A few weeks ago my wife asked if I could make some floating book shelves. Now, keep in mind that I am an engineer for my profession, so usually I can muddle through a DIY project. Sometimes they work as planned, but most morph really quickly into something either just like what we wanted or something that, well, let’s just say I re-task later on or scrap for parts or firewood. My goal would be to plan, execute, and create three 36” channel shelves. I decided after taking on this project that I would help my wife out and write this guest spot since as the non-teacher parent I show my strength by supporting what my wife does. If she needs more shelves, then by gosh I am gonna try to make her some.
So my task at hand was to create a series of three similar looking shelves that we could place just outside our school room. The intent was to make them sturdy enough to hold books, but not be bulky enough to block the hallway or take chunks out of us when we were walking. I reviewed the blog post I was given and then headed off to our local (60 minutes away, we are rural now after all) Lowes to see what I could come up with.
I ended up purchasing 6 pieces of wood and a box of nails. I had a coupon so I walked out of the store with just under $20 of supplies. Not that bad right? Since I have a lot of ‘stuff’ in my tool ‘area’ I had all the tools I would need and also already had a few others items I would need as well. So, here is a list of the supplies I would need to make three 36” shelves:
(2) ¾” x 3.5” x 72” pieces of wood (use a type you can afford, I used utility wood) – bought
(4) ¾” x 2.5” x 72” pieces of wood (use a type you can afford, I used utility wood) – bought
1 box of nails – 3d 1 ¼” (3.18 cm) – bought
1 box of 2” coarse thread screws – had
Once I had all the parts it was time to assemble all the tools. I had my son helping me as a Cub Scout project so some of them are for him. Here is what we used:
Hammer (one adult, one child sized)
Table to work on
Pencil for marking wood (I used my son’s lead pencil)
Gloves (for me and my son)
Square Angle for transferring measurements to cut
Tape Measure (one adult, one child sized)
Goggles (one adult, one child sized)
Sanders (I used one hand sander and a rotary sander)
Power drill with Philips head
7/64” Drill Bit
Step 1: The first step was to set-up the work table and area so that my son and I would not get hurt. It was a nice warm sunny day. Here is how I started to lay out the area:
Here is a photo the type of wood I used and the box of nails I purchased.
Here is a photo of the tools that I listed above that I needed for the construction done outside:
Step 2: The next thing to do was to take the 3.5” wide pieces of wood that will be used for the bottom of the ‘U’ channels and cut them to our desired lengths. Since I was asked to make 3 foot shelves I need to measure out 36” and mark the wood like this:
Then I used the square to transfer the 36” mark across the entire piece I wanted to cut.
Once the mark was transferred it was on to the next step, cutting the wood. I had my assistant get his gloves and goggles on to help me cut the wood.
My assistant then asked, as children do all the time, if I was ready to cut the wood. This made me stop for a second and then I had him check the length first to make sure it was the desired 36”. Measure twice, cut once is a montra my dad taught me that I wanted to teach my son. I then had him double check after a quick cut. Was it 36”?
Step 3: Was the cut made to make a 36” board? Yup, so then it was ok to measure, mark, and transfer 36” lengths to the other 3.5” boards and the 2.5” boards too.
Step 4: Once I had the bottom and sides cut it was time to measure the actual size needed for the end pieces of wood. With the wood I used I measured twice (once on each end) and found I needed 5” ends, but please make sure you measure your wood since all wood is different.
Step 5: Once I had one 5” piece measured, mark transferred, and cut from the board I designated as an ‘end piece’ board I measured the next 5” to cut. I highly recommend this procedure of one-at-a-time because the saw blade will shorten your cut. This way you cut one and then measure and mark the next. It takes longer but the last 5” cuts will still be 5” each.
Step 6: Once I had one set of 5” end pieces it was time to measure and cut the next three shelves worth.
To ensure we were still following the basic ‘tub’ design help, my assistant and I checked to make sure the pieces fit together and looked right by stacking them how they would work.
Step 7: With the pieces cut it was now time to sand the wood. The wood I used had a smooth surface, so I just had to focus on the edges I cut and then the long edges as well. Here are the tools I used in this step:
Like I said, each end piece would have two cut ends. Can you see the saw cut edges I can to sand here?
Once my assistant and I were done this is what they looked like. See, no more rough edges! I didn’t take any photos of the long boards, but I did smooth out the four long edges of each board to round them slightly. I did this so that when books were being placed on them it would not act like a hard line, but rather a rounded edge would ‘feel’ nicer.
Step 8: With the wood edges now smooth it was time to line up the pieces of a shelf and hammer the nails in to make it into a real shelf. Here is my assistant doing just that…
To make it easy I “pre’ hammered the side nails into each board. This should make it easier on the finished sides when you are assembling them. This next photo should show about 8 nails per long side and six for each end. I used six on each end so that each side and the bottom received two nails each.
Viola!!! One shelf done! My assistant cheered and said, ‘Yeah, two more to go now!”
Step 9: Now that the shelves look like shelves it was time to hang them. I got my drill, screws, level, and the all-important vacuum and headed upstairs to hopefully hang the shelves.
Step 10: I know that the studs in my house are 16” apart so I had my assistant do some mental math so that I could drill four holes in in shelf at two anchor points to match up with the studs and centered on the middle of the shelf back board. I used the 7/64” drill bit to make holes in the shelf backing. Now I just have to hang them.
Step 11:This is the most important step – location. I say this is the most important because if you do not put them where you want them then you might have holes all over your wall. My loving wife told me roughly where she wanted them. I used the highly detailed technique of knocking to find the round spot of my wall studs. Once I located a stud I pre-screwed a hole in the wall to insure it was indeed a stud. Luckily, it was. In this house I know the studs are 16” inches apart so it then centered the shelf so that I would have two anchor points. My assistant held the shelf on the wall as I used my level to get the shelf as level as I could and then used to screws per anchor point.
It was level, success!!!
Step 12: Repeat steps 10 and 11 for the second shelf.
Success again!!! Two hung level!
Step 13:Repeat steps 10 and 11 for the last shelf. Finally done. Now the requested (3) 36” shelves are ready for loading. And quickly they are utilized.
Step 14:Although the shelves are ready this is truly the most important step that I have forgotten in the past, but not this time. Before unveiling them I vacuumed each shelf and the area around them to insure all wood shavings and drill scraps were cleaned-up. Then my assistant and I put all the tools away and washed up. My wife was very happy with the results and she and the kids quickly set about loading them up.
All-in-all I think that project takes about 1-2 hours once you have the parts and tools depending on your skill level with the tools used. We decided to go with the natural look of the wood, but if you plan to paint or finish yours then you will need to add that time and detail for yourself. I know these shelves will help my wife, our homeschooling mom and teacher, organize the books for easy use during school time.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope this step-by-step walk through might help someone else out there.