First, the Ace Hotel did it. Then The Brick House figured it out for the masses. Hindsvik did it. Five 2 eight did it. Now, I did it. Except miniature. Super long post alert, I hope you’re on your lunch hour. Check it, yo:
More pretty pictures at the bottom, fyi.
My whole workspace was sort of lacking in the storage department. I unpacked my books about 5 minutes after moving in back in May, and then shuffled them around my room in various precariously teetering stacks while I figured out a storage solution. I came this close to just biting the bullet and ordering one of those vertical CB2 Array bookcases, but at $189 for only five vertical feet (meaning I would have needed to get rid of some books or buy two bookcases), it wasn’t the most practical choice. And there’s no space for a real grown-up sized bookcase anywhere. Also, apparently I’m addicted to building my own furniture.
Since I can’t screw into our wood floors, I needed to figure out how to properly support this as a wall-mounted endeavor. I don’t know much about anything, but I tried to be aware of the weight and design a suitable bracket accordingly. This, gentle readers, was a feat of engineering. There were several drawings that worked on paper but couldn’t be constructed in real life and a good hour spent in Home Depot screwing different formulations of piping together like a confused, frustrated toddler. About 45 minutes in I was sitting on the floor, surrounded by plumbing bits and stupidly screwing T’s into 10″ pipes when another shopper approached me. It turned out he was also building shelves and wanted to get chatty about it, but I wasn’t in the mood. He was one of those strangers who didn’t get it, the kind who can’t take the hint and leave you alone with your tinker toys.This was Go Time, I was in the zone. He explained his shelving plans and asked about mine. I tried to explain my plan, but at that point I was mostly nonverbal and flustered so he just kind of nodded and smiled, the way you do shortly before walking away when you realize normal-looking people are crazy. It wasn’t fair, really– I came to Home Depot because I knew nobody would bug me. The employees would make themselves scarce, I assume all smoking pot in a back room, complaining about their jobs and plotting new schemes to piss people off. They wouldn’t give two shits that I was ripping the plastic packaging off every little piece of pipe for my own benefit. Sometimes you need that.
After Mr. Talkative was out of my hair I got back to business and eventually came up with this little ditty:
So simple, so obvious. So here’s what you need. Note: those small pipes are actually called “nipples,” but I will hereafter be referring to them simply as “pipes” for obvious reasons, giggling to yourself at work chief among them. They are all 1/2″.
- 10″ pipe: 3
- 2″ pipe: 6
- Tees joints: 9
- Elbow: 3
- Close pipe: 9
- Endcap: 3
- Flanges: 6
- One can matte-black spray paint
- 24 hefty screws (preferably already black)
- 2 planks of wood (mine are 7″x74″)
I definitely didn’t want the shelf to be very deep, just deep enough to accommodate my more sizable books.
1. Buy all your pipes, clean them well with Murphy’s oil soap, let dry, and spray paint them black.
2. Since it would really blow if this thing fell, I invested in a studfinder, which totally sounds like an online dating service for gay guys. In fact it’s a sweet tool that can, through witchcraft, detect the studs under your drywall. It was about $20 and totally worth it for the peace of mind. Especially in an old building, you can’t assume that the studs are standard distances from each other. Mark the center of your studs.
3. A level is a great tool to have for nearly anything in life, but especially for this (a real one, not the iPhone app which I’m pretty sure is a prank). Figure out how high you want your bottom flange to be off the floor and mark it. Then use a level to mark the rest of them. I lined up the bottom screw hole with the mark on the wall and hung all of the flanges so two screw holes would always form a vertical line (and therefore be affixed to the stud at the strongest point, the center). After your bottom flanges are in place, center your level vertically over your bottom flange and draw a line in pencil ten inches above your bottom flange. You’ll need this later (step 5)
4. Screw your closed pipes, your tee joints, the 2″ pipes and the elbows into your bottom flanges. The point of the tee is that it creates a level surface for your shelf to lay on. Then lay your wood on top, trace around the top of each elbow joint from underneath with a pencil. Remove your wood, use a paddle bit or hole saw (I used a 15/16″ paddle bit) to drill through where you just marked. I’d recommend a hole saw since the paddle bit can make your wood a splintery mess, as I found out.
5. Put your wood back, screw in your vertical 10″ pipes, the tee, the 2″ pipe, the other tee, and the closed pipe.
6. Now, getting it all on the wall is kind of tricky. I loosened all the screws on the bottom flanges about an inch so the whole thing could kind of fall back from the wall a bit (it’s a good idea to have two people for this part, Eva held the shelf up while the screws were all loose), which gives you the space you need to attach the top flanges. Re-tighten your bottom screws and affix the top flanges to the wall, the top and bottom screw holes lining up with the vertical line you made earlier. Sorry there aren’t pictures, it was kind of all hands on deck.
7. Lay your top shelf, making sure the edges line up with the bottom shelf. Trace the holes and drill. Lay it back on top and screw in your closed pipes and end caps through the holes.
Phew, the hard part is over. Now onto those finishing deets:
I insisted on using plywood because I love that exposed edge, which ended up being an expensive headache. Home Depot in Manhattan doesn’t sell 4′x8′ sheets of anything, so I went to Prince Lumber. First, they didn’t like that I was building my own bookshelves instead of just buying some. Then they didn’t like that I wanted plywood instead of the much cheaper wood planks. They especially didn’t like that I wanted 1″ thick plywood and eventually talked me into using 3/4″ instead. They didn’t like that I needed them to cut it down to 7″x74″ strips. They didn’t like that I didn’t want my scraps, even though I might as well take them because I paid for them. I’m pretty sure they just didn’t like me, which is odd because I’m so wonderful. Eventually we settled on 3/4″ thick Canadian Birch plywood, which they assured me would be strong enough for the load and wouldn’t bow. Then they called me a trust fund baby at checkout. My new wood planks had to go through that plexiglass window in the cab on the way back. It was harrowing.
Anyway. I really like plywood. It reminds me of sweet furniture I can’t afford. I taped off the top and b0ttom and used one coat of Minwax Fruitwood 241 on the edges.
Then I used glossy polyurethane over just the edge. I used about 4 or 5 coats, since the first two kind of just get sucked in and I really wanted to seal the edge well for what comes next.
Okay. You know when you’ve read something a really long time ago and then it just pops into your head and you feel weird about remembering it? That’s what happened with the description of this awesome black floor that Anna from Door Sixteen posted forever ago:
So I figured I’d try it, because that is sick. The process involves letting steel wool steep in vinegar, the resulting liquid of which forms a chemical reaction with the tannin in the wood to turn it a grey/black, the darkness depends on the amount of tannin in the wood and the number of coats you do.
The steps were:
- Take some steel wool, put it in the bottom of an empty parmesan cheese container.
- Pour in white vinegar.
- Let soak 24 hours.
- Strain into a cup to remove any metal bits, which will rust if they get painted onto the wood.
- Get to painting (I used a small foam brush).
Be careful with this stuff, since I found that any errant drips (like on my walls!) left a reddish stain wherever they dried.
I’m not sure quite where I went wrong– I painted SEVERAL samples on scrap pieces, all of which turned out a delicious silver grey, but the shelves themselves definitely came out a sort of greyish-brownish. I topped it with a coat of tung oil (what you see on the right), which might have made it browner? It’s still a pretty cool finish, though not exactly what I was going for. I’m still going to count it a success since vinegar and steel wool changed the color of the wood so much. Like, slow down science, you’re blowing my mind.
Then, dress it up! Of course I just HAD to clutter the top up with too much stuff, some of which has already been edited out. I just got so excited.
I like the idea of the bottom shelf being for books and the top shelf being a nice forum for a rotating display of art and objects. Those are my boring nerdy school books, the cool stuff is on the other side.
Yeah, I switched the picture above the desk to something smaller. It feels more balanced and makes room for the desk lamp, which had to switch sides so the right side of the desk wouldn’t look a hot mess.
There wasn’t a graceful place to put this, so here it is. The budget breakdown:
- All 1/2″ pipe: $54
- Screws: $6
- 1 Can matte black spray paint: $6
- 2 planks of 7″x74″ Canadian Birch plywood: $66*
- Vinegar: $2
- TOTAL: $134
*this could have been a LOT cheaper if I weren’t so insistent, but I wanted that damn ply.
So there you have it, a shelf. I like it.