How to Build a Rotating Canned Food Shelf

Storing canned food in your kitchen cabinets is an inefficient use of space and you will often find old cans in the back. This easy-to-build shelf system will solve the problem by rotating the cans.

The cost is a small fraction of the price of retail canned food systems. There are many variations so modify the plans to suit your needs and abilities.

Please click on each image for full-sized view.

How to Build a Rotating Canned Food Shelf

Step 1

Decide the size and number of shelves you need. This article will cover a 5-shelf system that is 32 inches wide, 24 inches deep and 64 inches tall.


Step 2

Cut the plywood on a table saw or with a circular saw.

  • Cut one full sheet in half length-wise. From each half, cut a shelf at 32 inches (should leave 64 inches for the sides).
  • Cut the other full sheet in half length-wise also. Cut each half in thirds at 32 inches each.
  • Cut the half-sheet of plywood at 32 inches. Cut the 32×48 piece in half (24×32). Set the remaining 16×48 piece aside for later. You should have 2-24×64 and 10-24×32.


Step 3

Using a router and straight edge, rout slots into the sides 3/4 inch wide and 1/2 inch deep. (An alternative is to attach rails that the shelves will rest on. The slot method is stronger and will not interfere with the rolling cans.)

  • The shelves need to have a 1:12 slope (1 inch drop for each 12 inches run).
  • For standard cans, the distance from the top of the input shelf to the top of the corresponding output shelf is 8 inches.
  • For standard cans, the distance from the top of the input shelf, to the top of the next output shelf is 4 inches.
  • For standard cans, the input shelf is 3.5 inches shorter than the output shelf.
  • For larger cans, add 1 inch to these dimensions.
  • Draw outlines for all slots.


Step 4

Trim the shelves. The finished outside width of the shelf system will be 32 inches. The shelves will fit in a slot 1/4 inch deep. Therefore, the width of the shelves is actually 31 inches. Each input shelf also needs to be trimmed on the back to allow a space for the can to drop. For standard cans, this gap needs to be 3.5 inches.


Step 5

Lay one side flat on the ground with the slots facing up. Insert the shelves into the slots and place the other side on top.


Step 6

Drive 2 inch screws through the side and into the edge of the shelf. Put two screws in each shelf.


Step 7

Turn the unit over and drive screws in this side also.


Step 8

Turn the unit over so the back is facing up. Attach the pieces that were cut from the input shelves to prevent the cans from falling off the back.


Step 9

From the 16×48 scrap plywood, cut 5 pieces 2×32 inch. Turn the unit over so the front is facing up. Attach the 2×32 inch pieces to block the cans from falling out the front.


Step 10

With the remaining plywood and/or additional scrap you have laying around, build a base that the casters will attach to. Stand the unit upright and attach it to the base.


Step 11

Decide the configuration of cans that you need. Each row will need to be about 1/2 inch wider than the can. On the table saw, rip 1/4 inch-wide strips from plywood, MDF, or dimensional lumber. MDF and lumber work best. Attach them to the shelves with wood glue.


Step 12

One problem you may have is the cans getting misaligned when they drop down. A solution for this is to add a divider connecting the row dividing strips, filling the gap. Cut cardboard in a trapezoidal shape to fit over the two row dividers. Cut out the center material of the cardboard and glue the flaps to the row dividers.


Step 13

Another problem occurs when the gap is too large for the cans. The can can get blocked, preventing other cans from dropping down. A solution for this problem is to glue wedges at the back of the lower shelf. This will cause the can to roll forward before the next one locks it in. The wedges can be cut from the same material used for the row dividers. They should be large enough to move the can forward.


Step 14

Start using the rotating canned food shelf. Add labels to the front of each row to identify the contents and load cans in the top portion of each shelf.

This article was reprinted here with permission from

About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. Great article!!!!!

  2. Nice! Well drawn out instructions, harkens back to the halcyon days of building with legos all day…

  3. I like that this has wheels on the bottom to make it portable without unloading the cans. In my woodworking experience, box shaped things like this, tend to wobble from side-to-side, unless one adds a full back or a diagonal piece on the back. But in this case, a diagonal piece may interfere w/ the space needed to load the cans from the back.

    I’d like to hear from anyone who’s made one similar to this, esp as to whether it’s sturdy enough.

    • The cans are loaded from the front. They roll down to the back, fall to the next level and then roll forward.

    • DaytonPrepper1 says:

      I found this design about 3 years ago. It works great. It doesn’t wobble. It holds a lot of food. When you are planning this out, make sure you take the time to plan what size cans you want to use. Meaning, a can of soup and a can of corn are two different sized cans. So planning the layout is very important. I would love to have a second one, but this one holds enough of my short term day to day food. Anything more I hold as bulk long term food.

  4. Charlie (NC) says:

    I like the design and would consider building on but I do have to question one thing. Maybe I mis-read. The actual thickness of 3/4″ plywood is 23/32″. If you cut a slot 1/2″ thick
    in 3/4″ plywood you only have 7/32″ left. That is not much
    and I believe the end walls of the cabinet would be significantly
    weakened. I think it’s probably better to use the alternate method and attach rails to support the shelves or reduce the depth of the routed slot to no more than 3/8″.

    • I feel like you are over thinking this one. All of the forces are going to be pressing down, there is no lateral force to compromise the ends. If you felt strongly you could just use strips of material to hold the shelves. Just make sure the strips ends far enough back so they don’t impede the travel of the cans.

      • My unit is 1/2″ plywood case with 1/4″ shelves. I did reinforce the shelves with a strip of 1″x2″ so the don’t sag. I’m a use what you have on hand kind of guy though.

      • charlie (NC) says:

        Hey to each his own. you may be right but it all depends on how much you intend to roll the cabinet around and
        how much force you put on the top of the loaded cabinet when you roll it. My point is that I’d rather have more meat in the end panel and less support under the end of the shelf. 7/32″ is less than 1/4″ and the individual plys in the plywood are not much less than 1/4 so you are cutting it down to one to two plys. It will greatly reduce the lateral strength of the panel. I can think of other and better ways to do it but it’s beyond this discussion.

        I personally don’t care how you make yours. I’m just trying to make sure folks realize this issue.

        • You go ahead and let them know why they potentially shouldn’t, I’ll let them know how I actually did.

  5. I built a similar unit using 1″ pvc mounted on 24 x 36 platform on casters. I made it 6 feet tall. I made the shelves in pairs according to can size with the smallest at the top and #10 cans at the bottom. I used aluminum ceiling tile grids to hold the cans on their edges when laying horizantly. I angled the rows at about 10 degrees down back to front, so the cans would roll forward when one was removed. This allows for FIFO inventory management.
    I used PVC and aluminum to keep the weight down as opposed to wood and plywood. I use the rack on a daily basis. I never did a cost comparison but I think it was under $100. I based the whole design on the Shelf Reliance design. It holds 100’s of cans from small tomato paste to # 10 cans. I know this is a little hard to visualize, but if you think it through it is a very good and sturdy unit.

  6. Fantastic! Thank you for posting this, it is exactly what we need to build. The casters make it mobile, which will help with cleaning and such. Well done!

  7. Thanks for the posting. We need more of these at our house and the cost of buying them is quite high.

  8. I built this shelf this year. Works great, holds over 400 cans.
    I used 3/4″ plywood and routed into the sides 1/4″. I then glued and screwed it together. Plenty strong, no need for cross bracing

  9. mom of three says:

    Great to know hubby and I were just thinking about this we also have a good friend who is a carpenter, who could build this in a day or two.

  10. I like this. I might need to give it a try in my new place. Storage space will be limited so I’ll need to use it well. Thanks

  11. Frank J. Rock says:

    I’ll have to pull the plans so D.W. can build it . She is the wood worker in the family . Don’t get me wrong I could do but I wouldn’t enjoy it as much as she would . I like working with metal. We will both work on it though .

  12. We made a few from pallets. They hold about 130 cans.

    You drop the cans from the top and take them out from the bottom. Think of the game Plinko on The Price is Right.

    My woodworking skills are very limited, and it was the easiest project I could find.

  13. Very nice readable plans with good instructions.
    1. The two things to keep in mind are that you need good quality, large, heavy duty castors.
    2. When full of cans it can get very heavy at an average of perhaps 12 oz per can.
    A MAG member built something similar; but, larger, and when filled with cans it was very heavy and hard to move. Several smaller units like this might do the trick.
    All in all, very nice.

  14. DaytonPrepper1 says:

    When I built this, I also wanted a way to track what I had on the shelf. I love spreadsheets so I created one that keeps track of each can by location (shelf number, row number & position number.) I also setup an SKU# (stock keeping unit number) for each item that I plan to put on the shelf. I also have all of the servings and calorie information off the label. Then allows me to know exactly how many servings/calories/fats/proteins, etc that are on the shelf at any time. When I add the inventory I keep track of the day I added it, the expiration date (yeah, I know you can eat it after the date). I also track when I use my inventory and capture that date also.
    From that information I have created various reports that allow me to track what is consumed, how many days inventory is there (assuming 2,000 calories per day per person), when the expiration date is coming up for each item, etc.
    What I’ve been doing is anything that is set to expire in the next 30 days goes into a box and I drop that off at the local food pantry. This way I’m sure that I’m always rotating it through consumption or charity and have it replaced with newer/fresher inventory.
    It has been a great, fun project from construction to inventory tracking.

    • DaytonPrepper1,
      How automated is this system? It sounds like a lot of manual work when you come home from shopping or pull food out for preparing a meal. I’ve been working on something similar, using the UPC codes already on the item along with a handheld barcode scanner. The scanners have gotten to be very inexpensive. Perhaps I’m overthinking this and manual entry might be in the long run easier.

      • DaytonPrepper1 says:

        It is somewhat manual, but a lot of VBA macros in the background. And when you think of adding inventory I’m usually adding 4-8 cans of something to it which most of the time has the same dates. That allows me to just key in the SKU#, the shelf and row that it is going into and the expiration date and click the macro button. When I consume inventory, I just put in the shelf and row and how many I consumed and click the macro button.
        I don’t know where in Ohio you are located, but I’m in the Dayton area if you like to see a demo of it. It’s not ready for distribution yet but if it is something folks would like a copy of, I wouldn’t mind sharing with the pack.

        • DaytonPrepper1,
          I’m northwest of Columbus and about 2-2.5 hours from you. What I’m actually looking for is something more general that will take not only food; but, other inventory. I plan to just use the UPC codes and a scanner, and want to track locations of lots of prep and perhaps even non-prep items. I do a lot of this by hand now in spreadsheets; but, there has to be a better way with a small database like MySQL.

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