December 6, 2022

Custom Chemical Storage Shelving

Partially assembled shelvingWhile overall I found myself with excellent lab facilities I found the shelving in one storage cabinet to be deficient. I took an online chemical-hygiene and safety certification class from Flinn Scientific, and that really helped me to decide the direction that I needed to go for improved shelving.  Here are some of the constraints I faced:

  1. I wanted to avoid small metal supports that  might fail upon corroding.
  2. I wanted all wooden shelves with a raised safety rail on all  sides.
  3. The shelves needed to fit in the existing cabinet without wasting excess space – meaning custom shelving!
  4. My budget was very tight!

Fortunately I used to do a fair amount of woodworking, so I decided it was time to do some wood shop despite having limited access to tools.  The partially assembled shelves may be seen here.  Notice that each shelf has a 2×4 border.  I routered a groove all the way around so that the 3/4″ plywood is supported by the 2×4 rails around the entire perimeter.  The vertical supports are 2×6 lumber which I notched to accept the 2×4 rails of the shelves.  All screws are galvanized decking screws to resist corrosion.

painted shelves   Now take a look at the painted shelves.  You can clearly see how the shelf is recessed relative to the rails on all four sides.  This prevents bottles of chemicals from slipping or rolling off of the edge.  Notice also how the rails on the shorter side have been notched in a way that corresponds with the notching in the uprights.  This adds about 2″ to the overall length of each shelf, and overall it is just a more pleasing result.  However, the notching of these rails and uprights was the most challenging part of the construction.  The grooves which were cut to support the plywood were done using a plunge bit with a router on a router table and went very quickly.  If I had a table saw or a radial arm saw available I would have made the notches using a dado blade, but alas I just made many passes with a hand-held circular saw.  That was a lot of work!


It was worth the effort.  See the picture of the installed shelving.  The final unit fit rather snugly in the cabinet.  This is important because space is a premium, and also it does not allow for bottles to  fall down the back or the sides of the unit.  More importantly the shelves could not collapse even if every galvanized screw eventually failed due to corrosion.  Every piece of would is supported by other pieces of wood like an interlocking puzzle, and the sides of the cabinet will not allow the pieces to slide apart.

installed shelves