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Easy Spice Cupboard Shelves

BEFORE: Barely organized spice cupboard.

At our last house, we were spoiled and had a huge drawer right next to our oven that we were able to use as a spice drawer, but in our current home we have a cupboard next to the stove that’s the best place for spices, salts, packets, etc. My husband bought those little shelves that you stick in a cupboard to help, but they weren’t quite the right size and we ended up having a lot of spice jars sitting in no-man’s-land in the center of the surrounding mini shelves. Also, I like to be able to read labels at a glance, and since I’m short (my husband’s assessment, not mine) it’s hard to see what I’m reaching for on the higher shelves.

So, here’s the solution I came up with yesterday. I left our top shelf with a spinning organizer for spice packets and oddly shaped containers, but the rest of the lower space I wanted for stepped shelves. You can buy these kind of shelves, but I wanted them customized to exactly the right size for our cupboard to use every inch of available space. And you know how to get exactly the right sized shelves? Use the existing shelf!


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  • Original cupboard shelf
  • 1×3 board, about 5 feet long
  • nails and nail gun

Step 1: Empty the cupboard and measure. I took out all the spice jars and arranged them on the counter by height. The jars basically were three different sizes, and we had the most jars in the middle height.

All the spices!

I decided that the smallest jars would make the most sense sitting at the very front of the cupboard, under the shortest shelf. The next shelves would hold all those medium-height jars, and then the biggest containers could sit on the very back, top shelf.

With my cupboard empty, I removed the shelf and wiped it and the cupboard clean while I was at it.

Empty and shelf removed.

The beauty of using an existing shelf from the cupboard is that you know it’s going to fit perfectly. The only thing I had to measure was how wide each shelf’s top surface needed to be for the jars to sit on. This measurement was found by, well, setting a jar on the wood and making a mark to show where to cut. I don’t know anything easier than that! 😂

“Measuring” for shelf width.

Step 2: Cut the shelf. I used my table saw to cut the shelf at my mark, but you could use a miter saw or circular saw too. After that first strip cut fine, I cut the rest of the shelf into strips at that same width. My last strip was a bit wider just because that’s what was left of the shelf, but I figured this would be perfect for that top shelf’s bigger containers.

I lightly sanded my cut edges, just to get off any rough bits.

Step 3: Measure and attach legs. Taking my cut shelf tops back into our kitchen, I started at the bottom shelf and made sure to use the strip that had the “pretty” front edge of the original shelf, since this bottom shelf would be most visible.

For this bottom shelf, I figured out how tall its legs needed to be. This again was quite easy – I held the shelf over one of those tiny jars to measure. I decided on 2.5 inches to give the jars room to slide in and out.

Measuring for legs.

Back in my garage, I took a scrap 1×3 and cut off two pieces at 2.5 inches. Again, I lightly sanded these, then took them to the kitchen.

Using Brad (my nail gun), I held these little leg pieces under the ends of my shelf top and made sure the edges were lined up and square. I left a little extra leg space on the back for stability, since the 1×3 was slightly wider than the shelf top.

With both legs on at either end, I fit the shelf in place and set one of the medium-sized jars on top. Then I used a tape measure behind that shelf and jar, seeing that my next shelf’s legs needed to be at least 5.5 inches high in order for that next shelf’s jar labels to be visible behind the jars on the lower shelf.

Measuring for second shelf.

So, I cut 2 more legs at 5.5 inches this time. After nailing them to the next shelf, I again fit this shelf in place. Then I put another jar on that shelf and measured for the next shelf’s legs. These I cut at 8 inches and attached to the next shelf.

For my last, highest shelf, I measured to make sure there was room for the width of my last legs. I had exactly 3 inches left in the depth of my cupboard, so my 1×3 board worked perfectly to keep all my shelves tightly in place. I cut these last legs at 11 inches, then attached them to that widest shelf.

Nailing on the tallest legs.

To fit this last shelf in place, I had to take out the other shelves. I placed that tallest shelf against the back of the cupboard, then replaced each of the other shelves.

Step 4: Arrange spice jars. Because there was empty space under these shelves, I decided to store our doubles and least-used spices there. These are still easy to see behind the lowest shelf, so hopefully we’ll notice they’re there. 🙄

Following my plan, I put the littlest containers under the first shelf, then the medium-sized jars on the next shelves, then the biggest containers on the back shelf. I’m sure we’ll rearrange them as we cook (and “ruin” each other’s system), but it’s certainly easier now to see everything at once without having to move anything!

AFTER: Organized and visible spices!

That was it! I could have painted the wood, but you really can’t see it behind all the jars. You could also put wood veneer edge bonding on the cut fronts of each shelf, but again I couldn’t really see them and the exposed shelf had a nice front anyway. I considered putting boards across the backs of each shelf to make them look like steps, but there really was no need since my jars can’t fall through and I wanted the extra storage space under there anyway. But, if you want to add any of these options, they’d be another way to finish off the shelves!

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