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Installing Large Garage Cabinets

Built from 2x2s and plywood, these extra-deep utility cabinets are easy and quick to build. Sliding plywood doors keep everything inside dust-free, and the extra depth makes them perfect for hard-to-store items like camping and sporting gear and kids toys.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Installing Large Garage Cabinets

Built from 2x2s and plywood, these extra-deep utility cabinets are easy and quick to build. Sliding plywood doors keep everything inside dust-free, and the extra depth makes them perfect for hard-to-store items like camping and sporting gear and kids toys.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Step 1: Overview

Everyone needs “deep” storage, that is, a place for camping gear, holiday decorations and seasonal toys and clothes. Not to mention all the other stuff you want to tuck away for a few months and keep clean. This cabinet system fits the bill. It's spacious, inexpensive and easy to build. You can also easily customize its size to suit just about any open wall space and your storage needs. We tucked ours up against the ceiling to fill the little-used space over the car hoods.

The cabinet is divided into 32-in. wide compartments because they hang from every other garage stud. Sliding cabinet doors keep out the dust while allowing wide open, instant access to your stuff.

In this article, we'll show you how to build this project in four simple steps. Uncomplicated 2x2 and plywood construction makes assembly a snap. In fact, two of us built the cabinets you see in this article in about three hours. If you have a circular saw, a jigsaw, a screw gun and moxie, you can build these cabinets in an afternoon.

Step 2: Planning your cabinets

Like most overhead wall cabinets, these are hung from wall studs. They're built in place using the ceiling and wall surfaces for the backs and top. This simplifies construction and saves on materials. If you don’t have a finished wall behind the cabinets, begin the project by screwing 1/2-in. plywood or drywall over the wall studs. If your ceiling is open, add drywall or plywood there as well to keep out dust.

Most garage walls have studs spaced every 16 in., so we sized individual bays to fit over two stud spaces, or 32 in. If you have studs that are spaced every 24 in., make the compartments that wide.

We sized these cabinets to use 4x8 plywood sheets efficiently. When planning your cabinet dimensions, consider:

Height: In most garages, a 4-ft. cabinet against the ceiling leaves about 5 ft. between cabinet bottoms and the garage floor. If you park long vehicles in the garage or have a shallow garage, you may need to use the space under the cabinets for the fronts of vehicles. If so, measure the height of the hood to make sure you'll have clearance when choosing cabinet heights. Also consider the heights of items you may want to store beneath the cabinets. Motorcycles, bikes, storage cabinets and wheeled tools are ideal candidates for that space. Two other heights that efficiently use plywood are 32 in. (six panels per sheet) and 24 in. (eight panels per sheet). Keep in mind that protruding cabinets invite head bumps. So make sure walking patterns don’t pass too close to corners.

Depth: If you need to walk in front of the cabinets to access car doors, reduce the cabinet depth. Park your car in the garage to determine the maximum depth that still leaves plenty of room for foot traffic, and size accordingly. Depths of 16 or 12 in. will allow for six or eight panels per sheet respectively with little waste.

Width: The cabinets don't have to start against a wall as we show, but they do have to begin and end on a stud. So locate and mark all studs before deciding on how many compartments fit on the wall. There's a good chance you'll have an odd 16-in.wide compartment at one end. You can use those compartments for open shelving or build oversized sliding doors to cover a standard opening plus the oddball. Be sure to consider access to service doors near the cabinets. Too close and it might be difficult to negotiate around cars to get into the house or back yard.

Lay out the cabinet footprint on the floor with masking tape and park the cars in the garage before you start building the cabinets. Walk around the garage and test access to the cars and service doors to make sure your cabinet layout is garage user–friendly.

Exploded view of cabinets

Figure A: Assembly

For a printable version of this assembly, see the addendum at the end of this story.

Step 3: Selecting the materials

Just about any type of sheet material will work for your cabinets. For a handsome, natural wood look, we used 3/4-in. birch plywood for the end and divider panels and 1/4-in. birch plywood for the sliding doors. You can reduce the cost by using MDF (medium-density fiberboard) for painted cabinets or even construction-grade plywood for down-and-dirty utility cabinets.

The sliding doors glide on plastic track that'll handle any 1/4-in. thick material. You can even choose 1/4-in. hardboard or Peg-Board for ventilated cabinets. If you select plywood, plan to seal all the surfaces and edges of the doors to prevent warping.

Step 4: Attach the end panels and mount the wall cleats

These cabinets are incredibly easy and quick to build, because you only have to snap lines and freehand most of the cuts with a circular saw or jigsaw (Photo 1).

Begin the cabinet assembly by attaching the first end panel to the end wall (Photo 2). To make it easier, start screws in the panel and then hold it against the wall, especially if you're short on help. Angle the screws slightly at the corner to hit the corner stud and add more screws into the first stud near the corner. Attach the end panel at the opposite end by securing it to a 2x2 cleat that’s nailed and then lag-screwed to the stud.

Cut all the cleats 3 in. shorter than the end panels to leave a 1-1/2 in. space at the top and bottom of the panels for the ladders (Photo 4). It's easiest to nail the cleats to the wall first and then install the lag screws in the center of the studs. Remember that they support nearly all of the weight of the cabinet and contents.

Step 5: Build and install the ladders

You'll be nailing the ladder parts together before holding them up and fastening them to the end panels and wall. It's easy to split 2x2s, so predrill ends before nailing. Don't assume the ladders will be the same size, because walls and end panels can be out of plumb.

Measure and assemble the top and bottom ladders independently rather than making carbon copies. Make sure the rung edges line up with the stud edges so the framing will be aligned for the panels. Since 2x2s are generally only sold in 8-ft. lengths, cut the rails to break at a wall cleat, and splice the sections together by doubling the 2x2 rungs at that point. They'll be wobbly, but as soon as they're fastened, they'll be plenty sturdy.

Sight along the outside of the bottom ladder or string lines along the outside edge to make sure the ladder is straight before fastening the divider panel bottom (Photo 11). Otherwise the sliding doors might slip out of the tracks or bind.

Step 6: Install the dividers, bottoms and shelves

You'll need to cut 1-1/2 in. corner notches at the top and bottom of the back of the divider panels to clear the ladder framing (Photos 9 and 10). Cut them a little on the big side so you won't have to struggle with wedging the divider panels into place. Place one on each side of the cleats.

You'll have to add another cleat on the bottom of the plywood side to support the cabinet bottom (Photo 13). Then you're ready to install the sliding door track (Photo 12). Cut the cabinet bottoms to fit against the door track and notch the corners wherever necessary to clear framing. Decide on shelving depths and heights, then cut 1x2 cleats to match the depths.

Step 7: Install the sliding doors and finish

Cut the 1/4-in. door panels to width so they overlap the end and/or divider panels on both sides of the opening. Cut the panels to length so they clear the bottom track by about 1/8 in. when you slip them into the top track first. If you're using plywood for the doors, cut them from the backside to avoid splintering on the “show side.”

For a finish detail, we covered the exposed end panel edges and the exposed 2x2 ladder edges with maple (Photo 17). Use any wood type you'd like, but select 1x3s for the ladder trim and 1x2s for the end panels.

Finish the cabinets with latex paint or polyurethane. If you're using plywood for the door panels, coat the backside first, then flip them over and immediately seal the front side to prevent the doors from warping.

Additional Information

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Required Tools for this Project

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

    • Hammer
    • Clamps
    • Miter saw
    • Air compressor
    • Air hose
    • Brad nail gun
    • Cordless drill
    • Tape measure
    • Circular saw
    • Socket/ratchet set
    • Stud finder
    • Chalk line
    • Nail set
    • Level
    • Jigsaw
    • Stepladder
    • Straightedge
    • Safety glasses
    • Sawhorses

Required Materials for this Project

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

    • Polyurethane glue

Lumber:
For every four 32-in. bays, you'll need:
End and divider panels, bottoms: Two 4x8 sheets of 3/4-in. plywood
Shelving: One 4x8 sheet of 3/4-in. plywood
Sliding door panels: Two 4x8 sheets of 1/4-in. plywood
Framing: Eight 8-ft. 2x2s
Shelving cleats: approx. 4 ft. of 1x2 per 24-in. shelf

Hardware:
Lag screws: Sixteen 1/4 x 3-1/2 in.
Framing fasteners: 1 lb. of 16d nails
Panel fasteners: 1 lb. of 2-in. screws
Shelving cleats and cabinet bottom fasteners: 1 lb. of 1-5/8 in.screws
Track and trim fasteners: Small box of 1-in. brads
Door track: One 4-ft., one 8-ft. (Available from woodworker’s supply stores).
Finger pulls: Four 3/4-in. diameter

Comments from DIY Community Members

Share what's on your mind and see what other DIYers are thinking about.

1 - 17 of 17 comments
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August 02, 2:54 AM [GMT -5]

The cabinets are too low. All the space below the cabinets is wasted since they should be high enough to walk and work under. It would be a great space to put a miter saw, drill press or workbench. The double depth is good for large items but not for normal sized items that get a lot of use.

July 27, 1:52 AM [GMT -5]

Ok my last comment......forget it. Thats how newbie I am. I didn't know a 2x2 is actually 1-1/2x1-1/2 in size.

My bad! Great project!

July 26, 3:03 AM [GMT -5]

I might be missing something...

If there is a 1-1/2 space above the wall cleat below the ceiling, how is the 2x2 ladder rung going to fit in that space to be flush against the end panel?

Just started this project and want to make sure I make the ladder rungs right.

Thanks!

July 08, 9:47 AM [GMT -5]

I built this and love them. However, the one real issue I have is with the sliding door part of it. They just don't slide very well at all, getting stuck constantly. Is there any easy mod that would allow you to put on hinges and doors? thanks!

March 21, 1:40 AM [GMT -5]

Any suggestions on building this shelf when my ceiling is too high?

my ceiling height is 15' and to make this project successful, I would need to lower it 4'

Thanks

February 20, 3:39 PM [GMT -5]

Built it about 3 years ago. Garage ceiling is 10' and garage is sheetrocked. I made it flush to the ceiling, dropped it down 4' so I still had 6' of underneath walking space. The total length was about 12'. Made doors vs a sliding door and ending up buying some nice hardware for handles. Painted it too. Came out real nice and functional.

I am a beginner, yet the project was not hard, took longer to build than others. Had a great time working on it, holds lots of stuff that otherwise would be an eyesore and hazard around the garage floor and for strength: This sucker is solid! I weigh 220lbs and with all the stuff in there I can do pull-ups off of it and solid as can be. Doesn't budge.

Thanks for such a nice design project for beginners.

February 20, 3:39 PM [GMT -5]

Built it about 3 years ago. Garage ceiling is 10' and garage is sheetrocked. I made it flush to the ceiling, dropped it down 4' so I still had 6' of underneath walking space. The total length was about 12'. Made doors vs a sliding door and ending up buying some nice hardware for handles. Painted it too. Came out real nice and functional.

I am a beginner, yet the project was not hard, took longer to build than others. Had a great time working on it, holds lots of stuff that otherwise would be an eyesore and hazard around the garage floor and for strength: This sucker is solid! I weigh 220lbs and with all the stuff in there I can do pull-ups off of it and solid as can be. Doesn't budge.

Thanks for such a nice design project for beginners.

September 20, 2:20 PM [GMT -5]

I built an modified set of these storage shelves in my garage last year. I only have an 8' ceiling, so not much height to work with. I built them floor to almost ceiling. Straight 2x2 lumber is a myth here, so I used 2x3s instead and adjusted the measurements to fit. I've found that 1/4" plywood doors don't stay straight, so I'm switching to hardboard the next chance I get. Since my shelves were going to the floor level anyway, in addition to screwing them to the wall studs I set them on a ladder box made from treated lumber, inset about 2" from the edges. Next year, I'll be building more of these elsewhere in the garage.

September 09, 2:15 PM [GMT -5]

This project was great!. I am a beginner with work working and this step by step project was very easy to follow and I didn't have any trouble with any of the steps. I completed this project in one day and I probably would've finished quicker had it not been 100 degrees!! I wish I could post my pictures as I took a few while I was working.

I did make some modifications to the size and width of my cabinets as I needed the cubbies to be longer to fit my extra large sterilite plastic containers. Modifying the size of the cabinets did not affect the ease of installation and did not compromise the integrity of the cabinet strength. I did use additional lug nuts to attach the ceiling ladder as I felt it would give me more peace of mind that the cabinets would not pull away from the ceiling. In addition, I wished I used 2X4 for the bottom ladder to give it extra strength and so I didn't have to try to connect the 2X2's together end to end. That was difficult and took a lot of patience as the 2x2's tend to split (even though I did predrill). I feel that if I used 2x4's for the bottom ladder I would've been able to buy a full length piece at the required cabinet length and had a more sturdy base for the cabinet.

I would like to tell you about the track I used for the doors. I did not make my own track for the sliding doors. I purchased 3 sets of plastic track from Rockler.com: http://www.rockler.com/product.cfm?page=2275&filter=track%20plastic
They are a local store here in SoCal (Torrance, CA to be exact) but you can order from their website. The tracks were very helpful and I attached them using a brad nailer and some liquid nails. I found the wood doors would not fit inside the track perfectly so I installed plexiglass doors with some decorative contact paper that wasn't too pretty for a garage. I wish you could see it!! The cabinets look fantastic and all my storage is neat and tidy.

I am going to use this plan a few more time to make smaller cabinets in different areas of the garage as the ladder can be adjusted to any length you need.

I HIGHLY recommend you try this project. It's amazing what you can accomplish on a Saturday afternoon. . . .

September 06, 9:24 AM [GMT -5]

I built a 24-foot version of the cabinets covering entire back wall of my garage. To avoid predrilling, I used Fastenmaster HeadLok heavy duty flathead fasteners instead of lag screws. Very fast and strong.

A word of caution: don't assume that your garage ceiling is straight and level. You may need to use spacers to ensure that the top run stays parallel to the bottom run for the sliding doors.

I used 1/4 in. plywood for the doors. If I had to do it over I'd find something more rigid, as the plywood will warp and interfere with the sliding no matter what you do.

May 24, 5:40 PM [GMT -5]

2x2 has to be hardwood or furring wood is fine.

Ang

September 30, 3:30 PM [GMT -5]

Made a shorter version of this cabinet above my washer and dryer. Works well to hide the stuff behind it, plus is a space saver as I needed cabinets that the doors didn't swing open. Pretty easy to do, as I'm a beginner DIYer. Building more for the garage now.

September 07, 3:18 PM [GMT -5]

Is ther ea box store that sells the track? Home Depot said they don't have it. Are their matching plans for lower cabinet with sliders an dwork top? I am almost done my first set of upper cabinets....neat project.

September 02, 12:02 AM [GMT -5]

Built four compartments, two on either side of a corner. Placed peg board in the corner to hang tools and placed snow blower in corner. Connected the two units with a shelf level with the top of the cabinets for a continuous overhead shelf. I have 10 foot ceiling in my garage. Placed cabinets at 50 inches from floor to allow for 4 by 8 sheet storage below cabinet. Reinforced shelves by screwing through plywood wall into 2 by 2 cleat and by screwing 2 by 2 onto underside of shelf front edge. Door track can be purchased at doitbest.com 1/4 plastic door track, knape & vogt mfg, model #P2417TAN48, Do It Best SKU: 224037; order on line delivered to your local store, no shipping charge. Cost for 2 sets of 48 inches $22 (enough for 4 cabinets) Also comes in 72 inch length Cabinets were easy to make and hide your storage. Only issue is needing ladder to reach the top shelves of cabinet. Great project, easy to complete.

June 26, 6:00 PM [GMT -5]

I built these over 5 years ago & they are great! I love sitting in them to show off their strength! I used peg board for doors and on the outer walls. Also built my workshop underneath for an awesome workshop!

April 29, 8:11 AM [GMT -5]

I like this project

April 27, 5:17 AM [GMT -5]

I could certainly use the extra storage space in my garage. Thanks for the idea!

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