How to support tall bookcases without drilling into the wall?
January 20, 2008 10:49 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for any information on a method of support for tall furniture (bookcases, etc) that doesn't involve attaching it to the wall, but instead goes from the top of the furniture to the ceiling and fixes it in place without drilling. Anyone out there have any ideas?

I've seen a product that fits the bill, while living in Japan - a friend had a very tall china cabinet and needed to keep it stabilized for earthquakes. It looks like an expandable tension rod - I have no idea what they're called, and my friend in Japan can't tell me what it's called, a friend in the US who has something similiar said "they came with the bookshelves, we have no clue", and I've searched every woodworker's forum, bookcase store, and talked to several staff at hardware stores, and no one seems to know what I'm referring to.

(The real problem is that our walls are masonry [and sometimes we can't find more than 2 studs per wall when searching] and we were warned that pipes are going through most of the interior walls of the apartment building and so to be incredibly careful even when hanging a picture, let alone drilling through to install supports.)

Thanks for any help you can give!
posted by muscatlove to Home & Garden (14 answers total)
Just an idea -- perhaps using a shower curtain rod that lengthens when you twist it would give a bit of support between the top of the unit and ceiling. I'd be leery of using this method without testing it though...Good luck.
posted by orlin at 11:02 AM on January 20, 2008

This bar clamp/spreader might work, although I don't know if the aesthetics matter.
posted by The Deej at 11:13 AM on January 20, 2008

What about thinking the other way? Can you weigh-down the bottom of the bookcase instead?
posted by nathan_teske at 11:22 AM on January 20, 2008

Response by poster: There's only about 16" between the top of the shelf and the ceiling, which makes using any kind of tension rod not designed for this purpose seem shifty at best, considering that it's such a small space that any drapery tension rods at this length are probably designed for very small curtains.

Aesthetics are not a big concern, but I think that that bar clamp might be longer than the space available?

As for weighing down the bottom of the cases, we have lots of heavy hardcover books to try to give them a low center of balance, but they're on top of berber carpeting so they're not as perfectly even as being on hardwood flooring, and I'm slightly leery of trusting that all will be fine with just this, considering that basically every single reference on the subject says "BOLT THEM TO THE WALL."

One good thing is that we don't have children or pets yet, and don't live in an earthquake zone, so they only danger they pose is falling forward because of their own weight or being bumped into by accident.
posted by muscatlove at 11:38 AM on January 20, 2008

There are bicycle storage systems that are basically cables suspended from pulleys attached to the ceiling, so I googled around and ended up here. Maybe that sparks an idea? Obviously you wouldn't need the feature that raises and lowers it. And this picture shows something else you could do. Imagine that metal shelf is the top shelf of your bookcase.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 12:04 PM on January 20, 2008

Are they against a wall? We've always just shimmed the bottom fronts so they lean back against the wall. If you're not in an earthquake zone, I'd say that's sufficient.
posted by rikschell at 12:08 PM on January 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

You could cut a couple pieces of wood that are a little shorter than the distance between the shelves and ceiling, and use opposing wedges (look for "shim shingles") to provide a bit of pressure. Whatever you use, you'll probably want to position it under the joists, and maybe use a small board (or something flat) as a bearing point to avoid crushing the drywall.

It'd be easier to draw a picture, but hopefully you get the idea.
posted by sgass at 12:11 PM on January 20, 2008

Whilst I think the shimming of the front edge should be sufficient, if you want to make it secure why not bolt it to the wall? I don't really understand what is stopping you doing that. If it's masonry*, it will be perfectly solid, and all you need is one of these to make sure you don't blow yourself up or cause a leak when drilling.

*Masonry walls to me means the house is made of brick - like UK houses. Although your 'searching for studs' bit leaves me baffled, but I have no idea how they build houses in Japan. Expansion plugs into brick are pretty damn strong in tension - the direction the bookcase would have to pull them to fall over.
posted by Brockles at 3:12 PM on January 20, 2008

I use shims. Good grief, there's a web site (sort of) devoted to shims.
posted by amtho at 5:02 PM on January 20, 2008

We just got in a TV rack that does just that---it expands like a basement style screw jack w/ rubber cane like tips, and you screw it apart until it's firmly pressing between the two. It's intended to hold the weight of a larger style CRT TV.

Issue here is that if you're in a "normal" US house or apartment, that ceiling is drywall...and isn't designed to take pressure.
posted by TomMelee at 5:25 PM on January 20, 2008

I'd look for ideas among the products and specs at and maybe give those guys a call.
posted by Dave 9 at 5:55 PM on January 20, 2008

You're probably better off investing on a stud and metal finder and finding a way to secure to the wall.

I'm no engineer, but any bookshelf that is on carpet and feels tippy isn't going to be dissuaded by anything short of multiple supports rigidly attached to the bookshelf. Nothing that just goes from the top of the furniture to the ceiling without really secure attachment is going to work worth a darn.

What would work is a floor to ceiling (centered on the ceiling joists) screw jack sort of thing that the shelf is then anchored to.
posted by gjc at 6:08 PM on January 20, 2008

Put a pile of books on top and wedge the last one in good and tight? You could get cheap second hand books for the purpose if you didn't want to use your current ones.
posted by markr at 10:48 PM on January 20, 2008

In addition to shimming the front bottom (and I live in an earthquake zone), you can actually get just the ends of shower poles and put them on a pole of the right size, available at any hardware store (but possibly cut by you).
posted by rhizome at 10:50 PM on January 20, 2008

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