Shoe Wrangler

A few years ago my wife and I went to IKEA and bought TJUSIG: a mod­est shoe shelf and orga­niz­er. Back then it was just the two of us and — while we had plen­ty of shoes to fill the two-lev­el rack — it served us well for years.

Then we had our first child and his shoes required space on the shoe rack. Now we’re just about to have our sec­ond child and the lim­it­ed space of this shelf is offi­cial­ly a problem.

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A new shoe orga­niz­er would help us bet­ter use the space that TJUSIG occu­pied, and build­ing our own set of shelves would allow us to tai­lor the orga­niz­er to fit the par­tic­u­lar sizes of shoes we typ­i­cal­ly wear.


We broke the design process down based on a few impor­tant factors.

  • First, the space we had to work with­in was just the height from the floor to the light switch on the wall, and between a door and a wall out­let. Ide­al­ly we would stay with­in this size when con­sid­er­ing how things will fit on top and at the sides of the cabinet.
  • We want­ed to uti­lize the met­al bars from TJUSIG, since those pro­vide a way to allow snow and water to drop down into a drip tray, below. To avoid hav­ing to cut down the bars, the inner width of the cab­i­net would be fit to their length.
  • We have a few com­mon dimen­sions in our shoes, so plan­ning out the ver­ti­cal space between the shelves was pret­ty straightforward.
  • My wife has a lot of flats, so we decid­ed to build in some cub­bies to pack them in even more.
  • Our kids‘ shoes will only get big­ger over time, so instead of design­ing the shelves for tod­dler shoes, pro­vid­ing a few dif­fer­ent sizes would allow us to use this orga­niz­er for years to come.
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While the pri­ma­ry use of the orga­niz­er was to store our shoes, I want­ed to use this oppor­tu­ni­ty to solve anoth­er stor­age prob­lem we had. I often leave my mes­sen­ger bag and my son’s book bag on a near­by chair or on the floor because we had no spe­cif­ic place to put them. Since we’re no longer restrict­ed to two shelves, I want­ed to use the top of the orga­niz­er as a ded­i­cat­ed place for our bags.

Mak­ing Plank

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I went to my local lum­ber store to look for wood that would be vis­i­ble at the top of the orga­niz­er. Nor­mal­ly I would look for planks that just need to be cut to length and glued up, but I found two great pieces of wal­nut in the bar­gain bin that look like old scraps or maybe they were unfit to sell due to the uneven surface.

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The first thing I did was even out the rough edges by using a table saw method I learned from a Jim­my Dires­ta video.

  1. First, you find a flat piece of wood with a flat edge on at least one side.
  2. Straight­en up and attach your board to the flat piece so that it hangs over the edge that’s oppo­site the flat edge.
  3. Keep­ing the flat piece up against the table saw fence, slide the fence over to move the rough edge past the blade to the size you would like to make your first cut.
  4. Cut through and make your first flat edge on your rough board.
  5. Detach the board and move your guide piece aside.
  6. Flip or turn your rough board around so that the new, cut edge sits up against your fence.
  7. Slide the fence over and trim off the oth­er rough side.

From here you could cross-cut off the ends to flat­ten them out, but I didn’t need to do that just yet.

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Next up, my friend, Ian, gave me a hand in plan­ing the boards to remove the rough sur­faces. I didn’t mind hav­ing the bot­tom remain rough, but I real­ly want­ed a smooth, even top and I had to make sure the remain­ing wood was thick enough to glue the boards together.

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Once the boards were planed, I used bis­cuits and glue to join the boards together.

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Before I sand­ed the boards down to a smooth sur­face, I wiped a small amount of water across the sur­face to raise the grain of the wood.

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For my first time doing this, I’m thrilled with the results.

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Going for­ward, I think I’ll find myself using this method more often. I might have passed on the chance to use wal­nut — to use a cheap­er wood — if I had to buy these boards at full price.

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When the glue dried I mea­sured out the length that I need­ed for the top of the orga­niz­er and used my cir­cu­lar saw to cut the boards to length.

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While shap­ing the top, I also did a quick test to see which fin­ish I would like to use. I have some wipe on poly and boiled lin­seed oil handy, so I test­ed them both. In the end I went with the lin­seed because it looked like a more even fin­ish when it seeped in. I only used one coat of lin­seed oil and I like how it looked.

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I set the top board aside and start­ed work­ing on the rest of the structure.


Cut­ting the Sides

I took the tech­niques I learned from my pre­vi­ous project for rout­ing out grooves for shelves and applied them here.

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I start­ed by mea­sur­ing out the shelves and the place­ment of the met­al bars onto the inside piece of plywood.

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The front and back bars on TJUSIG had inserts at each end to attach bolts to the base, so I drilled through the front and back place­ments on my inside piece.

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I then used my ½ inch cut­ting bit to route out about ⅛ inch deep cir­cles for each met­al bar.

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With the same depth set­ting in place, I used the ½ inch cut­ting bit to route out grooves for each of the three shelves.

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I flipped both boards over and coun­ter­sunk the four holes for the met­al bars.

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A quick test of the countersunk holes showed the bolts would be flush when the bars are attached

Cub­by Grooves

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I had cut the boards for the shelves and mea­sured out the place­ment of all of the cub­by dividers.

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I attached my new ¼ inch cut­ting bit and used that to route all of the slots for the cubbies.

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At first, I was doing things like try­ing to mea­sure the dis­tance between the round edge of my router to the edge of the bit to cal­cu­late the dis­tance of the guide to the cut. But I wound up mak­ing this quick­er by hold­ing my guide piece up against my speed square, lin­ing up the router bit to the cut, then mov­ing the guide in until it touched the edge of the router. Nor­mal­ly I would think this would be inac­cu­rate, but in prac­tice it worked pret­ty well.

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I did a quick check to make sure all of my grooves lined up
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I want­ed to make the sides of the orga­niz­er the thick­ness of two pieces of ply­wood, so I planned to glue an out­er piece to each of the inner boards. For extra sup­port I predrilled some coun­ter­sunk holes and matched them up into the out­er pieces.

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I did a dry run of the shelves and once I had con­firmed that every­thing lined up I installed the met­al bars by lin­ing them up and screw­ing the bolts into the inner side boards.

I then glued up the two sides with their out­er boards.

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After let­ting the sides dry for a bit, I glued all of the shelves into place and ran some long clamps in the front and the back to hold every­thing into place.

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Because the cub­bies weren’t as deep as the sides, I screwed a thin piece of ¼ inch ply­wood onto the back of the shelves.

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Cub­by Dividers

Okay, here’s where I made my first mis­take. I knew that I would be paint­ing the cub­bies at some point, but my plan was to put all of the wood­en pieces togeth­er, then paint the entire orga­niz­er at once. In ret­ro­spect, I could have tak­en the time to paint the cub­by dividers sep­a­rate­ly, then glued them in pre-paint­ed. I don’t know if this would have caused a mis­match in the paint­ed fin­ish, but I have a feel­ing it would have sped up the paint job immensely.

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Such as it is, I had cut all of the dividers and glued them into place. I clamped the shelves ver­ti­cal­ly to lock the cub­bies into place.

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Since I was plan­ning to paint the orga­niz­er white, the wood that would be paint­ed didn’t need to match, exact­ly. This was great because I had a bunch of extra maple from a failed glue up that I real­ly didn’t want to see go to waste.

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I rough­ly mea­sured out how much I would need to cov­er the top and front faces of the orga­niz­er, then cut them to width.

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I then raised my table saw blade and used my push sticks to care­ful­ly cut each of the pieces down to a con­sis­tent ¼ inch.

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To make sure every piece fit as per­fect­ly as they could, I mea­sured and cut each piece down as I went.

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This allowed me to go slow­ly and clamp as I went. Speak­ing of Dires­ta, I might need to fol­low his advice and pick up a cou­ple more clamps each time I have a big project. The pace of this part of the project could have been great­ly sped up if I had maybe four or six more long clamps.

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Creatively clamping to distribute the force as much as possible
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Anoth­er thing I did to make sure the sides were as strait as I could get them was to let the trim hang over the sides just a bit. I then took an edg­ing bit and used my router to cut the trim right to the edge of the side board.

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If you look closely at the shadow, the trim is uneven over the side board

Paint‘s Dou­ble-Edge

Oth­er than the wal­nut boards for the top, some new rollers, and the paint, I didn‘t need to pur­chase any­thing to make this project. I had a ton of scrap or wood set aside for future projects that could eas­i­ly be replaced. Since I planned on cov­er­ing every­thing in paint, I didn’t have to go to the trou­ble buy­ing new wood that would match.

How­ev­er, I’m learn­ing that paint is messy to work with and — in this case — takes the fine­ly craft­ed details and makes them look chunky and unre­fined. Grant­ed I wouldn‘t claim to be good at work­ing with paint and the paint I‘m using may not be the right choice for this kind of project (for exam­ple, I prob­a­bly should use sev­er­al pass­es of spray paint instead of brush­ing on acrylic).

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Any­way, I did my best to hide drips and to clean­ly paint each cub­by and shelf. I used a roller for the larg­er areas and I tried using foam brush­es for the cor­ners and small­er areas. Being my first time using the foam brush­es, I was hap­py with how well they worked, but I can‘t say I pre­fer them over brush­es, just yet.

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I took the back off of the orga­niz­er and paint­ed that sep­a­rate­ly. This worked out well because with so many cor­ners in the shelf and cub­by areas there were many drips that I had to tend to and clean up. Paint­ing the back sep­a­rate­ly turned out smooth and fit nice­ly back into place.

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After putting the back on, I took a look at the paint­ed piece and real­ized that with so much white, the orga­niz­er looked a bit chunky. I want­ed to put in a pop of col­or that wouldn’t clash with the orange wall that the orga­niz­er would sit in front of. Because our orange wall was already an accent wall that was meant to pop on it’s own, I thought that using a lighter, yel­low­er col­or would hold up well.

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I rolled on two coats of paint and once the back was dry I screwed it back into place.

Met­al Work

While wait­ing for the paint to ful­ly dry, I took some time to clean every­thing up and put on some final details.

First, I had to clean up a few smudges of paint off of the met­al bars. I tried doing this in a few ways, but the mate­r­i­al that worked the best was some steel wool that I had lay­ing around.

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Speak­ing of IKEA … Around the same time as our trip to buy TJUSIG, we picked up a few sets of fold­ing wall hooks — also known as BJÄR­NUM. We‘ve used these hooks in oth­er areas of the house and decid­ed these would work well for hang­ing book bags onto the bare sides of the orga­niz­er. With those in place, the piece was complete.

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This piece is pure func­tion over form, but it solves a prob­lem in a way that‘s tai­lored specif­i­cal­ly to the needs of my fam­i­ly, in our home, at a price that you just can‘t beat.

With a new baby on the way, find­ing time to work on project like this may become scarcer and scarcer, so before I take a break from these larg­er projects, I‘m glad I got a chance to put the learn­ing I‘ve done over the past cou­ple of years into good use.

My favorite thing was real­iz­ing the abil­i­ty to take rough wood and turn it in to a smooth, seam­less sur­face. This opens up a new approach to decid­ing on mate­ri­als to use and I‘m look­ing for­ward to see­ing what I can do with this in the future.