I have a lot of books that I enjoy reading, re-reading, and referencing time and again. The problem is, I have a lot of books and no adequate place to organize them well. So, I end up with lots of piles of books and double rows of books on each shelf of my cheap, freestanding bookshelves.
The shelves you buy in the store have a couple of problems:
- They’re made with cheap, low-quality materials that can’t properly support the weight of the books, and
- Their size is limited for safety reasons; not too tall, not too wide, etc.
I’ve often wanted to install built-in-place custom wall shelving to hold all the books but there are considerable financial limitations to that solution. It would be quite expensive to remove, modify or replace the carpeting to accommodate built-in-place shelves. There would also be sheetrock and cove molding work to be performed.
I could probably perform the sheetrock and cove molding work, but I’d have to contract the carpet work. Also, the amount of material necessary to properly complete the work would be up to $2,000, maybe more. That’s not an amount of money I am willing to drop into this project. I haven’t been able to convince myself to do it.
One day I was chatting with my son and, knowing I’m a bibliophile in search of a good book shelf, he sent me a link to an article about Neil Gaiman’s home library. It blew me away and I looked at the pictures with my mouth hanging open. The books were floor to ceiling on the shelves! The shelves looked great but they weren’t typical, something was different about them.
It was clear that Neil’s shelves were more about the books and less about the shelves. Often, built-in-place shelves are built to be showy and are rigid and inflexible in their size to accommodate different book sizes/types. For days I kept going back to the article to enviously scan through all the pictures. As I repeatedly viewed those pictures, I realized the shelves were constructed using shelf standards and brackets.
This fact had not been immediately evident when I first saw the photos. The shelves had been skillfully constructed to hide the shelf brackets. This was the solution I had been looking for! I didn’t want cheesy, cheap shelves on my wall and I didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars to avoid that problem.
I researched shelving standards & brackets and decided on Knape and Vogt brand 180 series in silver with 10-inch deep brackets. Their are a lot of options with their shelving and their web site was very useful in helping me design my shelves to replicate Neil’s shelves. The best place I found to supply the shelving was Woodworker Express. They had all the parts including the special screws to mount the standards to the wall.
Since I’m an electrician by trade, I decided to 1-up Neil by putting LED lighting on my shelves. I went with the excellent Diode LED Fluid View 24VDC Tape Light in 2700K and used their innovative 100W in-wall switch/driver combo to power them. To distribute the power to each shelf I built a custom wiring harness with Diode LED’s 16 AWG 2-conductor cable and used barrel connectors with pigtails at each shelf to allow me to disconnect the shelves from the power harness in order to remove or relocate the shelf whenever I needed to do so.
To build the shelves I went with red oak veneer plywood and solid red oak (all from Home Depot) to trim the edge making the lip which hides the shelf brackets and gives me a place to mount the LED tape lighting. To stain the wood I chose General Finishes (Nutmeg) Gel Stain and for the topcoat I chose General Finishes Arm-R-Seal Urethane Topcoat (Satin). I applied one coat of stain and then put on three coats of the topcoat. The results were better than anything I’ve done previously and I’m very happy with it.
The project cost just over $700 to build including the lighting which is considerably less than my projected budget for the built-in-place shelves. Check out the build photos below for to see step-by-step construction of the shelves:
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