Bookshelf Woodworking


Most of my time messing about with wood has been spent making flat surfaces to stand things on.

I’ve written up the stories of quite a few of the elaborate shelf units I’ve constructed over the years. The picture above shows a stand I built for our TV for example, of which I remain very proud! Prompted by the post I wrote recently about all the shelves I fitted to finish off The Kitchen, I thought its time I wrote something about the odd, individual shelves I’ve strung up around the house.

I started, of course, by buying standard board sections from DIY Superstores – usually fibreboard or chipboard covered in veneer or formica and sold as “shelves” requiring no real preparation. Here’s a set that I think were the earliest I ever put up. I first fitted them in a rented house (naughty! I refilled the holes before leaving and the landlord never said anything…) then put them up in my first house to hold CDs. They’re currently in my office, tucked in behind the door and holding an array of things that don’t really have any other place to live (including the landline phone which only rings when our parents call.)

So, these have been attached to my walls, via cheap, L-shaped brackets, for more than 25 years. I give them a round of applause for not falling down!

In the office I also have my first progression on from pre-made boards. Not much of a step forward for these shelves – still made of veneered chipboard – but this time I cut them to length, which exposed rough chipboard edges on the ends. I fixed that using some Edge Banding, which is like a roll of tape that you iron on to the edge of the board to cover the roughness with veneer.

I also made use of a Slot Shelving system here, where shelves are fixed to brackets that clip into a slotted metal runner that is attached to the wall. This allows you to adjust the shelf height by quickly unclipping and re-clipping the bracket.

Lastly in the office, I have this free-standing shelf unit, which now serves time as a printer stand and a host for vinyl records and random toys.

This is my first attempt at a modification. The shelves were originally bought as a kit, but they were very wonky and poor quality. I think the original intention was that they should be secured directly to the wall. Their flaw was that they had no cross braces to keep them square and stop the unit from twisting. Straight after assembling them I remember going over to the nearby DIY superstore and buying some strips of wood to add into the sides to fix this. I put these strips in at 90 degrees to the shelves so that their widths would help to keep the unit square and sturdy.

It was only when I got these wood strips home that I realised I’d bought skirting board! Oh well. No problem. It still did the job, and the curve along the top edge looks quite neat, I think.

I’ve done a lot of work in our son’s bedroom over the years, making it bigger and constructing desks and shelves to accommodate his stuff. One of the first things I put in for him was this long shelf over his bed.

We’d got him a cabin bed which stands quite high and has a table and drawers and things underneath. He still needed a place for big books, so I thought of a shelf up high that he could reach from the bed. I bought a 2-metre-long pine plank as the basis for that, and a selection of strong brackets to hold it. For safety I fitted a strip of wood along the front of the shelf to provide a lip. This means things have to be lifted up to take them off the shelf and it stops things sliding off accidentally.

The biggest difficulty with this shelf was the paint – a nightmare! I made a first mistake of asking what colour he wanted. “Stripes!” was the reply… “well, I think painting lots of thin stripes will drive me a bit mad, and you’ll have something that’s hard to look at. How about I make it three big stripes.”

Then I made the next mistake of buying some very glossy paint that claimed to be especially good for children’s wooden toys. That should take the knocks, I thought. Well, it is nice and tough now, but it took weeks and weeks to properly finish.

After a couple of coats of primer, I began painting the yellow middle section. I put paint on the top side, gave it the required 24 hours to dry then turned it over and painted the underside. Then when that was dry, I took a look, and saw that the paint on the top side was now full of dents and marks where it had been stood. I had definitely given it time to dry, and had laid it very carefully on a cloth, but now the weave of the cloth had been imprinted into the surface!

In the end I had to take over the dining room and suspend the plank across two chairs so that the drying paint was not touched by anything. Eventually, after three coats with 24 hours to dry in between each, then a week of hardening time, I had a solid enough surface to allow me to move on to the other sections. The blue went on a little more easily, providing a good finish after two coats. The red was the hardest to do though, as it showed streaks from the brush strokes and took four coats to give a good smooth finish.

On the subject of the Chap’s bedroom, after taking out his and our fitted wardrobes, he needed a free standing unit to put his clothes in. We found a nice white wardrobe unit that fit neatly at the end of the cabin bed. This provided more than enough hanging space, so I built a frame to go inside and give him some shelves to stack things on.

This was made using standard, white-veneered chipboard, as a pair of boxes forming a backwards L-shape. The bigger box is divided into shelves (height adjustable of course), and the whole lot fixed together using Cam Locks, which I chose to allow me to assemble the frame inside the wardrobe.

Over in our bedroom are a set of emergency shelves I put up to stem the rising tide of books that had begun to engulf the house. These were pine boards that had previously been used elsewhere, but had been replaced and were languishing looking for a new purpose. I figured I could fit them on this section of new wall.

Previously this wall had been a pair of doors into a fitted wardrobe. This spot now marks my first proper bit of brickwork.

The shelves were narrower than the available space, but I figured, if I staggered them and spread them across the wall a little, that would look more interesting, and also give some room for taller books. They were completely filled within minutes of being fixed in place.

I won’t go into detail about the many prefabricated bookcases around the house, except to briefly recall the case I built from Hobby Board.

I shall give the briefest of mentions to the shelves that secure the cistern of the Downstairs Loo…

And of course, to the shelves I assembled to cover the pipework in the Bathroom

And to finish I shall point to the posts I’ve already written about the Tumbledown Box Shelves, the Second Tumbledown set I added later, the Music Shelves I made for the CD collection, and the Maths Shelves I build for the boy’s room.

There will be more to come. Books are piling up in the corners again…

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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