Tips for Creating Shelving

Empty book shelf

Building a shelf may appear simple, but there are a lot of factors involved that affect the structural rigidity and longevity of a shelving unit. If you want to build creative shelving that is not only sturdy but distinctive, woodworking gets slightly more complicated. If you are considering building a shelf from specialty woods, keep these tips in mind to ensure woodworking success.

Getting Started

Begin by building the solid wood face frames, rather than the case, because the face frames is what the entire shelving unit is based on. This approach also helps you identify any design and construction flaws early on, when you’re able to correct them without throwing away much wood.

Cutting and Assembling

Make the face frames out of standard 3/4” material, using mortise-and-tenon construction. Begin by cutting the tenons on the rails using a table saw and a dado stack. Use those to lay the mortises on the stiles. If you are working with 3/4” material, a good rule of thumb is to make the tenons 1” long and 3/8” thick, and to cut the mortises with a hollow chisel mortiser roughly 11/16” deep. The cases should be made from 3/4” plywood, with 3/4” by 1/2”-deep dadoes cuts on the sides and 3/4” by 1/2” rabbets in the top edge of the side pieces. Drill the adjustable shelf holes next.

Doors, Shelves, and Back

Build the doors like you built the face frames, except remember to cut a 3/8” by 3/8” groove on the rails and stiles for the solid wood panel. For the back, use 1/2”-thick ship lapped and beaded material on the top and plywood on the bottom. Cut your shelves with plywood, then nail the moulding to it and sand the shelves.

The process of making creative shelving takes time and expertise—and Southern Lumber would like to help. We’ve been in business since 1904, offering specialty woods, wood products, and woodworking advice to our customers. Visit our shop in the Bay Area or click over to our website for more information. If you have any questions about our inventory of specialty woods or woodworking tools, please call us at (408) 297-9663.

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