DIY Shelves for Metal Lockers -

DIY Shelves for Metal Lockers

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We built two types of shelves for our metal lockers, inside and out. Both are sturdy, and neither required drilling through the metal.

DIY Shelves for Metal Lockers -

It doesn’t matter how much time has passed.

It doesn’t matter how well they may be hidden.

My babes will remember them, and she will find them.

It’s only a matter of time before every artifact squirreled away in the basement is rediscovered and repurposed.

No matter how many times I witness it, it never ceases to amaze.

Case in point. These things:

IKEA magnetic knife rack

Do you know what they are?

If you answered, “A thorn in your side?” then kudos to you, madam! I’ll be sending you a chicken dinner, posthaste.

What you are looking at above are eight (eight!) magnetic knife holders from IKEA. If your first thought was, “why on earth does he need EIGHT knife holders?!?” then you’re in good company. I’ve been wondering the same thing for years.

We bought these eight (eight!) magnetic knife holders back in 2013, before we even owned a house, and I truly and honestly can’t remember or possibly tell you why we bought eight (eight!) of them. I vaguely remember using one (one!) of them to hold my actual knives.

Couldn’t tell you what we did with the other seven (seven!), if anything at all.

What I can tell you is that all eight (eight!) of these infernal things ended up in a box on a forgotten shelf in the bowels of my old workshop. I thought only I knew of their existence after some years had passed. I mean, how could anyone else even remember them? They were so well hidden and so…not used.

Like soooooo many things in the basement, I’ve longed and dreamed about throwing them away. Who’d ever know, right?

But then I remember that I’m married to The Steel Trap – a superhero with a leakproof memory. Every word of every conversation, every price paid for every purchase (along with pertinent geographical data), and (most confounding) every hiding place of every piece of junk future craft supply in the basement. All of this information is stored in a brain more organized and efficient than a Google database, a brain ready to be weaponized at any moment, crippling her opponent with a barrage of structured data, sound logic and iron-clad reasoning.

So instead of throwing those knife holders away, I packed them up and moved them to Georgia, where they took up residence in a new (but no less forgotten) corner of the basement along with box after box of other (seemingly) forgotten crapola.

Of course, it should have come as no surprise then that as we toiled away on our garage makeover (in general) and the military locker makeover (in particular), my babes announced that I’d be using four of those eight (EIGHT!) IKEA magnetic knife holders in that project.

But as I said, though it shouldn’t come as a surprise, it never ceases to amaze.

And I must say, I’m not only impressed that she remembered the damn things, but that she came up with such an ingenious use for them!

We faced two problems with the locker makeover: we needed storage shelves inside each locker and bridging the span between the lockers. If the lockers were made of wood, it would have been a simple thing. But they’re metal, and that makes things just a little tougher.

If possible, I wanted to avoid drilling through the metal. Not only is it unforgiving of mistakes, but drilling or screwing through metal just seems so permanent. There’s no room to change your mind. And knowing my babes as I do, there’s bound to be some sort of change at some point in the future!

Fortunately, she came up with the brilliant solution of using magnetic knife holders to hold up the shelves between the lockers.

Outer Metal Locker Shelves

Now, lest you think that these knife holders won’t be strong enough for shelf duty, I’d like to point out a few things.

ikea magnetic knife holders

Each of these IKEA knife holders are made with 10 neodymium magnets. There are no stronger permanent magnets on Earth than neodymium. This is the “rare Earth element” stuff you keep hearing in the same breath as “China,” as in “China mines the lion’s share of rare Earth elements and has the world by the short-and-curlies” when it comes to doling them out.

Anyway, as I was saying – neodymium magnets are stupidly strong. On more than one occasion, I’ve gotten a finger pinched between one of these knife holders and its backing plate, and I can tell you that not only does it hurt like hell, it’s not easy to extricate the trapped finger! It’s like the inanimate version of a snapping turtle bite.

Knowing that these magnets would be holding sharp knives high up in the air, IKEA engineers would have over-engineered these holders to over-deliver on holding strength. Can you imagine the lawsuits if sharp kitchen knives started slipping off and…? Well, I’m sure you can imagine the horrors and the resulting litigation.

I knew in my heart that these would work. I just had to prove it to make sure.

To give the shelves something a little more substantial to sit on and to improve upon the aesthetics of polished stainless steel, I cut and stained some scrap plywood to fit inside the recessed backs. Normally the sides facing up in the picture below would be against the wall. In our application, they’d be facing outwards.

magnetic knife holders and wood pieces

I used construction adhesive to glue the wood onto the backing plate inside the knife holder.

gluing wood onto a magnetic knife holder
gluing wood onto a magnetic knife holder
gluing wood onto a magnetic knife holder

With Handan’s help, I positioned the magnets at equal heights on the locker sides, then I placed an unstained test shelf on top. I banged on it with my fists, and it held. Then we piled a bunch of appliances on it – much more than we were planning for it to hold. The shelf held with no signs of slipping.

making magnetic shelves for metal lockers

I declared the operation a success and went to the basement to cut a shelf for the other side and stain them both.

magnetic shelf for metal locker

This is a simple solution and one that is 100% removable without harming the lockers.

locker shelf
DIY Metal Locker Shelves -

Inner Metal Locker Shelves

The inner locker shelves posed a bigger problem, and we bandied about a few ideas of how best to accomplish our goal. None seemed particularly easy.

Then, as it had with the outer shelves, inspiration struck – not me, of course, but Handan. She proposed I build two thin ladders – one for either side of each locker – and then place shelves on top of the rungs. It made sense, sounded fairly straightforward and wouldn’t require any drilling through or screwing into the metal lockers.

I had two scrap furring strips which turned out to be almost enough to build a prototype for one locker. I filled in the rest with scrap plywood.

After measuring the height and depth of the locker’s interior space, I built two of these ladders, securing the “rungs” with wood glue, brad nails and 2-inch wood screws. This would be more than enough support for the shelves and anything we wanted to put on them.

support for locker shelving

Here’s how they look inside the locker.

building diy metal locker shelves
building diy metal locker shelves
building diy metal locker shelves

I cut up the last of my scrap plywood to make two shelves for this prototype.

building diy metal locker shelves

My babes and I concluded that the prototype was a success! But I was out of furring strips and plywood, so I finally had to break down and buy some materials for this garage makeover. So far, I’d been able to avoid buying anything but floor paint and cabinet paint, so the nominal cost of a few furring strips and one sheet of plywood wasn’t too bad.

Here’s a little video of how I made the shelf ladders.

Once I had all the ladders built and shelves cut, Handan and I assembled the shelves inside the lockers.

building diy metal locker shelves

I brad nailed the two shelves shown above to the ladder frame. This served to strengthen the whole shelving unit. But we didn’t secure the bottom shelf or the shelf between the ones I nailed. We wanted those shelves to be removable so we have the option to store taller items in the lockers.

building diy metal locker shelves
building diy metal locker shelves

These shelves have turned our old military lockers into functional and far more useful storage spaces than they were originally.

DIY Shelves for Metal Lockers -

We removed the first shelf in this locker to store my tall cutting boards.

DIY Shelves for Metal Lockers -

Right now, the outer shelves are only carrying light baskets, but in the future we can put anything on them – those magnets will hold!

Locker Makeover -
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  1. Brilliant idea and execution. I have to remember this for a couple of garage projects around here. Thanks – and thanks to Handan for always thinking outside the box for us!

  2. Wow! Great storage! I’ve always loved the look and idea of lockers , now I know how to actually use them! Y’all are always so creative and actually get it done! Good job(again)!!

  3. Wow. Those are some serious magnets–I had to look up neodymium on a periodic table just to satisfy my curiosity about the element. But…oooh, Ikea! The multi-tasking treasures to be found at Ikea are endless! Love your description of Handan’s steel-trap mind. That’s high praise, indeed!

  4. Wow this is a great idea. I have been trying to figure out a way to put shelving in some vintage metal armoires and this is the solution. Thank you so much!