I have a finished attic and I am looking to make it more useful by
building a storage unit that is made up of large drawers. The space I
want to fill is about 9' wide x 5' tall x 2' deep and I hope to end up
with about 12-15 drawers of various sizes, but most will be about 3
feet wide and 1 foot high. This is essentially a big dresser, but
this is not furniture I'm building, so although functionality is
important, great beauty is not. My other concern is that the frame/
carcass be strong enough to support fully loaded drawers (with
appropriately rated slides). Does anyone know of a plan out there on
the web or in a book that might fit the bill? My searching for the
last few days has not turned up anything. I have found many plans for
dressers, etc, but nothing that matches the size or style (or I should
say, lack of style) of this project.
Many thanks in advance!
Seems pretty simple. Just build several plywood boxes (in your garage)
3' wide by 2' deep by 5' tall, no backs or fronts. Don't worry about
the fact that where they join they will have double thickness. The
build and move convenience of smaller pieces out weighs the loss of a
few inches in storage space.
Set them on the floor against the wall where you want the storage. For
a nicer look, set them on top of a 3" high box on the floor that is
only 21" deep so you have a 3 x 3 toe kick space. Screw them to each
other and the wall (maybe braces across the back to help attach.
Build a face frame(s), one large piece if possible or each separate,
just the biggest pieces you can get into the room from your shop.
Smaller drawers at the top, progressively bigger toward the bottom,
maybe one 6" deep, one 9" deep and the rest a full foot. OK to split
some of the 3' wide sections in half on smaller drawers if you want.
Use good drawer slides mounted to the sides of the boxes. Build boxes
from Baltic Birch ply. Plan face frame size for overlay drawer faces.
Make the drawer faces overlay by 1/2" all around and even gaps between
At the top either run the top face frame into the ceiling (if it is
somewhere close) or drop a piece of 3/4 play, edged with solid wood
overhanging 1 1/2"
Others addressed the question asked; I'll tackle the other
concern--namely are you sure the attic floor/ceiling below joists are up
to this concentrated load you're proposing? That sounds like the
potential for quite a lot of weight.
For 5' tall, you'll have sidewalls of 3/4" plywood; that's plenty to
support screwed-in metal drawer slides. For fine furniture,
there'd be dust panels separating the drawers, but you can
probably omit them, EXCEPT for one near midheight to keep
the case from bowing. This can just be a stick notched
to the right spacing,
A back to prevent racking can be 1/4" plywood, or even an X-brace
or three (the 9' width implies at least three banks of drawers).
Some kind of apron around the base will keep it rectangular on
the bottom, and a lid will keep it rectangular on top; my preference
for the lid would be dadoed 3/4" plywood, but if there won't
be anything on top you could use lighter material.
Like any built-in cabinets, you'll possibly need to shim the
base to follow any floor curvature. Because this is in an attic,
your cutting /fitting will be handled elsewhere (where the
sawdust doesn't annoy), and the parts will be carried
up one-at-a-time. A good big framing square and a level
are required for assembly.
It's amazingly hard to hand-dovetail plywood. Do the drawers
by a standard design of some sort, or even get a cabinet shop
to build 'em for you. For really heavy drawers, bolts/T nuts might
be a good way to attach the slides.
Time for a reality check.
Those attic "floor" beams are probably 2x4s.
The cabinet structure you are contemplating will have significant
The above are mutually exclusive.
Might want to go on down to the Home Depot and look at wire basket
storage systems normally used for closets.
Limit the attic storage to light weight things.
Depends on the attic. The house I grew up in had 2x8 ceiling joists on 16"
centers in the "new" attic and in the "old" attic I don't recall what they
were but they looked more like something that belonged on a Napoleonic
You could be correct, particularly if they are factory built roof
trusses, but then the rat runs and lateral bracing should give them
away, making it doubtful there would be room for a finished space, but ....
Certainly worth checking, indeed ...
Curious to know: Just how much weight can or should be placed on 2x4s
configured like that??? Recently my new neighbor, who just moved in,
was walking around in his attic and stepped off of one of the beams
and fell through the floor landing in the kitchen!
I mentioned to him that he was going to look back on that someday and laugh,
but he wasn't yet to that point... :)
Sounds like he fell through the drywall on the ceiling, and it won't
hold your tool box in some houses.
Tell him not to worry, he's probably ranks only somewhere in the
millions of all the folks who have done that.
It came up like this. I went over to introduce myself having
moved in just a few weeks before he did. And we were going through our
"new homeowner checklists" with each other; I was explaining that I was sort
leery about walking around in my attic because I was concerned about falling
through--and then he pointed to a pile of broken drywall!! I mentioned
it was really sort of funny when you stop to think about it and that he and
would laugh about it someday..but like I said earlier, he wasn't to that
point yet... ; )
I won't laugh too loud, as I'm only 1 step away from falling through my
Great advice all, and I now realize my use of the word "attic" was
misleading. It's actually a third-floor living space, complete with
full bath, bedroom, etc. so I think the floor will be strong enough.
Good to know that plywood boxes will serve as adequate frames for the
drawers. One question: I like the idea of face frames on the boxes
with an overlay drawer front, but won't a face frame prohibit me from
mounting the drawers slides directly to the sides of the plywood
boxes? Will I need to attach the slides to boards that are screwed/
glued to the insides of the boxes so that the slides will clear the
You should have a choice with most modern drawers.
You can attach them to the FF at the front, and with a special bracket
on the back wall of the cabinet.
You can attach the slide to a "spacer" that brings the slide flush with
the FF, and then attach the slide and the spacer to the cabinet side.
I prefer the latter because it produces a quieter end result, and is
much easier to install, level etc.
Tip: design your FF width so that when they are applied to the front of
the casework sides, the distance between the inside edge of the FF, and
the inside face of the cabinet side, is a distance that is equal in
thickness to readily available "spacer" material, ie, 3/4" or 1/2" plywood.
I would NOT glue drawer slide spacers to the sides of the cabinets. I
like to first install them with brads, insert the drawers, make any
adjustment necessary, then, and only then, screw them to the sides with
screws when all the drawers are properly fit.
By first securing them with brads, you can easily tap the top or bottom
of the spacers with a hammer, to make any adjustments necessary before
you permanently screw them in.
Be careful that you don't use a brad long enough to go through exposed
cabinet sides ... I've installed literally hundreds of cabinets and
still do this on occasion!! :(
One more tip (maybe obvious).
Build the drawer boxes as a box and apply the drawer faces after the
fact. Install all the drawer boxes in the case and get the slides
adjusted and working well BEFORE adding the drawer fronts. Then add
the drawer fronts to the boxes so it is easy to get them all nice and
square and evenly spaced. I use double sided tape and then screws from
Good one ... and here's a couple more:
~ When you make your spacers for attaching the slides to the sides of
the cabinet, "batch cut" them so they're uniform width and length, AND,
most importantly, take pains in cutting the ends of the spacers as
perfectly "square" as possible (I cut mine on a TS sled. That way, when
you butt them up to the face frame during installation, they will
already be square to the face frame, and much easier to hold in place
with one hand while you use the brad nailer with the other.
~ Also, a shop/site made jig like this comes in handy for attaching the
slides to the spacers before you even get near the cabinets:
This is something that you rarely see a trim carpenter without on a job
site in this neck of the woods. Down through the years I have these
things made for every possible thickness of spacer, and every type of
drawer slide imaginable, and usually have some small spacer material of
different thickness to "tune" the jig up if need be on site (you can see
those "tuneup spacers" in the photos) if you zoom in. I generally have
drawer slide "shucking party" before I ever leave the shop, and mount
all the drawer slides on their spacers, paired up and ready to install
when I get to the job site.
~ Also, drill and countersink the screw holes in the spacers before you
try to install the slide pairs ... that way they won't move around when
you sink the screws in that tight space ... and watch those screw
lengths, so you don't screw through the finished side of a cabinet!
DAMHIKT, once again! :(
Actually, I carry my cabinet "makeup kit" around with me in the truck so
that I can powder the noses of those types of screwups and hide the
pimples... it ain't like I don't do it often enough.
Whoever suggested building essentially open boxes to accept covered
Rubbermaid containers had a winner, IMHO.
Drawers are heavy, expensive, and usually require expensive hardware,
take up valuable storage space, and are awkward at best.
In addition, they do not provide sealed storage which is desirable
for an inactive storage area.
Add a curtain to cover the bin and you would think we were talking
about storage on a boat<grin>.
For storage drawers, I'd also consider making them without any
type of stop to prevent withdrawal. This would be particularly
handy for the upper ones, where you might not be able to see
what's inside. If the sides of the drawers were within a smidgeon
of the case opening, the drawer faces would still align, but they
could be pulled out and placed upon a table for easy access.
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