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Garage Storage Ideas: Find Unused Space

Updated: Feb. 22, 2023

The average garage has more than 150 sq. ft. of unused storage space. We'll show you where to find it.

FH06SEP_GAMESH_01-2Family Handyman
Create a huge, accessible storage platform on the upper walls of your garage without taking up any floor space. With these 2-ft. wide shelves you can make 150 square feet of storage space in a weekend.

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Step 1: Overview

A versatile storage system

The perfect place for all of your stuff!

The average two-car garage has the upper regions of three 24-ft.-long walls ready and available for big-time storage. Add a continuous 2-ft.-deep shelf on all three walls and you’re talking about a huge, accessible storage platform without taking up any floor space whatsoever. This project will work on just about any garage on the planet, although you may have to customize it a bit for your garage. (More on adapting it later.) We show this project in a garage with finished walls, but the assembly techniques will also work on garages with open studs.

While these shelves aren’t sturdy enough to store your anvil collection, they’re plenty strong enough for off-season clothes, sporting goods and camping gear. In short, just about anything you’d want to hoist up onto an 8-ft.-high shelf and out of the way. In general, keep the weight under about 30 lbs. per linear foot.

The 23-in.-high apron under the shelf is a great place to drive nails and hooks for hanging garden tools, cords and hoses—all that other stuff that clutters up the garage. Add a closet rod between a couple of braces and you have a convenient place to hang jackets, raincoats or other clothes.

Cutting and installing the parts for an entire garage will only take you a weekend. As for skills, it’s a project any weekend warrior can tackle. If you can handle a circular saw, a screw gun and basic hand tools, you’ll have no problems. For the cleanest look, use a miter saw to cut the trim. And to speed up the job, use a brad nailer for most of the nailing.

Planning Your Shelves

There are no magic heights or widths for your shelves; you’ll want to customize them for your garage and needs. The best strategy is to build a 3-ft.-long mockup of our shelf and hold it against the walls in various positions to test the fit. It just takes a little effort and may help prevent headaches later. Then you can decide what height and size the shelves need to be to clear obstacles. Some rules of thumb for sizing and positioning:

  • Choose shelf heights that’ll allow for enough space between the ceiling and the shelf for the tall items you plan to store.
  • Make sure that shelves and braces will clear obstructions like garage doors, garage door tracks and service doors.
  • In foot traffic areas (near car doors, for example), keep braces above head level and back from doorways, so you don’t bump into them.
  • If you have an SUV or a pickup truck, make sure the braces won’t obstruct the doors.
  • If you need to build narrower shelves, just shrink the plywood braces and shelves by the same amount.

Step 2: Choosing the materials

Our shelving system is made from oak plywood and solid oak trim. If you choose 3/4-in. CDX (construction grade) plywood and pine trim, you’ll whittle down the cost. We prefinished everything with two coats of polyurethane. If you choose to finish your shelves, roll the finish on the full sheets of plywood and brush the finish on all of the trim boards before cutting. That’ll take scads less time than finishing it later.

Measure the overall length of shelving you intend to build and then use the dimensions in Figure B to help calculate the materials you need.

Figure B: Shelf Construction Details

This is the basic plan for shelf construction.

Step 3: Lay out the walls and mount the aprons

Photo 1: Rip the plywood sheets

Rip 24-in.-wide shelves and 23-in.-wide aprons from each 3/4-in. sheet of plywood. Use a factory edge as a straightedge guide.

Photo 2: Nail the apron

Snap a chalk line to mark the top of the apron and then mark the stud locations. Hold the plywood apron even with the line and nail them with 16d finish nails, four to each stud.

Rip each sheet into one 23-in.-wide apron and one 24-in.-wide shelf. Use the factory edge of a “freehand” cut shelf as a saw guide for straight cuts on the other shelves and aprons (Photo 1).

Snap a line on the wall to mark the top of the apron and then mark all of the studs with masking tape. Take your time with this step; it’s important that the apron nails anchor into solid framing, since they support the entire weight of the shelf. To be sure, poke nails through the drywall (just below the line, where holes will be hidden) to find the centers of studs. Start the first apron somewhere in the middle of the wall, making sure that both ends fall on the centers of the studs. Then work toward the corners where the freehand crosscut ends will be hidden. If you’re working alone, partially drive a couple of “stop” nails at the chalk line to help align the apron (Photo 2). That’ll eliminate any guesswork. Prestart a couple of nails at stud locations before hoisting the apron into place so you can tack it to the wall while supporting it with one hand.

Step 4: Cut and mount the braces

Photo 3: Cut the braces

Rip 20-in.-wide lengths of plywood and cut them into 20-in. squares. Draw a diagonal line and cut the triangular braces. Use a sharp blade to minimize splintering.

Photo 4: Assemble the braces

Rest the braces on 1-3/8-in.-thick spacer blocks, then mark the center of each 1×4 cleat. Predrill 1/8-in. holes and screw them together with three 2-1/2-in. screws.

Photo 5: Install the braces

Fasten each brace to the apron, flush with the top, with four 1-5/8-in. screws. Space the braces at the ends and middle of each full sheet.

Cut the triangular braces from 20-in. squares (Photo 3). You can cut the diagonal freehand because the trim will hide minor cutting flaws. Use two 1-3/8-in.-wide spacers to center and support the brace while you’re screwing the 1×4 brace cleat to the back side (Photo 4). Drill 1/8-in. pilot holes into both pieces and countersink holes in the cleats to prevent splitting. Use three 2-1/2-in. screws, one about 2 in. in from each end and one more centered. For the best appearance, run the wood grain the same direction on each brace.

Drill four pilot holes in the cleats, two 1-1/2 in. from the top and two more 3 in. up from the bottom. Then screw each brace assembly to the apron (Photo 5). Use finish washers under the screws for a polished look. Position them directly over each apron seam and then place one more in the center so no shelf span is more than 4 ft. Make sure they’re flush and square with the top of the apron. When shelving turns a corner, center a brace exactly 24 in. from one wall (Figure B). This brace will support the front edge of the shelf on the adjoining wall as well as a shelf end.

Step 5: Nail on the shelves and add the trim

Photo 6: Nail the shelves

Nail the shelves to the apron and to the braces with 2-in. nails spaced every 8 in. Make sure joints meet at the center of the 3/4-in. braces.

Photo 7: Add the brace trim

Cut the 1×2 brace trim pieces to fit with opposite 45-degree bevels at each end. Glue and nail them to the braces with 2-in. brads.

Photo 8: Nail on the front trim

Cut the 1×2 edge trim to length, and glue and nail it to the front edge of the shelf with 2-in. brads.

Lay the shelves in place so joints fall over the braces and nail them to the braces and the apron with 2-in. brads spaced every 8 in. As with the apron, start somewhere in the center of each wall so you’ll have factory edges abutting each other at joints and the saw cuts will be hidden at the ends. Angle the nails slightly at joints so they hit the center of the braces.

Add trim to the raw plywood edges for a nice finished look. Trim also strengthens the assembly and stiffens the shelves. Cut the brace trim to fit with opposing 45-degree bevels at each end. Then glue and nail them to each brace with 2-in. brads (Photo 7).

Starting at one end of each wall and working toward the other, cut the shelf edging to fit (Photo 8). Overlap plywood joints by at least 2 ft. for better support. The plywood will be a little wavy, but it’ll straighten out as you nail on the trim.

Customize the Design

You can easily customize this shelving to fit special items like golf clubs, hanging clothes or anything else that’s best stored in a cabinet or on open shelving. Just assemble a cabinet box like the one we show here so that the sides fall over the wall studs. Go as narrow as 16 in. or as wide as 4 ft., but make sure you can attach the cleats directly to wall studs. Attach those cleats to the back of the cabinet with 2-in. screws placed every foot just as you did with the braces, and then screw the assembly to the wall. The cabinet sides replace the 45-degree braces and supports the shelf. A simple unit like this one takes no more moxie than the shelves required. If you’re interested in drawers or fancier cabinetry work, you’re only limited by your cabinetmaking skills.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Circular saw
  • Cordless drill
  • Level
  • Miter saw
The job will go faster with a finish nailer.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • 16d finish nails
  • 1x2
  • 1x4
  • 2-1/2-in. screws
  • 2-in. brad nails
  • 3/4” plywood (1 1/4 sheet per 8' section)

If your garage is an unusable space in colder climates, consider purchasing a garage heater.