost a full year ago! I sure do like to let projects, even simply ones sit around forever. Anyway, here it is hung on the cleat:

shelving unit hung on wall

Yay! It is designed so the part that sticks farthest out – the top shelf – is well above my head. My eyes are about level with the bottom of the middle shelf, maybe slightly below that. As my router table is near this, I’ll be hovering around under the topmost shelf quite often.

And now, to tackle that pile on the floor, which has looked like this for longer than I am comfortable mentioning:

pile of cutoff scraps

That’s the biggest pile, but there are many more. After loading up the rack, dusting off each scrap as I went, it looked like this:

diminished pile of scraps

I can get the rest cleaned up rather quickly now. I can’t wait to get the last bits out of there and then vacuum it all up. I have designs on the space under that workbench :)

And here’s how the rack looked loaded up:

rack loaded

I did some calculations. All of the shelves are 23-3/4” wide inside. The top is 24-5/8” deep × 8” high. The middle is 16-5/8” deep × 7-7/8” tall. The bottom is 8-5/8” deep × 8-1/8” tall. That’s a total of 9,452.5in³, which means if I got all the math correct that the volume of this thing is 65.64BF. It can hold more than that if you count wood sticking out past the front of the shelves, so figure probably around 80BF or so. Not too bad, considering it’s only for small scrap cutoffs!

cutoff scraps in new rack

I really thought I had enough scrap floating around to fill more than 3 of these things, but after heavily depleting the piles in my shop, this thing can still hold probably half again or more of what I put in it. I don’t think I need to build 2 more of these after all, and in fact I will probably be going out to the shed to collect the smallest pieces that are floating around in there to put on display in this thing, so I’ll remember I have them and think up uses for them. I have all of the pieces cut and drilled to assemble another unit, so I think I will do that, but perhaps it will just serve as shelving for odds and ends, like tools that are currently scattered about without a home, which would be another kind of amazing help.

That wall is really filling up:

shop wall full of stuff

The 7’ cleat system means I have room for 2 more 2’ wide units, plus a bit:

empy wall space with French cleat awaiting new shelving units

Oh, and I’m planning to use the space on top of the top shelf for lighter things, like rolls of foam that are in my way right now on the floor, and some plastic miter boxes – stuff I don’t often need that doesn’t weigh a lot, but that is always tripping me up. That will be a relief. This one little box is solving so many problems for me!

As an aside, one of the ply boards had some lettering on one side that came off in a paper-thin veneer while dimensioning a panel. It says “CARB COMPLAINT PHASE 2.” Nice Freudian slip! It should read “CARB COMPLIANT,” where CARB is “California Air Resources Board.” Perhaps whoever typed the message into the system is tired of all of these regulations ;) CARB, btw, among other things governs how much formaldehyde is allowed in the final panels that get shipped to California stores:


There’s a lot left to do to get this place completely cleaned, but this was a very welcome next step. My plan going forward is to use the now nicely displayed wood, up at eye level where it’s easy to peruse as an indicator of when I should think up some ideas for scrap. Seeing the shelves full here makes me think I need to create some room, and using up scrap becomes a viable and fun option. I think anything that’s too crappy to use a few times in a row will end up in the to-burn pile. But that’s for another day. For now I have a lot else to clean up. Here’s the unit framed by just some of the mess of the rest of the shop:

shelving unit amid garage mess

messy garage

It was nice to complete a project and get some of the garage cleaned up for my 1-year anniversary of LumberJocks, which is today!

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

11 comments so far

View OutPutter's profile


1199 posts in 4961 days

#1 posted 02-22-2010 02:42 PM

Happy anniversary Gary.

-- Jim

View PurpLev's profile


8642 posts in 4619 days

#2 posted 02-22-2010 02:56 PM

Very cool design and very practical. also good use of the space.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View woodworm's profile


14477 posts in 4561 days

#3 posted 02-22-2010 03:41 PM

Nice design and great use of space.
...and happy 1st anniversary!

-- masrol, kuala lumpur, MY.

View Porosky's profile


619 posts in 4335 days

#4 posted 02-22-2010 04:27 PM

Gary, you may have solved my storage problem also. Great idea on the stepped storage. Like your stuff.

-- There's many a slip betwixt a cup and a lip.--Scott

View lew's profile


13272 posts in 4726 days

#5 posted 02-22-2010 04:53 PM

Great idea, Gary!!

Thanks for the info on “PlyBoo”. Looks like something to checkout here on the east coast.


-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View HokieMojo's profile


2104 posts in 4699 days

#6 posted 02-22-2010 05:12 PM

I’m still reading my way through (your blogs are often quite long, but always VERY readable – you do a great job) but I figured I’d make this comment before I forget. I wonder about why they used the spalted wood. I know that not everyone appreciates the look of spalting. In fact, I often do not like it myself, but in my opinion, the application makes all the difference in the world. That being said, unless you go through specialty channels, most people are trying to avoid spalted material at all costs. I bet this was their idea to use structurally good material that most people wouldn’t pay for. the plywood looks to have some fantastic color beneath the veneers.

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 4279 days

#7 posted 02-22-2010 06:01 PM

Great idea for the storage of the scraps. I have larger scraps stored up on wall shelves but I need a good storage space off the floor. Great idea.

View Mary Anne's profile

Mary Anne

1058 posts in 4179 days

#8 posted 02-22-2010 07:25 PM

This is an excellent creative solution. I’ve been trying to come up with a way to organize scraps out of the way, but visible enough that I will be more likely to use them. I think you’re on to something!

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27249 posts in 4792 days

#9 posted 02-22-2010 08:24 PM

That is a pretty cool idea, Gary. It does help organize your offcuts and keeps them readily available at the same time.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View childress's profile


841 posts in 4512 days

#10 posted 02-23-2010 07:49 AM

That’s simply awesome. Very practicle. I’d bet that plywood surface is poplar.

-- Childress Woodworks

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4352 days

#11 posted 02-25-2010 02:03 PM

Thanks everyone!

Hokie – I think the spalted stuff was soft maple. The boards were very light for plywood of this thickness. I almost always love spalting, but these may have been the spalted areas of otherwise unspalted wood, in which case I would also have cut them off. A little bit here and there just looks like a mistake.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

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