- Ideas & How-Tos
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Build this modular wood locker system for personal storage for everyone in the family.
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Before You Start:
When it comes to building a large-scale project with a modular design, such as this garage storage unit, there are a few tricks of the woodworking trade worth knowing and using. First, to reduce the number of times you have to set up machines for cutting and to get more consistent results, plan your work sequence so you can cut all like-size parts in one batch rather than working piecemeal.
For example, the top and bottom panels (A) and the uprights (B) for the locker unit are different lengths but the same 15-1/2-inch width. First, use a portable circular saw and straightedge guide to cut the full plywood sheets down to the required lengths. This still leaves some unwieldy 48-inch-wide panels to cut on the table saw, so set your rip fence 1/4-inch wider than your final size (15-3/4 inches in this case). This extra width helps in two ways. First, it allows a margin for trimming if the plywood shifts away from the fence and leaves an irregular kerf during the first cut; this is a common problem when trying to maneuver large sheets of plywood on a table saw. Second, it gives you room to trim the factory edges off the plywood, which sometimes get dinged or damaged during handling or transport. Run the parts through once at this setting, then flip them over and run the clean new edge against the rip fence set to the finish width of 15-1/2 inches. You'll have better results to show for your effort, with less time spent setting up your cuts.
Another useful trick is to build a jig for any repetitive work you have to do -- in this case for routing the 3/4-inch dadoes for the uprights to nest in (see illustration). These dadoes are all spaced at 16 inches (center-to-center) and consistency is important, but it's time-consuming to do laborious measuring and marking to ensure accuracy. Instead, you can make a simple plywood jig that uses each dado to guide the router for cutting the next one.
Start with a 3/4-inch-thick plywood rectangle measuring 12-5/8 inches by 24 inches and attach a 7/8-inch-wide plywood strip to one of the long edges, so there is a 1/8-inch "tongue" offset toward the underside of the jig. (NOTE: The width of the plywood jig is based on the setup we used -- a 6-inch diameter router base and a 3/4-inch straight bit; if your router is different, subtract the radius of both the base and the bit from your desired center-to-center spacing to get the correct jig offset. For example, 16 inches minus 3-3/8 inches = 12-5/8 inches.) The jig tongue will nest in one dado as you position the jig to rout the next one; simply clamp it in place and then guide the router base along the opposite edge of the jig.
Cut and label the parts as needed, using the Project and Cutting Diagrams as guides. As big and versatile as this project is when completed, it's surprisingly simple to construct from a relatively small assortment of different parts. Start by cutting down the full 3/4-inch plywood sheets into manageable sections and then individual parts as described above. Most of the parts will be used as is, but the top and bottom panels (A, N) for each unit, and the dividers (O) for the cubby unit, should be set aside so you can rout the joinery when you're ready.
When you get to that point, start by routing at one end of the first panel, using a straightedge guide; in effect, you are routing a rabbet rather than a dado because the joint will be open at the panel's end. Set the cutter depth to 1/8 inch so you have 5/8 inch of material remaining; that depth is plenty to seat the uprights and help align everything when you are assembling the frame (or 'carcass' for seasoned woodworkers). Position the jig described earlier so the indexing tongue nests snugly in that rabbet, butted against the inside edge, and clamp it securely in place. Measure 3 inches in (or half your router's baseplate diameter) from the opposite end of the jig platform and you should be at the center of your next dado marks; rout that dado, then reposition the jig and repeat the process until all of the dadoes are cut. Repeat this process for the remaining three panels.
At this point, you can use the same jig for routing the shelf dadoes in the dividers (O) for the cubby unit; note that the two end dividers should get dadoes only on their inside faces, while the other four dividers need dadoes on each face as shown. First you will need to trim 1-1/2 inches off the edge of the jig opposite the tongue edge. This will give you 14-1/8 inches from edge of divider to center of dado. After trimming, index the jig by placing the tongue against the bottom edge of the divider; secure with clamps before routing. After you finish routing all the dadoes, drill countersunk holes for the assembly screws as shown. Start about 1-1/2 inches from each edge and then space the remaining holes about 3 inches apart.
Using what plywood pieces remain, cut the two splice cleats (C, D) and shelf cleats (E) to size; drill countersunk 3/16-inch holes for screws as shown.
The 1/2-inch plywood sheets are for the back panels of each unit. Because of its size, the locker unit requires two pieces (F, G) to cover its back; the cubby unit's back panel (Q) can be one piece. For now, cut these parts slightly oversize, perhaps 1/4 inch in each direction; after they're installed you can use a trimming bit to rout the edges flush.
The face frames on each unit will be installed one piece at a time, attached to the front edges of the plywood parts. This step involves mostly just cutting 1x2 stock to length, but don't cut these rails and stiles (H, I, J, R, S, T) until the carcasses are assembled and you can confirm your dimensions. Note that the shelves feature trim pieces (L, U, V) that need to be ripped to narrower widths as well as cut to length.
If you plan to install the basketball holder, now is the best time to prepare the uprights to hold the dowels. See "Accessories" (below).
Start assembling the locker unit by attaching the shelf cleats to the uprights as shown; use glue and 1-1/4-inch screws, and offset the ends of adjacent cleats just slightly from the back edges of their upright so the screws don't overlap. Note also that the fourth upright from the left requires the splice cleats (C, D) and that they go over and under the shelf cleat on that side; these cleats help provide a wider fastening surface where the back panels (F, G) come together.
After the cleats are attached, move on to the bigger parts by attaching the two end uprights to the top and bottom panels as shown. It's easiest to build this assembly "on its back" - that is, to work on a flat floor surface and have the back edges down. Secure the corners with glue and 1-5/8-inch screws, then glue and screw the remaining uprights in place as shown.
When that step is complete, recruit a helper to assist you in standing the carcass upright and then tilting it forward so its front edges rest on the floor. Now it's time to attach the back panels. (Note: If you want the front faces of these panels painted, do that first and let them dry thoroughly; it's much easier than trying to paint them after they are installed. The same goes for the back panel of the lower unit.) Clamp or screw temporary stop blocks to the back edge of the upright with the splice cleats on it, so the first panel (F) aligns on the joint between the cleats and divider. Then align either the top or bottom edge of the panel with the carcass top or bottom and clamp it in place. At this point the carcass may be slightly out of square; if that's the case, nudge the corners so they align more accurately with those of the plywood back panel and check the assembly for square. When everything lines up properly, fasten the panel with 5d nails (or narrow-crown 1-1/4-inchstaples).
Next, put the smaller back panel (G) into position, butted tightly against the edge of the larger (F) panel. Attach with nails or staples, then use a router with a flush-trim bit to rout the outside edges of these two panels with the perimeter of the carcass.
Finally, you have to rotate the assembly onto its back again so you can install the face frame parts (H, I, J), which are cut from 1x2-inch pine stock. Start with the two end stiles (H); use glue and finishing nails to attach the stiles to the front edges of the outermost uprights, aligning them flush on the outside and the ends. Then fit the upper and lower rails (I) and attach them the same way, and finally, attach the remaining stiles (J).
At this point you can also cut the shelves (K) and their trim pieces (L); secure the trim to the front edge of each shelf with glue and finishing nails.
Construction of the base unit follows a very similar sequence, with just a few design differences. As noted earlier, the uprights (O) for this assembly have dadoes routed to receive fixed shelves (P). The back panel (Q) is a single piece of 1/2-inch plywood rather than the spliced back required for the upper unit.
Follow the same assembly sequence you used for the upper assembly: Attach the two outer uprights (O) to the top and bottom panels (N), then install the remaining uprights to fill in the center area. Next are the shelves (P); start with the two in the end bays and secure them from both sides with glue and screws through the dado joints. Then install the other three shelves with glue, driving screws where you have access.
The back panel (Q) on this unit is easier to install due to its smaller size and one-piece construction, so you can re-cut it to exact size prior to installation if you want. Again, lay the assembly front-edge down and attach the panel at one corner; align the remaining corners with the panel to square up the carcass, then drive the rest of your nails or staples.
To attach the face frame, flip the assembly onto its back again and repeat the procedure you used for the first face frame -- outer stiles (R) first, then the upper and lower rails (S), and finally the center stiles (T) and the shelf trim (U, V). We also added four simple plywood "feet" (W) to keep the unit raised slightly off the floor.
If you like the plywood look of this project then you won't need to paint anything other than the back panels, but you might want to use a clear topcoat finish to help protect the surfaces and keep things cleaner. We used two coats of polyurethane varnish.
As for the installation, any large vertical assembly such as this garage organizer involves the tendency to be a little top-heavy, especially when the storage bays are filled. To prevent a dangerous tip-over, securely anchor the unit to wall studs.
The base unit is stable enough to simply rest on the floor and be positioned against the wall, but if your garage floor is uneven you may have to slip shims under one or more feet to get things level and to keep it from rocking. Take care of that first, then use a stud finder to locate the wall studs and make sure they are within the open bays so you'll have access for fastening. Then, before you lift the upper unit on top of the base cabinet, mark and drill holes through the cabinet back panel for the mounting screws; plan on using at least 10 screws in two horizontal rows (a pair in each open bay), fastening within 12 inches of both the top and bottom of this upper cabinet.
Recruit a helper to assist with lifting this cabinet into place, and align the ends with the base unit. Drive #14 x 2-1/2-inch sheet-metal screws through your holes in the back panel and into the wall studs; make absolutely sure the screws are hitting solid wood so they hold the cabinet securely to the wall.
What makes a project like this versatile isn't just the open storage spaces but also the accessories for organizing specific items. That means the best accessories for your storage project might differ from what we used, but these guidelines will help you duplicate the ones you want or come up with your own versions. Note that some items like the undercabinet shelf (above) can be purchased ready-to-use at Lowe's and simply attached to the upper storage unit. The others (below) can be made in your shop.
This is probably the simplest accessory to make, consisting of just two 1-inch dowel rods connected by flat bungee cords. The space between the faces of adjacent uprights (B) is 15-1/4 inches; drilling 1/8-inch-deep, 1-inch-diameter holes into the uprights creates shallow pockets where the dowel ends can nest and be secured with glue and screws. We spaced our holes at 4 inches and 36 inches up from the bottom panel (A); the upper rod should fit easily by spreading the uprights apart slightly by hand, but you will have to use a hammer and a wood block to coax the lower dowel into place, as the uprights won't flex as much that close to their lower ends.
Baseball Glove Hanger
This hanger features a plywood base with dowels angled upward to act as hooks. Cut the base (X) to size and chamfer the ends as indicated, then mark the locations for the dowels. If your drill press head or table will tilt to 15 degrees, use that adjustment to set the angle; if not, shim one end of the base on your drill press table to get the approximate angle, or use a handheld drill for these 3/4-inch holes. Glue the dowels in place, then attach the hanger to the upright with 1-1/4 inch screws.
Baseball Bat Rack
This accessory consists of a plywood backing block or base and a series of 3/4-inch hardwood dowels. Cut the base (Y) to size and chamfer the ends as shown, then mark and drill the 3/4-inch dowel holes and also a pair of screw holes as shown. Use 1-1/4-inch screws to attach the base to an upright in the location desired, allowing plenty of vertical clearance for both ends of the bats. Then cut the dowel rods to length and glue them into the base.
Tennis Racket Holder
This holder features construction similar to the baseball bat rack, but the dimensions of the base (BB) and the dowel spacing are different. The two dowels provide a nesting spot for the end of the racket handle, so measure your racket before you mark and drill for these dowels.
This is a shelf-and-divider unit that requires just two parts (Z, AA) and a dado construction method similar to one used for the larger assemblies. Before building this rack, confirm that the dimensions we provide will accommodate your own rollerblades and accessories. If they won't, adjust your design accordingly. This assembly nests in the bottom of any of the locker bays, but you'll have to tilt it slightly to clear the face frame when setting it in place.
Fishing Pole Rack
This accessory features two plywood bases, similar in design to previous versions, and introduces one new material—PVC pipe cut into short sleeves for the pole handles to nest in. Cut the pipe into segments as shown, and mark the hole spacing indicated. If you have a drill press, clamp some guide boards down on the table to create a narrow channel for the pipe to nest in and adjust them to make sure that the drill bit will enter the center of the pipe face. Using the 3/8-inch bit, drill completely through the first wall but just dimple the inside of the second wall; do this for all the sleeves, then switch to a 3/16-inch drill bit and use those dimples as guide holes to finish drilling through-holes for the screws. Use 3/4-inch screws to attach the sleeves to the lower base (DD) as shown, then mount that assembly to the outer upright of the locker unit as shown. Add two screw-eyes as indicated on the upper base (CC) and attach it near the top of the locker as shown. Connect the bungee cord hooks to the screw-eyes to secure the upper ends of the fishing rods.