It’s finally ready! I am so excited to share with you a very special DIY project. No, this isn’t a sewing project, but it houses all my sewing books so I think it deserves a post of its own.
Disclaimer: I say this is a DIY project, but in reality you must also be skilled in woodworking and metalworking. Fortunately for me, my boyfriend is skilled in both and offered to build a bookshelf for me.
The inspiration for this project was a bookshelf I had seen awhile back on Apartment Therapy’s website.
I’ve always loved the look of this bookshelf and I shared this picture with my boyfriend one day about a month or so ago. He said he could make it so I said let’s do it. The designer bookshelf featured on Apartment Therapy is the Beckett bookshelf from Crate and Barrel. It can be yours for the low price of $1,000. Yeah, not happening. Room and Board has a similar version of this bookshelf for $2300.
For our version, we sourced all of the project materials for approximately $330. Here’s a breakdown of costs:
Cherry Wood (40 feet) $140
Mild Steel $90
Hardware & stain $62
Total Project Cost: $332
Pretty amazing, huh? Our bookshelf set up before was pretty sad looking:
I’m actually embarrassed now that I can see the difference. The old bookcase was from wal-mart and everything just looks very messy. The new bookshelf completely changes the look of the entire living room. I couldn’t be happier.
Arit did put in about 100 hours of labor, though, so you can start to see why well made furniture is so expensive. Also, if you purchase wood and metal at Home Depot or Lowes you can expect to pay at least twice as much, although the wood will have been milled on all four sides, as opposed to the rough cut wood used on this project. We bought the cherry lumber in 10′ x 14″ x 1.25″ boards from a local man’s barn. The wood had been air dried for about 15 years, as opposed to typical commercially available kiln dried lumber. It is preferable to purchase lumber that has aged for a long time since it has already twisted and distorted and settled on its final shape. So we drove to someone’s barn one night and hand selected the boards.
The steel was purchased from a local “metal supermarket”. Most cities have a local steel supplier and sell steel for far less than big box stores (e.g. Home Depot). The metal is mild steel .063″ wall square tube and was purchased in 6′ sections.
I’m going to invite my boyfriend, Arit, to finish the rest of this post in order to better explain the construction process . . .
Hello. I’m Arit! This project was a lot of work but I didn’t mind doing it as it gave me a break from working on some other things and my idea of a good time is making noise in the garage until the early morning. Carmen seems pleased with it, which is good too.
Prior to picking up any materials I built a 3d model of the bookcase in order to make sure Carmen was going to be satisfied with the design, and therefore couldn’t hold me accountable for any design decisions I might make during the process:
The easiest part of the project was making the steel frames. I chose to use square steel since it is a lot easier to mate up the tubes (flat surfaces) as opposed to round tubes, which would require hours of notching out the joints.
I started with these 6′ sections:
I cut out all of the lengths specified in the 3d model with a horizontal band saw:
I planned to secure the shelves with bolts hidden in the bottom of the frames’ cross beams so I had to drill out all of the mounting holes (center punched, pilot hole with center drill, final drill size):
Larger holes were drilled in the bottom of the crossbeams so that the bolt heads hid inside the square tube (hopefully that makes sense?):
After cleaning and prepping the crossbeams I TIG welded them all together:
Welding up the main frame sections was kind of a pain because I don’t have a proper clamping weld table and these things wanted to twist and bow like a pretzel during welding. Finally, after lots of tacking and banging things to square, I got the sections welded together:
After welding I cleaned the metal with abrasive pads and acetone and put on two coats of Rustoleum’s hammered black spray paint. I chose the hammered black because I thought the textured finish might be nice and it’s a lot more forgiving of surface blemishes than a standard finish. It is worth noting that this paint cures significantly slower than regular spray paint and specifies 48-hour re-coat times, otherwise you might get uncured surface layer problems (i.e. a crappy paint job). Also, I did not grind all of the welds because I don’t mind the look of TIG welds and I’m not a masochist (they are upside down in this photo):
On to the wood shelves. This was by far the most laborious part of the project. This rough sawn lumber needed a lot of work to get it into shape before it was useable for the shelves. After a tree gets cut down it is fed through a large saw that cuts fast but doesn’t leave a great finish. For example, here is the surface of the wood starting out:
After shoving these ~50lb 10′ boards through a planer for a few hours the lumber is now down to about 1″ thickness (removal of ~1/4″). The surface is much improved but still far from final finish:
Some of the wood had knots that needed to be carved out and filled. I used planer scraps for initial filling of large holes and refilled with sanding dust for a finer top layer. Tried to keep a high dust-glue ratio so the fills would take stain and match the rest of the boards finish:
The process of sanding all the boards took ~20 hours and went through grits 80-120-220. This is where headphones and two orbital sanders come in handy. Yet, a nice drum sander would have handled the job much quicker. An example of one board after 220 grit:
I cut the sides and backs for each of the shelves and planed them to matching heights and thicknesses and matched them to each shelf:
Initially I had pondered some kind of finger or dovetail joints but having just come off 20 hours of sanding I was looking to speed things up a little bit. So, I chose to fasten the sides with screws and cover the countersunk holes with oak dowels. This is a legitimate way to join, but not as fancy as finger joints would have been. I drilled pilot holes with a jig I made and then countersunk ~ 1/2″ depth for each of the screws:
Remember the holes in the steel crossbeams? I drilled into the bottom halves of shelves to ~.6″ depth and drove in 1/4-28 brass inserts using a 1/4-28 bolt inserted into a unpowered drill press with a couple of bolts locked up to feed the inserts perpendicular to the bottom of the shelves. This method was pretty easy and a lot more accurate than t-handle tools sold for this purpose:
Once everything was prepped I glued and screwed the shelves together one at a time (I only had about 9 clamps and needed every one for each shelf):
As mentioned, oak dowels were inserted into the screw holes and sanded flush once the glue had dried overnight:
After glue-up there was some sanding to be done to make all the seams perfectly flush but I got off fairly easy thanks to meticulously planing everything to matched height and thicknesses before hand. Prior to staining the shelves I raised the grain once with water and re-sanded with 220-grit. The stain we chose was “Spiced Walnut” by General Finishes. This is a dark stain and obscures the woods inherent color because Carmen wanted a dark finish and fails to appreciate the deep natural red tones that oil finished cherry can offer. Stain was applied with a rag and allowed 5-minutes to soak in before wiping off the excess:
After the stain was applied a wipe-on satin polyurethane by Minwax was applied. I used the wipe-on because it’s really easy to apply (feels liek cheating really) and we did not want a mirror finish. Here is what the finished surface looks like after two coats of poly:
Well that’s it. Nothing terribly sophisticated on this project. A lot of patience was required to get the sanding right, but other than that just basic metal- and wood-working techniques were used. Now I’m going back to work on my motorcycle. ~Arit