At most home centers, you’ll find 4 x 8-ft. melamine sheets. These full sheets are by far the most economical choice, but we bought 15-3/4-in. x 97-in. panels instead. These smaller panels come with banding on one or two edges and are available with or without pre-drilled shelf pin holes. So although we spent about three times as much as we would have on full sheets, we avoided hours of drilling and edge banding—plus the strain of transporting, lugging and cutting big, heavy sheets. Some home centers carry small melamine panels, but you may have to special-order them or shop online. Plan to cut 1/2 in. off each end to remove the ragged edges.
What is melamine?
While real wood is strong and beautiful, building a closet organizer with it is expensive and time-consuming. Melamine products are an attractive and inexpensive alternative to wood or plywood. These boards, panels and sheets are made of particleboard with a tough, factory-applied melamine finish similar in appearance to plastic laminate. A 4 x 8-ft. melamine sheet is about half the cost of cabinet-grade plywood and available in a variety of colors. Be warned, however. Most home centers stock it only in white, which is what we used for our project.
Time and Money
If you’re an ace woodworker, you can probably build an organizer like ours in one day. If not, expect to spend a full weekend. You’ll find everything you need to build it at most home centers. The melamine for our project cost about $250. But if you plan to add fancy accessories like we did, your final cost might be much higher. We spent about $250 on accessories and fasteners.
How we built ours:
Overall dimensions: 77-1/4" wide x 96" tall x 15-3/4" deep
Our closet had a 9-ft. ceiling, so we built 8-ft. cabinets. If your ceiling is lower, adjust the cabinet height as necessary.
If you’re planning to install accessories similar to the ones we used for our project, be sure to buy them before you build the cabinets. Our wire baskets required a 24-in. opening, while the shoe shelf rails needed a 29-1/2-in. opening to allow for the width of the shoe shelves (with rails installed) plus the shelf pins.
One of the challenges of using a handheld circular saw is making perfectly straight and square cuts. For our project, we used a self-squaring crosscut jig for cuts across panels, and a longer jig for cutting long, narrow pieces like the hanging strips. These jigs also help reduce chip-out. The jig shown here is just a narrow piece of 3/4-in. plywood glued on top of a wider piece of 1/4-in. plywood, and it has a squaring fence on the bottom. Learn how to make similar jigs.
The finished faces of melamine panels look great, but the raw edges don’t. You might be able to build your organizer without having to apply any edge banding at all if you orient the raw edges so they’re not visible once the organizer is installed. If that’s not possible, you’ll need to apply iron-on edge banding, which is available at any home center. Be sure to buy an edge trimmer.
We assembled each of the three cabinet boxes for our closet organizer by first drilling pilot holes with countersinks and then driving 1-3/4-in. coarse-thread screws. These screws are designed to be self-drilling, but the particleboard in melamine has a tendency to crumble and blow out easily, so drilling pilot holes is worth the effort.
With the boxes screwed to the wall, drill holes and use connector bolts and nuts to join the sides of the cabinets. This will close any gaps between the boxes and stiffen up the entire assembly. Be sure the front edges of the cabinets are flush with each other before joining. If they’re not, loosen the wall screws and adjust as needed.
Once assembled, each cabinet box weighs about 100 lbs. To make hanging them easier, screw a 1x4 or 2x4—called a ledger board—to the back wall of the closet down near the floor. Make sure it’s perfectly straight and level. Mark the stud locations with masking tape. Then get somebody to help you lift each box onto the ledger board, which will hold it in position until you can screw it to the wall. Drive 3-in. washer-head screws through the hanging strips of all three boxes and into the wall studs.
Instead of building drawers for our closet organizer, we decided to purchase Rev-AShelf wire baskets with full-extension slides. This company makes lots of different closet accessories, including the shoe shelf rails and valet rod that we installed. Other companies make similar accessories. Search for “closet accessories” or “closet hardware” online and you’ll find a huge variety. We also installed oval closet rods with brackets that you insert into the cabinets’ shelf-pin holes, which makes for super-easy height adjustments.
Want a closet organizer but don’t want to measure and cut all the parts yourself? Your local home center sells precut closet kits that you just assemble and install. You’ll likely pay a bit more for the convenience. A bigger downside is you won’t be able to customize your closet exactly as you’d like.