How to Build a Stand Alone Shelf Unit

Updated November 21, 2016

Just about any room can benefit from extra storage space, especially garages, basements and workrooms. Wall-supported shelves can relieve some storage issues, but a stand-alone shelf unit offers plenty of room to store materials without damaging walls. A stand-alone shelf unit is easy to build with cheap materials and can be completed with a saw and drill. The design is easily manipulated to suit any need and can be decorated as desired.

Determine the length and width of the shelves, and decide how tall the shelf unit will be.

Cut two pieces of 2-by-4 to the length measurement and two to the width measurement from step one. Create a rectangle with the 4-inch side of the lumber facing out, apply wood glue to the corners, then use a drill to screw in two 3-inch wood screws to each corner.

Cut a rectangle of plywood board to fit on top of the rectangle from step two. Apply wood glue to the top of the rectangle where the plywood will join, then clamp the plywood to the rectangle.

Fasten the plywood to the rectangle with wood screws every 3 inches. Allow the wood glue to dry for 24 hours, then remove the clamps. Continue this process to make as many shelves necessary.

Cut four 2-by-4s to the height desired for the legs. Make sure the legs are even to prevent any wobbling that will make the shelf unit unstable.

Decide the height of the first shelf, and mark the measurement on the 4-inch side of all four legs. Apply wood glue to the corners of the shelf, then align the shelf with the marks on the legs, and clamp the shelf and leg together. The legs should be attached to the sides of the shelf, not the front and back.

Drill two wood screws through the legs and into the shelf to keep the shelf fastened. Use three screws -- or longer screws -- for a shelf that is large or will be holding a heavy load.


Sand all cuts so that the edges will be smooth. Use a smaller lumber size to make smaller shelves. Using 1-by-2s may not be strong enough for garage storage, but it will work well for light bedroom or living room storage. Add wood stain or paint the shelf unit to make the shelves look more attractive.

Things You'll Need

  • 2-by-4-inch stock lumber
  • Wood glue
  • 3-inch wood screws
  • ¾-inch plywood
  • Saw
  • Minimum of four clamps
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