I'm trying to figure out the max load ratings for some shelving at our shop.

It is 2x4's pine that spans 4 feet across and 30" deep with 2x4's as joists and angled 2x4's for support for each section. Then the 4 foot sections are fastened together in succession. They aren't currently mounted to anything, they can't be to a wall where they currently are sitting (electrical room and needs spacing in front of electrical panels) but will be fasted to the floor.

enter image description here

Thanks, Matt.

  • 2
    They look pretty stout in terms of materials. The joints concern me a bit though. It all appears to be nailed or small screws. I'd want some larger screws/lags and bolts in there. Particularly those cross pieces supporting the deck. Do they rack at all on the long axis? Possible to put a diagonal brace in that direction? Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 20:11
  • You can utilize the woodbin.com/calcs/sagulator.htm to get a ball park Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 22:43
  • 1
    The weakest point is definitely the fastening of the horizontal shelf support to the vertical members. Recommend using a carriage bolt through both. Also, shelf is definitely not stable for sideways forces - add a diagonal brace and fasten to a wall if possible.
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 5:07

3 Answers 3


To calculate the max load, you need to check the capacity of each piece and identify which one will fail first, in other words whatever has the lowest capacity is your max capacity. In some cases, you'll have load spread across multiple pieces, e.g. each of the decking boards will carry some of the load for the shelf and send half, give or take, to each side. This will all depend on how the load is distributed on the shelf itself, and it's a good idea to be conservative and assume someone places a heavy item on a single side and on a single board.

To start, you can check the weight bearing of a 2x4 turned on it's side for the two sides, and know the capacity can't exceed double that (since there are two sides, but I'd be conservative and assume all the load was applied towards a single side). Next, you can run a similar calculation on the 2x4 decking where the boards are turned flat and over a longer span. This will likely be a smaller rating per board and you'll have to decide how conservative you want to be with the load spread over multiple boards. The next piece of structure you have are the verticals which have to support all of the shelves down to the floor. This is compressive force where the 2x4 is strongest, but you'll want to run this calculation to be sure. Lastly, and where I and CoAstroGeek both suspect you have your weak point, you have the fasteners attaching the sides to the verticals. If those are simple nails, they have a small shear force compared to bolts and could also pull out if there's a sag in the decking.

When looking at how much weight each point can support, don't forget to include the load that's already there from the shelves themselves. So for the horizontal sides of the shelf, they need to support the weight of the 2x4 decking. And the vertical supports running to the floor have their share of 3 decks and sides.

Of course the practical method to calculate the max load is to get some weights and load up a unit until it fails, and then see how much it took before it broke. Or if you don't want to destroy a shelf, use the weights to double check your calculations once you believe you know a safe capacity. It's better to test the shelves when you are being extra safe and expecting a failure than when workers are being careless and a failure could injure someone.

Lastly, I agree with CoAstroGeek's concerns about the lack of diagonal bracing along the long axis, this could easily rack and collapse under a light load if any lateral force is applied.

  • BMitch how does one calculate the compressive strain on the verticals?
    – entonio
    Commented Mar 21, 2021 at 2:17

Bad design:

  1. Loads are resting on nails. you could have notched to rest cross beams instead of relying on the nails.
  2. You should consider plywood for the surfaces. All 2x4s are not made uniformly. Some have knots which make them very weak. If the load is applied on one 2x4 beam, this shelf is very weak. The plywood distributes the weight.
  • Hello, and welcome to Home Improvement. Thanks for the answer; keep 'em coming. And, you should probably take our tour so you'll know how best to contribute here. Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 0:11

Well as stout as this is I would say calculate the load capacity of your floor joists if it is going inside other than that I'd say I'd feel comfortable storing anything I can think of on it

  • Hello, and welcome to Stack Exchange. This doesn't really answer the question, especially as it looks like the shelves are on a concrete floor. Commented Sep 1, 2018 at 13:54

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.