Canadian Woodworking

Build a Knock-Down Finishing Rack

Author: Rob Brown
Photos: Rob Brown
Illustration: Len Churchill
Published: June July 2017

This simple rack is easy to make, and provides a lot of storage for panels while they’re being finished. It can also be adjustable to hold many more panels.

  • COST
finishing rack illo

Space is always at a premium in my workshop, especially when applying a finish to something large like a wall unit, kitchen cabinets or another oversized project with many doors and panels. It’s fairly easy to make a big rack to hold work to be finished, but I wanted to have something that could be dismantled and stored easily the other 99% of the time, so this was my solution.

This rack isn’t meant to hold a massive amount of weight, but it works great with small- to medium-sized panels, even when fully loaded. It’s more for small shop usage rather than larger industrial applications.

Quick, Square Assembly
With a square panel clamped to a work surface, Brown was able to use it to keep the rungs perpendicular to the uprights. He also aligned the pencil marks on the uprights with the corner to speed assembly.

Clamp Them Tight
Once they’re brad nailed in place, adding clamps to each joint ensures a strong rack.

Cleat Location
Using the rear divider as a spacer, Brown marks the location of the cleats on the uprights. Once the uprights were temporarily screwed in place, he drilled a clearance hole through both parts so he could use the T-nuts and large-head bolts.

Knock-Down Hardware
Once T-nuts are installed in the cleats, the cleats can be glued and screwed to the uprights for good. Using T-nuts and bolts make for quick setups.

Set It Up
Brown choose to secure his rack to his workbench for use, but there are many other ways to accomplish this. Select the best method for your space.

Keep It Simple
When set up, the rack provides lots of room for small- to medium-sized panels, and should provide solid support for many years.

Finishing Rack Design

When stored, my rack is broken down into two halves and a small panel that will hold the two halves together. It’s so light I can screw the parts face-to-face and then screw everything to my ceiling, where it’s completely out of my way.

The rack I made has 17 levels. If you want to make a larger rack, just use longer uprights and more rungs. When assembled the rack sits on the floor, against my workbench, and is clamped in place. You could temporarily fix yours to another shop fixture, or even screw it to a wall. The underside of my lowest rung is flush with the bottom end of the uprights. This helps when I’m setting the rack up, but the lowest rungs aren’t strong enough to support the entire rack during use.

I used even rung spacing, keeping 2″ between each rung, but you can either increase this spacing entirely if you often use thicker workpieces, or keep some rungs spaced 2″ apart, and others spaced farther apart. After using this rack a few times, I found the 2″ spacing to be a workable minimum and would probably use the same spacing again. Increasing the spacing to 2-1/2″ or even 3″ may be a bit better for you, though that means the rack will hold fewer workpieces.


The uprights need to be quite strong to support the weight of all the panels it will hold, but the rungs only need to be strong enough to hold one panel. I used 3/4″ plywood for the uprights, and 3/8″ plywood for the rungs, but you can increase the thickness of both the parts if you’ll be finishing heavier panels. Just keep in mind, thicker parts mean a heavier rack to handle and store.

Break out the uprights and rungs to their final width and length. Use a ruler to draw a 6″-long angled line on the front, underside of each rung, then trim the waste with a band saw. This leaves the front of each rung 1″ wide. This notch makes it easier to insert a finished panel into the rack during use. Heavily ease all edges of the uprights and rungs.

Starting from the top of the uprights, mark a series of lines 4″ apart. These lines will locate the upper edge of each rung during assembly. Ensure both uprights match each other.

I used a 16″ × 16″ assembly panel to assist with keeping the rungs perpendicular to the uprights during assembly. It was clamped to a work surface with enough room so the 4″-wide upright and a 2″-wide rung could be supported by the work surface. With the square panel clamped in place, I applied some glue to the end 4″ of the lowest rung, positioned it flush with the bottom end of the upright, pressed both the upright and the rung against the assembly panel and brad nailed the rung in place. Moving fairly quickly, I was able to pin the entire 17 rungs to the first upright well before the glue dried. I then added a clamp to each joint and let the first half dry.

Mirrored assemblies

The second half was done the same way, except for one important difference; because the rungs needed to be on the outside of each upright, I repositioned the square assembly panel so I could assemble it to be the mirror opposite of the first assembly. The two solid wood cleats would eventually be glued and screwed to the inside faces of each of the uprights, and having rungs on the inside surface of the uprights would interfere with this.


Machine the cleats and rear divider to final size. Bore a couple of countersunk screw clearance holes in the 7/8″-wide edge of the cleats. With one of the rung assemblies lain flat on a worksurface, and with its rung-side down, mark a line the thickness of the rear divider (3/4″ in my case) away from the back edge of the upright. The distance of this line from the bottom of the upright depends on how high you want the rear divider to finish. I wanted the top of the rear divider to finish just above my workbench working height, but you might have different needs.

Align the backs of the cleats with the pencil lines, and temporarily screw them into the inside face of the uprights. Align the rear divider with the cleats, and drill 5/16″ holes through both the rear divider and the cleat. Remove the cleat, hammer the T-nut into the hole on the front face of the cleat, then glue and screw the cleat to the upright for good. Adding a few more screws through the upright into the cleat was added insurance that the cleat would be strong enough to hold the rack side assemblies together during use.

If you really wanted a bomb-proof finishing rack, you could add a second rear divider, along with two more mating cleats. If you go this route I would suggest positioning one rear divider so it is fairly close to the top of the rack, and the second one so it is near the midpoint. The rack could be fastened to a stud or large, stationary fixture while in use.

Using the rack

With the rear divider installed so it holds the side assemblies together, it’s time to fix a clamping block to my bench so I can clamp the rack in place. I use my hold-down clamp through a bench dog hole and a bench dog in another hole to secure a piece of scrap wood to my bench, but there are many different approaches to doing this. A few clamps between the scrap of wood and the rear divider keep the entire rack in place nicely. There are likely dozens of other quick and easy ways to secure a rack for use, like screwing it to something solid or using oversized French cleats to hang it on a wall. Use your imagination to figure out what works best for you.

This rack has helped me out many times. I don’t often have the need for finishing multiple medium-sized parts, but when I do this rack is a serious time saver, and helps me create a quality finish in a small shop.

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches


  1. Hi Rick,

    Glad you like it. I’ve been using mine a lot over the past few months. Don’t know what I’d do without it! Send me a photo of yours in use sometime – [email protected]


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