DIY isn't just about building and fixing things. It's also about inventory management: maintaining a supply of the stuff you need and knowing where to find it. This simple bin system is the perfect project to get you organized. It's modeled on the systems used in cabinet shops, plumbers' vans and mechanics' garages.
The materials cost for the bins shown here is $30 to $55, depending on the type of plywood you choose. A store-bought light-duty system would cost just a few bucks more, but these homemade bins offer two big advantages: They're far tougher than plastic bins, and you can customize them to suit your stuff. Plus, they make the perfect scrap-wood project because all the parts are small. We built these bins from leftovers and didn't spend a dime.
Begin by measuring the items you want to store. We found that the basic bin (see Figure A, below and in Additional Information) was just right for most stuff: nuts and bolts, construction screws, plumbing and electrical parts. For larger items, we made a few bins wider, but didn't change the bin sides (A). That approach is the most efficient because the sides are the most complex parts and changing them requires more fuss.
Once you've determined the sizes you want, fire up your table saw and rip plywood into strips. If you're following our plan, you'll need strips 1-3/4, 3-1/2 and 6 in. wide. Then cut the strips to length, making parts for one box only. Test-assemble the box to check the fit of the parts. Note: “Half-inch” plywood is slightly less than 1/2 in. thick, so the bin bottom (B) needs to be slightly longer than 6 in. Start at 6-1/8 in., then trim as needed. When you've confirmed that all the parts are the right size, mass-produce them by chopping the strips to length (Photo 1).
If you want dividers (E) in any of the bins, your next step is to cut the divider slots. Set your table saw blade to a height of 3/16 in. Screw a long fence to your miter gauge and run the fence across the blade to cut a notch on the fence. Position a stop block 3-1/4 in. from the center of the notch. Place a side (A) against the block, run it across the blade, rotate it and cut again (Photo 2). Check the fit of a divider in the slot and reposition the block slightly to adjust the width of the slot. It may take two or three tries before you get the width right.
When you're done cutting slots, it's time to clip off one corner of each side. Set your miter saw 45 degrees to the right. Clamp on a stop block and “gang-cut” sides just as you did when cutting parts to length (similar to Photo 1). Remember this: Slotted sides require left/right pairs. For every side that you cut with the slot facing up, cut another with the slot down.
Next, cut the cleats (Photo 3). The 45-degree bevel cuts will leave sharp, splintery edges, so crank the table saw blade back to zero degrees and shave 1/8 in. off each cleat before cutting them to length.
To see more garage shelving plans that utilize French cleats, see Custom Garage Storage.
Assembly is fast and easy with glue and an 18-gauge brad nailer. First, tack the back (C) to the bottom (B), then add the sides (A), the front (D) and finally the cleat (F). After assembly, we wiped on two coats of Watco Danish Oil (available through our affiliation with Amazon.com) to keep the wood from absorbing greasy fingerprints and oils from hardware.
When mounting the wall cleats, start at the bottom. Make sure the bottom cleat is level and straight. Then cut spacers at least 1-3/4 in. tall and use them to position the remaining wall cleats (Photo 5). Larger cleats will create more space between rows of bins, making it easier to reach in and grab stuff. Bins filled with hardware put a heavy load on the cleats, so drive a screw into every wall stud.