Choosing wood for a shelf
September 19, 2011 12:58 PM   Subscribe

I want to build a shelf like this. I have no idea how to build a shelf like that. I am a complete noob and really dumb questions are inside.

Okay, so I already have the poles and the braces. My questions are just about wood and load and such.

I'd prefer to have a really long shelf (9 - 10 feet) with a pole on either end. However, I can of course break it up (2 sections 4.5 feet each or whatever, like on that site).

If I want to go with one long board, how thick a board do I have to get to make sure it doesn't bow. I will be putting DVDs and books on these shelves, and maybe plants (though that's not mandatory). Is it stupid to just have one board the full length?

Do you have specific recommendations for types of wood and thickness and such?

Presently, I have some pine that is 12" deep by 1.5" thick by 4' 5" long. However, the wood is so thick it makes the space look congested which is why I was thinking of going to nine feet long to remove the middle pole.

If it's safer to go with the 4'5" width, I'd prefer to go to thinner board... in which case, any recommendations?

posted by dobbs to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you are using a long aluminum L-bracket to support the shelf along the wall side, then it isn't going to bow, at least until the weight pulls the L-bracket out of the wall. Realistically, the L-bracket is going to be taking most of the weight of whatever is on the shelf so you need to make sure that whatever it is anchored to in the wall can take the load.

Construction 2x12's don't tend to be terribly straight (or necessarily stable i.e. they'll twist as they acclimate), which you'll notice more at 10ft than 4ft. If you are really concerned about looks you might find a lumber dealer and get something (a lot) more expensive.

3/4 in. over 4 ft. is probably fine if the board is being supported at the back by that L-bracket.

Also, the double ikea brackets that the website uses don't serve much purpose i think.
posted by at 1:12 PM on September 19, 2011

For anyone interested in building shelves that don't sag, the Sagulator is a wonderful resource.

That said thtis isn't a concern here if you use the L-bracket at the back as noted. I'd also agree that construction lumber makes crappy furniture. Your local big-box home center should have some glued-up pine panels (or similar) for shelves. Much easier to deal with.
posted by N-stoff at 3:45 PM on September 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

What makes the pine panels better, N-stoff?
posted by mediareport at 5:30 PM on September 19, 2011

Check out Manhattan Nest. He did something similar and has step by step photos of how he did it.
posted by Wantok at 5:56 PM on September 19, 2011

What makes the pine panels better, N-stoff?

Guessing, since I'm not N-stoff, but construction lumber is exceptionally low-grade stuff. A lot of different softwood species are used to make it, and they vary in hardness and strength. Such boards often have defects such as loose knots or are cut from the center of the tree so they have the pith running through them and will crack. Framing lumber also isn't fully dried.

The glued up pine panels are or a more predictable species / density, have had the worst defects removed, and are (or should be) properly dried for indoor use.
posted by jon1270 at 5:57 PM on September 19, 2011

Yeah, the pine panels have been planed and varnished, nice and indoor ready not like construction lumber.
posted by mlis at 6:57 PM on September 19, 2011

Not varnished.
posted by mlis at 6:58 PM on September 19, 2011

No matter how thick the boards are, at 9 - 10' long and without support in the centre, they will bow eventually, especially if you are putting books on them (books are very heavy).

At 4 - 5'. you should be OK but, if you stack the whole thing with books, anything under 3/4" thick is likely to bow over time. The bracket along the wall will help, but the shelves will still bow at the front unless they are supported there as well.

If you are trying to avoid the look of having supports in the middle and give the appearance of a single, smooth shelf, what about supporting the shelf in the middle with a vertical board between each shelf? It would only need to be pretty thin (3/4" max) and would more or less blend in with books etc once filled, so would not be obvious. You could leave it an inch or so short of the front of the shelf to make it less conspicuous - that way, the front of the shelf will be seamless. If you do this, you may want to screw the shelves to the L bracket in a few places to make sure the shelves don't tend to pull away from the wall.

Construction timber usually makes poor furniture of any sort (usually not fully dried, not intended to be seen, so lots of knots and other imperfections) - the best thing to use would be either manufactured board with a veneer or laminated timber (such as linked by N-stoff) if you are set on solid timber. That way, you are assured of stability in shape and consistency in strength.
posted by dg at 9:48 PM on September 19, 2011

3/4" furniture grade plywood should do pretty well. What you can also do is use the steel l-brackets in the rear, and then screw steel straight stock (half an L bracket) in the front. 10 feet might be stretching it, but 5 feet should be no problem.

At 5 feet, you might not even need the metal, and just cap the front and rear edges with some hardwood with the grain oriented correctly.

(Also, at 10 feet, the mount points might be over stressed. The shelf could well be strong enough, but the four corners might tear away.)
posted by gjc at 6:33 AM on September 20, 2011

mediareport - as mlis/Jon1270 said the laminated pine is already planed/sanded, comes in 'standard' widths (6"/12"/18") and lengths, needs very little work to look decent.

Cut it to length and paint, stain or varnish, all done. Excellent if you need a smallish quantity of stable good quality boards and don't have access to a full shop (jointer/planer/table saw) to dimension rough lumber. No need to rip full plywood sheets to width (and edge band for appearance), no cupping/warping which is always a chance with solid wood, personally I'd never recommend particleboard or MDF for shelves to anyone.
posted by N-stoff at 10:49 AM on September 20, 2011

Yeah, I should have noted that solid timber is far more robust than manufactured board for shelves.

I gave some additional thought to the idea of supporting the shelves along their length (the 'vertical board' thing I mentioned earlier) and I suggest that you could make some supports that could double as bookends by making them in a inverted T shape that fit exactly between the shelves vertically - you could slide them in wherever you want to divide the shelves. This way, you would get the smooth look of continuous shelves, be able to flexibly divide the shelves off for different purposes and still have reasonable vertical support. You would need to be careful to try and space them reasonably evenly to get the maximum support. Ideally, the supports would be in a straight vertical line, but this wouldn't be essential.
posted by dg at 3:02 PM on September 20, 2011

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