Slanted Shelf Pattern for Canned Food Rotation

How to Make a Slanted Shelf Unit for Canned Food  Rotation for about $200

by Joe Suggs

Slanted shelves are a space-efficient method for both storing and rotating canned foods. Some commercial systems allow the cans to be fed and retrieved from the same end of the shelves (the cans roll toward the back of the shelf drop down to a lower slanted shelf and roll forward). The shelf pattern provided here requires access to both the front and back ends of the shelf (or left and right if you face the side of the shelf). Cans are fed from one end and roll to the other for retrieval. The pattern provided here was adapted from a slanted shelf pattern written by Tom H.  The original design was for a shelf 48”x22”x72”. My available space was a little narrower and a little taller. I had about 5’ of space. Click on pictures for close-up.                                                                             To allow for a foot of space to access both the front and back (or as you face the side of the shelf, the left and right), I had to modify the width in the original pattern (as you look at the shelf per the vantage in the pictures above) from 48” to 36”. I also had 78” of vertical space available and increased the shelf height by 6” from the original pattern. I also chose to increase the shelf width from 19” to 24” to provide for an additional row of cans. The final dimensions of my shelf were 36” wide x 27” deep x 78” high. The instructions below are based on my modified dimensions. Materials List

Quantity Material Purpose
3 4’ x 8’ sheets of plywood (I used ¼”;  ½” would provide more shelf support, but  ¼” worked fine for this pattern) 10 to 11 shelves (4 per sheet)
9 2” x 4” x 8’ boards Shelf frames (6 vertical legs, 6 horizontal supports)
11 1” x 2” x 8’ boards Shelf supports and can stops
Abt 100 1 ¾” or 2” wood screws Attaching shelf supports and can stops
Abt 50 1 ¼” wood screws Assembling the frame
100-150 1” nails Attaching shelves to shelf supports
Abt 6 per shelf ¼” x 36” strips of wood (could be cut from leftover scraps of plywood)Material is really your choice – I used strips of scrap cedar and pine. Metal shelf supports could be used or other creative options. These dividers should be 30-35” long. Can dividers

Power Tools needed: Power drill – bench/table saw – nail gun (optional) – dado blade with bench/table saw Cutting the Shelves Use a chalk line to mark each sheet of plywood per the photo below. Make cuts with a circular saw or on a bench/table saw with the help of an assistant. Each sheet yields 4 – 36”x 24” boards (minus the kerf – width of saw blade) with one 1’ x 8’ board left as scrap.


Cutting Boards for the Frame Step #1: Cut 6 of the 2×4 boards to 78” in length. Cut the remaining 2×4 boards in 36” lengths (2 per board). Step #2: Cut 3” wide x  ¾” deep dados per the pattern below. On the 78” boards, I chose to cut one set of dados about 3” above the bottom of the board to allow the bottom horizontal supports to be off the floor. If you’re not concerned about the bottom supports sitting on the floor then the dados can be cut at the end of the board.   Cutting a dado

                                                                       Boards with all dados cut


Cutting the Shelf Supports I decided to have 11 slanted shelves on my unit, which meant the bottom shelf was installed very close to the floor. An alternate design would be to have a flat shelf at the bottom and start the slanted shelves higher up, which would mean fewer slanted shelves. Slanted shelves will be spaced 6” apart and you will need two shelf supports per shelf. Determine how many shelves total you will have on your unit and cut the appropriate number of supports, 36” long from the 1×2 boards. For my shelf, I cut 22 – 36” supports (which used 8 1×2 boards, with 60” left on the 8th board). Cutting the Can Dividers I cut 35” long x ¼” wide strips of wood from scraps of cedar and pine for my dividers. Strips could also be cut from the left over plywood after cutting the shelves. Use appropriate safety precautions when cutting very narrow strips of wood on a table or bench saw. All wood should have proper support underneath during cutting. Be sure to use push sticks when fingers may be near the blade. Other materials, such as metal shelf supports could also be cut or purchased and used as dividers. If you cut dados in the can stops to hold the dividers in place, be sure the dividers will fit into the dados. Cutting the Can Stops I chose to mount my can stops on the face of the shelves/frames. I needed 11 – 27” stops cut from the remaining 1×2 boards. An alternate design is to mount them on top of the front end of each shelf. If I had chosen to use this method I would have cut 11 – 24” stops and would have used 1×1 boards rather than 1×2. I probably would have also used ½” plywood rather than ¼” for the shelves to provide more material to anchor the stops. While not necessary, I chose to make dado cuts in my can stops to hold the can dividers in place on one end of the shelves. I cut the dados at intervals in the diagram below (see below diagram for suggested intervals) to allow for adjusting the dividers to accommodate different widths of cans and bottles on each shelf. This is not a necessary step.   Optional dados in can stops for adjustable dividers All dados are ¼”and are cut at the following intervals: 1.5”,  4.5”, 6.5”, 8.5”, 11.5”, 16.5”, 17.5”, 21.5”

  Assembling the Frames Using the 6 – 78” vertical and 6 – 36” horizontal frame pieces lay the frames out per the photo below. Use 2 – 1 ½” screws at each intersection.                 Attaching Shelf Supports to Frames On one side of the frame (starting side doesn’t matter), attach one of the 36” shelf supports to the frame 3” from the bottom.  Attach the other end of the shelf support to the opposite side of the frame 6” from the bottom (the slope of the shelf could probably be decreased slightly and still allow the cans to roll on their own).

Space remaining shelf supports every 6” (measuring from the bottom of one support to the bottom of the next). I marked the location of the bottom of all shelf supports before attaching any of them. Repeat the process with the other frame. I used wood screws to attach my shelf supports, but nails could be used as well. IMPORTANT:

  1. If you install your first horizontal support off the floor as I did, be sure you start at the correct end on both sides of the frame when attaching supports.
  2. The two frame halves will be mirror images of each other. Be sure to mark and install shelf supports in this manner (see photo below).

Attaching the Shelves to the Frames For me, this was probably the trickiest part of assembling the unit and required two people. I set the two frames upright and laid the first (bottom) shelf between the frames. I used a nail gun to attach the shelf to the shelf supports (shooting down into the shelf and supports). I had my helper hold the frames in place while I attached the shelf. The helper needed to stabilize the unit until about the 5th shelf was installed. Installing the shelves could be very time consuming if you choose to drive the nails with a hammer rather than use a nail gun. (If you don’t have a nail gun, pre-drilling starter holes in the shelves might speed up driving the nails.) Once all shelves were installed, I anchored the unit to the wall with two screws at the top of the unit. Additional support (although once I anchored this to the wall, I don’t think this shelf needs additional support) could be provided by connecting the two frames together at the top and bottom with additional 2x4s. NOTE: If you plan to install the can stops on the face of the unit rather than on top of the shelf, be sure the lower end of each shelf does not extend past the end of the frames.





Installing the Can Stops If you install the can stops to the face of the unit as I did (see below), I recommend using screws rather than nails as cans striking the stop will eventually push the stop and nails off the frame. I used one screw to attach each end of the stop to the 2×4 frame. If the stops are installed on top of the shelves, nails could be used.

Installing Can Dividers I cut 30-35” long x ¼” wide strips for my dividers (see step above for cutting the dividers). Dividers should be as long as possible to help keep cans separate. I had varying lengths according to the scraps I had available. Dividers up to 6” shorter than the shelves don’t cause a big problem as you can reach into the shelves (from the back) to place cans between the dividers. Dividers need to be installed the length of the shelves along each frame (to prevent the cans from falling out the sides of the unit – these dividers should extend the entire length of the shelves). Other dividers can be used to space cans according to your needs on each shelf. See images below for examples of how I used my adjustable dividers to accommodate different sized cans and jars.







  Finishing Touches (Making Food Rotation Easier) Because this shelf unit is placed in an out-of-the way (basement) location in my home, I didn’t worry about staining or painting on a finish. I did, however, do a couple of additional things to make rotating my cans an easier task. Once I determined the location of each type of food product, I placed labels on the front of the can stop to mark the location of each can. I then attached a cup hook near each label and hung small cards with the name of each food product on the cup hooks. The location of the cards shows me which row of cans is currently being used. Once I have used the cans from one row, I move the cards to the next hook (if multiple rows of the same food are being stored) to mark the next row to be used. As I take a can from the shelf, I also take one of the cards to remind me to purchase a replacement can for the one I’ve used.

The pictures shown below are from a couple of slanted shelves units built with variations.

  *Special thanks to Wayne S., Tom H., and Kevin H., for their contributions toward the design of this shelf unit.

Photos by LDS Intelligent Living

14 thoughts on “Slanted Shelf Pattern for Canned Food Rotation”

  1. Oh my this is wonderful! Since about Oct of last year I’ve been planning on making a unit like this in the spring/summer. That time is coming quickly so this was a FABULOUS find! Thanks a ton!!

  2. I am going to try and make something like this from wood pallets, and the free scrap wood I get at the big box lumber store. They give away the slats that go between bundles of wood.

  3. I’m creating something similar. I just wanted to say thank you for the basic outline. I’m creating a #10 can unit of similar style and this has given me ideas on how to go about it.

  4. I would like to say I have been looking for a pattern with supply list in order to do this type of project. I think I have found the solution. Thank you. Now I have a place to put the cases of cans in a location that will rotate the stock. Thank you.

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