Building a Basement Shelving Unit

Building a Basement Shelving Unit

If you’re like me, then you know that the chaos of our basement storage was a constant stressor for me. I couldn’t even be down there without constantly seeing it and getting more and more anxious and irritated! I hadn’t built a shelving unit before, but I did some research and found some images that it seemed like I could replicate. The best part about a project like this is that you don’t have to worry about making things pretty! Having things like exposed screws and rough edges definitely makes it a quicker build. This basement shelving unit was a pretty simple DIY and has done a ton as far as easing my mind!

Basement Project Recap:

Goals for the Storage Area

The majority of our storage needs are to store tote bins. We have a wide variety of bins in different shapes, sizes, colors, all of that, which I do not like! I actually prefer medium size totes (roughly 56 -66 qt) in clear. I find that the smaller totes make things more manageable, and the clear helps when you’re searching! In the somewhat near future, I plan to gradually change out all of my totes to fit this size, so I built the storage unit with that in mind. 

My plan was to do this basement shelving unit in three parts (although the order did slightly change). Part one was to build a long shelving unit along the back wall, that would extend the entire 12 feet and house the majority (if not all) of the totes. After that, I would be able to see what other needs I had and make another unit either on just the left side (where the window is) or on both the right and left to create a U-shaped unit.

Finally, I wanted to add a curtain to create a simple and affordable solution for dust containment since my workshop would be directly next to it. I had two ideas of how I could do this. First, I thought I could use a drop cloth, which is definitely nice and durable and would hold up well to dust. The only issue with this is that because there is a window in this area, I didn’t want to potentially block natural light. So, my other thought was to find a cheap sheer curtain to hang. Ultimately, I decided to buy the curtain, and if it didn’t work out, it’s not like I can’t find a use for a sheer curtain somewhere! 

Storage Unit Dimensions

The dimensions of the area that I designated as the storage area are 12 feet wide x 7 feet 10 inches deep, and a maximum of 6 feet 1 inch tall. I knew that I wanted the basement shelving unit to be the entire width of 12 feet, and I thought 2 feet deep sounded like a good size, so I just had to figure out the height. 

Because 15 inches is about the size of my “ideal” storage tote, I decided that should be the height of each of the shelves. So, the following equation gave me my final height:

(15” (shelf height) + 2.5” (support frame height) + 0.5” (plywood shelf height)) x 3 (number of shelves) = a total of 54” or 4’6” tall. This would mean that I would have a clearance of up to 19” for the top shelf which gave me some added height if I needed it up top.

Given this size, how many storage totes could I fit? Well, let’s say I used a standard 66qt size tote, which tends to run 24” deep, 16” wide, and 14” tall. On the bottom three shelves, I could fit 6 across each shelf but could fit up to 9 on the top shelf. The legs on the lower shelves would keep me from fully filling it, but would be a good spot to put other small items. So, in total, I could fit up to 27 totes! 

Step-By-Step Tutorial on Basement Shelving Unit

As I said, I kind of made this up based on images that I found, but it seemed to work! I also want to mention that I had some scrap wood from when I redid the bathroom trim that I wanted to use up. I had a bunch of 1x3s that I used in my frame supports, but using 2x3s is definitely preferred, so this tutorial is going to show how to use the 2x3s instead! Also, if you wanted to use 2x4s, you definitely can, just know that the measurements will be off so you’ll need to adjust. I used 2x3s because they are both cheaper and thinner, giving me more room for totes!

Material & Tool List



  • Miter Saw
  • Drill
  • Clamps
  • Square
  • Level
  • Measuring tape
  • Mallet
  • Circular Saw & Kreg Rip-Cut (if you’re not having your plywood sheets cut down)

Step 1: Make your cuts

To get the best of your materials, you want to plan ahead. If you just start going down the list of cuts, you’ll end up needing more boards than you thought because you didn’t optimize beforehand. When I did this, I did the math by hand, because I was sketching it out on graph paper, but you can also use a cut list optimizer tool online which comes in handy! Below are the cuts you’ll make to each 2×3 8′ board.

  • 6 boards will not get cut. Find your 6 straightest boards and put them aside
  • 3 boards: 48”. (basically, just cut them in half so you have 6 4’ boards)
  • 1 board: five 19” cuts
  • 8 boards: one 4’6” cut + two 19” cuts
  • 4 boards: six 15” cuts

Step 2: Build frames

Unless you are using 12’ boards (which you can, just know that your cuts will be different), you will need to build three 8’ frames and three 4’ frames, which you’ll attach to create three 12’ frames. So, you’re essentially building six frames.

8’ Frame

Grab the following pieces, plus your drill, screws, clamps, square, and mallet

  • 2 boards: 8’
  • 5 boards: 19”

Start by laying out the frame on the ground, leaving the center supports to the side for now. 

Use your square to roughly check that you have an actual square and not a rhombus.

Start by clamping one of the ends. Make sure the camp is nice and tight, but then check again that both sides are square. This may take a few times to get it right. Once this side is all set, work on the other side. You may start to notice that some of the corners start to lift off the ground if your boards aren’t as straight as you thought. As long as it’s not drastic, it’ll be fine. The weight of the shelves and the addition of the screws will help to straighten it out.

Once everything is clamped in, you can add the middle supports. I found that waiting until this point was better because I was able to get a very tight fit. You’ll slide in the support at an angle, then use your mallet to get it all the way in. Again, check for square.


Remember, I used 1×3’s, but you should use 2×3’s


Now that you have everything in place, it’s time to start screwing it together. I used a drill bit to get the holes started. This not only helped to avoid any splitting of the wood but also helped the screw go in a bit easier. When you’re working on the floor, this can be helpful since the angle can make it a bit difficult.

Once I had all my holes, I started screwing them together! Two screws on each side of the board are perfect. After everything is screwed, you can start removing your clamps and you have your first large frame!

4’’ Frame

You’ll need the following pieces:

  • 2 boards: 4’
  • 3 boards: 19”

You’ll build this exactly the same way as your 8’ frames with the exception that it’s obviously smaller, and you only need one middle support instead of two!

Repeat these steps 2 more times.

Step 3: Build bottom legs & supports

For this step, you’ll build out the legs on the ground, before carefully standing the unit up. Grab the following boards, plus your screws and drill:

  • 8 boards: 4’6”
  • 8 boards: 15”

Start by laying out your 8 boards flat on the ground. Since many boards have staples in one of the ends, you can either remove them now or just make sure that they are not going to be on the bottom since that’ll compromise how even they sit. 

Now, this is completely optional, but I also made sure that four of the boards were nice side up and four were ugly side up. This is because the four boards that are “ugly” side up will be facing inside, and the four boards that are nice side up will be facing the outside, so it just makes it so it’ll look slightly nicer when it’s all put together!

Grab your 15” boards, and start screwing them so they are flush with the bottom. I opted to use 4 screws for each, 2 on the bottom and 2 on top because I wanted these to be particularly secure.

Step 4: Add and secure frames

Grab your four boards that are nice side up, and lay them out on the ground. These will be your back legs. Remember, the total distance should be 12’ long, so you’ll have your outside legs, then two in the middle, with gaps roughly 46″ apart. Then, grab your 8’ frame and set it directly on top of the supports.

Once everything looks good, start screwing the frame into the legs. I used two screws per leg. Now, grab your 4’ frame, and line this up so that it’ll sit on your last leg, and so that it’s flush with your 8’ frame. Grab some small clamps and clamp the two pieces together, then screw them together from both sides. Finally, add some screws to secure the 4’ frame to the legs. 

Next, you’ll add your front legs right on top. To make sure that these stayed straight, I grabbed one of my other frames and set it on the top of the back legs to basically hold up the front legs.

You’ll do the same thing here and screw the front legs to the front of the frames. Once everything is secure, you’ll need to stand it up. This is a two-person job since you don’t want to add any weight to the legs as you stand them up or they could crack since they aren’t completely secured. Luckily, the structure is still pretty light, so just lift up, and then once it’s perpendicular with the floor, you can set it back down and it’ll be good to keep going!

Step 5: Add plywood top

If you had your pieces cut down to 2’ deep boards, you can just add one of the 8’ boards right on top. I did decide to alternate between 4’ and 8’, which means that I placed the 8’ sheet on top of the side with the 4’ frame, and the 4’ sheet on the side with only the 8’ frame. You will need to cut one of the 8’ boards to two 4’ boards, which you can do using a circular saw.

Once you get your 8’ board in place, add the 4’ board. You can screw these down if you want, but since the support pieces are going to go right on top, the bottom two shelves aren’t going anywhere!

Step 6: Repeat for middle and top

So from here on out, the basement shelving unit build is pretty smooth sailing! You’ll take 8 more of the 15” boards, and add them directly on top of the plywood panel, securing into the legs using screws. For a cleaner look, now that things are stable, I do suggest screwing the supports for the front legs into the back, and screwing from the back for the back legs, just so the screws don’t show as much. But, this is up to you and doesn’t make a huge difference!

Once you have your supports screwed in, you’ll add your next frame. I also alternated my frames so that the 8’ board was stacked above where the 4’ board below it was, and vice versa. I just thought this would help with weight distribution. Again, once you secure the 8’ frame to the legs, you’ll add the 4’ frame, clamp them together and secure them. Then, you’ll screw in the 4’ frame to your legs. After that, you’re ready for your next plywood panels, which again were staggered.

And finally, it’s time for the top shelf! Add the supports, frames, and plywood top. For the top shelf, I did secure the plywood using 1” screws since this isn’t being held in place by the other supports or legs. The last thing you want is to start to pull a tote off that top shelf and bring the whole piece of plywood with you! I focused the screws on the four corners of each sheet, then added a handful more for good measure. 

Thoughts on the Basement Shelving Unit

And that’s it, you’re done! This whole basement shelving unit project took me about 8 hours over 3 days, and cost around $225. Given the cost of much smaller shelving units, having a 12’ long unit for this price was definitely worth it!

Now that this basement shelving unit is done, I saw that I was able to actually fit the majority of my items on just this unit, which is awesome. I do need to switch out some of the totes so that they can fit (and so that they aren’t so extremely heavy!), but I think that I can get away with just adding one more shelf on either side and maybe some kind of organizer for under the stairs. 

However, I think I’m going to sit on this for a while until I know exactly what I want to do. Now that I have most of this stuff organized, it isn’t driving me as crazy, so I can take my time. Remember, home takes time and there’s no reason to rush into anything! 

Plus, I want to make sure that whatever I decide to do, I have room to grow. One of the biggest mistakes you can make when designing an organization system is to only leave room for what you currently have. Once you start adding stuff (which you definitely will!), you automatically create trouble. So, what I’m trying to say, is stay tuned for some point in the future where I keep working on this ;).

Adding the Curtain

As I mentioned earlier, I did decide to try the sheer curtain first. I purchased two cheap curtain rods (you can’t see them) and these curtain rings. To secure this, I screwed the curtain rod into the ceiling rafters, which was actually a bit more tricky than I had originally thought! There are a lot of things happening up there like the HVAC and a bunch of wiring. Plus, I was in some uncomfortable positions (even laying on the new basement shelving unit) for a few of them, but I made it work! 

Once they were screwed in, I added the rings to the rod, then placed the rod on the hooks. Then, I just clipped in the curtain. Now, how do I feel about the sheer curtain? I’m honestly not sure yet. I actually think it might be TOO sheer and I’m not sure how well it’ll withstand the dust issue. So, I decided to order a drop cloth too so that I could try that. Again, it’s not like I can’t use a drop cloth in the future, so if I go back to the curtains, no harm done!

What do you think, is this basement shelving unit a DIY you could tackle?

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