Make a stylish shelving system for your home using easy-to-build boxes and hollow-core doors.
Time Required
Estimated Cost

What You Need for This Project

Prepare the Box Parts

cut the insulation
Cut 4 inches [10.16 cm] from the length and width of a 1-1/2-inch-thick [3.81 cm] piece of rigid insulation. Place a piece of 3/4-inch [1.9 cm] plywood on the insulation sheet. The insulation provides a way to fully support the panel as you cut it to size, and it backs the cut to reduce splintering. By cutting the insulation slightly smaller than the sheet, a straightedge board can be clamped to the plywood to guide the saw for accurate cuts.
measure and cut plywood

Measure the distance from the inside edge of the blade to the edge of your circular saw base that will ride against the straightedge as you cut.

Mark the desired width of the cut (Project Diagram, Cutting List), allowre for the saw base offset, and clamp the straightedge board to the plywood. Double-check where the blade touches the cut line and make the cut.

TIP: When pushing the saw down the sheet, apply pressure slightly in the direction of the straightedge board to prevent the saw cut from wandering away from the guide.

sand and prep for painting

Repeat the straightedge setup and cut to size the tops/bottoms, sides, and backs of the boxes.

Sand the panels in the direction of the grain with 180-grit sandpaper. Mark a line 1-1/2 inches [3.81 cm] from the bottom and 3/4 inch [1.9 cm] down from the top of the sides and back. Cover these areas with painter’s tape. (Wood glue doesn’t stick well to paint, so masking these strips will allow a better glue bond when you assemble the cases.)

TIP: By holding the tape away from the layout line, the paint will go just a bit into the joint area. That way, if the final assembly is slightly off, the raw wood will not be exposed.

prime and paint the wood
Apply primer to the interior faces of the panels. After that dries, apply two coats of paint. When the paint is dry, remove the tape.

Assemble the Boxes

glue the pieces

Apply glue to one end of the bottom panel and place it on two 3/4-inch-thick [1.9 cm] spacers. Clamp one side of the box to the bottom and secure the joint by hammering 8d finish nails or driving 1-3/4-in [4.45 cm] nails with a brad nailer. Now add the top to the side panel.

Glue and nail the second side and then the back to the box.

assemble the pieces

Cut the stiles (the vertical frame pieces) to match the height of the box sides. Glue and nail them to the case so their outside edges are flush with the outside edges of the box. Hold the rails (the horizontal pieces) in place and mark their length. Cut the rails to length.

TIP: When making parts for a project, slight variations occur, and you should always use the completed assembly to mark the actual length or width to cut a part — a method called “cutting to fit.”

finish the boxes

Glue and nail the rails in position. If you use a hammer to drive the finish nails, use a hammer and nail set to drive the finish nails 1/16 inch [.159 cm] below the surface of the wood. Fill any nail holes or slight gaps between any boards with wood putty using a putty knife.

Sand the assembled boxes and the bifold doors with 180-grit sandpaper and apply the primer and paint. To prevent the outside paint color from getting on the inside of the boxes painted earlier, apply painter’s tape to the front edge of the plywood bottom.

Repeat as needed for the remaining boxes. We made a total of four long boxes and six square boxes, and we used three pairs of bifold doors to make the shelves.

Stack the Shelves

add doors
Using the Project Diagrams, place the doors and boxes as indicated, or in your own configuration. To prevent the parts from being tipped, drive 1-1/4-inch [3.175 cm] screws through the top and bottom of each box into the door panels once the components are in position.
finish the project
If the unit exceeds 32 inches [81.28 cm] tall, secure the unit to the wall by driving screws through the backs of upper boxes and into the wall studs or wall anchors. Where the unit meets the wall, you will need a spacer that is as thick or thicker than the wall base trim in your home.

More Small Space Solutions