I think the biggest challenge with decorating a leased apartment is not being able to nail things into the wall D: That means no floatings shelves, wall-mounted TVs, ceiling mounted projectors, etc. I wanted to build something for my projector because it had been sitting under the coffee table and then sitting on a makeshift shelf just a bit higher than the couch. With the first position, I couldn’t move the coffee table without knocking the projector over, and with the other position, no one could sit in the middle of the couch without seeing a silhouette of their head.
After some extensive research on leaning shelves and library ladders, I decided to design and make my own that was suited for holding up my projector and speakers above sitting height. If you’ve seen my previous project, this one uses the same principles of geometry, though slightly more involved. This isn’t going to be a DIY post because while the end result was functional, it’s not a highly stable or strong shelf and it was pretty complicated and difficult to make. I like the design a lot and will probably revisit it at some point to improve it. (You can probably see from the photos that that boards are still shrink-wrapped and not screwed in because I was conflicted between finishing the project or stopping and salvaging what materials I could for the next project/iteration.)
In the meantime, here are some lessons learned. Hopefully these will help you with similar projects in the future!
- When it comes to wood dowels, a pipe cutter will do the job, BUT it’s not a good idea for this project. Why? The pipe cutter will compress the wood where you cut it, such than when you insert it into the copper fittings, it will no longer be a snug fit. This made it really difficult, but not impossible, to get the pieces glued straight and to keep them straight. I will be looking into buying a saw for future wood dowel projects.
- The “1/2″ inch in 1/2 in. copper pipes is more of a nominal size; it’s really closer to 5/8”. So when you buy wood dowels, buy the 5/8″ size. Home Depot has pine and oak, the former being softer (and cheaper) than the latter. I originally ordered 1/2″ acrylic dowels online, but when they came in I realized a) they were too small to fit into the copper fittings and b) they would buckle under the weight of the shelf.
- I still think acrylic dowels would work for the small components, like the 6-8″ segments on the shelves. However, the only material that will work for the longer vertical components (the “legs”) is copper. I tried it with pine dowels, and it just wasn’t stiff enough.
- Gorilla glue is really, really strong. Which is great because it’s holding up this whole shelf, but that means you have to work fast. It helps to mark and measure before you glue that way one side doesn’t end up being shorter or longer than the other. And it also helps to build with a friend!
- This one might seem intuitive but I’m mentioning it because it’s important- the order in which you glue things matters! When you have a lot of little wood pieces to glue together, have a game plan, because you’ll get to a point where you glue three pieces together and can’t fit in the fourth because the glue has set.
- The easiest, most constructible (but also most expensive) alternative is to use all copper. Copper tubes fit snuggly into fittings so you might be able to get away with glueing in some parts. I had intended to use wood for the whole project, but had to switch to copper for the vertical legs. At the very least, I’d make the base entirely out of copper because my shelf kind of slants toward the right, probably because of the wood and how the pipe cutter compressed the wood at the connections.
- Last but not least, copper fittings will scratch painted walls. I’d recommend using those adhesive felt circles or strips you put under your furniture to pad contact points.
- After scouring the interwebs, I’ve found it’s pretty hard to find any test data for the shear strength of different diameter wood dowels. (Kinda wish I could use the Instron back at school!) But I did find an interesting thread where someone mentioned they had tested a 3/4″ dowel under their own weight of 200 lbs, so that’s how I gauged 1/2″ dowels should be fine for this project.
- You can order acrylic rods of different diameters cut by foot or by a custom length online. I got mine at OnlineMetals and was able to find a code for free shipping by googling. If the free shipping code isn’t valid anymore, you can use this code – Q3WCSM – for 5% off your order until May 15th.
- I chose these boards because I love the natural bark! But if you want to save on cost (these were $16+ each on Amazon), you can get a simple white shelf of similar dimensions (8″ x 24″) from Home Depot for less than $4. I’ve also seen similar boards with bark in craft stores, so you could also go in person with a coupon (I know you can typically find 50% off one regular priced item at A.C. Moore or Michael’s in their weekly ad or on their websites). You could probably order online but artsy wood boards seem to go out of stock quite frequently.
- I tried out a new pipe cutter and it works much better than the last one I used. It’s also twice the price, but will probably save you a lot of time and hand muscle fatigue.