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How to Make a Low Budget Built-in Shoe Rack

My aim with DIY projects around the home is to look for innovative space-saving ideas and save costs on materials by recycling.


Bespoke Shoe Rack Cupboards

Previously we had a three tier stackable plastic and wire shoe rack in an open cupboard in the front porch which was quite functional, but a bit untidy; especially with age the plastic becoming brittle and breaking away from the wire shelving. As part of renovating our porch my wife wanted me to redesign the shoe racks and put sliding doors on the front of the cupboard to keep it all tidy while still having easy access to our shoes. Having seen how I repurposed an old dish rack to a shoe rack for one of our bedroom wardrobes she wanted to get rid of the old stackable plastic and wire shoe racks and replace them with a built-in shoe rack based on that design e.g. open dowel rod shelving.

Therefore this project is a DIY how-to guide to make and fit a bespoke built-in shoe racks inside a cupboard. All photos in this project were taken by me during the making and fitting of our bespoke fitted shoe racks in cupboard space in our porch.

Project Objective

Low Budget, Functional and Tidy

As part of the porch renovation the aim of this mini project is to make fitted built-in shoe racks that are tidy and functional on a low cost budget. I made some savings by using scrap wood from my workshop (the shed at the end of the garden) for the side supports for the doweled shelving; the only cost being the purchase of the dowel, albeit the dowel being the bulk of the cost if you were buying all the wood new. And to keep the porch tidy, while still having easy access to the boots and shoes in the shoe racks, we added a pair of sliding doors on the front of the cupboards which is detailed in a separate article.

Tips for Making a Shoe Rack

This how-to DIY step by step guide on making and fitting shoe racks in cupboards uses dowel for the shelving and shows how I made and fitted the shoe racks inside two cupboards in our porch; to keep all our shoes and boots tidy and accessible.

Although if you make a similar shoe rack the width will be different the depth and height should be standard e.g. 1 foot deep and at least five inches between the shelves to accommodate shoes.

How many shelves you fit into a cupboard will be dependent on the available space. If you wanted a shoe rack to be freestanding rather than built into a cupboard the principle for making the dowel shelving would be the same as in this guide except instead of fixing the shelf side supports to the sides of a cupboard you would need to box it in with wooden sides, back and top to make it solid and stable and prevent it from wobbling.

Time required: 1 day

Difficulty: easy

Cost: $25


  • 7 x hardwood dowel, 12mm (1/2 inch) by 2.4m (8 feet).
  • 10 feet 1x2 inch planed timber
  • Wood screws
  • Wood glue


  • Tape measure
  • Square
  • Pencil
  • Hand saw
  • Circular or bench and mitre saw
  • Belt sander
  • Electric sander
  • Sandpaper and sanding block
  • Straight edge e.g. large square, spirit level or back of crosscut hand saw etc.
  • Bench drill or drill stand
  • Power drill
  • Drill driver or screwdriver
  • Spirit level
  • Hammer
  • Drill bits and driver bits
  • G-clamps
  • Sash clamps

Guide to Making a Built-in Shoe Rack From Dowel

1. My first task in this project was to clear the space (remove the old plastic and wire shoe racks from one open cupboard in our porch and empty the adjoining cupboard) and to give it all a good clean in preparation for making my bespoke fitted shoe racks. Next were all the calculations; as part of the renovation of our porch and making it look tidier than before we wanted to fit sliding doors to the front of the cupboard. I wanted to be sure the shoes would fit and I also needed to know how many shelves I could fit into each cupboard, and what height each shelf should be.

For this I measured the dimensions of each cupboard and then the measurements and numbers of the shoes and boots; taking their average height, the height of the smallest and tallest shoes and the height of the boots, making a particular note of the length of the biggest shoes and boots. As a guide I also measured the gap between each shelf of our old shoe racks, which was five inches.

Then with a coffee to hand, and pen and paper, I sat down and calculated the optimum shelf heights to best fit for storing and easy access for our shoes and boots; taking into account the thickness of each shelf which needs to be subtracted from the overall usable storage space.

2. For the shelving and sliding doors I bought the wood, but for the shelf supports I have plenty of scrap wood in my shed to choose from. For this project I recycled offcuts from 3/4 inch (18mm) pine floorboards leftover from a previous project; although a few bits of old 1/2 inch (12mm) skirting board would have done just as well. Using my circular saw set up on a jig (although a bench saw would be more ideal) I cut the offcuts into strips just over 1.5 inches wide e.g. half an inch for the dowel in the middle and half and inch either side. I could have made the strips smaller e.g. one inch wide so that there would be quarter of an inch either side of the dowel, but for this project the width is not critical.

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3. Before cutting them to length I lined up the 10 strips of wood on my workbench with the top edges uppermost. I then secured them with sash clamps and quickly ran over the belt sander across the top to give a nice smooth and even finish. With a bench saw this would not be necessary but with the jig I use it is not quite so accurate and the cut can sometimes be a fraction of a millimetre out from one cut to the next. The reason I wanted all ten shelf supports identical at this stage is so that later when I come to mark out and drill the holes for the dowel I could be sure of making them all identical in each piece of wood.

4. As the shoe rack needs to be about a foot in depth, using a tape measure, pencil and square I measured and marked one of the self supports and placing two at a time in the mitre saw cut them to length. The first piece cut is then used as a template to quickly mark and cut the rest e.g. place the first cut piece over the next piece of wood to mark a line for cutting; line up the two pieces of wood by rubbing your fingertips across the ends of the two pieces of wood. As your fingertips are hyper sensitive you can feel whether to planks of wood are lined up exactly or not.

5. Having cut your shelf supports quickly round the edges and ends with an electric sander; I use a sheet sander for this but an orbital sander should do just as well. You could do it by hand with a sanding block and sandpaper but I find it is a lot quicker and easier using an electric sander, especially if you use a rough rather than smooth sandpaper sheet; and the end results I think is a lot better. If you really want to give a high end finish you could finish-off with fine-grain sandpaper, either by hand or in the sander, but it is not always necessary for this type of sanding task.

6. The shelf supports then need to be marked out for drilling at equal intervals 1/2 inch (12mm) holes to fit the dowel. For ease, consistency and accuracy as the width of the shelf supports are about twice that of their depth I used one of the pieces placed edgewise as guide to mark straight lines along their lengths; then marked the last piece likewise. This provides a guideline for drilling the holes for dowel at a consistent height on each piece of wood; and helps to ensure the holes will be drilled in a straight line.

7. Next, I pre-marked at regular along the line on one of the pieces of wood where the dowel holes would be drilled, spacing them out equally along the length of timber; setting the first mark about 1.5 inches in from the edge and marking out at equal intervals for the other five holes; leaving a similar distance at the end. Then squaring up all the pieces side by side inline on my workbench, and using the first piece as a template I quickly marked up the other pieces of wood; to identify where to drill the dowel holes.

8. I used a bench drill for drilling all the dowel holes in each piece of wood; drilling where previously marked so that each of the ten shelf-supports would be identical. I could have used a hand held power drill, placing each piece of wood in the wooden bench vice in turn, albeit this may not be as quite as accurate in getting all the holes perfectly vertical but if you are careful and take your time you should be able to do a good job.

9. Optionally, I could have drilled part way through each piece of wood and preassembled each shelf before fitting into the shelves into the cupboard; which if the cupboard was perfectly square would not be a problem. However, as the cupboards are built into the porch with the side walls of the porch being part of the side walls of the cupboards then, as is typical with British houses. Therefore my approach was to drill right through the timber and cut the dowel to length of the shortest gap plus the depth of the wood. That way the shelf supports could be fixed to the sides independently and the dowel pushed into place afterwards, with a bit of wood glue for added strength.

10. With the shelf supports ready, before cutting all the dowel rods to the required length I cut five dowels and did a dry fit assembly on the workbench just to double check the measurements and fit. Being satisfied I then cut the rest of the dowel to length e.g. 15 rods at just over two feet for one cupboard and ten dowel rods about inches long for the other (smaller) cupboard. I was then ready to fit the shelf supports and assembling the shelves in the two cupboards.

11. With all the pieces cut and ready, starting from the bottom and working up, preassemble each shelf in turn, adding a dab of glue in each hole; and before the glue sets screw the shelf supports in place, using a spirit level to ensure each shelf is straight and level. Also check each doweled rod to ensure it is fully engaged into the shelf supports on both sides. The advantage of fitting the shelves while the glue is still wet is that you end up with a perfect fit; even if the sides of the cupboard are not straight or level.

To meet our needs the bottom shelf in the main cupboard on the right is six inches above the ground for the larger shoes with the two lower shelves being five inches apart to accommodate the most common sized shoes, leaving just four inches on the top shelve, ideal for flat shoes such as flip-plops and some sandals. For the cupboard on the left the bottom space is 8 inches for boots with the middle being six inches for larger shoes; leaving five inches at the top suitable for any standard size shoe.

Porch makeover with new built-in show rack in cupboard on the left.

Porch makeover with new built-in show rack in cupboard on the left.

Wood vs Plastic and Wire Shoe Racks

Pros and Cons

In this project I am replacing our old plastic and wire shoe rack with my own bespoke built in shoe rack shelving using dowel instead of plastic coated wire. The plastic and wire shoe racks have served us well for many years; but as with any plastic coated household item e.g. clothes horses, radiator clothes dryers etc. with heavy use over time the plastic covering tends to become brittle and breaks away exposing the wire. As nice as they are when new, they are functional and versatile in that you can stack them, after many years of heavy use they can become tatty. Therefore in renovating our porch we wanted to replace them with something that would last. Shoe racks that would be durable over time, be functional and aesthetic; even after many years of heavy use. Also, in our old plastic and wire shoe racks the height of each shoe rack was only five inches; which is fine for most shoes but not boots. Obviously if the shoe racks are in an open position boots can be placed on the top open shelf. However, we had our shoe racks neatly tucked away inside an open cupboard where there was only a five inch gap from the top shelf to the top of the cupboard. It was for these reasons why rather than buying new shoe racks to replace the old ones we decided to make our own made to measure shoe racks for the porch cupboards; especially as I had already made a shoe rack for a bedroom wardrobe using dowel from an old dish rack, which has turned out rather well.

Which is Preferable

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Arthur Russ

Guestbook and Comments - Your views and tips

Arthur Russ (author) from England on June 16, 2017:

Thanks everyone for your feedback and comments; which as always is greatly appreciated.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on July 10, 2015:

I recently have tried to get back into woodworking after years of inactivity. This looks like a very cool project. Wonderful instructions.

lucille12 on March 18, 2015:

The racks are a perfect way to easily find your shoes at desired time while ensuring that they will stay in perfect shape.

RinchenChodron on April 24, 2014:

I'd love for you to come and build me one here! I'm not that handy.

Eugene Samuel Monaco from Lakewood New York on April 24, 2014:

I always love to read about your projects, I think I would make my own. Thanks!!!

AnonymousC831 from Kentucky on April 23, 2014:

Love this idea.

Monica Lobenstein from Western Wisconsin on April 21, 2014:

I would love to make one. I'm just not sure I have the skills (or patience). Great tutorial and explanations though!

Wednesday-Elf from Savannah, Georgia on April 20, 2014:

This is an excellent tutorial, well laid out with such good step-by-step directions. Well done, both with your porch shoe rack project and with this page.

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