Well, there is indeed a point where one can bite off more than can be chewed. But after bleeding a few times and making many mistakes the project was choked down and having survived this painful initiation I will come back stronger on my next project! There aren’t a lot of pictures with this blog because I was too busy getting frustrated, and forgot to use the camera!
The final major phase of my sun room remodel was to construct built-in shelves to frame an oddly placed window. In order to get a clear idea of how to design the shelves I visited the library several times, looking through books on cottage and Victorian design. I considered the size of the room and how a shelving system would impact an already small room. I reviewed the construction of simple shelving units in several handy-man guides and measured the depth of a bookshelf unit that I already own to get an idea of the dimensions of my project.
The next part of my plan was to think about how I wanted to use the shelves. Since the sun room is doubling as my home office I needed storage space for the three ring binders that hold a lot of my records. I also needed book shelf space for the reference books that I have accumulated through years of study and lesson preparation. No matter that I have retired- I am just not ready to part with these. I wanted the shelves to be decorative but I didn’t want them to dominate the room.
The result of my planning was to build the shelves in several sections. The bottom section of each set of shelves will be 24 inches tall and 16 inches deep. This will give me enough depth to house the large notebooks. The top section will be 60 inches tall and 12 inches deep. This is closer to a traditional book shelf depth. The two sections will be screwed to the wall and will appear to be attached together by a molding trim.
My next step was to draw a plan for constructing the shelves. This included the length, width and height of each board as well as supporting pieces. After the diagram was complete I made a list of materials and headed off to the lumber yard. Most “big box” lumber yards will cut plywood to size for you. This was a great help to me since a sheet of plywood is too big for me to handle by myself. Part of my plan included drawing out a cutting pattern to avoid excess waste. I handed the list to the workman at the lumber yard and left with all the large pieces of my project cut to size.
Back home I started with great optimism and enthusiasm. First I glued and nailed two 1X2 frames for the top and bottom of the lower shelf unit. The frames acted as the skeleton onto which I nailed the plywood sides. I double checked every corner to make sure I was keeping everything straight and at 90 degree angles. Ha! The frames wobbled all over the place and I had to measure and remeasure at each stage. Adding a 1/4 inch plywood back to the shelves helped to stabilize the unit. I glued and nailed molding to the plywood faces to hide the raw edges and then I painted the whole thing. Here is a tip- paint the parts of your shelves before you assemble them. That way you won’t have to do gymnastics later!
While the paint was drying I cut the pine top for the unit, sanded and stained it. After two coats of paint on the shelf unit and polyurethane on the stained top I put the whole thing together and proudly carried it into the house to screw to the wall… and things went south! A house tends to settle over 100 years and I was dismayed to discover that the walls were no longer straight. And the corner bead that I had used in an earlier project to repair the plaster walls had rounded out a corner so the shelf didn’t fit evenly against the wall. I ended up adding a strip of molding and using a whole load of painter’s caulk to blend the shelf into the wall. I was saved by the fact that, with the exception of the top of the unit, the color of the shelf was the same as the wall. The repairs were camouflaged and things didn’t turn out too badly!
Live and learn! I changed the plans for my top units to include a wider piece of molding along each wall. That simplified the attachment of the upper shelves and the construction of the tall shelves went more smoothly. I also added a third 1X2 frame to the construction of each shelf unit. By adding this third piece of “skeleton” I eliminated a lot of the wobble that frustrated me so much in keeping the lower shelves straight and square. The final step in attaching the shelves to the wall was to attach crown molding to the top of the units to connect them to the ceiling. Adjustable shelf standards were screwed to the inside of the cabinets so that the space between shelves fit the size of the books.
A few closing thoughts:
- This was my first try at making any kind of furniture. The decision to make painted shelves instead of stained ones was a good choice for several reasons. The paint allowed me to purchase lower quality wood, so a mistake was less painful. Also, the paint was very forgiving and hid a lot of mistakes.
- I used a compressed air nail gun for most of the project. A nail gun shoots a thin nail that is less likely to split wood. My frustration in using the nail gun comes from the fact that I can’t see straight and the nails kept missing the pieces I was trying to nail together. I solved this problem by measuring and drawing lines where the two wood pieces were supposed to connect. This relieved a lot of frustration. If you are going to use regular nails I suggest drilling a pilot hole before trying to hammer a nail directly into thin wood.
- Using wood glue in addition to nails will result in a stronger bond between two pieces of wood.
- Lightly sand between coats of paint to get a smooth finish. This is also important when brushing on layers of varnish.
- Keep a good supply of wood filler and painter’s caulk on hand. Even if you make no mistakes you will still need to fill nail holes or small imperfections in the wood.
- If I can do this, so can you. Remember- no fear!