How do you store ‘enough’ for four boys aged between one and ten? As birthdays come and go, the sheer range of toys grows and grows and, frankly, most shelving units just don’t ‘cut it’ when it comes to storage. And the really big, robust ones cost a small fortune, even from a certain Swedish megastore. So, we thought we’d do one ourselves.
Was this totally our original idea? No, we saw it on Pinterest and thought ‘hey, that looks cool’ and it would work with our playroom theme of ‘castles’ (thus the castellations – they’re not a slip of the spirit level!!). We then set about finding a supplier of crates, and after hunting around for some time we reverted to our favourite source of second-hand materials: eBay.
30 large apple crates delivered for £200 … Done!
They arrived and filled our garage / workshop, and I realised that we needed to get them installed otherwise we couldn’t use the garage for anything else. So, I got started, and took two crates to ‘Dad’s Shop‘ in Mortimer. Every village should have a shop like Dad’s Shop: it is the antithesis of Homebase with friendly knowledgeable staff, forthcoming advice, no issues with swaps, always room for a haggle and generally unfussy in nature. They helped me choose the right kit and, even though I had to go back a couple of times for more screws, the advice was priceless.
Preparation – Crates and Tools
So, for the crates, all you really need to know is how you’d like them to look. We chose vintage crates as we wanted the used / weathered look. To be honest, a couple looked a bit more weathered than we’d have liked, but when in place, they were fine.
You can order new ones if you prefer – and then you can do as you please – stain, paint, varnish… the only one thing we did (and would recommend) is to sand the crates so that little fingers don’t get splinters. We have a little Black and Decker Mouse sander – ‘job’s a good ‘un’ as my builder used to say.
(and, note to self more than anyone else, make sure when you start putting the crates together you do put them sanded side down, otherwise you’ll have to sand them in the house).
Then, you need equipping. Here’s a quick rundown of the tools you’ll need to get the job done (like Bob!):
- Steel fixing plates: to join the crates together, we choose longer ones for vertical fixing, and shorter ones for lateral fixing.
- Short screws: to screw the plates into the thin panels on the boxes (they are thin, so the shortest ones you can get hold of)
- Medium screws: to screw the plates into the thicker edges of the boxes (use medium wherever you can for extra stability)
- Long screws with wide washers and large raw plugs: to secure the crates to the wall behind so your shelving doesn’t topple easily
- Power drill: optional for the plates, but makes it a lot quicker. Definitely needed for fixing to the walls
- Drill bits / drivers: one for the screws, one for the wall fixing
- Mallet: optional, but makes it easier to get a raw plug with a tight fit fully into the wall
- Cardboard: for the base if you want to protect your floor
Brainstorming With Boxes
To make sure that you get the right end product we recommend that you work with the space available and try a few layouts before you agree on what you want best. We tried four or five for this one, and eventually agreed on the right one for the space. Here’s a few rejected layouts, but it was really quick to shift them around and get the one we eventually agreed was best. Then, deep breath, it was time to get started.
Constructing Your Crate Creation
First things first: if you have nice floors, you need to protect your flooring. We’ve got walnut floors and they’d be messed up if we just slid the crates on top, however we wanted to stick with the home-brew boxy feel.
So we just laid down a strip of cardboard to go under the units. We had spare carpet, and probably could have put down some of those anti-scratch strips, but the cardboard was cut to size and worked out well for us.
It also helped so that we could build the crate shelving in the room and then easily slide it back into place. The most important thing is to make sure you use an even base to spread the load, and this worked well for that purpose too.
The next step is to start linking the boxes up using the fixing plates. First thing is to start getting the base lined up right, keeping the boxes flush to each other we run across the base units using the largest places and strongest nails to make them all as secure as possible to each other. And then, as we build upwards, we start putting vertical as well as lateral plates making sure every box has at least two joins, preferably three, to other boxes in the space available.
Finally, we slide the unit into place, and then drill holes in the wall through the back of the boxes, putting raw plugs into the holes made and then screwing the longest screws (with washers) into the walls. We used two of these for this shelving unit and three for the larger one made the previous week.
Time taken: About 1 hour sanding, and 2-3 hours constructing per shelving unit. Can be done on your own, but assistance is great (Samuel on the first, Ellen on the second).
Cost: £200 for the boxes, £50 for all other materials
Value: satisfying to make and use, practical and fit for purpose. Job done.