You’ll spend a lot on supplies, but you may still save money by DIYing.
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What you'll need:
Paintbrush or roller
Wood stain or paint
3/4-inch thick plywood or pine boards
Stainless steel brackets or brads
From your growing collection of spatulas to multiple boxes of your favorite cereal, kitchens have a way of accumulating lots of stuff. You can transform your kitchen space and streamline your cupboard contents by adding pantry shelves inside your existing pantry using plywood, solid wood, or MDF boards. Learn how to build DIY pantry shelves in this seven-step guide.
Prepping to Install Pantry Shelves
Before diving into this DIY project, follow these prep steps for best results.
Determine Your Shelving Needs
Most savvy homeowners can build simple shelves, especially if they purchase a pre-assembled closet organizing system. On the other hand, custom pantry shelves, heavy-duty shelves with specific weight ratings, or serious pantry organization strategies require more planning.
Begin by asking yourself: What are your pantry shelving needs? What do you plan to store on the shelves? Measure the pantry space from floor to ceiling to determine the total space. Next, determine how many shelves you need to store all your go-to items. Head back into the kitchen and measure the tallest items you plan to keep on each shelf.
Remember that not all shelves need to be the same distance apart. For example, you should leave extra space between the floor and the first shelf to store taller items that do best on the floor, such as large bins, small appliances, or heavy storage. Moving up the wall, designate each shelf for either tall, short, or mid-sized items.
Here's an example:
20 inches from the floor to the first shelf
12 inches from the first to the second shelf
16 inches from the second to the third shelf
10 inches from the third to the fourth shelf
20 inches from the fourth shelf to the ceiling
This breakup allows plenty of space for heavy tall items on the floor and lighter, rarely used items on the top shelf. Shorter shelves make way for cans, small containers, and baskets, whereas taller ones are ideal for tall jars and boxes.
Remember to consider the width of your pantry boards, brackets, and trim board when determining your measurements.If you plan to install lighting or complete other projects along the way, it might be worth connecting with a local kitchen remodeling or renovation specialist.
Evaluate Which Shelf-Style Is the Best Fit
Look inside your pantry and evaluate what shelving style will fit best in the space. Here are some options to consider:
One-wall: Standard, back-wall shelf setup
U-shaped: Three-wall shelf setup inside a closet
L-shaped: Two-wall shelf setup with one blank wall
Mock Up Your Shelves With Tape
As much a visualization exercise as a foundational step for installing cabinets, use painter's tape—and a level—to mark off where to install your shelves.
Line the tapeexactly one inch below where your shelf will hang so it sits just under where you will install the 1-by-2 wood support strips. This way, you can install the boards right on top of the tape line and then rip the tape away after installation.
Always use a stud finder to determine where you should secure the shelves to the wall. Mark these spots with a pencil. Wall studs are usually 16 inches apart but could be as far as 24 inches.
Cut Your Plywood Shelves to Fit Your Pantry
Photo: jenyateua / Adobe Stock
Here are the cuts and pieces of wood you'll need for your new DIY pantry shelf:
3/4-inch thick plywood, wood, or MDF boards
Plywood, pine, and MDF are the most common and affordable types of wood used for shelves. You can also find edge-glue board lumber at your local hardware store, often with mitered outer edges for a rounded look. While MDF is often the least expensive option, it can crumble when sawed and is more likely to buckle with too much weight.
Based on your earlier measurements and wall markings, determine how many pieces of wood you need for 1-by-2 support strips and the 3/4-inch shelf boards. You will need to place one 1-by-2 strip below each board for initial support. Always measure twice and cut once. Use a miter or circular saw to cut each piece to size.
If you're not working with pre-cut shelving boards, you will also need to determine the depth of your shelves. Standard shelves are 12 and 24 inches deep, depending on space, and it’s standard to have 12 to 16 inches in height between each shelf. Consider a less-deep shelf at the top of the pantry for better accessibility.
Paint or Stain Your Boards
Like other areas in your kitchen, pantry shelves face a lot of wear and tear. Adding a coat of paint or staining and sealing the wood can keep your shelves looking fresher longer. You'll also need to stain and paint the wood strips for a streamlined look.
If you opt for paint, choose a high or semi-gloss sheen to make them easier to clean and stronger against kicks from soup cans or storage bins. However, if you have extra time, consider a polyurethane stain and sealant to retain the natural wood look.
Be sure to follow the instructions on your paint, stain, or sealant can and wait for drying before installing the shelves.
Install the Wood Strips
The 1-by-2 wood strips are the support base for your shelves against the walls, so they need to be secured carefully. Move along the painter's tape line you marked earlier and make new marks for where each stud sits along the shelf. Double-check your strips with a level one last time before securing them.
Using a screw gun and three-inch screws, connect the wood strips along each shelf base along the back wall, adding a screw at each stud. Next, add the strips to the side walls where the short edges of the shelves will sit.
Mount Your Shelving
Starting with the bottom shelf, mount each board on top of the wood strips. You can use a nail gun to attach them to the strips or add a screw every two feet into pre-drilled holes in the strip below. You may need to make small adjustments to your shelf boards if you're installing an L-shaped or U-shaped pantry. Sand down or adjust the length of your board in the corners to find the right fit before securing.
Reinforce Your Shelves
Your shelves are not ready to go until you've reinforced them with metal or wooden brackets. Attach a metal L-bracket under the front edge of where each shelf meets the wall.
If you're building an L- or U-shaped cabinet, add a flat corner brace under the transition of each corner of the pantry shelf. You can also choose to add a DIY wooden brace with leftover 1-by-2 wood, with at least two braces below each side of the shelf.
Caulk is an optional final step to seal any gaps at the back of your shelves or where two separate shelves meet. Add a line of caulk to the seams of the pantry and over the screw for a clean look and additional reinforcement. Let the caulk dry before adding items to the pantry.
DIY Building Pantry Shelves vs. Hiring a Pro
Shelves can be a costly project to outsource, especially in the kitchen. You'll pay about $20 per square foot in labor when budgeting the costs to install a pantry. A small pantry of 25 square feet can cost $500, plus the cost of materials.
A basic build using MDF boards, plywood, pine boards, or even wire shelves will take you only a few hours of work to install—minus dry time—and can be a perfectly suitable option.
The depth of your pantry shelves should range between 12 and 24 inches, depending on how high it sits on the wall and your pantry size. Higher shelves should fall on the thinner side since it is harder to reach deep shelving areas the higher you go.
The primary reinforcement of pantry shelves comes from the 1-by-2 strips attached to the wall under the back of your shelves. You can add additional reinforcement with wooden corbels—a type of bracket—and U- and L-shaped metal brackets to link the shelving together in each junction.