Building a can rack for your pantry

My pantry is not really large but it is deep.  The problem with that is that things get lost back in the depths of darkness.  Cans are especially hard to go through because you can’t see them all without having to dig out the ones in front.  After years of putting up with it and now that I am cooking more, I think it is time I did something about it.

I would rate this project a medium-easy.  You only need two six foot long 1 x 4 boards, a table saw, a chop saw, hammer, chisel, glue, stain and polyurethane.

BeforeHere is a picture of my pantry before I started.

All that space on the door is completely wasted.

When you close the door, there is plenty of space between the door and the shelves.

All I will need is about 3 1/s inches.

You can see how difficult it is to find cans here.



SidesThe first step was to figure out how tall I want the rack to be.

The boards come in six foot lengths and it turns out three feet is perfect for the top part of the door.  You can make it much longer if you wish.  I plan on doing a top rack and maybe later a bottom rack with larger shelves if the first part works out like I expect it to.

Cut them to length using a chop saw.


ShelvesUsing a can to experiment with, I decided six inches between shelves should be enough space to add or remove cans after a retaining rail is added.

Spacing is totally up to you.

I determined that a total width of 15 inches would fit nicely on the door and hold four cans across each shelf. I cut four shelves out of the same 1×4 boards so that the total width including the sides will be 15 inches.  As long as they are all the same size, any width will do.


NotchesUsing my table saw, I created 5 grooves the same width as my boards.

This groove will give the glue more surface area to work on and provide a more stable overall unit.

If you don’t have a dado blade, just make multiple cuts with the regular blade and clean out the notch.

Try to get a tight fit with the shelf boards.  Sand lightly to remove burrs.


RailNow we need some retaining rails to keep the cans on the shelf when you open the door.  Don’t want them flying off and landing on your toe.

I cut five 1/4 inch slices off a single length of the same stock.

Each slice will be a retaining rail.

Sand the edges lightly to remove burrs.



Rail Notch closeupThis is possibly the most difficult and time consuming step.  Using the newly cut rails, measure up and inch from the shelf slot and make a notch to accept the rail.

To make it easier, you can use the table saw to make another notch like you did for the shelves.  I didn’t want the rail to go all the way through so I thought I would try it this way.  It’s up to you.

Use a hammer and a sharp chisel to notch it out for a tight fit.


Dry FitDry fit all the pieces together to see if they match up.

If it is off a little, try to nip and tuck here and there.

Notice I did not make a top for this rack.  This way you can store taller items up there.

You might want to move the retaining rail up a little higher on the top.

I didn’t think of that until just now.

Oh well.  I don’t have any tall stuff right now anyway.


Glue Rails.

Here you can see how the retaining rail fits.

It is OK if it is just a little above the level of the sides.

When you sand it off these things will smooth out to make a nice flush fit.



GlueWhen you are satisfied with the dry fit, glue it all together.

I am lucky to have some nice cabinet clamps that belonged to my father.  I enjoy using his old tools.  They are some of the few things I have to remember him by.

If you don’t have clamps, you can use small nails to hold the unit together while the glue dries.

Using a framing square, check to make sure the whole rack is perfectly straight.  Don’t sweat if you don’t have a framing square.  Measure the two diagonal lengths.  If they are the same, then it is perfect.  Allow it to dry for 24 hours.


SandedNext, you can use a belt sander to quickly even out the joints then a hand and finish sander to smooth it over.

Next give it a coat of stain.  My favorite is Early American by Minwax.  Paint the stain on the wipe off the excess.  Repeat if you want it a little darker.  Choose any color to match your decor.

Once the stain is dry, give it a coat or two of polyurethane for a nice finish.


finishedHere is the finished rack.

I used angle brackets to attach the rack to the door.  Two at the top allowing it to hang from the top of the door and two at the bottom to keep it from banging against the door.

I am quite satisfied with the result.  Maybe not professional quality but it only cost me about $5.00 in wood and gave me many hours of rewarding labor.

I love building things.  I wonder if there is a way to make money doing something you love.