Shop Upgrades: French Cleats

Published Friday, March 15, 2024 by Bryan

We've had many motorcycling posts, and a tech post, but not a real woodworking post on here for a while. There are a variety of reasons for that, but none of them are that I haven't been doing woodwork. I've been in the shop for a few hours most days for the last couple months. I didn't think I was going to share any of that work here, because it's not super photogenic. But I've been quite happy with how that work has improved other work, so I'm writing about it after all. Today's post is about my new french cleat system.

My table saw is one of the most important tools in my shop. There have been very few projects that I haven't used it for something. That makes it a little surprising that, until now, the accessories that I use with it have been, at best, hung on a nail or screw sticking out of the wall nearby. Most of the jigs, measuring devices, push sticks, etc. have been piled on a small table or even propped against the wall on the bare concrete floor.

A corner of a basement. A whiteboard and a few table saw tools hang on a white slat wood wall. Other tools are nearby on a small table or the ground. Several thin boards jut into the middle of the photograph from below.
Before: Poor use of space. A few items dispersed on a sparse wall. Ignore the wood in the foreground - the only pictures I have of this space are incidental background from other project shots, in this case during my toboggan build.

It was your usual cobbler's children situation - I'm always working on other projects, and doing the bare minimum to keep the working space ready for that. But another project you'll hear about in a future post finally made the clutter overwhelming.

I knew I needed to make better use of the wall space. What was up there had been hung there as the need arose. What put me off of just pulling a few nails and screws to make room for more nails and screws was the confidence that I'd need to pull those nails and screws again in the future, as tools and jigs changed. The way those rearrangements tend to cascade - making room here means I need to make room for the things that were there somewhere else - made me sure that I'd soon end up with another pile on my table and floor as I avoided that work again.

The same wall as the previous picture. Everything that was on it has been cleared off and replaced with ten horizontal strips of wood.
Step 1: French cleats hung on the wall.
End-side view of two cleats, showing the 45° chamfer in the back.
A better view of the shape of each cleat.

So I put in far more effort up front to reduce the effort of rearranging in the future - I made and installed "french cleats". They're 3/4in.-thick boards with a 45° mitre sloping downward into the wall on the back side, spaced six inches apart. To hang something on one, I build whatever I shape I need to interface with that something, and then screw a mating 45°-mitered strip to the back. Then that something can hang anywhere along any cleat without further fastening.

A whiteboard, several jigs, a rack of saw blades, measuring tools, clamps, and more have been hung on the french cleats.
Step 2: Hang everything on the french cleats.

It took me a couple weeks to build hangers for each thing I wanted to put on the wall. That time might have been reduced by building several standard shelves or generic "coat racks" of hooks, instead of customizing for each tool. But this method allowed me to accomplish something else: every hanger is made entirely of scrap wood - just the bits and pieces (mostly white and red oak) I've accumulated from projects over the last three years.

As described by the caption.
Truncated pyramids affixed to the back of the whiteboard.
As described, with red marker reading “It works!”
The whiteboard, hung in landscape orientation.
As described, with the red marker message rotated 90° and a green marker message reading “Both ways!”
The whiteboard, hung in portrait orientation.

I won't bore you with a catalog of each hanger, but I am particularly proud of a couple. The first is the whiteboard. Its hangers are not beveled strips, but are instead truncated pyramids. This means I can hang the whiteboard in either "landscape" or "portrait" orientations.

The other unit I'm proud of is the saw blade storage. I spent a long time drawing up ideas with removable carriers. For the last few years, I've changed my saw blades in a very particular order to make sure I have places to set the blade going on and the blade coming off that will protect the teeth of those blades - that is, I didn't want to just lay each on the metal table surface. Attaching the blades to carriers would solve that - they'd carry their safe surface with them.

An open cabinet with seven shelves spaced closely, and tilted back toward the wall at a steep angle. Below them is a small horizontal shelf and a hook with safety glasses, hearing protection, and a flashlight.
Saw blade storage rack, with additional space for safety gear.

Then I thought a bit more, and realized I was solving a problem I wouldn't have in the future. I had to be particular about my changing order because all of my blades hung on the same nail in the wall. I needed to take the one I wanted off the nail before putting the one I was done with back on. If I had storage for each blade, I could put the old blade away before grabbing the new blade. So, a much simpler storage device would suffice. It's just a bank of sloped shelves, similar to document storage you might see on an office wall. The fanciest bits about it are the cork I added in the back, to cushion the tooth or two resting back there, and the cork I added to the bottom, to hold the sides of the teeth off the shelf. The bonus space at the bottom for my safety equipment was icing on the cake.

I've declared the project "done" for now. I've had to reorganize things a few times as I added more hangers, and it has been a breeze. Future changes should be no problem. You might have noticed the empty cleats on the wall around the corner, which I've planned to use for bandsaw and router table tools. I think I'll be using this system in the hand tool area of my shop as well.

Categories: Woodworking