Workshop organisation: Creating a Coffee Bottle Organiser, two tool boards, and installing a French Cleat system

This series of articles will show some ways on how to rescue your workshop from the entropy that generally exists within.  These suggestions are not a constraint to only the workshop but could be deployed throughout the house.

One of the lessons learned is that no matter how you organise your workshop, there are always times that you wanted something to be located at a different spot.  This need arises either because of the acquisition of a new tool, or the specific project on hand requires a different workflow.  The best way I found to deal with this is to ensure your workshop can quickly adapt and morph to your specific requirements.  This series will explore ways that we can organise the workshop yet keeping with the theme that we may want to change the layout tomorrow.

There are two schools of thought on how to layout a workshop; the one is where the tools are in the middle of the floor, and you work around the tools.  In other words, you will be facing the middle of the workshop.  The other option is to have the tools and work surfaces located against the walls, and you work from the middle of the workshop, i.e. facing the walls.  There are pros and cons to each method which is outside the scope of this article.

However, workshops that have to double up as a garage is best optimised with the tools located against the walls with more significant stationary tools installed on casters.  This allows normal stationary machines that are not needed right now, to be stored out of the way yet it is easy enough to pull them into the workflow as and when required.  A later article will discuss some mobile bases as used for bigger tools such as your table saw.  However, this article will focus on how to optimise your wall storage space yet keeping it in tune with the theme of having a continuously changing workshop.

This article will cover two topics; the first is how to build a coffee bottle rack while the second is to install it using a very popular system that lends itself towards the concept of an evolving workshop.

Coffee Bottle Organiser

One of the biggest challenges to keeping a workshop organise is the storage of consumables.  Popular choices are the transparent plastic jars, large drawers or just plastic containers.  Each one of those has a special place; however, I found that coffee bottles are actually a very good container as well.  Coffee bottles are made from surprisingly thick glass, is large enough to fit a good volume of consumables in, is recyclable and the best part is it stays clear even after many years of use.  Using coffee bottles means one have a steady supply of new ones, especially if you start collecting the bottles from the office as well.

Time requirement: 2 hours

The tools needed to make a coffee bottle organiser is the following:

Tools Importance Minimum Recommended Notes
Drill Critical Small hand drill 10.8v or 12v Cordless drill Any drill capable to make 3mm holes into plywood
Drill bit Critical 3mm general purpose drill bit
Pocket hole jig Optional Kreg K4 or R3 Just for aesthetic purposes
Router Optional Round over or chamfer bit Just for aesthetic purposes

This article will cover two topics; the first is how to build a coffee bottle rack while the second is to install it using a very popular system that lends itself towards the concept of an evolving workshop.

Consumables Units Alternative
45-65mm wood screws +/- 50 Pocket hole screws
21mm plywood 1 sheet of plywood should cover the coffee bottle organiser, a starter set for the french cleat system, and two tool boards 19mm plywood but then the cutting list must be adapted
Coffee Bottles 32 of your favourite brand, or any other bottle provided the height of the bottle is less than 190mm

A detailed cutting list can be printed from the following file: Cutting List

Maxcut Software has been used to prepare this article.

The above cutting list can be handed in at your favourite board supplier for quick and easy cutting.

Once the wood is supplied, do the following steps:

Drill pilot holes into the shelves:

  1. Identify the four boards that measure 900×120 each. These boards are the shelves for the coffee bottle organiser
  2. Drill three 3mm holes about 10 mm from the edge on each of the shelves as per the picture below

Mount the first shelf

  1. Find the best looking side of the backing board (900×900 board) and place if face-up on a flat workspace
  2. Drill 3mm holes through the backing board every 10-15cm about 10mm from the bottom of the board. The spacing doesn’t need to be exact, nor do you need to apply any fancy measurements.
  3. Place the first shelve (the bottom shelf) on the backing board (covering the holes that have just been drilled)
  4. Move the backing board off the workbench so that you could drill some screws through the bottom into the shelve. Note that the edge of the shelve should be flushed with the backing board
  5. Attach the bottom shelve with screws to the backing board.

Second, third and fourth shelve

  1. Select the eight (8) boards measuring 204 x 120, these are the spacers.
  2. Place some of the spacers (204mm x 120mm) on the bottom shelf just as measuring guides
  3. Mark the backing board at the top of the spacers. This will mark the bottom of the next shelf.
  4. Drill a couple of holes, again 10-15cm apart about 10mm above this new line. This will be used to attach the next shelf.
  5. Keeping the spacers to help guide the second shelf, screw the next shelf from the bottom to the backing board.
  6. Repeat these steps until each backing board have 4 shelves. If everything is done correctly the last spacer will be flush with the top of the backing board.

Installing the Spacers

  1. Attach the spacer shelves by starting from the top. Each spacer block needs to be attached from the shelve immediately below it and then again from the back of the backing board.
  2. The holes drilled at the beginning of the project in the shelves will assist with this
  3. These spacer boards will provide a lot of strength so it is important that a sufficient number of screws be used on them.
  4. It may be worth it to also attach some screws from the back of the board

For users with a pocket hole system (optional)

  1. If you have a pocket hole jig, you could drill 4 pocket holes (2 on the top, 2 on the bottom) into the three bottom spacers.
  2. This will allow you to attach the spacer to both shelves thus increasing its strength even more.


For users with a router (optional)

  1. Depending on the quality of the wood, it may be nice to take a router and just break the edges with either a round-over bit or a chamfering bit. Just be careful of the metal screws that could cause injury and damage.

Once the above is completed, you have a storage unit that is capable to hold 32 coffee bottles.  In the current condition, the top shelve can be used for taller bottles and or chemicals that you’d like to keep out of reach of children.  All that remains is to attach these units to a wall, source some coffee bottles, and start storing the various consumables for later use.

It is fully appreciated that this organiser may be considered slightly over-engineered, however one must appreciate that the weight of coffee bottles, filled with nuts and bolts can easily add up in weight.  Also, I’d much rather have one too many screws holding everything together than one screw too few.

The next session of this article will discuss how to hang these units in such a way that should you want to move them to another location, it can be achieved with a minimal of an effort.


French Cleats

French Cleat is a system that allows easy movement of fixtures that is attached to a wall.  It consists of two components.  The first one is a strip of board mounted with a 45 degree angled mounted against the wall.  The second component is the reverse of the first board which allows the cabinet to be hanged on the wall mount.  Gravity will force the cabinet tight against the wall and will prevent the cabinet from falling.

The image below depicts a French cleat system in use.  The yellow cleat is securely attached to the wall using M10 (or equivalent) Rawl bolts.  The blue cleat, in turn, is attached to the unit that you want to mount on the wall.  In this case, our coffee bottle organiser.

The time requirement for this project: less than half a day

The tools that you need for this is the following:

Tools Importance Alternative Tool Recommended Notes
Drill Critical Powered drill SDS drill and a drill press Need to drill into walls, and into wood
Drill bits Critical 16mm masonry, 10mm wood drill,

25-35mm Forstner bit (or spade bit)

Table Saw Important but can be outsourced Circular saw, Plunge Saw, jigsaw Table saw Need to rip boards at a 45-degree angle
Mitre Saw Important but can be outsourced Hand saw, jigsaw, circular saw Mitre saw Ability to cut the French cleats to length
Level tool Optional Spirit level Laser level It is nice to install the cleats level
Sockets / Wrench Critical 17mm wrench and or socket Impact driver with 17mm socket Use to tighten the Rawl bolts

The following consumables will be needed:

Consumables Units Alternative
M10 Rawl bolts 1 bolt every 1.5m (say 6 for the current project) 10-12mm Coach screws
M10 Washers 1 extra washer for every Rawl-bolt.  The outside diameter of the washer to be equal to the Forstner bit (25mm to 35mm)
21 mm Plywood Cutting list as provided for the coffee bottle organiser 18mm – 32mm

French Cleats is not a new design, kitchen cabinet makers use it all the time, and even the internet is full of solutions for it.  It is recommended that two rows of French Cleats be installed around the workshop.  The top cleat is about 1.8 meter from the ground, while the second one is about 900mm from the floor.  The top French Cleat is used for instance for the Coffee Bottle Organiser, while the bottom one could be deployed for shelves and drawers.

Installation of French Cleats

  1. The cutting list provided requires the user is to rip the 1800 x 160mm and the 900 x 160mm boards. (The red line represent the blade)
  1. It is strongly recommended that a table be used for the above operation, however, if a table saw is not available, then the following options could also be used:
    1. Plunge-, Track-, Circular saw
    2. Jigsaw
    3. Some specialised board suppliers may also be able to make the above cut
  2. It is suggested that the user just round off the corners a little bit by taking off say 2mm.  This will help to secure a flush fit as there will always be some dust falling into these spots and it will also reduce the chances of splinters in your hands
  1. Place the French Cleat board on the workbench with the wider part of the cleat point upwards.
  2. Drill 3 holes, about 7 to 10mm deep and between 25-30m in diameter on the face of the boards with a Forstner It is suggested to drill one in the middle, and then 150mm from the sides.  The depth of these holes should be just sufficient for the head of the coach screw or Rawl bolt to be beneath the surface of the wood when it is attached.
  3. In the middle of the 3 holes that have been drilled, drill a 10mm hole through the board.
  1. Your board should look something like this now
  1. Place the French Cleat board level about 1.8 meters above the ground against the wall
  2. Mark with a pencil the holes that have been drilled
  3. Using a 16mm masonry bit, drill holes into the wall capable to receive the shell of the Rawl-bolt (different size bit is needed if using coach screws)
  4. The order of installation is as follows:
    1. Bolt <- Washer <- French Cleat <- Washer <-Shell <- Wall

Once the French Cleats is installed, it should look something like this:

Hang the Coffee Bottle Organiser

There is an important component to appreciate when using a French cleat system.  The pressure for the system is downward pressure from the top cleat.  This means that it can withstand large weights before something will happen to it.  However it will not withstand a lot of pulling force when the force is applied from the wall to the front.  As such, it is important to appreciate that a spacer is needed behind the unit being hung.  Notice the red spacer installed below.  The width of this board is equal to the width of the French cleat 21mm and will prevent the unit from pulling on the top cleat.  The length of the board doesn’t matter as it should just ensure that the organiser hangs level for optimal strength.  If the user followed the proposed cutting list, there should be sufficient off-cuts capable to perform this function

Attach the cleat on the top of the unit from which it will hang.  The spacer board could be any piece of offcut that is 21mm thick.  See the below images:

Now, just hang the unit on the wall.  It should be quite sturdy.  All that remains now is that you start collecting your coffee bottles.

Sneak peek:

Observant readers would have noticed that part of the cutting board provided us with two tool boards.  These boards can also be mounted with the current cutting list.  They can be used to start hanging some tools.  See some examples of how the author has used his tool boards.

Author:                Denis Dell

Date:                   September 2019

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