Prefab Steel Shelves Fit the Storage Bill


Storage space is in short supply in American homes. Who ever complains about having too many closets and shelves?

Every time we move into a new house we start with the garage. After we have installed shelving and a workbench to maximize storage, moving into the rest of the house is a breeze.

In the past we built our shelves and workbenches ourselves. We hopped into the pickup and made a trip to the local lumberyard for plywood, 2-by-4s, brackets, braces and screws. But built-in plywood shelving isn’t always the most practical alternative. Yes, it is inexpensive and sturdy and can be fabricated to fit personal needs, but it’s 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 is lightweight, easy to assemble, strong and, best of all, doesn’t need to be taken home in a truck.


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. By volume, steel is heavier than wood. But when it comes to 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. With steel, “lightweight” doesn’t mean weak.

Older-style metal shelf systems were heavy and had sharp ends that could easily a person. 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. Shelves can be added, removed or adjusted to satisfy changing storage needs.

Take precautions regardless of what your shelving is made of: If it’s free-standing, it can get top-heavy and topple. And top-heavy or not, your shelving should be anchored to the wall for safety’s sake, especially if you live in earthquake country. Approved connectors and heavy screws will hold everything safely against the wall no matter what the condition. Later, if you want to move 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.

As for workbenches, today’s models range from a piece of plywood and a pair of sawhorses to fancy cabinetry topped with 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 pegboard backing and shelving above. For more tips and information, check our Web site at



Readers can mail questions to On the House, APNewsFeatures, 50 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020, or e-mail