Bookshelf Woodworking


It’s not all about books.

In an earlier blog I noted our family’s propensity to fill the house with books, necessitating new shelves to be assembled every few months or so. However, books are not the only things that need shelf space. I’m old fashioned, and like to keep a library of CDs. Back in the day I would’ve been hording LPs, but after an unfortunate burglary, I never had the will to restock a vinyl collection. I still like to have something tangible to mark a particular musical taste however. To me there’s no proper connection to a song unless I can hold it in my hand. So even though the contents are ripped to an online storage and are mostly played through phones or in the car, I will keep the CDs to stay in touch with the music and its creators.

So, I needed some CD shelves. I started out with some tall, floor-standing things that were part-shelf and part horrible plastic widgets for holding CDs horizontally. I bought lots of these, and outgrew them all. It was time for a proper solution.

Our living room is a slightly odd shape, having been formed by the previous owner extending the property. This shape offered five sections of wall having just enough room each for a good sized but not too deep shelf unit to be tucked in. Ideal for CDs.

I needed a design. In my local DIY superstore, I found some pre-formed shelves in a maple veneer. They had a curved front, were about CD-case-depth, and came in various sizes. 60cm looked about the right width for the spaces I had. In the same place I found matching maple chipboard planks 15cm wide, 1.5cm thick and around 2.4m long. There were my materials.

My wood handling skills were pretty limited at this point. I could saw straight, but I couldn’t see how to finish off the cut ends of the wood-chip and make them look good. The design would need to ensure that the sawn ends would be covered. The curved shelves were veneered all round, so could be used for the top and bottom of a unit. two long plank sections could make up unit sides, butting up to the top and bottom, and various shorter planks could make the shelves, butting up to the sides.

Maths time. I wanted the shelves to cope with both CD and DVD cases. CD cases are typically 12.5cm tall, DVD cases are 19cm. If I add a few cm above the disks to get fingers in, and 1.5cm for the shelf itself, then I could say each CD shelf would occupy 16cm, and each DVD shelf, 24cm. That’s handy, as it means I could fit three CD shelves in the same space as two DVD shelves. If I make the shelf heights adjustable, I could adapt them to fit a changing collection.

So, for N shelves, I should make the sides 16 x N – 1.5 cm long (taking off 1.5cm because the sides don’t need to include the thickness of the bottom shelf.) The planks were 2.4m long, so if I cut them in half, I could use one plank to make the two sides of a 7-shelf unit (110.5cm).

I decided to fit the ends and sides together using Cam Locks. I mentioned these in a previous blog post about my son’s desk, but as a reminder, they comprise of a cam dowel that is screwed into one piece of wood, and a cam lock that is fitted into a hole in the other piece. Pushing the pieces together and turning the lock will lock the dowel and hence secure the wood pieces. The holes for the locks take a fair bit of measuring, so I used PowerPoint to help me figure out how they work.

(This figure is a good example of ‘learning as you go along’. I’ve since found it to be wrong in a couple of ways. First, the holes for the dowels should be 6mm rather than 8mm. Making them larger can result in some movement in the wood if you’re not careful. Second, I measured the dowel holes from the bottom of the wood when they should be measured from the top. I got away with it here as the holes are half-way across the thickness. For thicker wood, measuring from the bottom would be problematic.)

Within the assembly, I chose to fix one of the shelves to the sides using cam locks. This would add some rigidity to the unit but meant I couldn’t adjust it later. With that in mind I chose to fix the 3rd shelf up, as this one would be in the same position whether I was setting the shelves below for CDs or DVDs. (The picture reveals my inexperience with sawing chipboard. I struggled to get both edges of the veneer neat. The technique I use nowadays is to clamp the wood to a piece of scrap and cut through both. This reduces the likelihood of the saw teeth breaking off the veneer on the underside.)

The rest of the shelves would be fitted using push-in shelf supports. To allow for these supports I drilled holes at 8cm intervals up the lengths of the sides.

To finish the units off, I fitted hardboard panels to the backs. This gave some additional rigidity to the unit (and together with the fixed shelf, helped prevent movement due to too-large cam dowel holes.) I then fitted Corner Plates into each corner. These are triangular pieces of metal that have holes to secure to the wood and a hole in their middles which I could use to screw the units to the walls.

And so, we had somewhere to store and display CDs. I built four units just like this, three ended up having 7 shelves for CDs, the other has 4 shelves for DVDs (and a CD-sized shelf of course, as 7 isn’t divisible by 2…)

But what about the fifth space?

While I was assembling these shelves I realised it would be good to have somewhere to put the stereo. Very old-school I know, but I have a set of separates to play music on – an amp, a tuner and a disc-player, as well as a thing for playing music from our online file store. I decided to adapt my design for these CD shelves to include shelves for the player too.

I began by building a smaller unit, having 3 CD shelves. This would go at the top. Then a larger unit would go below. I found that the DIY Superstore manufactured straight shelves as well as the curved shelves I had been using. If I joined a straight shelf behind one of the curved shelves, then this would give me a unit deep enough to hold the stereo separates.

I didn’t have a biscuit jointer at this point, so was not really sure how to fix the two pieces side by side. In the end I went with a pair of Mending Plates, which I could screw into the two pieces, pulling them together. I figured these, with the cam bolts that secure the sides, would be sufficient to hold it all together, and they wouldn’t be visible, unless you lay on the floor underneath and looked up (which I’ve only done once, and that was to take this picture!) A couple of brackets would then help cope with the extra depth and weight of this unit.

I measured the shelf spacing to take up to four bits of kit. I’ve only had three to fit in (with the online music player sat on top of the unit), so the bottom shelf has been unused. Mind you, this space has been useful as it has given me somewhere to tidy away all the cables and power supplies. Speaking of cables, I needed some way to get the mains supply in, and speaker and other leads out of the shelf unit. Since this unit was going in the corner, I decided to cut a hole in the hidden side using the Hole Saw Cutter I described in the Banister blog. While I was at it, I cut holes in the shelves at the back, to allow cables to run between the different parts of the stereo.

And with that, our CD collection has a home. It is all carefully and logically sorted; in alphabetical order, by genre of course … There’s a rock and pop section, a folk-rock section, an acoustic-folk section, sections for classical and world music, and a unit for DVDs and those CDs that come in too-big packages. It is of course, over-full, so some of the old CD shelves have had a new lease of life upstairs in the office. These hold the CD singles, CDs from local bands (my favourite genre; there are a lot of those), huge box-sets, compilation CDs, disks from magazines, duplicate CDs (why do I have these?!) and, well, anything else that doesn’t quite fit. Unfortunately, the DIY Superstore stopped selling the curved shelves so I can’t build any more matching units. I will have to think of something different in the future. Stopping buying CDs isn’t an option.

By nickcnickcnickc

I spend my working life staring at computer screens, so in my spare time I look for things to do with my hands, preferably involving wood. It's a little ironic then that I've now starting writing a blog about my woodworking, and thus introducing computer screens to my main hobby..!

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