Sunday, April 15, 2012

Shelf Construction Part One

Last year I built a new set of shelves for the booth. They are a table top design and people seem to like them pretty well. My friend Toby asked me to blog on how to make them and I have finally gotten around to doing that while I make another set. They have angled fronts for stability and an attached back panel that is either hinged or bolted to the ladder framed uprights.They are not difficult to build but you need to work carefully. Angles need to match and holes need to lineup.I am posting part one today. Part two will follow in a couple of days. Annotated pictures follow the text.

When I think about shelves for shows, they have to be stiff, stable, stowable, and lightweight. They should also look nice and take a beating without needing any upkeep. Western red cedar is my first choice of wood. It is not the cheapest wood to use but it is light, stiff, easy to work with, and looks good with no finish on it. As a bonus, it makes your van smell great.

For a tabletop unit, you can make your uprights out of 2"x2" balusters for deck railings. They come in 42" or 36" lengths. Look for straight pieces with a minimum of knots. You can use 3/4" dowels for rungs. Depending on how long you want your shelves and how much weight you plan to put on them, you can use 5/8" fence boards ( cheap but they need stiffening strips) or 1" stock ( stiffer but more expensive).

The back posts are vertical and the rungs go in at 90 degrees. The front posts are angled and the rungs need to be angled as well. As shown in the pictures, you decide how wide you want your top and bottom shelves. I wanted an 11 inch bottom shelf and a 6 inch top shelf. The difference is 5 inches. I set the tops of the posts together and swung the bottom out until the angle between the posts sloped 5 inches from top shelf to bottom shelf. Then I put my square on the back post and drew lines across both posts for each rung. If you drill for your rungs using these lines as guides, you don't need to know the angle, just drill carefully. Use a 3/4 inch bit and go 1"" deep in every hole. A drill press makes this much easier but you don't have to have one.

Cut a pair of dowels 2" longer than the width of your top shelf and another pair 2" longer than the bottom. Dry fit both uprights together.  Don't assume that a 3/4 " dowel will fit in a 3/4" hole. Don't force them, just whittle or sand the ends until they fit. Once you are sure everything is square and the uprights match, measure between your posts, and add 2" for your other rungs. Dry fit for good luck, then assemble with a little glue spread around each hole. Don't use too much glue or you won't be able to push your dowels in their holes. Make sure the dowels are well seated, square everything up and let dry.


  1. Huh?
    haha! really nice, I need some new tools....

  2. I am not good at following directions so I am going to make Mark read this!
    The Jugs- really interesting!

  3. Thanks for showing this. I've thought about building shelves like this but didn't quite feel I had the skills. This will help a lot if decide to try it.


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