The following tutorial, originally posted by Goodwill Hunter on Digital Press, was one of the original inspirations for this website. GWH did a terrific job of utilizing the space he had available, and the finished product looks completely professional. So good, in fact, that I once threatened to kidnap Mr. Hunter, chain him up in my garage, and force him to build fantastic shelves for me for all eternity. If only I could find him. With that, I’ll let him take it from here:
As a result of acquisitions at the Midwest Gaming Classic, the Circuit City $4.99 Sale, and some local game store blowout sales, this summer my gameroom has reached and exceeded capacity … It’s not a pretty sight:
Fortunately, the wonder that is wireless networking (through my employer provided PowerBook, and my UFO-shaped Airport … I love how easy Apple stuff is to set up and use!) has eliminated the need for a desktop computer, and therefore eliminated the need for the desktop itself. The desk has been moved to the basement, and over 6 linear feet of floor-to-ceiling wall space has suddenly become “Open for Business.”
Having already built a dozen custom shelving units for my gameroom, (it’s really the only way to go if you’re going to display over 4,000 games in a 10′ x 12′ room … and still have room to play ’em!) I knew that I would need to build 2 units for the corner space in question. Since the topic has come up in the past here, I thought I would take this opportunity to record and report on the process of planning, building and installing custom shelving units.
PART ONE: PLANNING & DESIGN
For me, the whole point of custom shelving units is to fit as many games as possible into the available space. To this end, the first thing to do is determine what’s going onto the shelves, and how much room is required. Since I plan to primarily use these units for items in DVD cases (7-1/2″ high … 5-3/8″ wide), I set the height of the shelf space at 7-3/4″. An opening this size will also accommodate most other game boxes, with the exception of SegaCD, Saturn, 3DO and longbox Playstation titles.
I then confirmed the size of the available space, which was 51″ on one wall, 36″ on the other, and 96″ of vertical space. Next, I had to choose a building material, … and 1″ pine boards have always worked well for me. Keeping in mind that 1″ x 6″ and 1″ x 10″ boards are actually sized 3/4″ x 5-1/2″ and 3/4″ x 9-1/4″, I moved to the design stage.
I decided to run the larger of the 2 units the length of the 51″ space, since splitting an 8′ board in half gives you 48″ shelves and a unit just under 50″ wide, including the side boards. With a 7-3/4″ opening and a 3/4″ thick shelf, I determined that 11 shelves could fit in my 96″ vertical space. Including the 3/4″ top board, my unit’s total height would be 94-1/4″. This nicely uses the available space, and still gives me more than an inch to tip the unit into place (if it were 96″ tall, and 5-1/2″ wide, you wouldn’t be able to tip it past the ceiling … the Pythagorean Theorem strikes again!)
6″ boards will give me the right depth for the shelves and side boards, but since I want to display some gaming knickknacks and McFarlane figures as well, I will be alternating between 6″ and 10″ boards for the shelves. This gives me 6 extended shelves with a 4″ of additional depth and a 16″ height, plus a nice, deep base board for extra stability. The extended shelves cut the available width for my second unit to 26″, which works great, as I can get 4 24″shelves out of an 8′ board, and a unit width of 25-1/2″. Using the same shelf layout from the first unit, I’m ready to determine how much lumber I’ll need.
I’ll skip the math and board division that gave me a total of five 8′ 1″ x 10″s and nine 8′ 1″ x 6″s. I also drew up a drilling template which will allow me to pre-drill the screw holes on the side boards, and told me that I need 96 1-3/4″ wood screws. A sheet of 4′ x 8′ backing board is added to the list (I have scrap for the smaller unit), and since I already have the wood stain and brads for nailing on the backing boards, off I go to Home Depot!
Here’s the sheet I scribbled my designs and measurements on, for what it’s worth. Next, I’ll let you know how much all of this stuff set me back, and start cutting lumber!
PART TWO: I’VE GOT WOOD
Before I bought the wood, I rechecked my plans and available materials (always a good idea) and made a few changes. On the minus side, my scrap of backing board was 1″ too narrow, so I had to add another sheet to my list. On the plus side, I discovered I had enough wood screws already in my shop to get the job done, and for 4 of the boards I would be buying, I could get by with 6′ boards instead of 8′. With my revised list in hand, I hit the road.
Bargain shopper that I am, I checked both Home Depot and Menard’s, and found they were having a lumber sale at Menard’s. My total for all the wood and backing boards was $61.00. Estimating the cost of hardware and stain I already had, I would put the total cost of materials for this project at $75.00. After I paid for the wood, I went to the lumberyard to pick out boards. I bought medium quality wood, and had to sort through a bunch of crap to find nice straight boards in good shape. Check both the length and the width of the boards for any warping, make sure there aren’t any loose knots, and shoot for at least one nice-looking edge on each board to face the front of the unit. Here’s my haul:
PART THREE: OH GOD!…MY FINGERS!
Before starting to cut, especially as close as I was to using all of each board, I stacked the boards and measured the shortest of each stack (they are not cut precisely to length). Of the boards that would be shelves for the small unit, one was exactly 72″. To leave space for the width of the saw blade, I reduced the shelf width slightly, to 23-7/8″ And after realizing that the backing board was 48″ wide, and would need to overlap to be nailed to the side boards, I reduced the width of the shelves for the large unit from 48″ to 47-1/4″. Now I was ready to cut:
I could have hauled all this wood down to the table saw in my shop, but my 40-year old knees and back protested mightily. Instead, I brought up a circular saw and did all of the cutting in the garage. And I can’t emphasize enough how right both your dad and shop teacher were … measure twice, cut once! One bad measurement can really screw up your project, especially if you don’t catch it until assembly. Oh, and always wear safety glasses too (Okay, Dad mode off.) I can get a table saw-like straight cut by clamping the board to my table, and then clamping a board as a guide exactly 1-1/8″ away from the cut (your saw’s gap may vary). This technique also works for cutting the backing boards to size, you just need longer pieces of scrap. After about 2 hours of cutting, I had all of my boards to size, and a very small pile of scrap to clean up:
PART FOUR: THE THRILL OF THE DRILL
Picking the ugly side of one of my side boards (so you won’t have to erase your pencil marks) I laid out the drilling template as shown in my first post. I then clamped two of the side boards together for two reasons: First, to mark the second board, so I wouldn’t have to redraw the drilling template again. Second, to help reduce splinters of wood popping out from the other side of the top board as the drill goes through. Some people will drill all 4 side boards at the same time, but if the drill is just a little off 90 degrees, by the time it goes through that bottom board, it will be way off the mark. For these holes, I use a drill bit that is slightly bigger than the threads of the screws. After marking each hole with a punch to guide the bit, I drilled through the first board, and halfway through the second. I repeated this with the remaining side boards, using the original marked board as my template. I then finished drilling the holes in the 3 half-drilled boards, using scrap underneath to limit pop-outs:
After drilling all the side boards, I determined which sides would be facing outward, and then counter sunk the holes, so the screw heads would be recessed into the sides. Next I marked all of sides of the shelf boards for drilling … if you don’t do this, chances are your pine shelves will split when running screws into them. I set up a simple marking jig to do this, by carefully measuring and drilling two guide holes in a plastic triangle. You can also use scrap wood for this or even a shoebox lid. Just be sure that each board is firmly set in your jig before marking with the punch … errors here can screw you up later too. After all edge holes are marked, drill them with a bit that is narrower than the threads of your screws … this will leave wood for the screws to bite into:
Once all of your boards are cut and drilled, you need to sand smooth any rough edges, cut marks, or splinters by your drill holes. Once that’s done, wipe or blow the sawdust off your boards, and you’re ready for staining.
PART FIVE: THE PAIN OF THE STAIN:
This is my least favorite part of the project, as it’s usually tedious, messy, and smelly. You can get rid of the smelly part by using water-based stains, which I do. They’re a bit more expensive, but don’t stink (no airplane glue buzz either, for those of you looking for a cheap high), dry very fast and, and cleanup with water. I just use a rag and rub in the stain. This is also a good time, if you haven’t already, to determine which side of your boards will be facing out. You don’t have to stain the sides of the shelves, or the edge that will face the backing board. You also don’t have to stain the bottom of your bottom shelf, or the tops and bottoms of your side boards (can you tell I don’t like staining?). Once you’ve stained all your boards and they’re dry, you can move on to assembly:
PART SIX: TAB A INTO SLOT B
This is the fun part for me … with all of the advance cutting, drilling, sanding and staining that’s already been done, assembly is like putting together a pre-made piece of furniture (without the Korean instructions). Since all pieces are interchangeable, I ordered the shelves based on appearance; shelves with the nicest edges at eye-level, shelves with ugly bottoms on the bottom, and shelves with ugly tops at the top. Same thing for the side boards … use the nicest boards on the sides that will be seen. Going from bottom to top, I attached the shelves one at a time, making the screws snug, but not tight:
Once all of the shelves had been attached, I flipped the unit over to see how well the shelves had lined up with the side boards. With the shelves snug, but not tight, you have a bit of leeway to gently tap the boards until the edges match up. Once this is done, tighten all screws and get your backing board out:
If you cut your backing board correctly, you should be able to position it on the back of the unit so it’s edges are 1/8″ to 1/4 ” away from the edges of the unit. Once positioned, nail down the corners at the bottom, and put a few nails along the bottom edge depending on the width of the unit. Then put marks on the backing board, along both sides of the unit, right above each pair of screws on the sides. Then get a piece of straight scrap, or a yardstick, and aligning it on each pair of marks, mark in the middle where you want to nail the backing board to the shelves.
These marks ensure that you won’t miss a shelf edge when pounding in a nail. Using your marks, move from bottom to top so as not to “bubble” the backing, and pound nails wherever you made marks. Once you’ve finished nailing, that’s it … you’re done! … with construction, that is …
PART SEVEN: HAS THIS HALLWAY ALWAYS BEEN THIS NARROW?
Now, all that’s left to do is get the shelving unit into your gameroom. With a shelving unit that is almost as tall as the ceiling, this can be easier said than done. Having already maneuvered a unit up to my room larger than the one I assembled in the garage, I knew that I would be okay with that one. The larger unit, however, at just over 4 feet wide, would have been very difficult to steer up the stairs. So I pushed all the junk on the floor of my gameroom into even taller piles, and assembled the larger unit on the spot. Raising these beasts off the floor requires some faith, as it looks like they’re going to run right into the ceiling … but Pythagoras wasn’t lying, and when you stand it up, it should fit as planned:
TAH-DAH!!! Two custom-made shelving units, requiring about $75.00 of materials … and from design to installation, about 15 total hours of labor. I really enjoy making these things, and knowing that the ultimate result will be more space to display my collection only increases that enjoyment. I hope someone finds some useful information in all of this, but either way, it was fun to document each step along the way. I finally loaded up all the games I had planned to put on these shelving units, and still have a fair amount of space left over for once. Here’s to future acquisitions! And here’s the final pic as promised:
Thanks again to Goodwill Hunter for sharing his pictures and knowledge with us! I have a few more tutorials to share from him as GWH, so stay tuned!