The versatile design of this shoe rack can fit many needs

by George Taniwaki

I’m a member of the Washington Karate Association, which has a dojo in Bellevue. Traditionally, one removes shoes before entering a Japanese home or a sacred area. The genkan or foyer of the dojo has a shoe rack for the students. The current one needed to be replaced and I offered to make one. An exploded view of my design is shown in Figure 1 below. The design ideas and the techniques I used to make this shoe rack can also be scaled up or down for your needs.

Shoe rack design

The shoe rack will get heavy use as there are up to 4 classes a day at the dojo. On rainy and snowy days, the shoes can be wet. For durability and water resistance, I decided to make the shoe rack out of 19mm (3/4") particle board with melamine surface on both sides. I will cover any exposed edges with melamine edge banding.

Children tend to lean on or step on the shoe rack. To help resist damage, I will reinforce the shelves by adding a lip to the front.

To keep water from wet shoes from dripping on the floor, I will tip the shelf toward the front by 50mm (2"), or about 12 deg. The lip will then catch any water.

The melamine boards I used come in 2.4m (8′) lengths. Even with the reinforcement provided by the lip, I decide the shelves should be 1/3 the length of a full board or 0.8m (2′-8") long. (I felt that a shelf 1/2 the length of a full board or 1.2m (4′) could sag or break.)

To ensure tall boots can fit on the shoe rack, I space the shelves 250mm (10") apart.

I want every child to be able to reach every shelf, so the rack will only have 4 shelves, making it 1m (40") tall. This also  leaves room under the shoe rack for any overflow shoes.

Finally, the rack will be heavy, so I  will include two holes, each 100mm (4") in diameter on each side near the top to act as carrying handles.

There are many ways to attach the shelves to the sides of the shoe rack. I decided to rout out a mortise into the sides and use glue and screws to attach the shelves. The mortise should support the weight of a child without a bracket and also help resist racking.


Figure 1. Exploded view of the shoe rack

The basic design of this shoe rack is very versatile. More shelves can be added to make a taller rack for a walk-in closet. Or it can be made with fewer shelves and using furniture grade wood to fit the entryway of a Japanese-style home.

Cut the stock and prepare the shelves

The first step is to cut the sides and shelves to length using a panel saw, table saw, sliding miter saw, or handheld circular saw (Fig 2a). Use a sharp blade and push the stock (or the saw) slowly to get a clean cut.

I used a circular saw to make my cuts. Notice that I use a 50mm (2") thick sheet of polystyrene foam insulation as a sacrificial backing board under the work piece. It’s cheap, flat, smooth, light, easy to keep clean, sturdy, and protects your blade (or router bit) from damage.

Each shelf will consist of a bottom and a front cut from a single piece (Fig 2b). The front will have a dado that the bottom will fit into. Use a table saw with a dado bit to plough a 19mm wide by 5mm deep (3/4" x 0.2") dado (Fig 2c) on each shelf. The dado will be on the front of the shelf and will receive the bottom. Rip the shelves to separate the bottoms from the fronts (Fig 2d). Before cutting the actual stock, make a prototype and check dry fit (Fig 2e).

CutParts  ShelfDetail2

PlowDado  RipShelf


Figures 2a to 2e. Cut parts to length; Design detail for the shelves; Plow dado for shelf front; Rip the shelf to separate the bottom from the front; Test dry fit of prototype

Note: Table saw riving knife, blade guard, and dust collector removed for demonstration only. Do not operate power tools without safety features in place

Assemble the shelves

Dry fit the shelf bottoms and fronts, selecting the better surface to be the top. Then glue them up, clamp, and let dry overnight (Fig 3a). Notice how I clamped all four shelves at once. I laid heavy tiles on top to keep the shelf bottoms from popping up. I also put shims underneath the back of the shelf bottoms to keep the shelf bottoms parallel to the bar clamps and the shelf fronts perpendicular to the bottoms.

Unclamp the shelves and stand them front side down. The backs of the shelf bottoms will have a raw edge. Cover them with melamine edge banding (Fig 3b) and trim off the excess (fig 3c). For more details on using hot-melt adhesive banding, see this Oct 2012 blog post.

I did not bother to add banding to the raw edge on the bottom of the shelf front.

GlueUpShelf  ApplyBandingShelf


Figures 3a to 3c. Glue up the shelves; Apply melamine edge banding to the back of the shelf bottoms; Trim the banding

Mortise the sides

To cut a clean mortise, you must use a template. See this Jun 2019 blog post on how to make a perfect mortising template for a shape that consists of right angle corners.

Using a pencil and straight edge, lay out the position of the shelves every 250mm (10") on the left and right sides with the 50mm (2") slope. Lay the left and right mortising templates onto the sides and ensure they align to the pencil marks.

Remove the templates and drill two 4mm (5/32") holes in the sides for each shelf (Fig 4a). There may be a small amount of tear out. Flip the side over and countersink the screw holes by 3mm (1/8")  (Fig 4b).

Flip the sides over again, align the templates to the pencil marks, and rout out 5mm (0.2") deep mortises using a plunge router (Fig 4c). If you do not own a plunge router, first use a Forstner bit to create 5mm (0.2") deep holes for the router bit. This will prevent kickback that could gouge the sides or the templates.

DrillPilot1  DrillCountersink


Figure 4a to 4c. Drill the pilot holes; Countersink the pilot holes; Use the jig and cut the mortises

Add handholds and banding

The shoe rack will weight about 25kg (55 lb). To make it easier to move, cut handholds at the top of each side. The most important consideration is to avoid tear out. Mark the location of the center of the hand hold and drill a pilot hole through the side (Fig 5a). Using a drill with a 100mm (4") hole cutting bit to cut through one surface of the melamine (Fig 5b). Make sure the drill is up to speed before making contact with the melamine surface to reduce tear out. Press down on the surface lightly so that the speed stays high. Cut about half way through the side.

Flip the side over and repeat on the other side (Fig 5c) until the hand hold is complete. Cutting from both sides rather than one side reduces chance of tear out.

Cut the melamine edge banding to length (Fig 5d) and apply it (Fig 5e). Note that you probably cannot get a hot iron to follow the concave surface of the handhold and get hot-melt banding to adhere to the surface. Instead I used self-adhesive banding. The adhesive is not as strong as hot-melt adhesive.

CutHandhold  CutHandhold2

CutHandhold3  ApplyBanding


Figure 5a to 5e. Drill a pilot hole for handholds through the side; Use hole cutting bit and drill through one surface of the melamine; Turn over a drill through the other surface; Cut and lay out the self-adhesive melamine banding; Apply the banding

Final assembly

Before final assembly, remove any adhesive residue from the shelves and sides using mineral oil (dissolves most sticky adhesives) followed by warm soapy water (Fig 6a).

Label the four shelves to indicate which mortise it will fit into, selecting the best shelf for the top, which is the most visible. Use a chisel to clean the corners of the mortises and to make any adjustments to ensure the shelf fits (Fig 6b).

Dry fit the shelves into the sides and drill two 2mm (5/64") pilot holes in each shelf (Fig 6c). Glue up the shelves to one of the sides and drive two 4mmx40mm (#7 x 1-5/8") screws into each shelf (Fig 6d). Flip over and repeat on the other side. The screws will hold the shelves in place so there is no need to use clamps.

After the glue has dried, fill the screw holes and any gaps in the joints with white caulk.

RemoveGlue  ChiselCorners

DrillPilot2  ReinforcementScrews

Figure 6a to 6d. Clean the finished shelves and sides; Use a chisel to clean the corners of the mortises; Drill pilot holes; Glue up, add screws, flip over a repeat

[Update: There was a flaw in my design of the shoe rack. The 10" depth for the shelves works fine for children’s shoes, but not for adults. The solution was to turn the rack around. A picture is shown below. I think it looks fine this way.]


Figure 7. The shoe rack flipped around so that adult shoes will fit