The Art of the French Cleat

In our shop we love working one-on-one with our customers. There’s so much to learn!  How to make a pocket hole, how to distress paint, how to use Saltwash, and more. Great projects deserve a great space. Our problem: the space for workshops and demos was too small. We had to run from our storage closet, to shelving across the store, to our paint cart and back again just to access all the items we needed. There had to be a better way to use our space!


Our solution was to use french cleats. The system is simple, take two boards of equal length and run through the table saw at a 45° angle. One board is fastened to the wall, with the angle facing up and toward the wall.  The other piece of wood is attached with the 45° angle facing down so it will slide into the slot you have created on the wall. The result is an adjustable system that disperses the weight evenly. Attach the loose wooden piece to any material - boxes, bags, buckets, hooks, jars - and arrange it any way!


Covering a 10 ft wall and a 5 ft wall with cleats for a reasonable price was our next challenge.  We found 1x3x8 boards for $1.38 each.  The 1x3 was just the right scale to ensure the cleats would be strong enough to hold the weight of the various paint cans and tools we planned to store on the wall. No need to worry about having a 10 ft board for the back wall, just ensure you match up the pieces so the boards appear to be continuous.


Back from the box store ready to cut our boards, can you guess what happened?  I set the table saw for the 45 ° angle and the fence on the table saw to remove just enough wood to get the full 45° angle cut. I had help standing by to guide the wood, and as we ripped through the first few pieces, we were feeling pretty good.  Then it happened, my table saw was part way through the third board when it just stopped.  That table saw and I go a long way back, in fact, it was older than my youngest daughter Olivia. It was definitely time for a new saw, so I hopped onto my trusty iPad and began searching for a new table saw.  We wanted something portable and sturdy, and I have to say, when we returned home from our trip to Home Depot with a brand new Ryobi 10 in. Portable Table Saw with a Quick Stand, boy did that saw rip! Olivia and I finished cutting 48 boards in under an hour. Best $199.00 investment ever.


Taking our time and clearly marking the studs was key to ensuring our french cleats would be securely fastened to the wall. Commercial construction can be tricky, the long back wall has wooden studs, so the Zircon Edge Finding tool worked well. But when it came to the small 5 ft wall, it has metal studs, and I loved using my C.H. Hanson Magnet STUD Finder! . Once the walls were marked, we drew vertical lines with our 72” ruler to ensure we had straight lines to follow for drilling in our screws. The end of our 8 ft boards did not hit a stud, so we needed to ensure we secured the boards with wall anchors and screws.


When going to put the boards up, we realized a few of the pieces were warped slightly, so we chose the straightest ones to drill into the wall, and we could use the others in small pieces to put our tool buckets on. We predrilled and countersunk all of the holes in our boards prior to installing. For the wooden studs, we used a 2 inch GRK R4 Multi-purpose screws to anchor the cleats. We pre-drilled the holes where we needed anchors, then hammered in anchors. The Triple Grip Heavy Duty Anchor Kit comes with screws,  so we used those on the ends of the boards. We started at the bottom with our first cleat, and worked our way up the wall. To keep the boards spaced evenly, we made a cardboard template, and marked where the next board would start. We suggest using a level to ensure the pieces are straight, but the cardboard template really did an amazing job!


Since the smaller wall had metal studs, we tried using self-tapping screws to attach the wood to the metal, but those didn’t seem to grab the stud the way we needed. We settled on Grip Rite 2-½ inch fine thread, sharp point drywall screws that go into steel studs, they drove right through the metal!  


With all the pieces up, we wood filled the holes to give the cleats a seamless look. We used an orbital sander with 220 grit sandpaper to sand back the wood fill, and make sure to wear a mask because it does get quite dusty. After sanding we sealed the cleats with Shallec to avoid the wood from absorbing and wasting our paint. We painted the whole wall in Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, we chose Duck Egg to give a beautiful finish to our walls!


What will we use to organize our shop??   We took a trip to Ikea and once again, we were not disappointed!  Our next post will have all of the Ikea Hacks we found for help with organizing our space.  Finally, we did cut up additional scrap wood, for shelving, but more on that to come!