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Build Shelves

Build Shelves

By: Craig Rogers, Posted: , Section: Creative Renovations

SHELVE IT

Built-in shelving requires opening up a wall and then constructing a basic shelf case inside the space. Before removing any wall studs, be sure that the wall is not load-bearing. Exterior load-bearing walls aren’t appropriate for built-in cases because removal of the wall eliminates insulation (and would require construction of a load-bearing header). If you want to locate shelves over a load-bearing wall, then build the case over the studs like a piece of furniture. For quick visual reference material as you work, try sketching your design on paper or diagram it on a computer.

Measurements for building a shelf

DEMOLISH A WALL

Before cutting into a wall, disconnect electrical power in case you accidentally run into a wire.

STEP 1

Outline the planned shelf on the wall using painter’s tape, a T-square, and a pencil.

STEP 2

Seal off the work area with large vinyl sheeting for dust control.

STEP 3

Cut through the wallboard for access to the studs. Pry the wallboard off the studs with a flat bar.

STEP 4

Try to remove all the wallboard in large sections to minimize dust and debris.

STEP 5

Use a multi-tool with a flush-cut blade to cut through the nails holding the wallboard against all the studs on the opposite side of the wall. Then remove the wall studs from the area where you want to build.

CREATE A CASE

With your opening ready, it’s time for the case.

STEP 1

Cut a couple of the old studs as trimmer studs, which will frame the new shelves. Make sure to install the studs perfectly plumb.

STEP 2

STEP 3

Use as few screws as you can to minimize wood-putty repairs. Clamp the plywood in place while the adhesive dries by tacking on temporary 2×4 cleats along the edges.

STEP 4

For the foundation, screw together 2×4 stud material in a rectangular box and strengthen it with blocking. This “toe-kick” box raises the bottom shelf a few inches off the floor and makes room for decorative base molding at the bottom. Screw the box into the lower plywood panel.

STEP 5 

These shelves are designed with 1¼-inch nosing (½ inch overhanging the ¾-inch shelves), so fasten a layer of ½-inch plywood over the box to raise the bottom shelf. 

STEP 6

Install the side panels. Mount them into the trimmer studs with 3-inch self-countersinking screws. The sides must be perfectly plumb and square to the back. The sides can be made from ¾-inch solid wood or plywood.

MAKE YOUR SHELVES

Shelves are often constructed of stain-grade ¾-inch plywood or solid wood. Nosing or edging can be added to the edge of plywood shelves to achieve the look of solid wood.

STEP 1

Rip the shelves to width and length using a table saw or a circular saw equipped with a ripping guide. If adding ¾-inch nosing, cut the shelves ¾ inch narrower than the sides of the case to leave room. Rip the ¾-inch solid wood nosing (1½ inches wide in this case), and cut it at length to match the shelves. You can attach the shelves to the back of the case with pocket holes, then each can be supported from beneath with a horizontal cleat. Screws driven into each end will provide extra support at the sides.

STEP 2

Decide if the pocket holes will go on the top or bottom of the shelves. For the top, you’ll need wood plugs to hide the screws. If you choose the bottom, the shelves won’t have as much holding power with the screw heads angled downward (but support cleats should solve the problem). Use a pocket-hole jig to guide a stepped drill bit, spacing the pocket holes 12 to 18 inches apart along the sides and back.

STEP 3

Finish-sand the shelves in the direction of the wood grain, progressing to finer paper to at least 220- grit. Dust with a tack cloth, then apply wood stain and polyurethane sealer.

INSTALL THE SHELVES

Now that you’ve built your shelves for your wall case, it’s time to put them in their proper place.

STEP 1

Start at the bottom. The first shelf rests on the toe-kick box. Instead of using pocket screws, it’s fastened through the face using countersunk trim-head screws. The tiny screw heads are easy to hide with wood filler.

STEP 2

Locate the next shelf to conceal the joint between the plywood panels in the rear of the case. Once this critical shelf has been mounted, use it as a control point to install the remaining shelves at an equal distance apart from each other. (Note: The top shelf typically has some extra overhead space as room for storing any larger items.)

STEP 3

When installing, make sure the shelves are level in every direction. It helps to have an assistant, or use clamps and cabinet jacks, to hold the shelves during installation.

STEP 4

Fasten the shelves tightly along their edges using pocket screws and a pocket driver bit. When locating the shelves, remember that if your shelf nosing is taller than the shelves, then the vertical midpoint of that completed shelf will not be the same as the center point of the plywood (nose-less) shelf. You’ll need to account for this during the layout or your measurements will be off.

STEP 5

Once all shelves are mounted, install the nosing (stained and varnished to match). Make sure the upper edge of the nosing is flush with the shelf surface.

STEP 6

Fasten the nosing with wood glue and finish nails.

STEP 7

If you have installed the pocket screws from below the shelf, you can further support each shelf with a full-length horizontal support strip or “cleat” measuring roughly 1 x 3/8 inch. Rip this strip from solid wood, then fasten it flush against the underside of the shelf with a combination of wood glue and pin nails.

ADD TRIM WORK

The trim package that encloses the shelves can be as simple or as elaborate as you want.

STEP 1

The case shown below has vertical face-frames ripped to 2 inches wide that cover up the edges of the side panels. These face-frames were nailed to the case sides as well as to the nosing of the shelves, with their outer edges flush with the sides. Face-frames can give visual weight to a case for a more substantial look.

STEP 2

The toe-kick box was wrapped with baseboard molding mitered at the outside corners. The new trim was matched the room’s existing baseboard profile and intersected it with cope joints.

STEP 3

At the top, a “cap” panel of plywood hid the ceiling. The top of the case is then wrapped using a 1×6 that was mitered at the corners to serve as fascia for the case. Additional moldings are used to decorate the top and add shadow lines.

STEP 4

Pre-primed cove molding lines the sides of the case to conceal the joint against the wall for a finished appearance.

STEP 5

Once all trim was installed, fastener holes were puttied and all joints were all caulked as well. Repairs were sanded before a final coat of paint.

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