Step 1: Closet organizer planning: Money, materials and tools
A few months ago, I finally got the bug to organize our closets. I got dizzy wading through Web sites and visiting stores. There was a shelf for this, a rack for that… So I put pencil to paper and devised a simpler system that was easy to build, easy to customize and a money-saver besides. I was so happy with it that I used the same system in my home office, too.
Materials for the closet organization system shown cost about $250, and I spent an additional $40 on closet hardware. I used 3/4-in. birch plywood because it’s strong and thick enough to accept screws. It also finishes well, and the simple grain and warm color look good with just about any décor.
A 4 x 8-ft. sheet costs about $45. Here’s a rule of thumb for estimating the plywood you’ll need: One sheet will get you two large boxes or four small boxes, plus some leftover parts. If you don’t have a pickup, have the plywood ripped into roughly 16-in.-wide pieces at the home center and then rip it to 15 in. at home.
Before you start cutting up box parts, check the thickness of your plywood. Most “3/4-in.” plywood is actually 23/32 in. thick, and the measurements given in Figs. B and C are based on that. If your plywood is thicker or thinner, you’ll have to adjust your box part sizes. The measurements given also account for the typical thickness of iron-on edge band.
Closet Organization: Endless Options!
Here’s the key to this whole closet organization system: The large box is twice as tall as the small box, and the height of each box is equal to twice its width. That means you can combine them in dozens of different configurations. For more versatility, you can drill holes and add adjustable shelf supports to any of the boxes.
And it’s not just for closets! This box system is also great for laundry rooms, garages, entryways… You can even stack the boxes to form furniture such as bookshelves or nightstands.
Meet the Maker
David Radtke is a designer, cabinetmaker, woodworker and writer. A former Senior Editor for We do everything by our own hands, David splits his time between his table saw and his computer.
Step 2: Build a simple jig for perfect crosscuts
Photo 1: Cut a bunch of box parts
This simple jig lets you churn out precise, identical box parts fast. Raise the stop block on a 1/4-in. spacer so dust buildup doesn’t throw off the accuracy.
To make this closet system work, you need to cut lots of box parts to exact, identical lengths. This plywood jig makes that foolproof. Build the jig and you’ll find lots of other uses for it. I use mine whenever I’m building bookcases, cabinets or shelves.
If your saw is out of whack, you won’t get accurate cuts. So do a quick inspection: Measure from the front and back of the blade to the edge of the saw’s shoe to make sure the blade runs parallel to the shoe. Then grab a square and make sure the blade is set at 90 degrees to the shoe. Install a 40-tooth carbide blade for clean cuts.
Take your time when you build and install the carriage assembly. First, screw the guide to the carriage. Then run your saw along the guide; that will trim the carriage to suit your saw. When you mount the carriage on the rails, use a framing square to make sure the carriage is perfectly perpendicular to the rails. I added a stick-on measuring tape to my jig. One last note: Be sure to set the saw depth so it just grazes the jig’s base. If you set the saw too deep, you’ll cut your new jig in half.
Fig. A: Crosscut Jig for Closet Organizer Box Parts
Build this simple jig for any project that requires long, precise crosscuts.
You can download and enlarge Figure A in “Additional Information” below.
Step 3: Band, biscuit and assemble the boxes
Photo 2: Edge-band the parts
Cover the visible edges with iron-on edge band. Band only the front edges of the short parts (B, E). On the long parts (A, D), band three edges.
Photo 3: Cut the biscuit slots
Clamp a support board flush with the edge to keep the biscuit joiner from rocking as you cut.
Photo 4: Assemble the boxes
A cheap disposable paintbrush makes a good spreader. Keep a damp rag handy to wipe off excess glue.
If you haven’t edge-banded plywood before (photo 2), don’t be intimidated; it’s a skill you can master in a few minutes. For a crash course, type “edge band” in the search box above. You could glue and screw the boxes together, but I used biscuits to avoid exposed screw heads (photo 3). For a full article on using a biscuit joiner, type “biscuit” in the search box above. Clamp each box together (photo 4) with a clamp at each corner and check the box with a framing square. It should automatically square itself if you’ve made accurate square cuts. Let the glue set for at least an hour before removing the clamps.
Figure B: Large Closet Organizer Box Details
|A||2||15" x 38-15/16"|
|B||2||15" x 18-1/16"|
|C||2||3-1/2" x 18-1/16"|
Outer dimensions: 19-1/2” x 39” x 15”
You can download and enlarge Figure B in “Additional Information” below. For the complete Materials List see “Additional Information” below.
Figure C: Small Closet Organizer Box Details
|D||2||15" x 19-7/16"|
|E||2||15" x 8-5/16"|
|F||2||3-1/2" x 8-5/16"|
Outer dimensions: 9-3/4” x 19-1/2” x 15”
You can download and enlarge Figure C in “Additional Information” below. For the complete Materials List see “Additional Information” below.
Step 4: Apply finish and install the closet organizer system
Photo 5: Join the boxes
Gang the boxes together with screws or special sleeve connectors at the front and back.
Photo 5A: Close-up of sleeve connectors
Sleeve connectors look better than exposed screws.
Photo 6: Support the units with a cleat
A level cleat screwed to studs makes aligning and installing the box units a lot easier. Assemble the cleat from leftover plywood scraps.
Finishing the boxes could be frustrating: Birch tends to get blotchy when stained, and brushing on a clear finish inside boxes is slow, fussy work. I sidestepped both problems by applying two coats of Watco Golden Oak finish. It’s a penetrating oil that leaves only a light film on the surface, so you don’t have to worry about brush marks. And the light color minimizes blotching. Minwax Wipe-On Poly would work well too. Use a brush to apply either finish and then wipe it with a lint-free cloth.
Once the finish is dry, join the boxes together (photo 5). I used sleeve connectors (see the Materials List in “Additional Information” below) because they look a lot better than exposed screws. Just remember to use a Pozidriv screw tip to tighten the connectors. It may look like a Phillips, but it’s slightly different. Pozidriv screw tips are available at home centers and hardware stores. You’ll also need a 3/16-in. or 5mm drill bit.
To simplify mounting the boxes to the closet wall, install a ledger (photo 6) on the wall studs about 8 in. from the floor. The 8-in. elevation keeps the boxes off the floor and provides usable space below. Make the support from long plywood scraps. The elevated ledge will support the assemblies while you get them placed and then screwed to the wall studs. Drive 2-1/2-in. screws through the box backs and the studs. If a box doesn’t land on studs, use drywall anchors such as E-Z Ancors.
Once you have all the boxes secured to the wall, you can add closet rods (centered about 11-1/2 in. from the back wall) and other organizers like tie racks and belt hangers and screw them directly into the 3/4-in. plywood construction.
Required Tools for this Project
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
- Circular saw
- Drill bit set
- Framing square
- Right angle drill/driver
- Stud finder
- Table saw
- Tape measure
- Utility knife
- Wood glue
Required Materials for this Project
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.
- Closet rods
- See Materials List in "Additional Information."
- Wood finish