Reminder – Always use caution and common sense when using power tools.
Also, I know that most home improvement stores are still open right now, but I would suggest seeing if you can get a delivery option for the materials you need if you plan to build this shelf soon. It’s simply not worth leaving the house to get supplies for a small building project. If you can’t get the materials delivered, then use this time to plan, measure twice, make notes, sketch your space and the shelf in it, and then you’ll be all set when the Stay at Home orders are lifted. Be safe, everyone.
There are some projects that go beautifully as planned. It’s smooth sailing and there aren’t any hiccups or bumps. This shelf was not one of those projects! It wasn’t a disaster, but it sort of felt like that when we were in the middle of making it.
The calamity that happened while building this shelf came down to a lack of precision, not following my own good experience, and being impatient while trying to build it in a messy garage on a cold and dreary day. I just wanted to knock this thing out and that’s usually the mindset that leads to mistakes.
You wouldn’t think it to look at the finished shelf, though, so all is well that ends well.
Several people asked if I would share the plans and cut list for building the shelf, so that’s what I’m doing today! I would suggest reading through this entire post and make notes of things that are relevant to your project. Do you have baseboards you need to cut around? How will outlets or vents change the height of your shelves? It’s better to have a clear plan and make sure you have all of your tools and materials before you get into the thick of the project.
The great thing about this shelf is that it is easy and pretty quick to build. I’m listing out all of the tools, materials, and cut list below, but you can download and print a PDF HERE to make it a little easier to take to the store and work off of.
Here are the tools & supplies needed…
- miter/chop saw
- measuring tape (THIS is Jeff’s favorite)
- drill (We really like Makita drills)
- Kreg Pocket Hole Jig (We have a Kreg Pocket Hole Machine, but that investment isn’t necessary unless you plan to do a lot of building.)
- 1 1/4″ Kreg wood screws
- Brad nailer or finishing nailer and 1 1/4″ finishing nails or a hammer and 1 1/4″ finishing nails (THIS is the finishing nailer we have and used for this project. It’s a life-saver if you are installing a lot of trim, beadboard, etc. in your home.)
- 100-150-180-220 grit sandpapers (orbital sander is optional, but makes the job go a little quicker if you have one on hand)
- dust mask (always wear one when sanding)
- eye protection for when using power tools
- Seven 6′ x 1″ x 2″ premium/select pine or poplar
- One 6′ x 1″ x 3″ (We ended up needing to use a 1 x 4 for this, so the bottom shelf could sit on the baseboard and the board would cover the front of the shelf.)
- One 4′ x 8′ sheet of cabinet-grade hardwood plywood. I believe I purchased maple.
If you have a table saw at home, you can cut these down yourself, but if not, you can have them cut at a local home improvement store. Most offer free cuts up to a certain quantity (10 at my local Home Depot.) Three of the boards will have to be trimmed at home using a miter/chop saw.
Cut List for plywood sheet
- Four pieces cut to 5′ long x 11″ wide (these are the three shelves and the top)
- Two pieces cut to 3′ long x 11″ wide (these are the sides)
Here is my sketch for the shelf…
Again, you can PRINT THE PDF HERE.
This is when you need to put your thinking cap on. The top and the sides are fine as is and, as long as they were cut to the right dimensions, do not need to be trimmed. The three shelves, however, need to be trimmed down to accommodate the width of the sides. Does that make sense? If the shelves are the same width as the top, then the top, raw edge of the sides will be visible. It looks neater to have the raw edges on the side, so we want the top to sit on top of the sides.
Here’s a picture showing the raw edges on the side…
The standard width of plywood is 3/4″. That means we needed to cut 1 1/2″ off all three shelves. (3/4″ + 3/4″ = 1 1/2″) Measure and cut one shelf. Assemble the top, sides, and one cut shelf on a flat surface to make sure it fits properly. Once you have confirmed that shelf is the right width, use it as a template to cut the other two, so they are the exact same size.
This is where I made my mistake! I used the scrap piece as my template and the saw at Home Depot wasn’t 100% square, so I ended up with shelves that were 1/16″ smaller than the first one. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it meant the sides would be bowed if we tried to force it. And we figured that out after we assembled part of it, so it was annoying. We took the shelf apart, though, and made sure all pieces were cut to the right dimension.
On the bottom side of the top and each shelf, drill two pocket holes with the Kreg Pocket Hole Jig on each side. These are to insert screws to attach the shelves to the side. Here’s how they look on the underside of the shelves…
Cut the 1 x 2s to size on a miter/chop saw and attach as trim with finishing nails. These boards will hide the raw plywood edges and make the shelf look more finished. Typically, we build a face frame, but this was a quicker, easier option and it worked because we were planning to attach the shelf to the wall for additional support.
If the shelf is going over baseboards, measure and mark the wood that needs to be cut out to accommodate the baseboards on each side. Cut out with a jigsaw or hand saw.
Before moving the shelf into the room where it will be installed, give it a good sanding with 100-150-180-220 sandpaper, progressing from rougher to smoother paper. This can be done by hand or with an orbital sander. It just smooths out all of the edges and the plywood, so it will feel nicer once it’s primed and painted.
You can also prime and paint it prior to installing the shelf, but I decided to paint it after installation since it was so cold outside that day.
At this point, the shelf isn’t sturdy enough on its own. To make it a free-standing shelf, it needs a back and more support under the shelves. Because it’s built-in, we’re using the wall as our back and will attach additional shelf supports directly into the wall.
I would also advise setting your shelf height based on any outlets and vents that you have on your wall! You can see I cut right down the middle of one of my outlets. It wasn’t a big deal but would’ve been better/smarter all around if I had paid attention to that.
If you notice on the plans, I don’t specify the shelf height. That is because you can set them at whatever heights work for what you’re storing. If you’re storing books, measure the tallest book, etc. My shelves are between 10-12″.
To attached to the wall, cut 1 x 2s to the width of each shelf (or just a little smaller.) Push the shelf tight against the wall and hold the 1 x 2 under the top shelf. Nail into the wall with finishing nails. Nail through the top of the shelf down into the 1×2 support. Repeat with all other shelves except the bottom one. In our case, that rested on a baseboard. These 1 x 2s will add stability to the shelf, reduce the risk of bowing in the shelves, and prevent the shelf from tipping.
And that’s it! This certainly isn’t a fancy shelf or a fine piece of furniture, but it’s perfect if you need some storage in a specific space. And, even with my mistakes and some amount of winging-it going on, we finished the shelf in a couple of hours. Done was better than perfect in this case!
And it’s done a brilliant job holding my yarn…
What home projects are on your to-tackle list while you’re at home?
If you’re interested in more building posts, you can find them here…