Wording With Purpose

DIY Corner Shelf

Michelle’s townhome includes a beautiful fireplace with space above for a TV. She opted to wall-mount the TV, freeing up that currently uncharted territory for something new and exciting.

Her initial thought was to construct a built-in—shelves for books along with panels to fill the open space. As we discussed and visualized that option we had concerns that it would make the fireplace corner appear small and stuffy.

We invested time looking at shelf ideas online as well as in several woodworking books from the public library. Our discussion included these questions:

  • What problem are you hoping to solve?
  • How will you use the shelf space?
  • What future plans might be impacted by a built-in?
  • How do you plan to handle the existing electrical and cable outlets?
  • Will this change affect your resale potential?

The purpose of the discussion is to prevent expenditure of time and money on something which becomes visually tiring and limits opportunity. Here’s the before picture of her free space, and please ignore the slabs of ancient barn wood. Those are for a future ceiling light project which has been added to Dad’s List. I really need to password protect that file.

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Michelle’s requirements are:

  • shelf space for books
  • display area for doodads and what-nots
  • a place for her expanding plant collection

We started with dimensions of the open space. I drew a scale model to make the numbers tangible. The shaded area represents the bottom of the proposed design, and by sliding it we can see how the shelf width impacts plant space and so on.

Corner Shelf Model

In the end we decided on a 42” shelf that preserves 10” of space for plants and incorporates design elements Michelle personalized. There is a small triangle of wasted space, but given the visual effect of her solution no one will notice.

Corner Shelf Plan

There were several iterations of this sheet before I had dimensions and a shopping list ready. For the support members I used 1×4” clear fir, and the shelves are cut from 48” sections of 1×12” pine. I burrowed through the lumber stack to find clear boards (minimum knot holes) and double checked for warping and cupping.

My table saw will not cut 1×12’s on a 45° angle. The corner bevels took two passes – one with the table saw and a finishing pass with the jig saw. Use what you have, and get creative, but be safety conscious. At no time does a serious carpenter think, “It’s time to put my fingers in the saw.” Those accidents happen when we let our guard down and relax around the tools. Keep the fleshy parts out of the rotating machinery.

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Michelle was enthralled (or at least polite) as I pontificated about saw kerf and the need to position the 1×4’s on the chop saw correctly. She expertly made the cuts.

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Now it was time for our Kreg Jig® to join us. Michelle is an ambassador for that company and usually mentions, “We can Kreg Jig® it!” somewhere in her project planning.

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The support ends of the shelf are identical. We did a layout of the pieces to assist in marking the spots for the pocket screws which have to be hidden from view.

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Clamps held the pieces in place while Michelle inserted the screws. Don’t forget to turn the drill to a lower torque setting.

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She commented that my drill is quite heavy and plans to bring her “girl drill” next time. Don’t laugh. Her drill is a DeWALT® too, lightweight, but with serious power.

The shelves had to be notched to fit, and we accomplished this magic with the jig saw. The fit was a little tight and once primer and paint were applied I had to cut these slots a little deeper.

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The top and bottom shelves were secured with 1¼ wood screws, making the structure strong and wobble-proof. We took time to predrill pilot holes to prevent splitting. Next was a quick after-lunch run to the lumber yard for the trim of Michelle’s choice.

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Product testing is a major part of any effort. Michelle verified that a book could rest comfortably on the vast expanse of the shelf.

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I used one coat of primer and two coats of paint and the product was ready to install. The test fit showed us why it is better to be lucky than smart. My finished unit missed the AC outlet as planned, but it covers the cable outlet which is thankfully unused in her application. Michelle said, “No worries!”

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The innovative solution is corner shelf unit that preserves the open look of the fireplace. I can’t wait to see the plants lined along the front.

Nice design, Daughter!

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