Simple CD Storage

Build contemporary wall-hung CD racks or wooden inserts for your next home or office project by simply cutting rows and rows of dados.

A CD’s slim, compact design allows for all sorts of creativity when it comes to storing them. Tall CD towers and spinning CD cases have flooded the mega-music stores. 

Look under any passenger’s car seat or flip down any driver’s visor and you’ll probably find some sort of CD storage device that involves plastic sleeves. And if you’ve ever built a desk for the home office, you’ve probably purchased plastic hardware designed to hold and organize your software and music collections.

Last year Senior Editor Christopher Schwarz was building an entertainment center and wasn’t too excited about installing cheesy plastic rails designed to organize CDs into a handsomely built wooden project. Thinking there has to be a better way, he came up with one, opening all sorts of new doors for CD storage. All it takes is a table saw, a dado stack and some creativity.

The concept is simple: Rows of dados specifically sized and spaced to hold the ends of CD cases. You can plow these dados into any piece of wood and then cut the result into all sorts of shapes – creating endless CD-storage possibilities. I liked Chris’s idea so I decided to stretch his concept. It worked great.  

Cutting the Perfect Dado

Before I even headed into the shop, I collected a bunch of CDs from around the office and began measuring their thicknesses with dial calipers. The thickness of the cases ranged from .393" (a little more than 1/4") to .412" (a little less than 7/16"). So I decided to make the first test dado .415" wide.

Next, I headed to the shop. To create a dado exactly .415" wide, I used two 1/8" dado blades, an 1/8" chipper and two .020" shims. Then, I cut a test dado 1/2" deep in a 3/4"-thick piece of scrap plywood. Next, I tested the .393"-thick case (the smallest one we found) and the .412"-thick case (the largest one we found) to see how they fit in the dado. To my surprise, the .415"-wide dado was a perfect match. The .412"-thick case slid in and out without any difficulty. And while the .393"-thick case drooped slightly in the dado, it stayed in place just fine.

Next, I tested how much wood I should leave between each dado. Too little wood created too fragile a project while too much wood looked chunky. I concluded that 1" (which includes the width of the dado) worked quite well, and allowed me to work with a simple whole number.

One more important fact: You need to cut dados and not grooves to make this work. Dados are cut across the grain; grooves are cut with the grain. When you cut dados, the CDs won’t ever be pinched by the seasonal expansion and contraction of your board. Plus, the end result will be stronger. That’s because wood is stronger along the grain than across it.

Rows and Rows of Dados

Before you start cutting your dados, you need to determine the shape of your CD rack. If it’s simply going to be an insert inside a cabinet, measure what you need. But if it’s going to be a rack hung on your wall, or a case you set on your desk, let your creative juices flow.

I drew up all kinds of sketches ranging from a simple rectangular shape with a contrasting wood frame to more complex shapes that involved angles and curves. Just keep in mind the width of a CD case and the number of CD cases you want the project to hold (one across, two across, three across, etc.). CDs are just a touch less than 5" wide, and you want to allow about 1/4" of space on either side so your fingers can get in there. So a CD rack for two columns of CDs should be 103/4" wide. For four columns, make it 21" wide and so on.

Once you have your shape (or shapes) in mind, prepare your stock and glue up any panels you might need. Make sure your panels are at least 3/4" thick (7/8" is better), which will leave room for 1/2"-deep dados. 

Before you begin cutting dados in your good wood, make a few test cuts in a piece of scrap. Dados 1/2" deep and .415" wide worked well for me, but your saw might have some more runout or your shims might be slightly different than mine. 

Once you’ve made your test cuts, decide how much wood you want to leave exposed on the top and bottom of your panels. For this curved wall-hung CD rack, I decided to leave 2" on both the top and bottom.

Now screw a backing board to your slot miter gauge to stop the grain from blowing out at the end of each cut, as shown below. If your stock is narrow, then be sure to clamp a gauge block to your fence as shown in the photo below.

I set the fence at 2" and made the first cut. Be sure to go nice and slow. A little wobble here or there could create a too-big dado causing your CD to fall out of its slot. After you’ve made your first cut, move your fence 1". This will leave a bit more than 1/2" of uncut wood between each dado. Make your second cut. Now move your fence another 1". Make your third cut and so on. It’s that easy.

Keep cutting dados until you run out of patience or run out of wood. Be sure to leave the same amount of exposed wood on the bottom as you did on the top, depending on your design.

Cutting Your Dados to Shape

Once all your dados are cut, sketch out the shape of your CD rack or, if it’s going to be an insert, simply cut it to size. In the photo above you can see a simple way to draw a curve. 

Cut out your shapes using a band saw or jigsaw. If you’re going to glue a frame to your rack, cut those pieces and glue them on the edges now. This is the time to be creative.

Now sand everything down. The curves can be a little tricky and might require a spokeshave or a spindle sander to get them looking good. Break all your edges with 150-grit sandpaper. Be forewarned: There are a lot of edges.

Before you apply a finish, you need to think about how you’re going to hang your rack. I used a French cleat to hang my curved CD rack, adding a block at the bottom so the rack looks as if it’s floating on the wall. You can put two smaller CD racks back-to-back and attach them to a wooden stand to create a simple desktop CD case. Or you can simply attach a few cabinet hangers to the back of a wall-hung rack. How you hang it is up to you.

A clear finish gives your CD rack a contemporary look, and allows the natural color of what little wood is left to shine through.

While you wait for your finish to dry, start organizing your CD collection and pick your favorite ones to display. Make sure they’re good ones, because with a project this cool they’re guaranteed to get noticed.

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