How To Build a DIY Closet Storage System

Build your own closet organizer for half the cost of buying.

Next Project
Time

Multiple Days

Complexity

Intermediate

Cost

$250

Introduction

Using this simple design you can build closet storage drawers for any size closet.

Tools Required

  • Air compressor
  • Air hose
  • Brad nail gun
  • Circular saw
  • Clamps
  • Cordless drill
  • Countersink drill bit
  • Framing square
  • Hearing protection
  • Jigsaw
  • Level
  • Miter saw
  • Orbital sander
  • Paint tray
  • Paintbrush
  • Safety glasses
  • Self-centering drill bit
  • Stud finder
  • Utility knife

Materials Required

  • 1-5/8-in. trim screws
  • 1/2 in. plywood
  • 1/4-in. plywood
  • 3/4-in. birch plywood
  • wire basket
  • Wood glue

If you have to dig through a mountain of clothes to find your favorite sweatshirt, it’s time to take on that messy closet. This DIY built-in system organizes your closet with a shelf, drawer, and hanging space for your clothes, shoes, and accessories. Buying a closet system like this would cost you at least $500, but you can build this one for about half that.

Our system is really just four plywood boxes outfitted with shelf standards, closet rods, or drawers. We built it for an 8-ft.-wide closet with an 8-ft. ceiling, but it’ll work in any reach-in closet that’s at least 6-ft. wide if you adjust the shelf width between the boxes or change the box dimensions.

Project step-by-step (12)

Step 1

Closet Storage Cutting Diagrams

This shows only the 3/4-in. plywood. The 1/2-in. and 1/4-in. plywood sheets are for the drawers and back.

Plywood Diagram

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Step 2

Cut the Plywood Down to Size

Start by cutting all the parts to size. The corner box sides are slightly narrower than 12-in., so you can cut off dings and dents and still cut four sides from a sheet of plywood.

You won’t be able to cut the shelves that fit between the boxes to length until the boxes are installed (the shelves need to be cut to fit), but you can rip plywood to 11-7/8-in. and cut the shelves to length later.

  • Once the parts are cut, apply edge banding (iron-on veneer) to all the edges that will be exposed after the boxes are assembled.
  • Build a jig to hold the parts upright. Place a part in the jig, then cut the edge banding so it overhangs each end of the plywood by 1/2 in.
  • Run an iron (on the cotton setting) slowly over the edge banding. Then press a scrap piece of wood over the edge banding to make sure it’s fully adhered.
  • Trim the edges with a veneer edge trimmer.

Step 3

Finish Now, Save Time Later

Prefinishing gives you a faster, neater finish because you'll have fewer corners to mess with.

Lightly sand the wood and your closet rod with 120-grit sandpaper. Wipe away the dust with a tack cloth, then use a paint pad to apply a coat of polyurethane on everything except the drawer parts. This inexpensive pad will let you finish each part in about 20 seconds. Let the finish dry, then apply a second coat.

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Step 4

Preinstall Drawer Slides

Attaching drawer slides is a lot easier if you do it before the boxes are assembled.

  • Position the slides using reference lines and a spacer. Remember that there are left- and right-hand slides, usually marked "CL" and "CR."

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Step 5

Gang-Cut the Standards

  • Cutting 16 standards one by one with a hacksaw would take hours. Instead, bundle two or more together with tape and cut them in bunches.
  • You can cut them with a hacksaw, but an easier way is to use a metal blade in a jigsaw. Place two or more standards together so the numbers are oriented the same way and the standards are aligned at the ends. Tape the standards together where you’re going to make the cut, then gang-cut them with your jigsaw.

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Step 6

Install the Drawer Slides

It’s easier to install the drawer slides and the shelf standards that go inside the boxes before you assemble the boxes.

  • Use a framing square to draw reference lines on the drawer unit sides for your drawer slides.
  • The slides are spaced 8-in. apart, centered 8-3/4-in. down from the top of the box. Keep the slides 3/4-in. from the front edge (this is where the drawer faces will go).
  • Use a 7/64-in. self-centering drill bit to drill pilot holes and screw the slides into place.
  • Attach the glides for the basket 3-in. below the drawer slides. If your basket is narrower than 22-1/2-in., screw a cleat to the box side so the basket will fit.

Step 7

Attach the Shelf Standards

Now attach the shelf standards.

  • Screw the standards to the inside of the box sides, 1-in. from the edges.
  • Keep the standards 3/4-in. from the top (that’s where the box tops go).
  • Be sure the numbers on the standards are facing the same way when you install them—this helps ensure the shelves will be level.

Step 8

Tack the Boxes Together

If you have a brad nailer, first tack the boxes together to hold the parts in position then add 1-in. screws for strength.

Use 1-5/8-in. trim screws because the screw heads are small and unobtrusive (we left the screw heads exposed). Here are some tips for assembling the boxes:

  • Attach the screw strips to the box tops first, then add one side, then the bottom shelf, and then the second side.
  • Drill 1/8-in. pilot holes to prevent splitting. Stay 1-in. from edges.
  • If your cuts are slightly off and the top, bottom, and sides aren’t exactly the same width, align the front edges.
  • The boxes will be slightly wobbly until they’re installed in the closet, so handle them with care.
  • The middle bottom box has a back. Square the box with the back, then glue and tack the back in place.
  • After the corner boxes are assembled, screw shelf standards to the side that doesn’t abut the wall (it’s easier to install the standards before the boxes are installed).

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Step 9

Square the Drawer Boxes

To square the drawers, set adjacent sides against a framing square that’s clamped to your work surface.

  • Glue and tack the drawer bottom into place.
  • Then set the drawer slides on the drawers, drill pilot holes, and screw the slides into place.
  • If the boxes aren't square, the drawers won't fit right or glide smoothly.

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Step 10

Center the Drawer Faces

Getting the drawer faces in their perfect position is tricky business. If the faces are even slightly off-center, the drawer won’t close properly.

  • To align them, install the drawers in the box and place double-sided tape over the drawer front.
  • Starting with the top drawer, center the drawer face in the opening.
  • You should have about a 1/8-in. gap on both sides and the top.
  • Press the face into the tape, then take the drawer back out and clamp the face to the drawer to keep it stationary.
  • Drive two 1-in. screws through the inside of the drawer into the face.

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Step 11

Hang the Corner Boxes

Now install the boxes.

  • Start by drawing a level line in the closet, 11-in. down from the ceiling. This will give you just over 10-in. of storage space above the closet system after the top shelf is installed.
  • Then mark the stud locations on the wall with tape.

Don’t assume your closet walls are plumb—they’re probably not. So you can’t just place a box in a corner without checking for alignment.

  • Align the top of the box with your level line on the wall.
  • Have your helper plumb the box with a level while you drive 2-1/2-in. screws through the screw strip into the wall at the stud locations.
  • Attach the other corner box the same way.

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Step 12

Install the Shelves and Drawers

  • Find the center of the wall, then make a mark 12-in. on one side of the center mark. That’s where your shelf unit will go.
  • Again, have your helper plumb the box while you align it with your marks and screw it to the wall.
  • Prop up the drawer unit on spacers so it’s tight against the shelf unit.
  • Align the edges, then clamp the boxes and screw them together. Drive screws through the screw strip into the wall.
  • Next, place the top shelf over the boxes.
    • Pro tip: We could just barely fit our shelf into the closet to lift it into place. If yours won’t fit, you’ll have to cut it and install it as two pieces. Make the cut near one end, over a corner box, so it’s not noticeable.
  • Once it's in place, screw the shelf to the box tops with 1-1/4-in. screws.
  • Attach shelf standards along the sides of the shelf and drawer units.
  • Cut the adjustable shelves to length to fit between the corner boxes and the middle boxes.
  • Finally, screw the closet rod flanges into place, cut the closet rod to size and install the rods.

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