How do I make this style of shelving? Looks simple but has me stumped

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Forum topic by gsimon posted 11-24-2015 02:38 AM 1899 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1318 posts in 2917 days

11-24-2015 02:38 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question modern

Hi Folks
I have been asked to quote on making a staggered looking wall to wall shelving unit to be “sleek and modern” similar to the attached photo. The customer wants the back to be the actual wall and I said i would paint the backs the same color so it appears to be the wall (blue). I make all my painted furniture from old or reclaimed wood and add trim and it has a semi-rough refined look that I like. I also know how to fasten or join the sides and shelves for this style.

This looks to be all the same thickness (At least an inch thick all sides)
I thought at first to build numerous cabinets and just fasten together on site (an hour away) If i made every cabinet from 1/2” MDF sides wouldn’t I need a face frame to make look finished?

I also paint finish everything by brush and sometimes wax for a country farm cabinet look but this will need to be sprayed with a lacquer or urethane paint in a satin or gloss sheen. I can get the guys at work to do this for me but how to I approach the build?

Any suggestions would be appreciated

-- Greg Simon

11 replies so far

View oldnovice's profile


7594 posts in 4172 days

#1 posted 11-24-2015 04:24 AM

I was at Home Depot when I saw some Rubbermaid/Closetmaid shelving that may suit your purpose!
It is available in various sizes, prefinished, and about 1/2” thick.
I don’t know what material is used in these but they are heavier and much stiffer than melamine covered MDF of a similar size.
They probably cost more than melamine covered MDF too but they may also have building ideas.

Another material you might consider is two sided MDO as it paints easily and is stronger than 1/2”MDF!

-- "It's fine in practise but it will never work in theory"

View Bill1974's profile


139 posts in 3789 days

#2 posted 11-24-2015 03:56 PM

MDO you will have to deal with filling and making the edges smooth. But MDO was also my first thought. MDF would be the same amount of work and would not hold screws as well and would sag in time if there was a decent weight on the shelf.

I am sure you could fine melamine convert plywood, than you would only need to edge band with a strip of melamine.

There is this too:

View daddywoofdawg's profile


1029 posts in 2379 days

#3 posted 11-25-2015 06:35 AM

1x paint grade pine,make boxes then glue/screw or brad nail together.

View TDH's profile


18 posts in 2155 days

#4 posted 11-25-2015 07:25 AM

I have done lots of these. I start with a scaled drawing (CAD if you use it), from there it’s like daddywoofdawg said make boxes and glue/screw, brad whatever, trim it and done. I also have done these with dados and glue up of course price goes up. Cheap side I always use Pine 3/4 or thicker with sprayed urethane paint. Only real problem I kept coming across is I build offsite , transport and attach on site so work had to be done in reasonable sections so 2-3 people could carry in and attach onsite. That’s where drawing comes in real handy, make sure you have measurements down correct. I can tell the first picture was done on site which is no big deal except people tend to get tired of you going in and out of their house. If you are making money at this do not use MDF, MDO etc. you most likely will not get business from customers friends etc. Hope this helps.

View Mike's profile


408 posts in 3491 days

#5 posted 11-25-2015 08:39 AM

Before even selecting the wood to use, I’d take a roll of painter’s tape and layout the shelf design on the wall. Determine where and how many shelves you’d like. The good thing about the tape is that you are able to move and adjust your design without doing any damage to the walls.

If you use a painter’s tape that is the thickness of the boards you want to use you’ll be able to measure out the board feet you need to some degree of accuracy. After that I’d consider pocket screws or biscuits to join the boards.

-- look Ma! I still got all eleven of my fingers! - -

View Tennessee's profile


2901 posts in 3318 days

#6 posted 11-25-2015 12:41 PM

Three great ideas above me. I’ve built these also, and always used paint grade pine shelving. I usually screwed them together, countersunk the screws and plugged them with dowel plugs and sanded before painting.

Too much work in my mind to do the dado joints, and you have all that extra math to worry about, like adding 3/8th inch to each board for the dado, making sure the female side of the joint is in the precise position, etc.

With the simple screw and plug method, you could almost build these on site, as there seems to be no common shelf or wall that goes the whole length or height.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View ChefHDAN's profile


1700 posts in 3653 days

#7 posted 11-25-2015 03:44 PM

I’ve gotta add the B word, Yep Biscuits; I built a similar set of book cases for my daughters room, I used 1/2 sanaply cut to the width for the depth of the shelves, put a poplar edge on one side and then used that as stock to make my boxes, straightedge and biscuit joiner for each “shelf” with a, “few brads to hold the joint while the glue sets” ala Norm

-- I've decided 1 mistake is really 2 opportunities to learn.. learn how to fix it... and learn how to not repeat it

View Daruc's profile


460 posts in 1937 days

#8 posted 11-25-2015 04:17 PM

There are so many different ways to do this it’s almost impossible to say without knowing what the budget is.
You have to tailor the job depending on budget. Material cost can be quit a bit different from 1” mdf to 1” plywood.
Labor can be quit a bit different from dadoing shelves, screwing together and plugging holes, to nailing together and puttying holes.
I would first figure what the budget is and then try to figure how I could do it to fit the budget. Then explain the differences to the client regarding the build method to the budget. A low budget may require 1” mdf glued and nailed.
A higher budget may let you use 1” plywood with a banded edge. etc etc.
I wouldn’t even try to design this until I knew the range the client wanted to spend.
(This takes a little finesse speaking with the clients to figure out.)
I also think this would need to be pre-fabbed off site and built on site and painted on site to get the best look.

-- -

View gsimon's profile


1318 posts in 2917 days

#9 posted 11-26-2015 03:28 AM

wow…all good points
Funny – such a simple looking shelf design threw me off
I’m inclined to go CAD but will suggest the client tape off if they so wish to do so
they are hands on and would likely enjoy the process.

It’s not fine furniture and I like machines so I’m not against using through fasteners, brads and biscuits
Gonna avoid dados – i still mess lining them up in my furniture to date let along a huge wall

Pine, MDO or a composite ply appeals to me more than MDF for longevity and it wouldn’t be as susceptible to moisture or to dings on the corners. Ideally I would like a true 1” thick board so it doesn’t look like it came from a box store or Ikea.

I’ll do a rough budget to do it the way I think is best (with all the great LJ input) and see if it will fly
if it exceeds the budget i’ll fall back on 3/4” regular stock

Looks like shop built boxes makes the most sense and install on site with help
Thanks for all the advice – it’s super to have real life back up with a push of a button!

-- Greg Simon

View oldnovice's profile


7594 posts in 4172 days

#10 posted 11-26-2015 03:44 AM

When I bought my current house the previous owners left a very large (7’ tall × 12’ long) wall size shelf unit built out of pine. It had been built several years ago as the boards were all clear and 10”+ inches deep and extremely flat. However the strength of the entire unit was very weak as all the shelves were straight in end grain nailed and some of them beginning to “migrate” out.

To make a short story long, anything is better than just nailed!

I have made both melamine covered MDF and MDO and the MDO primed and painted looked better than the pure white melamine.

-- "It's fine in practise but it will never work in theory"

View gsimon's profile


1318 posts in 2917 days

#11 posted 01-09-2016 01:32 AM

So here’s what came up with in Google Sketch
It’s my first time using it but it’s fairly intuitive
I’ve asked for a budget, noted a pine construction and suggested the client mask the wall as per the above recommendations

-- Greg Simon

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