DIY Box Shelves

Updated: Jan. 03, 2024

Build a bunch of these DIY square wall shelves for less than $100

Next Project

A full day






Box shelves are inexpensive, easy to make and highly versatile. Make the combination of sizes and depths you need for any room, from the living room to the laundry. Box construction techniques are always the same.

Tools Required

  • 3/8-in. brad point drill bit
  • Brad nail gun
  • Circular saw
  • Clamps
  • Crosscut guide
  • Drill bit set
  • Drill/driver - cordless
  • Framing square
  • Level
  • Straightedge
  • Tape measure

Materials Required

  • 120-grit sandpaper
  • Polyurethane
  • Primer and paint
  • Screw hole buttons
  • See Materials List in "Additional Information"
  • Wood glue
  • Wood stain

Overview: Materials, Tools and Time

Not only do these square storage boxes look nice, but they’re easy to build—just fasten together four sides and put on the back. This is one of those rare woodworking projects that combines high style, low cost and super-simple construction.

Built from standard oak or birch plywood, these 12 x 12 in. boxes will cost about $35 for eight. If you use standard plywood, you’ll have to patch voids in the edges with wood filler or cover the edges with edge banding. Check out how to cover raw plywood edges quickly and easily with wood veneer and an iron.

To avoid that extra work, we used Baltic birch plywood for our square wall shelves, which has better-looking, void-free edges. Baltic birch for these plywood boxes costs about $85 for a 3/4 in. x 60 in. x 60 in. sheet, which will give you five boxes. If your home center doesn’t stock Baltic birch, look for it at a hardwood specialty store. Use standard 1/4 in. plywood for the backs even if you use Baltic birch for the sides.

You can build a dozen or more boxes in a few hours. Spend Saturday assembling the boxes and applying the finish, then hang them or fasten them together on Sunday. To complete the project, you’ll need a table saw to rip the plywood sheets and a circular saw to crosscut the top, back and sides. We’ll show you how to make perfectly straight crosscuts using a guide. You’ll also need a brad nailer to nail the boxes together.

Project step-by-step (6)

Step 1

Elegant or Practical Wooden Cube Shelves

Box shelves laundry room organizationFamily Handyman

The boxes for these wooden cube shelves work equally well in a formal setting and a utilitarian room, like the laundry or garage. They offer an unlimited number of uses and arrangements. It all starts with learning how to build a plywood box.

Step 2

Sawing with a Guide

Sawing with a guide box shelvesFamily Handyman

Get started by ripping the 3/4 in. plywood sheets into 11-1/4 in.-wide strips on a table saw. Cut out any dents and dings along the edges. Cut the box parts straight and square with a homemade crosscut guide. Stack two layers of plywood strips to cut perfectly matching parts fast.  It’s important that these pieces be exactly the same width so the boxes will be aligned when they’re stacked together. Also, rip the 1/4 in. plywood sheet into 11-1/2 in.-wide strips. Crosscut the box tops, bottoms, sides and back panels to length following Figure A, below. Make the crosscuts with a circular saw and a guide.

Step 3

Fasten the Sides

fasten box shelvesFamily Handyman

Placing adjacent sides in a carpenter’s square ensures crisp 90-degree angles when you fasten the corners together. Set the square over wood blocks and clamp it to your work surface. Set one side and the top or bottom in the square, apply wood glue along the edge, and nail the corner together with 1-1/2 in. brad nails. Drive three nails per corner to hold them together until the glue dries. When you’re ready for your next shelf project, this one has a secret drawer!

Step 4

Attach the Back

Attach the back modular boxFamily Handyman

Fasten the remaining corners the same way. Leave the box in the carpenter’s square to keep the corners square, then add the back panel. The back panels are 1/2 in. smaller than the overall box size to leave a 1/4 in. gap along each edge. This makes the edges less conspicuous when the boxes are installed. Center the back panel over the box, leaving a small gap along each side. Glue and nail the panel into place. The back panel keeps the box square.

Step 5

Apply a Finish and Connect the Boxes

apply a finish modular box shelvesFamily Handyman

Once your boxes are fully assembled, it’s time to apply a finish. Sand the boxes with 120-grit sandpaper to smooth out any rough spots, then wipe away the dust with a clean cloth. If you want to paint the boxes, first prime them with a latex primer. Foam rollers work great for applying smooth coats of primer and paint. Brush on the primer in the corners, then roll the rest. Let the primer dry, lightly sand the boxes with 120-grit sandpaper, then apply the paint. For our stained square wall shelves, we applied two coats of stain—Minwax Golden Oak followed by Minwax Ebony—and two coats of a water-based polyurethane.

Once the finish is dry, you can screw the boxes together or hang them on a wall. Be sure to hang the boxes with the side pieces overlapping the top and bottom, as shown in Figure A. This keeps the corner nails horizontal and makes the box stronger. Still, the boxes are not designed to hold a lot of weight. Countersinking the screw head and filling the hole with a 3/8 in. screw hole button hides the fastener. Screw hole buttons are available at home centers.

To fasten boxes together, first, clamp them so they’re perfectly flush. Then drill a 3/8 in.-diameter, 3/16 in.-deep countersink hole with a brad point drill bit ($3). The brad point won’t tear or chip the veneer. Then drill 1/8 in. pilot holes in the countersink holes using a standard bit. Drive a 1 in. wood screw into the pilot hole, countersinking the head. Dab paint or stain on the screw hole button and plug the hole.

Step 6

Hang and Arrange the Boxes

hang and arrange modular box shelvesFamily Handyman

To hang a box where there’s a stud, drill two 1/8 in. pilot holes. Then spray-paint the heads of 2-1/2 in. screws and drive them into the stud at the pilot holes (there’s no alternative to leaving the heads exposed). If there’s not a stud available, use self-drilling anchors, such as EZ Ancors. Drill pilot holes through the box into the wall, remove the box and drive the anchors into the wall at the marks. Then fasten the box to the wall using the screws included with the anchors. Arrange the boxes any way you like. Spaces between boxes can form compartments too.