PinBusted or PinTrusted: Upright Pantry Storage

DIY Featured GeekMom


The rainy season called fall (and winter, and spring) has come to stay for a bit in the Pacific Northwest. Any outdoor work I was going to get done will need to wait until spring. With the start of fall comes indoor projects that have been on a pretty Pinterest list for quite some time. One such project is this upright pantry storage I saw that was thousands of dollars cheaper than remodeling and flooring our kitchen this year, but would still give us much needed kitchen storage.

The original upright unit plans I found looked so easy. It was pretty and crisp and fit so nicely in that underutilized space between the fridge and the wall that normally collects toy cars, pencils, and other dusty treasures. This project was perfect… or so I thought. We started adding our own touches to our plans, then couldn’t quite figure out how the original plans worked the way they did.

The Plans: My husband measured for the height, depth, and width we had available for a unit.  At least the original site we found plans on actually had plans, measurements, and useful pictures. When looking for other plans, I was only able to find one other page that talked about completing the project. There were no plans, no list of what would be needed, nothing. There was just a blog post (that was not proofread I might add) with some of the measurements used in the project but no list of materials and no starting point or plans. Considering the post said “DIY” and “Tutorial” in the title, I expected more. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very helpful.

The Measurements:

Measurements that we used for the space we have. Your space might be different. image: Tim Post
Measurements we used for our upright storage in the space we have. Your space might be different. Image: Tim Post

Materials for our build (with commentary!):

  • (1) 4′ x 8′ sheet of 3/8″ hardboard

This is that dark brown, thin board with one smooth side and one textured side (think chipboard material). It’s available in several thicknesses in large sheets and is pretty cheap—and floppy. It’s used to make the back panel of the unit. Look for it near wall-coverings and, if the hardware store you go to has a free cutting service, get them to cut it down for you to at or near the size you need for ease of taking home.

  • (1) 36″ x 48″ sheet of thin galvanized steel

This is for the magnetic spice rack. Bring gloves, or buy some at the store—this stuff is wickedly sharp!

  • (5) 8′ long 1×4 furring strips

Furring strips are boards that are used in construction to space things out or to provide places to attach other things to—they aren’t made to be strong or hold anything up structurally, but they are cheap. As boards go, they aren’t the straightest, they are made from soft wood, they often have knots, and are sometimes in rough shape. Thankfully, home-improvement stores usually have a huge stack of them and you can pick through and find some good ones. REMEMBER! Dimensional lumber lies—a 2×4 is actually 1-1/2 by 3-1/2 inches, and these 1×4’s are actually 3/4 by 3-1/2 inches. Because geeky people always have to know why, the “nominal” dimensions are what the wood is rough-cut to; the boards are then sent through a planer that smooths out the rough saw cuts, removing some thickness in both dimensions.

  • (1) 8′ long 1×6 premium pine board

We used this for an overhanging front piece for the pantry. Compared to the furring strips, premium boards are much straighter, with fewer or no knots and sharp, square edges. You could make the whole pantry from these, but they are much more expensive.

  • (6) 48″ long 7/16″ dowels

These run along the shelves and keep things from falling out. Unfortunately, our pantry was too deep for the smaller available size (24″), so there was a lot of extra dowel. Still, they are not expensive and the extra dowel is useful.

  • (4) 2″ non-swiveling casters

Look around to find the non-swiveling kind—they support a higher weight, are lower, are cheaper, and they keep the pantry from moving in directions you don’t intend.

  • (2) drawer handles

We chose to do one handle at kid-height and one at adult-height, but you could get away with a single handle or knob.

  • 1-1/4″ wood screws (lots)

This length is perfect. We have two needs for the screws: to go through the face of a board and into the end of one (t-joint), or go through the face of a board into the face of another. Since the lying 1×4’s are 3/4″ thick, the screws will go through the first board and a solid 1/2″ into the next, which gives a good hold, but also will not protrude out the face of the second board—the front of our pantry has no visible screws, as it’s joined to the frame by screws from the inside out. We used brass deck screws.

  • Wood glue

Screws help hold it together, but wood glue is what makes the construction last.

  • Contact cement

This is to attach the metal panel to the back. You could also use thin strips of wood around the edges, nailed into the frame, trapping the metal sheet between them and the backing. We used 3M Super 77 (a spray) but a brush-on cement like DAP would work too.


  • Electric drill with a 1/2″ bit, a ~1/8″ bit, and a screw driving bit

The 1/2″ bit is for drilling the holes for the dowels; the 1/8-or-so” bit is for drilling pilot holes for the screws (when in doubt, go smaller rather than larger here). A bit for driving screws isn’t totally necessary, but will save your arm and wrist.

  • Screwdriver

But the drill won’t fit everywhere. It’s always good to have a manual screwdriver.

  • Measuring tape and square

Measure twice, cut once. Then measure again. Then swear, and cut again. The square helps you make nice straight lines, which leads to nice straight cuts (theoretically).

  • Hammer or mallet

There aren’t any nails used in this project, but it is still handy to have to knock around metal or wood.

  • Hand or electric saw

I did the entire project with a hand saw. You could use an electric saw if you wanted and had access to one, but it’s not needed. Even the big backing board cuts fast and easily with a nice sharp hand saw.

  • Tin snips

There’s no getting around this—you will have to cut the metal sheet. Tin snips are a bit expensive and you may not have the use for them, so you might see if the store will cut the metal to size for you, see if a friend has a pair of snips, or buy a smaller piece of sheet metal and size your spice rack to that.

Total for building materials excluding tools: $110

Putting it together:

  1. Measure and cut. Cut the 1×4’s—you will need two 84″ pieces for the sides of the frame and eight 28″ pieces for the shelves and top/bottom of the frame. Measure with the tape measure, draw a line across the board with the square, and cut.
  2. Measure and drill pilot holes. Draw a line across the frame side boards at each shelf location and 3/8″ down from the top, and 3/8″ and 1″ up from the bottom. Measure 3/4″ in from either side and mark. Drill through with the 1/8″ drill bit—there should be two holes in each end for each shelf and for the top and double-bottom. Draw a line longways across the end of each shelf and end (the 28″ boards). Measure 3/4″ in from each end and drill a hole about 1/2″ inch deep. These pilot holes not only keep the screws from splitting the wood, they also help line everything up neatly.
  3. Build the frame. Take one 28″ board and lay a line of glue across each end. Using the top holes in the sides, attach the board with four screws to make the top of the frame. Continue with each 28″ board, gluing and screwing each shelf in, until you get to the bottom and have two boards left. If any glue squeezes out, you can wipe it off with a wet paper towel or rag before it dries.
  4. Build the bottom of the pantry. Put the remaining two boards on top of each other. Draw a line longways down the center of the top board, and choose two points on it (about a third of the way in from each end). Drill a pilot hole through the top board and into (but not through) the bottom board at both points. Take the boards apart, lay a line of glue down the face of the bottom one, and replace the top one. Secure it with two screws through the pilot holes you just drew.
  5. Attach the wheels. Using one of the casters as a template, place it on the top board. You want to have two casters at one end of the board and two at the other—the farther apart they are, the more stable it will be. Take a pen or pencil and mark the location of the holes in the caster for all four wheels. Take the caster off, drill pilot holes again, and then attach all four casters with screws. Congratulations, you have an old-school skateboard!
  6. Complete the frame. Glue the ends of the double-thick bottom and attach it with screws to the frame.
  7. Drill the dowel holes. Up until now, there has not been a front or back to the pantry. Decide which side will be the front, and which end will face out. Measure along each side of the frame 2-1/2″ up from each shelf, and then 1/4″ in. At this point, use the 1/2″ drill bit to drill dowel holes. You can drill all the way through the side that will face out (there will be another board here covering this up), but only drill halfway through the other side. A good way to make sure you don’t drill through is to wrap a piece of tape like a flag around the drill bit at the depth you want to stop; once the flag reaches the wood you’re drilling through, stop.
  8. Add the “decorative” front. Measure and cut the nice 1×6 so that it will go from the top of the frame almost to the floor—this way, it will cover the casters too. Decide where you want your handles, mark, and drill holes for these too. Before you put the handles on, align the decorative front on the frame and mark the side of the frame where the handle holes are. Use the 1/2″ bit to drill the sides at this point—the bolts for the handles won’t reach through two pieces of wood. Drill several pilot holes (one per shelf section is probably good) down the side board of the frame so that you can attach the front. Lay some glue down the side of the frame, position the decorative front (making sure the holes for the handle line up), and screw it together. Screw on the handles.
  9. Add the back. Lay the hardboard on the almost-completed pantry. If it isn’t already cut to the right size, mark along the edges of the pantry frame and then cut the backing board. This is a good time to check if the pantry frame is nice and square—you can either measure diagonally from each corner (if the measurements are the same, the frame is a rectangle) or just use the square edge of the backing board. Drill pilot holes through the back and into the frame around the outside—one per foot is probably enough. Screw the back on to the frame. You could also screw the back into the shelves, but that’s much harder to line up.
  10. Add the metal sheet. Measure and cut the metal sheet to size. Tin snips work just like any other scissors, but the metal is a lot harder to get out of the way. A second person to bend the metal away as you cut is invaluable! Both should be wearing long sleeves and gloves—fresh-cut sheet metal is sharp. If you got a smaller piece of metal that already fits, you can luckily skip this part. Then, brush or spray a layer of contact cement on the pantry where the metal will go, and a layer on the metal itself. Wait a few minutes for it to dry, then carefully line up and press the metal onto the back of the pantry. Try to aim carefully—once the cement comes into contact with itself, you aren’t likely to get it apart.
  11. Cut and add the dowels. Measure and cut each dowel 29″ long. This is just longer than the shelves, so each end will stick into the holes cut in the sides of the frame. Since the holes are 1/2″ and the dowel is slightly smaller, it will have room to flex and move to accommodate whatever you put in the pantry. Put the dowels in the pantry by inserting one end, then bowing it out until it snaps into the other hole.
  12. Done! Move your fridge out from the wall a foot or so. Put the pantry upright and roll it into place, then scoot the fridge up against the pantry.

Ours is unfinished, but the shelves, front, and backer could easily be painted. Before it is installed, you could cover the backer board with contact paper, too.

We ran into problems: After we had purchased the boards we wondered if the original builder had found true 1″ x 4″ boards. We put a can of soup on a 1×4 board and saw how little space was left to put a dowel in. We had to drill holes right on the edge of the board or a can of soup wouldn’t fit. Peanut butter only fits in the middle of a shelf. How the finished pictures on the other blog show holding pasta sauce jars is beyond me.

Another issue is (despite the author saying she hadn’t had problems) this unit does not stand up on its own. Ours, of course, is taller than hers, which probably doesn’t help. We were worried about the kids pulling it all of the way out on some early weekend morning to get cereal and then have it crash on them. So my wonderful husband installed a track out of scraps to keep the unit in place.

The Hacks: The original was just a shelving unit. My husband, being the gourmet he is, wanted to free up an entire drawer of unorganized and easily spilled  spices by putting in a piece of sheet metal and magnetic spice containers. We carefully measured the piece of metal when the unit was put together and very carefully used tin snips to cut the metal to size. Then, we glued it in place with contact cement and hammered down all of the edges with a mallet.

CAUTION!!: If you like the spice rack idea, use thick leather gloves when working with metal. It is sharp! My husband learned the hard way and cut the thenar (the flap of skin between his index finger and thumb) on his right hand because he hiked up his grip on the piece he was planning to purchase. It cut through ALL of the layers of skin exposing the tendons. It was nasty. This is not at all something to take lightly.

PinBusted or Trusted?: Marginally PinTrusted.

The bad: It works, but I would have measured more of the objects I planned to store in the unit aside from the space we had available to figure out if I could have used a 1×6 instead of the 4 inch (well, really 3-1/2″) that almost isn’t wide enough for soup. It isn’t safe as a free standing unit. It needs to be anchored. The good: It is an amazing idea that utilizes a space that is normally ignored. For the kind of project it is, it is fairly affordable (especially considering how much a kitchen remodel or even some additional Ikea cabinets cost).

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