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I would like to build several shelving units in our garage. Each unit will be 36" deep, 88" high, and 60" wide. Each unit will have four shelves, and each shelf will be divided into two cubbies each sized perfectly to fit our storage bins:

     -----------------------
    /                     /|
   /        60"          / |
  -----------------------  |
  |          |          |  |
  |          |          |  |
  -----------------------  |
  |          |          |  |
  |          |          |  |
  -----------------------  |  88"
  |          |          |  |
  |          |          |  |
  -----------------------  |
  |          |          |  /
  |          |          | /  36"
  -----------------------  

Each cubby will need to be able to hold up to 100 lbs of weight, so 200 lbs across each shelf, or 800 lbs in the whole unit. We will likely never approach half of this, but could reach it in some cases at certain times of year.

I planned to use 3/8" plywood for the shelves and to support them on all four sides (so 6 vertical studs total, plus horizontal support around the perimeter of each shelf). There will also be another support running down the center of the shelf from front to back between the two cubbies.

I would like to know if 2x4s are required for the framing and support, or if I can use smaller pieces of framing lumber to save some money. I'm confident that the plywood can hold the weight (thanks to the Sagulator), but am unsure how to calculate maximum load for different supports.

  • If you go smaller you will need vertical grain. I have built book shelves using vertical grain 2×2 with 1×2 notches that I glued the rungs in. 9' tall with shelves 16" apart and the ladder rungs spaced 2' wide made a great bookshelf and held being packed full of books for over 20years. Yours is deeper so 2×4 may be wise. – Ed Beal Jun 7 '17 at 21:50
  • Is your center support continuous from front to back (e.g., a panel) or two vertical pieces, one at front and one at back? Are you planning to make it out of pine or hardwood? If you're going pine, I'd be surprised that 2x4 studs aren't cheaper than some 1x material. – mmathis Jun 7 '17 at 22:19
  • @mmathis I'm not sure I understand the question, but the center support will be a solid beam from front to back attached to vertical pieces at either end. Those vertical pieces will have solid beams on both sides attached to the vertical pieces at the corners. – Nicholas Jun 8 '17 at 2:15
  • @mmathis I was going to make it out of whitewood, which around here is probably some sort of pine. Cost is a minor concern, but with all the other minor concerns adds up. Smaller pieces are easier to work with, easier to transport, require less facade and don't look at bulky. Most importantly of all, I will be moving this around (and into place) alone, and smaller pieces make for a much lighter unit overall; I have a bad back so this one is valuable to me. But I certainly wouldn't be willing to compromise structural integrity for any of these reasons. – Nicholas Jun 8 '17 at 2:17

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