Friday, November 1

long-overdue built-in shelves

We've had this little space in our living room which I believe previously housed a TV and/or entertainment setup that has been completely empty since we moved in. Well, empty if you don't count the 5 or 6 unpacked boxes that sat there waiting... and waiting... for someone to just do something with them! My plan from the get-go was to build some sort of shelving unit. I spent the first few months in the house contemplating how I was going to approach this project, since a) I would be designing and constructing it myself, b) the shelves needed to hold a lot of heavy things like books & such, and c) this little space here isn't so little - it's about 55" wide. For a while I thought the floating shelves concept was a little out of reach, but I spent a considerable amount of time scouring Pinterest and other home DIY blogs/sites for ideas. I basically found one idea that led to another, that spurred another, that finally landed me here with probably the most accurate tutorial and explanation of how I executed this project myself. Aren't they pretty?
via Desert Domicile

Her tutorial really took everything that had been running through my head and explained it in writing. Now that I had actual proof that it could work, I just had to get down to the logistics. What kind of wood would a woodchuck chuck I use? How much weight did each shelf need to support? What was the thickness I was going for with each shelf? How many shelves did I need? WHERE are the STUDS?! 

I'm going to walk you through my crazy thought process and show you step-by-step how this was done. And yes, I have carpentry skills. I'm just full of surprises. 

The first and least risk-taking step I could complete was to decide how many shelves I wanted (things look better in odd numbers - design-wise - and three would be too few). Five. There, it's settled.  

Then I had to decide how thick I wanted each shelf based on the materials I would use. About 3-4 inches. How tall is my tallest book, so I know how much space to put in between each shelf? About 14 inches. What, if anything, is going to go on the floor underneath them? So on and so forth, you catch my drift. After some careful consideration, I busted out the most BASIC and common math skills I know how to use. Addition. Don't believe the lies. The last time I graphed a linear equation was in high school algebra. I taped off where each shelf would go - including the thickness of each shelf - and spaced it all out nicely & precisely to see how it would look. When it comes to projects like this, I pay MAJOR attention to details. Major.

Next came the longest part of the project that required the most steps. 
1. Find those stinking studs.
2. What do you mean that wall doesn't have any studs? How dare it.
3. Pick out the material for the interior (aka hidden) supports - 1x3" pine. Which is actually only 1x2 1/2" pine. I KNOW
4. Cut pieces for the back brace the width of the nook x5, the side pieces x10, and the middle supports x15. My dimensions were 55 inches across for the long back piece, and each of the shorter pieces was 14 inches.
5. I screwed the three middle supports into the long back piece (from the backside) BEFORE I put it into the wall. The side pieces were actually attached separately and AFTER the long back piece. Lots of steps here. 
6. I'm also super thorough and measured where each of the studs were for the long back piece and then marked it onto my long back piece so a) I would know where to drill into the wall and hit the studs, even when my markings were covered up and b) I would know where not to drill my middle support pieces so they weren't in the way. 
7. Attach long back pieces accordingly. Level.
8. Measure again and line it all up so it's beautiful.
9. Attach side support pieces accordingly (including using some hefty anchors for the stupid wall with no studs). Level again.
10. Secure side and back pieces together for extra security with L-brackets. whew.
Those last few (ok, ten) steps took multiple days because I needed a little assistance making sure everything was squared away just right. The following steps went rather easily and quickly.

I cut five more 1x3" pieces to fit the width of the wall at the front of the shelf. Side note: walls in your house are never perfectly straight. Just in case you didn't know. Line up, level, attach with glue and nail gun, 5 minutes flat. Boom. 
Adding this final front support piece really secured everything. Trust me, we yanked on 'em quite a bit.

I bet you're wondering, Why didn't she just build this rectangular frame thing all together and then attach it all at once? Let me tell you why. First, I wanted each of the three main side supports to be completely flush against the wall. Since walls aren't straight, this gave us a better chance of that happening. Second, it was easier to find the studs (and anchors) with little pieces at a time instead of wrangling a behemoth structure with arms poking out everywhere. Ow! My eye! Third, we actually TRIED this on our first shelf, then wound up taking it down and apart because it just wasn't working. Piece by piece was best here, guys.

The next step involves plywood. This can be a really tricky decision and thanks to the wisdom of my father-in-law, I didn't have to figure it out on my own. One of the things you have to consider about plywood is weight. Sure, 3/4" plywood would have given me some solid structure, but it would have also added about 5 or 10 pounds onto each shelf, which is already going to hold books and other heavy junk. You also have to remember this space is about 55" wide. We don't want these puppies coming crashing down. So, considering I had ample support throughout each of the interior structures, I actually went with 1/4" oak plywood, with a beautiful, smooth sanded surface. I didn't have to worry about it being too flimsy because the middle braces would allow the weight to be distributed evenly throughout the shelf.
Oye with the crooked walls. I measured the surface area and ripped down all the plywood, trimming up a little for some pieces, depending on the curvature of the wall. The pieces completely covered the top AND bottom of each of these structures, lining up and finishing perfectly flush with the front support piece. I sanded and stained before they went on, let them dry, then attached them with glue and a nailgun (strategically placed nails, mind you) onto the tops and bottoms of each structure.

Now all you could see was the top piece, bottom piece, and front support beam. Which would be covered. It's making more sense as you see it come together, right?
I actually chose to get some oak 1x4" for the front pieces and rip them down to the exact thickness of the shelves, which wound up being 3 inches thick. But you know, if I had bought a 1x3", it would only be 2 1/2 inches thick. It's a cruel world. I wanted the front piece to be all you saw, aka cover up the thickness of the middle support piece and the edges of the top and bottom pieces of plywood. So the thickness of the front "trim" piece was the total thickness of the overall shelf put together. Make sense? So, once that was all cut and triple-checked, I stained those pieces and stuck them on the front with wood glue and a few nails from my nailgun.
The overall depth of the shelves wound up being about 16 inches. You have the inch from the back support piece, then the 14" depth from the side & middle braces, and then the extra inch from the front trim piece.

I lightly sanded the entire thing with super-fine 320 grit sandpaper by hand, to take out any roughness or dust that happened to attack the boards as they were air drying in our garage. Best decision of the whole project. It gave the surfaces the perfect smoothness without taking off hardly any color. I touched up places here and there (like where the nails went in) with stain and a small paintbrush, and then proceeded to jump and skip around the living room like a 4 year-old. It is finished.

Since we were having like 25 people over, you know, 3 hours later, I rushed to style the shelves with books, frames, and accessories. Now it feels like we LIVE HERE
Since I didn't have time to put a coat of poly-acrylic on the shelves before our shindig, I'll have to unload the shelves and do that in the next day or two. Then they will really be done. I did wait until they were all put together to poly them, so they have a nice overall finish to them.
Bonus! I sorted through my boxes of books and actually wound up taking a box full to Half Price Books, where I made an amazing $60!

I would venture to say this is probably one of my biggest home DIY projects I've constructed over the last few years of homeownership, and definitely the biggest one in this house. We love, love, LOVE the shelves and the finished, personal touch they add to our home.
I'm pretty sure I'll be putting a canvas and a few sculptural pieces on that top shelf, since it's WAY up there.

Now that they're done, I'll be glad to give you a nice living room before & after session on Monday. I know you've all just been waiting on the edges of your seats.

Would YOU ever conquer something like this in YOUR home?

1 comment:

  1. Your shelves look great, Ragan! So happy my tutorial was helpful! I'm looking forward to seeing your before and after tomorrow :)


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