So, my ex and dear, dear friend, Pup, got me hooked on using wooden crates as shelving. When he first suggested it, I was pretty hesitant–how… rustic. I have much more of a sleek-gothic-meets-angry-punk style. But, I agreed because we didn’t really have many other options at the time. Those crates are super cheap at craft stores like Michael’s and Joann’s and prefabricated box shelving is not cheap.
(I tend to avoid free-floating shelves because they’re bad Feng Shui–yea, I’m one of those people.)
It didn’t take me long to get hooked. Now, with a few exceptions, I use crates for all my shelving. Like I said, Michael’s sells these unfinished crates for cheap (the “half crate” one I used for this project was only about $7 and they almost always have coupons to get the price down even more). They come in a few different sizes and styles to fit your needs (these small ones are my faves because they’re great for holding DVD/BluRay boxes and I have a ton of movies). Because they’re unfinished, it’s incredibly easy to customize them to fit your décor. I’m currently in the process of refinishing mine to match my black-and-white-striped bedroom theme.
So, let’s get to it!
To start, you’ll need a few things:
- A crate, obviously, available at Micheal’s
- Sand paper (or an orbital sander)
- White paint (spray paint is faster, but cheap acrylic/wood paint works fine)
- Black paint (stick to regular acrylic/wood paint)
- Clear finish (spray on is easier, but you can use brush on if you want/need to)
- 1″ wide masking tape
These crates are a light unfinished wood straight out of the store. The first thing you want to do is give the whole thing a good once-over with sandpaper. The interior particularly tends to be rough. I’m not super concerned about it being perfectly smooth, but if that’s what you want I recommend using a small orbital sander to make it go faster.
Once it’s sanded, wipe off the dust and cover the entire crate except for the back (unless the back is going to be seen for some reason) in a white base. Spray paint makes this go much, much faster than hand painting. However, if you don’t have the outdoor space for spray paint (never spray paint indoors), you can use regular wood or acrylic paint. It may take a couple coats to get it really white (if you want to do a different color scheme than black and white, just one white base coat should work, then coat it with the lighter of your two colors to your preference).
Once the white has dried overnight, tape off your stripes with the masking tape. I do this by laying down my blocking tape, then using another piece of masking tape as a spacer, giving me fairly even stripes. You can also measure with a ruler and mark it with a pencil, if you want variant sizes.
Once you’re blocked off, carefully paint the black over it. Let to dry for at least an hour before peeling the tape off to avoid smudges.
After I got the stripes in, I painted the front border with black. Do this very, very carefully, to avoid smudging into the white. Even blocking this off with tape isn’t fool-proof because of how rough the interior still is–it’s almost impossible to get the tape to adhere air-tight.
Once that’s done, touch up any smudges with white paint and coat it with a clear finish. I prefer giving it a couple coats of spray-on finisher, because it seems less “tacky” than paint-on finishes I’ve used in the past.
Now, this is a shelf, so we need to mount it. These crates do not come with any kind of mounting hardware, but that’s easy to work around. There are two ways you can mount these.
If you’re only planning on putting small, lightweight things on this, you can buy sawtooth frame hangers to screw onto the back (do not trust nails; screws grip and hold better). I hung a small shelf like this one using those with no problem–just make sure you use flat-headed (wood) screws and drywall anchors instead of nails to mount it to the wall.
NEVER HANG SHELVES WITH NAILS. Fifteen-year-old me figured that out the hard way.
Since I’m putting books on mine, I want something a little sturdier. I don’t bother with back-attached mounting hardware. These crates have gaps between the slats inside and I use them to my advantage.
Here’s the hardware I used to mount this to my wall:
- A level
- A pencil
- A stud finder
- An electric screw driver (a manual works fine; I’m just super lazy and the electric makes it go quick)
- 1-2 self-drilling drywall anchors (these hold up to 50lbs)
- 2 1″ washers with 1/4″ holes
- 2 1 1/2″ screws 1/4″ in diameter (I don’t know the exact number of the screw; just make sure the head won’t go through the hole of the washer)
- NOTE: The mounting hardware will be visible, so if you think it will be unsightly you should paint it to match the interior of your shelf so it will be less noticeable. I don’t do this because I just don’t care.
When mounting a shelf to hold books, I try to put it into at least one stud for stability’s sake. If you don’t have a stud where you want to hang it, make sure you use drywall anchors for the love of might! I thought I could get away with not using anchors recently and lost about $200 worth of my crystals and gemstones when the shelf fell and they broke.
Use. Drywall. Anchors.
Okay, to mount, start by holding the shelf up against the wall where you want it. I’m hanging this one right below one of my crystal shelves and above my bedside table to clear it of my journals so I can put my altar there instead. Use your level to ensure it’s… ya know… level and use a pencil to mark roughly where you’ll want to screw it into the wall.
Use the stud finder to locate the nearest stud and mark it in line with the marks you already made. If you don’t have a stud nearby–ANCHORS. If you do have a stud nearby, make a mark and erase the extra mark (erase the mark closest to the stud mark, because you want the screws to be spaced a fair distant apart).
Get a small hole started on both of the marks. This will make it a lot easier to get the anchor(s) and screws to go in straight without having the deal with them wobbling all over the place.
Screw the anchor into the area of the wall without a stud. If you’re mounting a half-crate shelf like this, you won’t hit two studs. If you’re mounting one of the full size crate shelves, it’s possible you have two studs you can screw into. Personally, I still like having at least one drywall anchor just in case one of the studs has any damage that might cause it to splinter, or I accidentally strip it by screwing it too tight, because I use these for heavy, heavy books. If you’re putting lighter things on it, you probably don’t need the extra anchor.
Put the screw through the washer and screw it through the gap in the shelf, into the wall. Don’t screw it flush until you have a chance to make sure it’s still level. Use your level to get the positioning right and then tighten the screws flush. Try not to over-screw the one going into the stud so you don’t strip the wood.
Viola! All that’s left is to put all your pretty shinies on your new custom shelf and enjoy!
All said and done, depending on how early you start and how fast your paint dries, you could potentially finish this project in a single day (though I’d recommend giving it two). The customizability and affordability of the crates makes these shelves ideal for getting just the right look on a college student’s budget.
Go forth and store your stuff!
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