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How To Make Built-In and Adjustable Shelves

Updated on April 2, 2017
Nathanville profile image

My aims with DIY projects around the home are looking for innovative space saving ideas and saving costs on materials by recycling.

Adjustable Shelves with a Hewn Effect

Step By Step Guide to Make and Fit

This is rather an ambitious project in that it mixes new with old and blends the two; but the principles are simple and can be easily adapted for making simple shelving for anything you wish; whether it be a book case, or shelves to store DVDs, CDs, or display your best ornaments.

To match and blend the shelving unit with our old built-in cupboard and shelving required creating a hewn effect; something I'd never done before and for which I knew little about. On searching the Internet I couldn't find anything useful on this subject, just a few websites on using the axe to hewn oak beams; which in this case would be inappropriate. So after some experimenting I devised my own simple and effective technique of using a jig saw to hew the wooden shelves, as demonstrated below.

How to Build and Hew Shelves Video Guide

Visual step-by-step guide on making shelving; including hewing and wood staining to match existing cupboard and shelf unit.

The above video was made with my son’s help. Having recently passed his degree in 'Broadcast Media' has set up his own photographic and film production business 'Proper Job Productions' and kindly volunteered to film the progress of this project for me. After doing the 'colour correction' and 'white balance' he passed the film clips to me for final editing and production; multimedia being a hobby of mine.

Preparation and Decoration

Removing Shelves to be Replaced and Painting Wall and Ceiling

Good preparation and making the finishing touches to any DIY Project goes a long way to making the difference between a 'job done' and a 'job well done'.

In this project the first step is to remove the two shelving units added over the years and take it back to the original drinks bar and shelves. Then after brushing down, washing and cleaning the areas to be painted, paint the ceiling and the wall (which is to act as a backdrop for the new shelving); painting the wall with white emulsion and the wooden slats above the bar in white gloss.

Normally I'd back a freestanding shelf unit or bookcase with hardboard or 3mm (1/8 inch) plywood which can give added strength and stability to a free standing unit; but as these shelves are to be built-in, with an existing wall mirror behind some of the shelving, and as I aim to match the new style with the existing cupboard and shelves, the wall will act as the backing for these shelves.

I don't normally paint shelves because once painted always painted; and anything painted has to be repainted once every five to ten years to keep it good. I normally prefer a wood finish not only because it looks natural but also because (apart from a bit of dusting and an occasional polish) it's maintenance free. I generally prefer the lighter wood effects such as oak and teak; but not pine as I feel it's too light. To achieve this effect I'd often rub teak oil into the wood and finish with a coat of beeswax applied with 'fine wire wool'; and if using 3mm plywood backing rub teak oil into that too, which brings it up to a rich oak like effect.

However on this occasion, as I'm matching new with old I need to use a dark wood stain and will be using 'Jacobean Walnut' by Sadolin, a durable oil based exterior wood stain.

If making a built-in unit where the wall is the backing then I always paint the wall white specifically to reflect maximum light making it easier to see what's at the back of the cupboard.

Rockwell RK5102K SoniCrafter Deluxe 72-Piece Oscillating Tool Kit
Rockwell RK5102K SoniCrafter Deluxe 72-Piece Oscillating Tool Kit

I’ve had one of these for a few years now, and have found it be an excellent tool for working in areas where other tools can’t. I particular, I used my SoniCrafter to cut back the two wooden shelf wall supports (with ease) without having to unscrew them from the wall.

 

Replacing Two Wall Supported Shelves

Previously Designed For Wine and Sherry Glasses

As part of the preparation prior to repainting the walls I also needed to shorten the two original side shelf supports.

The two original wall shelves were just 75mm (3 inches) wide. Their only support was from the back by a baton screwed to the wall, therefore they didn't have the strength to hold anything heavy; just the wine and sherry glasses they were designed for.

As part of the new build I replaced these with two new wall shelves 100mm (4 inches) wide and supported them from the sides as well as the back. To make these shelves butt against the new shelving unit I was building I needed to trim a little off of the shelf supports. Rather than taking the whole lot off the wall and cutting the supports to length in my workshop I decided to use my SoniCrafter as an expedient and efficient way of making the adjustments; as shown in the video demonstration below.

The new shelves were then hewn on the leading edge to match the rest of the design, keeping the existing batons as back supports, and adding extra support to the side by fixing the wall shelves on the cupboard side with dowel and glue. This was done by drilling holes into the edge of the wood and corresponding holes in the adjoining wood (as described in detail below). Once all the other shelving units were assembled (for their final fit) the sides were glued and fixed to the side panel support of the new adjoining shelf unit with a couple of nails (from a nail gun).

I could have made these two original shelves wider than 4 inches, but as they are above the cupboard top (what was originally the bar area) if they were any wider they would protrude out too far, potentially making the cupboard top slightly less functional and would also make the whole cupboard area less aesthetic.

Wall Shelves
Wall Shelves

Using the SoniCrafter Saw to Cut Shelf Supports Fixed To Wall

Wall Shelves

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Two replacement wall shelves, test fitted with the other shelving positioned.Adjustable shelves with hewn effect.
Two replacement wall shelves, test fitted with the other shelving positioned.
Two replacement wall shelves, test fitted with the other shelving positioned.
Adjustable shelves with hewn effect.
Adjustable shelves with hewn effect.
Evolution Power Tools RAGE 230 9-Inch TCT Multipurpose Cutting Circular Saw
Evolution Power Tools RAGE 230 9-Inch TCT Multipurpose Cutting Circular Saw

As shown and illustrated above, this is the beast I used. Far better than any ordinary circular saw, especially as it will cut through hidden nails in old wood without effort; a very versatile circular saw worth every cent.

 

Cutting Wood to Required Length and Width

Measure Twice and Cut Once

Preparation is essential, ensure all the required tools and materials are too hand and plan beforehand how you intend tackling the DIY Project.

Normally if you were making a standalone cupboard or bookcase you could draw detailed plans and cut all the wood to the required lengths and widths at the start. However, with built-in furniture walls are never straight and square, and quite often neither are the ceilings or floors. Therefore, it’s prudent to measure, cut and test fit the wood in stages; as I’ve done for this DIY Project.

In order to ensure the cuts are straight and square use a square on a straight edge for cutting wood with a hand saw and use the square to ensure the blades on your electrical saws are square; and for accurate measurement when marking out for cutting ensure you keep your pencil sharp.

For cutting the width I don’t have a rip-saw or rip-saw bench but with a bit of ingenuity it is possible to accurately cut wood width using a standard circular saw with parallel guide and using clamps to hold the wood securely to a suitable bench. Using just one clamp at the end of the wood will not work as the wood will just slide sideways as you’re using the circular saw. However, placing two clamps (firmly tightened) close together near the end of the wood does work; and when the saw reaches the end stop and reposition the clamps to a new location behind the saw so that you can finish the cut (see pictures below).

Using a workbench or portable workbench may be ideal but if you don’t have a portable workbench or you intend cutting a long piece of wood a large and sturdy patio table can do the job equally well. However, when cutting wood in this way always triple check that the part of the wood being cut juts out far enough so that there is no risk of you accidentally cutting into your workbench or patio table.

Safety First – Always wear appropriate protective clothing, most particularly in this case protective goggles and before you switch on your electric circular saw double check the electric cable is behind you with no risk of accidentally being cut by the saw and at all times during the cut be conscious of where the cable is and that it stays safely behind you. I always make a point of ensuring the electric cable from the main power source is behind my legs and that I’m cutting the wood away from that power source to help ensure the cable always stays well away from the saw and in a safe position.

Cutting wood with a circular saw
Cutting wood with a circular saw

Cutting Timber to Width with a Circular Saw

Measuring and Cutting Wood

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Using Square to ensure blade to electric circular saw is square.Cutting wood width with circular saw with parallel guide and clamps to secure to patio bench.A piece of wood cut to length with a circular saw.Using my Evolution Rage circular saw to cut the wood to the correct width.
Using Square to ensure blade to electric circular saw is square.
Using Square to ensure blade to electric circular saw is square.
Cutting wood width with circular saw with parallel guide and clamps to secure to patio bench.
Cutting wood width with circular saw with parallel guide and clamps to secure to patio bench.
A piece of wood cut to length with a circular saw.
A piece of wood cut to length with a circular saw.
Using my Evolution Rage circular saw to cut the wood to the correct width.
Using my Evolution Rage circular saw to cut the wood to the correct width.
DEWALT DC330K Heavy-Duty 18-Volt Ni-Cad Cordless Top Handle Jig Saw Kit
DEWALT DC330K Heavy-Duty 18-Volt Ni-Cad Cordless Top Handle Jig Saw Kit

Other than being cordless, this jig saw is very similar to the one I used to hew the wooden shelves in this DIY project. Having used DeWalt power tools for a number of years now, I’ve come to know and trust the cordless models, and if I ever had to replace my existing model this is what I would choose.

 

Hewing Wooden Shelves

Creating a 17th Century Style Effect

Creating a hewn effect in wooden shelves was new to me but to match up with the existing cabinet and shelves was something I needed to master. I searched the web but could only find references to hewing beams with an axe to stimulate the effect of hewn wood before the days of saws.

Obviously wielding an axe at floorboards to create the effect would be too destructive so I needed a gentler approach ideally using tools I have to hand rather than buying specialist carving tools which I may never use again; a craftsman and wood carvers would have suitable tools for carving wood, as no doubt would a cabinet maker or carpenter. However for DIY woodworking normal woodworking tools are not so suitable for carving wood in this fashion.

Therefore after experimenting on scrap wood with various tools to hand I found the electric jigsaw to be ideal for the job; I found it to be simple, easy and quick; and it produced a good match to the hewing effect on the original cabinet and shelves.

The technique I developed is simple enough, and is as follows:-

  1. Securely clamp the wood to your workbench.
  2. Put on protective goggles.
  3. Ensure the power cable is behind you with no risk of it slipping in front of the jigsaw blade and being severed.
  4. Hold the electric jigsaw upside down between 30 degrees and 45 degrees near the top edge of wood and turn it on full speed.
  5. Introduce the blade to the edge of the wood and cut irregular waves into the wood with a sweeping motion, varying the depth, length and angle of the cut to simulate the irregular effect of hewn wood. Proceed along the whole length of the wood in this sweeping wave motion being as free, creative and as artistic as you wish.
  6. Turn the wood over, re-clamp and proceed as before.
  7. Quickly sand down with rough sandpaper and optionally finish with fine grain sandpaper.

Hewing Wooden Shelves with a Jig Saw

Making the Plinth

The Shelf Unit Base

The plinth for the new shelving unit is designed to the same style and dimensions as the plinth in the original shelf unit, 90mm (3.5 inches) high so the back sits above the existing skirting board; and a depth of 150mm (6 inches). As part of the plinth will sit in front of the existing wall mirror and be just over 3mm (1/8 inch) away from the wall where there is no mirror a 3mm (1/8 inch) beading is fixed to the back of that part of the plinth resting against the back wall. The alternative would have been to cut a 3mm slot to fit the plinth around the mirror; but sometimes the simple approach can be the best e.g. by simply adding a strip of wood (beading) to fill the gap between plinth and wall where there's no mirror.

The top ledge overhangs the base by 12mm (1/2 inch) and two chunks of wood 50mm (2 inches) by 75mm (3 inches) are added to each end as a sturdy footing to hold the whole plinth sturdy and to take the weight of the shelving and shelving contents above.

The leading edge of the plinth was hewn to match the style of the existing. The two side feet were then cut and one used to set the circular saw to the correct width for cutting the front of the base for the plinth, see pictures below.

The plinth was fitted together with wood glue (no nails) and a few nails (with nail gun) to hold it firm until the glue sets.

If the plinth had been wider it would also have needed support at the back but with the back support being set in greater than the thickness of the skirting board e.g. 18mm (3/4 inch) so as to give a few millimetres clearance.

Shelf support plinth
Shelf support plinth

Plinth Under Construction

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Base of plinth with side supportUsing side support to set blade width on circular saw for cutting front of plinthThe assembled plinthTest fit of plinth in location
Base of plinth with side support
Base of plinth with side support
Using side support to set blade width on circular saw for cutting front of plinth
Using side support to set blade width on circular saw for cutting front of plinth
The assembled plinth
The assembled plinth
Test fit of plinth in location
Test fit of plinth in location

Hewn Plinth Made For Shelving Unit

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Making the Frame

Frame for Fixed and Removable Shelving

The main part of the construction is two shelf units, one with fixed shelves below the existing wall mirror and the other with adjustable shelves against the wall. Holding these two shelving units together is a modular frame consisting of four elements:-

  • The plinth
  • Top section
  • Side section for adjustable shelves, and
  • The fixed shelf unit (four fixed shelves with two side panels).

Having made the plinth the next step is making the three side panels and the top section. Two of the side panels to be for the fixed shelves and one for the adjustable shelves with the middle panel supporting both fixed and adjustable shelves; all four pieces being cut to a width of 150mm (6 inches).

Once cut and hewed the three side panels and top section are placed in position to check for fit, to square and to take the final measurements for shelf widths for both the fixed and adjustable shelves.

As you can see from the photo, without any glue, nails or screws these slotted in place and firmly held their location indicating a good first fit.

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Frame for adjustable shelves Frames for adjustable and fixed shelves
Frame for adjustable shelves
Frame for adjustable shelves
Frames for adjustable and fixed shelves
Frames for adjustable and fixed shelves
DEWALT DW618PK 12-AMP 2-1/4 HP Plunge and Fixed-Base Variable-Speed Router Kit
DEWALT DW618PK 12-AMP 2-1/4 HP Plunge and Fixed-Base Variable-Speed Router Kit

To make recessed supports for shelving this router would be ideal; and is the model I’m keen to buy when I need a replacement. The kit includes a powerful 12-amp variable speed motor and comes with 0.25 and 0.5 inch collets for extra versatility. The depth adjustment ring provides precision adjustments. The adjustable tool free steel motor cam lock makes depth adjustments and base changes easy and quick, and provides solid locking.

 

Making the Fixed Shelves

Shelf Unit

Shelves should be straight level and firm. Checking for squareness and levels in the frame described above the floor and hence the plinth slopes slightly (by just a few millimetres) but the ceiling is spot on (perfectly level). So for marking-up for the shelves I took all my measurements from the top of the side panels.

There are various ways of fitting shelves, each with its pros and cons, as described below:-

  • Fixed shelf supports. This is the most common and usually is a piece of wood glued, optionally also nailed or screwed into the side panel or wall e.g. a bookcase or in an alcove. Provided each shelf support is firmly fixed to the side panel or wall, is level and at the same height as its counterpart on the other side of the shelf this is an effective and relatively easy way of creating shelving. The only real downside is that unless great care is taken to get the aesthetics right shelf supports of this type although functional can look amateurish and unattractive.
  • Removable (adjustable) shelf supports. More commonly used in kitchen units but there’s no reason why they can’t be applied in other shelving units, provided the unit itself is solid enough and the shelves are not too large.
  • Screwing or nailing through the side panels into the shelves. You don’t have any unattractive shelf supports but can be fiddly to make with nothing to hold the shelf in place when trying to screw (or nail) through the side panel into the shelf and prone to slip out of alignment while screwing so the shelf ends up crooked or on a slant; also, if a free standing unit e.g. bookcase the fitting is not secure and overtime the whole bookcase is prone to lean under its own weight and the weight of the books or shelf contents.
  • Using dowel in the ends of the shelves to fit into the side panels. Quite a Secure fitting with the shelf supports hidden but requires millimetre accuracy when drilling the holes to take the dowel, or
  • As in this case, fitting the shelves into pre-cut channels before gluing and nailing (or screwing). No visible shelf support and if also glued and screwed (or nailed) very strong. The channels can be cut with a handsaw and chisel or if you have a Router then routed. A Router is a lot easier and quicker than using a handsaw and chisel and gives a much cleaner cut. Alternately a suitable bench saw can be used to cut the required channels but not everyone has one in their home DIY workshop.

For this DIY project I used a Router with a 12.7mm (1/2 inch) square router bit. Not using a Router for this purpose that frequently it’s not second nature so before cutting the channels on the two side panels I ran a few test runs on scrap wood to get all the settings and measurements I needed for it to be millimetre perfect, as follows:-

  1. Marked out on the scrap wood where I wanted the channels to be.
  2. Measured in from the edge of the router to the outer edge of the router bit to get the distance required for setting the router guide.
  3. Marked that distance up from where I wanted the cut on the scrap wood with a pencil and square.
  4. Clamped a piece of wood across the marked line to act as a guide for the Router.
  5. Did a trial cut and measured the difference between the actual cut and where the cut should have been; adjusted the guide accordingly and retested.
  6. Once satisfied that the guide distance from the desired cut position was correct I noted the final measurement and used this for setting my guide for all the cuts on the two side panels.

The other consideration is the width cut. The Router bit I used was 12.7mm whereas I needed the channel s to be 22mm wide, therefore after each cut I moved the Router guide up 9mm and recut with the Router to create the 22mm wide channel.

I chose 6mm (1/4 inch) as being sufficient depth to give a secure and strong fit; optionally you could go deeper but not too deep otherwise you’ll weaken the strength of the side supports. Also as the shelves are not as deep as the support side panels, a difference of 12mm (1/2 inch), I stopped the Router just over 12mm from the front of the side panels and chiselled out the last couple of millimetres to square it off e.g. as the Router leaves a circular edge to the end cut.

The advantage of making the shelves not as deep as the side support panels is that once the shelves are fitted the routed channel is invisible. However, if the shelves and side shelf support panels are the same depth then you can route to the end and although the channel maybe visible after construction it still looks a neat job.

Making Fixed Shelves with a Router
Making Fixed Shelves with a Router

Using a Router to Make Recessed Supports For Shelving

Visual Guide to Using the Router for Making Shelving Units

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Using piece of wood as a guide for the RouterTest fit of shelves in routed channels, tight fit so stands straight without any fixings e.g. glue or nailsRouter bitsTest fit of fixed shelf unit in front of existing wall mirror
Using piece of wood as a guide for the Router
Using piece of wood as a guide for the Router
Test fit of shelves in routed channels, tight fit so stands straight without any fixings e.g. glue or nails
Test fit of shelves in routed channels, tight fit so stands straight without any fixings e.g. glue or nails
Router bits
Router bits
Test fit of fixed shelf unit in front of existing wall mirror
Test fit of fixed shelf unit in front of existing wall mirror

Making Adjustable Shelves

Removable Shelves

For flexibility I want to be able to adjust the shelf heights for some of the shelves e.g. varying heights to accommodate CDs, DVDs, Paperback books, ornaments etc., although in practice the main purpose of these shelves will most likely be for keeping DVDs. The self supports I used are similar to type used in kitchen cupboards.

For shelve support spacing my calculations was based on the minimum height allowed for storing DVDs and the minimum practical height for CDs, allowing finger width space above the CDs and DVDs for clearance and the thickness of the wood; which for the former is 190mm + 18mm + 22mm = 230mm (9 inches) and the later 125mm + 12mm + 22mm = 159mm (6 inches).

I then divided both figures 230mm and 159mm into the available height for the shelves looking for a regular spacing pattern where some of the shelve support would double up for CDs and DVDs. It took a while to derive at the spacing's I was happy to go with.

Having done all the calculations I knew the maximum and minimum number of shelves required and their width and length. In this case nine shelves if all shelving were to be used for storing CDs or six shelves if the shelving was for DVDs only. Therefore, before marking out and drilling the holes for the shelf supports in the two side panels I cut and prepared nine shelves, 145mm (5 inches) wide by 460mm (18 inches) long.

To drill holes for the adjustable shelf supports:-

  1. Draw two parallel lines down the length of one of the side support panels, each line about 25mm (1 inch) from the edge.
  2. Transferred my calculated spacing's to one of the parallel pencil lines.
  3. Marked across at these points with the square.
  4. Marked down one side with the square at the same point as the lines already drawn.
  5. Placed the second side panel underneath and lined up (ensuring the wood panels were correctly orientated with each other e.g. with the sides to hold the shelf supports facing up and with the outer edges facing away from each other (like an open book, see photos below).
  6. Used the square to draw lines at these points on the second piece of wood and
  7. As before, drew two parallel lines the length of the wood.
  8. Where the lines intersect is where I drill the holes for the shelf supports.
  9. Drill the holes to the width and depth of the shelf support you'll be using, in this case 10mm wide by 12mm deep.
  10. Finally fit the shelf supports and test fit the shelves.

Make Adjustable Shelves and Butt Joining Wood with Dowel

Marking and Drilling Holes for Shelf Supports

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Marking and drilling the shelf support holesFitting the shelf supportsTest Fit of Adjustable Shelves
Marking and drilling the shelf support holes
Marking and drilling the shelf support holes
Fitting the shelf supports
Fitting the shelf supports
Test Fit of Adjustable Shelves
Test Fit of Adjustable Shelves
DEWALT DWS780 12-Inch Double Bevel Sliding Compound Miter Saw
DEWALT DWS780 12-Inch Double Bevel Sliding Compound Miter Saw

Similar to the mitre saw I used to cut the shelves. It’s a nice piece of kit, better than the bench saw I used in this DIY project, and the model I would choose if I were to replace my current one.

Although a good circular saw is useful for long cuts (as demonstrated above) for quick cuts and mitre cuts on smaller pieces of work a good mitre saw is definitely a bonus. And not being too heavy to be portable; for larger jobs where it’s easier to work outside (especially on a nice hot sunny day) I often take mine outside and set it up as a temporary work area on the patio bench just outside my home workshop.

 

Fixed Shelf Supports

Supporting Shelves

There are times when nothing beats two batons of wood for supporting a shelf and this was one of those occasions; a couple of small shelves tacked onto the end of an existing shelf unit. An alternate option would have been to temporarily dismantle the side of the existing unit to take it down to the workshop to make a couple of channels with the Router, as done for the other fixed shelving in this DIY project but as these are two shelves low down and in the corner a couple of wooden shelf supports are not going to be visible, especially if they are set back a little from the front e.g. by 12mm (1/2 inch).

The wood for these shelf supports are off-cuts from the wood used for the shelving in this DIY project; off-cuts from when the shelving was cut to the desired width with the circular saw as previously described. The simple steps for creating these two shelves are as follows:-

  1. Cut and hewn the two shelves.
  2. Cut four shelf supports to length (a mitre saw is ideal for this) and round the corners with a bit of rough sandpaper.
  3. Mark up the position of the shelves on one side.
  4. Place one of the batons (shelf supports) on one of the marks, level with a spirit level and mark a line with a pencil.
  5. Repeat for the second shelf.
  6. Glue and pin both batons with small nails (or screws).
  7. Place each shelf in turn on the shelf support, level with spirit level and from the underside of the shelf on the opposite side mark a line on the side shelf support panel to indicate where the other batons are to be fixed.
  8. Glue and pin the two batons on the other side, and finally
  9. Place the shelves in position to check for level and fit.

Fixing Batons as Shelf Supports

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Fixing two batons to one side for shelf supportsFixing two batons to the other side for shelf supportsChecking shelves are level with spirit levelTwo more shelves in positionAll main shelving now made and test fitted
Fixing two batons to one side for shelf supports
Fixing two batons to one side for shelf supports
Fixing two batons to the other side for shelf supports
Fixing two batons to the other side for shelf supports
Checking shelves are level with spirit level
Checking shelves are level with spirit level
Two more shelves in position
Two more shelves in position
All main shelving now made and test fitted
All main shelving now made and test fitted

Joining Panels with Dowel and Glue

Fitting Two Pieces of Wood Together

Neatly joining two wood panels together is not the easiest of tasks if like me you don't have a biscuit joiner; however with a little care and attention it's not impossible.

I don't have a biscuit joiner because for the little use it would get I can't justify the expense of buying one. The same effect can be achieved by routing out a channel on the edge of each panel, at equal height from the top edge and equal depth using a Router; then after applying glue generously to each channel slipping a thin strip of 3mm (1/8 inch) or 6mm (1/4 inch) plywood and holding the two panels together with clamps until the glue is set.

However, setting up the Router for this can be rather fiddly and time consuming. So my preference is the use of dowel and glue. For larger jobs I use a jig specifically designed to accurately drill holes along the edge of wood for joining with dowels; but for a small job like this I'd take the time and care to accurately measure and mark by hand for drilling the holes.

The two pieces being joined here is the original front section to the top of the existing drinks bar and an extended back section, newly cut, to create a longer top shelf extending to join the new shelving units under construction in this DIY Project.

Three dowels were used to join these two sections, one about 40mm (1 inches) from each end and one in the middle, and the steps for doing this are:-

  1. Mark a line with a pencil along the edge of the wood at equal height from the top edge of each panel.
  2. Mark on this line the positions where you want the holes.
  3. Place one panel on top of the other ensuring you don't flip the orientation e.g. ensure the right hand sides of both panels are together.
  4. Use a square and pencil to transfer the locations previously marked for drilling are copied across from one panel to the other.
  5. Drill all the holes using a drill bit with the same diameter as the dowel being used, drilling the holes to just over half the length of the dowel being used e.g. if the dowels are 25mm (1 inch) long drill holes at 15mm (just over inch). Wrapping some coloured sticky tape around the drill just above the required depth will help to ensure the holes are not drilled two shallow which would prevent the two panels fully meeting when you try to join them together.
  6. Once drilled, add a generous blob of glue to each hole and apply glue to the full length of one of the panels to be joined.
  7. Gently tap the dowels into the holes on one panel.
  8. Offer the two panels together, engaging the dowels in the other holes, and gently push the two panels together.
  9. Clamp the two pieces together until the glue dries.
  10. Once set, use an electric sander to get a smooth flat surface.

Once the replacement panel was made and sanded I fitted it back into location again using dowel and glue to secure it to the existing built in cabinet top; and once in place sanded smooth and flush, see photos.

Joining Two Pieces of Wood with Dowel and Glue

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Two wooden panels joined with dowel and glueTwo wooden panels joined with dowel and glueTwo wooden panels joined with dowel and glueTwo wooden panels joined with dowel and glue and sanded smooth with an electric sander.Two wooden panels joined with dowel and glue and sanded smooth with an electric sander.Newly joined panel refitted back into original cabinet top
Two wooden panels joined with dowel and glue
Two wooden panels joined with dowel and glue
Two wooden panels joined with dowel and glue
Two wooden panels joined with dowel and glue
Two wooden panels joined with dowel and glue
Two wooden panels joined with dowel and glue
Two wooden panels joined with dowel and glue and sanded smooth with an electric sander.
Two wooden panels joined with dowel and glue and sanded smooth with an electric sander.
Two wooden panels joined with dowel and glue and sanded smooth with an electric sander.
Two wooden panels joined with dowel and glue and sanded smooth with an electric sander.
Newly joined panel refitted back into original cabinet top
Newly joined panel refitted back into original cabinet top

Wood Staining

Preparation and Wood Staining To Match Original

The wood stain I chose, which I already had in the shed (home workshop) and which is a good match for the original bar cabinet and shelves is 'Jacobean Walnut' by Sadolin, a durable oil based exterior wood stain that takes between 18 and 24 hours to fully dry between coats.

The new wood will require two coats and being new isn't that absorbent so to help the wood stain get further into the wood and not just sit on the surface I decided to spray a little well diluted caustic soda on the wood, and after a short period neutralise it with diluted white vinegar.

Caustic Soda is highly dangerous (corrosive) and will burn the skin so protective clothing and goggles are essential and great care should be used when using it. Normally caustic soda is used in the home to unblock sinks because it will dissolve hair and other organic matter that's settled in the sink traps (U-bends); caustic soda will also eat into the wood so spraying a little diluted caustic soda on new wood helps to raise the wood grain and give a key for the wood stain.

For this purpose I added a couple of teaspoons of caustic soda to a spray bottle, added a pint of water and shook the container vigorously for a minute to thoroughly mix. After spraying the wood with the diluted caustic soda I waited about half an hour and then neutralised it with a solution of diluted white vinegar (I part vinegar to 3 parts water); again applying with a spray bottle.

If you're not happy with the idea of using caustic soda then a quick rubdown with fine sandpaper should help to key the surface for the wood stain.

Once the wood was dry following the manufacturer's instructions on the tin I applied the first coat of wood stain with a paint brush; I know some people prefer to apply wood stain with a suitable soft cloth which should work just as well.

After 24 hours I lightly sanded the surfaces with fine sandpaper and wiped off any residue sawdust with a little white spirit on a soft cloth before applying the second (and final) coat of wood stain.

After use don't forget to thoroughly clean your brushes, if the wood stain or paint is water based wash them in warm soapy water adding and rubbing in plenty of washing up liquid to each brush. If the wood stain or paint is oil based first thoroughly clean the brushes in white spirit then give them a good clean in warm soapy water adding washing up liquid to each brush and rubbing it in.

Once the final coat of wood stain was fully dry (another 24 hours) I applied a little beeswax to the surface using a fine grade wire wool (steel wool). The beauty of wire wool is that it acts very much like sandpaper in smoothing the surface but without leaving sawdust and grit from the sandpaper everywhere (especially back onto the wood surface); so it's ideal for smoothing the wood and applying beeswax at the same time e.g. put a little beeswax on the wire wool and rub it into the wood; working with the grain to prevent scratches. Work on small areas at a time so that the beeswax can be buffed up with a clean soft duster a few minutes after application.

Applying Wood Stain and Beeswax Polishing

Tools and Materials to Wood Staining and Waxing

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Materials and equipment to prepare wood for wood staining, diluted caustic soda and diluted white vinegarWood ready to wood stainFirst coat of wood stain appliedWood stain, brushes, sandpaper and sanding block with white spirit and cloth required for applying two coats of wood stainWire wool, beeswax and duster (soft cloth) to apply beeswax as a final coatBeeswax applied to all wood surfaces and polishedShelving wood stained, waxed and polished
Materials and equipment to prepare wood for wood staining, diluted caustic soda and diluted white vinegar
Materials and equipment to prepare wood for wood staining, diluted caustic soda and diluted white vinegar
Wood ready to wood stain
Wood ready to wood stain
First coat of wood stain applied
First coat of wood stain applied
Wood stain, brushes, sandpaper and sanding block with white spirit and cloth required for applying two coats of wood stain
Wood stain, brushes, sandpaper and sanding block with white spirit and cloth required for applying two coats of wood stain
Wire wool, beeswax and duster (soft cloth) to apply beeswax as a final coat
Wire wool, beeswax and duster (soft cloth) to apply beeswax as a final coat
Beeswax applied to all wood surfaces and polished
Beeswax applied to all wood surfaces and polished
Shelving wood stained, waxed and polished
Shelving wood stained, waxed and polished

Final Fit

Putting All the DVDs Back onto the New Shelving Units

The fun part, assembling all the pieces of these new shelving units and populating the shelves with the DVDs, CDs, a few drinks bottles (mainly beer) and other odd items.

Apart from the adjustable shelves the modular sections of this shelving unit were glued and nailed permanently in position; although it didn’t need much glue or nailing (with the nail gun) as the pieces slotted together like a glove it was quite sturdy without any glue.

Job Complete, £60 for wood and £60 for other materials and fittings e.g. shelf supports, wire wool etc., total cost £120.

Background

Adapting and Expanding Existing Storage Space to Meet Changing Needs

When we first bought the house the under stairs space at the back of the living room had been converted to a walk in drinks bar complete with cupboard, shelving for beer, wine and spirit bottles with smaller shelves for glasses, tumblers and wine glasses. The wood had been finished in dark wood stain with a hewn effect to give that rustic 17th century look and feel.

We adapted the shelving and cupboard to our own storage use, keeping a few beer bottles and bottles of spirit and some glasses to hand for when we have friends around for a quite social evening. Over the years, with the advent of DVDs, a redundant bookcase was placed under the stairs next to the existing cupboard and shelving and later a simple shelve unit for drinks bottles was made to fit into the remaining space. In other words a hodgepodge of shelving added at various times for various purposes.

Before and After

Before and After of DVD Shelf Units
Before and After of DVD Shelf Units

DIY Project Objective

To Rationalise the Shelving and Blend New With Old

The purpose of this project is to remove the hodgepodge of shelving added over the years to this space under the stairs and replace it with purposeful built in shelving to match the original in style and colour and to include shelving that:-

  • Is adaptive to varying needs e.g. some removable shelves that can be set to varying heights to accommodate DVDs, CDs, drinks bottles or for other uses as required.
  • Matches and blends with the style of the original drinks bar e.g. hewn rustic effect shelves finished in dark wood stain to match existing.
  • Fits in front of and surrounds the existing full length fixed decorative wall mirror, and using the mirror as a backdrop to that part of the shelving area.

Hence a challenging project, especially as I've never attempted a hewn effect before; normally I would finish the edging on shelves decoratively with a router bit.

Prerequisite

Clear the Site before Commencement of Work

The first job is to empty the hodgepodge of existing shelving, temporally storing the DVDs, CDs and drink bottles elsewhere until the completion of the project when it can all be put back.

The additional shelving units added over the years would then be removed, carefully dismantled to reclaim as much good wood as possible for later DIY projects, to measure, making sketch drawings and lots of careful calculations to work out the wood I need and to make a list of other building materials I may need.

Normally I'd recycle much of the wood from the existing shelving and incorporate it into the new shelving but as the finish is to be hewn rustic rather than decorative routing then I'd need to start from scratch using predominantly new wood.

Original Drinks Bar
Original Drinks Bar

Calculating and Ordering Required Wood

Choosing the Right Material for the Project

For this project I shall use floorboards. For any shelving project these days I prefer using floorboards as an ideal material due to its strength; it’s easy to work with, versatile and inexpensive.

The thickness and strength of floorboards is ideal for shelving e.g. just over 4/5 inch thick (21mm); and availability in varying widths lengths. You could use reclaimed floorboards from a reclamation yard but for shelving that would require a lot of additional preparation work before you could use the floorboards to make your shelves e.g. sanding and potentially de-nailing. So I prefer to buy new floorboards, readily available from any timber yard, DIY store or builder’s merchant and at about 1 a foot it’s not expensive.

The side panel to the open shelved cupboard in the original rustic drinks bar is 165mm (6.5 inches) in depth, the shelves themselves being 145mm (5.75 inches) deep. The wood available at the local timbers merchant comes in standard widths of 150mm (6 inches) and 175mm (just under 7 inches).

Normally I’d buy the 150mm (6 inches) for DVDs and CDs, which will be the main storage purpose for these shelving but as I wish to match the new with the existing I’d need the wider wood at 175mm and cut it to width as appropriate. I don’t have a fixed rip or circular saw to cut wood length ways so where required I’ll need to use a handheld circular saw with saw guide to cut the wood to the required widths; on the plus side I’ll end up with lots of off-cuts that will be ideal for batons and beading in later DIY projects; beading which you can pay good money for in a DIY store so in the future it’ll save me a few pennies.

On measuring up and making my calculations I estimated I’d need approximately 18 meters (60 feet) of timber 21mm x 175mm (4/5 inch by 7 inches) so I ordered 20 meters (65 feet) to allow for wastage; and when ordering I requested that no individual plank be less than 3 meters (9.8 feet) to minimise on wastage e.g. the fewer pieces of timber the fewer short off cuts that are too short to use for anything useful.

Choosing the right materials and wood for the shelving project
Choosing the right materials and wood for the shelving project

Other Materials Required

A Check List

In this project I require some of the shelving to be adjustable and removable so as to be able to vary their height and accommodate varied use e.g. CDs, DVDs, beer and drinks bottles etc. For this I require 48 small (kitchen cupboard) shelf supports; four supports per shelf allowing for up to 12 removable and adjustable shelves in the shelving unit.

I'll also require caustic soda to raise the wood grain before applying the wood stain so that the wood stain is soaked into the wood rather than just sitting on the surface. I already have the dark wood stain but will require fine wire wool to prepare the final surface for waxing with beeswax (which I have); and if required I also have plenty of teak oil to hand; which is excellent for healing wounds in cut oak and for giving a good finish coat to some wood surfaces e.g. plywood.

I have plenty of screws and nails, some wood glue and 'no nails' to hand where it may be required. I also have plenty of sandpaper and where I may require wood filler I'd make my own by adding sawdust with wood glue (or no nails) and mixing into a paste.

DIY vs Paying to Have Work Done

Do You Do Your Own DIY?

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Shelves Finished and Fitted

Your DIY Experience and Tips

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    • Zodiacimmortal profile image

      Kim 4 years ago from Yonkers, NY

      Measure twice cut once! (but then I do better freehand)

    • dahlia369 profile image

      dahlia369 4 years ago

      To me, custom made furniture pieces are priceless... and of course I don't do them myself. But I do painting! :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      You certainly have covered every point here to get people well on their way to DIY projects for storing their DVDs, CDs and paper backs....lots of detail and tips for success. The wood theme is perfect here and puts us right in the workshop with you. I especially like how you got that rough hewn look with your electric jigsaw, plenty of ideas here!

    • Anthony Altorenna profile image

      Anthony Altorenna 4 years ago from Connecticut

      Very nice work, and congratulations on a successful project with a customized design. The shelf unit looks great, and it was fun to follow along as you built the shelves.

    • casquid profile image

      casquid 4 years ago

      Good job with the task at hand. Your work-in-progress has great detail. Congrats on LOTD!

    • diy-plan profile image

      Jim Brown 4 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Hi Nathan, as a fellow DIY builder, I can really appreciate the efforts you took to make this wonderful article. Congrats!

      Best to you, my friend!

    • Nathanville profile image
      Author

      Arthur Russ 4 years ago from England

      @diy-plan: Thanks, yes it does take a lot of effort remembering every step and composing it with photos, but its enjoyable; were still working on the video to accompany this and hope to have it published on YouTube within the next week or two.

    • Nathanville profile image
      Author

      Arthur Russ 4 years ago from England

      Thanks for all your comments, greatly appreciated. Arthur

    • profile image

      MintySea 4 years ago

      I wish I was this handy oh if I was better in woodshop :-)

    • nic00 profile image

      nic00 4 years ago

      wow! the description take more time than work! i think... cool end effect

    • profile image

      Lindrus 4 years ago

      Well done! How creative and practical, I love it!

    • Kae Yo profile image

      Kae Yo 4 years ago

      Thanks. I think I may try it now.

    • profile image

      getmoreinfo 4 years ago

      This project is very well planned out, I like the photos and the step by step instructons. Well done.

    • KevinGeetar profile image

      KevinGeetar 4 years ago

      Awesome lens, very well put together. Could never do it myself, but really appreciate the art you put into it, Kev

    • TheGuruRecruiter profile image

      TheGuruRecruiter 4 years ago

      Wow! Impressive detailed lens. I have to add inspiring too. Maybe I should go to Lowes and get a little project started.

    • profile image

      crazy4u2 4 years ago

      You make things so simple with your words. I wish I had a hand like you do.

    • Gayle Dowell profile image

      Gayle Dowell 4 years ago from Kansas

      I think that one can never have too many shelves to put their stuff on. I'm a simple DIY-er. Shelves are a little too ambitious for me.

    • Tobint44 LM profile image

      Tobint44 LM 4 years ago

      Great lens and extensive content! You are good man!

    • Expat Mamasita profile image

      Expat Mamasita 4 years ago from Slovakia

      Wow! So much detail. I love the shelves.

    • MrMojo01 profile image

      MrMojo01 4 years ago

      Great lens, I am not handy enough to do it myself though lol

    • profile image

      tomaztt 4 years ago

      interesting and some funny pictures

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      nice

    • LynetteBell profile image

      LynetteBell 4 years ago from Christchurch, New Zealand

      Great lens...will have to send my husband along!

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 4 years ago from Land of Aloha

      WOW! What a great tutorial on how to do it right! So much nicer having furniture built of real wood. You just can't hardly buy that anymore.....thus we have DIY. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Thanks a lot for writing this, it was quite helpful :)

    • Heidi Vincent profile image

      Heidi Vincent 3 years ago from GRENADA

      Excellent lens!

    • Nathanville profile image
      Author

      Arthur Russ 5 weeks ago from England

      Thanks for all your feedback and comments; all greatly appreciated.

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