How to build strong DIY wooden storage shelves (with photos)

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Are you looking to improve storage in your laundry room, utility room or garage? Or are you wondering how to build storage shelves (strong ones)? If so, this article will show you how I built a strong utility shelving system using 2×4’s and OSB sheet boards. (And I think I made it look pretty good too.)

How to build strong storage shelves - before and after picture of my laundry room
How I Built Strong Storage Shelves

Note I am not a carpenter or an engineer so I can’t guarantee any load limits of a shelf like this. So build at your own risk. But I’ll share what I did to build these storage shelves.

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Below is a picture of the finished shelves.

How to build storage shelves - here is a picture of my completed laundry room storage shelves
How to Build Storage Shelves – the completed laundry room storage shelves

A good set of storage shelves like this can be key to helping your organize your house. Just imagine all your seasonal totes nicely stacked upon here!

Laundry Room Before Picture

Just so you get a sense of what I was starting with, here is a picture of what that corner looked like before I started working on it. Just a tad bit messy.

Before I built the storage shelves in my laundry room
Before the laundry room remodel/makeover

I put a couple sheets of drywall on the back wall. I painted the wood paneling white, and we got new vinyl plank flooring installed.

If you also have wood paneling check out my article on how to paint wood paneling.

I put some drywall on the wall, got new vinyl plank flooring, and I painted the wood paneling white.

About the Built-in DIY Storage Shelves I made

These shelves are not free-standing.

I decided to make these DIY storage shelves as built-in: they are directly attached to the walls in my laundry room.

These shelves are one of the projects I tackled in my laundry room makeover. And because they are “permanent” I wanted them to look good, so I put finishing trim on the front and side to enhance the look.

But you don’t have to do this if you don’t care how they look.

How can I make my shelves stronger?

This is what I wanted to know. I wanted to feel confident putting heavier totes on the shelves.

I was going to just screw the shelves into wall studs and have the shelves supported by the screws. But I wanted it stronger. I didn’t want to just build storage shelves…I wanted to build STRONG storage shelves!

After some YouTube’ing, I found the answer. I put pieces of wood directly under each shelf at the corners: I’ll call these bracing pieces. I decided to put these bracing pieces – vertically placed – under the 4 corners of each shelf.

You can get a better idea of what I mean by the picture below where you see one of the bracing pieces in one of the corners.

How to build strong storage shelves - using bracing pieces answer the question of how can I make my shelves stronger
These vertical bracing pieces help provide strength to the shelves

So the strength of these shelves is provided by the bracing pieces of wood that go underneath the 4 corners of each shelf.

Cutting the Bracing Pieces to Provide the Strength for these Heavy Duty Shelves

You cut the bracing pieces to the same length as the shelf height.

So if you are going to have a 16” gap between shelves you cut your bracing pieces 16” long.

I wanted the bottom shelf to be 18-inches off the floor so I could put my cat’s litterbox and larger totes on the floor and still slide them under the bottom shelf. So I cut four bracing pieces that were 18” long.

The other three shelves were spaced 16” apart. So for each of these shelves I cut 4 pieces of bracing 2×4 at 16” long (so total of 12 bracing pieces that are 16-inches).

Building Each Individual Shelf Frame

I built each shelf outside and then brought it inside to “assemble” the shelving system. All 4 shelves were built exactly the same size and in the same way.

I built the “frame” of each shelf using 2×4’s.

How to build strong storage shelves - here is a shelf frame that I built...I built 4 shelves the same way

I built each shelf frame 67” long and 24” deep. I customized my shelves to fit my room. And you can choose to make your shelves longer or shorter, and you can choose a different depth if you want.

I chose 24” deep shelves because all my totes will fit on this size, and I can cut a 4-foot wide piece of OSB board lengthwise to get two shelves from it.

The long 2×4’s were cut to 67”.

The 2×4 pieces that provide the depth of the shelves were cut 21”.   Why 21”?  Since I wanted 24” total and a two long 2×4’s on each end are 1.5” each, I subtracted 24” – 1.5” – 1.5” to get 21”.

I placed the two middle 2×4’s (the 21″ pieces) at a spot that WOULDN’T interfere with my ability to screw the long back piece into the studs in the wall.

I used OSB (Oriented Strand Board) for the top of the shelf frame

For the surface of the shelves I decided to use 7/16” OSB (Oriented Strand Board).

I painted them white (but they still look a little rough).  Next time I think I’ll pay a little more and buy plywood that is good on one side…it would make the shelf look better. But for strictly utility shelving where you don’t care about the look , the OSB works really well and is inexpensive.

I bought two sheets of the OSB, and then I cut each sheet of OSB lengthwise to make 2-foot wide strips, and then cut them to be 67” long.

Building strong storage shelves, cutting the OSB
Cutting the OSB to length with my circular saw (and scrap wood as a guide)

I painted the OSB boards to try and make them look a little better.

I wanted the shelves to look a little better so I painted the OSB shelf white

Assembling the storage shelves

Once I built the 4 shelf frames, cut the OSB shelf-tops, and had all the bracing pieces cut, it was time to assemble the shelves.

This went fairly fast.

Here is a basic rundown of how I assembled all the pieces of the storage shelves.

A) I placed the bracing pieces against the wall at the four corners.

I screwed three of the bracing pieces into the wall studs (the fourth corner…the front right corner…is free standing at this point so you just balance it upright for now).

B) Then I placed the shelf frame on top of the bracing pieces. (Make sure it is level.)

How to build strong storage shelves - i placed the shelf frame upon the bracing pieces and screwed the frame into the wall studs.
I placed the shelf frame upon the bracing pieces and made sure it was level prior to screwing the frame into the wall studs.

Then I screwed the frame into the wall studs.

So it was secured to the wall on the back side and the left side, and it is also resting upon the bracing pieces.

C) Then I placed a piece of the cut OSB on top of the shelf frame. 

I made sure it was square to the frame and then I put a couple screws through the OSB board into the shelf frame.

D) Voila, that is the bottom shelf completed.

This is the shelf that is 18” off the ground.

Then it was on to the next shelf which was 16” above the bottom shelf.

E) Repeat the process.

I placed the bracing pieces onto the OSB of the first shelf. I screwed the bracing pieces into wall on the 3 corners and placed the fourth corner brace (front right corner) standing upright onto the OSB…just balancing.

Then I placed a shelf frame on top of the bracing pieces. I screwed the frame to the wall studs along the back wall and left side making sure it was level side-to-side and front-to-back.

Then I placed a piece of the cut OSB onto the frame and screwed it to the frame.

Second shelf completed.

How to build storage shelves - I assembled the shelves one at a time starting at the bottom and building up
Build Strong Storage Shelves

And I repeated this process until I had completed the third and fourth shelves.

What about the front right side?

You keen readers are probably wondering, “What about the front right side? What did you do with those bracing pieces just free-standing there?”

Once I had my fourth shelf installed, I went to the front right corner, I measured from the floor to the top of the fourth shelf.

For my shelves it was 82-inches.

I then cut a piece of 2×4 lumber 82-inches long.

I placed this 82” long 2×4 vertically in the front right corner and then screwed it into the shelf frames.

After it was secured to the shelf frames, I screwed the bracing pieces to this long 2×4. This helped secure and solidify the front right corner of the shelves.

Put trim onto the shelves

You definitely don’t have to do this step, but I wanted to make the shelves a little more attractive.

I figured since I’m doing a laundry room makeover I might as well try and make it look pretty.

I put trim along the front of the shelves to cover the side edge of the OSB.  I had to use my table saw to rip the 4.5”-wide piece of trim down to 4”.  (The width of a 2×4 isn’t actually 4-inches…it is about 3.5-inches but with the 7/16” OSB on top of it, it came to pretty much 4-inches.)

I also put trim vertically on the front right corner, and along the right side so when you walk into the laundry room from the door, the shelf looks nice and “finished”.

I used my Bostitch 18 gauge brad nailer to nail the trim to the shelves.

Bostich brad nailer - it is what I used to attach the trim
Click to see details on this brad nailer on Amazon

(I’m real happy with this nail gun so far. If you’re thinking of getting a brad nailer for DIY projects I suggest you check it out. Mine is model number BTFP1850K. Click to see more details on Amazon.)

There were a couple gaps that didn’t look very good. So I used drywall putty to fill the gaps. And I used the putty to cover the nail-head dimples on the trim.

Filling the gaps (for appearance purposes)

Once the putty dried, I sanded it then I painted the nail heads and touched up the shelves.

(I should have done a more thorough paint job of all the shelf frames when I had it outside….now I know for next time.)

And once again, here is finished product: a good strong storage shelf that’ll help me organize my house.

And now I just need to get some good storage totes, and then finish up my laundry room makeover.

Useful Links mentioned in this article.

Here is a YouTube video that inspired me to use the bracing pieces for heavy duty support.

Amazon Link to Bostitch Brad Nailer that I use for trim

I hope this article on how to build storage shelves has inspired you. It’s a fairly straightforward DIY project that doesn’t require too many tools.

If you’re looking for more laundry room ideas and inspiration, check out laundry room organization ideas.

How we used old kitchen cabinets in our Laundry Room Makeover

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