Recently, I wrote a quick post about how important it is to appreciate the little things like an organized workshop. This week I get to write about one of the keys to my newfound organization: the french cleat. It’s a simple build and allows for lots of flexibility in storing almost anything in my shop. My workshop is tiny (10’x12’), so using wall space for storage is critical to keeping my tools organized.
A french cleat consists of a 45°-angled wood strip mounted to the wall. A corresponding 45°-angled wood strip is attached to the back of a tool hanger or bin. Then the hanger cleat slots into the cleat on the wall. French cleats sometimes come installed on the backs of picture frames or mirrors. For a workshop, french cleats provide a lot of weight capacity and allow for custom tool hangers, bins, and more. They are similar to pegboard but don’t require you to buy any special hangers .
To begin, I cut some ¾” plywood strips out of a larger plywood sheet on the table saw. I wanted my cleats to be ~2½” wide, so I made the strips 5” wide. I made sure to cut enough strips for all of the cleats that I planned to install. Then I ripped 45° angles in the 5″ strips using the table saw. I set the table saw fence so that each 5” strip would be cut in half with a 45° angle. This step required some geometry, which I haven’t done in a very long time (even though I’m an engineer). After running each strip through the saw, I had enough cleats for the wall cleats and the hanger cleats.
I decided to mount all of the cleats onto a plywood backer before installing them on the wall. This does a few helpful things. One: it provides a protective system behind the cleats so that the drywall doesn’t get scratched. Two: it allows me to install the cleats on the backer and then attach the backer to studs with screws. Three: it looks a lot better in my opinion and was way easier to install. (I guess that’s 3A and 3B for those counting at home)..
I cut three backers made of ½” plywood to fit between the windows on three of my workshop walls. Then I measured and laid out the spacing of each cleat. I’m realizing I use a lot more math in woodworking than in my normal job (again, engineer…).
To install the cleats, I used wood glue. I used clamps and pin nails to hold the cleats in place while the glue dried. Since I’m not hanging anything super heavy on these, like cabinets, the wood glue should provide more than enough strength.
To help protect the cleats from wear and tear, I put a layer of polyurethane on them. This should help keep me from putting nicks and scratches in the boards as I move hangers around. It was my first time using a polyurethane spray, and it seemed to have worked well. Maybe not as perfect as brushing on three layers, but for a workshop, it got the job done.
The last step was to hang the cleats up on the walls! Putting the cleats onto the plywood backers made this so easy. I marked the stud locations ahead of time and held the backer in place while screwing into the studs. Allyson helped me pre-drill and get the first couple screws in place while I used a level. After that she was gracious enough to stick around for a couple of action shots.
Such a great storage solution! Eventually I will end up doing a blog post (or a few) about the hangers that I’ve custom built to hold tools and supplies in my workshop. For now, here’s my screwdriver holder that shows how easy and customizable this system is. I just drilled holes through a scrap piece of plywood and then mounted a cleat to the back of it. Now I can move the screwdrivers to any spot on the cleats that I want. As I get a better idea of how I use my workshop, I can move the holders to make me more efficient. Pretty exciting!