Assemble this large and versatile garage storage system in a weekend. It features many sizes of cabinets and various widths of shelves, yet leaves plenty of open wall spaces for hanging tools and other items.
By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine
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Overview: Storage space, costs and tools
For most of us, the garage is more than just a parking space. It’s also storage space for outdoor toys and gardening gear and a workshop for home projects and hobbies. With its cabinets, open shelves and countertop, this wall system is designed to suit all those additional needs and still leave room for parking. And because it’s built around standard cabinets, installation is simple. If you can screw cabinets to the wall, you can build this system.
You can install garage cabinets, countertop and shelves in a single weekend. If you add extras like we did—a fresh paint job, a backsplash shelf, hooks and other hardware—expect to spend a second weekend completing the job. You’ll need standard tools like a drill and circular saw. A table saw will come in handy but isn’t absolutely necessary. We bought all the materials for our 24-ft.-long wall system at a home center for a total cost of $2,400. That’s about $100 per linear foot. If you use inexpensive cabinets as we did, your per-foot costs will be similar.
Storage That’s Adaptable, Versatile, Simple
Create a customized system by arranging store-bought cabinets any way you like. Our system is 24 feet long and features a variety of cabinets and shelves for different storage needs.
Step 1: Shop for parts and sketch out a plan
Before you plan this project, check out your cabinet options at a home center. Most home centers carry several styles of inexpensive standard kitchen cabinets. Other options are unfinished cabinets, which you can paint or stain, or “ready-to-assemble” cabinets that you assemble yourself. With either option, ask for a list of available sizes. You’ll need only “upper” cabinets, which in a kitchen typically hang above the countertop. Most upper cabinets are 30 in. tall, about 12 in. deep and available in various widths. We used mostly 30-in.-tall cabinets, including two corner cabinets. We also used three short “refrigerator cabinets” (designed to fit above the fridge in a kitchen).
While you’re at the home center, also look at countertops. You can choose from a small selection of in-stock colors (about $10 per linear ft.) or order any color imaginable starting at $20 per linear ft. If you special-order, you can have the countertops made to the width you choose and avoid cutting them (Photo 5). You can also make your own laminate countertops. We also used butcher block (about $35 per linear ft.) as one section of our countertop to provide a heavy-duty work surface.
With your list of available cabinet sizes in hand, you can plan the cabinet layout by making a scale drawing on graph paper. Or you can experiment with different layouts right on the wall, using masking tape to mark cabinet locations. Don’t space cabinets more than 36 in. apart or the countertop and shelves may sag. You may want to leave out the countertop in one or two spots so you can hang shovels, rakes and other tall stuff on the wall. The countertop can be anywhere from 13 in. to 16 in. deep—just be sure that it won’t interfere with parking the car or opening the doors. When your plan is complete, make up a materials list using our list as a guide (See “Additional Information,” below).
Figure A: Garage Wall System Details
The entire system is based on standard wall cabinets. The countertop and upper shelf rest on the cabinets. Open shelves hang on adjustable shelf supports between cabinets.
You can download and enlarge Figure A in “Additional Information” below.
Step 2: Install the lower ledger
Photo 1: Mount the ledgers
Level and screw 1×2 ledgers to the wall to support the base cabinets and keep them off the floor.
To get started, locate all the wall studs. Then use a level to draw a continuous line on the wall marking the position of the lower edge of each cabinet. If you make this line perfectly straight and level, your cabinet and countertop installation will go quickly and smoothly. If your cabinets are 30 in. tall, place the line 4-1/2 in. from the floor to end up with a standard countertop height of 36 in. Keep in mind that many garage floors slope for drainage. To deal with the slope of our garage floor, we measured up 4-1/2 in. at the middle of the wall. That gave us a 3-1/2-in. height at the high end and 5-1/2 in. at the low end.
Next, screw 1x2s along the level line to create the ledger that supports the cabinets (Photo 1). Fasten the ledger with 2-1/2-in. screws. You can make the ledger continuous, but the final project will look better if you place the ledger only where you’ll later place cabinets.
Step 3: Set cabinets on the ledger
Photo 2: Mount the cabinets
Set each cabinet on the ledger and screw it to studs. Hold a level against the front of the cabinet and level it with shims.
Photo 2A: Close-up of cabinet screw
Cabinet screws have extra large heads.
Photo 3: Drill shelf support holes
Drill shelf-support holes in the outsides of any cabinets that will support open shelves. Position the holes with a scrap of pegboard.
Photo 4: Install cabinet bolts
Lock adjoining cabinets together with cabinet bolts.
Photo 4A: Close-up of cabinet bolt
Cabinet bolts join cabinet sides and have a clean, crisp appearance.
Remove the cabinet doors to make installation easier. Also drill shelf support holes in those cabinets that will support open shelves (Photo 3). Then simply rest each cabinet on the ledger and screw them to the wall studs using special cabinet screws (available at home centers). Drive at least two screws at the top and two at the bottom of each cabinet. With narrow cabinets that don’t span two studs, use toggle bolts. When a cabinet is screwed into place, hold a level upright against the front. Chances are, you’ll have to loosen screws and insert shims behind the top or bottom to make the cabinet plumb (Photo 2).
Our plan included cabinets with open shelf spaces between and a few cabinets that were joined together. Cabinet bolts (available at home centers) are the best way to join cabinets like ours (Photo 4). Screws would easily pull out of the thin particleboard sides. With face-frame cabinets, you can simply screw the face frames together.
Cut countertops to width with the laminate side down to avoid chips and scratches.
Photo 6: Add plywood support
Glue and screw plywood to the undersides of the countertops to strengthen them. Create a “half-lap” at corners by running plywood short on one side and long on the other.
Photo 7: Set the countertops
Spread glue on the half-lap joint and fit the mitered countertop sections together. Fasten the countertops by driving screws up through the cabinets.
Cut your countertops to width (Photo 5). We cut ours 16 in. wide. The cut doesn’t have to be perfect since the backsplash will hide it. Next, cut the countertops to length (or adjust the spacing between cabinets, as we did). If the cut end will be exposed, this cut has to be straight and smooth, so clamp a straightedge to the countertop to guide your saw. Then attach a laminate end cap (from home centers) to cover the cut end.
The countertop will bridge open spaces between cabinets, so strengthen it with a 3/4-in. plywood backing. The plywood also allows you to form strong “half-lap” joints at mitered corners (Photo 6 and 7). You can’t join miters as usual using draw bolts because the bolt slots aren’t accessible from inside the cabinets. Before you set the countertops in place, screw 1×2 ledgers between cabinets. To fasten the countertops, drive screws into the countertops from underneath at the front and back of each cabinet.
Support the upper cabinets with a homemade wood box. Adjust the cabinet height precisely with shims and screw it to the studs.
Photo 9: Assemble the top shelf
Build the upper shelf from two layers of plywood. Offset the joints and make sure all joints are over cabinets.
Photo 9A: Add shelf trim
Trim the shelf with 1×2.
Mark a level line 18 in. above the countertop. This line marks the bottom of the upper cabinets just as your previous level line marked the lower cabinets. Then build a 17-7/8-in.-tall box from scrap wood to make installing the upper cabinets easier. Set each cabinet on this box and use shims to perfectly align the cabinet with the level line (Photo 8). Fasten and level the cabinets just as you did before.
Assemble the upper shelf on top of the cabinets. First cut 3/4-in. plywood into strips 17-1/4 in. wide. Screw ledgers between the cabinets and set the first layer of plywood over the cabinets with the best-looking side face down. Drive 1-1/4-in. screws up through the cabinets to fasten them. Then add the second layer and screw it to the first (Photo 9).
Cut the shelves that hang between cabinets from pine stair tread stock, which is a full 1 in. thick and won’t sag like particleboard shelves. Cut the shelves 1/4 in. shorter than the spaces between cabinets. Your backsplash can be as simple as a painted 1×4 nailed to the wall. To build a backsplash shelf like ours, see Figure A. Space the upright 1×2 supports every 4 ft.
To avoid damaging the cabinet doors, hang them after the entire project is complete. Align the doors using the adjusting screws on the hinges, then attach the door pulls.
Solutions for any Garage Wall
Our garage had stud walls covered with drywall, but you can install this system in any garage. Here’s how:
If your garage has concrete block walls, follow the same steps we show, but use masonry screws to fasten ledgers and cabinets to the block. You’ll have to predrill holes with a hammer drill, so the project will take longer.
If you have bare stud walls, you could install this system as shown. But consider covering the wall with 3/4-in. plywood or OSB. That way, you can fasten ledgers and cabinets to the plywood; no need to locate studs.
If your garage walls are built on a protruding block or concrete curb (shown) that won’t allow you to mount cabinets near the floor, you can “fur out” the wall to create a flat surface. Screw horizontal 2x4s to the wall centered 24 in. apart, then screw 3/4-in. plywood to the 2x4s.