First page of the floating shelf archive.

Floating Shelves (the install)

Posted by is9582 on April 3, 2014 with No Commentsas , , , , , , , , , ,

In my previous article on the Floating Shelves from The Container Store, my focus was primarily from a woodworker/furniture maker type of view. During a couple of conversations I had about the article yesterday, I thought it would be useful to provide some additional information relating to the actual install/attachment choices to the wall, and how this dovetails into design choices.

When you read my previous article on this topic, you likely notice I chose 26″ as the length for my shelves. Now this could have been completely arbitrary, but it wasn’t and I’ll share with you what helped me to decide on this length.

As a bit of background, this type of shelf has the most strength when it is attached directly (or indirectly) to the studs in the wall. Just so I don’t leave anyone behind, the studs are usually 2″ x 4″ boards (actually sized 1 1/2″ x 3 1/2″, and the narrow side is what usually is against the drywall) spaced somewhat evenly throughout a wall, that provide support for the materials above it (like the roof and framing for the roof), as well as what the drywall (or other wall materials) can attach to.  Different house builders may space the studs differently, throughout the wall, and a common range is between 12″ on center to 24″ on center. (This means 12″ from the center of one stud to the center of the next stud, or the same for the 24″ version, but just twice as far apart). Some may be wondering how they can tell what they have inside their walls, since its completely covered already. Thats a good question! The easiest way, and what I use, is a battery-operated tool called a stud finder. Shocking, I know. These tools have come down in price quite a bit over the last 20 or so years, and you can find them in many stores. Some of the new versions also have modes you can choose that alert if there is an electric wire in the near vicinity as well as a mode for deep scanning, just in case a thicker drywall was used or there is more material between the stud and the tool. The stud finder basically sends out a signal and checks to see if it bounces back, which it will do if a stud us under the tool.

There are times that the stud finders can provide erroneous information, so here is what I do, before I start any drilling. I scan the wall in the area I’m planning to install my shelves, with my stud finder, and make light pencil marks relating to the two edges of any stud I find. Most stud finders either beep or have a light that displays when it first discovers a stud. This is the first edge so make a little pencil mark. Continue the scan and you should see the indicator light/beep go out or stop, which is the other side of the stud. Make another light pencil mark. After repeating this across the area for my shelves, I can decide what length shelf will both look good and will stay within the guidelines of the shelf-hardware manufacturer. I like to add an inch to each end of the shelf, over the stud dimensions, so with my 24″ on center studs, my shelf is 26″ long. You may like to have a couple of inches added onto each end, rather than just one, like I did.

Now, I take a thin awl (looks somewhat like an ice pick) or a very thin nail, and push it into the wall (or you can drill a very small hole, using one of your smallest bits) between the two marks that indicate a stud. Remove the awl or nail. I take a paperclip, unwind it so it is somewhat straight, and push it into the hole I just made, to see if I am hitting the stud, which is not always the case. Recently, I tested one hole and the paperclip hit nothing but air. It somehow just barely missed the stud. If you do miss, check your marks again, and test again towards the center of your marks, which should be successful. This just helps provide feedback, so you have a solid shelf. The shelf mounting hardware comes with screws as well as wall anchors (a conical piece of plastic, that is pushed into a previously drilled hole in sheetrock, providing very light weight support when there is no stud involved), but the weight the shelf can handle is diminished fairly dramatically if you don’t mount the screws into the studs.

When I have the solid feedback from my paperclip, I can prepare to drill the pilot hole(s) in the studs. Look for a drill bit that is the same size as the shank of the included screw, which will create the proper sized hole, while leaving enough wood for the screw to bite into. Before marking the second stud’s hole, put a level across the wall from the first hole, and mark your second hole when the bubble shows its level. This is the best way to end up with a level shelf. Now you have the second stud marked, repeat the process and you’re almost home.

The attachment screws included require a phillips screwdriver to install them. As a note, if you start to install one of these screws, and you reach a point prior to full depth where it is too hard to turn, remove the screw and think about re-drilling with the next larger drill bit (some bit sets advance by 1/64″, which will likely make the screw drive properly, but other sets move up by 1/8″ or so which is too coarse and may leave the screw too loose) and then re-installing the screw. If you find the screw is too loose, after re-drilling, you can glue a small wooden toothpick into the hole. Wait until it is dry, then see if you can drive the screw in and have a snug fit. If this fails, you can either buy some wooden dowel material to completely fill the previously drilled hole, or you can patch the first set of holes and try again in a nearby region. The size of the washers that comes with this kit, give you almost an inch of coverage out to each side, so you could effectively let the washer hide the first hole if you can safely drill in that range to the first hole.

When you have your holes drilled, with the screws and hardware attached to the wall, it is very simple to finish the install. I place one back bracket and front bracket onto the shelf, and slip the attachment piece down onto its mate that is screwed to the wall. I move on to the other side and repeat that same process. If you try to apply both back brackets, and then both front brackets, you’ll need at least one more hand than most of us have. Seriously, it probably can be done, but I’ve found working on one side of the hardware at a time works much easier for me.

After both sides are attached, you can shift the shelf around while pulling on the wire cables, so you can orient the shelf so it is parallel to the ground (or even so the front is slightly higher than the back, which can prevent items from falling off the shelf). At this point you are finished with the install and you can do one of two things. Start placing your cool nick-nacks on your awesome shelf, or call someone to show off just how great you are at installing a floating shelf!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this project and might check out some of my other articles, both here and at Highland Woodworking. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.


Add personal touch to floating shelves

Posted by is9582 on March 30, 2014 with No Commentsas , , , , , , ,
A few months ago my wife and I stopped to check out some things at The Container Store, and while there, saw something that looked very useful. I know, I know, that could easily categorize just about anything in that store. Well, the specific item we saw was a kit that attaches a shelf to a wall, with two screws, two long wire cables and connectors. The store had a number of different shelf materials hung throughout their store, and while a few seemed interesting, they really didn’t look like something we’d put in our home. 
We bought one of the kits with the aforementioned parts, as well as a ready-made shelf that looked like some curly maple, but as nice as it looked from a distance, my woodworking senses got the best of me. I had some Walnut in my shop that had been hanging around for quite a while, so I decided to measure their veneered shelf to get an idea how much I’d need. After this measurement, I took my stud-finder to my wall and found the distance between centers. Now I had my “real” requirements. 
The size I went with was approximately 26” L x 10” W x 3/4” thick. This last measurement turned out to be the most important, as the brackets that connect to the shelf, slide over the edge and there are no fasteners to keep them in place. As you might imagine, the thickness of your shelf is somewhat critical, as a thousandth of an inch too thick and its a no-go. If you go too thin, the brackets can slide around and it just doesn’t feel right, at least to me. They give a small range of thicknesses, but I enjoy making the pieces fit as if they were made for one another. 
For this shelf, I happened to have a piece of the Walnut that was just under 11” wide, while measuring 26” long. The board was a bit under 1” thick, so I needed to bring it down to a nice fit. (One thing to mention, is the fact that they also offer a second size that works with wood that is between 3/8” – 1/2” thick, in case your already have materials in that range, or if you just prefer a thinner look.). To get started on adjusting the thickness of my board, I started out by measuring the opening of the brackets in the kit, and set my marking gauge to that dimension. I decided which side of my board I’d use as my upward face, and then marked the needed depth from that side. I scored a line around all four sides, so I could know exactly when my plane reached the final depth. For this type of adjustment, I grabbed my Jack Plane with it’s cambered iron, and set the iron for a somewhat thick shaving. I certainly didn’t want to have my plane set for a .001” shaving, as it would take all day just to remove almost .250”. If you are already comfortable with your planing techniques, then you can just get after it, but if you still like some hard feedback, grab a pencil and mark across the board in a regular pattern. These pencil marks are what will provide a bit of guidance, so you can tell exactly what area your plane is working, and potentially sections you might have missed. It’s relatively quick to make the pencil marks, and none of it will remain when finished. 
When you get down close to your lines, either shift over to a smoother plane set for a light shaving, or just back off on the iron in the Jack so you don’t accidentally shoot past your mark or create some tear-out. When the whole surface is down to your line, make sure to test your brackets at the four points where they will fit on the board. Don’t ask me why I’m telling you this (wink, wink), but know that it could prevent you from going through the steps of applying a finish, only to find the thickness of the board was actually just slightly thick. Once you have the thickness confirmed, I knock off all of the sharp edges and corners, with my very sharp block plane, but you could also handle this with some sandpaper. The final surface for both faces can also come directly from the plane, or you can sand up through 320 grit or higher, depending on what you want. As the grain on this board was all over the place, and with that comes some tear-out, I followed up with some sandpaper. 
While Walnut can be very good looking, just as it is, I like applying an oil finish, to give it some depth and if you use one that has some solids in it, a bit of protection. I’m not trying to go for a gloss surface on this project, so this type of finish is both easy and good looking. I rag on a layer of finish, and then with a dry rag, wipe off the excess. After two coats, I let it dry completely. I follow that up with some paste wax and a little light buffing, after it has a chance to dry. That’s it and the depth of the color is dramatic against an off-white wall in the living room. 
The top shelf is the first I made, while I wanted to show how they look together.
After the first shelf was up for a month or so, I was requested to add a second shelf below the first. This time I didn’t have any boards that were both wide and long enough, so I had to glue up a panel. The main difference was in preparing the two mating edges, so they were square to the faces, straight and almost completely flat. You’re probably wondering why I wouldn’t make them exactly flat, and I have a good reason for this. When I get the two adjoining edges as flat as I can, I take a couple of passes with my jointer plain set for a light shaving. I start with the iron about 1/8” – 1/4” in from the end of the board, and take a shaving to the other end, again stopping about 1/8” – 1/4” from that end. After a couple of passes the plane stops cutting. At this point, I know for sure I have no bulge along the length of the two edges, which would cause problems. Now it is time to take a full through shaving, all the way from one end to the other. If the first pass is full width and a continuous shaving the full length, that is the last pass I take. If the first is not, I take a second, which is enough 99% of the time. When the two boards are held together, with finger pressure, you should see no light anywhere along the seam. Get any clamps you may need for your glue-up, and set them nearby. Apply some yellow or white glue to the edges, and after setting one board on the other, slide them back and forth along the edge, which tends to make the glue start to grab a little quicker. Using your clamps with light pressure, keep the boards aligned as best you can, so there is less wood to remove for a flat pane. From this point on, the same basics are applied until you have your finished shelf. 
This is a closer view of the shelf I made from two boards.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about this project, and it might provide an idea how you can take store-bought and personalize it. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Lee Laird