Building a Lumber Rack – What to Consider

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Having now built a few racks I wanted to write an article on what subjects you should consider when building a lumber rack.

The biggest mistake I made with my first lumber rack was not thinking it through before building a fixed rack (and taking up 1/5 of my shop space). To help you avoid this mistake we will discuss three subjects to help you think through your needs. The subjects we will cover are orientation of lumber (flat rack vs vertical rack), size and style considerations (such as fixed, adjustable, and/or rolling), and finally difficulty of build.

ORIENTATION OF LUMBER

The first important question you have to ask yourself is which direction or orientation will work best for me– flat or vertical?

My current vertical storage rack
My first lumber rack. NOTE: I only built it this way because I needed to stack green lumber and dry it for approximately one year.

TLDR: If I had to give you a quick version of whether you should lay your lumber flat or store it vertically I would make three statements:

  • The more lumber you have of the same type the more likely you should store your lumber in a flat rack
  • The more diverse (different types) hardwoods you have the more likely you should store them in the vertical position
  • If your wood is green, freshly milled, or still wet, you must store your lumber in a flat orientation

The longer version is addressed below.

There are several advantages or disadvantages to both.

ADVANTAGES or WHEN TO USE

FLAT RACK:

Best for if you have small amounts of a lot of different types of wood such as 10BF each of oak, maple, walnut, teak which could easily be sorted on a racking system that resembles shelves.

A flat rack is a good rack if you have large amounts of the same type and size of wood – think big box store lumber isles.  NOTE: I mentioned size because I built a large lumber rack and regretted the layout because although it mostly stored oak and ash, they were different sizes and I had to unstack half the rack to get to some pieces.

Helps when storing in limited space.  Flat racks could be nothing more than shelves above head height in a garage that are no more than 12 inches wide.

Works well with scraps assuming you have the arms of the rack spaced closely together, such as 16 inches apart.

Image from the Wood Whisperer's Website https://www.thewoodwhisperer.com/articles/dust-collection-lumber-rack-and-cabinets/

Advantages of Flat Rack continued:

If your lumber is still green (or generally still drying) you need to store your lumber flat.  You also need stickers (spacers) of at least ¾ inch between each row to allow lumber to dry. Also laying lumber flat will give it the best chance to dry strait and true.

Laying lumber flat is generally safer – although this can be debatable.  The general idea is that lumber laying flat will generally be stored energy with the tendency to fall strait down or in front of the rack Lumber in an upright position is stored energy that has a tendency to fall away from the rack with the end picking up velocity as it whips away from the rack.  Put another way a 2X4 on a workbench is safer than a 2X4 leaning up against the wall.

VERTICAL RACK:

Vertical Lumber Rack posted on https://www.woodtalkonline.com/topic/3851-vertical-lumber-storage-rack/

Best for when you have moderate to large amounts of different types of lumber.  Such as when I moved my woodshop from Wichita, KS to Kansas City, MO I had approximately 200 BF of black walnut, 250 BF of ash, 300BF of pine, and 100 BF of cedar.

Good for when you have various sizes within a type of wood.  A good example is my pine that ranges from reclaimed rough to cabinet grade, from ½ inch to 5/4 inch, from 6 foot to 12 foot long. NOTE: This only works for me because my shop has 13 foot tall ceilings.

Works well for picking through lumber – think of the 1X isle at home depot (mostly select pine).  The wood is upright so you can pick through it easier without having to unstack the pile to see each piece.

DISADVANTAGES:

FLAT RACK:

Extremely bad if you have large amounts of the same type of wood but different sizes.  The amount of times I have had to unstack half of my rack to see if I had the right size of lumber for a particular project is a waste of time and energy.

Terrible system if you want to pick through your lumber and select certain pieces.

Can be large wastes of space if you decrease your lumber on hand – think of all the wasted space above the 2x4s at your big box store when it gets close to the end of the pile.  Put another way if you build a section for 300 BF of black walnut, and you decide to only keep 50 BF on hand, that becomes a large waste of space in your shop.

VERTICAL RACK:

Terrible for scraps – I have a separate rack (flat) just for scraps less than 3 foot long.

If your ceiling is less than 12 foot it can hinder your ability to store lumber.

It is, in my opinion, more dangerous.  The stored energy of the lumber in the upright position can easily shift and fall much further from the rack than if it were laid flat.

With respect to vertical or horizontal lumber rack you need to weigh these advantages and disadvantages to determine which works best for you.

SPACE CONSIDERATIONS

The next subject you need to consider is the size of the space you are going to use for storage and whether or not you need the lumber rack to be adjustable or mobile.

TLDR: As a generalized rule for size considerations I would make these three statements:

  • The more space you have for a lumber rack the more likely you should build a fixed lumber rack
  • The less space you have the more likely you should build an adjustable or mobile rack
  • The more unsure you are of where you want to put your lumber rack the more likely you should put your rack on wheels

This subject is much more nuanced and tricky but I wanted to give some basic questions or concepts to think about when addressing this topic.

Limited Space

Let’s start with the obvious.  If you are limited on space you need to consider making adjustable arms or a rolling lumber cart in order to maximize space.  Wheeled storage does not lock you into a fixed rack that may or may not get used to capacity.  So if space restrictions are your main consideration then you need to strongly consider a rolling lumber rack.  At the very least use adjustable arms on your lumber rack (such as a French cleat system for the arms of the rack.)

Rolling Vertical Storage Rack from https://www.buildsomething.com/plans/P507A6CFA6649A7B9/Rolling-Lumber-Sheet-Goods-Cart

If you are working in a garage or small shop you should look for a racking system that is wall mounted or above head height.  Examples are the Portamate Lumber Rack System (amazon link).  They sell it in 3 and 6 foot lengths.  I have seen some people cut the six shelf rack in half to make 3 shelves.  CAUTION: when changing a product, such as cutting in half to make two 3 level shelves, understand that you could be changing the integrity of the product and could possibly be making it unsafe. Do so at your own risk.

If you are unsure where you want to put your lumber rack I recommend you put your lumber rack on casters that can be locked in place when you are adding or removing lumber.  A good example of this is the Rockler Caster Kit that runs around $80 (to view current price on amazon.com click here).  Some more cost effective caster kits are in the $55 range such as the Powertec 17000 Workbench Caster Kit (to view current price on amazon.com click here).

DIFFICULTY OF BUILD

The final subject I want to discuss is the difficulty of build.  Although I believe that almost any lumber rack is not that difficult to build if I had to order the styles of wood racks from easiest to most difficult I would say:

  1. A vertical rack with a toe kick and separation arms is the easiest to build
  2. A fixed cantilever style (flat rack) is easy to build, or install.
  3. A fixed cantilever style (flat rack) on wheels starts to become more difficult
  4. Adjustable flat rack (such as a French cleat system) is somewhat difficult – compared to the others
  5. A rolling lumber rack (flat or vertical) is probably next in difficulty
  6. Finally an adjustable rack on wheels would probably be the most difficult

IN THE END

Hopefully if you needed some guidance on what type of lumber rack you should build this helped you with some considerations before building something.  There are many more subject and considerations you should keep in mind but this is a good first few steps to help determine your lumber rack needs.

If you made it this far into a very long article, you sir/ma’am, are an excellent person.

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