The latest on storage

By James and Morris Carey The Associated Press
Friday October 19, 2001

Shelving storage is the one thing in most American homes that — as the song says — “there’s just too little of.” Not enough closet space, not enough shelf space. Simply nowhere to put anything. 

There are companies that are making millions selling storage systems in every size, shape and form that can help you make the most out of every inch of available space. We often have mentioned closet systems in our articles and how they can substantially increase the amount of “usable” storage space at your place. But we haven’t spent enough time in the garage or garden. These locations also are very important. 

Every time we’ve moved into a new home, we’ve followed the same setup routine. The first order of business always has been to organize the garage for maximum storage — installing shelving and a workbench. Once the garage has been organized, moving into the rest of the house is a breeze. 

In the past we built our shelves and workbench ourselves. We fired up the pickup and made a trip to the local lumberyard where we got the needed plywood, 2x4’s, brackets, braces and screws. At this point we were able to begin personalizing every available inch of our new garage. Unfortunately, we have recently discovered that built-in plywood shelving isn’t always the most practical alternative. Yes, it is inexpensive and sturdy and it can be fabricated to exactly fit our personal needs, but once it’s in, it’s kind of permanent, and changing the configuration can get complicated. 

Metal shelving always has been available, but was expensive and required hours of assembly. Times have changed. We’ve discovered that you can now buy prefabricated steel shelving that’s improved over what it used to be. It is lightweight, easy to assemble, strong and, best of all, you don’t need a truck to get it home. Even with all the advancements, we still want to offer an idea or two and a few precautions about installing prefab shelving of any kind. 

First, we want to tell you about the shelving itself, and why it interests us. By volume, steel is heavier than wood. But when it comes to sheer strength a tiny piece of steel will hold more than a gigantic piece of wood. Therefore, a lightweight steel frame can hold as much as — or more than — a heavy set of wood shelves. So, with steel, “lightweight” doesn’t mean weak. 

Older-style metal shelf systems were heavy and the ends of the assembly parts were sharp. One could easily be cut. This is no longer a problem. We have found the components to be smooth. And, best of all, at least for the systems we looked at, you won’t need nuts, bolts or washers to connect everything. Just stand four uprights on end and intersect them with interlocking shelves. You might need a rubber mallet, or a hammer and a block of wood, to firmly seat the shelves into the uprights. Even better, shelves can be added, removed or adjusted to satisfy changing storage needs. 

Take certain precautions regardless of what your shelving is made of — wood, steel or plastic. If it’s freestanding it can get top-heavy and topple over. And top-heavy or not, your shelving should be anchored to the wall for safety’s sake, especially if you live in earthquake country.  

Using approved connectors and heavy screws will hold everything safely against the wall no matter what the condition. Later, if you want to relocate a shelf all you’ll have to do is loosen a couple of screws. 

This type of shelving is usually about a foot deep and 6-feet to 7-feet tall. In the past we have connected two sets of shallow shelving to create one set of 2-foot-deep shelves.  

Just place one set of shelves immediately in front of the other, and clamp the two together with two or three self-taping sheet-metal screws. Takes about 10 seconds and holds like a welded joint. And disassembly is even quicker. 

Back to workbenches. Today’s workbenches range from a piece of plywood and a pair of sawhorses to fancy cabinetry topped with countertops made of everything from particleboard to steel. You also can purchase kits that allow you to assemble a modest-sized bench that contains locking cabinets, a small storage closet with a pegboard backing and shelving above. For more tips and information, check our Web site at www.onthehouse.com. 


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