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    Storage Cubes: A Versatile Problem Solver

    more on woodworking safety

    Tools and Materials

    When you’re standing in the closet-materials aisle at a home center, it’s tough to visualize how the components will go together in an installation you’ll like. It’s like going to the auto parts store and ordering all the pieces to build a car.

    Fortunately, at least one company has taken the uncertainty out of closet planning. Visit the ClosetMaid® website (www.closetmaid.com) for professional design options. Enter the dimensions of your closet and answer some questions about your storage needs. For a fee equivalent to a fastfood meal, you’ll get two design options in about four days. If you don’t like them, you can even receive one alteration at no charge. The service includes a perspective view, a plan view, elevations, and a list of the components.

    Plannint the Installation

    Plans simplified Get your closet project off to a strong start with a professional design from ClosetMaid®. As a bonus, it's extremely affordable.

    The Closet-planning dilemma

    The awkward dimensions of another closet presented a challenge. Worse, the ceiling followed the roofline, ending at a 2-ft. kneewall at the far end. The builder had installed rods on both sides, but that left no center access. The homeowner
    abandoned the rods and crammed the space with cardboard boxes for out-of-season clothes. But the design also included shoe racks on the side walls, so retrieving anything often involved unloading the entire closet.

    The stacked boxes provided a clue to the design solution: cubicles hugging each side wall, stepping down to follow the ceiling slope. Home centers sell very affordable melamine-clad cubes about 12 in. high, wide, and deep. Each side of
    the closet required two 9-cube (3 by 3) units and one 6-cube (2 by 3) unit. At the far end of the closet, one cube was trimmed from a 9-cube unit to accommodate the ceiling slope.

    Each wall now boasts 23 cubic feet—more than most full-size refrigerator/freezer combos— plus 6 sq. ft. of countertop surface on each side.

    This article originally appeared in Built-Ins (2009), a part of Taunton Press's Build like a Pro series

    How to Make

    Setting the storage cubes

    click to enlargeMark stud edges

    Mark stud edges: Demolition was the first step. After minor repairs and a fresh coat of paint on the walls and ceiling, the space was ready.

    click to enlargeBuild the toekick base

    Build the toekick base: On a wall you will eventually cover with cabinets, locate and mark the edges of each stud with a stud finder. Mark the centerline. Record the location of the studs along each wall on a piece of paper, then tape the paper to the wall. Make a quick sketch to identify each wall and the starting point of the measurements. For example, "north wall, starting at west corner."

    click to enlargeShim the base

    Shim the base : Build a ladder-shaped toekick base for the cabinets from 4-in. wide stock. I used white melamine for the front so I could eliminate sanding, priming, and painting. Driving pocket hole screws eliminated any visible fastener holes. A toekick usually measures 4 in. high, but in a room you’ll carpet, make it 1⁄2-in. to 3⁄4-in. taller (more with ultrathick floor covering). Otherwise, when the pad and carpet go in, the apparent size of the toekick will shrink, and vacuuming under it will prove difficult. Before you start setting cabinets on a toekick base, make sure you haven’t left any tools behind. Entombing a tool is embarrassing and expensive.

    click to enlargeAssemble the cubes

    Assemble the cubes: Shim the base level along each dimension. Secure the base to the studs and to the floor. Use pocket hole screws to fasten the cross braces to the floor.

    click to enlargeAlign the dividers

    Align the dividers: half-sheet of plywood makes a flat assembly surface for the cubes. I flushed up the ends and edges of the first corner with pipe clamps, but when I drove the first screws, their heads didn’t pull flush with the surface. That would create problems when joining the cubes, but torquing the screws more would spin the MDF into a powder with no holding strength. So I countersunk the holes to create a shallow recess. Driving the screws flush pulled the joint together snugly.

    click to enlargeAdd more dividers

    Rotate and add more dividers: Insert two short dowels into the vertical dividers and secure each divider with a screw through the top. Align a horizontal divider so you can insert long dowels through it and into the vertical dividers. A deadblow mallet gently persuades the parts into alignment. Irregularities in the wall, especially if it tips forward at the top, could prevent you from aligning the edges of neighboring cubes. Test-fit the units by temporarily stacking and clamping them in position. Shift the assembly until you’re satisfied with the location. Then unclamp and remove the top cabinets, being careful not to shift the lower ones. Now you can fasten them in place with confidence.

    click to enlargeDrive in the nails

    Drive in the nails: Add another side of short vertical dividers and a long horizontal divider. At this point, you may find it more convenient to rotate the assembly vertically. Be careful, though, because the assembly is still shaky at this time. Complete the cube unit by clamping and driving the assembly screws.

    click to enlargeAnchor the first cabinet

    Set first cabinet: Make sure all joints are tight, then check for square by measuring for equal diagonals. Drive the nails square to the surface so the tips don’t penetrate the inside edges. Space the nails no farther than 6 in. apart. The manufacturer provided five folded paperboard squares for the back for the unit. This solution makes sense from a packaging standpoint, but not from an aesthetic or structural viewpoint. So I bought 1⁄8-in. hardboard with a white finish—the kind used for dry-erase marker boards. It’s smooth and durable, but best of all, it didn’t require me to crack open a can of paint. I cut the panel about 1⁄8-in undersize overall so the edges wouldn’t be in the way when joining the cubes.

    click to enlargeUnite the storage cubes

    Join the cubes: Set the first cabinet in place. Insert shims, if needed, and then drill pilot holes through the back and into the studs. Driving cabinet hanging screws at both the top and bottom of the cube unit firmly anchors the assembly.

    click to enlarge

    Add the doors: Unite the cubes to each other with connector or Chicago bolts, clamping the edges. The scrapwood block prevents tearout where the bit exits the case side.

    click to enlargeSelf-adhesive dots

    Conceal screws: The doors provided for inexpensive concealed storage, come with plastic hinges that are far from furniture-grade, but appropriate for a closet.

    click to enlargeCompleted installation

    The finished product: You can use the push-in plastic screw covers supplied by the manufacturer, but I’ve found they sometimes eject themselves. In addition, you can’t use them at all if the screw is driven too deeply. I prefer concealing the screws with self-adhesive dots. (McFeely’s, http://www.mcfeelys.com, carries these dots in a wide spectrum of colors and woodgrains.)

    The completed installation, demonstrates how a catchall area became an efficient closet—eye-catching and accessible. Fabric drawers brighten the installation and make rearrangements nearly effortless.