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DIY Closet Storage Shelves

I’m Zoe.
My mission is to teach you to  confidently build magazine-worthy DIYs. I used to be terrified of power tools, which is why I'm a firm believer that ANYONE can DIY.
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How to build shelving for walk-in storage closets. There’s nothing better than an organized space.

DIY built-in shelves in storage closet or pantry

We have one storage closet in our house and we’re determined to never get more stuff than what fits in that closet. But, we’re only 1.5 years into living in our house and the closet is a disaster. Like can’t walk in, things might fall on you when you open the door disaster.

Sure, we went through our storage containers and got rid of some of the stuff we no longer needed, but the space still wasn’t working. We decided it was time to tackle some DIY shelves to organize our walk-in storage closet. And I’m happy to say that it worked! We ended up having extra space leftover in the closet and we can easily find what we need!

Alright, let’s start DIYing!

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience (which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link, I earn a small commission, but it won’t cost you a penny more)!

Tools

What You’ll Need

Every built-in will be unique to the space, but for reference, we used the following:

  • (6) 1x3x8 pine boards
  • (2) 4×8 MDF boards
  • Brackets (for the large shelves we used 3 of these, for the small shelves, we used 1 of these on each shelf)
  • Screws
  • Caulk (make sure it’s paintable)
  • Wood putty or spackle (since we painted, we opted to use spackle)
  • 80 – 220 grit sandpaper
  • Primer (we used a quart) – do NOT get a water-based primer
  • Paint (we used a gallon of Sherwin Wiliams Extra White in Semi-Gloss)
  • Paint rollers + brush (or a paint sprayer)

How to Make DIY Storage Shelves for Organization 

New to DIY? Download our free 5 Steps to Getting Start with DIY guide!

DIY storage shelves before and after

Step 1: clear the clutter

Yup, get everything out of the closet. While you’re at it, go through and sort into sell, donate, trash, and keep piles. Let’s purge and start this store closet transformation on the right foot!

Step 2: prep

Mark all of the studs along any place that a shelf will touch.

Determine your spacing for your shelves. Our bottom shelf is 25″ off the ground and then we have 15″ between the top of one shelf to the bottom of another. Our deep shelves are approximately 24″ deep and the side shelves are 11″. Make sure you leave enough room for your brackets! You need to include brackets on your shelves (especially if they are deep) to prevent the shelves from sagging in the middle.

measuring distance between shelves

STEP 3: measure

Measure the distance where the front of your shelf will be as well as the back of the shelf. Sometimes walls are pretty warped and the measurements might be different enough that you have to cut the sides of your shelf at an angle.

Step 4: cut

Cut your shelves using a circular saw. We also used our Kreg circular saw guide to help make cutting long straight lines a little easier, but you could also clamp a 1″ board to your MDF to use as a guide.

Cut your 1×3 support boards. You should have a 1×3 support board under every side of your shelf that is touching a wall. For our shelves, we cut a total of 4 1x3s for each shelf. First we cut a 1×3 that was the length of our back wall, then a 1×3 that was the length of our side wall – .75″. Then we cut a 1×3 that was the depth of the side shelves – .75″ and finally a 1×3 that was 1.75″ shorter than the depth of our shelves. For the final 1×3, we cut the bottom 2″ at a 45-degree angle. You don’t need to do this–it’s just for a more polished look. Since our side shelves were going to be up against the door trim, we just cut the short support board straight. 

Cut your bracket supports. Measure the short side of your brackets and then subtract 2″ from the measurement. This will be the size of your support board.

Note: the 1×3 that the support will be pushed up against is 2.5″, so we subtract 2″ so that there is only a half inch of extra board beneath the bottom of the bracket.

Step 5: sand your 1x3s

We used 80, 120, and 220 grit sandpaper for a smooth finish. We sanded the top of the MDF shelves with 220 grit sandpaper as well. For a more polished (and safer) look, round the outside edges of your shelves slightly using 120 grit sandpaper. If you have shelves that will come together, make sure to not round the front edge of the shelf that will be pressed up against the side of the other shelf.

Step 6: install supports

Install your 1x3s by screwing them into the studs. We started from the ground and measured 24″ from the ground and marked that measurement in 4 places. We then placed a level on the 1×3 and lined it up with the measurements until it was level. For the rest of the shelves, we measured 16″ from the top of the 1×3 to the bottom of the next 1×3 to account for the shelf width.

1x3 support board hanging in closet

Install your bracket support boards by screwing them into studs. If you are using shelves that are less deep (approximately 15″ or less), you should only need 1-2 bracket support along the back. Since our shelf was deeper, we added a bracket on either side of the shelf as well to help prevent the middle from sagging in once there was a lot of weight on the shelves. Another option is to get a longer bracket, but larger brackets have supports that would have gotten in the way of our storage.

step 7: prep for paint

Test all of your shelves for sizing. Make adjustments if needed. If the shelves have a little gap along the back or sides, don’t worry, we will fix that! Once you are content with the sizing of all of the shelves, label the front and location.

Caulk and spackle. You’ll want to caulk the underside of the support boards, but you can wait to caulk the top until after the shelves are installed. Spackle all of the screws and any imperfections in your boards. If you opted to get common board (we did), spackle any big knots in the wood. Once the spackle is dry, you can lightly sand off any excess using 220-grit sandpaper.

MDF shelves in closet

Step 8: prime and paint

Prime your MDF. You must prime your MDF to prevent the wood fibers from swelling. A paint + primer combo doesn’t work–you need to pick a solvent-based primer. When priming, you will cover up your label for each shelf. Place them in a strategic way when priming so that you can remember exactly where each shelf goes.

Paint your shelves. We opted to paint the entire closet with our sprayer, but you can also just paint the area that the shelves will be.

closet painted white

Paint your MDF shelves, paying special attention to the fronts of the boards.

Step 9: Install your shelves

Once the paint has dried, it’s time to install your shelves! Start with the top shelf and work your way down. Place the shelf on top of the 1×3 then screw the bracket into the 1×3 support and the shelf.

Step 10: Finishing touches

Caulk where the shelf meets the wall and where the shelf meets the 1×3 supports. This might seem like an unnecessary step, but it will make your project look a lot more professional and complete! If you have a side shelf that meets your back shelf, you can also caulk the seam. Technically you would want to use wood filler and sand, but if you are good at smoothing caulk, it’ll look pretty much the same without as much work!

Touch-up any paint that you might have scraped or scuffed during the install.

before and after caulking

Step 11: fill those shelves

Now for the best part. It’s time to fill those shelves! Hopefully you took step 1 seriously and purged so this step will be extra fun. Fingers crossed you find out you have extra room like we did!

And as always, we would LOVE to see your photos. Send us (or tag us in) a picture of your shelves on Instagram and feel free to reach out with any questions!

DIY Storage Closet Shelves for Organization
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