Simple and Cheap DIY Shelf Update

DIY Shelf Upgrade

When my in-laws moved, they had some really nice shelving units in their garage.  The garage of their new house had a bunch of even nicer built-ins, so Craig and I inherited the shelves.  Due to the layout of the garage, we haven’t been able to use all of them in the garage.  When we got rid of our gas grill and switched entirely to the Weber, I lost my little bit of counter space to set food on that was out of the reach of dogs.  Without wanting to spend any real money on a proof of concept, I set up one of the garage shelves under the covered deck area and began using it.  And it has been really great.  A few weeks ago, I dragged everything off the deck to pressure wash and stain it (it’s been 3 years since it’s been done!), and finally felt comfortable enough with the cure level of the stain to start bringing things back onto the deck.  It wasn’t until that point when I saw just how shabby the shelf had become.  Despite being under cover, the melamine covered particle board had absorbed humidity and in addition to getting discolored in spots, had begun warping and overall just gotten icky. My first thought was to build a freestanding shelf out of that black plumbing pipe and fittings.  But then I went to Lowes and just the pipe and fittings would have been over $100 for something sufficiently stable.  And frankly, I didn’t hate the existing shelf $100+ worth.  So I sat with it and mulled it over for a little while, and decided that since there is nothing wrong with the framing portion of the shelving unit, and it is actually very stable.  So I decided to replace the warped shelf boards with lumber.  From there it was just a matter of figuring out how to fill the 18″ depth of the shelf in the most efficient manner.  Remember if you’re using dimensional lumber, you should subtract .5″ from each dimension of the lumber.  So a 2×4 is actually 1.5×3.5.  Don’t ask me why, that’s just how it works.  Anyway, we determined that 5 2x4s would fill the space with half an inch of room to spare, which could easily be made up by spacing the lumber like deck boards.

Old warped shelf

So I went to Lowes.  And I spent 15 minutes digging through their pile of 8′ 2x4s.  Dimensional lumber isn’t designed to have a pretty appearance and smooth finish, so it takes digging to find a few boards that look nice.  Take note that one side of most lumber will have printing on it. It also usually has large tooth marks on it from feeding through machinery.  I wasn’t concerned with the printing and the crump on the back because it was going to make up the bottoms of my shelves, but it proved tricky to find 5 boards that weren’t super rough (If I had been willing to spend more than 5 minutes sanding things, this wouldn’t have been a problem, but I wasn’t) and full of divots and dings and whatnot.  You have to remember that this needs to be easy to wipe off, as I’ll be setting food on it.  Buying 8′ boards allowed me to just have them cut in half as my shelves are 4′ long.  Once I found my lumber, I tracked down someone to cut it for me (seemed easier than cutting it myself).  Total cost was about $15, but I also bought 2 throwaway paint brushes to apply the stain with, so I guess I’m looking at about $20 after tax for the cost of the shelf update.

staining 2x4s brown

When I got home, I unloaded the boards, laid them out in the gravel area near the deck and knocked down all the edges with a sanding block.  If I came across any rough patches, I’d sand them a little there as well.  All in all, I spent about 10 minutes sanding.  Then I dug into the garage and found some spare brown stain and went at it.  It was super hot, so by the time I had stained all 4′ sections (stain the bottom first!), I was able to flip them onto their sides and then eventually do the tops of all of them.  I did the ends last.  All-in-all, this probably took 30-45 minutes.  I let it sit out to cure for about 24 hours in 80 degree weather, and came back the next evening to assemble.

Underside of 2x4s

cutting supports for shelves

Assembly consisted of placing the boards upside down on the shelf (printing side up!) and spacing them evenly (remember that I had to make up 1/2″ overall).  For this, I was able to just use the screws that I was using to hold them together.  I found some more scrap wood in the garage.  Ideally, I’d have used 1×2, but I forgot to get any at the store and wanted to get it done, so I just used some leftover cedar decking from when we built the deck. I cut it into 16″ pieces, so that it would easily clear the supports on the sides of the shelves.  I could have used some metal strapping, but a) I didn’t have any, and b) I wanted to tie the boards together with something stiff to help support the middle boards along the 4′ length, and tying them to the side boards with something rigid should help with that.

2x4 supports

Then I just lined it up and used some old deck screws (that were short enough not to go through the boards and poke out the other side) to secure both of the ends before screwing the middle boards in. To pull some of the boards in, the screws ended up digging pretty deeply into the soft cedar, but the screws didn’t go through, so no biggie.  Then the shelves just got flipped and set into their unit.

DIY Shelf Upgrade

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