How to Build Wall to Wall Shelves When You Don't Have A Clue

The Finished Project

Not stained, not painted... just bare wood.
Not stained, not painted... just bare wood.

When a Computer Nerd Builds Shelves:


It's been a long time, but here I am again, with another project. This time it was a custom-built set of bookshelves to go around our TV. Mom decided to tear out the closets and central shelves, in order to create more space.

This was not a brief thing. She put a ton of work into the room before I even got involved. She worked on the floor, grouting, tiling, and cleaning. Painted the room. At times she shanghaied Monique into the project.

Mostly I was left out. For the main part, all my friends and family accept my limitations. I can move things. Carry stuff. Perform manual labor. Don't expect high craftsmanship from me, though. I can build things that won't fall over... but I lean strongly to functional. Not fancy.

Thor better just watch his back!

Can we embarrass me any more?
Can we embarrass me any more?

Me and the Tiny Hammer


My first responsibility was to tear out the closets. Once they got far enough along, Mom and Monique originally thought it would be simple to knock the walls out. What they didn't realize was how securely and permanently those closets were built.

Initially, I thought a 4-pound hammer would knock out the sheetrock. After plinking away to no real effect, it was time to step things up. So I got the 8-pound sledgehammer out. Better, at least it knocked out the sheetrock effectively. But the 2x4's were anchored like Redwood trees. Eventually, it took a combination of the 16-pound sledgehammer and a hand-saw. After the dust settled, the closets had disappeared forever.

(Oh, and before you ask... Monique took pictures of me plinking away with the 4-pounder. But nobody took one single shot of me kicking butt with the 16-pounder. So all I have to show you is pics of me with the tiny hammer.)

How Can You Tell?

Easy, just knock 'em down, and see if the ceiling stays in place.
Easy, just knock 'em down, and see if the ceiling stays in place.

Are These Timbers Load-Bearing?


Monique asked me at one point if maybe the timbers were 'load-bearing.' I told her I didn't know, but we'd find out in a few minutes. She was not as amused as I was.

You might note a certain 'lack' in my carpentry knowledge. Rest assured, my actual practical skills are far worse. I've never had that 'guy gene' that most guys are born with. Most home projects result in me breaking important things. Like fingers, or knees. With the closets, I wound up with a major bruise that covered most of my right shin, and didn't go away for several weeks. Must have done it with the sledgehammers, but didn't realize until the next morning.

My Bright Blue Bean Bag Chair

This was my 'payment' for building the shelves!
This was my 'payment' for building the shelves!

Why Yes, I own a Bright Blue Beanbag Chair


Back to the project at hand, though. Mom and Monique continued once the closets were clear. After they did their part, it was back to me again. I really don't know what I'm doing, but my task was to create a wall-to-wall bookshelf with custom sections. It needed to accommodate the television/stand, her record collection, our video collection, and the cd's. Plus a few dinner trays, an ottoman, and my bean-bag chair.

In case you're wondering why an over-50 computer nerd has a bean-bag chair... Mom promised me one if I built the shelves. Sounded like a fair deal to me. I happen to like them. So mine's bright blue, and has it's own storage space in the shelves.

Evolution of a Plan

In the Beginning- this was the template I made for Mom.
In the Beginning- this was the template I made for Mom.
This was how she wanted things to fit.
This was how she wanted things to fit.
And the Final Draft.
And the Final Draft.

First things first: Measure the Room


In the meantime, the gauntlet had been thrown. Now I had to build a major project. First, measurements. I mean, that makes sense, right? So I got the width of the room, the height, and figured out that I had about 40" on either side of the tv.

Next, a rough sketch with these measurements, including the tv. Then I made 4 copies of this sketch. Gave it to Mom with instructions to make a rough drawing of what she wanted to go where. I figured with 4 sheets, she could change her mind several times and start over.

Make Sure; Then Make Sure You're Sure


Monique assured me that she and Mom already knew what went where, and had hammered out the details in advance. But since Mom gave me at least two sets of conflicting instructions while I was making the first measurements, I thought maybe her plans had shifted. We double-checked.

Yes. Yes, those plans had changed. I felt vindicated. No way was I getting yelled at for doing it wrong... put it down in writing. Now it's back to me. Using grid-lined paper, a metal straight-edge, pencil and eraser, I went back to the days of my youth. Before computers. Yep... drew the plans up completely by hand. To scale. Slowly, with lots of thought, and a bit of erasing.

Back in my day in the Air Force, I was in graphics, and we had to do everything manually. Guess it was natural that, faced with a project, I reverted to old habits.

One of the Home Depot printouts

Mom could page through the document and see each and every item I planned to use.
Mom could page through the document and see each and every item I planned to use.

Attention to Detail Equals an Accurate Cost Estimate


Drew the plans, calculated the material, added a few tools. Went to the Home Depot website. Printed out every different item, and wrote on that page how many of each. Came up with a 6-page proposal, at an estimated cost of $270.00. When we actually bought the materials, we used a 10% discount coupon, and the cost was $255.00.

For someone who doesn't know what he's doing, that went rather well. After shopping with Mom for 2 hours at Home Depot (do I get combat pay?), she took off to get some lunch. Monique and I unloaded the Jeep. Then Monique wants to know if we're going to start 'today'? I said yes... I've already put over 2 hours into shopping and unloading. Not even counting the days and days of designing the plan and calculating the costs.

A Nerd and his Dog

Pixie may be tiny, but she's a Great Dane in her mind!
Pixie may be tiny, but she's a Great Dane in her mind!

Wish I Had Inherited More of Dad's Abilities


Remember, I SAID I didn't know what I was doing. My Dad could have designed this whole thing in his head, given me point by point instructions... and guided me through the whole project in a couple of hours. Without ever writing anything down. No, I'm not exaggerating. We've done it. From pile of lumber, to finished project. Dad sitting on a chair, telling me every measurement, cut, and how to assemble it. It was amazing.

You'd think I could have inherited the genes of a master craftsman. If not all his genes, at least a few. And Mom comes from a hard-working, self-sufficient farming background. So what do they get? A son who's good with computers. Go figure.

Finally building the shelves

This is for the right half.
This is for the right half.
Assembled, but not yet installed.
Assembled, but not yet installed.

A Non-Standard Approach


Back to the topic. Sunday, I went out with tools, lumber, and plans. Measured, cut, calculated. Monique has commented in the past, I have a weird approach to projects. I always have a plan, but it rarely makes sense, until it's finished. This went the same. Even looking at my 'blueprint', she didn't really understand it. Until it was time to start putting pieces together.

First up was the right side. Got the bones of it assembled, and suddenly all those odd pieces looked like a bookshelf. Since we were using Pine, it was pretty lightweight.

I made the bottom shelves about one foot wide, because they were going to hold full-sized record albums. The higher shelves were six inches, since they only had to hold videos and CDs. To get that wider base, I used two vertical 6" boards, and attached them with braces. That seemed easier than trying to take a 12" board and trim six inches off the top 2 thirds.

Fits in just fine

After I kicked it a couple of times!
After I kicked it a couple of times!

Never Underestimate the Effectiveness of a Good Solid Kick


And before you ask, yes, I accounted for the real-world size and thickness of the lumber. Left room to fudge things. Which is good. Remember above, where I mentioned 40" on each side of the TV stand? In real life, it turned out more like 38 inches. I had intuitively compromised, and made it 38 and one half. If I'd gone for 38 inches it would have been perfect. As it was, thank goodness it was only half an inch too large on each side. A couple of good solid kicks, and they fit in perfectly.

Okay, so maybe a cable or power cord got crimped. And the Wii quit working. Thankfully, Monique has fabulous practical skills. She moved the cables around, cleaned the Wii and got it running again. Back in business.

Almost Done

Just fitting the top two shelves on.  This is where the two separate halves become one unit.
Just fitting the top two shelves on. This is where the two separate halves become one unit.

Another Project (Sort of) Well Done By the Computer Guy


All that was left was to put the top two pieces on. By this time, I was getting pretty tired. So instead of screwing everything in, like I'd done with the rest of it, I cheated. Popped it in with a couple of nails. And some Elmer's glue.

And yes, if you can't tell, until this point, every single piece that's attached to any other piece is done so with wood screws. They make the shelves stronger than plain nails, and since I'm mistake-prone, allow me to take things back apart if they don't work well. I avoided splitting the wood by pre-drilling each hole.

I put small 1x2" bracers under each shelf. The structural support shelves are tightly screwed into place. The top few shelves are just dropped onto the bracers, and can easily be removed for a taller space.

Mom was ecstatic. It turned out exactly how she wanted. On the one hand, that's not surprising, since I made her draw out her idea of what goes where. On the other hand, this was entirely my project, designed and built by me... so the fact that it actually worked was astonishing!

Finished, and filling the shelves with junk

Mom and Pixie supervised.
Mom and Pixie supervised.

Could I Be (Gasp) Developing Skills?


To be honest, I've always taken a sort of 'backwards pride' in my lack of the guy gene. But it seems I might be losing my edge. I mean, I even used real Sawhorses! Always before, a couple of chairs or convenient stack of something was good enough. Now I've got... sawhorses! And a real carpenter's square, and even a right-angle attachment for my drill. I'm not only using tools, I'm using the RIGHT tools! Dad always said "Use the right tool for the right job." I never really understood him before.

I'm scared to tell Dad. After all these years of being a klutz, he probably won't believe me. And to top it all off... I didn't get hurt. No injuries. Not even a bruise.

A friend suggested maybe I was becoming... competent. Lord forbid! The only thing worse than hating projects and being bad at them... would be hating projects and being good at them!!!

Still, as long as I HAVE to build something, at least I can take a bit of pride in it!

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Comments 18 comments

akirchner profile image

akirchner 4 years ago from Central Oregon

Seriously....I only wish I'd been there! Good lord you should be writing comedy! No pictures with the "big" hammer....too funny. You and Bob would get along well. When he was putting in the Costco shed outside in the dead of winter mind you--I could still hear him through the windows while I was WORKING with headphones on swearing up a blue streak. He reminded me of the Christmas Story and Darrin McGavin....he always gives me the caveat..."well at least it's still standing..." Always what you want to hear from a carpenter--I'm SO hiring that guy!

I give you guys a lot of credit though....I've tried in our married life a couple of times with the tools...I'd best stick to kitchen tools and even that can come round on me if I'm not careful....like the time I overloaded the pressure cooker and screamed "in-coming" and hit the floor.....we all have our strengths...and we all have our limitations. But I'm thinking you definitely are competent if you have mastered tools and have not gotten hurt. I'm going to have to let my son and my husband read this so perhaps they can gain confidence...but I say we should keep the secret to ourselves. We don't want you guys getting a stampede of orders!

Thanks so much for the laughs- I truly needed them today!


Crewman6 profile image

Crewman6 4 years ago Author

I think you're right; in our conversations, I definitely get the feeling I'd be very comfortable with Bob. Except I usually internalize; instead of cussing, I sit down at the piano and bang songs out fast and loud. (With a strong leaning to southern gospel music!)

I'd have loved to seen the pressure cooker incident... just imagining it makes me chuckle. I'm glad you got a laugh- sometimes a good laugh can really turn a bad mood around.


akirchner profile image

akirchner 4 years ago from Central Oregon

I rarely have bad moods....with me sometimes it's sad moods but not so much anymore~ I do love a good laugh though...and now I just had another...tool belt strapped on and you sitting at the piano playing gospel music as loud and fast as you can~ Good heavens that's a hoot--no harm intended.

Maybe I should try that with my accordion...and yes I still have one with my NAME on it...so something goes wrong with the mals or in the kitchen, and I just whip out my accordion and start frantically playing Beer Barrel Polka...on second thought probably not wise with mals. They are howlers although I AM trying to get them to do it on command....hmmm...more thoughts on that one.

On the pressure cooker incident, I was making enough food for an army but only a regiment was coming...old joke about my cooking. It was Bob's sister Mrs. Perfect and her husband and some other people. I had a famous recipe for baked beans that I did in the pressure cooker with salt pork....but at the last minute, I got worried that I didn't have enough so I did a typical Audrey move....I was tired from stripping wallpaper off the wall, cleaning the house like a lunatic and the 3 kids were all in the living room about to go to bed when I put on the beans.

As I say, I got worried so I added a wee bit more than I should have, closed the lid and turned it on. Mind you, our house was only 800 square feet...oh...and I'd sent Bob out the door to the grocery store to get ONE MORE THING that I had to have for his sister's arrival the next afternoon......so as I'm taking care of the kids, I hear this whistling sound...not like the usual rocking sound that the top of the pressure cooker makes....and I peeked around the corner to see a piece of salt pork STUCK in the top about to blow out the hole.....so having been a watcher of MASH for years...I did what I thought best...I screamed INCOMING and threw myself on the floor with the 3 kids....whereupon I gave them strict orders to STAY DOWN as I military crawled into the kitchen, stuck my arm up on the counter and unplugged the about-to-explode (I think) pressure cooker.

Of course about this time who opens the kitchen door and stands there looking at me with his mouth hanging open.....I give him great kudos for living with Lucille Ball--I really do. I ended up emptying the thing after about 4 hours when I felt it might be safe to open it...and cooking them on the stove. I don't think I used a pressure cooker for another 15 years after that little "episode." Bob says his only regret was that he hadn't been about 2 or 3 minutes earlier though to hear me scream INCOMING and hit the floor with the 3 kids. They thought it was some new game I guess....good lord!


Crewman6 profile image

Crewman6 4 years ago Author

Okay, I take it back. I wouldn't just like to have seen that... I'd have bought tickets to the event! (And Beer Barrel Polka is a GREAT song to play- wonderful for cheering up with.)

Getting to play the piano can be a bit difficult at times- conflicting schedules, sleeping, tv, reading... sometimes I've got the urge to play, but not the access. But Monique just bought me a digital piano, to arrive mid September... be on the lookout for a hub!


akirchner profile image

akirchner 4 years ago from Central Oregon

ha ha - how I wish--I'd be rich~ It would get a billion hits on YouTube..Bob always says that now...too bad we didn't have a video of that particular Audrey moment.

Neat on that digital piano!!! Bob bought me one about 8 years ago and I do play--only no gospel music~~~ I love it even though I'm kind of a mechanical player. But it helps me a lot to fool around with the rhythms and things. I don't get to play much either but I was so surprised after 15 years of not playing---gave my other piano to Patrick when he went to college---I could still read music! Bob is the only person I play for though--I seem to have some kind of performance anxiety when playing it from way back when I was a kid--I sometimes will play in front of Pat too---but Bob's my biggest fan---even if I really suck, he always gives me a compliment! Definitely tag me when you do the hub---digital is so cool....my mom comes here though and she and Pat sure light it up on my piano~~


Crewman6 profile image

Crewman6 4 years ago Author

That sounds awesome- I can't read sheet music. (maybe a little if I struggle for a while.) But with the new piano, I'm going to try and improve. My uncle was the pianist in the family. He couldn't go to any church in south georgia or northern florida without being recognized and having to play. My home church is having a memorial/tribute to him in October... wouldn't you know my Mom is making me play. What is it about parents?

Though it sounds like yours has a great knack on the keys!


akirchner profile image

akirchner 4 years ago from Central Oregon

Yes, my mom is very, very good--she's 84 but she has been a piano teacher all her life. I was supposed to be "very good" because she started me at 4 years old. Unfortunately, it became a source of great anxiety (apparently) for me I think because my sis and I were her "business cards"--at least that's what I surmise with all this performance anxiety over it. I was in band as a teenager and did okay there playing the clarinet (no spot for the accordionist~~~ and the piano was hard to wheel down the street...ha ha)---but I think that was because I was part of a group--except the solos did the same kind of thing to me only shorter periods of time since everyone joined back in!!

I only wish one of these days I could play with total abandon - that would be a wonderful gift to give myself because I love to play and I love music--it's just that it has become such a source of negative anxiety for me--well.....just bugs me as I don't like anything to "beat" me. I keep asking Bob to get some shorts and clogs and a felt hat....and learn to do German dances....then I'd gladly go on the back of a truck through town at Christmas and play the accordion...only of course if my malamutes could come along and howl as well~ In another universe perhaps~~~


Crewman6 profile image

Crewman6 4 years ago Author

It's a shame such a wonderful form of expression has become so difficult. Knowing you, I'm sure you'll get the better of it sooner or later.

Oh, and should you ever get Bob in lederhosen while you accordioned from the back of a truck while the dogs howled... I want tickets for the front row.

The portability has always been an issue for pianists. Though I've seen some spectacular youtube videos of people playing old beat up pianos on public thoroughfares. I prefer privacy when playing, but in a pinch, will play for others. Going to do better with the new digital piano- I'm not great, but not bad either. Going to start improving, and putting songs up on youtube for the world's opinion.

One more thing... Can you teach chihuahuas to howl? As a puppy, ours howled at music. But now she's old and surly, and just bosses everybody around.


akirchner profile image

akirchner 4 years ago from Central Oregon

OMG - the howling chihuahua....and yes you can....I'm in the process of teaching Griffin to howl (and Gabby) on command. Mind you they howl...as in all the time and all in the wrong situations. So I thought it would be amusing to try and teach them to howl when I SAY howl.

It's coming along..I'm working on a video for YouTube and a hub about it though at the moment my left arm is scratched from stem to stern (long story...what does that have to do with howling....well you see I was teaching Griff to sit in his lawn chair, to howl AND to put his paw on my notebook---all at the same time because I am a multitasking idiot~) He goes frantic for treats....

You see, that is the key - at least starting out--when you want them to LEARN the behavior, you have to supply a reward of some type...so I started out by making howling noises and then if he responded, I praised him and gave him a treat...the latest--cooked carrots. He seems to be addicted to them! So we will see how it goes--with Griff though it's a matter of him paying attention. He is so food fixated that as soon as he does 1 thing right, he begins to go through every trick he knows...hence the arm scratching up one side and down the other--he was letting me know he seriously wanted more treats and he was doing everything he knew HOW to do to get them...OMG--that's what I get for multi-tasking.

Gabby on the other hand was rather a quieter study as she has been told a thousand times a day to be quiet and now I'm asking her TO HOWL. OMG - she was a bit timid but the more cooked carrots I offered, the better (and louder) she got~ No arm scratching thankfully though and I was working on that one as well~~~

Let me know when you post ANY of your YouTube vids...especially with the howling chihuahua...now if I could play my accordion for her....I think probably my old girl Denaya is NOT going to do the howling for me either though...she's just too stubborn these days and I figure it's a miracle that she just puts up with those 2 looney tunes~


Crewman6 profile image

Crewman6 4 years ago Author

That's amazing- it never occurred to me to ASK my dogs to yodel! Pixie's too mean to bark except when using it to control the others. Scarlett's the grumpy maiden aunt who only barks strategically. Bark. Silence. A couple of minutes later. Bark. (Yes, I wanted to go out NOW. THIS bark is just to let you know I've messed the floor and need you to come in and clean my room.)

Then there's Tootsie, the Schnauzer. She's talkative. Her barks are expressive. She does a Sean Connery impersonation that has our guests howling. Seriously...I don' know where she learned to roll those RRRR's.

Griff sounds very eager to please. Or hungry. Maybe once he knows how to put his paw on your Notebook, you can teach him to write hubs. Not sure if I can ever get Pixie to do anything that wasn't her idea first... but I'll be sure and let you know when any Youtube videos (Dog OR Piano) are forthcoming. For a brief preview, here's an old Christmas video of the dogs being dressed up (with my piano music in the background!)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfIi2wUq6UY


akirchner profile image

akirchner 4 years ago from Central Oregon

Okay - my dogs are totally on my case now....they happened by while I was watching the video and Griff said in no uncertain terms..do not even THINK about going there, mom~ I dress them up with antlers and they have a cow! Or a malamute~

Too funny and what cute, cute dogs....in all their finery. My poor dogs are panting nonstop even in winter so as much as I would dearly LOVE to put on some santa clothes...I wonder if I could get away with it though for some snapshots for the Christmas card line!

You play very well indeed---I would be stuttering through mine with a few expletives in the background where I messed up - oh - missed that F sharp~

Kinda put me in the mood for Christmas---and coincidentally I just lugged out all my Christmas stuff while Bob's at the show selling our photos tomorrow...to take pictures for our maybe Christmas card line. We'll see how that goes...and I also have my poor dogs pegged to sigh...wear the antlers and the hats again guys....I had to make up a special batch of cooked carrots just for the occasion.

And definitely if I ever make it to the "big time" riding on the back of the semi in our little town's Christmas parade and Bob's up there and I'm playing the accordion...I'll send out invites 2 months in advance...and provide warm drinks all around~


Crewman6 profile image

Crewman6 4 years ago Author

Our Schnauzer loves any attention, even wearing clothes. The other two aren't so easy. I'm a lot more willing to risk their displeasure when they're small dogs. Malamutes might be a little to risky for me!

I appreciate the compliment; my playing is decent in a down-home back-woods kind of way. I'll never be great, but I have a lot of fun.

And yes, hearing Christmas music kind of started the seasonal mood kicking in early. I'm not entirely certain what mulled cider is, but I find myself craving it. Maybe you could include that with your show!


akirchner profile image

akirchner 4 years ago from Central Oregon

Ha ha - ah yes...the cold is approaching - we are at 46 degrees this morning after being at 100 degrees for weeks--but at least the fire smoke is gone---might actually get some decent pics if we're lucky in the next week or so!

Mulled cider - ah yes - good but haven't made it in years....mulled wine is another great one ---need to find my recipes~ Great chatting with you and you play VERY well indeed--at least you play and that's the main thing. I have to remind myself each and every time I sit at the piano that it's a gift I can give myself with NO strings attached and just to have fun with it~

And indeed on wrestling malamutes into clothing...although Griffin does have a THUNDER SHIRT and no not because he's a macho dude....he becomes hysterical at the slightest thing so we bought him one at our dog trainer's recommendation. I thought she was "all wet" - what would the poor thing want MORE on for....in short, it doesn't work--he's still hysterical over certain dogs, certain situations--but maybe we'll give it a try on poor old Denaya when the thunderstorms kick in again~ She'll probably chew my arm off trying to get it on her but oh well....what's another arm? ha ha - luckily mine don't bite---most of the time.....


Crewman6 profile image

Crewman6 4 years ago Author

Cold weather... I remember it too well. It's too cold for me here in the South, I don't envy your temperatures up there.

I had wondered about the Thunder Shirts. Too bad it didn't work for Griff. Our Scarlett goes into panics during storms.

Thanks for the compliments; you're right, music is a gift we give ourselves!


akirchner profile image

akirchner 4 years ago from Central Oregon

And to top it all off...Griff just looks like an idiot in it~ I'm sure that is part of the problem...his self image....omg - I need to get a life I guess~


Crewman6 profile image

Crewman6 4 years ago Author

Maybe you could tie a super-hero cape to it? :^)


akirchner profile image

akirchner 4 years ago from Central Oregon

ha ha - just what he needs---more ego~ Maybe it would help--who knows...he is my little boy who weighs 95 pounds and could easily drag me down to the ground - thankfully he always listens to me!!! Well, most of the time when it's important~~ Mals never listen all the time - that would be a contradiction.


Crewman6 profile image

Crewman6 4 years ago Author

Like Schnauzers love to talk. Just can't change some things!

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