How to build a free standing shelf unit

Updated March 23, 2017

If you live in a smaller area or tend to change your decor layout frequently, then you might appreciate the usefulness of a free standing shelf unit. Free standing units are not attached to a wall or mounted, so moving it around constantly will not leave your walls or floors damaged. While free standing shelf units can be rather expensive and severely affect your budget, building one at home can save you money. You simply need some basic plywood and common hardware tools.

Measure how tall, wide and deep you would like the shelving unit to be, and note these measurements. Decide how many additional shelves you want in your free standing unit. For example, if your unit will be 50 inches tall, you can add four shelves spaced 10 inches apart; the bottom of the unit is a shelf in itself.

Lay the plywood on a flat surface and, using the dimensions determined in Step 1, draw two rectangular side pieces onto the wood. Each piece should be as long as the unit will be tall, and as wide as the unit will be deep. For example, if you have decided on a 50-inch tall unit with a depth of 10 inches, your side pieces should measure 50 inches by 10 inches.

Draw two additional pieces for the bottom and top parts of the free standing unit. The pieces should be identical and should measure the length of the unit by the depth. Any additional shelves should be identical in shape and size to the top and bottom pieces.

Cut each piece of the unit out with the jigsaw. Sand each piece smooth and free of splinters using sandpaper.

Stand a side piece up on its long edge. Stand the unit's top piece up on its long edge. Butt the edge of the top piece up to the inside end of the side piece, so they create an "L" shape; the edge of the side piece should be flush with the top of the top piece, to create an even 90-degree angle. Hammer nails through the end of the side piece into the edge of the top piece to attach the two.

Repeat Step 4 with the bottom piece and the opposite end of the same side piece. The side piece's edge must be flush with the bottom of the bottom piece to create a 90-degree angle. Hammer nails through the end of the side piece into the edge of the bottom piece.

Attach any shelves you created for the unit in the order you desire. For example, while one shelf may only have 10 inches of vertical space between itself and the next shelf, another might have 5 inches of space. Space the shelves as you wish, and nail them in place in the same fashion as the top and bottom pieces.

Line the second side piece of the free standing unit up to the many shelving ends sticking out. Position each shelf end against the side piece so it appears level to the eye, then place the level against the flat side of the shelf to ensure it is level. Nail each shelf to the side piece.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • 1/2-inch plywood sheets
  • Jigsaw
  • Sandpaper
  • Hammer
  • Nails
  • Level
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About the Author

Based in Toronto, Mary Jane has been writing for online magazines and databases since 2002. Her articles have appeared on the Simon & Schuster website and she received an editor's choice award in 2009. She holds a Master of Arts in psychology of language use from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.