How to Build a French Cleat Tool Storage Wall

Easy to build, easy to reconfigure 
as your tool collection grows
.

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Introduction

Just think of it—a tool storage system for your garage or shop that you can endlessly reconfigure to accommodate all your tools. They’ll be right at your fingertips whenever you need them. And when it’s time to straighten up at the end of the day, you’ll know right where everything goes, making cleanup quick 
and easy. How much you spend depends not only on the size of your storage wall but also on the level of finish you’re after. We spent about $500 on the materials for our wall, but you could build it for about half the price by using 
3/4-in. CDX construction plywood.

Tools Required

  1. Drill/driver
  2. Miter saw
  3. Table saw

french cleat tool wall what is a french cleat?Family Handyman

What is a French Cleat?

French cleats are an ingenious means of hanging just about 
anything. Mating 45-degree bevels—one on the wall, the other on the tool holder—interlock to form a rock-solid connection. You just drop the tool holder over the cleat and it’s done—perfectly level, perfectly solid. No fasteners!

Size to fit 
your needs

Our wall is two horizontal sheets (a 4 x 8-ft. sheet and a 2 x 8-ft. sheet; Photo 2), with 1×2 maple trim (Photo 3). The size of your wall depends on how much you want to store and how much space you have. The construction techniques are the same for any size wall.

Apply the finish 
to full sheets 
before cutting

We prefinished the plywood and trim boards. You should too, because it saves lots of time and gives you a smoother finish. You’ll still have to coat the cut edges, but that’s a lot easier than finishing the entire wall after it’s built. We used Varathane Summer Oak and American Walnut stain to create the light and dark parts. We rolled on the stain with 4-in. foam rollers and then wiped it off with cotton rags. Topcoat with a water-based polyurethane.

A table saw 
makes the project much easier

The best tool for ripping the parts and cleats is a table saw. However, if you don’t have access to one, you can also make the cuts with a straightedge and a circular saw. If you go that route, it’s worth building a dedicated straightedge.

A miter saw works well for cutting miters on edge banding and the 45-degree angles on many of the components. Flatten the point of each bevel (Photo 4) so they won’t cut you or splinter off when you hang your tool holders. You can assemble your tool holders with either glue and 2-in. brads, 
or 2-in. and 1-1/4-in. trim-head screws.

The tool holders are really the stars of this project. Check out some building tips for perfect tool holders.

Project step-by-step (5)

Step 1

Mount a temporary ledger

french cleat tool wall temporary ledgerFamily Handyman

Cut one of the wall cleats to width (Photo 4) and then level it and screw it to the wall studs.

Step 2

Hang the plywood

french cleat tool wall hang plywoodFamily Handyman

Rest the first sheet on the temporary ledger and screw it to the studs with 2-in. screws spaced every 12 in. Rest the second sheet on top of the first and screw it to the studs as well. Remove the temporary ledger.

Step 3

Add the border

french cleat tool wall add the borderFamily Handyman

Cut the 1x2 to fit around the perimeter and nail it into place with 2-in. 18-gauge brads.

Step 4

Cut the wall cleats

french cleat tool wall cut wall cleatsFamily Handyman

Rip the French cleat strips for the wall to 4 in. wide. Then reset the saw to 45 degrees and adjust the fence to leave about a 1/8-in. flat area at the point of the bevels. Cut the 45-degree bevels on the strips. Repeat the process for the accessory cleats, but rip them to 2-1/2 in. wide.

Step 5

Mount the wall cleats

french cleat tool wall mount wall cleatsFamily Handyman

Space the cleats with a 2x4 block and secure them with a pair of 1-1/4-in. trim-head screws spaced every 16 in. Keep the screws 1 in. from the top and bottom of the cleats.

The tool holders are really the stars of this project. Check out some building tips for perfect tool holders.